Charles Altamont Doyle - the accidental hero

The life of Charles Altamont Doyle is one that, although tragic, we should be grateful for. He was the youngest of his generation and, it would appear, was a little spoilt and lazy. The Doyle family were carving out quite a reputation for themselves in London society so when Charles became (in the family's eyes) a risk to that reputation, it was decided to, effectively, exile him to Edinburgh.

Charles Doyle when Arthur was a very small boy
This was the first step on the road to the creation of Sherlock Holmes. If Charles had not been sent to Edinburgh he would not have met Mary Foley who was to become his wife and Arthur Conan Doyle would never have been born. However, this alone was not enough. Bored and frustrated by the job his family had arranged for him, Charles increasingly turned to drink. He was retired early and consistently spent more money than was coming in. It was a struggle for the highly capable Mary Doyle to keep the family off the streets. The financial straights that Charles Doyle's drinking caused led to Mary taking in a lodger.

This lodger was Dr Bryan Charles Waller. He was step two on the road to Sherlock Holmes. The young Arthur deeply resented Waller's presence and saw him as usurping his father's role as head of the family. In Arthur's eyes, if his father could not look after the family, it was his personal duty to do so. Of course he was not yet capable of doing so which added to his sense of impotence.

Young Arthur swiftly realised that money was the only thing that could keep the family out of the gutter so he put his own artistic leanings to one side and looked instead for a career that would bring in the necessary income. Perhaps ironically it was the lodger, Dr Waller, who suggested that Arthur seek a career in medicine. This was step three.

Arthur duly entered Edinburgh University to study medicine. It was during this time that he met Dr Joe Bell who later inspired the deductive traits of Holmes - step four.

The rest, as is often said, is history. However, it seems pretty unarguable that the failings of Charles Altamont Doyle are what led to the creation of Sherlock Holmes. A tragic figure who suffered from alcoholism, epilepsy and later dementia ultimately triggered the creation of the most self-controlled and logical character in literary history.

Charles Doyle - you suffered a lot. Some of it was through your own doing and some was not but you contributed to the creation of a character I love. For that I thank you.

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