Lord Wolseley

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Lord Woseley is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Times on 3 april 1913.

Lord Woseley

The Times (3 april 1913)


Sir, — I have one or two vivid recollections of the personality and conversation of Lord Wolseley which might furnish a paragraph for his future biographer. He was a man who possessed not only the courage and energy which are the proper qualities of a successful soldier, but a breadth of thought and power of brain which would have brought him to the top in any profession. There was something of the knight errant in his disposition, a real love for perilous deeds, and when he spoke of war and its hazards the whole man seemed to become tense and quivering with a suppressed eagerness. There was nothing small or petty in his nature, and I have heard him speak with enthusiasm of brother generals quite outside that circle of comrades who had shared in his own triumphs. I remember sitting next to him at a very small dinner party upon the evening that the news of the battle of Omdurman came to England. It was during the Salisbury Plain manoeuvres of 1898. As Kitchener's exploit was an Actual accomplishment of that which Lord Wolseley, through no fault of his own, had failed to achieve, some reserve in his feelings would have been human and natural. On the contrary, I can never forget the whole-hearted boyish warmth with which he sprang to his feet arid drank his first glass of wine (probably his last also, for he was one of the most abstemious of men) to the victor in the great battle which cleared the way to Khartum.

I remember one or two of his sayings which may be of interest. To a direct question from me as to whether he felt any sensation of fear when he was first under fire he answered, "The human mind can only think of one thing at a time. If a young officer is thinking whole-heartedly of his men and how he is to handle them, he cannot possibly think of himself." The conversation having turned to the religious future of Great Britain, he said, "That question was definitely and finally settled 300 years ago. There is no example in history of a nation going back upon a decision of that sort." He carried away from his Crimean campaign a very great esteem for the Russians not only as soldiers but as men. This he was universal among the troops, and went so far that they were in closer personal sympathy with their enemies than with their allies. He had a keen sense of humour, and could bring out the points of a, story. I can never forget one of his anecdotes, which was to the effect that he had taken a notoriously eccentric officer with him to Egypt on a solemn promise that he would restrain his strange sporting propensities and do nothing out of the way. On the first morning in Ismailia the General was disturbed by a great hubbub outside his quarters, and, looking out, saw the officer in question endeavouring to drive up to the door with a camel and a donkey in tandem.

Yours faithfully,

Athenaeum Club, April 1.