The Edalji Letters
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
The Edalji Letters
Sir, — In answering a question of Mr. F. Smith's Mr. Gladstone is reported as having said, "The letters themselves formed part of the evidence, and it was after most carefully examining them and forming their own opinion that the jury gave the verdict." This verdict was that Mr. Edalji had killed a horse, a decision which has been since set aside. I emphasise the fact because the casual reader of the Home Secretary's reply might imagine that the verdict to which he alluded was that Mr. Edalji had written the letters, which is the subject now under discussion. This has never been pronounced upon by any jury, and has been declared by the Committee to be entirely distinct from the charge of killing the horse. The late Clerk of the Peace of Stafford, Mr. Matt. F. Blakiston, writing on March 8, 1905, to the Rev. S. Edalji, said: "The indictment proceeded on was that for horse maiming and wounding, and on that the jury returned the verdict of guilty. The other indictment," which involved the letters, "was consequently not proceeded with."
It is certain, therefore, that this young professional man has endured without apology or compensation three years of restraint, and is debarred his profession, and financially ruined in the future, for an offence for which he has never been publicly tried. The conscience of this country cannot be satisfied until there has been some inquiry upon the authorship of these letters, which shall be i so held that Mr. Edalji's friends can be assured that his interests are properly represented. At such an inquiry his advisers would be prepared to put up the most weighty expert testimony to show that the letters are not and could not have been, written by Mr. Edalji.
I have just received a most careful and weighty report upon the Edalji documents from Dr. Lindsay Johnson, the well-known expert who assisted Maitre Labori to unravel the mysteries of the Dreyfus bordereau. In the Dreyfus inquiry, as in this one, Dr. Lindsay Johnson's methods have been to procure photographic positives of the writings in question and to project them immensely enlarged (20-50 diameters) on a screen by means of two lanterns. By having one of the lanterns on a stand provide d with all azimuth motions, one can bring any word or line underneath or above the line of comparison. By these elaborate method seven the pulse beat can in many cases be detected, a previous minuteness of comparison be effected unknown by any previous method.
Dr. Lindsay Johnson's inquiry has, in this instance, been divided under several heads, but at present I will deal only with that one in which he discusses whether the Greatorex letters of 1903 could possibly have been written by Mr. George Edalji. The report is exceedingly voluminous, painstaking, and minute, but I may present your readers with some general conclusions. "The letters signed Edalji and Greatorex have nothing in common. The former are those of an educated man; they exhibit no errors in spelling or style — the handwriting is that of a man who has written continuously for years, being set, i.e., the same words are always written precisely in the same way, which shows a writer of regular and orderly habits, and every full-stop is inserted. The latter, 'Greatorex's' letter, is in a cramped and apparently disguised hand. It is unquestionably the style of an uneducated man, irregular in his habits. It is practically unpunctuated through-out."
After elaborately comparing a great number of letters, and pointing out the radical difference between them, Dr. Lindsay Johnson continues:
"Further examples are unnecessary, as, look where you will, you will find no points in common between them. As regards the pulse jerks, I counted seventy-eight in thirteen consecutive words when highly magnified, whereas in Edalji's writing they cannot be continuously counted. This shows that the former wrote his letter at about thirteen words a minute, allowing seventy-five to eighty beats for the normal pulse, and had a trembling hand, whereas Edalji had a remarkably firm hand, and wrote very much more rapidly. The inference is that Edalji is a very temperate man, and the other is addicted to drink and dissipation, but I give this with reserve."
Having shown very clearly that Mr. Edalji did not write those letters for which he has been so cruelly and unjustly punished, Dr. Lindsay Johnson, under a separate heading, reports upon the whole series of anonymous letters, which may be classed under the head of the Martin Molton letters, beginning with the boyish effusions of 1892, which had their origin apparently in or near Walsall School, down to a fresh anonymous letter received by me last week. His conclusion is that those documents are all undoubtedly from the same hand. The third point presented for his consideration is how far this handwriting of the Martin Molton letters corresponds with those letters of 1903 for which Mr. Edalji has suffered. On this all-important point the report states: "We notice that out of thirty-four large and small letters of the alphabet, twenty are closely alike, eight have some resemblance, two have very slight agreement, and four are entirely different, but of these four, three occur in two forms, the one form agreeing closely or partly, the other obviously disguised, while the remaining letter 't' is certainly written to deceive. Hence, out of thirty-four letters, large and small, twenty-eight are either closely alike or have some resemblance, while two alone have very slight points in common, the remaining four being well accounted for. We thus become practically certain that the 'Greatorex' letters are disguised epistles written by the same person as all the other letters."
Dr. Lindsay Johnson remarks in a covering letter: "I have purposely avoided reading your articles in the papers lest they should bias my mind." I need not point out to readers of the Daily Telegraph that the conclusions to which he has come are exactly the same as my own, though founded upon a far closer scrutiny and upon more elaborate methods. When I say that the report covers nineteen pages of manuscript, it will indicate how exhaustive it is. I must add that Dr. Lindsay Johnson has done this considerable task without fee or reward of any kind.
ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
Undershaw, Hindhead, Haslemere, June 10, 1907.