Reviews and Reflections
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
This article is a report of the Upper Norwood Literary and Scientific Society (UNLSS) published in The Norwood News on 7 october 1893.
The report is about the lecture Some Facts about Fiction by Arthur Conan Doyle.
Reviews and Reflections
The opening lecture of the attractive series arranged by the Upper Norwood Literary and Scientific Society, was delivered by Dr. Conan Doyle, on Wednesday evening last. It would have been a pleasure to publish a copious report of it, nor would that have been superfluous even for those who heard it, inasmuch as the structure of the address required more deliberate attention than could be given in the act of hearing. Dr. Doyle is, however, legitimately conservative of his rights as an author and lecturer, and in engaging himself to address a limited audience he does not recognise any public claim to receive a report of his lecture without an honorarium. It is understood that he will repeat the lecture at Croydon very shortly, and elsewhere frequently, and it will be worth the while of all who care for fine literary criticism to seize an opportunity of listening to it. At the same time it must be admitted that it will have to be read and reflected on before its merits can be adequately appreciated, and it may be hoped that when the lecture season of 1893-4 has run its course Dr. Doyle will surrender his paper to the press, and not only secure for it a wider public but a more careful consideration. The scope of the lecture is necessarily limited, as its very title implies — Some Facts about Fiction. For Dr. Doyle does not indulge in those vague vast generalizations by means of which some critics assert impossible pretentions and leave their hearers or readers in a state of wondering bewilderment. It is not a history of fiction, nor a comparative analysis of past and present writers, nor an award in an international arbitration on the claims of the French, the American and the English schools, that Dr. Doyle attempts. With as much modesty of aim as of manner, he limits himself to half-a-dozen contemporary writers, and endeavours to convince his audience, by exposition and by extract, that these are not days of decline in the department of imaginative literature, but are at once days of remarkable achievement and of extraordinary promise. If we have now no Dickens or Thackeray — as he allows — and their position is practically undisputed, it is still true that the art of fiction has improved since their day, and that the present average production is of high quality. Not England only, but the English colonies are fertile of genius, and the political Federation of the Empire has been anticipated by literary enterprise. Canada and Australia have asserted their claims to recognition; India, with Mr. Kipling as its representative, has won universal consideration; and in the person of Olive Schreiner, Africa has made herself heard. At home Thomas Hardy, George Meredith and R. L. Stevenson are the foremost amongst a band of writers who are worthy of there leaders. Mr. Barrie, Mr. Quiller Couch, and Mr. Jerome maintain the claims of the novel, and particularly of the short story, to be the most vital things in the world. "The novel," said Dr. Doyle finely, "is the philanthropist of literature." It is not a concession to evil and luxury, or a mere pastime, for what men read they think, and what they think they do. Nor is there any higher aim in life than that of lightening by a feather's weight the load of care which lies upon so many lives.
Dr. Doyle would evidently be ready to do battle for his art as a story teller if need were, but in this lecture his method is that of persuasion. His critical scalpel is used with much precision, and his clinical discourse is most intelligent and edifying. The total effect is much heightened by his habit of making his patients speak for themselves, for in every case they bear witness to the accuracy of his diagnosis. The extracts which he reads from the works under review never conflict with his judgment of their merits.