The Arthur Conan Doyle EncyclopediaThe Arthur Conan Doyle EncyclopediaThe Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, KStJ, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

Eccentricities of Genius

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Eccentricities of Genius. Memories of Famous Men and Women of the Platform and Stage is a book written by Major James B. Pond, the American lecture agent of Arthur Conan Doyle, and published in 1900 by G. W. Dillingham Co..

The book include 91 portraits of orators, lecturers, singers, humorists, explorers, actors, critics and authors, including one dedicated to Conan Doyle (p. 501-509).

Major Pond reports Conan Doyle impressions of America, then his Anecdote of the Boston Cabman and two letters from Conan Doyle.


Eccentricities of Genius

Eccentricities of Genius
(Chatto & Windus, 1901, p. 501)
Eccentricities of Genius
(Chatto & Windus, 1901, p. 503)
Eccentricities of Genius
(Chatto & Windus, 1901, p. 504)
Eccentricities of Genius
(Chatto & Windus, 1901, p. 505)
Eccentricities of Genius
(Chatto & Windus, 1901, p. 506)
Eccentricities of Genius
(Chatto & Windus, 1901, p. 507)
Eccentricities of Genius
(Chatto & Windus, 1901, p. 508)
Eccentricities of Genius
(Chatto & Windus, 1901, p. 509)

[Below is reproduced the chapter about Arthur Conan Doyle]

DR. A. CONAN DOYLE came to this country in October, 1894, and gave forty public readings. Had it not been for his invalid wife, with whom he had promised to spend Christmas, he could have continued during the season and returned home with a small fortune in American dollars.

There was something about his personality that attracted people, and still he was not what I would say the most satisfactory reader of his writings. There was something about him that fairly charmed his audiences, and many of his great admirers were seriously disappointed when they found that as soon as the lecture was over the Doctor had made his escape from the stage door, so that those friends who had rushed to meet him and congratulate him could not do so.

I remember that I made a promise to a group of very prominent New York ladies, who had made a special request to meet the Doctor after his reading, that they could have the privilege of being introduced to him. While in the wings as he was stepping on the stage I told the Doctor what I had done and asked him to please wait and meet them. He replied: "Oh, Major, I cannot, I cannot. What do they want of me? Let me get away. I haven't the courage to look anybody in the face." He was a pessimist in regard to the satisfactoriness of his entertainment.

He is a gentleman with very hot blood. He seldom wears an overcoat, even in the coldest weather. He seemed to like everybody he met and everything he saw in America excepting our heated hotel lobbies, public halls, and railway cars. When he had a matinee lecture he removed his vest and buttoned his Prince Albert coat close to his body. This he could not very well do in his evening dress.

Dr. Doyle comes of a family of artists and literary men, his grandfather having been a famous caricaturist, and one of his uncles the famous Richard Doyle of the early days of London Punch, and another, James Doyle, the historian. He studied medicine, and at nineteen went to the Arctic regions as medical officer to a whaler. On his return to Edinburgh he continued his medical studies and there met Dr. James Bell, [1] the eminent surgeon, the man who suggested "Sherlock Holmes," his most famous character.

Like most literary men, he makes few close friends. He is a golf fiend, and will spend all the time possible, cold, wet, rain or shine, on the links. He is an ideal travelling companion. I think that Dr. Doyle was tendered more honors from clubs and societies generally than any other Englishman I have known, hundreds of which he was obliged to decline. He was one of the most appreciative Englishmen that ever came to this country. American institutions and American customs did not seem to cause unkind remark or to surprise him as they have many others. He was a great favorite with the newspaper men, and they were always ready and willing to say nice things of him.

As for his impression of America generally, I don't know that I can do better than to give his own story as he told it at a dinner given in his honor by the Lotos Club, New York, on the 17th of November, just before his return home. Two hundred members and guests of the Lotos Club gathered to greet him. President Lawrence made a highly flattering address of welcome, and, when he presented Dr. Doyle, the latter was blushing at the kind things said of him. He began by saying:

"There was a time in my life which I divided among my patients and literature. It is hard to say which suffered most. But during that time I longed to travel as only a man to whom travel is impossible does long for it, and most of all I longed to travel in the United States. Since this was impossible, I contented myself with reading a good deal about them, and building up an ideal United States in my own imagination. This is notoriously a dangerous thing to do. I have come to the United States, I have travelled from five to six thousand miles through them, and I find that my ideal picture is not to be whittled down, but to be enlarged on every side. I have heard even Americans say that life is too prosaic over here. That romance is wanting. I do not know what they mean. Romance is the very air they breathe. You are hedged in with romance on every side. I can take a morning train in this city of New York, I can pass up the historic and beautiful Hudson, I can dine at Schenectady where the Huron and the Canadian did such bloody work, and before evening I have found myself in the Adirondack forests, where the bear and the panther are still to be shot, and where within four generations the Indian and the frontiersman still fought for the mastery. With a rifle and a canoe you can glide into one of the back eddies which has been left by the stream of civilization. I feel keenly the romance of Europe. I love the memories of the shattered castle and the crumbling abbey ; of the steel-clad knight and the archer; but to me the romance of the red-skin and the trapper is more vivid, as being more recent. It is so piquant also to stay in a comfortable inn, where you can have your hair dressed by a barber, at the same place where a century ago you might have been left with no hair to dress.

"Then there is the romance of this very city. On the first day of my arrival, I inquired for the highest building and I ascended it in an elevator — at least they assured me it was an elevator. I thought at first that I had wandered into the dynamite gun. If a man can look down from that point, upon the noble bridge, upon the two rivers crowded with shipping, and upon the magnificent city with its thousand evidences of energy and prosperity, and can afterward find nothing better than a sneer to carry back with him across the ocean, he ought to consult a doctor. His heart must be too hard or his head too soft. And no less wonderful to me are those Western cities, which, without any period of development, seem to spring straight into a full growth of every modern convenience, but where, even among the rush of cable cars and the ringing of telephone bells, one seems still to catch the echoes of the woodsman's axe and of the scout's rifle. These things are the romance of America, the romance of change, of contrast, of danger met and difficulty overcome ; and let me say that we, your kinsmen upon the other side, exult in your success and in your prosperity, and it is those who know British feeling, true British feeling best, who will best understand how true are my words. I hope you don't think I say this, or that I express my admiration for your country, merely because I am addressing an American audience. Those who know me better on the other side will exonerate me from so unworthy a motive. It is a subject upon which I feel deeply. I am aware that the division of opinion among us at the time of your civil troubles has been taken to mean lack of sympathy with you. Far from being so, it was exactly the contrary. Our sympathies are so close and vital that when you are rent in two we are rent in two, and with a bitterness and completeness which was the counterpart of your own. So it would be to-morrow, and when it ceases to be, it will be a proof that we have finally, lost touch with you. It is only when a great American or an Englishman dies, when a mighty voice is hushed forever, a Tennyson, a Lowell, or a Holmes, that a thrill through both countries tells of that deep-lying race feeling in the development of which lies, I believe, the future history of the world. Little waves and eddies may disturb the surface, but there is an unseen current there a thousand fathoms deep, which sweeps us onward to the same goal. And the proudest thought of a literary man is that he, too, in his infinitesimal way, is one of the forces which make for unity of feeling amongst the English-speaking races, and for that 'peace and good will to all men' which such a unity of feeling would entail.

"Gentlemen, I thank you once more for your great kindness to me."

President Seth Low of Columbia University, Hon. Abram S. Hewitt, W. Bourke Cockran, David Christie Murray, Bartow S. Weeks, and William H. McElroy also spoke.

The menu had in its upper right-hand corner a portrait of Dr. Doyle, and on its border characters and scenes from his novels.

The night before Dr. Doyle sailed for England, Friday, December 6, 1894, the Aldine Club gave him a farewell dinner. Hamilton W. Mabie presided and introduced the guest of the evening, who had just arrived from Boston. It was a literary crowd of our choicest men of letters. Dr. Doyle seemed to have no set speech, but prefaced his reply to Mabie with an account of his arrival in Boston:

"I arrived in Boston and alighted from the train almost into the arms of a dozen cabbies. One of them had a dogeared book peeping out of his pocket, and I instinctively called him, saying as I got in: 'You may drive me to Young's, or Parker's — perhaps.'

"'Pardon me,' said the cabbie, 'I think you'll find Major Pond waiting for you at Parker's, sir.'

"What could I do but stare and acquiesce by taking my seat speechlessly? We arrived, and the observant cabman was at the door. I started to pay my fare when he said, quite respectfully:

"'If it is not too great an intrusion, sir, I should greatly prefer a ticket to your lecture. If you have none of the printed ones with you, your agent would doubtless honor one of your visiting-cards, if pencilled by yourself.'

"I had to be gruff or laugh outright, and so said:

"'Come, come, I am not accustomed to be beaten at my own tricks. Tell me how you ascertained who I am, and you shall have tickets for your whole family, and such cigars as you smoke here in America, besides.'

"'Of course we all knew that you were coming on this train — that is, all of the members of the Cabmen's Literary Guild,' was the half-apologetic reply. 'As it happens, I am the only member on duty at this station this morning, and I had that advantage. If you will excuse other 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 odor 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."'

"Now I know where Sherlock Holmes went when he died. That leaves me free to write any more adventures of his that I wish as long as I locate them in Boston."

Dr. Doyle heard some fine speeches that evening after he had finished. Bill Nye was the first to follow him ; then Edward Eggleston, Thomas Nelson Page, Charles Dudley Warner, F. Hopkinson Smith, James Lane Allen, and others ; but the intellectual part of the feast was listening to Dr. Doyle's story-telling. He has a brilliant capacity for telling a true story with absolute correctness of historical detail and with anything but historical dulness.

After Dr. Doyle returned to his home he was, of course, obliged to say something of the impressions left by his visit. Among other things that he said, he made a remark to the effect that an English author should come here with the primary purpose of seeing the country and not of making money. This was immediately seized upon as a hint that his own tour had not paid. The following letter put that idea at rest:

"To the Editors of "The Critic," New York:

"I notice that you allude to my recent lecturing tour in America as though it had been unsuccessful. In justice to my most able manager, Major J. B. Pond, will you allow me to say that it was successful beyond all possible expectation, that I had crowded houses nearly everywhere, and that I could have easily doubled the list of my engagements? My remarks about American lecturing were impersonal, and I repeat that an English author should go there with the primary idea of seeing the country and the people, and that the making of money should be a secondary one.

A. Conan Doyle.
"Maloja, Switzerland, Sept. 2, 1895."

The warm feeling of friendship he felt toward America and the American people is well illustrated by the following letter which he wrote me some time after his American tour:

"Undershaw, Hindhead, Haslemere. [2]

"My Dear Major:

"It was quite a pleasure to me to see your handwriting again. I shall always regret that I did not see you when you came to London. Pray give my kindest remembrances to Mrs. Pond and the little man. You will, I am sure, be glad to hear that my wife's health has much improved.

"Has not the Anglo-American entente cordiale which I preached when I was in the States grown since 1894? It is the best and healthiest sign in the waning century. But we have much still to do.

Yours always,
"A. Conan Doyle."

I would give him more money to-day than any Englishman I know of if he would return for a hundred nights. He must be a great disappointment to his old teacher. When he had finished school the teacher called the boy up before him and said solemnly:

"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."

  1. The author meant Dr. Joseph Bell.
  2. See original letter.