Happy Birthday to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Today in 1859, in Edinburgh, Scotland, Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born to Charles Altamont Doyle and Mary (formerly Foley) Doyle. They were Catholic with Irish roots, and it was a big family - Arthur was the second of 8 to 10 children (with infant deaths there is some confusion as to the number).
His father Charles was an artist from a family of artists, but his alcoholism and depression overshadowed his life and led to the family breaking up and being farmed out to relatives at one point. His paintings were mostly of fairies, but he did draw the illustrations in the 1888 edition of his son's A Study in Scarlet (published while he was in a nursing home for alcoholics). He later developed epilepsy and died in 1893.
Fortunately, Arthur's education was sponsored by his wealthier uncles, and he attended Stonyhurst College. He then studied medicine at University of Edinburgh Medical School, from which he graduated in 1881. While at medical school he tried his hand at writing short stories, to limited success. It was in this period that he first began to develop an interest in Spiritualism.
He was employed as a ship's doctor on a whaler and as a surgeon on a ship traveling to West Africa. In 1882 he moved to Portsmouth to start a not very successful medical practice and again started writing fiction. At this point he was also working on his is advanced medical degree on the subject of syphilitic myelopathy, which he completed in 1885. This was also the year that he met and married Louisa Hawkins, with whom he would have two children.
His first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet, was accepted by Ward Lock & Co and published in the 1887 Beeton's Christmas Annual, achieving modest success. A sequel was commissioned, The Sign of the Four, which was published in 1890 in Lippincott's Magazine. Arthur was unhappy with Ward Lock and started writing short stories for Strand Magagine instead. It was around this time that Arthur went to Vienna to study opthalmology, after with his family to London to practice as an opthalmologist at 2 Upper Wimpole Street, where the first five Holmes short stories were written.
As Arthur achieved more success with his writing, he eventually gave up medicine entirely. I find the story of his early years quite inspiring, as they show his determination, persistence, keen intellect, love of adventure and learning, all traits that Holmes and Watson embody.
Arthur Conan Doyle was a prolific writer, aside from the Sherlock Holmes stories he also wrote historical novels like The Great Shadow and Rodney Stone) and the fantastical Professor Challenger adventures.