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    “Sir,- As one who has sampled most British sports, may I say a word about baseball?”

There you have it: a man who was interested in - seemingly - everything, sport being no exception. He took part in various sports, wrote about them and - as in the case quoted above - engaged in controversy about them.

Sir Arthur was not exaggerating when he wrote to the Editor of The Times that he had “sampled most British sports”; he certainly had. In his Memories and Adventures, first published in the Strand Magazine, he rightly, if harshly, describes himself as an all-rounder and a second-rater. Dismissing horse racing as not really as sport at all, and shooting animals as barbarous (he excludes fishing, acknowledging the inconsistency), he extols the virtues of boxing. Doyle recalls some of his own experiences of boxing, including an end-of-the-night match which involved boxing in his formal evening clothes.

While praising the benefits of boxing with gloves, Sir Arthur expresses his opinion that the old prize-ring (that is, bare-knuckled boxing) was an excellent thing “from a national point of view…. Better that our sports should be a little too rough than that we should run a risk of effeminacy.”

If, Doyle suggests, boxing is the finest single-man sport, rugby is the best collective one, needing “strength, courage, speed and resource [which] are great qualities to include in a single sport.” He wasn’t so keen on the variations of rugby which were popular at some public schools - they are, he says, “freak games” and a national misfortune, for which “our youths are wasting their energies.” As usual, Sir Arthur had a ready opinion on the subject.

Doyle was a keen skier, helping to map cross-country routes in Switzerland. When skiing was curtailed by the melting of the snow, he laid out a golf course, but had trouble preventing the Swiss cows (obviously an unsporting lot) chewing the hole flags.

Doyle popularized skiing in Switzerland *

Doyle’s love of cricket dated from his school days, and continued throughout his life. He turned out for the Allah-Akabarries, a celebrity team including JM Barrie and AEW Mason, author of The Four Feathers. The team name, a combination of Barrie’s name and the Arabic phrase meaning “May God help us”, might not be considered very correct today.

Of course, Doyle had strong opinions about cricket, and expressed them in print. Few people would have demurred from his high praise for the recently-dead cricketing hero, WG Grace: “The world will be the poorer to many of us for [his] passing… a masterful personality… made an impression which could never be forgotten.” Doyle casually drops into his article (in The Times), the fact that “I have had the privilege of fielding at point more than once while he made his hundred.”

Doyle bowls out WG Wells *

Whether he counted motoring as a sport is not clear; what is quite clear that he was one of this country’s first motorists. He liked the idea of motoring so much that he made a journey of more than 170 miles to buy a car, only taking his first drive on the journey home with his new toy. As for other sporting pursuits - you name it, he probably tried it.

Was he a dabbler, a dilettante? Yes, he was, self-confessed. But he put his experiences to good use: in much of his fiction his heroes (fairly) and his villains (no doubt unfairly) engage in many of the sports Sir Arthur tested out on their behalf. Their sporting prowess, or lack of it, was a key indicator of their character as gentlemen or cads, and their exploits greatly enrich his stories.

-David Oldman

Sport related work by Conan Doyle can be found in:

Memories & Adventures (1924)

Reference copies of this is available under category 819.3 in the Sherlock Holmes Collection. Or you may search for lending copies in the Westminster Libraries: Search Catalogue

You may also search in the Times Digital Archives Database from the Westminster Libraries online services page for some of Doyle's letters to the editor. Many of these articles are about Sport.


Introduction | His Life | Fiction | Military | Sport | Spiritualism | True Crime | ACD Quiz