Doylean Giants: Hesketh Pearson

I thought I would write a brief post about a man whom I admire greatly and do so on the strength of one book. His name is Hesketh Pearson.

I know precious little about Pearson but I do know that he was responsible for, in my opinion, the first worthy biographical account of the life of Arthur Conan Doyle.

Hesketh Pearson and his biography of ACD

Conan Doyle's widow had commissioned a biography of her late husband not long after his death but the book, written by Rev. John Lamond, revolved around, for the most part, Conan Doyle's interest in spiritualism. Lady Jean had become a strong believer in the subject and probably felt that it was the kind of biography her husband would have wanted (and she was probably correct).

However it was not what the public wanted and the family later permitted Pearson to produce one that looked at Conan Doyle's life in its totality. The result was not a huge work but it was honest and corrected a number of errors that had appeared in Conan Doyle's autobiography. This was thanks to Pearson having had access to family papers such as Conan Doyle's own appointment diaries (many of which are now in the British Museum and I have consulted).

The resulting effort did not please the family who took offence at some elements of it and attempted to counter it. A dislike of Pearson became rooted amongst certain family members but his book has endured and is probably the earliest reliable and unbiased work on Conan Doyle.

I, for one, admire Pearson's decision to give an honest portrait even if it did annoy the family. I count myself lucky that I never had to deal with Sir Arthur's immediate descendants. If I had I doubt my last two books would have seen the light of day (they may never have been written at all).

Written by Alistair Duncan
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