Luncheon in honour of Commander Peary

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

On 3 may 1910, Arthur Conan Doyle was invited at a complimentary luncheon in honour of Commander Peary held at the Royal Societies Club, St. James's-street, London. He gave a speech about romance writers and the rarity of undiscovered lands to settle their characters.


  • President : Lord Halsbury
  • Speakers :
  • Commander Peary
  • The Swedish Minister
  • Admiral Sir George Nares
  • Lord Roberts
  • Lord Strathcona
  • Sir George H. Reid (High Commissioner for Australia)
  • Admiral Sir Lewis Beaumont
  • Sir G. Taubman Geldie
  • The Bishop of Kensington
  • Commander E. Simpson (Naval Attaché, American Embassy)
  • Mr. W. Phillips (First Secretary, American Embassy)
  • Captain Muirhead Collins, Official Secretary, Australian Commonwealth
  • Rear-Admiral A. M. Field
  • Sir David Gill
  • Captain R. F. Scott, R.N.
  • Sir Hiram Maxim
  • Mr. H. de Windt
  • Mr. Hall Jones
  • Major L. Darwin
  • Captain Bartlett
  • Colonel E. M. Wilson
  • Sir J. Jardine, M.P.
  • Mr. John Thomson
  • Dr. Scott Keltie
  • Sir A. Conan Doyle
  • Mr. G. E. Buckle
  • Professor Sir H. von Herkomer
  • Admiral P. Aldrich
  • Mr. J. Teall
  • Mr. T. Bryant
  • Daniel Bey and Mundji Bey (of the Turkish Embassy)
  • Colonel Fielden
  • Mr. Fabian Ware
  • Rear-Admiral H. E. P. Cust
  • Professor R. E. Gregory
  • Sir J. McFadyean
  • Canon Rawnsley
  • Mr. H. R. Mill
  • Dr. W. N. Shaw
  • Major P. Sykes
  • Professor Mayo Robson
  • Colonel A. King
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Gifford
  • Commander B. Neate
  • Rev. J. D. Pierce

Conan Doyle speech

Report from The Times

SIR A. CONAN DOYLE, in responding for "Literature," said that he saw the poster of some enterprising firm as he was making his way to this luncheon party, which indicated how to squeeze an ox into a teacup. (Laughter.) That was a small feat compared with squeezing "Literature" into an after-luncheon speech. It was difficult, but his motto in life had been that the best way to overcome a difficulty was to avoid it (laughter) — a motto which would not commend itself to their guest. The subject of literature was perhaps hardly to be treated on such an occasion as this, and he certainly did not feel that he was the man to do it justice. There were one or two small cognate matters, however, to which he might make reference. The writers of romance had always a certain amount of grievance that explorers were continually encroaching on the domain of the romance writer. (Laughter and cheers.) There had been a time when the world was full of blank spaces, and in which a man of imagination might be able to give free scope to his fancy. (Laughter.) But owing to the ill-directed energy of their guest and other gentlemen of similar tendencies these spaces were rapidly being filled up and the question was where the romance writer was to turn when he wanted to draw any vague aid not too clearly-defined region. (Laughter.) Romance writers were a class of people who very much disliked being hampered by facts. (Laughter.) They liked places where they could splash about freely, and where no one was in a position to contradict them. There used to be in his younger days a place known as Tibet. (Laughter.) When they wanted a place in which to put a mysterious old gentleman who could foretell the future, Tibet was a useful spot. (Laughter.) In the last few years, however, a commonplace British army had missed through Tibet, and they had not found any Mahatmas. (Laughter.) One would as soon think now of placing an occult gentleman there as of placing him in Piccadilly-circus. (Laughter.) Then there was Central Africa, which his friend Mr. Rider Haggard as a young man had found to be a splendid hunting ground. There at least was a place where the romance writer could do what he liked; but since those days they had the railway and the telegraph, and the question was when they came down to dinner whether they should wear a tail coat or whether a smoking jacket would do. (Laughter and cheers.) He had thought also that the Poles would last his time, but here was Commander Peary opening up the one and Captain Scott was going to open up the other. Really he did not know where romance writers would be able to send their characters in order that they might come back chastened and better men. (Laughter.) There were now no vast regions of the world unknown to them, and romance writers would have to be more precise in their writings. When he was young he remembered that he began a story by saying that there was a charming homestead at Nelson; 70 miles north-west of New Zealand. A wretched geographer wrote to him to say that 70 miles north-west of New Zealand was out at sea. (Laughter and cheers.) Even now he could not write about the open Polar sea, without Commander Peary's writing and contradicting him. (Laughter and cheers.) There were other minor grievance of the romance writer. He saw a picture the other day of a melancholy-looking chicken which said:— "Ah, well, what does anything matter? We begin as an egg and we end as a feather duster." (Laughter.) He thought that the whole philosophy of the world was comprised in the aphorism of that chicken (Laughter.) But all the same, he wished to add his feeble word to their national pride not only that an American, but an American had been an old British, Anglo-Saxon stock name, a man who had won this honour. (Cheers.)

Full Report