This Day In Literary History
On May 22nd, 1859, the legendary English writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. The son of a drunkard, his father's only accomplishment in life was siring an intellectually gifted child.
At the age of eight, Arthur Conan Doyle was sent to a Jesuit prep school called Hodder Place. From there, he attended a Jesuit university, Stonyhurst College, but after graduating in 1875, he cast off the yoke of Christianity and became an agnostic.
For the next five years, Conan Doyle studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh. During this time, he began writing short stories. He sold his first story to Chambers's Edinburgh Journal before his 20th birthday.
In 1882, he joined his classmate George Budd in a Plymouth medical practice, but their relationship soon soured. Conan Doyle left for Portsmouth, where he set up his own medical practice. Unsuccessful at first, he began writing stories again while waiting for patients.
After many rejections, his debut novel A Study In Scarlet was published, first in 1887 by Beeton's Christmas Annual magazine, then in book form a year later, with illustrations by his father, Charles.
The novel's main character was a detective called Sherlock Holmes. The brilliant, analytical, and laid-back Holmes was assisted by his friend, Dr. John Watson, who also served as narrator for the duo's adventures.
When he wasn't solving crimes, Holmes' passions included playing the violin and enjoying a good game of chess. He also had a fondness for cocaine and morphine, which he used to escape from "the dull routine of existence."
As a detective, Holmes wasn't above deceiving the police or concealing evidence if necessary to solve the crime. His main nemesis was the evil Professor Moriarty, who possessed an intellect comparable to Holmes.
A Study In Scarlet was the first of four novels and 56 short stories to feature Sherlock Holmes, who would become one of the greatest iconic literary characters of all time.
Conan Doyle himself would later become a real life sleuth, investigating closed cases where he believed that the defendants had been wrongfully convicted.
In 1906, his first case, that of a half-English, half-Indian lawyer named George Edalji convicted of writing threatening letters and mutilating animals, led to the establishment of England's Court of Criminal Appeal a year later.
In addition to the Sherlock Holmes novels and stories, Conan Doyle's large body of work also included a series of science fiction writings featuring the character of Professor Challenger.
Though he possessed a brilliant mind like Sherlock Holmes, he was far from laid-back and described as "a homicidal megalomaniac with a turn for science." Conan Doyle's first work to feature Professor Challenger, a novel called The Lost World, was published in 1912.
In it, Professor Challenger claims to have discovered a South American plateau where dinosaurs still exist. A skeptical reporter, Edward Malone, accompanies Challenger on an expedition and finds that the irascible scientist was right. Not only are there dinosaurs in the Lost World, but a race of ape-men as well.
Conan Doyle was a believer in the supernatural world and wrote two nonfiction books on the subject, The Coming Of The Fairies (1921) and The History Of Spiritualism (1926).
In the 1920s, he became friends with the legendary American magician Harry Houdini, but Houdini's work as a prominent debunker of spiritualism soon led to a bitter falling out between the two men.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was knighted in 1902, an honor he believed was bestowed on him as the result of The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct, a pamphlet he had written justifying England's role in the Boer War to an outraged world.
He later wrote a nonfiction book on the conflict called The Great Boer War. He died in 1930 of a heart attack at the age of 71. He will always be remembered as one of the greatest mystery writers of all time.
Quote Of The Day
"My mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram, or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation." - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Today's video features the only filmed interview with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle known to exist - an early talkie shot in October of 1928 for a Movietone News newsreel. Enjoy!