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Monday, June 20, 2011

Quintessential Quote #4

"Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms."
-- Sherlock Holmes, "The Greek Interpreter"
(A.m. Downs's favorite quote)
This is one of those Holmes quotes so well remembered because it resonates with our experience as being true. Surely we can all think of an artistic nature taking different forms within one person or within a family tree.

In context, Holmes was taking about his even more astute brother Mycroft and their descent from the French painter Vernet. He could just as well have been talking about Arthur Conan Doyle.

The great writer was a descendant of another great writer, the novelist Sir Walter Scott, but had many fine artists in his family. Conan Doyle’s uncle, Richard Doyle, worked for Punch magazine and illustrated fairly tales. Conan Doyle’s grandfather, John Doyle, was a well known caricaturist who signed his work "H.B."

The sad story of Charles Altamont Doyle, Arthur’s father, and his descent into alcoholism and institutionalization is by now well known. But Charles was also an artist, and a better one than his pen-and-ink sketches for the 1888 edition of A Study in Scarlet would indicate.

I have in my library a book called The Doyle Diary, published by Paddington Press Ltd. in 1978. It's actually Charles Doyle's sketchbook from the Scottish lunatic asylum where he was confined in 1889. The watercolors are fantastical, sometimes humorous, always other-worldly -- and the work of a talented artist.

One can see in them the father of the man who believed in fairies.


  1. Thanks for choosing my favorite quote to write about here.

    I'm a painter myself, which is one reason that Holmes quote attracted my attention. I will have to track down "The Doyle Diary" to see Charles Altamont Doyle's work. I love digging into artistic histories (as well as Victorian mysteries). Thanks for the tip!

    --A.M. Downs

  2. Thanks for the quote! I hope you find the Doyle book and find it as fascinating as I did.