Conan Doyle in America
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Conan Doyle in America is an article published in The Bookman (US version p. 346-347) in december 1907.
Conan Doyle in America
Arthur Conan Doyle has lately been very much in what has come to be styled "the public eye," Conan Doyle partly by his ingenious in detective work in the America case of the young Anglo-Syrian, George Edalji, and partly because of his recent marriage. His successful detective work is especially interesting for reasons which it may be worth while to recall. After Sherlock Holmes had become so famous, many persons were ready to believe that the creator of Sherlock could himself do things quite as remarkable. When Dr. Doyle (as he was then) visited South Africa during the Boer War, he was a good deal annoyed because people would persist in sending him envelopes and pieces of writing and other things, with the request that he would examine them closely and deduce from them all sorts of facts. Of course, this kind of thing was a nuisance, and Dr. Doyle took refuge in a vast stolidity, declaring that he could make nothing of all this material, and that he was unable to deduce from them any facts whatever. Then public opinion changed, and it was said: "Oh, it's easy enough to write detective stories, because you simply commence at the end and work backward to the beginning. No matter how ingenious the puzzle may be, the man who contrives it could not himself work out a puzzle which someone else contrived." And so Dr. Doyle no longer got any credit for being himself a real Sherlockian. But the Edalji case has shown that Conan Doyle is not only a Sherlock but also a Mycroft. Roused by the injustice done to an innocent man, he set himself to work, exposed the incompetence and prejudice of the local Lestrades, proved that their deductions were entirely false, and showed that the evidence upon which the court had convicted Edalji was absolutely worthless. It was a brilliant demonstration, and the Home Secretary was fairly forced to release Edalji from imprisonment.
This triumph of Conan Doyle's ingenuity came just at about the time when he was married. Some sensational correspondent cabled the news of his engagement and coupled it with a statement to the effect that Sir Arthur had been one of the three most inveterate bachelors in England and that no one had supposed that he would ever marry. We have already pointed out in these pages that, so far from having been a life-long bachelor, he had, in fact, been married many years and that his first wife had died not very long before. Indeed, those who remember his visit to America in 1894 will also remember that he cut short a highly successful course of public reading, so that he might go back to England to spend Christmas with his wife, who was an invalid. As this seems to have been generally forgotten, it may be of interest to recall some of the facts connected with Conan Doyle's only visit to the United States. He came here in October, 1894, and gave forty public readings under the direction of Major Pond. He was immensely successful. A certain frank heartiness, curiously tinged with timidity, greatly took the fancy of his audiences; and he might have continued here indefinitely had he cared to do so. He was pleased with everything, prowled about in all sorts of unusual places, and took a sort of boyish delight in his adventures. The only thing which seemed to trouble him was our over-heated railway cars, hotels and houses. He was himself an exceedingly warm-blooded person, wearing no overcoat even in the coldest weather, and preferring to lecture in a frock-coat so that he might dispense with his waistcoat, the absence of which he concealed by buttoning up his "Prince Albert." Dr. Doyle's popularity was a source of great embarrassment to him; for his audiences always remained in the hope of meeting one whose personality had so charmed them. As a rule, at at the moment when he stopped reading, he would rush for the wings and escape through the stage-entrance to a cab. On one occasion, just before a lecture, his manager, Major Pond, told him that a number of very well-known and very fashionable ladies had especially requested that they might meet him after his reading. The Doctor was flurried to an extent that was almost painful. He begged to be let off, saying piteously: "Oh, I cannot, I cannot. What do they want of me? Do let me get away! I haven't the courage to look anybody in the face." This was not so much bashfulness as it was a settled conviction that he was an utter failure as a public entertainer. Nevertheless he did, at one time or another, meet a good many Americans and was immensely liked, especially by newspaper men. He was showered with invitations from clubs and all sorts of societies and associations, not one-tenth of which was he able to accept. Not long before his departure for England, the Aldine Club in New York gave him a farewell dinner where he made an off-hand speech, a part of which is worth repeating here. He began by telling how, on his arrival in Boston, the cabman who drove him from the station refused to accept any fare but politely asked for a ticket to the reading. Dr. Doyle expressed surprise that the cabman should have recognised him, and asked: "Tell me how you found out who I am., and you shall have tickets for your whole family and such cigars as you smoke here in America, besides." Whereupon, according to Dr. Doyle, the cabman answered:
"If you will excuse personal remarks, your coat lapels are badly twisted downward, where they have been grasped by the pertinacious New York reporters. Your hair has the Quakerish cut of a Philadelphia barber, and your hat, battered at the brim in front, shows where you have tightly grasped it, in the struggle to stand your ground at a Chicago literary luncheon. Your right overshoe has a large block of Buffalo mud just under the instep; the odour of a Utica cigar hangs about your clothing; and the overcoat itself shows the slovenly brushing of the porters of the through sleepers from Albany. The crumbs of doughnut on the top of your bag — pardon me, your luggage — could only have come there in Springfield; and stencilled upon the very end of the 'Wellington,' in fairly plain lettering, is the name, 'Conan Doyle.'"
Somewhat more veracious than this anecdote is the story which Conan Doyle tells of an experience which he had when leaving school. His teacher must have been one of those noble old Romans such as Thackeray describes as roaring at young Pendennis when the Major, his uncle, called to take the boy away. When Conan Doyle had finished his course in school, the head-master called him aside and, after eyeing him with ominous disfavour, spoke to him in measured tones as follows: "Doyle, I have known you now for seven years, and I know you thoroughly. I am going to say something which you will remember in after-life. Doyle, you will never come to any good!"