Mr. A. L. Brown and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Mr. A. L. Brown and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in the Border Advertiser, Galashiels, on 11 april 1905.

Mr. A. L. Brown and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir, — A year or so ago Mr. Brown challenged some figures of mine — indeed he was in such haste to do so that he interrupted a meeting for the purpose. Consequently, I went over the figures again, as did several other competent statisticians, and they proved to have been absolutely correct. This incident should have warned him to be more careful, and not to endeavour to controvert remarks which he did not hear, and which he can only know through a very condensed report.

His so called "mistakes" prove in this case, as in the last, to be absolute mares' nests. In talking of the lamentable drop in our exports, I did not confine myself in a hard and fast way to single years, but I prefaced my remarks by saying —, "If you go hack for thirty years or so," and finally I took 1871 as a concrete example. I chose this year because I had rather understate my case than overstate it. 1872 is, of course, a more favourable year for my argument. I now give the figures of manufactured woollens and worsteds, including yarns, for two periods of six years, with a thirty years' interval, so that every reader can judge for himself. If Mr. A.L. Brown can derive any consolation out of them he is the Mark Tapley of politics.

Exports of woollen and worsted manufactures, including yarns, taken from Statistical Abstract of the Blue Books, and confirmed by Mr. Hooper's statistics of woollen and worsted trade, kindly sent me by Mr. Brown:—

1870 26,600,000 1899 19,100,000
1871 83,300 000 1900 20,100,000
1872 39,500,000 1901 17,700,000
1873 80,700,000 1902 18,700,000
1874 28,800,000 1903 20,000,000
1875 26,700,000 1904 22,200 000

Mr. A. L. Brown then goes on to point out the difference between the results in price and in bulk. This difference I carefully explained to my audience. Mr. Brown is not, however, an equally frank controversialist, as he fails to point out in his letter that this same difference between price and bulk made the increase in the foreign imports twice as great as would appear from the tables.

In dealing with the loss of population in these Burghs, I appear to have again understated the case — which I should always prefer to do — for I find that Hawick has lost 2,000 souls in addition to nearly 4,000 gone from Galashiels. Mr. Brown appears to say that there is some consolation to be found in the fact that the general population of the country is increasing. If some high class industry was indeed increasing rapidly, then I could follow his statement, but the textile trades, the iron trade, and nearly all productive trades appear to have either fallen or been stagnant. I write at a distance from books of reference, but as far as my memory serves me the only trades in Great Britain which are progressive are coal mining (a trade open to many grave objections), engineering (depending greatly on the motor car development), and ship-building. The reason of this general decline lies in foreign tariffs, and there is no hope for improvement until we are in a position to bargain on equal terms with those who erect them.

Mr. Brown's next argument is that low wages in Belgium are due to its protective tariff. Then how about the high wages of America? Are they due also to a protective tariff? There is a very low rate of wages in many parts of Ireland, and yet Ireland is a free trade country. Germany used to be a free trade country till 1880, and so I think was Belgium, but wages did not fall when they adopted Protection. In Germany they increased at a swifter ratio than in Great Britain. Wages increase in proportion to the demand for labour, and everything which spreads our foreign market or holds our home one helps to send up wages. Tariff Reform would certainly act in that direction.

Mr. A. L. Brown appears to take a cheerful view of the cheap Belgian yarn, produced by sweated labour. I do not think he would find many British yarn spinners to agree with him.

Finally, Mr Brown is exulted at the prospect of a 10 per cent. duty on yarns. As a matter of fact, by the only scheme before the country, the duty on yarns (as on all half manufactured goods) would be only 5 per cent. The Belgian and other yarns would either have to contribute this sum, and so mitigate our taxation, or else keep out, and so give more work for the British workman. If they came in in spite of it, as Mr. Brown says they would, then it would be so much the better for the exchequer, and it would give us a means of bargaining by which we might attain what we all desire, true free trade — that is, a trade in which we are free to sell as well as to buy. I should think, in spite of Mr. Brown's protest that this is the chief desire of a manufacturing district, and that they will prove it at the next election.

I am &c.,

Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh, 8th April, 1905.