Sometimes little snippets of stuff catch your eye… the snippet might be a very little snippet, but you might investigate it and follow it up, and before you know it, it’s much more than a snippet. The word snippet, by the way, comes as you might guess from snip, which is defined as ‘to cut in a quick, light stroke’ and comes from the Dutch. It arrived in English in the sixteenth century and soon after it arrived snip became associated with cutting with scissors. A snip also became a small piece of cloth – and these days ‘a snip’ can mean a bargain!
The snippet I came across was one of those ‘on this day’ little mentions, and the particular snippet was that today is the anniversary of the death of Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle eighty-seven years ago in 1930. Growing up before we had a television (there were TVs, we just didn’t have one!) and not going to the cinema that often, I came across Sherlock Holmes, Doyle’s most famous character through reading. Because I was a great reader, I also read all the other books, and although Holmes is an iconic figure, ingrained – fixed forever in our culture, I often think of and remember Doyle’s other work.
Until today when I was looking him up, I always thought that his surname was Conan Doyle, no, it was just Doyle! I also didn’t realise that the well-known story and mystery of the Marie Celeste was promoted by Doyle – he changed the actual name Mary Celeste to Marie Celeste, and his story was just that, a story, not a true account… however, some of his fictitious details slipped into the real story and became an integral but untrue part of it!
I read a couple of Doyle’s ‘Brigadier Gerard’ books, and all the three ‘Professor Challenger’ series – and I read them over and over again. I also read a collection of his mystical stories… but I don’t now remember the title… so maybe I should read them again! Doyle was a convinced spiritualist and it has puzzled many since his death (and probably in his lifetime) that the man who created Sherlock Holmes could have been taken in by the photographs of fairies created by two young girls. The famous escapologist and illusionist Harry Houdini also fell out with Doyle; Doyle believed Houdini had supernatural powers – which of course he didn’t, and eventually Houdini publicly denounced Doyle and his wife for a ridiculous attempt to demonstrate ‘automatic writing’ and messages from the dead.
Doyle was a controversial figure… and after his death he was buried twice… first four days after his death, on 11 July in Windlesham rose garden, and then reburied fifteen years later in Minstead.