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The life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by John Dickson Carr
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Conan Doyle by Dickson Clarke  

ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE was born in 1859 and died in 1930. Within those years was crowded that prodigious variety of activity and creative work which has made Conan Doyle so great a figure. It is only since access has been obtained to all the mass of papers, letters and personal diaries which accumulated during those years, and which cover so much of his own life in his own words, that it has been possible to give a true biography of one whom Frenchmen called "the good giant." The stories of the "days of chivalry" with which his mother brought him up became a part of him and give a clue to the consistency of his character and his life. As a struggling doctor, as traveller, as author of some of the best known books in the English language, as sportsman, as champion of the oppressed and those convicted of crimes that they never committed, as flesh and blood detective for whose help there were so frequent demands, as physician in the Boer War, as preacher and missionary, and in all those services which he rendered to the nation and to his neighbours, it is this quality of chivalry that consistently appears, and it is this quality which binds together what might well have been the activities of, not one, but many men. In this biography there is also the life of Conan Doyle's rival - Sherlock Holmes - the man who touched the imagination of an international public but who continually decoyed his creator from work that he preferred; the rival whom Conan Doyle killed but was obliged by public opinion to bring to life again; the rival who had so many of the characteristics and experiences of his creator and who even adopted his friend Dr. Watson, turning him from a real person into one of the famous characters of fiction. As writer of detective fiction and as biographer, John Dickson Carr combines qualities which have produced, with the help of much fresh material, a new and vivid picture of Sherlock Holmes and an inspiring and lasting portrait of Arthur Conan Doyle.

JOHN DICKSON CARR was born in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, USA in 1906 and died in 1977. From 1933 until 1965 he lived in England and it is during this period that he researched and wrote The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle which was first published in 1949 by The Garden City Press Ltd, Letchworth, Hertfordshire. John Dickson Carr also published numerous detective novels and stories of his own.

 

1881 - Louise Hawkins - Conan Doyle's first wife

"Of Louise, twenty-seven years old - 'Touie', her nickname was - he saw a great deal. Though not beautiful, she was of a type which appealed to him: the round face, the wide mouth, the brown hair, the widespread blue eyes, shading to sea-green, which were her finest feature. Her gentleness, her complete unselfishness, roused all his protective instincts. Louise, or Touie, was what they then called a home-girl, loving needlework and an armchair by the fire. He met her in sorrow; and ended by falling deeply in love. Towards the end of April they were engaged …
And on August 6th, 1885, with the strong approval of the Ma'am, Louise Hawkins and Arthur Conan Doyle were married."

1887 - A Study in Scarlet - the first Sherlock Holmes story

"Sherrinford Holmes, as the name of the detective, was not quite right. It was near, but not close enough. … He studied it, toyed with it, and then - entirely at random - he hit on the Irish name of Sherlock. …
At the top of the manuscript he put, A Study in Scarlet. Writing between breakfast and supper, writing between peal's of the doctor's bell and calls from Touie upstairs, he had no idea that he was creating the most famous character in the English language."

1893 - Conan Doyle kills off Sherlock Holmes

"Early in 1893, when the Holmes stories were appearing in the 'Strand' and he was finishing the later ones, he took Touie for a visit to Switzerland. The falls of Reichenbach roared in their ears. And he needed that brief rest. He was exhausted by plot-spinning, harried by the necessity for making ideas grow … At Norwood on April 6th 1893 … he wrote a letter to the Ma'am.
'All is very well down here,' he said. 'I am in the middle of the last Holmes story, after which the gentleman vanishes never to return! I am weary of his name.' So Professor Moriarty waited by the black rock; the falls of Reichenbach opened; and, with a happy sigh of relief, he killed Shelock Holmes."

1893 - The enigmatic clue

"… he invented the enigmatic clue. We find it running far back through the stories, notably illustrated by a passage [from Silver Blaze in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes] which has been repeated over and over:

'Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?'
'To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.'
'The dog did nothing in the night-time.'
'That was the curious incident.'


Call this Sherlockismus; call it any fancy name; the fact remains that it is a clue, and a thundering good clue at that. It is the trick by which the detective - while giving you perfectly fair opportunity to guess - nevertheless makes you wonder what in sanity's name he is talking about. The creator of Sherlock Holmes invented it; and nobody … has ever done it half so well."

1897 - Jean Leckie - who became Conan Doyle's second wife

"Miss Jean Leckie was just twenty-four. Even the not-very-expert photogaphy of the time reveals her extraordinary beauty. But the colouring of that beauty it cannot show: the dark-gold hair, the hazel-green eyes, the delicate white complexion, the changes of the smile.
Her great talent was for music: she had a fine mezzo-soprano voice which she had cultivated at Dresden and was later to cultivate at Florence … she was an expert horsewoman who had been trained to ride from childhood … we see her across the years as quick of sympathy, impulsive, strongly romantic; the slender neck rises from a lace gown, and the eyes tell her character.
Under what circumstances they met we do not know; but the date, which neither Jean Leckie or Conan Doyle ever forgot, was March 15th, 1897. It was just a few months short of his thirty-eighth birthday. They fell in love immediately, desperately, and for all time. His letters to her, in his seventy-first year, read like those of a man who has been married for about a month.
Meanwhile, it seemed helpless and hopeless."

1902 - Conan Doyle is knighted by King edward VII at Buckingham Palace

"It was an open secret that the Coronation Honours List would contain the name of Dr. Conan Doyle if he cared to accept a knighthood. … The trouble was that Conan Doyle did not want to accept a knighthood, and had made up his mind to refuse one. … The Ma'am, who seriously believed that the figurative spurs of knighthood meant what they had meant five centuries before, was incredulous and horrified. She could not understand this. She thought her son must be losing his mind. … She bombarded him with letters. … The Ma'am, who meant to accomplish her end if she accomplished nothing else in life, left off anger for the coolness of inspiration. She knew her son. She knew how she had brought him up.

'Has it not occurred to you,' she inquired, 'that to refuse a knighthood would be an insult to the king?' This checked him in mid-flight. … The more he worried, the more he wondered.
'I tell you, Ma'am, I can't do it! As a matter of principle!'
'If you wish to show your principles by an insult to the king, no doubt you can't.'


On August 9th … he emerged into the sunshine, still a little rebelliously, as Sir Arthur ConanDoyle."

1902 - The Hound of the Baskervilles

"Through the winter [of 1900] Conan Doyle had been seedy and run down … he went [to Cromer in Norfolk] for a golfing holiday with his friend Fletcher Robinson … one raw Sunday afternoon … Robinson began talking of the legends of Dartmoor, the atmosphere of Dartmoor. In particular his companion's imagination was kindled by the story of a spectral hound. … he was so ensnared as to invent, and sketch out, with Robinson, the plot of a sensational story about a Devonshire family accursed by a ghost-hound which should prove to be flesh and blood.
It is the only tale, long or short, in which the story dominates Holmes rather than Holmes dominating the story; what captures its reader is less the Victorian detective than the Gothic romance."

1907 - Windlesham - Conan Doyle's home until his death in 1930

"Windlesham, set in the then lonely open country which stretched from Crowborough Beacon to the Sussex Downs, had been greatly changed and enlarged from the modest country-house he bought before his marriage. … From far away you could see Windlesham, with its five gables, its grey-painted shingles and white window-frames, its red roof-tiles and red chimney stacks …
Above all in their minds at Windlesham, then as afterwards, was the great billiard-room which came to be filled with so many memories. This billiard-room ran the full breadth of the house, east to west, with a wall of windows at each end. A hundred and fifty couples could dance there when the rugs were cleared away. Conan Doyle had it built into the house as their living-room, the centre of their lives. At one end, amid palms, stood Jean's grand piano and the harp. At the other end was his billiard-table, under the muffled green canopy of the table-lights. … Over one fireplace hung the Van Dyck … over the other was a stag's head he had brought back from the Boer War. Round the walls, blue-papered, ran a frieze of Napoleonic weapons. His own portrait, by Sidney Paget, hung among them."

1916 - Conan Doyle's belief in communication with the dead

"Conan Doyle's family drew still more closely together. The Ma'am at long last feeling lonely and frightened and very old, left Yorkshire to be near her son. … Kingsley, though weak, was convalescent and talked cheerfully of returning to the front. Mary was voluntarily assisting at Peel House where troops bound for the active fronts were served with comforts on their departure. Dated October 21st, 1916, there appeared in the psychic magazine 'Light' Conan Doyle's article announcing his belief in communication with the dead. … So, in 1917, began those psychic lectures which were to last for the rest of his life. … He would lose most of his friends. … They were entitled to their views, as he was entitled to his. But it was not a matter of viewing or deciding or theorizing. He knew.

'Knowing that,' he said to Jean, 'we must be prepared to accept what they say. Does it matter to you?'
'Nothing matters at all, if you believe you must do it.'
'I cannot do anything else. All my life has led up to this. It is the greatest thing in the world.'

And the old champion, loved by so many but supported by so few, girded on his sword for the last great fight of all."

1917 - His Last Bow

"Sherlock Holmes, disguised as the Irish-American spy, takes off his mask when he hands Von Bork his little book, Practical Handbook of Bee-Culture, and then grips and chloroforms the Prussian. … Then follows the magnificent scene when Von Bork, bound and writhing, glares at his captor from the sofa.

Von Bork is speaking: 'Then who are you?'
'It is really immaterial who I am, but since the matter seems to interest you … my name is probably familiar to you.'
'I would wish to know it,' said the Prussian grimly.
'It was I who brought about the separation between Irene Adler and the late King of Bohemia when your cousin Heinrich was the Imperial Envoy. It was I also who saved from murder, by the Nihilist Klopman, Count Von und Zu Grafenstein, who was your mother's elder brother. It was I -'
Van Bork sat up in amazement. 'There is only one man,' he cried.

And so speaks the world. It is the last thrill, the final drumbeat, the apothesis of Sherlock Holmes"

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