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Doyle, Arthur Conan (1859-1930)

Doyle, Arthur Conan (1859-1930)

Arthur Conan Doyle was born on May 22, 1859, in Edinburgh, Scotland, into a very strict Roman Catholic family. He was educated in Jesuit schools in the United Kingdom (Stoney-hurst) and in Austria (Stella Matutina) until he was 17. Although he was apparently attracted by the mystical, sacramental, and eucharistic aspects of Catholicism, he began to doubt his faith during his years at the Jesuit schools.

When Doyle entered the University of Edinburgh at age 17, he was, by his own account, a nonbeliever. "I found that the foundations not only of Roman Catholicism but of the whole Christian faith, as presented to me in nineteenth century theology, were so weak that my mind could not build upon them." These conditions had, according to Doyle, "driven me to agnosticism." It was during his university years that he came under the influence of materialists such as Joseph Bell, his self-proclaimed prototype for Sherlock Holmes, who taught his students the process of deductive reasoning through the observation of material phenomena.

As a result of this training, Doyle became convinced that every mystery of life could be solved through observation and deductive reasoning. Yet despite this training, his previous rejection of Catholicism, and his self-professed agnosticism, he continued to investigate religions, because without a religious foundation he felt a void in his life.

In 1881 Doyle received his medical degree and in 1882 set up a medical practice in Southsea (a suburb of Portsmouth), where he remained until 1890. Even while attending medical school, Doyle had actively investigated "new religions" in an effort to fill the void created when he left the Roman Catholic Church. He attended his first séance in 1880, and many of his short stories published in the 1880s reflect his interest in Spiritualism and his growing acceptance of it. Before the turn of the century Doyle had become interested in Theosophy, the Rosicrucians, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and Mormonism.

In 1887 Doyle published A Study in Scarlet, which was the first of 60 Sherlock Holmes stories he eventually wrote. Holmes proved to be his most popular fictional character. That same year he wrote two letters to the weekly Spiritualist periodical Light, in which he recounted his conversion to Spiritualism. In these letters Doyle wrote that he became convinced that Spiritualism was true after reading books on the subject by John W. Edmonds, Alfred Russel Wallace, and Alfred Drayson.

To put their writings to a test, he formed a circle of six that met at a Southsea residence on nine or ten occasions. This group received messages through table turning and automatic writing, but the significance of these events was inconclusive until an experienced medium with "considerable mediumistic power" was invited to sit with the circle. This medium, writing under control, told Doyle not to read a book by Leigh Hunt that he found convincing because neither the medium nor any of his group knew he was debating whether he should read the book.

Because of this experience, Doyle became convinced that Spiritualism taught the truth:

"[T]he incident which, after many months of inquiry, showed me at last that it was absolutely certain that intelligence could exist apart from the body. After weighing the evidence, I could no more doubt the existence of the phenomena than I could doubt the existence of lions in Africa, though I have been to that continent and have never chanced to see one. Let me conclude by exhorting any other searcher never to despair of receiving personal testimony but to persevere through any number of failures until at last conviction comes to him, as, it will."

Several weeks later he wrote another letter to Light, which he wrote "[a]s a Spiritualist" and in which he opined that "Spiritualism in the abstract has no 'weak points' " but admitted that "respectable Spiritualists persist in supporting and employing men who have been proved, as far as anything mundane is capable of proof, to be swindlers of the lowest order." Although he was ready to accept that "they have real but intermittent psychical powers," he was also convinced that such charlatans were "noxious parasites" who were the "greatest bane" of Spiritualism. Doyle had received his "definite demonstration," which he believed was necessary before he could embrace any new religion. Spiritualism provided the evidence that life continues after death and that a form of religion exists that is consistent with primitive Christianity and all its attendant miracles.

From 1887 to 1916 Doyle continued to participate in the Spiritualist movement. He wrote letters concerning religious issues, joined the Society for Psychical Research, and contributed thousands of pounds to the Spiritualist periodical Light. Although he did not proselytize the cause of Spiritualism, as he later would, Doyle did attend séances and studied psychic phenomena as part of his continuing search for truth. Many of his short stories published before 1916 also portray Spiritualist ideas and concepts in a favorable light.

Doyle also wrote three books during this period that his biographers have described as autobiographical: Beyond the City (1893), The Stark Munro Letters (1895), and A Duet With an Occasional Chorus (1899). In the most important of these works, The Stark Munro Letters, Doyle's hero, Stark Munro, reveals that he has only the "vaguest idea as to whence I have come from, whither I am going, or what I am here for. It is not for want of inquiry, or from indifference. I have mastered the principles of several religions. They have all shocked me by the violence which I should have to do to my reason to accept the dogmas of any one of them. I see so clearly that faith is not a virtue, but a vice. It is a goat which has been headed with the sheep." And yet Doyle, through Munro, also admits that his loss of faith was traumatic: "When first I came out of the faith in which I had been reared, I certainly did feel for a time as if my life-belt had burst. I won't exaggerate and say that I was miserable and plunged in utter spiritual darkness." Munro also reflects Doyle's optimism for the future of religions: "The forms of religion will be abandoned, but the essence will be maintained; so that one universal creed will embrace the whole civilized earth."

Doyle's most productive period for writing fiction occurred after his conversion to Spiritualism. His best-known Sherlock Holmes stories were The Sign of Four (1890); The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892); The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894); and The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902). Doyle also "killed off" Sherlock Holmesto concentrate on more serious literary efforts and his studies of Spiritualismby drowning him in Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. Ironically, Holmes was resurrected, or at least "born again," from the waters of Reichenbach in 1905 in The Return of Sherlock Holmes to help supplement Doyle's income. Later books on HolmesThe Valley of Fear (1915), His Last Bow (1917), and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927)helped enable Doyle to actively pursue his missionary efforts on behalf of Spiritualism.

Even though Doyle was a believer in Spiritualism beginning in the late 1880s, in 1916 he wrote an article in Light in which he enthusiastically proclaimed a new dedication to it. Subsequently he began to actively proselytize for the Spiritualist cause. World War I had finally convinced him to more fully embrace the movement: "I might have drifted on for my whole life as a psychical Researcher [b]ut the War came, and it brought earnestness into all our souls and made us look more closely at our own beliefs and reassess our values."

As a result of this "earnestness," he finally recognized that "this subject with which I had so long dallied was not merely a study of a force outside the rules of science, but that it was really something tremendous, a breaking down of the walls between two worlds, a direct undeniable message from beyond, a call of hope and of guidance to the human race at the time of its deepest affliction." Doyle also realized, apparently for the first time, that "the physical phenomena are really of no account, and that their real value consists in the fact that they make religion a very real thing, no longer a matter of faith, but a matter of actual experience and fact." As such, he turned with great zeal from the objective study of Spiritualism to proselytism.

Shortly after his second "conversion" he wrote two books, The New Revelation and The Vital Message, in which he proclaimed his personal belief in the movement. In addition, he wrote numerous letters to the press on the subject of Spiritualism in which he summarized the beliefs and practices of Spiritualists and claimed that he could not "recall any miracle in the New Testament which has not been claimed, upon good authority, as having occurred in the experience of spiritualists"; that Spiritualism is nothing more than what one would find "if he goes back nineteen hundred years and studies the Christianity of Christ"; that the date Spiritualism was organized in upstate New York in 1848 "is in truth the greatest date in human history since the great revelation of two thousand years ago;" and that no faith is necessary to realize that Spiritualism is true.

During the last decade of his life Doyle began spending great sums of money and traveled many thousands of miles to proselytize for the Spiritualist cause in Australia and New Zealand (1920-21), the United States and Canada (1922-23), France (1925), South Africa, Rhodesia, Uganda, Tanganyika and Kenya (1928-29), Scandinavia and Holland (1929), and, of course, England (1916-30). He also recorded a famous Movie-tone interview in 1927 that has never before been published in its entirety.

In 1924 Doyle also translated a book, Jeanne D'Arc Medium (Paris: Librairie des Sciences Psychiques, 1910), written by Leon Denis. Denis, like Doyle, was an adherent of Spiritualism. In his introduction to the translation Doyle extols Joan of Arc's virtues:

"[M]y personal conviction [is] that, next to the Christ, the highest spiritual being of whom we have an exact record upon the earth is the girl Joan. Apart from the question of Christ's divinity, and comparing the two characters upon a purely human plane, there was much analogy between them. Each was sprung from the laboring class. Each proclaimed an inspired commission. Each was martyred while still young. Each was acclaimed by the common people and betrayed or disregarded by the great. Each excited the bitter hatred of the church of their time, the high priests of which in each case conspired for their death."

But Doyle does not stop there. He notes that Denis was a student of psychic matters and that his work is valuable since it gives us "some intelligible reason for the obvious miracle that a girl of nineteen, who could neither read nor write, and knew nothing of military affairs, was able in a few months to turn the tide of a hundred years' war and to save France from becoming a vassal of England."

In 1926, two years after publishing Jeanne D'Arc, Doyle published a two-volume work on the history of Spiritualism in which he attempted to present Spiritualism in a historical and topical perspective. Perhaps the most ironic development in Doyle's quest for a new religion occurred when he began to see himself increasingly as "a prophet of the future of the whole world." The Doyles were now put in personal contact with the guide to this uncertain future, an Arabian spirit called Pheneas, who communicated through Jean Doyle's [Arthur's wife] automatic writing.

Doyle's belief in the hereafter became increasingly premised on very specific communications from Pheneas through his wife, Jean. Receiving such messages caused him to state his absolute belief in the hereafter: "I have not only received prophecies [concerning the end of the world] in a very consistent and detailed form, but also so large a number of independent corroborations that it is difficult for me to doubt that there lies some solid truth at the back of these."

Although Doyle remained committed to Spiritualism, he apparently became discouraged when the prophecies and revelations concerning the end of the world that had been communicated through Pheneas were not fulfilled, and he speculated that he and his wife may have become "victims of some extraordinary prank played upon the human race from the other side."

Doyle was still a dedicated Spiritualist at the time of his death in 1930. Until his death Doyle remained convinced that life continued after death, because of ongoing communications from deceased family members who assured him that they lived in the spirit world. These communications remained the "definite demonstration" that he had sought since his days at the University of Edinburgh. He believed that these apparitions and other evidence of Spiritualism provided a factual basis from which he could deduce, in the same manner that Sherlock Holmes would have deduced, that life continues after death. Given his acceptance of these apparitions, it is hardly surprising that Doyle was also convinced that his acceptance of Spiritualism was completely consistent with the deductive reasoning of Sherlock Holmes and Holmes's observation that "there is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion.It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner."

Doyle died in 1930 in Crowborough, Sussex, England.

Sources:

Carr, John Dickson. The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. London: John Murray, 1949.

Doyle, Arthur Conan. Letters to the Press. Edited by John M. Gibson and Richard L. Green. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1986.

Edwards, Owen Dudley. The Quest for Sherlock Holmes, A Biographical Study of Arthur Conan Doyle. Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, 1983.

Jones, Kelvin I. Conan Doyle and the Spirits: The Spiritualist Career of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Wellingborough, England: Aquarian Press, 1989.

Lellenberg, Jon L. The Quest for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987.

McCearney, James. Arthur Conan Doyle. Paris: La Table Ronde, 1988.

Nordon, Pierre. Conan Doyle. London: John Murray, 1966.

Pearson, Hesketh. Conan Doyle, His Life and Art. London: Methuen, 1943.

Stavert, Geoffrey. A Study in Southsea. Portsmouth, England: Milestone Publications, 1987.

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Doyle, Arthur Conan

Arthur Conan Doyle

Born: May 22, 1859
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died: July 6, 1930
Crowborough, Sussex, England

Scottish author, surgeon, and ophthalmologist

Arenowned English author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is best remembered as the creator of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes.

Doyle's youth, education, and early career

Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on May 22, 1859, into an Irish Roman Catholic family of noted artistic achievement. His mother, Mary Doyle, was a major influence in his life. She taught him to be a gentleman in his youth and as his writing career progressed she would give him ideas for his stories. His father, Charles, was an architect in Edinburgh, as well as an amateur artist. Together they had eight children.

As a boy, Arthur was educated at a Catholic preparatory school. After attending Stonyhurst College, he entered Edinburgh University as a medical student in 1876 and received a doctor of medicine degree in 1885. In his spare time, however, he began to write stories, which were published anonymously (without a name) in various magazines from 1878 to 1880.

After two long sea voyages as a ship's doctor, Doyle practiced medicine at Southsea, England, from 1882 to 1890. In 1885 he married Louise Hawkins and in March 1891 moved his young family to London, where he began to specialize in ophthalmology (the area of medicine involving the eye). His practice remained small, however, and since one of his anonymous stories, "Habakuk Jephson's Statement," had enjoyed considerable success when it appeared in the Cornhill Magazine in 1884, he began to dedicate himself seriously to writing.

Sherlock Holmes is introduced

Doyle's first novel, A Study in Scarlet, introduced Sherlock Holmes to the reading public. This was followed by two historical novels, Micah Clarke in 1889 and The White Company in 1891. The success of these works led Doyle to abandon medicine and launch his career as a writer.

The second Sherlock Holmes novel, The Sign of the Four (1890), was followed by the Holmes short story, "A Scandal in Bohemia" (1891). The popularity of these tales made others like them a regular monthly feature of the Strand Magazine, and the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series was begun. Doyle eventually tired of these stories, and in "The Final Problem," published in December 1893, plunged Holmes and his enemy, Moriarty, to their apparent deaths in the falls of Reichenbach. Nine years later, however, he published a third Sherlock Holmes novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, but dated the adventure before Holmes's "death." Then, in October 1903, Holmes achieved his mysterious comeback from death in "The Empty House" and thereafter appeared occasionally until 1927. All told, Doyle wrote fifty-six Sherlock Holmes stories and four novels. The Valley of Fear (1914) was the last.

Other early works

Among other works published early in Doyle's career were Beyond the City (1892), a short novel of modern city life; The Great Shadow (1892), a historical novel of the Napoleonic period; The Refugees (1893), a historical novel about French Huguenots; and The Stark Munro Letters (1894), an autobiographical (having to do with one's life) novel. In 1896 he issued one of his best-known historical novels, Rodney Stone, which was followed by another historical novel, Uncle Bernac (1897); a collection of poems, Songs of Action (1898); and two less popular novels, The Tragedy of Korosko (1898) and A Duet (1899).

Nonfiction and later career

After the outbreak of the Boer War (18991902; a war between the British and the northern natives or Boers of South Africa for control of the area, which the British won), Doyle served as chief, or head, surgeon of a field hospital at Bloemfontein, South Africa, in 1900. His The Great Boer War (1900) was widely read and praised for its fairness to both sides. In 1902 he wrote a long booklet, The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct, to defend the British action in South Africa against widespread criticism by peace-minded groups. In August 1902 Doyle was knighted for his service to England.

Doyle published Sir Nigel (1906), a popular historical novel of the Middle Ages. His wife died this same year of tuberculosis (an infectious disease that affects the lungs); and in 1907 Doyle married Jean Leckie. Doyle now took up a number of political and charitable causes. In 1909 he wrote Divorce Law Reform, supporting equal rights for women in British law, and The Crime of the Congo, attacking the mistreatment of that colony by Belgium. In 1911 he published a second collection of poems, Songs of the Road, and in 1912 began a series of science fiction stories with the novel The Lost World, featuring another of his famous characters, Professor Challenger.

After the outbreak of World War I (191418; a war between the German-led Central Powers and the Allies: France, England, Italy, the United States, and other nations), Doyle organized the Civilian National Reserve against the threat of German invasion. In 1916 he published A Visit to Three Fronts and in 1918 again toured the front lines. These tours, plus extensive communication with a number of officers, enabled him to write his famous account The British Campaigns in France and Flanders, published in six volumes (19161919).

Later life and spiritualism

Doyle had been interested in spiritualism (the belief in the ability for the living to communicate with the dead) since he rejected his Roman Catholic faith in 1880. In 1915 he experienced a new belief in "psychic religion," or spiritualism, so that after the war he devoted the rest of his life and career to spreading his new faith in a series of works: The New Revelation (1918), The Vital Message (1919), The Wanderings of a Spiritualist (1921), and History of Spiritualism (1926). After travelling for years to promote this cause, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle died on July 6, 1930, of a heart attack, at his home in Crowborough, Sussex.

For More Information

Booth, Martin. The Doctor and the Detective. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2000.

Hardwick, Mollie. The Man Who Was Sherlock Holmes. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964.

Pascal, Janet B. Arthur Conan Doyle: Beyond Baker Street. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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Doyle, Arthur Conan

Doyle, Arthur Conan

5/22/18597/6/1930
SCOTTISH
WRITER

The British author Arthur Conan Doyle is best remembered as the creator of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes. His fictional crime stories describe the law enforcement and forensic techniques used in crime investigations of his era.

Doyle was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, into an Irish Roman Catholic family of noted artistic achievement. After attending Stonyhurst College, he entered Edinburgh University as a medical student in 1876. He received a doctor of medicine degree in 1885. In his spare time, however, he began to write stories that were published anonymously in various magazines from 18781880.

After two long sea voyages as a ship's doctor, Doyle practiced medicine at Southsea, England, from 18821890. In 1885, he married Louise Hawkins and in 1891, moved his young family to London, where he began to specialize in ophthalmology. His practice remained small, however, and because one of his anonymous stories, "Habakuk Jephson's Statement," had enjoyed considerable success when it appeared in a magazine in 1884, he began to devote himself seriously to writing. The result was his first novel, A Study in Scarlet, which introduced detective Sherlock Holmes to the reading public in 1887. This was followed by two historical novels, Micah Clarke in 1889 and The White Company in 1891. The immediate and prolonged success of these works led Doyle to abandon medicine altogether and launch his writing career.

The second Sherlock Holmes novel, The Sign of the Four (1890), was followed by the first Holmes short story, "A Scandal in Bohemia" (1891). The instant popularity of these tales made others like them a regular monthly feature of the Strand Magazine, and the famous Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series was begun. In subsequent stories Doyle developed Holmes into a highly individualized and eccentric character, together with his companion, Doctor Watson, the ostensible narrator of the stories, and the pair came to be readily accepted as living persons by readers in England and America. But Doyle seems to have considered these stories a distraction from his more serious writing, and eventually grew tired of them. In "The Final Problem," published in 1893, Doyle kills both Holmes and his archenemy, Moriarty. Nine years later, however, Doyle published a third Sherlock Holmes novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, but dated the action before Holmes's literary death. Then, in 1903, Holmes effected his mysterious resurrection in "The Empty House" and thereafter appeared intermittently until 1927, three years before Doyle's own death. All told, Doyle wrote 56 Sherlock Holmes stories and four novels (The Valley of Fear [1914], was the last).

Among the other works published early in his career, which Doyle felt were more representative of his true artistry, were Beyond the City (1892), a short novel of contemporary urban life; The Great Shadow (1892), a historical novel of the Napoleonic period; The Refugees (1893), a historical novel about French Huguenots; and The Stark Munro Letters (1894), an autobiographical novel. In 1896, Doyle issued one of his best-known historical novels, Rodney Stone, which was followed by another historical novel, Uncle Bernac (1897); a collection of poems, Songs of Action (1898); and two less popular novels, The Tragedy of Korosko (1898) and ADuet (1899).

After the outbreak of the Boer War, Doyle's energy and patriotic zeal led him in 1900 to serve as chief surgeon of a field hospital near the front lines at Bloemfontein, South Africa. His The Great Boer War (1900) was widely read and praised for its fairness to both sides. In 1902, he wrote a long pamphlet, The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct, to defend the British action in South Africa against widespread criticism by pacifist groups. In August 1902, Doyle was knighted for his service to England.

After being twice defeated, in 1900 and 1906, in a bid for a seat in Parliament, Sir Arthur published Sir Nigel (1906), a popular historical novel of the Middle Ages. A year after the death of his wife from tuberculosis in 1906, Doyle married his second wife, Jean Leckie. Doyle then took up a number of political and humanitarian causes. In 1909, he wrote Divorce Law Reform, championing equal rights for women in British law, and The Crime of the Congo, attacking the exploitation of that colony by Belgium. In 1911, he published a second collection of poems, Songs of the Road, and in 1912, began a series of science fiction stories with the novel The Lost World, featuring another of his famous characters, Professor Challenger.

After the outbreak of World War I, Doyle organized the Civilian National Reserve against the threat of German invasion. In 1916, he published A Visit to Three Fronts and in 1918, toured the front lines. These tours, plus extensive correspondence with a number of high-ranking officers, enabled him to write his famous account The British Campaigns in France and Flanders, published in six volumes (19161919).

Doyle had been interested in spiritualism since he rejected his Roman Catholic faith in 1880. From 1917 to 1925, he lectured on spiritualism throughout Europe, Australia, the United States, and Canada. The same cause led him to South Africa in 1928 and brought him home exhausted, from Sweden, in 1929. He died in 1930 of a heart attack, at his home in Crowborough, Sussex.

see also Crime scene investigation; Literature, forensic science in.

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