Sir A. Conan Doyle. Australia's Part in the War

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Sir A. Conan Doyle. Australia's Part in the War is an interview of Arthur Conan Doyle first published as an article in The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) on 15 november 1920.

Sir A. Conan Doyle. Australia's Part in the War

The Sydney Morning Herald (15 november 1920)



Big and breezy, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle made his visitors feel thoroughly at home as he sped briskly downstairs to meet them at his hotel on Saturday afternoon and greeted them in his strong bass voice and with hearty hand-shaking. One of them was an old friend who had played cricket with him in England, and at once the distinguished author settled down to chat with him about the English Eleven and the test match prospects. His burly, well-knit frame, as he towered over his callers, spoke of his devotion to athletics in the days when he practised boxing and shared in cricket and Rugby for his university — the sound training which enabled him to engage in a heavy football match when he was 42 and play cricket twice a week at 50.

But those days seem far off now. For Sir Arthur is at present engaged upon a serious mission — so serious, indeed, that his tone as he talks of it induces the conclusion that he regards it as the most important purpose of his life. He speaks of psychical research in words of deep sincerity, and to him the power of communing with the dead appears beyond dispute. This is manifestly the subject uppermost in his thoughts.

A "Herald" interviewer asked him about his literary career. It was true, he replied, that he wrote his first book, a story of adventure, when only six years old. "But," he protested, with a laugh, "that's nothing! Why, every boy scribbles something. My own boy, eight years old, has begun to write stories. I always had a strong turn in the direction of story-telling, inherited, I believe, from my mother. My father, Charles Doyle, was an artist, and so were my uncles, one of whom was 'Dicky' Doyle, the famous caricaturist. After I started in medical practice in England I did a great deal in short stories, working incessantly for poor reward."


At last "A Study in Scarlet," written in 1887, enabled him to get his foot in as an author. "I sold that book outright for £25, and I don't know how many thousands the publishers have made out of it. Why, they have cinema rights now, which were undreamed of in that day. But at the time I was glad of the chance to get a place in literature. 'Micah Clarke' was my next book, and this was well received. Two years later I wrote 'The White Company,' and that and 'Sir Nigel' I regard as the best books I ever wrote. Why? Well, because they are deeper studies than mere works of fiction. Another book of which I thought a good deal was 'Rodney Stone,' as a study of the old bucks of its period and the sport of boxing. As you know, I dramatised 'Rodney Stone,' and the drama, under the title 'The House of Temperley,' was produced in London."

Sir Arthur was interested to learn that it had also been produced here by J. C. Williamson. "In the London cast," he said, "we had a very sound, all-round company, and Ben Webster gave an excellent performance in the lending role."

The author laughed when reminded of his famous character, Sherlock Holmes, and that, though officially dead, he was still "going strong." It was in "A Study in Scarlet" that the great detective first appeared. "No, the detective's name was not chosen without a little trouble," he continued. "I wanted some good name which would prove easy and at the same time not too obvious. It would hardly do, for example, to call your detective 'Inspector Sharp!' 'Sherrington Hope' suggested itself, and 'Sherringford, Holmes,' and various other combinations before I hit finally upon 'Sherlock Holmes.'"

Mention of Sir Arthur's book of essays, "Through the Magic Door" — the door being that f his library — recalled the proposition he advances there that reading is made too easy nowadays by cheap editions and free libraries, and that a man does not appreciate at its full worth the thing that comes without effort. "Don't you think there is something to that?" he queried. "I admit there is a good deal to be said for the other contention that if you make reading cheaper you spread the love of it among the people. But while the man who goes into a public library may taste a great deal of literature he cannot take a book home with him, and prize it at his own as he pores over it and makes marginal notes upon it if he wishes. There's where the difference comes in! A book must be your very own before you can get the real joy of it. Think of the thrill which Carlyle felt when he came home with the six volumes of Gibbon's 'History' in his arms, and the thrill as he devoured his new find!"

If one gazed now through the door of Sir Arthur's library his eye would rest upon 200 volumes of works upon psychology prominent in the collection. These the author declares, he has read through and through, and this study has occupied his attention almost exclusively of late years. For this reason he did not feel inclined to discuss present day tendencies in literature. "You see," he said, "when a man is setting out to teach a subject to others, he must be careful to study it himself. And I have been reading this up so closely that I have not had the opportunity to watch any other developments. Then you must remember, too, that there are always fresh books on psychology coming along, and these one must read, too."


"And when you think, on the one hand, of how America talked of having won the war, and on the other, of how dignified Australia was! Yes! I saw the Australian troops smash the Hindenburg line - I saw more of that great victory than any other civilian. And do you know who took me up to the front, and thus gave me this opportunity? A son of Sir Arthur Rickard, of Sydney, I was wandering along when I met this young artillery officer, and he promptly accompanied us up to the front, almost to where the infantry were. Sir Joseph Cook was with me that day."

America's present attitude. Sir Arthur regards as deplorable, and her treatment of President Wilson as humiliating, in view of the fact that he was sent to Europe as her representative. "Of course," he observed, "President Wilson might have exercised greater tact. He would have been wiser if he had taken some Republican leader - Senator Lodge, or some other prominent man with him. It could not then have been alleged that the matter was being reduced to one of a mere party character. But Mr. Wilson, I think, lacks what is called 'actuality.'"