Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) was a prolific writer perhaps best known for his creation of the fascinating Sherlock Holmes, who first appeared in the novel A Study in Scarlet in 1887, along with his friend and colleague, Dr. Watson, and is now an international cultural icon.
But, as is often the case, the man behind Sherlock Holmes is every bit as fascinating as the character he created. Here are some things you probably didn’t know about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and they might really surprise you!
He was one of the first people in Great Britain to own and drive a car.
He even participated in an international road competition organized by Prince Henry of Prussia with his second wife, Jean Leckie.
Even though people often call him “Conan Doyle,” as if Conan was part of his surname, it is not.
Conan is actually one of his middle names. His full name is Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle. Conan Doyle himself encouraged the use of this false two-part surname once he reached adulthood.
His success with Sherlock Holmes did not earn him his knighthood.
King Edward VI knighted Arthur Conan Doyle in 1902 for his The War in South Africa: Its Causes and Conduct. This was a response to criticisms of British conduct during the Second Boer War. Although the British Army deemed Conan Doyle too overweight to join as a soldier, he did serve as a medic during the war.
Doyle played cricket with JM Barrie and other prominent writers.
These other writers included Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, P. G. Wodehouse, G. K. Chesterton, A. A. Milne, and Jerome K. Jerome. By all accounts, their team, the Allahkabarries, was not very good, but Barrie at least was in it more for love of the game than for any athletic aspirations.
Sherlock Holmes may have been a skeptic, but his creator was not.
Arthur Conan Doyle seemed to believe in anything and everything, even to the point of gullibility. His unwavering devotion to spiritualism was just one example of this. Another was his strong belief in the Cottingley fairies. He spent one million dollars promoting them, and he even wrote and published a book, The Coming of the Fairies, about them.
The cousins who first “observed” and took photographs of the fairies in 1917 later (in 1980, long after poor Doyle was dead) declared the first four to be part of an elaborate hoax, although they asserted the authenticity of the fifth and final photograph, shown here.
As successful as he was, the writing profession was not his first choice.
Doyle started out as a doctor and even studied ophthalmology. His private practice was not very successful, however, and he passed the time waiting for patients to knock on his door by writing. I think we’re all grateful Conan Doyle’s medical career got off to a slow start.
Arthur Conan Doyle solved mysteries in real life, just as his hero Sherlock Holmes did in the fictional realm.
The murder of Marion Gilchrist, a wealthy 82-year-old woman from Glasgow, was one example of this. Just as he had Holmes do in his stories, Doyle uncovered new evidence, interviewed witnesses, and questioned the prosecution’s evidence. He published his findings in a plea for the accused, Oscar Slater’s, pardon. This Scottish authorities ignored all this at first, but Slater and Doyle never gave up. Finally, Britain’s first Labour prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald, revealed that the police and legal authorities had colluded to withhold evidence and influence witnesses. Although Slater was released from prison and received £6,000 in compensation, Doyle never received as much as a penny in gratitude for his help.
No doubt about it, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was every bit as interesting as his fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. And even though Doyle died long ago, his literary legacy lives on for millions of new readers to discover for generations to come.