Conan Doyle in America

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Conan Doyle in America is an article written by Philip Poindexter published in the Leslie's Illustrated Weekly on 8 november 1894.


Leslie's Illustrated Weekly (8 november 1894, p. 300)

Those who have had the pleasure of meeting the gifted young novelist. A. Conan Doyle, socially, or who have seen him on the lecture platform, have been most agreeably impressed with the wholesome personality of a healthy and unaffected man. With the stature of a giant and the health of an athlete in training, Dr. Doyle is a most pleasing type of amiable and agreeable manhood. He has looked upon the world and is pleased with it, and the world as it looks upon him cannot fail in turn to be also pleased. He has not jumped into popularity with one bound, but has worked hard and with an honest, earnest purpose, for the success that is now his, and therefore he appreciates it at its full value, and feels somewhat that he has deserved the recognition which now comes generously from every quarter. It is likely that if there has been any surprise in his career it has been caused by the phenomenal popularity of his Sherlock Holmes stories. He has not said so, but it is evident from what he does say that he has never regarded these detective stories as equal to some other work of which he is the author. But the newness of the detective methods as outlined in these stories pleased the public most immensely, and there was unfeigned regret when the series ended with the death of the wonderful hero. Dr. Doyle has been importuned to bring Sherlock Holmes back to life and to start him out on a further career of hunting down criminals and unraveling mysteries. But this the novelist is disinclined at present to do, and it may be that the time will never come when he will care to resurrect this unique and picturesque personality.

But, as said before, Dr. Doyle worked a long and serious apprenticeship before he had become a master craftsman in the art of creative fiction. Educated at a public school in England, he wrote stories while he was still a lad, and always cherished an ambition to lead a life of letters. In his first story, he says, he had two characters — a man and a lion. Unfortunately for the man and for the story, the incidents of the narrative moved so rapidly that the lion ate the man up, which brought both man and story to an untimely end. Then when he went to Edinburgh to study medicine his taste for story-writing went along with him, and he still further cultivated the pleasant gift which has now made him famous. In Edinburgh he also took copious mental notes, and these, as those know who have read his works, he uses now and again in the moving tales with which he delights an admiring world. It was during these studies that he met the man who was constantly in his mind when he was writing of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. This gentleman was a lecturer in the Edinburgh University, and he had an interesting habit of observing men and things with much closeness. Then, putting together in logical order the results of his observations, he would make a diagnosis of the disease front which the man was suffering, and also tell where the man was from, what his occupation was, and so on, before he had spoken to the patient at all. The faculty of this lecturer in this way convinced the medical student that detectives might he more logical in their investigations of mysteries, and not depend so much on mere chance as they do. To illustrate this theory the remarkable Sherlock Holmes was created.

When Dr. Doyle went back to England to practice medicine be occupied what spare time be had in writing stories. For ten years he kept this up, but his success was not great, as he never, during this period. earned more than two hundred and fifty dollars in a year by his writing. He made an Arctic trip and traveled elsewhere, always picking up experiences that were afterward to be valuable, and all the while cultivating that faculty for observation without which a fiction writer's realism is sure to be faulty and his idealism out of adjustment with the facts of the world. Ripened and trained he went in seriously, a few years ago, for a literary life, and he has the proud satisfaction of realizing to-day that he is the most popular English writer of contemporary fiction.

We speak of Dr. Doyle as an English writer, His name and his appearance both indicate that be is of Irish parentage, but in everything else the man is decidedly English — English of a fine and unusual type, because his mind is not handicapped with prejudice, nor his manners hampered by a scorn of those things not met with at home. When we come to think of it, it is the commercial Englishman, the traveling bagman from Manchester, Birmingham, and Liverpool, who has done so much to make the Englishman, obnoxious when he is away from home. The English artist and the English man of letters is apt to have his head own on too many sides to feel like condemning everything in the world not British in its origin.

Dr. Doyle's visit to this country has a double purpose. In the first place he is lecturing, and lecturing with good success. In the second plate he is looking about him and seeing for himself the people which furnishes by a great many the largest number of readers of English in the world. A popular writer of English, wherever may be his home, would be an anomalous creature if he did not look upon the American people with a great interest, for it is on this side of the water that the largest part of his audience lives. In the old days of piracy, before an international copyright law had been passed, it was easy to understand how an English author might look upon us with angry impatience.

But Dr. Doyle cannot have suffered very seriously on account of encroachments upon his moral rights. He therefore must have brought only pleasurable predilections, and these are likely to be changed into agreeable convictions by the appreciative reception of him in his travels. When he went, directly after his landing, to the Adirondack hills to shoot deer and found none, though he waited patiently for four days, his temper as a sportsman was seriously tried, but lie nevertheless returned to New York in amiable mood and began his lectures forthwith. Though the deer fought, shy of him the people did not, and there was a great crowd to hear his first address on "Readings and Reminiscences." Among his recollections were some of Thackeray, who was remembered as a household visitor "with an old man's hair, a young man's eyes, and a child's laugh." In this first talk he said that among his boyish favorites were Washington Irving and Fenimore Cooper, while later he read with pleased delight the histories of Francis Parkman, from whose splendid pictorial pages came in a great measure the inspiration for his own book, "The Refugees."

From New York Dr. Doyle went to Chicago. where he lectured two days later, and then he continued a tour which is to end somewhere in the middle of November. Then he is to return to New York, and after a brief stay go back to England. Dr Doyle has been interviewed by the reporters wherever he has been since he landed in this country, and an effort has been made to induce him to speak critically of his American contemporaries in the making of fiction. This Dr. Doyle has declined to do, for the very obvious reason that such a course would be out of taste under the circumstances of his visit, and extremely impolitic from every point of view. But the reporters have not hesitated to quote Dr. Doyle as saying here what be said England long ago, to the effect that Mr. Howells took a rather narrow view of the purpose of fiction. Mr. Howells has maintained that the stories have all been told, and that therefore the purpose of every new novel must be to paint a picture in realism, the story being but the canvas upon which the artist is to work, or the stage on which the players are to set. Dr. Doyle has maintained that tine primary object of a novel is to amuse, the interest, and if the story do other things as well, then well and good. But he is evidently of the opinion that the stories which attempt a great deal beyond their primary object usually fail in that object as well as the other things beside. Here is the way be expressed himself on this subject: "We talk so much about art that we tend to forget what this art was ever invented for. It was to amuse mankind — to help the sick, the dull and the weary. If Scott and Dickens have done this for millions they have done well by their art. Where would Gulliver and Don Quixote and Dante and Goethe be if our sole object was to draw life exactly as it exists? No; the object of fiction is to interest, and the best fiction is that which interests most. If you can interest by drawing life as it is, do so. But there is no reason why you should object to your neighbor using other methods." This is what he has said in answer to Mr. Howells's often-repeated strictures in the methods of others and in defense of his own.

At another time Dr. Doyle said of his art and that of the novelist of the future: "I think the age of fiction is coming — the age when religious and social, and political changes will be effected by means of the novelist. Look, within recent years, how much has been done by such books as 'Looking Backward,' or 'Robert Elsmere.' Everybody is educated now, but comparatively, few are very educated. To get an idea to penetrate to the masses of the people you must put fiction around it, like sugar round a pill."

Dr. Doyle has just had published by the Appletons a book of stories called "Round the Red Lamp." Some or these stories have been seen in this country before, but the collection is none the less interesting on that account. The medical stories are particularly valuable for the reason that they show what a master of fiction who is also learned in the science of medicine and the art of healing can do with such unpromising material. That Dr. Doyle tells these tales without in the least shocking his readers shows that he has lightness of touch as well as vigor of method. Less of an adept would have failed most signally. He has not only escaped failure, but has scored another success. We all of us have more or less experience of the sick-room, and after the first shock of reading of hideous illnesses, severe operations and wasting diseases is past, we really enjoy yarns the contemplation of which might rather repel us. But in this book are other than medical stories, and these are written with the author's characteristic spirit and dash.

The work of fiction that Dr. Doyle has most recently finished has not yet been given to the public. The book is called "The Stark Munro Letters. Dr. Doyle believes this to be the best work he has yet done, and those who have had the privilege of reading the manuscript and the advance proofs agree with him in his estimate of this absorbingly interesting piece of fiction. It will be given to the American public through the columns of LESLIE'S WEEKLY, and the publication will begin in December, and so stunt ins the remarkable stories by Gilbert Parker, "Pierre and His People," have been finished. In this Stark Munro story there is much that is unconsciously autobiographical, though it was in no sense Dr. Doyle's purpose to write his own experiences as a young medical practitioner when he fashioned the story which will in a little while be given to the public through these pages.