On this day (May 22) in 1859, in the city of Edinburgh, was born Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle. When he died 71 years later, he was buried a tombstone that said in part “Steel True – Blade Straight – Arthur Conan Doyle – Knight.”
A truer inscription was never written, for by every instinct and action this noble physician and man of letters embodied the ideals of knighthood long before King Edward VII made it official in 1902.
Conan Doyle has been called “The Man Who Was Sherlock Holmes” but also “The Man Who Hated Sherlock Holmes.” The first moniker was certainly true to a large degree, the second was perhaps exaggerated.
To those Sherlockians who feel a twinge of resentment at Sir Arthur’s admittedly uneasy relationship with his greatest creation, I remind you that he eventually made his peace with the Great Detective. Or so it appears from his delightful prologue to The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927):
"I had fully determined at the conclusion of The Memoirs to bring Holmes to an end, as I felt that my literary energies should not be directed too much into one channel. That pale, clear-cut face and loose-limbed figure were taking up an undue share of my imagination. I did the deed, but fortunately no coroner had pronounced upon the remains, and so, after a long interval, it was not difficult for me to respond to the flattering demand and to explain my rash act away. I have never regretted it, for I have not in actual practice found that these lighter sketches have prevented me from exploring and finding my limitations in such varied branches of literature as history, poetry, historical novels, psychic research, and the drama. Had Holmes never existed I could not have done more, though he may perhaps have stood a little in the way of the recognition of my more serious literary work."
"And so, reader, farewell to Sherlock Holmes! I thank you for your past constancy, and can but hope that some return has been made in the shape of that distraction from the worries of life and stimulating change of thought which can only be found in the fairy kingdom of romance."
Happy Birthday, Sir Arthur. Requiescat in pace. And thanks.