The Cause and Conduct of the War (11 april 1902)

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

The Cause and Conduct of the War is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Times on 11 april 1902.

It concerns The War in South Africa: Its Cause and Conduct published on 16 january 1902.

The Cause and Conduct of the War

The Times (11 april 1902)


Sir, — Some time ago I promised that I would give an account in your columns of my attempt to present a statement of the British case to our Continental critics. I cannot do this in a final form, as the story is not yet done, but with your permission I should be glad, as I am about to leave England for a time, to give some account of our work to those numerous friends who entrusted me with their money. So hearty was the response to my appeal that a sum of more than £2,000 was sent to me - enough to carry out handsomely the whole of our original programme.

First, I would say a word or two about the results of the criticism to which the book has been subjected. Most of this is mere noisy scolding; but wherever a fact has been attacked, I have been ready to examine, and if necessary, to modify it. I find, however, that, setting aside matters of opinion and methods of expression, the errors have been few and trivial. I have misquoted Mr. Charles Hobhouse, M.P., who did not say that Miss Hobhouse's statements would not bear investigation, but that it was a pity that she had not verified them. The other corrections have to do with such matters as the amount of Dutch which Miss Hobhouse can speak, one apocryphal anecdote about Judge Gregorowski, and a technical confusion between expansive and explosive ammunition. No doubt among so many thousand points some others may be open to criticism, but these are all which I could verify, and they have been corrected.

Of the British edition there is little to be said save that it has amounted to 300,000 copies. I am indebted to the South African Imperial Association for their co-operation in sending 25,000 copies to the clergy of Great Britain, who have been bombarded, since the beginning of the war, with anti-national literature. I have had many pleasing letters from honest men whose opinion I had the good fortune to change. "I am heartily ashamed of myself to think that I should ever have thought so ill of my own fellow-countrymen." So ran the manly confession of one of them.

The editions in the United States and in Canada needed no subsidizing, and have had very large circulations. Sheaves of newspaper comments and articles have reached me, so that the facts of the case have certainly been well disseminated. A Welsh edition of 10,000 has also been distributed.

The Norwegian edition, for use in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, was the first to appear upon the Continent. The publication was attended by some curious difficulties. At the last moment the special preface which I had written for the Scandinavian peoples could not be sent from the translator to the publisher on account of the heavy snowstorms which had interrupted all communication. It was heliographed therefore from hill to hill for 100 miles, and so was in time to accompany, the edition. This preface was reproduced by many of the Scandinavian papers, and considerable publicity was given to the little book, which was sent free to every one who could influence public opinion. A Norwegian gentleman, Mr. Knudsen, in London with the help of several other Scandinavians subscribed a sum of money which will go far to pay for this edition. If we have had occasion to deplore the way in which some Britons have played their country false at the greatest crisis of her history, we must console ourselves with the recollection of the whole-hearted friendship which a certain number of generous foreigners have shown to us and to our cause.

In Holland we have met with considerable difficulties which we will overcome. There is no copyright law in that country - which is a serious blot upon their national honour. There is, however, a close association of publishers, who take turns to steal foreign books. A publisher who puts his name down for such a book is left in undisputed possession by the others. On the appearance of this pamphlet a firm at once put its name down for it, so as to block any one else from translating it. This put an end to all chance of our being able to publish it in that country. We have taken other means, however, and I hope that within a few days our Dutch edition will be in the hands of all politicians, journalists, and Professors in the United Provinces. The remaining copies will be sent to South Africa.

The French translation has been out for some weeks. It was admirably done by Professor Sumichrast of Harvard University, a gentleman of French-Canadian birth. In his patriotic desire to uphold the honour of his country he has refused any sort of remuneration for many weeks of arduous work. Ten thousand copies were distributed free, and 10,000 kept on sale. The pessimistic fears expressed by many Britons that the Continental Press would under no circumstances listen to the British case, have been shown to be ill-founded. Many papers commented in a fair spirit upon the book. Sympathy and justice might be expected from M. Yves Guyot in Le Siècle but it was as unexpected as it was pleasing to find the powerful Indépendance Belge devoting a whole sheet to an impartial and discriminating discussion of the British case. Many private letters, some sympathetic, some argumentative, but none bitter, show that the book has not missed its mark. The French translation has been distributed over French Switzerland, and it had been intended that the German edition should be sent to the German cantons. A pleasing development caused us to modify our plans. A number of eminent and public-spirited Swiss gentlemen, annoyed by the persistent and malignant anti-British agitation, which is so inexplicable in a country which has been our fellow pioneer in European freedom, made up their minds to have an edition of their own. The translation was made without charge by Mr. Toggenburger, of Zurich, and the organization was largely due to Dr. Angst, British Consul in that city. The result is an edition of 2,000 copies, beautifully got up, with many additions and a map. It has just come out, and was distributed free in the proper quarters. This charming act of international justice and courtesy has relieved our German edition to that extent.

I now come to that which we looked upon as the most important part of our enterprise, and which has certainly caused us most trouble and vexation - namely, the German issue. The translation was done in an exceedingly leisurely way, and was found at the last moment to be so imperfect that it was necessary to practically re-do a good part of it. In this we have had the most loyal and energetic support from Mr. Musgrave of the German Times. Mr. Musgrave is a patriotic German, of British ancestry, and is so ardent a champion of the Pan-Teutonic idea that he travelled at great personal inconvenience from Berlin to Seaford in order to persuade me to soften some passage in which I had faintly reflected the deep indignation which is felt by Britons at the abominable conduct of the German Press and people during this war. By his help all difficulties were at last overcome, and the pamphlet has been issued in Berlin to-day.

There has been some advantage in the delay in this as in some other cases, as it has allowed me to append all the fresh evidence about the way in which Lord Kitchener was forced to form the concentration camps, and also the evidence of Baron Huebner as to the conduct of British soldiers.

Before its appearance the book, in its English form, was commented upon by the German Press in a way which leads me to hope that the British case will finally obtain a fair hearing. The National Zeitung contained an analysis and discussion of the book which left nothing to be desired. Committees have been formed in the German towns, and when the 20,000 copies have been absorbed we hope to send out a fresh supply.

The Italian and the Spanish editions should be out within a week or so, and will be widely distributed both in Europe and in South America. A Portuguese edition should also be ready for the press. The Russian also is nearly ready.

In Austria the German edition will be well distributed, and already, through the help of Dr. Ernst, a portion of the book has appeared in the chief democratic paper, the Wiener Tageblatt. A special Hungarian edition has also been printed and will appear at Budapest within the next few days. A Rumanian edition has also been prepared by the industry and patriotism of an English gentleman, Mr. A. H. Synge, who has taken the whole burden of it upon his own shoulders.

These are the results which my publishers and I have to show for the money with which we have been entrusted. It is too soon yet to say how far we have succeeded in influencing to any appreciable degree public opinion upon the Continent, but at least we have carried out to the full our original programme of placing in the hands of every Deputy and of every journalist a statement of the British case in his own language. If he still chooses to distort facts he can no longer urge ignorance as an excuse.

Yours faithfully,

Athenaeum Club, April 9.

See also