The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle: A Biography

The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle: A Biography

by Russell Miller

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As the creator of Sherlock Holmes, "the world's most famous man who never was," Arthur Conan Doyle remains one of our favorite writers; his work is read with affection—and sometimes obsession—the world over. Doctor, writer, spiritualist: his life was no less fascinating than his fiction.
Conan Doyle grew up in relative poverty in


As the creator of Sherlock Holmes, "the world's most famous man who never was," Arthur Conan Doyle remains one of our favorite writers; his work is read with affection—and sometimes obsession—the world over. Doctor, writer, spiritualist: his life was no less fascinating than his fiction.
Conan Doyle grew up in relative poverty in Edinburgh, with the mental illness of his artistically gifted but alcoholic father casting a shadow over his early life. He struggled both as a young doctor and in his early attempts to sell short stories, having only limited success until Sherlock Holmes became a publishing phenomenon and propelled him to worldwide fame.
While he enjoyed the celebrity Holmes brought him, he also felt that the stories damaged his literary reputation. Beyond his writing, Conan Doyle led a full life, participating in the Boer War, falling in love with another woman while his wife was dying of tuberculosis, campaigning against injustice, and converting to Spiritualism, a move that would bewilder his friends and fans.
During his lifetime Conan Doyle wrote more than fifteen hundred letters to members of his family, most notably his mother, revealing his innermost thoughts, fears and hopes; and Russell Miller is the first biographer to have been granted unlimited access to Conan Doyle's private correspondence. The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle also makes use of the writer's personal papers, unseen for many years, and is the first book to draw fully on the Richard Lancelyn Green archive, the world's most comprehensive collection of Conan Doyle material.
Told with panache, The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle is an unprecedentedly full portrait of an enduringly popular figure.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Miller's (Codename Tricycle: The True Story of the Second World War's Most Extraordinary Double Agent) comprehensive and fascinating portrait of Arthur Conan Doyle-doctor, Spiritualist, and creator of Sherlock Holmes-is informed by material previously unavailable to other authors; Doyle's personal papers only recently became available in the British Library, and the Richard Lancelyn Green archives have only been available since 2005. It is one of the great ironies of fiction that Doyle came to hate the great Sherlock Holmes for his dominance over Doyle's other writings; for readers more interested in the cultural and historical period of Doyle's life than his famous detective, Miller's book will prove equally appealing. His chapters on the Boer War and World War I illustrate how Doyle's war experiences influenced much of his later work and ideas. Miller's sensitive discussion of Doyle's strong belief in Spiritualism recommends this biography over Andrew Lycett's The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes. These two recent biographies complement each other, however, and larger libraries should purchase both. (Index and photos not seen.)
—Susan L. Peters

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The Adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle
IT IS A PECULIAR IRONY that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's birthplace in Edinburgh's Old Town, long since demolished, is not today marked with a statue of the writer himself but by a statue of his most famous creation - Sherlock Holmes, the character Conan Doyle came to believe was largely responsible for destroying his reputation as a serious literary figure. Perhaps it is understandable; after all, Holmes is the most famous man who never lived.His aquiline profile, with deerstalker and pipe, is instantly recognisable, even in countries where people have the greatest difficulty pronouncing his name. It is picked out in ceramic tiles on the walls of Baker Street Underground station in London. It has featured on cigarette cards, tea towels, board games, dinner services, postage stamps, beer bottles, chewing gum, mouthwashes, computer games, Beecham's Pills and packets of Kellogg's Crunchy Nut corn flakes. Only Mickey Mouse and Santa Claus rival Sherlock Holmes for worldwide recognition.He remains one of the few household names in English fiction, arguably the most famous character in literature after Hamlet, and one with whom the public has an extraordinarily intimate acquaintance. Everyone knows his catchphrase 'Elementary, my dear Watson!', although few are aware it is nowhere to be found in the stories. His eccentricities - pinning correspondence to the mantelshelf with a jackknife and keeping tobacco in the heel of a Turkish slipper, for example - are common knowledge. He is a valuable asset to the British touristindustry, known to 87 per cent of visitors to Britain, and is one of London's major attractions - indeed, Japanese and Russians often cite him as their main reason for visiting the city. Misguided souls still write to him at his Baker Street 'consulting rooms' in the hope that his genius may solve their problems, even though - had he ever existed - he would be long since dead.Of course, to Sherlockians he is a real person. Holmes inspires a cult-like devotion among his fans which borders on the mystical. There are more than 400 Sherlock Holmes societies around the world which meet regularly to worship at the metaphorical shrine of the great detective. Members view late-nineteenth-century London, with its swirling fog and hansom cabs, as sacred territory. They study what they describe as 'the Canon' with forensic ardour, investigate the minutiae of Holmes's 'life', debate obscure textual conundrums, analyse the many glaring errors and inconsistencies in the stories, and dress up as characters. Apart from the holy books of the great religions, few texts can have been examined as microscopically as the Holmes canon. Thanks to Sherlockian 'scholarship', for example, we can know - if we care to - how many times Holmes is recorded as smiling (103).More has been written about Holmes than any other fictional character - much more than Conan Doyle wrote himself - by those seeking to understand his enduring grip on public imagination as generation after generation fell under his spell. The fifty-four short stories and four novels have been translated into almost every living language, including Esperanto, have never been out of print and have been plagiarised, serialised, analysed and dramatised for screen, radio, television, stage and even a ballet.Essential to every story is the symbiosis between the mercurial, eccentric, brilliant but bloodless detective and the affable and unflappable Doctor Watson, Holmes's 'rather stupid friend', as Conan Doyle once unkindly described him. Watson is the frequent butt of Holmes's sarcasm when he makes a simplistic deduction ('Excellent, Watson! You scintillate today') and cruelty (After all you are only a general practitioner with very limited experience and mediocre qualifications'), but his loyalty never wavers. He is not rewarded until the very last series when, in 'The Adventure of the Three Garridebs', he is wounded and Holmes reveals his true feelings: 'My friend's wiry arms wereround me and he was leading me to a chair. "You're not hurt, Watson? For God's sake say you are not hurt." It was worth a wound - it was worth many wounds - to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation.'Watson was the perfect foil for Holmes: their partnership has inspired more imitations than any other duo in literature and established an entire genre of detective fiction that endures today. Conan Doyle had no notion at the start that in Sherlock Holmes he was creating a colossus among cultural icons, yet when that realisation dawned it gave him no pleasure at all. 
Doyle is a quintessentially Irish name, ranking twelfth in the list of the most common Irish surnames, said to be derived from the Gaelic Dubh-Ghaill ('dark foreigner'), the label the indigenous Celts gave to the Vikings who began settling in Ireland more than 1,000 years ago. The family of Arthur Conan Doyle, however, variously asserted its origins elsewhere. Conan Doyle himself first believed his ancestors came from Ulster, but he later took the view that the Irish Doyles were a cadet branch of the Staffordshire Doyles, who had taken part in the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169. In yet another version, the Doyles traced their roots to Pont d'Oilly near Rouen in France, and to the coat of arms adopted in the twelfth century by the Anglo-Norman family of d'Oilly which had participated in the Norman invasion of Britain in 1066. An Alexander d'Oilly was indeed granted lands in County Wexford in 1333 by Edward III. Others within the family liked to boast that their earliest known ancestor was Foulkes D'Oyley, a comrade in arms of Richard Coeur de Lion.Whatever their ancient origins, Doyles do not figure prominently in the early historical records of Ireland. In 1313 a Hercules Doyle was tried and hanged for burning down the manor of Fermoy and in 1642 a James Doyle of County Meath was accused of high treason. It wasnot until the eighteenth century that the Doyles began to make their mark on history with the emergence of six major generals - four of them baronets - a bishop, and the extraordinary dynasty founded by the painter and caricaturist John Doyle, born in Dublin in 1797, which would make significant contributions to the worlds of art and literature and become the only family in British history to warrant five separate entries in the Dictionary of National Biography within the space of three generations.John Doyle's family had been impoverished by centuries of punitive laws against Roman Catholics and was finally dispossessed of its last small estate, in County Wexford, in 1762. The family fortunes plummeted; at the time of John's birth his father, James, was listed as a tailor living at 15 St Andrew Street. John's brother, James, would enter the priesthood and both his sisters became nuns, but John remained 'in the world', largely because he demonstrated, very early in life, a precocious artistic talent. He won his first medal at the age of 8 and studied at the Royal Dublin Society Drawing School, where he became a private pupil of the Italian landscape painter Gaspare Gabrielli, then based in Dublin, and the miniaturist John Comerford. The young John Doyle specialised in painting horses, an animal much loved, then as now, by the Irish, and in 1814, at the age of 17, he exhibited three portraits of horses at the Hibernian Society of Artists, receiving a number of commissions as a result. A keen horseman himself, he regularly rode out to hounds and could paint a horse from memory with extraordinary accuracy. Years later the Catholic journal the Month reported an occasion when Doyle commented on the similarity of a horse he had seen in England to one he had known many years earlier in Dublin; it turned out to be a direct lineal descendant of the Irish horse.In February 1820, John Doyle, aged 23, married Marianne Conan, at St Andrew's Church in Dublin. The Conans believed themselves to be descended from the ancient ducal house of Brittany but, as with the Doyles, had fallen on hard times. Marianne's father was also listed as a tailor, living in Trinity Place, Dublin. (Some claim that the couple was invited to honeymoon at Arundel Castle, the home of the Duke of Norfolk, the first Catholic peer of the realm, but since the castle was uninhabited at that time it appears unlikely.) Within a year, Marianne had given birth to a daughter, Annette.Dublin at that time could offer little to an ambitious young artist. Britain's attempt to solve the 'Irish problem' by the creation, in 1801, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland had drastically reduced Dublin's status. It had been one of the wealthiest and liveliest cities in the British Empire, but the abolition of the Irish parliament marked the beginning of a long period of decline. John Doyle, like many of his compatriots, decided that a better future could be found across the water in London, which during the nineteenth century would be transformed into the world's largest city, the hub of a powerful empire and a global political, financial and trading centre.The Doyles and their baby daughter probably arrived in London in 1822 and set up home in a rented house at 60 Berners Street, north of Soho, then a pleasant residential area popular with writers and artists. They brought few possessions, although they had contrived to retain some family heirlooms: silver plate engraved with the Doyle family crest, a sixteenth-century medical mortar also embossed with the Doyle arms and a half-length portrait of the Earl of Stafford, said to be by Van Dyck. (Thomas Wentworth, the Earl of Stafford, was a Protestant and one of Charles I's most influential advisers; he ruled Ireland on the King's behalf for seven years from 1633 but was executed in 1641 on trumped-up charges. How a staunchly Catholic family like the Doyles came to own a significant portrait of a prominent Protestant is unknown.)The Regency period had drawn to an end when the Doyles arrived in London. In 1811, the recurring madness of King George III had led to his son, the Prince of Wales, being appointed Prince Regent. The short decade that took its name from his title amounted to the last gasp of Georgian exuberance before the staid morality of the Victorian era. The Prince, irreverently known as 'Prinny', set the tone with his louche and indolent lifestyle. His marriage to Caroline of Brunswick had been a disaster, and he cultivated a string of mistresses who grew older and fatter with him. When George III died in 1820, Prinny ascended to the throne as George IV and immediately tried to divorce his wife for adultery, leading to a scandalous trial which greatly entertained the nation and provided rich fodder for cartoonists.Thanks largely to Prinny, the Regency era was the golden age ofpolitical caricature, exemplified by savage cartoons satirising his gross excesses. With no effective libel laws at that time, everything and everyone was fair game for famous caricaturists like Thomas Rowlandson and James Gillray close friends who used their skills not just to entertain, but to influence public opinion and to campaign for social justice as well as to lampoon politicians, attack the morality of members of the court and highlight the contrast between royal extravagance and the plight of the poor. While Regency ladies showed off their finery at lavish balls, the theatre and the opera, and Regency dandies idled away their days in London clubs, agitation for political and social reform grew among the increasingly vocal working classes, mired in squalor and poverty in overcrowded, disease-ridden slums.In Dublin the young John Doyle had enjoyed the occasional patronage of important figures such as the Marquis of Sligo, General Sir Edward Kerrison and the 2nd Earl Talbot, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. But in London he knew virtually no one. One of his first works was The Life of the Race Horse - a series of six pictures completed following a visit to Newmarket racecourse - after which he began painting portraits, mostly from memory, of prominent individuals. His first success was a portrait of the Duke of York on horseback.But it soon became clear to Doyle that he would not be able to support a growing family - two sons, James William Edmund, born in 1822, and Richard, two years later - as a portrait painter. The popular art of caricature in journals and newspapers was an obvious alternative. And so, Doyle began visiting the public gallery of the House of Commons, taking with him a sketchbook. By 1827 he was selling political caricatures to a number of publications, notably The Times. His technique was completely different from the cruel, bawdy style of his Regency predecessors. Instead, he produced elegant, beautifully drawn and intelligent cartoons that satirised leading political and social figures without ever descending into coarse vulgarity. Avoiding any political affiliation, he was an amused spectator of the foibles of politicians, poking fun without malice or disfigurement; tellingly, he never made an enemy from his caricatures. 'My grandfather,' Arthur Conan Doyle would insist many years later, 'was a gentleman, drawing gentlemen for gentlemen, and the satire lay in the wit of the picture and not in the misdrawing of faces.'Many of his pencil sketches are now considered the most lifelike representations in existence of the individuals portrayed. He signed his work 'H.B.', and guarded his anonymity jealously, insisted that his name never be revealed and delivered his drawings to the printer in a covered carriage to avoid detection. Thus, there was soon much speculation in fashionable drawing rooms about the identity of this intriguing new arrival, who was able to capture the essence of public figures with such skill and subtlety.Doyle family lore held that when the news spread of a new set of H.B. lithographs, crowds would gather outside the publisher's offices and carriages jam the nearby streets. In July 1831 Thomas Macaulay, then a newly elected Member of Parliament, wrote to his sister that while waiting to see the Prime Minister Earl Grey at 10 Downing Street he was able to pass the time quite agreeably by looking through two portfolios of H.B. caricatures left in an anteroom. 'Earl Grey's face was in every print,' he noted. 'I was very much diverted. I had seen some of them before; but many were new to me and their merit is extraordinary.1His refusal to exploit his fame, or even reveal his identity, makes Doyle unjustly less well known than many of his contemporaries. The historian G. M. Trevelyan described him as 'an artist who has left to posterity a lively, exact and amusing record of the leading public figures in a great period of our domestic history'. The Morning Post reported that by the 1830s H.B.'s caricatures were no longer a luxury but a 'way of life'. Some 600 of his cartoons, representing a graphic political history of England in the early years of the reign of Queen Victoria, are now deposited in the Print Room at the British Museum.In 1833 John and Marianne Doyle and their brood of children moved to 17 Cambridge Terrace, a large, comfortable house on a tree-lined avenue north of Hyde Park, now called Sussex Gardens. By then Annette, James and Richard had been joined by Henry Edward (born in 1827), Francis (1829), Adelaide (1831) and Charles (1832). Cambridge Terrace became the place where John Doyle entertained his growing circle of friends, among them the leading writers, politicians and artists of the day. Sir Walter Scott, Benjamin Disraeli, William Makepeace Thackeray, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Millais, Edwin Landseer andCharles Dickens all graced the dinner table at one time or another. Charles Doyle left this account of a typical Sunday:The day was observed by all the children, great and small, Annette, James, Dick, Henry, Frank, Adelaide and myself going to Mass, celebrated at the French Chapel at 8 a.m. This in winter meant going from Cambridge Terrace up Edgware Road, down George Street, a couple of miles, often in the dark, and getting home to breakfast at 10. The after day was spent in perfect quiet until 8 in the evening when the camphor lamp and mole candles were lit in the drawing room, and guests began to arrive, often comprising the most distinguished literary and artistic men of London ... Most delicious music was discoursed by Annette on the piano and James on the violincello till about 10 when the supper tray was laid, generally just cold meats and salad, followed by punch. We boys all retired when this appeared, but upstairs in bed I have often listened to indications of most delightful conversations till 1 or 2 ...2On 11 December 1839 Doyle's devoted wife, Marianne, died suddenly, at the age of 44, of a 'diseased heart', leaving Doyle to bring up their seven children alone, then aged between 7 and 18. Marianne's sister, Elizabeth, and brother, Michael Conan, a recently qualified barrister, were also living at 17 Cambridge Terrace at that time, and so Aunt Elizabeth and 18-year-old Annette took over the running of the household. Mainly tutored at home under their father's strict supervision, all the Doyle boys exhibited early artistic talent, manifested in the illustrated letters they were required to write their father once a week. Every Sunday all the children would gather for the 'show', at which they had to produce the week's artwork, usually a watercolour depicting some historical scene, which their father would review.Despite an appearance of comfortable prosperity, the family lived close to the edge financially. Doyle's celebrity as 'H.B.' did not produce great riches, and there were occasions when Annette, who would eventually become a nun in the Society of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary in Kensington, would absent herself from the lunch table in order to ensure enough food to go around. Nevertheless, standardswere rigorously maintained and the boys were coached in the gentlemanly pursuits of fencing, dancing and music.Perhaps to help get over the loss of his mother, 15-year-old Richard ('Dicky') began work a few weeks after her death on an illustrated journal for the year 1840, now preserved in the British Museum. 'Dick Doyle's Journal of 1840' is a delight, packed with wry anecdotes and whimsical pen-and-ink vignettes depicting daily life at home and family outings to the opera, concerts, the zoo, the Royal Academy, the National Gallery and the Tower of London, along with sharply observed aspects of life in the capital early in Queen Victoria's reign. One illustration shows the three oldest boys, James, Dick and Henry, at their regular dancing lesson, which they all detested: they prance ineptly in front of their fiddle-playing teacher while their elder sister, Annette, looks on impassively. Also included is an account of a pantomime staged by Francis in which he played all the parts and which 'called forth such pangs of merriment from the wit displayed therein which was all brewed on the spot by the spirited manager, that I don't know what might not have happened if a supper had not been announced'.Even after the death of their mother entertainment and laughter seemed ever present for the children at 17 Cambridge Terrace. Dicky's illustrated letter to his father, dated 17 July 1842, described a family concert which included pianoforte recitals by Annette and Adelaide, Dicky on the violin and a song from 'Master Charles Doyle' who 'entered, music in hand, to chant his favourite melody "Goodnight love, goodnight"', and Non piu mesta, arranged for two performers on the piano, played by 'Master Frank and Miss Adelaide'. This last 'transported the audience, and so modest was the young gentleman [Francis] that he more than once made as though he was going to leave off in the middle of it, but being encouraged by the enraptured spectators he was prevailed to go on'.3 Sadly, both Adelaide and Francis would be dead within a few years, Adelaide of consumption at the age of 13 and Francis before he reached 16 (the cause is not known).Soon after Punch magazine was founded in 1841, both Richard and his father began contributing cartoons. Launched as a 'defender of the oppressed and a radical scourge of all authority', Punch was the mouthpiece of the emerging middle class and perfectly suited theDoyles' satirical talents. Entertaining and provocative, it campaigned against the high cost of the monarchy, pointing out that Queen Victoria's consort, Prince Albert, enjoyed an annual allowance of £30,000 at a time when the total budget for educating the poor in England was only £10,000. Politicians were also a popular target of the magazine's caustic wit, particularly the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, routinely referred to as 'Sir Rhubarb Pill'.In 1843 Dick Doyle illustrated Thomas Hood's powerful poem 'The Song of the Shirt', a stinging indictment of capitalism and of the growing inequality between rich and poor. By 1848 Dick was producing almost a third of all the cartoons in the magazine, and the following year he designed the famous front cover featuring Mr Punch and his dog, Toby, which remained unaltered until well after the Second World War. But in 1850 a serious editorial rift led to his departure: a devout Roman Catholic like his father, he resigned in protest at what he perceived as Punch's hostility to the Pope. The decision that year by Pope Pius IX to create an archbishopric and twelve bishoprics in England had been interpreted as 'papal aggression' by certain sections of the public and the media, including Punch, which energetically championed the Protestant cause.Dick was particularly incensed by a cartoon portraying the then Prime Minister, Lord John Russell, as David, slaying Nicholas Wiseman, the future leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England, as Goliath. Wiseman was a close friend of the family. Dick refused all entreaties to stay on the staff, sacrificing a handsome salary of £800 a year. Thackeray was among those who tried to persuade him to change his mind, arguing that The Times had mounted similar attacks without its Catholic journalists resigning, but Dicky rebuffed the approach, claiming that it was 'all very well in The Times, but not in Punch ... The Times is a monarchy whereas Punch is a republic.' After leaving the magazine he concentrated on book illustrations for Dickens, John Ruskin and Thackeray among others, and painting in watercolours: his romantic and fanciful pictures of elves and fairies being hugely popular to Victorian eyes.Dicky was also a well-liked member of the 'Moray Minstrels', a group of artists, musicians and writers who met regularly at Moray Lodge in Campden Hill, the home of Arthur Lewis, a wealthymerchant and patron of the arts. It was probably at one such meeting that Dicky met the beautiful Blanche Stanley, with whom he fell deeply in love. He was heartbroken when, in 1851, she married the Earl of Airlie, and she appears in many of his pictures, notably his illustrations for Thackeray's The Newcomes. Dicky never reconciled himself to the loss and never married. On his death, in 1883, he was described as a 'singularly sweet and noble type of English gentleman',4 this despite his strong Irish antecedents.Richard's surviving brothers were similarly talented. James William Edmund Doyle was the scholar of the family. A tall, stooped figure with a black beard, and a frequent visitor to Holland House in Kensington, the home of the 3rd Baron Holland and the intellectual headquarters for English liberals and reformers, his studious demeanour earned him the soubriquet 'The Priest'. Modest and retiring, James was a respected historian and an expert on heraldry, as well as an artist. His best-known painting was A Literary Party at Sir Joshua Reynolds, and his colour illustrations for his own A Chronicle of England, BC 55 - AD 1485 are among his finest works. Towards the end of his life he spent thirteen years researching and writing The Official Baronage of England, the authorised textbook of the College of Arms, but died, in 1892, before he could complete it.Henry Edward Doyle began his career as an art critic and painter - he was commissioned to paint frescoes of The Last Judgement for the Roman Catholic church in Lancaster - but achieved greatest prominence as Director of the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin. Henry's flair, judgement and eye for a bargain played a major role in building the Gallery's present collection. He bought works by Giovanni Bellini, Antonio Allegri da Correggio, Jacob van Ruisdael and the English portrait painters Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough before their reputations and prices soared. With an annual grant never exceeding £1,000, Henry turned the National Gallery of Ireland into a major institution, comparing favourably with any gallery in Europe. Three of his own pictures are included in its permanent collection - two portraits of his friend Cardinal Wiseman and a chalk drawing of his father, who bore a remarkable resemblance to the Duke of Wellington. (The old man was occasionally mistaken for the 'Iron Duke' when driving through Hyde Park in a carriage and greatly enjoyed being saluted by the populace.)John Doyle died in January 1868. An obituary in the Art Journal noted his prepossessing manner and innate amiability, his noble cast of feature and his great repute ever ensuring him a welcome. 'There were few men,' it concluded, 'to whose sound sense and assured taste an appeal could be more safely made. He was one whom to know, even but little, was insensibly to esteem; to know much, to love much. In a word, he was from the hands of nature a rare gentleman ...' 
Charles Altamont Doyle, born on 25 March 1832, was the most enigmatic of John Doyle's talented sons. He undoubtedly suffered from being the youngest member of the family and from a sense of inferiority exacerbated by the brilliance of his three eldest brothers. His father, too, held out less hope for Charles. Doyle was in the habit of writing to the prime minister to put forward his ideas for improvements in public life, and would add news of his family. In a letter to Sir Robert Peel, dated 22 January 1842, he noted that while all of his five sons 'showed the strongest taste for the arts', it was the three eldest who 'evinced the most unequivocal promise'.5 Charles was naturally close to Adelaide and Francis, who were only a few years older, and their premature deaths greatly affected him. Nevertheless, he had a happy childhood, enjoyed fishing with his friends on Paddington Canal and the Thames, and was very fond of animals. He had his own dog, Prinny, and a songbird, and arranged for a monkey to be sent to him from Ceylon although it died en route.Perhaps believing that Charles was not likely to succeed as an artist, his father arranged for him to take a menial job in the civil service, at the age of 17, as one of three assistants to Robert Matheson, Her Majesty's Clerk of Works in Edinburgh, at an annual salary of £180. Accommodation was found for him in the heart of the elegant New Town in a house at 8 Scotland Street owned by Catherine Foley, an Irish Catholic widow; a local priest was charged with safeguarding his 'young morals and budding faith'. Charles seemed, at first, to be perfectly happy, writing enthusiastic letters home, illustrated, of course, with pen-and-ink drawings, about his work and his life in Edinburgh and 'interesting observations on that Scottish society, rough,hard-drinking and kindly, into which he had been precipitated at a dangerously early age, especially for one with his artistic temperament'.In the summer of 1850, Charles, then 18, was proudly in charge of raising the flag on the roof of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, where his office was located, during Queen Victoria's visit to the city. Some biographers have claimed that Charles was responsible for designing a new stained-glass window for Glasgow Cathedral, but there is no confirmation of this in the cathedral records. Instead, his duties were largely confined to writing letters and making fair drawings; about the only evidence of Charles's contribution to the Department of Works are the drawings he prepared for a fountain in the forecourt of Holyroodhouse.In July 1855, when he was 22, Charles married his landlady's 17-year-old daughter at St Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral. Mary Josephine Foley was small and pretty, with fair hair parted in the middle, and had been partly educated in France. Catherine Foley did not entirely approve of the match, since she considered her daughter to be too young and Charles, a humble civil servant, to be unworthy of her, although he had at least gentility of birth, Irish parentage and Catholicism in his favour. Catherine Foley was born in Kilkenny in 1809, the daughter of William Pack, a grocer and wine merchant. She was inordinately proud of her heritage: the Packs, Protestants, claimed to trace their roots back to Oliver Cromwell's settling army; more recently, General Sir Denis Pack had commanded the Scottish Brigade at Waterloo. In the seventeenth century the Reverend Richard Pack married into the Percy family, allegedly establishing a link with the Plantagenet kings and the Dukes of Northumberland, although no documents exist supporting Catherine's claim to be descended from the Percys. Catherine was running a girls' boarding school with her sister in Kilkenny when she met and married William Foley, a doctor and graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, in 1835. Since the Foleys were a staunchly Catholic family - Foleys had been living at Lismore in County Wexford since the reign of Queen Elizabeth I - Catherine was obliged to renounce her faith and convert to Catholicism. But in 1841 her husband died suddenly, at the age of 33, leaving her with two young daughters to support. She returned to Kilkenny where she once again opened a girls' school, but it was not a success and in 1847 she took the courageous decision to start a new life in Edinburgh, then growing rapidly as Irishimmigrants fled the potato famine. She started an agency supplying governesses and took in lodgers to help make ends meet. Despite her straitened circumstances, Catherine Foley clung tenaciously to past family glories, no doubt to compensate for present difficulties, and steeped her daughter in family history; thus Mary Doyle inherited in full measure her mother's pride in their lineage.After their marriage, Charles and Mary lived for a time with Mary's mother before moving into a succession of rented apartments. They wasted no time starting a family and their first child, Ann Mary Frances Conan, known as Annette, was born in July 1856. Eight more children would follow, two of whom died in infancy. With so many mouths to feed on so little money, life was far from easy. Mary, strong-willed and intelligent, was losing the battle to keep up appearances as her highly-strung husband became increasingly disengaged from family life.A gentle, melancholic figure, tortured by headaches and given to bouts of depression and periods of morbid introspection, Charles possessed the Doyle family charm in full measure, yet was frequently described as 'dreamy and remote', 'apathetic', 'naturally philosophic' or 'unworldly'. While he painted in his spare time, he was rarely able to sell his work, preferring to give it away rather than haggle over a price. So it was that the family struggled to survive on his salary, which never rose above £250 a year, plus an occasional bonus from book illustrations. Between 1858 and 1877 he contributed pictures to the Illustrated Times, London Society and Graphic, and illustrated a number of books, among them an edition of Daniel Defoe's The Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, published in 1861, but earning a living as a full-time artist always hovered frustratingly out of reach.Charles's unhappiness with his lot - exiled in Edinburgh, stuck in a dreary, dead-end job - can hardly have been helped by frequent letters from his brother Richard, describing his glamorous life in literary and artistic circles in London. 'I dare say,' Dick wrote, 'you heard of Smith and Elder [publishers] asking me to dinner to meet the author of "Jane Eyre," who is a delicate-looking but clever woman, about thirty, named Miss Bronte ... Evans asked me to a Newsvendors' Benevolent Society dinner, Chas. Dickens in the chair, who made an admirable speech, Luck, Phiz, Lemon, Leigh, Etc., being present,which party and Mr Peter Cunningham afterwards went with Dickens to the Rainbow Tavern in Fleet Street and partook of burnt Sherry and Anchovy toast until a late hour ...'It was a life Charles could only imagine. He occasionally wrote to his sister Annette to ask about the possibility of getting a job in London and sometimes talked about taking off for Australia to dig for gold, but he was in a rut and he knew it. Pathologically withdrawn, neurotic, dogged by disappointment and a sense of failure, burdened by a house full of children he could barely afford to feed, Charles turned for solace to the bottle. In a city which nurtured a hard-drinking culture, his descent was rapid. Whisky was the drinkers' favourite tipple in Scotland, but Charles preferred burgundy and like all alcoholics was prepared to sink to any depth to find money for drink, even raiding the children's money boxes. When he was only 30 years old he suffered such a severe attack of delirium tremens that he was incapacitated and put on half pay for almost a year. Mary would later tell doctors that for months at a time her husband could only crawl, 'was perfectly idiotic [and] could not tell his own name'.6Thereafter he lurched from one drunken crisis to another. In his desperation to procure alcohol, he not only secretly carried away everything of value in the family home but plunged them into debt by ordering goods from local tradespeople that he instantly converted into money. Such was his craving that one night he drank a bottle of furniture varnish.After toiling for more than twenty-five years without promotion in the Office of Works, Charles was obliged to retire in June 1876, with a pension of £150 a year. It was noted on his records - very generously - that he had never been absent from work and that he had discharged his duties with 'diligence and fidelity'.The following year he had a children's book, Our Trip to Blunderland, published and continued picking up occasional work as an illustrator, but while his occupation was listed in the city rolls as 'artist', his preoccupation was where to find the next drink. He became increasingly unstable, once stripping off his clothes and trying to sell them in the street.In 1881 Charles and Mary Doyle effectively separated when he was institutionalised. Family and friends convinced her that he had to be removed from the home for his own good, and he was sent toBlairerno House, a genteel, but secure, home for inebriates on the outskirts of the village of Drumlithie in Aberdeenshire. Blairerno advertised its services regularly in the Medical Directory: 'INTEMPERANCE - Home for Gentlemen in Country House in the North of Scotland. Of very old standing. Home Comforts. Good Shooting, Trout-fishing and Cricket'. Charles joined seventeen male residents, among them a landowner, a tobacco manufacturer, a couple of retired army and naval officers, an MA from Edinburgh University and a music teacher.Charles did not take well either to sobriety or confinement and frequently tried to escape. In May 1885 there was an 'incident' at Blairerno: Charles managed to find alcohol, became violent when restrained by staff and broke a window. He was detained on criminal charges of violence and damage, and David Forbes, the owner, perhaps anxious to rid himself of this troublesome inmate, decided Charles had become a danger to himself and made arrangements to have him certified. There was no need to consult the family: under Scottish Lunacy Laws a patient destined for an asylum was required to be examined by two doctors, and, if their recommendation was confirmed by a local sheriff, committal proceedings could go ahead. Charles told one of the examining doctors that he was 'getting messages from the unseen world' and that God had told him to 'go away'; both signed certificates for the sheriff confirming 'the said Charles Altamont Doyle is a lunatic'.Charles was committed to the Royal Lunatic Asylum at Montrose, sixteen miles to the south, under a detention order. When he was examined on arrival he had no memory and was found to be very confused and bewildered, hearing voices and convinced he was about to die. Years of excessive drinking had almost certainly resulted in brain damage. Mary Doyle certainly believed that if released he would drink himself to death and resigned herself to him remaining in a secure hospital, protected from himself. Six months later he had the first of a series of epileptic fits. Epilepsy was then little understood; it was untreatable and carried a considerable social stigma.In some ways Charles was lucky - Montrose Royal Lunatic Asylum was the first of eight enlightened institutions built in Scotland mainly by public subscription to provide accommodation and treatment for mentally incapacitated patients desperately in need of protection andexpert care. They established an unparalleled reputation for excellence in every regard and were far ahead of their time in the treatment of insanity. Not many years earlier, Londoners had been paying to watch the antics of those incarcerated in Bedlam.Charles would remain a reluctant resident of Sunnyside House at Montrose Royal Lunatic Asylum for the next seven years, spending much of his time painting and drawing. He contributed numerous poems, articles and illustrations to the asylum magazine, the Sunnyside Chronicle, and painted a self-portrait, in watercolours, in which he is seated, in a pensive mood, while sinister and ethereal creatures writhe around him.One of the haunting sketchbooks that he kept while at Sunnyside came to light in 1977. It had materialised in a job lot of books at a house sale in the New Forest; a London dealer recognised it as a major find and it was subsequently published as a book, The Doyle Diary. Rambling notes, captions and puns in Charles's neat handwriting accompany the surreal watercolours, quirky pen-and-ink cartoons and fantastical flights of fancy. They offer a moving insight into his tortured mind and terrible predicament, since he clearly believed he had been incarcerated unjustly. On the first page, dated 8 March 1889, he wrote in pencil: 'Keep steadily in view that this book is ascribed wholly to the produce of a MADMAN. Whereabouts would you say was the deficiency of intellect or depraved taste? If in the whole book you can find a single evidence of either, mark it and record it against me.'That he felt he had been abandoned by his family was evident in another note, dated 22 May: 'I am not - well, I will put off writing what I was going to say till tomorrow - what I wanted to say was that I have now done a great many Vols. of ideas, but I am kept ignorant of what becomes of them. I asked them to be all sent to Mrs Doyle and submitted to publishers, but as I have never had a single book or drawing acknowledged by her or other relatives I can only conclude that they see no profit in them. In these circumstances I think it would be better that these books should be entrusted to the Lunacy Commissioners to show them the sort of intellect they think it right to imprison as mad ...' Later he again asked for his sketchbooks to be sent to his 'poor, dear wife Mary' to show her he was thinking of her. 'God bless her and the rest of them,' he wrote, 'who I dare say all forget me now.' He added sadly, 'I don't them.'Fairies and elves predominate in his sketchbook paintings. Often they prance among meticulously executed drawings of local flora and fauna, or confront animals and birds, disturbingly portrayed much larger than life. His pen-and-ink self-portraits reveal a tall man with a long, black beard and wire-rimmed spectacles; in one he is shown extending his right hand to the Grim Reaper, while an angel tries to draw him back. Death preyed constantly on his mind: he drew himself lying on a chaise longue in the grip of a 'tremendous headache' with an angel hovering above him. And his misery and frustration are apparent as he greets a skeletal, scythe-bearing figure of Death with a shake of the hand and the caption: 'I do believe that to a Catholic there is Nothing so sweet in life as leaving it.'On other pages despair is tempered by affectionate doodles and verbal and visual puns which evince a childish sense of fun. A cleaner scrubbing the floor is captioned: 'Don't I wish I could cleanse my ways as she does here? Soapeariorly ...' On a watercolour of a sycamore leaf he notes, 'In doing this I turne [sic] over a new leaf and no mistake. Altho' it's sicamore [sic] drawing more of it would make any one sicker.' A young girl shown with a sprig of fir sprouting from her head is 'A new branch of hairdressing', and a golfer using his elongated nose as a putter is captioned: 'Who nose what a Feature of Golf this would be.'A little cartoon entitled 'Mary, my ideal home ruler' shows him sitting on a stool and gazing adoringly up at his wife, busy with her sewing. The subtitle says, 'No repeal of the union proposed in this case.' It is evident he was aware what was happening in the wider world, since the issue of Home Rule for Ireland was dominating British politics; here the subtitle obviously referred to his wistful hopes that his marriage remained intact.In a long entry dated 5 June 1889, he returned once again to the anguished theme of his abandonment by family, friends and society:I am certain if my many Vols of, well, I'll say not serious work, were organised into some form submittable to the public they would tickle the taste of innumerable men like myself, and be the source of much money which I should like to bestow on my daughters, but imprisoned under most depressing restrictions, what can I do?I believe I am branded as mad solely from the narrow Scotch misconception of jokes. If Charles Lamb or Tom Hood had been caught, they would have been treated as I am, and the latter would probably have never written 'the Song of the Shirt'.He described himself as a 'harmless gentleman' and complained bitterly about his continued incarceration. Charles's medical notes, however, charted his inexorable mental deterioration: his memory had virtually gone, he was obsessed by portents of death, he frequently lay down as if to die and hallucinated that he was in hell, surrounded by devils. He took refuge in religion - on one occasion he spent half a day kneeling with his prayer book in the asylum's billiard room.In January 1891 with his physical health declining - he was by now having severe epileptic fits every few weeks - Charles Doyle was transferred for a 'change of scene' to the Royal Edinburgh Asylum as a private patient. Records show that he was extremely thin, with greying hair; he had serious memory loss and still suffered from hallucinations. He spent his days sketching or reading religious books. He had very little contact with his family - a letter from his wife to the superintendent refers to her 'poor, dear husband' but makes it clear that she knew little of his condition and had not seen him for some time. Sixteen months later he was transferred to the Crichton Royal Lunatic Asylum, Dumfries, where a diagnosis of 'dementia' was recorded. On his admission Mary Doyle wrote to the superintendent, Dr J. Rutherford on 3 December 1892, revealing a well of affection for her husband, despite the damage his alcoholism had done to the family. She listed his symptoms as an alcoholic, including mendacity, but stressed that he was a virtuous and decent man and that 'to know him was to love him'.7An entry by a doctor in his case notes on 3 October 1893 offered a poignant glimpse into his essentially gentle character: 'Pleasant and easily pleased. Solemnly presented me with an empty paper which he assured me contained gold dust and was a reward for professional attendance. He said he had collected it in the sunlight on the bed.'8Charles Doyle died at Crichton seven days later, aged 61. Cause of death was noted as epilepsy of 'many years standing'. A generousobituary in the Scotsman, published on 23 October, mentioned both his celebrated family and his artistic talent and continued: 'Personally he was a likeable man, genial, entertaining and amusing in conversation. Possessed of a fertile imagination, it was always enjoyable to listen to his anecdotes. He was a great reader, and was in consequence well informed. His abilities and gentlemanly manner ensured to him a cordial welcome wherever he went, and few literary or artistic homes were without his occasional visit. Those who knew him will ever remember him with a warm and kindly thought.'There was not a word about his years spent incarcerated in mental institutions, and only a brief mention that his son was 'the able novelist, Dr A. Conan Doyle'.THE ADVENTURES OF ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE. Copyright © 2008 by Russell Miller. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

Meet the Author

Russell Miller is a prize-winning journalist and the author of eight previous books. His oral histories of D-Day, Nothing Less Than Victory, and the Special Operations Executive, Behind the Lines, were widely acclaimed. His most recent book was Codename Tricycle: The True Story of the Second World War's Most Extraordinary Double Agent. He lives in Britain.

Russell Miller is a prize-winning journalist and the author of more than a dozen books. His oral histories of D-Day, Nothing Less Than Victory, and the Special Operations Executive, Behind the Lines, were widely acclaimed. He lives in Britain.

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