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Celebrating Arthur Conan Doyle

“If in 100 years I am only known as the man who invented Sherlock Holmes then I will have considered my life a failure.” ― Arthur Conan Doyle

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

156 years ago he was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on May 22.

In 1876, he began medical studies at the University of Edinburgh, graduating with a specialty in treating syphilis.   While he was studying medicine, he wrote a few short stories and at least one medical paper. After getting his degree he worked as a physician on two ocean voyages, one, the Hope of Peterhead (a whaling ship) going to Greenland and back and one, The Mayumba, sailing along the West African coast. (This would explain his later interest in the Marie Celeste, a ship found floating on the ocean with no one aboard. No one has yet solved this mystery, although several have made creditable suggestions)

In 1882, he opened his physician’s office in Portsmouth, after briefly having a partner. Since his practice was slow in getting off the ground, he started writing fiction again. In 1890, he went to Vienna to study ophthalmology and soon after graduating, moved his practice to London. He again struggled to bring in patients and again turned to writing. He was married twice and had five children, the last of whom died in 1977!

A Study in Scarlet was his first Holmes and Watson short story. The sequel The Sign of Four soon followed. It is well-known that he based his Holmes character on his former teacher Joseph Bell; even Robert Louis Stevenson recognized the similarity. Early on he wanted to write historical fiction. We all owe a debt of gratitude to his mother, who told him, “You won’t! You can’t. You mustn’t!” He wrote most of his Holmes stories between 1890 and 1893. In December of 1893, he had Holmes and Moriarty plunge off Reichenbach Falls—the outcry was so great he had to bring back Holmes, and went on to write several Holmes and Watson novels. He was successful with his historical fiction novels, written before, during and after his Holmes stories and novels.

Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. Published in The Adventure of Silver Blaze, which appeared in The Strand Magazine in December 1892.” – created by Sidney Paget (1860-1908)

He wrote two works on the Boer War, which probably gained him a knighthood from Edward VII. He personally investigated two unsolved cases, resulting in exonerating both of the men convicted of the crimes. His actions in these cases led to legal reform in the U.K.

After the deaths of several members of his family, including his son Kingsley, he fell into depression and became interested in spiritualism, where he found solace from his grief. He died from a heart attack on July 7, 1930. There is a statue of Sherlock Holmes in Edinburgh, close to where he was born. The epitach on his grave stone reads:

Blade straight
Steel true
Author Conan Doyle
Knight, Patriot and Man of Letters

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