“To Big–Hearted, Big–Souled, Big–Bodied friend Conan Doyle” – these were the very words mentioned on the front page of the Novel Notes, penned by Jerome K Jerome. A name made famous by his character Mr Sherlock Holmes, and not the other way round, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s life is a well documented one. Jerome K Jerome is no stranger to literature lovers either. Yet, I don’t think that too many people are aware of this enduring friendship between Conan Doyle and Jerome K Jerome.
It seems that the camaraderie between these two men existed for greater portion of their lives. Arthur Conan Doyle, an avid skier, travelled to Norway with Jerome K Jerome in the winter of 1892. The latter was one of the invitees present during Conan Doyle’s wedding with Jean Elizabeth Leckie in 1907. This small party also included such prominent names as J M Barrie and Bram Stoker. It is quite possible that Jerome K Jerome travelled to Switzerland at least once to meet his friend and be a part of his ski excursions.
Theirs were a friendship that aptly defines what Alfred Tennyson had to say on the matter,
So, friend, when I first looked upon your face, our thoughts gave answer each to each. Opposed mirrors each reflecting each, although I knew not in what time or place, methought that I had often met with you, and each had lived in other’s mind and speech.
Their companionship lasted during a particularly difficult phase of Conan Doyle’s life. Charles Altamont Doyle, Arthur Conan Doyle’s father and a talented illustrator himself, gave in to excessive drinking early in life. He soon succumbed to severe bouts of delusions which resulted in permanent insanity. More than a decade of his life was spent in an asylum. Charles Doyle passed away in the autumn of 1893. Arthur Conan Doyle’s first wife Louise was diagnosed with tuberculosis the same year. Conan Doyle planned a change of weather for his wife. This paved the way for his first visit to Switzerland. It does not come as a surprise, that Conan Doyle conceived The Final Problem, which indicated the assassination of Mr Sherlock Holmes much to the dismay of his fans, the same year.
Holmes & Watson, Illustration by Sydney Paget
Friendship between kindred spirits may not be that difficult to spot, but such alliance during hours of crisis is not something so common. Another example that darts into the mind is the concord between Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Oscar Wilde. During one of his visits to London, Toulouse Lautrec, already an established artist by then, befriended Wilde. He painted Wilde’s portrait several times during their acquaintance. The most noteworthy of them all is certainly the one depicting a visibly exhausted but defiant Oscar Wilde during the final day of his trial. Toulouse Lautrec raised voice against Wilde’s imprisonment. The artist used his name and prominent position in the society to garner considerable support for Wilde from across the Channel. Though, Wilde escaped the execution he could not evade the sheer fatigue resulted from back to back trials. His health suffered breakdown and he eventually succumbed to a cerebral attack. Nonetheless, the friendship that existed between them stood the test of time.
Self-caricature & Portrait of Oscar Wilde by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec