Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Biography

The life and career of Arthur Conan Doyle spanned six decades. His varied life experiences helped to create one of the greatest literary detectives of all time.

In 1855, Charles Altamont and Mary Foley Doyle were married. Four years later, on May 22, 1859, Mary gave birth to Arthur Conan Doyle in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was one of ten children, of which seven survived to adulthood.

The Doyle family were Catholic with roots in Ireland. Arthur's father was a civil servant most of his life, working for the Edinburgh Office of Works. Arthur's mother ran a boarding house.

Arthur entered Hodder Prep, a Jesuit-run school, in 1868. Two years later, he moved to Stonyhurst public school, another Jesuit-run educational institution. At Stonyhurst, he was noted for his untidiness and his determination to go his own way. His nature responded to kindness and rebelled against threats. Arthur spent a good portion of his time in the headmaster's office. The only suggestion of a literary nature during this time was a year spent as editor of the Stonyhurst school magazine.

In 1874, Arthur took and passed his university matriculation exam. Before entering Edinburgh University in 1876, he spent a year at a Jesuit school in Austria brushing up on his German. A lack of money during school required him to take outside jobs to earn money for tuition. During the summer of 1878, he worked with a doctor in general practice.

Charles Doyle, Arthur's father, entered a nursing home in 1879, suffering from epilepsy and alcoholism. This was hard on the Doyle family. Arthur worked in a Shropshire country practice to earn extra money to send home to his family. He doubled up on his studies so he could spend more time working. In the same year, Arthur sold his first short story to Chambers' Journal.

The year 1880 saw Arthur working for a Birmingham doctor as a dispenser. In his spare time he read widely in spiritualism and metaphysical literature. The spiritualist movement eventually came to rule his life. He signed on as a surgeon on an Arctic whaling ship for seven months. He became the captain's companion, breaking up fights among the seamen. He learned to be a skilled harpooner. This experience toughened him up physically and mentally.

Arthur received his Masters in Biology in 1881. In 1883, a short story entitled "Habakuk Jephson's Statement" was published. It was based on the mystery of the Marie Celeste. The story was convincing enough to be officially denied.

Arthur received his M.D. in 1885. Upon graduating, he traveled by cargo steamer to Africa. His London relatives decided to send him their ailing friends so he could have his own practice. However, he had to be Catholic like them. Telling his relatives he was agnostic stifled all help from them in his career. Upon his return from Africa, Arthur went into practice with Dr. Budd in Plymouth, England. Arthur's mother, whom he was always close to and whom he referred to as "The Ma'am", advised him to break his association with Budd because the man was a quack and would ruin his reputation. Budd offered to pay Doyle to go into private practice. He moved to Southsea where he set up as a GP.

Arthur wrote adventure stories to earn extra money. He rented Bush Villa in Southsea, which became his residence as well as his practice. His younger brother became his housekeeper and his companion. A falling out with Budd ended any hope of future money. Arthur's mother delved into her savings to help her son. Business was slow for the first six months. Arthur joined football, bowling, political, literary, and cricket clubs in his leisure time. Business began to pick up. He could keep a servant and support his brother.

In 1885, his brother left for public school. In the same year, Arthur married Louise Hawkins. She remained a background figure throughout the marriage. The Doyles were married for fifteen years before Louise died in 1900 of tuberculosis. Two children were born into this union; a boy and a girl.

Shortly after the marriage, Dr. Doyle began practicing medicine as an eye specialist. His first Sherlock Holmes story was published in 1887. Sherlock Holmes was based on Edgar Allan Poe's detective C. Auguste Dupin and Eugene Francois Vidoq, a former criminal who became chief of the Surete, Paris' police force. Holmes' physical appearance was that of Dr. Joseph Bell, Doyle's teacher from the University of Edinburgh. His surname came from Oliver Wendell Holmes, an American poet admired by Doyle.

Arthur's first historical novel was published in 1889. He was living in London in 1890 and practicing as an occultist. By 1891, he had become a full time writer. In 1892, the first collection of Sherlock Holmes stories was published. A total of five collections of Holmes stories have been published.

Charles Altamont Doyle, Arthur's father, died in 1893 in the nursing home he had been committed to in 1879. In the same year as his father's death, Doyle decided to kill off Sherlock Holmes. Doyle was tired of writing short stories. He wanted to be remembered for his historical novels rather than his detective. So, in 1894, Arthur Conan Doyle officially killed off Sherlock Holmes, one of the greatest literary detectives ever to live.

During the South African War, from 1899-1902, Doyle served as senior physician at a field hospital for a short time. In 1900, he ran unsuccessfully for Parliament for the first time. He was knighted in 1902, making him Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In 1903, at the request of his government and by public demand, Sherlock Holmes was resurrected for a story involving a secret mission for the government during a time of war.

In 1906, Doyle ran unsuccessfully for Parliament a second time. The year 1907 found Arthur marrying for the second time. Jean Leckie was to bless Doyle with three children and a devotion to his spiritualist movement.

Doyle formed a local volunteer regiment in 1914, in which he served as a private. This regiment was later to become an official body. In the period leading up to World War One, he was an unofficial statesman and advocate, championing the cause for several men unfairly convicted in criminal trials. He campaigned for lifesaving equipment and body armor for the navy. He advocated a need for a channel tunnel during this time as well; a dream that took three quarters of a century to be realized.

1917 was to be the last year a Sherlock Holmes story was published. By 1920, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was one of the highest paid writers in the world. After the death of his son in World War One, Doyle immersed himself in spiritual studies. Spiritualism became his religion. In 1921, Arthur's mother, Mary Foley Doyle, passed away. Eight years later, Doyle suffered from a heart attack. On July 7, 1930, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died from heart disease at his home in Windlesham, Sussex, England. He was originally buried in the garden of his home, but was later moved to the village churchyard at Minstead.

Doyle was a devoted sportsman throughout his life. As an author, he wrote plays, verse, memoirs, short stories, historical novels, and supernatural and speculative fiction. Many later writers have been inspired to continue the Sherlock Holmes adventures. These stories were the first to popularize the detective as a deducer of facts. Writers today owe many of the stereotypes of the great detective and the ideas of the fair mystery story to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

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