Mrs. Conan Doyle and Her Children
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Mrs. Conan Doyle and Her Children is an article/interview of Louisa Conan Doyle, the first wife of Arthur Conan Doyle, written by Ethel Mackenzie McKenna published in the Ladies' Home Journal in may 1895 as part of the section "The Wives of Three Authors" (George W. Cable, Arthur Conan Doyle and Thomas Hardy).
Mrs. Conan Doyle and Her Children
It was a very bitter disappointment to Mrs. Conan Doyle that the delicate state of her health prevented her from accompanying her clever husband across the Atlantic last fall. To visit the United States has for many years been one of Mrs. Doyle's keenest desires, as she has a warm admiration for the Americans and the kindest remembrance of many American friends. But, alas, she is but slowly recovering from a very severe illness, which necessitated a winter at Davos Platz last year, and although she is gradually regaining her health, a repetition of the cure is strongly advocated. However, it is probable that she will soon have her desire, for it is authoritatively given out that the creator of "Sherlock Holmes" will shortly be in America again for a visit to Colorado, where he will go solely for the benefit of the health of the bright little woman who felt his absence from home so keenly, but who bore it, as she has borne her long and wearisome illness, with cheerfulness and patience.
The pretty little house in South Norwood — a suburb of London, sufficiently remote to escape the noise and smoke of the great city, yet within a few minutes' train journey from its very centre — has seen but little of Dr. Conan Doyle and his wife until this year. Mrs. Doyle was very sad at being compelled to leave her home so often, and eagerly looked forward to the time when they might return there for good, for although a woman's home is wherever her husband and children may be, there is no doubt that the feminine heart clings to the surroundings, the four walls, the countless inanimate objects which have been the witness of her sorrows and her joys. The drawing-room where Mrs. Doyle sits, though she very often takes up her place in the cozy armchair in the study where "Sherlock" was created, is a bright, cheerful room — indeed, all the rooms in the house are full of light. The walls are ornamented with many pictures and sketches by Dr. Doyle's artist father — indeed, the whole house is full of pictures and sketches by Dr. Doyle's grandfather, father and uncles, for the artistic gift has been very strongly developed in the Doyle family. Mrs. Doyle, too, can boast of a brother who has fine talent in this direction, and who promised to be a really great artist had not ill-health brought his studies to an end. Several of his oil paintings adorn the dining-room walls. But it is an ill wind that blows nobody good, for though her brother was fated never to bring his gifts to perfection, it was owing to his severe illness that Dr. and Mrs. Conan Doyle first became acquainted. Mrs. Doyle, or Miss Louise Hawkins, as she then was, was staying with her family at Southsea, where Dr. Conan Doyle was in practice, and he was called in to attend her brother. The result was the same as it often has been and often will be: the Doctor learned to love the young nurse who so faithfully and untiringly fulfilled his directions and ministered to his patient's wants; the sister found her gratitude toward the man to whose skill she felt she largely owed her brother's life develop into a warmer feeling, and they were married in 1885. They continued to live at Southsea, where Dr. Doyle remained in practice for five years after their marriage, at the end of which time the Doctor decided to take up the eye as a specialty, and he and his wife went to Vienna in order that he might study for work to which he intended to devote himself. Their child, Mary Louise, then little more than a year old, was left in England under the care of Mrs. Doyle's mother. The parting was a bitter one for both parents, but it was not long before Dr. and Mrs. Doyle returned to England. The Doctor started his new work in Tennyson's long, unlovely street, a few doors from the house where Arthur Hallam once lived. All this while Conan Doyle's literary work had been steadily growing, and the demand for his stories was ever larger than the supply. His literary labors began to occupy so much time that he soon found it quite impossible to run literature and medicine in double harness. In the former his name was already made, while years of work and waiting might lie in the future before he could hope to succeed in establishing his reputation as an eye specialist. So medicine went to the wall, Dr. Doyle having been largely influenced in his decision by his wife's advice, and he gave up all his time to writing.
Of her husband's work, Mrs. Conan Doyle finds her favorite in "The White Company," for not only does she consider that it is into this book that he has put his best work, but because, as she laughingly admits, she was allowed a share in the disposal of the heroine. I think, too, Mrs. Doyle must have a special affection for "Micah Clarke," to my mind one of the best things he has done, for in speaking of the troubles of the Great Rebellion the author has much to say of the country around Mrs. Doyle's former home in Gloucestershire. Her father was a landed proprietor at Minsterworth in that county, and it was in the quaint old town of Monmouth that Mrs. Doyle was born.
Dr. Doyle is a great athlete. No exercise comes amiss to him; Alpine climbing, football, tennis, cricket, skating, tobogganing, are all dear to him, and Mrs. Doyle shares his enthusiasm. Before she became ill she and her husband were untiring bicyclists — indeed, Mrs. Doyle speaks of bicycling as her favorite amusement — and they used often to do from thirty to forty miles on their tandem tricycle. It was when crossing the channel on their return from Switzerland one year, where they had done some really hard climbing, that Mrs. Doyle caught the chill, from the effects of which she has suffered so much. To an active, energetic woman the enforced inaction, the long, tedious spell of invalidism has been a great strain, but she has borne it bravely and uncomplainingly, making as good a patient as she did a nurse. Her children have been a great comfort and delight to her. Mary, the eldest, a bright little girl, full of pretty ways and quaint sayings, and the baby, a bonny boy, who rejoices in the name Arthur Alleyne Kingsley, have both been of constant interest and delight to their mother.