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22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, KStJ, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

International Sentiment

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

International Sentiment is an article published in The Speaker on 31 december 1892.


International Sentiment

The Speaker (31 december 1892, p. 794)

As a writer of fiction Dr. Conan Doyle is naturally discontented with the lack of romance in his country men. He sees foreign nations exchanging sentimental courtesies, a capacity for which, as he remarks in his letter to the Times. "has never shown itself to be part of our national genius." Never, for instance, have we touched such a point of effusion as "the presentation of the Statue of Liberty by France to America." Possibly Dr. Doyle overlooks one or two pertinent considerations in that notable transaction. To say nothing of the Englishman's native distrust of personified abstractions, particularly of the incongruities which make the French ideal of liberty, there is the important circumstance that the Bartholdi Statue was meant to recall the aid given by France to the American colonies in the Warof Independence. Englishmen have long acquiesced in the result of that struggle. It has left us no bitter memories, and the wildest Jingo does not yearn for the reconquest of Boston. But when Dr. Doyle blames us for leaving the Statue, of Liberty to be made by foreign hands, he is perhaps demanding from Englishmen an extravagant standard of romantic generosity, even for a novelist. We are not fond of celebrating our own achievements in symbolic statuary, and except in the goddess of victory and Britannia weeping over the tombs of heroes, the national genius finds small expression in this branch of patriotic art. Nobody would dream of proposing to erect a gigantic figure outside Westminster Hall to commemorate Magna Charta. We have so long enjoyed the actuality of freedom that to invest it with aesthetic suits and trappings, to make statues of it, and drape them on particular anniversaries, would look like an anxiety to hold fast to the substance by decorating the shadow. Still more gratuitous would seem the presentation of majestic monuments to other nations, especially to a people who achieved their liberties at our expense. If Dr. Doyle can imagine a Minister in the House of Commons gravely proposing the expenditure of a large sum on a statue of Liberty to be presented as a national gift to the United States, without exciting the seasonable mirth of his auditors, then we have the misfortune to differ about the fitness of things from a writer who has often illustrated it with great felicity.

Yet the British temperament is not devoid of sentiment in its attitude towards other peoples. We have been reproved for a certain condescension to foreigners, and in one of Lonwell's essays there is some just criticism of this characteristic. Our insular arrogance is often the theme of Continental writers, who fume and fret at that peculiar self-sufficiency which makes an Englishman indifferent to hostile opinion. During the feud between the Empress Frederick and Prince Bismarck, the German newspapers teemed with challenges to England, but of all this effervescence most readers in this island remained wholly unconscious. We are exceedingly free with our views about the affairs of our neighbours, and in no country is so much space and, we may fairly add, so much knowledge and discriminating judgment devoted in the journals to the daily-history of other States. The greatest pains are taken to acquaint the British public with the political situation in France or Germany or America, and if comparatively small attention is paid to foreign opinion of our own doings, that is largely because foreign opinion is not always very well instructed. But Dr. Doyle laments the absence of those graceful courtesies which "may do more than the most elaborate statecraft." There is truth in this, but not the whole truth. We may not lavish statues on the world, but, if there is a people whose history is richer than ours in practical examples of generous feeling towards other nations, we do not know its name. What struggling race in Europe has received no benefits at our hands? Do Greeks, Italians, Hungarians, Bulgarians, and Poles deplore our incapacity for "graceful acts of courtesy"? The independence of Greece and the unity of Italy are monuments of British sentiment infinitely more significant than the statue in New York Harbour. It was not state-craft, but the spontaneous impulse of a free people, which made Garibaldi the popular idol in England, and hung upon the walls of thousands of humble dwellings the portrait of the bearded warrior in the red shirt. Our courtesies have taken the form of sympathy — abundant, overflowing, not always, perhaps, most judicious. How often has the heart of the nation been touched by some tale of suffering in a foreign land? What was the first sight that greeted the eyes of the starving Parisians when the gates of Paris were opened after the siege? A great convoy of provisions was the substantial evidence of British kindliness towards the vanquished and famished city. That is an incident which most Englishmen have long forgotten, but it is one of a myriad proofs that the cold and arrogant islander is really an emotional being, easily moved to acts of kindness, though he is disposed to laugh at statues of Liberty, and does not kiss his male friends on both cheeks.

What would Dr. Conan Doyle have? He says that "if there are any two races upon earth between which such courtesies should prevail, they are our own and our kin of the United States." Perhaps we can tax ourselves with much injustice in bygone days to our American kinsmen. When Lowell wrote his essay there was bitter resentment in the American heart against the Mother Country. Apart from the feeling excited by our attitude during the civil war, there was always a suspicion that England presumed upon her maternal dignity, and was too much disposed to treat the strapping youth over the Atlantic as a fractious child. By the Geneva Arbitration all dread of a dangerous quarrel between the two peoples was removed, and since then their inter-course has grown steadily more cordial. Some ridiculous American declared the other day that nothing would be more popular with his countrymen than a war with England — a calumny which merely shows that nothing is too stupid to find its way into print. Americans are too sensitive, perhaps, about English opinion, and we are not always idolaters of American institutions, not even of the magnitude of the World's Fair at Chicago. But no sane man who knows the two countries believes in the probability of such a calamitous disgrace to civilisation as a war about the Canadian fisheries or the Behring straits. Still Dr. Doyle is not satisfied with the after-dinner oratory "which has been expended upon both sides of the water upon our common origin and common sympathies." He wants the British Government to send practical tokens of goodwill to the Chicago Exhibition, in the shape of "three of our own crack regimental bands." The German Government refused to lend any of their military bands. Why should we not show a more gracious spirit, and even let a squadron of our Life Guards take part in the opening procession at Chicago? We wonder Dr. Doyle has not also proposed that the Guards should march through Lexington to the strains of "Yankee Doodle," good-humouredly indifferent to the fact that the last time British troops heard that tune on American soil was when Cornwallis surrendered to Washington at Yorktown. But we fear it is impossible to infuse so much romance into the War Office. There is no reason why regimental bands should not be sent to join in the "shaloo" upon the shores of Lake Michigan, and to this extent we hope Dr. Doyle's suggestion will be adopted. But there are many better ways of drawing two kindred democracies together than a parade of British troops in an American city.





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