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Birth and Burial of Sherlock Holmes

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

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Birth and Burial of Sherlock Holmes is an article published in The Westminster Gazette on 13 december 1900.

Birth and Burial of Sherlock Holmes

The Westminster Gazette
(13 december 1900, p. 4)


In the thousandth number of Tit-Bits — appropriately a double number, full of interesting and entertaining matter — Dr. Conan Doyle is represented by a page, which cannot fail to be widely read, descriptive of the birth and burial of "Sherlock Holmes":

"At the time I first thought of a detective — it was about 1886 — I had been reading some detective stories, and it struck me what nonsense they were, to put it mildly, because for getting the solution of the mystery the authors always depended on some coincidence. This struck me as not a fair way of playing the game, because the detective ought really to depend for his success on something in his own mind and not on merely adventitious circumstances, which do not, by any means, always occur in real life. I was seedy at the time, and, not working much, had leisure to read, so I read half a dozen or so detective stories, both in French and English, and they one and all filled me with dissatisfaction and a sort of feeling how much more interesting they might be made if one could show that the man deserved his victory over the criminal or the mystery he was called upon to solve."
"Then I began to think, suppose my old professor at Edinburgh were in the place of one of these lucky detectives, he would have worked out the process of effect from cause just as logically as he would have diagnosed a disease, instead of having something given to him by mere luck, which, as I said just now, does not happen in real life."
"For fun, therefore, I steeled constructing a story and giving my detective a scientific system, so on to make him reason everything out. Intellectually that had been done before by Edgar Allan Poe with M. Dupin, but where Holmes differed from Lupin was that he had an immense fund of exact knowledge to draw upon its consequence of his previous scientific education. I mean by this, that by looking at a man's hand he knew what the man's trade was, as by looking at his trousers leg he could deduce the character, of the man. He was practical and he was systematic, and his success in the detection of crime was to be the fruit, not of luck, but of his qualities."

Dr. Doyle describes in detail how Holmes first appeared in "A Study in Scarlet," which was made "Beeton's Christmas Annual," in 1887, was "rigged up" three years later in Lippincott's Magazine, subsequently developed into "The Sign of Four," and finally in the Strand Magazine, in a highly successful attempt of the author to prove that he "could write a serial without appearing to do so."

I was then in practice in Wimpole street as a specialist, and, while waiting for my patients to come, I began writing to fill up my waiting hours.

Dr. Doyle explains the motives which impelled him to kill his great creation:

I was still a young man and a young novelist, and I have always noticed that the ruin of every novelist who has come up has been effected by driving him into a groove... Now, why should a man be driven into a groove and not write about what interests him? When I was interested about Holmes I wrote about Holmes, and it amused me making him get involved in new conundrums; but when I had written twenty-six stories, each involving the making of a fresh plot, I felt that it was becoming irksome this searching for plots — and if it were getting irksome to me, meet certainly, I argued, it must be losing its freshness for others. I knew I had done better work in other fields of literature. Yet, just because the Sherlock Holmes stories were, for the moment, more popular, I was becoming more and more known as the author of Sherlock Holmes instead of as the author of "The White Company." My lower work was obscuring my higher.

When Dr. Doyle had killed Holmes in Switzerland — at a "fine romantic place" for "a gaudy kind of death" — "I was surprised at the amount of interest people took in his fate. I never thought they would take it so to heart. I got letters from all over the world reproaching me on the subject. One, I remember, from a lady whom I did not know, began 'you beast.'"

"From that day to this," concludes Dr. Doyle, "I have never for an instant regretted the course I took in killing Sherlock. That does not say, however, that because he is dead I should not write about him again if I wanted to, for there is no limit to the number of papers he left behind or the reminiscences in the brain of his biographer."