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22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, KStJ, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

Letters to the Celebrated. No. III. - To Mr. A. Conan Doyle

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Letters to the Celebrated. No. III. - To Mr. A. Conan Doyle is an article written by The Vagrant published in Punch magazine on 11 november 1897.

Letters to the Celebrated. No. III. - To Mr. A. Conan Doyle

Letters to the Celebrated. No. III. - To Mr. A. Conan Doyle (1897)

MY DEAR SIR, - Your modesty will perhaps pardon me if I begin by stating that I consider it a privilege to write to you. We both follow the profession of literature, both of us know what it is not to spare the peritura charta, both understand by what hieroglyphic marks the mistakes in proof-sheets may be corrected, and both of us, I suppose, receive with due gratitude the honorarium to which our labours entitle us. But there the resemblance ends. You have fought your way up to the magic Castle of Romance, you have struck the shield that hangs upon the outer wall, and have blown a loud, clear blast upon the mighty horn. I - But why should I speak of myself? All I need do is to tell you again that I am proud to have the chance of talking to you tor a few moments on paper.

Many are the pleasant hours I have spent with the men you have created, men with deep chests and broad backs and untiring limbs and dauntless courage. That is the company (White or otherwise) that I like. I can step into the street at this moment and see hundreds of the spindle-shanked and pigeon-breasted in their top-hats and black coats and dingy trousers all very worthy, very respectable, and perfectly punctual. They pay their rates, and eat their roast mutton, and support their families ; they catch their morning trains, and crackle the topics of the day with one another as they fare city-wards, but when I say that for interest they cannot vie with Micah Clarke and Hordle John, or many another of the stout and valiant fellows whose honest, swashing blows resound in your stories, that Sherlock Holmes, too (never an arch favourite of mine - but let that pass), outweighs them all - when I say this I am stating a truth mildly and, I trust, without offence. And as for problem novels, analytical novels, sex-novels, and all the rest of the Gadarene class, I fancy we have got through any craze we may have had for them. Have we not all problems enough of our own without resorting to novels? How shall we fashion our lives, even in such small matters as the daily arrangement of dinners, or the ordering of new clothes, or the making and keeping of friends, or the acquisition in marriage of the beloved one? These matters are, in all conscience, perplexing enough for us. And as for sex-novels, great Heaven, we may be degenerate and anaemie, but most of us have not yet sunk so low as to bother our heads about the stale questions that occupy the minds of the epicene purveyors of dirt and balderdash. No, penned in as we are by convention and circumstance, we sigh for the lusty and rejoicing manhood of past ages. We commit ourselves to you, and under your guidance we press onward into the mountain passes, we are with the White Company in their last glorious stand, we hear the trumpets sound and the clamorous battle-cries re-echo from host to host, the arrows hurtle through the air, the great words rise and gleam and fall, and the tide of conflict rolls backward and forward till the night descends. And then why, then we come back with fresher hearts to the dull routine of our inglorious lives. And it may chance, too, that after such a companionship with you we shall feel our breasts thrill with a higher emotion and a more generous admiration when we hear of the deeds that our fellow-subjects are even now performing far away amid the crags and precipices of the Indian frontier.

But softly, good friend - it is a carper who speaks - softly: all that Mr. DOYLE does has been done before. SCOTT has done it, DUMAS has done it. Granted, I answer ; but what then? SCOTT, whom we love, and DUMAS, whom we love, need not exclude a later affection for you. I make no comparisons ; I have before my eyes the fear of Mr. CHRISTIE MURRAY ; nor, in any case, is it necessary either to exclude or to include a modern by comparing him with the ancient masters. Let a man stand on his own sturdy legs and be judged. Thus I place you, and salute and thank you. And, I may add, that not so long ago I took from the shelf Le Bâtard de Mauléon, by DUMAS, and read it with a breathless interest. The period is that of your White Company, and there is magnificent fighting in it, but the mail-clad warriors fight on the side opposed to yours, and Bertrand du Guesclin is their hero. But my enjoyment of the Bertrand of DUMAS did not in the least impair my delight in your Black Prince and all the rest of your Hampshire heroes. Why should it not be so with all of us? Why should we read SCOTT or DUMAS, and say, "We end there ; no other and later romancer shall ever give us pleasure"?

Farewell, Sir. You are yourself a strong, broad-shouldered man, and you take a natural delight in deeds of strength and courage. Soon, I cannot doubt, you will array yourself in armour and gird on your sword again. Are there not vast regions open to you where adventures may be had for the asking? Proceed and conquer them, and lay your spoils once more before your faithful readers.

Affectionately yours,