Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (article Arthur William à Becket)

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is an article written by Arthur William à Beckett published in The English Illustrated Magazine on may 1904.


The English Illustrated Magazine
(may 1904, p. 209)
The English Illustrated Magazine
(may 1904, p. 210)
The English Illustrated Magazine
(may 1904, p. 211)
The English Illustrated Magazine
(may 1904, p. 215)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle *
by Arthur William à Beckett

Although the name of Doyle was as familiar in my mouth as house-hold words, I had never met the nephew of "Dicky," until I was a co-guest with him at the Savile Club. Our host was Sir Walter Besant, who had collected — Rudyard Kipling amongst the rest — a number of friends and well-wishers to his pet project "The Society of Authors Incorporated." After dinner, I had an opportunity of a long and pleasant chat with the creator of "Sherlock Holmes." I discussed with him the early days of Punch when my father, the late Gilbert Abbott à Beckett, and his uncle the aforesaid "Dicky" Doyle had worked side by side at the celebrated "Table." As it happened the whole of the illustrations of "The Almanack of the Month," a periodical which lasted exactly a year, under my father's editorship, had been supplied by his uncle. I found Conan Doyle full of the Punch tradition and two or three years later when it became my duty as assistant-editor to appeal to him to supply the initial story for the "Extra Pages" of the London Charivari, that esprit de corps was of great assistance to me in conducting the negotiation. I interviewed him at the Golden Cross Hotel, Charing Cross, and discussed for nearly an hour the possibilities of the situation. Nowadays it seems to me that, perhaps, those who were accustomed to hear themselves called, ten or twenty years ago, "Punch men," take the paper with which they were associated a little too seriously. Be this as it may, Conan Doyle, at that time (as indeed he still is) at the height of his fame, was absolutely nervous about his work. Would it be up to the standard of Punch? That was the question. I had to suggest to him that there had been precedents for stories in Punch before he would consent to the experiment. I had to instance the "Story of a Feather" of Douglas Jerrold, the Series of Thackeray, "The Unprotected Female" of Tom Taylor, and "The Hapletons" of Shirley Brooks before he would entertain the proposal. To the very last he was reluctant, and only on the distinct understanding that the editor exercised the strictest control would he submit his copy. As a matter of fact he sent in one story and then withdrew it in favour of another that was subsequently published.

Leaving for the moment the question of style the matter of Conan Doyle has always fascinated me. The "Detective Story" is ever interesting, and when handled by a past master in the method becomes enthralling. Perhaps the earliest specimen of the problem plot was "The Moonstone" of Wilkie Collins. Of course, it appeared in three volume form, and was inferentially superior to even earlier work by Walter Philips and J. F. Smith. The latter gentleman was the favourite concocter of plots in the days of my youth. He used to have three or four "to be continued in our next" novels in the London Journal type of periodical, and had the honour of supplying a serial to the Morning Chronicle which (coupled with an injudicious support of the late Emperor Napoleon the Third) is said to have been the cause of that ill-fated paper's decease. But the time of J. F. Smith was not ripe for novels in newspapers. Nowadays his work would have been acceptable in the columns of such worthy products of the press as the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, and even journals of double their face value.

Although equal to work of all kinds. Conan Doyle is best known to the multitude as the author whose books are the highest in popularity in the reading room of Scotland Yard. I have no doubt that if the man in the street were asked to fill up the position of Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department — once held by Colonel Sir Howard Vincent — he would nominate Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. And there would be good sense in the selection, although it is doubtful whether the creator of "Sherlock Holmes" would be able to spare enough of his exceedingly valuable time to do justice to the duties attaching to so onerous an appointment. And yet there is nothing so very difficult in putting together a detective story. The secret is merely to write backwards. The Chinese are said — by the unlearned — to commence their stories at the end, and finish them at the beginning. The unlearned may be mistaken in the letter of their information, but not so very much out in its spirit. The spirit of the writer of a detective story is, so to speak, to be aware of the climax before realising the causes leading up to it. All roads lead to Rome. There are many ways to the discovery of a murder when only one man — the author of the tale — is possessed of the secret of the identity of the assassin. I can speak from experience. In my time I have written a dozen detective stories. First create your secret, then put your reader off the scent to its discovery until the last chapter. I have been always particularly proud of a tale of mine called "The Ghost of Grintstone Grange." The ghost — who was, of course, a living breathing person — committed a murder. But it was never discovered until the final page of the story. Not a soul knew the assassin. Not even the murderess. The lady had committed her crime in her sleep.

So to the multitude Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is known as the clever creator of "Sherlock Holmes." But there are multitudes and multitudes, and the cultured million accepts his work all round as admirable. When he leaves the staff of "incident" and trusts only to his power of description his charm is irresistible. What can be more delightful than the short story upon which the drama of "A Tale of Waterloo" was founded. What can be more enthralling than the verve of the tales of the Regency and the First Empire? Deduct from Doyle's stories their capital plots, and there yet will remain the pleasantest of pleasant reading. It is a coincidence that two doctors during the last half century have chosen the mania of the mind for the themes of most of their stories. A prominent authority on medicine the other day declared that crime was a mania. Accepting this decision as reliable, then Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has much to write about madness. His brother practitioner in medicine as well as fiction was the late Dr. William Gilbert (father of Mr. W. S. Gilbert, the well-known dramatist) who was once called by a critic in the Saturday Review, "The Modern Defoe." Doyle in his "Sherlock Holmes" series has become the historian of the madness of crime, as Gilbert in his "Dr. Austin's Guests" and "Shirley Hall Asylum" pictured the failure of brain with less exciting incidents. For Doyle's "subjects" the curative treatment is the prison, for Gilbert's it was "the accused house."

Then Doyle has other sides to his character. He is an athlete like Dr. Grace, and an enthusiast in his profession like all the graduates of the Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons. There are scores of grateful patients who will speak of his kindness during the dreary days of sickness in the African Campaign. Then, last of all the novelists, and first of all the journalists, he is an admirable special correspondent. His training in the hospital has taught him to notice everything, and his use of the pen for serial publications has accustomed him to "judging quantity." The present generation has possessed many admirable "specials," but there is none better than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. His work on the The Pall Mall Gazette was a masterpiece of good sound writing. Doctor, cricketer, novelist, "special," dramatist, patriot, and good fellow. Many happy returns of the day.


1887.— A Study in Scarlet.
1889.— Micah Clarke.
The Mystery of Cloomber.
1890.— The Captain of the Polestar. The Firm of Girdlestone.
The Sign of Four; also in Lippincott: Feb.
Methods of R. L. Stevenson in Fiction. National: Jan. Living Age: Feb.
Physiologist's Wife. Blackwood: Sept. Eclectic: Oct. Living Age: Oct.
Surgeon of Gaster Falls. Chambers: Dec.
1891.— J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement.
The White Company.
Our Midnight Visitor. Temple Bar: Feb. Eclectic: April.
The Voice of Science. Strand: Mar.
1891-1892.— Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Strand: July-Dec.; also published in book form, 1892.
1892.— The Doings of Raffles Haw.
The Great Shadow.
Between Two Fires. Vol. I., Chap. IV. The Fate of Fenella.
The Glamour of the Arctic. Idler: July.
De Profundis. Idler: Mar.
Lot No. 249. Harper: Sept.
The Los Amigos Fiasco. Idler: Dec.
1893.— The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.
The Refugees; also in Harper: Jan-June.
Jane Annie. A Comic Opera, with J. M. Barrie.
My First Book: Juvenilia. Idler: Jan.
The Green Flag. Pall Mall: June.
The Slapping Sal. McClure: Aug.
Pennarby Mine; an Epic of Cornwall. Pall Mall: Aug.
The Case of Lady Sannox. Idler: Nov.
Adventure of the Final Problem. McClure: Dec.
1894.— The Parasite.
Round the Red Lamp.
An Alpine Walk. Young Man: Jan.
The Glamour of the Arctic. McClure: Mar.
The Doctors of Hoyland. Idler: April. McClure: Aug.
On Books. Great Thoughts: May and June.
Sweethearts. Idler: July. McClure: Oct.
My First Book. McClure: Aug.
De Profundis. McClure: Nov.
A Foreign Office Romance. McClure: Dec.
An Alpine Pass "on Ski." Strand: Dec.
The Medal of Brigadier Gerard. Strand: Dec.
1894-1895.— The Stark Munro Papers. Idler: Oct.-Nov.
1895.— The Stark Munro Letters.
Recollections of Capt. Wilkie. Chambers: Jan. McClure: April.
The Green Flag. McClure: Jan.
A Forgotten Tale. Scribner: Jan.
An Alpine Pass on "Ski." McClure: Mar.
The Lord of Chateau Noir. McClure: Mar.
Exploits of Brigadier Gerard. Strand: April-Dec.
Tempted by the Devil. Cosmopolitan: Sept.
1896.— The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard.
Rodney Stone; also in Strand: Jan.-Dec.
1897.— Uncle Bernac (Chaps. 1-5 only, published in 1896); also in Cosmopolitan: Jan.-Mar.)
Life on a Greenland Whaler. Strand: Jan. McClure Mar.
Governor of St. Kitts. McClure: May.
The Tragedy of the Korosko. Strand: May-Dec.
The Two Barks. McClure: July.
Voyage of Copley Banks. McClure: Aug.
1898.— Songs of Action.
The Tragedy of the Korosko.
Cremona, a Ballad of the Irish Brigade, Cornhill: Jan.
The Groom's Story. Cornhill: April.
Retirement of Signor Lambert. Cosmopolitan: Dec.
1898-1899.— Round the Fire. Strand: June-May.
1899.— A Duet, with an occasional Chorus.
Halves, a play.
The Mystery of Sasassa Valley, in Peril and Prowess.
Multiple Reviewing. Bookman: July.
The Croxley Master. Strand: Oct.-Dec.
Crime of the Brigadier. Cosmopolitan: Dec. Strand: Jan. 1900.
1900.— The Great Boer War.
My Favourite Novelist and His Best Book. Munsey: Mar.
Playing with Fire. Strand: Mar.
Début of Bimbashi Joyce. McClure: May.
The Army in South Africa. Strand: Sept.
Facsimile ending of "Captain Sharkey." Bookman: Oct.
Some Military Lessons of the War. Cornhill: Oct. McClure: Oct.
1901.— The Military Lessons of the War; a Rejoinder. Cornhill: Jan.
Reply to Col. Lonsdale Hale on Home Defence. Nineteenth Centur: Mar.
Strange Studies from Life. Strand: Mar.-May.
1901-1902.— The Great Boer War. Wide World: May-June.
The Hound of the Baskervilles. Strand: Aug.-April.
1902.— The War in South Africa.
The Leather Funnel. McClure: Nov.
Adventures of Etienne Gerard. Strand: Aug-Dec.
Favourite Novelist and His Best Book. Harmsworth: Nov.
1903.— The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Strand: Oct. to Date.


1893.— Jane Annie: or, the Good Conduct Prize, by J. M. Barrie and A. C. D. Produced, Savoy, May 13.
1894.— A Story of Waterloo. Produced, Prince's Theatre, Bristol, Sept. 21.
1899.— Halves. Produced, Her Majesty's, Aberdeen, April 10.
1901.— Sherlock Holmes, by W. Gillette and A. C. D. Produced, Lyceum. Sept.9.


1889.— J. Habberton on " Micah Clarke." Cosmopolitan: Nov.
1891.— Portraits of. Strand: Dec.
1892.— Interviewed by R. Blathwayt. Bookman: A Day with Dr. Conan Doyle, by H. How. Strand: Aug.
Dr. Joseph Bell on "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes." Bookman: Dec.
1893.— Portrait and Biography of. Men and Women of the Day: Sept.
A. Conan Doyle. McClure: Nov.
1894.— Character Sketch, by W. J. Dawson. Young Man: July.
People I have never met. Idler: Aug.
Interviewed. Idler: Oct.
"A Story of Waterloo," Mr. Henry Irving in a New Play, by Austin Brereton. Theatre: Oct.
A Real Conversation, by Robert Barr. McClure: Nov.
1895.— Biographical. Magazine of Music: April.
"The Stark Munro Letters." Saturday Review: Sept. 28. Canadian: Oct.
1896.— A. Conan Doyle. Warner's Library of Best Literature, Vol. VIII., p. 4815.
An Appreciation, by H. S. Maclauchlan. Windsor: Oct.
Pen portrait by Archibald Cromwell. Windsor: Oct.
1897.— M. Beerbohm on " Uncle Bernac." Saturday Review July 10.
My Contemporary in Fiction, by D. C. Murray. Canadian: Oct.
1900.— Conan Doyle at the Front. M.A.P.: July 14.
The Making of Sherlock Holmes. Young Man: Oct.
Review. "The Great Boer War." Academy: Nov. 10.
Our Army and its Critics, by Hon. J. W. Fortescue. Macmillan: Nov.
Reply to, by Lieut.-Col. F. N. Maude. Cornhill: Dec.
1901.— The Genesis of Sherlock Holmes. Bookman: Feb.
Sham versus Real Home Defence, by Col. Lonsdale Hale. Nineteenth Century: Feb.
Dr. C. Doyle's Place in Modern Literature, by R. Cromie. Twentieth Century: May.
A British Commando: an Interview, by Captain P. Trevor. Strand: June.
Unsigned Article on "Great Boer War." Cornhill: Sept. Athenaeum: Nov. 23.
A Chat about Sherlock Holmes with A.C.D., by H. T. Peck. Independent: Nov.
Unsigned Article on "Sherlock Holmes" at the Lyceum Theatre. Playgoer: Nov.
A Souvenir of "Sherlock Holmes" at the Lyceum. Playgoer: Nov. 15.
1902.— Lyceum, "Sherlock Holmes," in Grein, J. T., Dramatic Criticism, p. 257.
The Stolen Cigar Case, by A. Co—n D—le, in Harte, B., Condensed Novels, New Burlesques.
A Pen Picture, by S. Dark. Crampton: Feb.
Dr. Joseph Bell; the Real Sherlock Holmes, by Handasyde. Good Words: Mar.
Julian Ralph on "The Great Boer War." McClure: Mar.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, by J. E. Hodder Williams. Bookman: April.
W. D. Macgregor on "The War in South Africa." Westminster: May-July.
The Antiquary and the Novelist, by Oswald Barron. Ancestor: Oct.
"The Great Boer War." Athenerum: Oct. 25.
1903.— On "Adventures of Gerard." Athenaeum: Nov. 28.

(*) Copyright in the United States of America by THE ENGLISH ILLUSTRATED MAGAZINE, Ltd.