Dr. Conan Doyle (letter 13 october 1900)
Dr. Conan Doyle
Sir, — I have waited for the rush of the elections to pass before addressing a letter to you, and through you to the electors of the Central Division, upon the subject of the recent contest there.
It will be within the memory of those who have followed the events in that Division that upon the morning of the election three hundred posters were exhibited upon the walls, in which I was stated to be a Papist conspirator, a Jesuit emissary, and a Subverter of the Protestant Faith. These posters confronted the workmen as they went to their work in the morning, and there is no doubt that they did me considerable harm at the polls. When I say that there is not one truthful statement in the whole placard, and when I report that it vitally affected the election, it is evident that the incident was a very grave public scandal. At the last instant, when no time was left for contradiction, the electors were influenced in their voting by a statement which was both false and malicious.
My own religious beliefs are things which I should not have obtruded upon the public, but the issue has been so directly raised that I cannot avoid it. Let me state my position once for all. I am not, and never have been since my school days, a Roman Catholic. For more than twenty years my strongest convictions have been In favour of complete liberty of conscience, and I regard hard and fast dogma of every kind as an unjustifiable and essentially irreligious thing putting assertion in the place of reason, and giving rise to more contention, bitterness, and want of charity than any other influence in human affairs. I have hardly ever written a book in which I have not indicated this view, and in one work, The Stark Munro Letters it is the main thesis of the book. When I add that the church which I attend in London is that of Mr. Voysey, in Swallow Street, it will be obvious that my religious views are broadly tolerant, founded upon a Reverent Theism, rather than upon the special teaching of any particular sect. The process of religious thought in the future, and the best one for the happiness of the human race, lies, in my opinion, in the various creeds directing their attention to those things which they have in common instead of eternally accentuating the things which hold them apart — matters of dogma and ritual which are not the essentials of Christianity.
So much about a subject to which I shall not recur. My early association with the Catholic Church leaves me with no bitterness toward that venerable institution, which contains many of the most saintly men and women whom I have ever known. My own recent experience is enough to show me the vile slanders to which they are subjected. But a man's soul and reason are his own and he must go whither they beckon. That path has in my case been an open and a straight one since I emerged from boyhood.
This being my religious position, I leave it to the judgment of your readers how unjust were the terms applied in this unscrupulous placard. I am advised by the highest authorities that under the recent Illegal Practices Prevention Act of '95, a legal remedy is within my reach. No punishment, however, which could be inflicted upon the person who is responsible for the bill could undo the harm which has been done. I prefer, therefore, to leave the facts upon record and to trust that the publicity which I give to them may prevent the recurrence of so gross a scandal. As a last word may I once again thank my friends of the Central Division for the loyalty and energy with which they stood by me in the contest.
I am, &c.
A. CONAN DOYLE