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The Poor Relations
In the middle ranks of class-conscious Victorian England, the nobility were looked up to with a mixture of servile admiration and wistful envy. Fictional heroines sought noble husbands, books were devoted to heraldry and the tracing of one's lineage, and the family crests of even the least significant branches of the aristocracy were frequently purloined by commoners. Any family was deemed fortunate if it could irrefutably claim a distinguished ancestry and the Doyles, whose origins lay in what is today the republic of Eire, were no different.
A very common surname in nineteenth-century Ireland, Doyle has two distinct provenances. One root has it derived from the Old Irish word dougal, meaning a dark stranger or foreigner: it was frequently applied to the descendants of Vikings and there was a famous Irish tribal chieftain called D'Oil who was probably of Viking ancestry. The alternative has it originating in the village of Pont-d'Ouilly on the banks of the River Orne, eighteen kilometres west of Falaise in Normandy.
From this stock sprang a number of branches that included a famous general, Sir John Doyle, who became lieutenant-governor of Guernsey and constructed the island's defences, Sir Francis Hastings Charles Doyle, barrister, commissioner for customs and one-time Professor of Poetry at Oxford, General Welbore Ellis Doyle, commander-in-chief of Ceylon, and Sir John Milley Doyle, who aided in the suppression of the Irish insurrection of 1794, was Member of Parliament for County Carlow and who wasbriefly imprisoned in 1823 for meddling in the struggle for the Portuguese succession. It is conceivable that the family could also count Foulkes D'Oyley, a crusader under Richard Coeur de Lion, amongst their illustrious forebears and, through him, claim as distant antecedents such a diverse group as Thomas D'Oyly (or D'Oylie), a doctor and friend of Francis Bacon, Edward Doyley, who defended Jamaica against the Spaniards in the 1650s, and a variety of eminent theologians and scholars.
Whatever the truth of its origin it is certain that, by the fourteenth century, the Doyle coat of arms, consisting of a hart's head over the motto Fortitudine Vincit, was being attributed to an Anglo-Norman family called D'Oel which had settled in Ireland where, in 1333, Edward III granted lands in County Wexford to one Sir Alexander D'Oyly. By 1618, it was being used by a family called Doyle at Arklow in County Wicklow.
It is impossible to follow and document the fate of the Doyle family in Ireland. The turbulent life of that island, its civil unrest and insurrections, not to mention the persecution of Roman Catholics after the Reformation, have destroyed not only records but also family properties: the Doyle ancestors of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, being of the Catholic faith, were deprived of lands and wealth by anti-papist legislation.
What is known is that, in 1668, the estates of one John Doyle were sequestered by the Duke of York and, in 1762, his grandson Richard, losing the last remnant of the family properties, a small estate at Barracurragh, on the banks of the River Bann in County Wexford, ten kilometres south-west of Arklow, travelled to Dublin where he established himself as a silk merchant. He appears to have prospered, raising a family that was to include some remarkably talented members. His grandson, John, who was born in 1797, trained to be an artist at the Dublin Society Drawing School under Gaspare Gabrielli, the Italian landscapist, and John Comerford, the miniaturist. Finding Irish artistic life limiting, he moved to London in 1817 where he established himself within a small but influential coterie of people who moved in high political, literary and artistic circles. Within a short time, he had developed a reputation for himself as a miniaturist and portrait painter who also became known for his pictures of horses. For ten years, from 1825, he exhibited at the Royal Academy. However, it was under the pseudonym of `HB' that he became nationally famous as an astute, satirical political caricaturist in the mould of William Hogarth: he is today regarded as the foremost cartoonist of the Regency era. His penmanship was fastidious and detailed whilst his wit was as sharp as his nib and all the more subtle for being polite, unlike the unequivocally ferocious and blunt work of his contemporary, George Cruikshank, and James Gillray, who had died in 1815. Where Gillray and Cruikshank were a pair of blatant bulldogs who went for the throat of their subjects, John Doyle was far more gentlemanly and attacked politicians with a sophisticated, almost courteous wit which depended for its success as much upon intellectual as artistic prowess.
As a caricaturist, John Doyle was extremely secretive about his activities. He closely guarded his anonymity behind his pseudonymous initials. His cartoons, which appeared weekly, were widely distributed by his publisher, a man called Maclean with offices in Haymarket, but the original artwork was delivered to the printer by a go-between in a closed carriage. The engravers, etchers and printers worked in secrecy. It was thirty years before John Doyle's identity was publicly known.
Arguably the father of the modern political cartoon, John Doyle minutely observed those he lampooned, always on the look-out for small tell-tale details that showed a weakness or betrayed a character trait: and, being anonymous, he could often carry out his observations from close quarters. As an artist, he moved in high society, visiting the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria and counting amongst his close dining acquaintances and friends the likes of Benjamin Disraeli, William Thackeray, Sir Waiter Scott, Sir Edwin Landseer, William Holman Hunt, Sir John Millais, Thomas De Quincey and Charles Dickens. Those with whom he was intimate, however, ran an albeit unknowing risk: they were not beyond the reach of his satirical eye, and amongst those whom he lampooned were George IV, William IV, Queen Victoria, Robert Peel and Lord Palmerston. He even pasquinaded the nation's hero, the Duke of Wellington, for whom Doyle, a tall and austere man referred to behind his back by his sons as Lord John or Gov'nor General, was sometimes mistaken when walking in Hyde Park. John Doyle took a wife and prospered. He bought an imposing house at 17 Cambridge Terrace (now a hotel at 32 Sussex Gardens) in Paddington.
Marianna Conan was the sister of Michael Conan, foreign correspondent and arts critic for the Morning Herald, and came from a noble background in Brittany, her ancestors having fled to Catholic Ireland to escape religious persecution. Theirs was a devoutly Catholic marriage, for, like his wife, John Doyle adhered closely to his faith, considering his to be one of the families of the hierarchy of Anglo-Catholicism. He believed his faith was not merely a matter of tradition but something that gave him an inner strength: because of his family's historical persecution, and, in some respects, the continuance of it in predominantly Protestant Victorian England, he considered himself if not a cut above his peers, certainly apart from them. There ran in him, as may still be found in high-born Anglo-Catholics, a streak of religious arrogance that he rarely displayed yet which he nevertheless harboured.
Marianna bore him seven children: two girls, Annette and Adelaide (nicknamed Adele), and five boys called James, Richard, Henry, Francis and Charles. Francis, who was known in the family as Frank, shared his father's artistic talent, especially in the painting of miniatures, but he was never to live to realise it: he died, aged fifteen, in a typhoid epidemic, his sister Adele having succumbed to consumption before him. Marianna herself died young, John Doyle employing a part-time tutor called Street and a governess to raise his children.
He was, by all accounts, a good father. Austere he may have been, and strictly Catholic in the upbringing of his children, but he was also loving and involved himself with them. He coached them to draw and paint, encouraging them to be individuals and passing on to them a large share of his own artistic abilities.
For a while, John Doyle fared well but his substantially furnished family house in Cambridge Terrace, in one of the fashionable areas of London, not to mention his need to maintain his standard of living in order to keep up his position in society, proved a drain on his finances. He fell heavily into debt. The servants were dismissed, Annette becoming his housekeeper. John Doyle died in 1868 but his legacy of talent lived on in his children.
James Doyle, who was born in 1822, was the first. He was to become a scholar. Like his father, he was stern-looking, tall and lean with a dense black beard, his appearance earning him the nickname of The Priest. He inherited his father's artistic skills and was both a talented portrait artist as well as a caricaturist and painter of religious subjects. A genealogist, he wrote and illustrated The Chronicles of England, a historical study up to the beginning of the Tudors, and spent thirteen years producing The Official Baronage of England. Published in 1886, it was considered a standard genealogical source text by the College of Arms.
The second son, Richard, was born in 1824. Fondly nicknamed Dicky, he also had his share of artistic talent. Publishing his first caricatures at the age of fifteen, he went on to become one of the most important illustrators and cartoonists of the nineteenth century. Like his father, he paid great attention to detail and was a graphic artist of considerable skill. At the age of nineteen, he joined the staff of Punch magazine as a cartoonist and illustrator and, in 1849, was responsible for the famous portrait of Mr Punch that was featured unchanged on the cover for well over a century. However, the following year he resigned, surrendering a substantial annual salary of £800 on a point of principle: the magazine had criticised Anglo-Catholicism and poked fun at the Pope. Thereafter, he became a much-sought-after book illustrator. He provided the drawings for Ruskin's King of the Golden River, Thackeray's The Newcomes and some of the works of Charles Dickens: he was also particularly successful at illustrating fairy stories. His vision of the classical fairy image, of the little winged girl in a gossamer gown, is familiar to this day.
Three years later, the third son, Henry, was born. In what was almost a family tradition, he became a portrait painter and art critic. A close friend of Cardinal Newman, the central figure in the Oxford Movement and defender of Anglo-Catholics, he painted the murals of the Last Judgment in the Roman Catholic church in Lancaster. Made honorary secretary of the National Portrait Gallery in 1865, he was appointed director of the National Gallery of Ireland in 1869 and spent the rest of his life building up the collection, investing in painters whom he was sure would gain in reputation and buying judiciously: his most renowned purchase was made in 1883 when he paid £514 for Rembrandt's Sleeping Shepherds.
The last surviving son was called Charles Altamont. At the time of his birth, around 1832, Marianna was terminally ill and John Doyle was over fifty. Charles was, if not the runt of the litter, certainly the odd one out. As a child, he was prone to emotional outbursts and rages and, like many a younger sibling, he lived in the shadow of his talented elders. This is not to say that he was without talent. He had a distinct artistic bent but he lacked the astute commercial flair of the other artists in his family and, although he was like his father in that he was tall, with a long beard reaching well down his chest, Charles was not a forceful but rather a retiring man, always gentle and courteous with a quick but quiet wit.
In November 1849, perhaps wanting to establish himself outside the sphere of his clever brothers, but possibly also to relieve some of the pressure on the family income in Cambridge Terrace, he travelled north to Edinburgh where he was employed as an assistant to Robert Mathieson, the head of Her Majesty's Office of Works. It seems he might have gained the post through his father's influence. He would have preferred to have stayed in London but he was persuaded to go to Scotland because, he was told, the position had prospects. Charles went, hoping the job might be a temporary one before promotion took him back to England: he was to spend the rest of his working life as a civil servant in Edinburgh.
The Scottish capital was not as dull and dry as Charles had feared it might be. He was impressed by its buildings and the bustle of commerce, yet he was still homesick and wrote long letters to his family which he illustrated with sketches. The replies he received back must have increased his pining for home. His brother Richard regaled him with stories of literary dinners and parties, name-dropping everyone from Thackeray to Emily Brontë Gradually, his optimism faded. He became cowed and unambitious. His brothers went from strength to strength whilst he just accepted his lot and plodded along. As time passed, he lost his desire to return to London or, as he once dreamed, to travel to find his fortune in the goldfields of Australia. When a chance at last arose to take up a post in London, he let it go.
Upon reaching Edinburgh and looking for lodgings, Charles was introduced to an Irish Catholic widow with two daughters, Catherine Foley, who took in lodgers as a means of supplementing her income. Charles gratefully rented one of her rooms.
Born Catherine Pack in 1809, she was the daughter of a Protestant landowner in Ireland descended from a major in Cromwell's army and remotely descended from the distinguished Percy family, the Dukes of Northumberland: a relative, possibly her uncle, was Sir Denis Pack, who had commanded the Scots forces at the Battle of Waterloo. She married an Irish Catholic doctor, William Foley, presumably embracing his faith. Why, upon his death, she went to Scotland is open to speculation: she may have been spurned by her father for taking to Catholicism and by her in-laws for being a Roman Catholic by convenience rather than conviction.
By eking out a small inheritance, renting lodgings and working part-time at a variety of jobs, Catherine Foley was able to keep bread on her table and educate her daughter, Mary, who was twelve years old when Charles moved in as a lodger. A plain-looking child, she was partly educated in France in order, it is thought, that she might gain a good grounding in Roman Catholicism, from where she returned as a lively and cultivated young woman.
How long Charles courted Mary is unknown but they were married on the last day of July 1855. She was eighteen and he was about twenty-three. After the wedding, they continued to live with Catherine who carried on accepting lodgers, advertising herself as a landlady offering accommodation to governesses. The other daughter, named Catherine after her mother, also lived with them and, in time, became a governess herself.
A year after the marriage, Mary gave birth to a daughter, Anne Frances Mary, known in the family as Annette. She was the first of nine children of whom seven survived into adulthood. A second daughter, Catherine Emilia Angela, arrived in April 1858 but was dead before the year was out. In the meantime, Mary was pregnant again and gave birth to her first son on 22 May 1859 at 11 Picardy Place, a three-storey building close to St Mary's Cathedral, to which the family had moved and in which they rented a small apartment. His parents named him Arthur Ignatius Conan.
The choice of names was not fortuitous. Ignatius was selected because it was common practice for Catholic families to include a saint in a child's given names, and it may also be the case that the Doyles were being sentimental, for they were wed on St Ignatius' Day. The other two Christian names appear to have been picked to please the child's great-uncle and godfather, Michael Conan, who had moved to Paris in 1854 and was now Paris correspondent of the Art Journal. It is even possible that Arthur was decided upon by Michael Conan himself who, being keen on genealogy and heraldry, fascinated with the Arthurian legend and conscious of the family's Breton roots, may have wanted to give the child a certain romantic individuality and carry on a family tradition. As Michael Conan and his wife, Susan, apparently had no issue, the matter of keeping the family name alive may have been important to him.
There has been, for decades, a debate as to whether or not the name Conan was added to Doyle as a double but unhyphenated surname. Arthur was not the only child to carry it: Annette, who was also Michael Conan's godchild, did so too. For all of his adult life, Arthur was known as Arthur Conan Doyle, but he neither legally nor formally established a double surname. In official lists, such as the Dictionary of National Biography, he is most often listed under D, but in many other reference books he is frequently indexed under C. As a schoolboy, Arthur sometimes signed himself A.C. Doyle, so what seems most likely is that, as he reached adulthood, he took to using his third given name partly to perpetuate the family name, partly out of deference to his godfather, and partly to give himself a more imposing name. Plain Arthur Doyle hardly had a ring to it.
Not long after his birth, the family moved from Picardy Place. This was not unusual: the Doyles, like many other middle-class Edinburgh families, frequently shifted from one rented home to another, always on the lookout to improve upon their lot, to escape from disease that might be rife in one neighbourhood or from the stench of effluent. Nineteenth-century Edinburgh was not a healthy city and a substantial majority of the population lived in run-down town houses that had seen better days. Not quite ghettos or slums, some of the inner-city areas were nevertheless bleak, dark, noisome places in which the streets were unsafe at night and the sewers either non-existent or in poor repair.
More children followed and the strain imposed on Charles's salary, even though it was increased to £250 per annum, was considerable. The result was that the Doyles lived in a state of perpetual, if genteel, poverty. They were not without food, clothing or a roof over their heads yet there was little room for financial manoeuvre and the children rarely had any of the little luxuries a normal middle-class family might have expected.
To supplement his salary, Charles fell back upon his inherited artistic talent yet, unlike his brothers', his work was uncommercial and he was no businessman. Furthermore, he was caught in the cleft stick of being able only to paint in his spare time: he would have liked to have made his living entirely from his pen and brush but he could not because he had no means of obtaining a studio and his time was limited on account of his having to work in order to provide for his family. Despite these strictures, he did manage to earn around £80 a year from paintings and book illustrations, some of his commissions being put his way by his brother Richard. Conceivably, he could have earned more: he would on occasion give away paintings and seldom chased payment for money owed to him. With book illustrations and line drawings, he was somewhat more successful. At a time when photography was in its infancy, skilled artists were much prized by magazine editors to illustrate news stories. Charles worked as a sketch artist on criminal trials and produced a fair body of drawings for the famous Illustrated London News in addition to illustrating books of children's rhymes and fairy tales including The Book of Ballads, Brave Men's Footsteps and the seminal Waterston's Library editions of Three Blind Mice and The Two Bears. His illustrative style, the drawings delicate and detailed like his father's political caricatures, was well suited to the fantasies of children's stories, containing a certain whimsical, dark mystery occasionally tinged with a sense of the bizarre or even horror.
Charles Doyle's artistic activities served for more than to increase his income. They gave him an escape from the realities of life on the poverty line into his imagination: but this was beginning to alter. His images started to lose their light humour, turning grotesque, melancholic and macabre to such an extent that his paintings, with such titles as An Oriental Dream or The Death Coach, were no longer bought. His fascination for puerile fairies and elves was sometimes supplanted by supernatural, nightmarish visions containing monsters and evil figures.
It was hardly surprising that Charles Doyle's pictures should develop such a preoccupation with the morbid. He was a disappointed man. The job he had in the Office of Works had not proved to be what he had expected. Charles had thought, or been led to believe, that he would be employed primarily as an architect: although he had no formal training, his draughtsmanship was certainly of a sufficient standard. Indeed, he was involved in the designing of a number of structures including the great window of Glasgow Cathedral and the fountain at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh. The greater part of his work, however, had him supervising building plans and acting as a senior clerk, more of his time than he wanted being spent in an office. Furthermore, his post carried a considerable responsibility which weighed upon him. Having come from a comparatively free-living artistic background in the cream of London intellectual society, to find himself tied to a desk in an office in Holyrood Palace must have been soul-destroying.
Compared with his creative father and brothers, Charles considered he was a failure. His rented home was impermanent, the spectre of abject poverty was always rattling the door handle and he felt inadequate: his childhood had been a far cry from that which he was providing for his own offspring. Rather than fight his circumstances, Charles accepted them and withdrew into himself, living in a world of misery and self-pity which his exile — as he saw it — in Edinburgh only heightened. Very gradually, the effects of his misery, the responsibilities of his dreary job and his large family began to break his spirit. He grew distant, lived in a defensive reverie and became a stranger to Mary and the children. His sadness was made all the more wretched by occasional visitors from London: even Thackeray called on him. Such visitations humiliated Charles who could not afford to wine and dine his callers in a fashionable eating-house: he had to entertain them in his shoddy accommodation.
It was inevitable that, as melancholy took a hold of his soul, he should lose his grip on his very existence. His office work became negligent and his paintings, when he bothered to sit down and work at them, were increasingly uncommercial. It is probable that he was never cruel or violent to his children or to Mary yet he was, in all but flesh, an absentee father who, when family life oppressed him deeply, would go off fishing.
Excerpted from The Doctor and the Detective by Martin Booth. Copyright © 1997 by Martin Booth. Excerpted by permission.
|List of Illustrations||vii|
|1||The Poor Relations||1|
|2||Stonyhurst, Feldkirch and Edgar Allan Poe||19|
|3||A Raw-boned Cartilaginous Youth||41|
|4||Savages, Fever and George Turnavine Budd||69|
|5||The Doctor and the Detective||87|
|6||Putting Out Cargo||117|
|7||Characters, Crime and Cocaine||137|
|8||A Suburban Gentleman of Letters||165|
|9||A Widening of Horizons||191|
|10||Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: Patriot||225|
|11||The Resurrection of Sherlock Holmes||243|
|12||The Pony Molester, an Upholsterer's Hammer and Other Injustices||261|
|13||New Worlds, Lost Worlds|
|14||Into the Ether|