Literary Etiquette

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Literary Etiquette is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Daily Chronicle on 7 august 1897.

Literary Etiquette

Sir, — When Mr. Kipling writes such a poem as his "Recessional," he does not state in public what he thinks of it, and how it came to be written. When Mr. Barrie produces so fine a work as Margaret Ogilvie, there are no long interviews and explanations to advertise it before it appears. The excellence of the literature commends the poem or the tale to the discerning reader, and the ordinary advertising agencies present its merits to the general public. As a literary man, I would beg Mr. Hall Caine to adopt the same methods. Whether his work is of the best or not is a matter of private judgment. Personally, I have a high opinion of some of it. But that is beside the question. What he has never seemed to realise is that in every high profession — be it law, medicine, the Army, or literature — there are certain unwritten laws — a gentlemanly etiquette which is binding upon all, but most binding upon those who have a claim to stand among the leaders of the profession. If those who are successful advertise their own wares, and use the machinery of the Press in order to whet curiosity about their own book before it has come into the hands of the critics, the young aspirant naturally comes to imagine that this is the cause of the success, and by his imitating the same tactics the whole tone of the profession becomes lowered. Mr. Hall Caine's book has not yet appeared — when it does appear I wish it every success — but I do think it unworthy of the dignity of our common profession that one should pick up paper after paper and read Mr. Caine's own comments on the gigantic task and the colossal work which he has just brought to a conclusion, with minute descriptions of its various phases and of the different difficulties which have been overcome. Surely in the case of another man Mr. Caine would clearly perceive that it is for others to say these things, and that there is something ludicrous and offensive about them when they are self-stated. Each successive book of Mr. Hall Caine's has been self-heralded in the same fashion. All these wire-pullings and personalities tend to degrade literature, and it is high time that every self-respecting man should protest against them, on no narrow individual grounds, but because it rests with us to preserve the honourable traditions which have been handed down from those great men who have preceded us.

It would be preferable if we could leave such questions of etiquette to the critics, but every body of men is the guardian of its own honour, and if we do not sustain an etiquette of our own there is no reason why the critics should interfere to do so. The discipline of every self-respecting profession must be self-enforced, and cannot proceed from outside pressure. That discipline has of late years been sadly relaxed, and some of us hope that the day may come when the Authors' Society may deal with it, as legal or medical societies enforce a high standard of professional etiquette. At present we can do nothing but protest.

If I do not sign my name it is because I do not desire to import personalities into what is an impersonal matter. I have no desire, however, to make an anonymous attack, and I enclose my card, with full permission that it should be forwarded to Mr. Hall Caine should he so desire.

Yours faithfully,


Authors' Club, Aug. 6