Sherlock Holmes on His Career
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
"Sherlock Holmes" on His Career
Sir A. Conan Doyle Tells of His Early Literary Struggles.
In the "New York World" has recently appeared a long and very readable interview with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle from the pen of Mr. Bram Stoker.
The marriage of the creator of "Sherlock Holmes" should lend added interest to the extracts from the article which we here present.
Sir Conan Doyle told his life story to Mr. Bram Stoker lying on a chintz-covered sofa in the pretty drawing-room of his house at Hindhead, in Surrey.
Conan Doyle (writes Mr. Bram Stoker) built his house Undershaw in the western angle at the joining of the road from Haslemere with the Portsmouth-road, just below the very top of the hill.
It stands on a little platform lying below the road. As north and east of it is a thick grove of trees and shrubs, it is completely sheltered from stranger eyes except from down the valley. It is so sheltered from the cold winds that the architect felt justified in having lots of windows, so that the whole place is full of light.
The owner of this almost fairy pleasure house is a big man, massive and burly, and of great strength. His head and face are broad and strong. His eyes are blue with a peculiar effect in light, for they seem to have two shades of blue in the iris. His voice is strong and resonant — a very masculine voice.
Mentioning his marriage with Miss Leckie, Sir Conan Doyle concluded : "I am the most lucky of men. May I be worthy of my good fortune." "My real love for letters, my instinct for story-telling, springs, I believe, from my mother, who is of Anglo-Celtic stock, with the glamour and romance of the Celt very strongly narked," remarked the novelist. "In my early childhood, as far back as I can remember anything at all, the vivid stories which she would tell me stand out so clearly that they obscure the real facts of life.
"It is not only that she was — is still — a wonderful story-teller, but she had, I remember, an art of sinking her voice to a horror-stricken whisper when she came to a crisis in her narrative, which makes me goose-fleshy now when I think of it. I am sure, looking back, that it was in attempting to emulate these stories of my childhood that I first began weaving dreams myself.
"When I was six I wrote a book of adventure — doubtless my mother has it yet. I illustrated it myself. It must be an absurd production, but still it showed the set of my mind.
"Every writer is imitative at first. I think that is an absolute rule; though sometimes he throws back on some model which is not easily traced. My early work, as I look back on it, was a sort of debased composite photograph, in which five or six different styles were contending for the mastery. Stevenson was a strong influence; so was Bret Harte; so was Dickens; so were several others.
"Eventually, however, a man 'finds himself,' or rather, perhaps, it is that he grows more deft in concealing the influences, which blend with one another until they form what means a new and constant style.
"I suppose that during those early years I wrote not less than fifty short stories. The first appeared in 1878, while I was still a student. It was in 'Chambers's Journal,' and was called 'The Mystery of the Sassassa Valley.' I had three guineas for it.
"For ten years I wrote short stories; roughly from 1877 to 1887. During that time I do not think that I ever earned £50 is any year by my pen, though I worked incessantly.
"Finally in 1887 I wrote 'A Study in Scarlet,' the first book which introduced Sherlock Holmes.
"I don't know how I got that name. I was looking the other day at a lit of paper on which I had scribbled 'Sherringford Holmes' and 'Sherrington Hope' and all sorts of other combinations. Finally at the bottom of the paper I had written 'Sherlock Holmes.' 'A Study in Scarlet' appeared in a Christmas number of 'Beeton's Annual.'
"The book had no particular success at the time, though many people have been good enough to read it since.
"My next book was 'Micah Clarke,' an historical novel. This met with a good reception from the critics and the public; and from that time onward I had no further difficulty in disposing of my manuscripts."