Dr. Conan Doyle's Latest Case (2 january 1897)
See also the second letter on the same topic: Dr. Conan Doyle's Latest Case (9 january 1897).
Dr. Conan Doyle's Latest Case
Sir, — I observe that Mr. Max Beerbohm differs very widely from me in his conception of the dandy of the early part of this century. The lists are open to all, and if he wishes to depict a fop of his own it will, no doubt, meet with the success which it deserves. But in the meanwhile you will perhaps allow me space to point out some of the historical and social errors which appear in his short article.
Mr. Beerbohm is severe because I do not describe the younger Pitt. There was no reason why I should describe him, as he does not — save for a reference in conversation — appear in the book. But, in order to show me how it should have been done, Mr. Beerbohm quotes what he describes as the well-known description by Thackeray. It is a well-known description but it is evidently not a well-known one to Mr. Beerbohm, for it does not refer to the person of whom he is talking at all. "An awful figure in a chair, says Thackeray. "A livid face ... powdered wig ... a Roman nose. There he is! There is the great Commoner." How could any one imagine that this was the younger Pitt, who probably never rode in a chair or wore a wig in his life — and who certainly never had a Roman nose! The description is of Pitt's father, afterwards Earl of Chatham. It may be a venial offence to confound the one Pitt with the other, hut what are we to say of the failure to recognize the internal evidence which is contained in the quotation itself? I trust that Mr. Beerbohm will "scatter no more paper flowers about that epoch until he has read something more reliable than D'Aurevilly's lively but inaccurate essay.
Mr. Beerbohm is contemptuous because a fop has been described in the text as standing with his thumb in his armpit. He also alludes to Brummell in terms which suggest that he knows something of him. If so, he must know that this was one of the Beau's characteristic attitudes. Contemporary sketches depict him in it. The student can refer to one of them in the frontispiece of the second volume of Gronow's Memoirs. There the Beau stands, thumb in armpit, in this impossible attitude for a fop.
Mr. Beerbohm then alludes to "the old exploded fable" that the "Regent was warned off the Turfs." After the foregoing specimens of Mr. Beerbohm's historical accuracy, it will take more than his mere assertion to establish that this is a fable. He cannot even state the case without blundering, for it was in 1791 — twenty years before George became Regent — that the incident occurred. It is true that the Prince of Wales was not warned off by name — this would have been too daring even for the autocrats of the Jockey Club — but his jockey, Sam Chifney, was suspended, which answered the same purpose. Chifney's own account of the matter will be found in the little pamphlet by him called "Genius Genuine.
Mr. Beerbohm denies that the Prince had an upturned nose. He must settle that with Mr. Lawrence the painter, who has depicted him with one. Mr. Beerbohm in commenting upon my picture of the times implies that, though I may have the facts, I have not caught the spirit. I cannot say the converse of him, but, at least, I can assure him that he is very far from having caught the facts. He may be upon safe ground when he refers to my bedside manner and gold-rimmed glasses, but he is very ignorant of the period about which he writes.
A. CONAN DOYLE
Reform Club, Pall Mall, S.W.