Sir A. Conan Doyle's Career
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Sir A. Conan Doyle's Career
Novelist, Dramatist and Poet
CREATOR OF 'SHERLOCK HOLMES'
Keen Spiritualist Protagonist
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose death took place yesterday, had long been one of the most popular of British novelists.
He was perhaps best known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, and to his success in the portrayal of that prince of detectives is no doubt largely due the present remarkable vogue of detective fiction. But he was also highly esteemed as a writer of historical novels, and he was the author of more than one successful play and of a number of poems. His later years had been largely devoted to spiritualist propaganda.
Arthur Conan Doyle, who was born in Edinburgh on May 22, 1859, came of artistic stock. His father, Charles Doyle, was an artist, and he was the nephew of Richard Doyle, of "Punch," and the grandson of the celebrated James Doyle ("H. B.").
He was educated at Stonyburst and Edinburgh University, graduating M.B. in 1881 and M.D. in 1885. He also studied for some time in Germany. For several years after the completion of his medical training he practised in Southsea, and he did not abandon the profession until the great success of the first "Sherlock Holmes" series gave promise of a remunerative career in literature.
His first published book, "Micah Clarke," was rejected by several firms before it was issued by Messrs. Longman. It was the first of several admirable attempts to revivify the past in the guise of fiction, and though Doyle acquired his position as a popular writer by productions of quite a different nature, historical novels were regarded by many as his best achievements in literature.
His first literary success was "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," which appeared in the "Strand Magazine" during 1891, and came out in book form in 1892. The working of the detective vein had been begun some years before in "A Study in Scarlet," for the copyright of which he received £25, and in "The Sign of Four." Neither of these, however, had attracted any considerable attention.
The personality of Sherlock Holmes and that of Watson, his foil, impressed themselves with telling force upon a large section of the public. People were greatly delighted with the shrewd, if sometimes paradoxical, maxims of the investigator and his observations as to the importance of sleeves, the suggestiveness of thumbnails, and the issues that may depend upon a bootlace.
After a short interval came a second series, which was named the "Memoirs," and quite equalled the "Adventures" in interest. Although the ingenious doctor was therein made to come to a violent end in Switzerland, things were not as they seemed, and he revived to appear in "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and "The Return of Sherlock Holmes," which were generally thought to show some falling of in craftsmanship.
"THE WHITE COMPANY"
Meanwhile, however, Doyle had produced better work of another kind. "The White Company," published in 1891, was a fine open-air romance of the school of "Ivanhoe," and almost worthy to rank with it and with Reade's "The Cloister and the Hearth" among the best of English mediaeval stories.
The deservedly popular "White Company" went through many editions and was one of the earliest sixpenny reprints. It was followed by other historical novels, some of them of almost equal merit. "The Refugees," a story of the Huguenots in the time of Louis XIV., belongs to the Dumas school.
"The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard" gave a lively portraiture of a brave and boastful Gaul in the service of Napoleon.
"Rodney Stone," a romance of English life in the days when George was Regent, was, in the opinion of many, Doyle's masterpiece, but, spirited as is the picture of the boxing world in the palmy days of the prize-ring, and admirable as is the character drawing of the "virile buck," Sir Charles Tregellas, the setting must be pronounced superior to the story.
The same must be said of the Napoleonic novel, "Uncle Bernac." "The Tragedy of the Korosko," whose subject was contemporary, was a capital story of the adventures of a mixed party of tourists, raided by dervishes in Egypt and subsequently rescued; and "The Stark-Munro Letters" described with some skill the scientific attitude towards life now adopted by so many thinkers.
POET AND PLAYWRIGHT
Doyle was the author of some meritorious "Songs of Action" and of a successful play, "The Story of 'Waterloo," which gave Sir Henry Irving one of his most striking parts.
He also collaborated with J. M. Barrie in a light musical piece, "Jane Annie and the Good Conduct Prize," which was given at the Savoy, but was not a success. His stage version of "Rodney Stone" was also unsuccessful, but when lie afterwards dramatised "The Speckled Band" he cleared off all losses and found himself in possession of a valuable theatrical asset.
During the South African War Sir Conan Doyle acted as senior physician of the Langman Field Hospital, and his popular history of the operations, "The Great Boer War," went through sixteen editions.
He received the honour of knighthood in 1902. At the General Election of 1900 he had unsuccessfully contested Central Edinburgh as a Liberal Unionist, and six years later he stood for Hawick as a Tariff Reformer.
Sir Arthur was active in 1909 in drawing attention to the administration of the Congo State, and he published a book called "The Crime of the Congo." In the same year his play, "The Fires of Fate" won a considerable success. His book "The Lost World" appeared in 1912, and "The Poison Belt" in the following year. During the Great War he published "A Visit to Three Fronts" and a "History of the British Campaign in France and Flanders," this being in six vols.
A notable convert to spiritualism, Sir A. Conan Doyle expounded his views on the subject in a book called "The New Revelation" in 1918. "The Vital Message" was penned two years later, "The Wanderings of a Spiritualist" in 1921, and "The Coming of the Fairies" in 1922. His "History of Spiritualism" was published in 1926.
Both as writer and speaker he had now become one of the most prominent of spiritualist protagonists. In "Pheneas Speaks," issued in 1927, he made some striking assertions of direct spiritual communication within his family circle. Not long afterwards, at a conference of the Spiritualists' National Union, he moved an addition to "the Principles of Spiritualism," declaring that, while every Creed had its own message from on high, Spiritualism in the Western world acknowledged the original teaching and example of Jesus of Nazareth and looked upon Him "as an ideal for our own conduct."
He resigned his membership of the Society of Psychical Research in March last as the result of certain criticisms of an Italian medium which had appeared in the Society's journal.
He claimed to have had conversations with the spirits of Cecil Rhodes and also with those of Earl Haig and Joseph Conrad. As late as last month he described in "The Edge of Beyond" an alleged conversation with the ghost of Lenin.
In June, 1927, when he published "The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes," he, for the second time, rang down the curtain on his famous hero.
OSCAR SLATER CASE
He played a leading part in securing justice for Oscar Slater, who had been sentenced to death and had suffered a long term of imprisonment for a murder in Glasgow, of which he was eventually found to be guiltless.
Sir Arthur worked at the case for seventeen years, and at the rehearing made himself responsible for costs up to £1,000. He had the satisfaction of seeing Slater exonerated and compensated to the amount of £6,000, but brought an action to recover £250 to make good part of a sum of some £500 he had paid out of his own pocket in respect of costs. The action was eventually settled out of court, the terms not being disclosed.
A tall and powerfully built man, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was in his young days a skilful cricketer, who not infrequently played for M.C.C. at Lord's.
In 1886 he married Louisa, daughter of J. Hawkins, of Minsterworth, Gloucestershire. She died in 1906, leaving one daughter. In 1907 he married Jean, daughter of James B. Leckie, of Glebe House, Blackheath. He leaves two sons and a daughter by his second wife, who survives him.
A PERSONAL TRIBUTE
Mr. Gustave Tuck, Managing Director of Raphael Tuck and Sons, Ltd., writes: "For 30 years Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a director of this company. During that long period his sound commonsense and business acumen were a source of inestimable value to our company. His presence at our monthly meetings revealed him as a man with a quickness of grasp and an easy familiarity with the many aspects of our company's work. It was not alone his knowledge of books, but his business sagacity which made him an invaluable ally. I look back on 30 years of unbroken friendship with him as one of the greatest sources of happiness in my life."
Thousands of persons in the United States, states Reuter's Correspondent in New York read with the deepest regret the news of the death of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose immortal stories of "Sherlock Holmes," and whose wide activities in the field of spiritualism endeared him to countless Americans.
- Special thanks to Sarah Gray for providing this article.