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.

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.

Works Consulted

Carr, John Dickson. The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. New York: Harper &

Brothers, 1949.

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.