The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume II

SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE

Arthur Conan Doyle had many careers—physician, writer of popular fiction and nonfiction, war correspondent, historian, and spiritualist—but it was the creation of the cultural icon Sherlock Holmes that was to be his enduring legacy. The author was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on May 22, 1859. His mother raised ten children on her husband’s small income; his father’s poor health and heavy drinking made that a daunting task. Despite this adversity, his mother’s willfulness and her exhaustive genealogical research instilled in Arthur a decided sense of purpose.

After early education in Jesuit schools, Conan Doyle enrolled in Edinburgh University, where he earned a medical degree while working part-time to support his family. At the university one of his instructors was Dr. Joseph Bell, who had an uncanny ability to deduce the histories of his patients and who later became a template for Sherlock Holmes. Another teacher, an eccentric Professor Rutherford, inspired the character of Professor George Edward Challenger in The Lost World and two other novels.

Having had a taste of adventure on a trip to Greenland while still a student, Conan Doyle longed to travel after graduation and so took a position as doctor on a ship en route to West Africa. Returning to England, he set up as a physician in 1882. His practice was small at first, so he had time to do some writing. In 1887 the first Sherlock Holmes story appeared, titled A Study in Scarlet. Over the next few years, Conan Doyle would write a historical novel, open a new ocular practice, explore spiritualism, and send Holmes on further thrilling exploits. A second novel, The Sign of Four, came out in 1890, and starting in 1891 the Holmes stories regularly appeared in the Strand Magazine. Two collections, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in 1892 and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes in 1893, collected a total of twenty-four of the mysteries. However, Conan Doyle felt that work on the Holmes stories was keeping him from writing on more serious historical topics. To the shock of his readers, in the 1893 story called “The Final Problem” he described the death of his famous sleuth.

In 1894 Conan Doyle published Round the Red Lamp, a collection of short stories with a medical theme; in 1895 The Stark Munro Letters, an autobiographical novel; and in 1896 The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard, set in the Napoleonic Wars. In 1900 he traveled to South Africa in the capacity of war-time physician in Cape Town; his treatise on the Boer War, a defense of Britain’s tactics, earned him a knighthood in 1902. That same year Conan Doyle published The Hound of the Baskervilles, set before the story that had finished Holmes off in 1893. In 1903 new Holmes stories started to appear in the Strand.

In the coming years, Conan Doyle produced more popular books on a variety of subjects, including three new collections of stories—The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905), His Last Bow (1917), and The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927)—plus a final Holmes novel, The Valley of Fear (1915). Among many other non-Holmes projects were the three Challenger novels, historical fiction and nonfiction, and several books on spiritualism. He also championed the rights of the wrongly accused, in two separate cases exonerating innocent men.

With the onset of World War I, Conan Doyle served as a war correspondent on several major European battlefields. Following the war, he became a passionate advocate of spiritualism, which he embraced in part to communicate with his eldest son, Kingsley, who had died from influenza aggravated by war wounds. From 1920 until his death, the author wrote,