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The Last Galley (review 10 may 1911)

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The Last Galley is an article published in The Sketch on 10 may 1911.

Review of Arthur Conan Doyle's collected stories The Last Galley: Impressions and Tales.


The Sketch (10 may 1911, p. r & t)

"Impressions and Tales" Sir Arthur Conan Doyle calls this collection, any of which could be read within the half-hour. The "Impressions" are distinguished by being each one an animated tableau, so to speak, of historical legend. "These," Sir Arthur says, "may be regarded as trial flights towards a larger ideal which I have long had in my mind." The first of this series, "The Last Galley," is the oldest in antiquity, for the galley was all that the Romans had left of the Carthaginian fleet. The reason of defeat, and the subsequent fall of Carthage, which is shown to have arisen in the apathy of her citizens, affords picturesque opportunity for a twentieth-century political moral strongly reminiscent of Lord Roberts. How the "Venus" lost her arms to the religious fanaticism of a Christian slave is a story with an Albert Moore-like background — the atrium of a Greek patrician house, "bright with rare flowers, and melodious with strange singing birds, where a little shrine, curtained off by silken drapery, held the precious statue — perhaps the greatest art treasure of the world." "The Contest" is a humorous little episode related of that great but sensitive artist, Nero. Any of these might well be the joy of an intelligent schoolboy, and might, indeed, furnish some fine coloured illustrations to his classical history books. The "Tales" forming the second half of the volume are in more familiar vein; they will be read with pleasure by the author's admirers. They set forth mystery and horror wrapped up with convincing local colour of time and circumstance in his own skilful way. One cannot escape awe at the encyclopaedic knowledge which he has at will for a hundred matters. Such facts as the colour of the Empress Theodora's shoes; some ghastly detail of leprosy; the rig of an eighteenth-century pirate barque; a Roman domestic staff from its praegustator to its carptor, and numberless things beside, are vivid possessions of his brain. As he happens to be also a born storyteller, he makes them over to his readers in the lightest fashion possible. Neither are there wanting finer moments, when, all this majestic staging set aside, he drops on some poignant little truth, as that of the pirate Sharkey's hands — "bony hands with long thin fingers, which quivered ceaselessly like the antennae of an insect" as he sat at piquet.