Morals and Morality: Sir A. Conan Doyle's "Fires of Fate"
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Morals and Morality: Sir A. Conan Doyle's "Fires of Fate" is a review written by Dramaticus published in The Graphic on 26 june 1909.
Morals and Morality: Sir A. Conan Doyle's "Fires of Fate"
Is Suicide Justifiable ?
The Fires of Fate, just produced at the Lyric by Mr. Waller, is a play which must have made Mr. Redford's heart rejoice. Here there was nothing to censor! It is concerned with straightforward, manly morality. There is no pandering to cowardly decadent views. It is a play which boldly sets forth that a man's life is not his own to live or leave as it pleases him, but a thing to be lived through, to the bitter end if necessary, because, though no good may come of it to you, good may come to others. The hero, Colonel Egerton, is in the mood to end his life when the play begins, but the Church, in the person of a sturdy Nonconformist minister, tells him nay, and he bows to the Church and has no cause to be sorry.
In the Consulting Room
Colonel Egerton, not feeling well, goes to consult an eminent M.D. That is the first act. The eminent M.D. puts him through his paces makes him count ninety-nine, hits him under the knee, tests his brain, and so forth, and finds that he has sclerosis of the spine in a form which will kill him in about a year, and during most of that time he "will be a miserable invalid. Now, Colonel Egerton is a brave man, but he shrinks from this prospect. He has no ties, no one belonging to him, and he decides to chuck up the sponge. Better die like a man now than drag out a miserable year of existence a burden to other people. Then in comes the minister to say No. Your life is not your own. Even in that year there may be work for a soldier to do." And Colonel Egerton, like the sturdy soldier that he is, says, Right."
So, instead of putting a bullet through his brains, he joins the doctor and his minister brother on a holiday trip to Egypt, and on the Nile he meets pretty Sadie Adams, of Mass., U.S.A., and falls in love with her very deeply. How is a man, though, who will die in a year of a distressing disease to propose to a girl on the threshold of life He cannot do it, so he adds heart trouble to spine trouble, and suffers in silence. Then the party, which includes several other people, go on a journey up country, and are captured by Dervishes, and this is where the Fires of Fate business comes in. Their troubles and disasters bring out all their best qualities. They stand true to their religion, though threatened with the knife or Islam. A young Englishman refuses to make his own escape if the others cannot escape also, and the one man of the party who has a revolver hands it over to Sadie Adams's chaperon to j make use of if the worst comes to the worst, and there is a terrible fate in store for the pretty American. But it is Colonel Egerton, sorely wounded, with a crack on the head, who manages to crawl to a rock and signal to a young British officer miles away that they are in sore straits.
Of course, we know that a British force ill arrive in time to prevent anything more disastrous than a little privation happening to Mr. Lewis Waller, Miss Evelyn D'Alroy, Mr. Evelyn Beerbohm, Mr. A. E. George, Mr. Michael Sherbrooke, and the rest of the clever company, and, sure enough, it does, led by that excellent young actor, Mr. Charles Maude. He is delightfully breezy, and gives you a capital picture of the best type of young English officer, keen as mustard on active service, but regarding it rather as a form of sport. The only trouble is that a young married couple have been killed. They have been given no chance of being purified and ennobled by the fires of fate, and I should have felt more distressed about them if they had not been so very uninteresting.
The Uses of a Blow on the Head
Now, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a doctor, and I have no doubt that his medical lore is all right, so I will not explain how he cures Mr. Waller, because, though a little British army has turned up and saved the tourists, even a large British army could not cure sclerosis of the spine, and while this remains an active evil there can, of course, be no marriage between Colonel Egerton and Miss Sadie Adams. Well, it was the blow on the head that did the trick. When the gallant Colonel saw the eminent M.D. in the first act he asked if there was any cure for his complaint, and was told that the only man known to science who was cured of it found the remedy in the shock of a railway accident. Well, that did not sound very hopeful. You cannot go travelling round hoping for a railway accident, and even if you struck one I should fancy that it would be rather a kill or cure kind of a remedy. What the M.D. did not say was that a blow on the head from a Dervish would do just as well. I suppose he did not know it. In any case, it cured the Colonel, and so the old minister was right. Through not committing suicide he was instrumental in saving the lives of his friends and earned happiness for himself. This is an excellent moral, and as the play is a capital, stirring drama, well mounted and well acted, I am sure it will prove a good all-round success.
Mr. St. John Hankin
I should like to say a few words in conclusion about the tragic death of a very old friend, Mr. St. John Hankin. His end coming immediately after the production of this play is all the more pathetic. In a few years he made a very considerable mark on the drama of our time, and his death has come as a great shock to his many friends. For many years I was intimately associated with him, and only the other day he sent me his last published play. He had not been in good health for a very long while, but no one anticipated this tragic outcome. A brilliant writer and a delightful friend, he will be very sincerely missed.
"Fires of Fate" at the Lyric Theatre: A Striking Scene in Sir A. Conan Doyle's New Play.
Where the hero, Colonel Egerton, D.S.O. (Mr. Lewis Waller), though badly wounded by the Dervishes, manages to crawl to a reock and signal to the rescue party. The piece is fully dealt with by our dramatic critic on page 868. An impressionist sketch by Balliol Salmon.