The case of the unknown father

Arthur Conan Doyle is famous for the creation of Sherlock Holmes but a lot less is known about his father. Practical Neurology has an interesting article about art and epilepsy which discusses Doyle senior’s artistic talents and how he was eventually committed to an asylum.

Probably more famous as the father of Arthur Conan, Charles Altamont Doyle (1832–1893) was said to have epilepsy for the last 10–15 years of his life. The cause on his death certificate was epilepsy of ‘many years’ standing. He was not a particularly successful artist and perhaps is best remembered for his illustrations that accompanied the Sherlock Holmes novel A Study in Scarlet 1888. Charles was another depressive, but he chose to self-medicate heavily with alcohol. It is possible that his seizures, occurring late in life, were related to his consumption of alcohol and rapid withdrawal.

He was committed to the Montrose Royal Lunatic Asylum in 1881, where finding peace at last, he created some of his best work. It is said that he persevered with his art in an attempt to show that he had been wrongfully imprisoned in the institution; ironically, the recurring themes that he used to plead for his sanity were elves, fairies and other fantastical characters. It is said that he died during a prolonged seizure.

Link to PubMed entry for article.

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