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The Life Of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Essay, Research Paper
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a British physician who later devoted his life to writing,
has become one of the most popular and widespread authors and creators of all time.
Doyle’s early childhood years to his later years in life have allowed him to observe many
sophisticated yet adventurous paths, in which have inspired him greatly to become an
influence on spiritualistic views as an author and crusader. His interests and
achievements in medicine, politics, and spiritualism have allowed him to create the
iridescent master detective of fiction, Sherlock Holmes. His creation of Sherlock Holmes
in his mystery novels has brought him fame amongst many people, even so Sherlock
Holmes may be one of the most popular and recognized characters of English Literature.
On May 22nd, 1859, Arthur Conan Doyle was born at Picardy Place, in
Edinburgh, Scotland. His father, Charles, was an architect-clerk at the Government
Office of Works in Edinburgh where he married Mary Foley in1855. Arthur had three
sisters and one brother, with quite a large family occasionally times got hard as money
grew scarce, fortunately his father sold paintings on the side to earn extra money (Jaffe
When Arthur Doyle was seven years old he was sent to school and for two years
he was toughened by the schoolmaster and his punishments of lacerations (Pearson 2).
The schoolmaster wasn’t the only thing that toughened him, he was also used to getting in
quarrels with other children and became quite a fighter, especially if he saw a bully
picking on someone smaller and weaker (Pearson 3). Along with his rugged
characteristics, young Arthur loved to read. He found himself caught up in books of
action and adventure, his favorite one being Scalp Hunters by Mayne Reid which he read
numerous times. Arthur was also somewhat interested in poetry and he showed it by
learning Macaulay’s Lay of Horatius by heart. At the age of nine, Arthur went to Hodder
the preparatory school for Stonyhurst College, which also was located in Edinburgh
(Jaffe 8). On a journey to Preston, in Lancashire, he started to feel lonely and
experienced homesickness. When he arrived at Preston, he joined a group of other kids
and was driven the remaining twelve miles with a Jesuit, a follower of Jesus in Roman
Catholicism. He stayed at Hodder for two years, where he was partially happy, then the
Franco-German War had arisen and gave him something to dream about during his
lessons. He would find himself daydreaming about fascinating adventures to escape his
regular days of studies which constantly bored him (Pearson 4).
He then went on to Stonyhurst College, where he found himself suffering in
classes of Latin, Greek, and Algebra. Near the end of his life Arthur wrote “I can say
with truth that my Latin and Greek … have been little use to me in life, and that my
mathematics have been no use at all.”(Carr 10) Doyle may not have enjoyed Latin or
Algebra, on the other hand he seemed to pick up reading and writing skills automatically.
The Jesuits who were guarding and keeping Doyle and the boys in order believed that
“dry knowledge could only be absorbed with dry food,” so the nourishment they received
was quite unappetizing (Jaffe 16). The discipline they received was pretty brutal,
because if the demands for religion were unsatisfied, and if the young men’s behavior was
not well, the Jesuits applied a more encouraging correction. Doyle remembers this
punishment quite well, through his own experience, he describes it as “the instrument of
correction, it was a piece of India-rubber of the shape and size of a thick boot sole….One
blow of this instrument, delivered with intent, would cause the palm of the hand to swell
up and change color.” Arthur had wondered if any other boys had endured more of the
brutal punishment than he. Doyle wrote “I went out of my way to do really mischievous
and outrageous things simply to show that my spirit was unbroken.” (Pearson 5) During
his stay at the college, Doyle wrote much verse that he thought was nothing but this
showed to everyone else that he had a literary gift. He was also encouraged to tell stories
to the other boys sitting in a circle, his favorite stories talking about murders and
mysteries, and he was able to captivate his audiences with his ability. Upon his last year,
he edited the College magazine, and amazed everyone by taking honors in the London
Matric before he left Stonyhurst at the age of sixteen (Carr 13).
When Doyle left Stonyhurst, he realized he had an interest and gift in writing, that
would later on greatly influence his later career. Arthur enjoyed history and literature,
and one day he was completely absorbed in a volume of Macaulay’s Essays, giving him a
new aspect of English Literature. Doyle’s last year with the Jesuits was spent at Feldkirch
in Austria, and on his way there he stopped in London to visit Westminster Abbey to see
Macaulay’s grave. Feldkirch was much kinder than Stonyhurst, so he eventually stopped
being a troublesome youth. On the average, he enjoyed his years there playing football
and tobogganing. When he left Austria in 1876, he stopped in Paris to visit an uncle,
Michael Conan, from which he got his name. He saw many wonders including the Arc de
Triomphe and other French landmarks (Wood 23).
Arthur Doyle then returned to Edinburgh, the place of his birth, and saw his
family. Soon after his arrival he decided to study medicine at Edinburgh University,
which was widely known from its medical expertise. He entered the University in
October 1876, and began studies in the “long weary grind at botany, chemistry, anatomy,
physiology, and a whole list of compulsory subjects, many of which have a very indirect
bearing upon the art of curing.”(Pearson 11) Even with his medical studies he still had
time to enjoy his interest in literature. He purchased and read many novels including;
Thackeray’s Esmond, Meredith’s Richard Feverel, and Washington Irving’s Conquest of
Granada, and many others that inquired his taste for learning. Literature was not the
only thing that impressed Doyle while attending the University, but the professors as
well. Two of the professors that appealed to Arthur were Doctor Bell, a surgeon at the
Edinburgh infirmary, and Professor Rutherford (Wood 31). What appeared to Doyle was
that Doctor Bell could “glance at a corpse on the anatomy table and deduce that the
person had been a left-handed shoemaker.” (Carr 23) These professors at the University
were a sure model for Doyle’s creation of Moriarty, Maracot, Challenger, and Holmes,
during his later writing career. Doyle’s medical studies were interrupted twice, once in
1880 when he spent seven months as a ship’s surgeon on a whaling ship in the Arctic, and
again in 1881 when he worked as a medical officer on a cargo ship bound for Africa.
During his last year at the University, Doyle met a new student by the name of George
Budd. George Budd was a key part in Doyle’s literary career, because he was amazed at
Budd’s extraordinary thinking while they were having conversations. Doyle explains that
Budd could, “at a moments notice take up any subject with intense enthusiasm, weave the
most amazing theories, carry his listeners away with him until they were gasping with
excitement, drop the subject suddenly, take up another, and repeat the process.” (Pearson
19) He then earned his Bachelor of Medicine in 1881, and setup a small medical practice
in Southsea, England in 1882. His residence in Southsea was a house called Bush Villa,
which he could live in and practice medicine. Doyle’s medical practice only had a
moderate income, but he did receive a wife from the business. He met Louise Hawkins
“a very gentle and amiable girl,” while the girls bother was suffering from cerebral
meningitis and stayed with him at Bush Villa and they were soon engaged (Wood 48) In
July of 1885, Doyle received his Doctor’s Degree after hard studies through May and
June, and on August 6th, 1885 Louise Hawkins and Arthur Conan Doyle were married.
After the marriage he continued his practice at Bush Villa, and also worked on writing
stories on the side which he could sell to magazines for a little extra money. He received
no fame from his short stories so he decided to write a novel The Narrative of John Smith
which mistakenly was lost in the mail on its way to the publisher. With the lost of his
first novel, he decided to write a second called The Firm of Girdlestone (Wood 53).
Arthur Doyle has earned his fame and glory from his creation of Sherlock Holmes
and the other characters who modeled from the professors and doctors at Edinburgh
University. The first Holmes novel being A Study in Scarlet which Doyle wrote in 1886
reflected his acquaintance with Dr. Bell. Although A Study in Scarlet was not sure of
publication because it was being rejected by the publishers, and when it did Doyle didn’t
receive much compensation for the novel which first debuted in “Beetons Xmas Annual”
in 1887. While waiting for it to be published by itself, Doyle decided to write on a
historical theme (Jaffe 37). He first started and finished Micah Clarke early in 1888, and
during his writing time A Study in Scarlet had been published and released. A Study in
Scarlet had great reviews and was cherished in the United States at the time, but Doyle
continued writing historical novels like, The White Company (Jaffe 41). Doyle believed
that Charles Reade’s The Cloister and the Hearth was the greatest novel in the English
Language, mainly because the author takes the reader by the hand and leads him through
the Middle Ages, “and not a conventional study-built Middle Ages, but a period quivering
with life, full of folk who are as human and real as a bus-load in Oxford Street.”(Pearson
79) In many of Doyle’s works he tried to incorporate Reade’s talents at writing, and he
wrote a lot of short stories, which eventually appeared in The Captain of the Polestar as a
collection. In 1890, the birth of his daughter Mary was also in good times for he was
happy with his literature, his practice, and his marriage (Wood 67). In 1890, Doyle
returned to his old home in Devonshire Terrace where his character Sherlock Holmes
began in his tales to earn world wide fame, after he gave up the medical profession for
good. He continued writing about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson’s adventures in The
Sign of Four and a collection of short stories gathered together to make The Strand which
made Holmes a household name (Higham 71). In 1891, Doyle was sickened with
influenza, and upon his recovery decided to move to South Norwood. This was where
Doyle’s son Kingsley was born in 1892. Arthur Doyle went traveling from 1893 to 1897,
when he went to the United States and gave speeches from Boston to
Washington(Higham 89). Doyle learned many new things about the rest of the world. In
June 1897 they moved back to “Undershaw” or so he called it because “it stood under a
hanging grove of trees,” in England. He continued his writing and found himself
involved in the Boer War as a civilian doctor. After he defended British policy in the
Boer War by writing two works, one entitled The Cause and Conduct of the War in South
Africa, he was knighted in 1902 and appointed Deputy-Lieutenant of Surrey (Pearson
131). His wife’s health had been failing and in 1906 she died. He remarried in
September 1907 to Jean Leckie, whose family he had known for sometime. He then
decided to move again to be near his wife’s people so they moved to Crowborough (Jaffe
101). Arthur and his wife lived happily and had three children; Denis, Adrian, and Lena
Jean. Doyle realized he would have to support two families so he soon started writing for
plays in theaters (Wood 113). Doyle then continued his family life and occasionally
traveled abroad to different countries. When his son died in World War I, Arthur began
to have an interest in spiritualism and life after death. He went on believing and writing
for spiritualism and he soon fell to illness. Arthur Conan Doyle died on July 7th, 1930,
but to him it was not death but the start of the grandest adventure ever. Eighteen years
before he died, he wrote his own epitaph without intending it as such:(Pearson 188)
I have wrought my simple plan
If I give one hour of joy
To the boy who’s half a man,
Or the man who’s half a boy.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle literary works have been fully influenced throughout his
entire life. From his early childhood of adventure and wonder, to his schooling at
Stonyhurst and Edinburgh, to all the people he has met, including the most important Dr.
Bell who was later made into Sherlock Holmes in his writing. His unique ability to
create a living character and also a living author as Dr. John H. Watson from which view
the mysteries are told will leave him a permanent mark in English Literature.
Carr, John Dickson. The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. New York: Harper &
Costello, Peter. The Real World of Sherlock Holmes. New York: Carroll & Graf
Publishers Inc., 1991.
Harrison, Michael. In the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes. New York: Drake Publishers,
Higham, Charles. The Aventures of Conan Doyle. New York, Norton Publishers, 1976.
Jaffe, Jacqueline A. Arthur Conan Doyle. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987.
Keating, H.R.F. Sherlock Holmes/The Man and His World. New York: Charles
Scribners Sons, 1979.
Pearson, Hesketh. Conan Doyle/His Life and Art. New York: Taplinger Publishing Co.,
Rosenberg, Samuel. Naked is the Best Disguise:The Death and Ressurection of Sherlock
Holmes. London: Arlington Books, 1975.
Wood, James Playsted. The Man who Hated Sherlock Holmes; A Life of Sir Arthur
Conan Doyle. New York: Pantheon Books, 1965.
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