The True Conan Doyle
« During the past year, I have been distressed by the number of letters that have reached me from both acquaintances and strangers in protest against an alleged "biography" of my father by a Mr. Hesketh Pearson. As the majority of my correspondents were, naturally, under the impression that the manuscript was submitted to me before publication, I must assure them that that was not the case. In its portrayal of my father and his opinions, the book is a travesty and the personal values therein ascribed to him are, in effect, the very antithesis of everything that he represented, believed in and held dear. Therefore, I will content myself with the statement that, firstly, Mr. Pearson did not even know my father ; secondly, that his manuscript was submitted to no member of the family and, thirdly, that it is nothing more than a vehicle for a stranger's personal and quite unauthoritative opinions, and is but another example of the practice that Mr. Isaac Foot has aptly termed — "Belittling famous men and disparaging the fathers that begat us." As for the literary aspect, Sir Arthur's seventy-odd books should manage to survive the drone of Mr. Pearson's wearisomely condescending criticisms. » - Adrian Conan Doyle
Although the smoke and dust of battle is still lying thick over the world, and the wreckage and ruin created by the struggle against Nazi ruthlessness and evil, still leaves a huge task of clearing up and rebuilding to be carried out, yet it is well that the story of Arthur Conan Doyle should be written.
He was by birth an Irishman, and though Irishmen have their own characteristics, the mixture of blood and culture is so profound that Conan Doyle can be accepted as a shining example of the best characteristics of the English race.
In him we find in combination that physical health, energy, and that happy nature which loves and enjoys sport and games of all kinds, and yet possesses that active intelligence which can turn from them in a moment to the study of the most serious subjects. In him were personified a love of adventure, even of danger, a capacity to fight energetically and fiercely, to blaze with anger when his conceptions of right or justice were outraged, and yet to be courteous, gentle, and full of fun. With an innate dignity, he was never pompous or conceited.
All these characteristics so strongly marked in turn are typical of our best.
It is well therefore that, as we emerge from the dust, the blood and the hatreds roused from a bloody conflict, we should be able to read of the life of great and brave men and realize what kind of men have lived in England, and that they can still be found in these islands.
Arthur Conan Doyle sets before us an example which must inspire all the best in us. It is by knowing great men and learning to love and admire them that we can shape our own characters. It is evident in reading this too brief account of his personal attributes that his own character was formed by his study of the noble deed and chivalrous spirit of our forbears.
He was a student and a thinker, as his many writings prove, with a great regard for truth and justice. His scientific and versatile mind constantly suggested the solution of military, medical and political problems which were not brought into being until years afterwards.
I can remember him when he came to see me after I was recalled from command of the Fifth Army after the March battle 1918. He spent many hours of that afternoon questioning me about the details of my dispositions and my decisions. In that interview two things struck me as characteristic of the man. The first, that he was diligent to learn the facts, the truth, and in his search for that, no care or trouble was too much. The second was that he was convinced that I had been unjustly condemned, and he was determined, as far as lay in his power, to remove that injustice. Conan Doyle not only led a most interesting life but he stands out as an example to all men of activity, intelligence and noble thoughts.
The True Conan Doyle
During the past year, I have been distressed by the number of letters that have reached me from both acquaintances and strangers in protest against an alleged "biography" of my father by a Mr. Hesketh Pearson. As the majority of my correspondents were, naturally, under the impression that the manuscript was submitted to me before publication, I must assure them that that was not the case. In its portrayal of my father and his opinions, the book is a travesty and the personal values therein ascribed to him are, in effect, the very antithesis of everything that he represented, believed in and held dear. Therefore, I will content myself with the statement that, firstly, Mr. Pearson did not even know my father ; secondly, that his manuscript was submitted to no member of the family and, thirdly, that it is nothing more than a vehicle for a stranger's personal and quite unauthoritative opinions, and is but another example of the practice that Mr. Isaac Foot has aptly termed — "Belittling famous men and disparaging the fathers that begat us." As for the literary aspect, Sir Arthur's seventy-odd books should manage to survive the drone of Mr. Pearson's wearisomely condescending criticisms.
Before putting a few facts on record, I would address myself to any reader who may suffer from the delusion that a son's outlook on his parent is naturally biased. It has been my experience in life that the very opposite is more often true. A son has to endure not only his father's virtues but his worst faults and, unless that son be of sub-normal mentality, he forms his valuation from the hard-fact school of personal and observant experience and not from the window-dressing of a parent's public or social life. Conan Doyle, by descent and parentage, was a Southern Irishman with all an Irishman's vivid temperament, and I loved him because he was a good father and a splendid companion. At the same time, and here I will disappoint the modern idealist, I held certain sides of him in the greatest awe. It was not a case of physical fear, but recognition of the fact that basic to the "big-hearted, big-bodied, big-souled" man (I quote Jerome on C. D.) there was the iron will that could neither understand nor forgive any deviation from the singular code that was his own.
As the major aspects of his public life are already widely known through the medium of his own Autobiography — Memories and Adventures,  and through the writings of such men as Dr. John Lamond, D.D., Sir Max Pemberton, Mr. St. Jean Adcock, Mr. J. Hodder Williams, etc., each of whom knew my father personally, — I intend to devote this article to intimate glimpses of Conan Doyle drawn from that most natural of all settings, the family hearth. That we may understand in its proper perspective a personality so strongly individualistic and at the same time grasp a biographical comprehension of his outlook, the reader will forgive me if I devote a few words to his background and family descent.
On his paternal side, Conan Doyle came from a line of Irish country squires. They were Catholics and, as he records in his Autobiography, in common with others of the Southern landed gentry, they fell victim to the Penal Laws, with the result that his great-grandfather was driven from the estate with a loss of those family fortunes that, two generations later, were to be so ably resuscitated by my father. The effect of the Doyle ruin will merit later reference. His paternal grandmother, Marianna Conan, was the surviving cadet of the Conan family, the ancient ducal house of Brittany. Following religious persecution, her forbears, spes ultima gentis of that once illustrious line, had fled to Ireland.
On his maternal side, Conan Doyle's descent from the Percy family of Northumberland, detailed in his Autobiography, demands only the briefest reference from my pen. In short, his grandmother was Catherine Pack, niece of that great Irish soldier, Sir Denis Pack, and herself a granddaughter of Mary Percy of Ballintemple, heir of the Irish branch of the Northumberland house.
It is, however, among the lesser-known branches of his ancestry that we come upon some most suggestive influences. Conan Doyle's mother, a Foley of Lismore, was the demure scion of a tempestuous race. The custom of the 300-gallon pot ; the killing of the notorious desperado "The White Boy" at Ardmore ; starvation to death in an open boat with Bolivar, the Irish revolutionary — all the records of the family bear witness to the dark sparkle of these men. They created nothing, but they lived and died in an atmosphere of adventure and drama and subtle violence. We come upon similar elements in the Scott generations connecting Conan Doyle with his great-great-grandparents, Matthias Scott and the Lady Anna Clancy. Incidentally, tradition has it, probably quite wrongly, that these Scotts of Nurley were the Irish branch of Sir Walter's family, but the speculation is interesting in view of the strong virility of pen and love of historic lore common to both authors. 
As these influences fall into place beside others with which I deal later, one must recognize that, while a creator in his own right, Conan Doyle was in essence an hereditary product. In his writings, where lay his natural metier ? Surely in his great short stories, tales as menacing and virile as the habits of his ancestors. Sir Max Pemberton, in his article "Knight-eloquent of Justice," recalls that it was ever the bizarre and the daring that drew Conan Doyle as a filing is drawn to its magnet. Then, again, we have that exorbitant lust for adventure that dogged this man from his boyhood to his death-bed. I use that expression in its fullest sense for when he knew that he was dying he wrote:— "I have had many adventures. The greatest and most glorious of all awaits me now." In any form of hazard, I would prefer the company of Conan Doyle at fifty to that of any young man of my acquaintance. And that not because he was my father but because his was a brave and reckless heart.
Thus in the physical and temperamental there is the marked characteristics of his maternal forbears. But what of the creative influence ? In this, we find the clearest hereditary product of all in the subsequent history of those Doyles who fled their estate. The family ruin seems to have been the lifting of the dam upon their creative potentiality. Within two generations, they had given four names to the National Biography — John Doyle, the celebrated "HB," heir to the ruined house and whose paintings hang in the National Art Gallery of Ireland and in the British Museum ; Richard Doyle of Punch ; Henry Doyle, C.B., director of the Irish National Art Gallery, and, incidentally, responsible for the mural paintings of "The Last Judgment" on the Transept of the Catholic Chapel at Lancaster; and James Doyle who devoted thirteen years to the compilation of The Official Baronage of England, wrote and illustrated The Chronicles of England, and whose paintings include that much lithographed picture "Dinner at Sir Joshua Reynolds's." My father's name was the fifth to enter the National Biography. Conan Doyle and his immediate forbears are the only family in the British Empire to have given in the space of three generations five separate members to the record of National achievement.
Though my father was a boy when his grandfather died, John Doyle's pre-natal influence was decisive. The ghost-hand of tradition was to shape the growing mind. We should therefore, take a glimpse at John Doyle. Over a century has passed since the days when the identity of the mysterious "H-B" was a subject of wide conjecture throughout society, but documents in my possession regild old colours. Between 1820 and 1830, a power had arisen whose anonymous satires gripped the nation's fancy to such a degree that queues awaited their every appearance in the bookshops' and publishers' windows, a process repeated seventy years later on the publication of his grandson's writings. Political careers were affected. Gossip named Hayden, who made the gracious denial with the words: "But he is a genius." Thus, while L'inconnu resisted all attempts at discovery, John Doyle, the Irish artist, continued sedately to exhibit his pictures at the Royal Academy. Thirty years later, when he allowed the truth to out, over nine hundred of his sketches, gathered and presented by Prince Metternich, were already in the British Museum. The Government paid 1,000 guineas for three or four more. Christopher Moore's bust, sculptured in 1849, portrays not only the imperious high-nosed head, but that quality of the enigmatic that characterized the "HB" mystery. Moving in the circles of Byron, Scott and Sheridan, he with-drew austerely from Society when he considered the Great Age to be a thing of the past. As friends of his sons, a few men, notable among them being Millais, Thackeray, Rosetti and Landseer, were permitted the entree to 17, Cambridge Terrace, but, as Lewis Lusk records in his MSS., "These secluded Doyles did not encourage intrusion from the outer world."
Under his aegis (and surviving references show it to have been of an impressive nature) his four sons were started on the road to fame, and the subsequent arrival of Arthur Conan Doyle was looked upon merely as guaranteed raw material for a third generation of painters. Instead, a perverse Destiny fitted a nib to the brush and the "pictures" became the flash and glitter of The White Company, the prowess of Rodney Stone, and the immortal detective. At ten shillings a word, the "rebel" was to become the highest paid author in the world.
Those whose knowledge of my father is confined to Holmes, his sporting prowess or his championing of Spiritualism, may be startled to learn that the boyhood and rearing of the young Sir Nigel in the book of that name are nothing less than an approximate account of Conan Doyle's own upbringing. The only differences lie in the date and, with the old roof of his forbears having shrunk to the modest domicile of Liberton Bank, in the setting. This upbringing is so fundamental and significant in its singular implications that it deserves description.
From the very first, his mental surroundings were entirely feudal to a degree unknown to the ordinary flow of life. Under his mother's supervision the little boy became the translator of blazonry and devotee at the shrine of the Past. Conan Doyle was master of the cadency mark before he was master of his first Latin verb. With his school text books of very secondary importance, he was already steeped in the intricacies of his main pedigrees, the cadet branches of his house, the marital connections of six centuries and, fundamental to it all, as a veritable yardstick for the values of life, inoculated with the unswerving and implacable code of the ancient chivalry, with all that it implies to the personality and character of the man that was to be. His fairy stories were the pages of Froissart and De Monstrelet : his mental adventures shaped and coloured from the sources of his own ancestry. In short, we have a picture of a child living from his tenderest years in the chivalric sciences of the fifteenth century in the bosom of a family to whom pride of lineage was of infinitely greater importance than the discomforts of that comparative poverty that had come to surround them. These are facts that I learnt from my father's own lips. Furthermore, as a child, I too experienced an exactly similar upbringing from my grandmother who, between endless lessons in heraldry and family lore, would refresh my imagination with tales of my father's youth and the nobility of the old, impoverished, but as yet unbroken line. That the feudal rearing had entered into the very substance of my father's character can be simply illustrated by such items as that my earliest French lessons at his hands took the shape, not of French Without Tears, but The Memoirs of the Sieur de Joinville; as when, in my childhood, my recovery from a dangerous illness depending largely upon my determination to fight it out, he encouraged me to that end not by the promise of fabulous toys and a golden guinea but by a call to fortitude in the shape of a tiny coloured picture of the charge of the French knights against the bowmen at Agincourt, a talisman that I carry in my wallet to this day ; in the fireside's glow he was the spinner of legends and gentle doorway to the imagination of the child, the youth and the man ; history and hero leaped to life ; while the transition periods of chain to plate armour and the exciting arts of Anton Peffenhauser and the old German armour guilds pervaded the passage of a boyhood influenced throughout by the very same tutelage as that upon which the character of my father had been fashioned. Later, in my young manhood, the clash of raw modernity collided again and again with the rigid code of a sire who, gentle and understanding towards those passing stages of adolescence that some parents too swiftly misunderstand, would adhere absolutely to the mediaeval values in all the basic pillars of life — women, money, courtesy to those of lower degree, pride of blood that is the condemnation of snobbery, the steel self-sacrifice that should be the natural choice of the gentleman towards his fellow wayfarers — these were the codes that composed the essence of my father, an essence so deeply imbued that my love for him forbade, so far as a lesser character was able, the too obvious failure in the son. They were basic. They were the essential being of Conan Doyle. His belief in them gives meaning to such incidents as that of my huge father standing in his stockinged feet on the gravel drive benignly watching the departure of an old and very dirty tramp shod in his best golf shoes, and his comment — "He needs them more than I."
The romance that, just as his forbears had sacrificed their all for the Catholic faith, so did Conan Doyle follow devotedly in their footsteps in regard to Spiritualism, a faith that some consider to be the antithesis of Catholicism, only serves to enhance that stubborn traditional element. Twice in four generations, we have that "beloved by novelists but seldom found" state of affairs in which a family has given everything save honour for its religious beliefs, and this is the crux that makes more unusual an unusual situation, in both cases for tenets so widely separated.
In common with other true patricians, Conan Doyle had complete disregard for all personal aggrandisement. He refused his knighthood until persuaded by my grandmother to accept it ; deliberately sacrificed a peerage rather than withdraw his public championship of Spiritualism ; and it was not until after his death that we discovered that he was a Cavaliere of the Crown of Italy. It has been asked why he did not use his prefix upon his books. The answer lies in the fact that titles as such meant less to him than reducing his golf handicap but — he had a very lively affection for that sense of responsibility and chivalry to others that, to his mind, should be a natural heritage to all who came from ancient or noble stock. As a child, I had to learn at his knee that there are in life three tests of a gentleman : firstly, his attitude of protection and chivalry to women ; secondly, his courteous behaviour to people of lower social status than himself ; and, thirdly, his rectitude in financial matters.
As a wild youngster, I had occasion to ascertain a good deal about Conan Doyle with all the diabolical ingenuity of youth. In such escapades as the accidental shooting of the gardener (which happily established a life friendship), the wrapping of my father's 700-guinea motor-car around an oak tree, or a rather attractive spring-gun cum match-box invention that set the billiard-room alight, I encountered an anger sufficiently formidable to discourage repetition, but with an elusive twinkle peeping through that somehow makes the recollection a happy one. Once, and once only, did I meet that white blast of fury that, big as all his reactions were big, has left a tattoo mark upon memory. This time it was not a trifle of 700 guineas. I had, to my lasting disgrace, been extremely discourteous to the second housemaid. The code had been dented. Subsequently, as I grew to the age when woman bewitches a young Irishman's fancy, my father was not unduly concerned. In a bachelor, laissez faire need not in itself be the enemy of chivalry. But rudeness to a servant was a horse of different hue.
There was a division in Conan Doyle's character that was even more marked in his private than in his public life and the capital point is that each side was composed of correspondingly definite facets. We have seen the basic feudalism that influenced both his domestic and social outlook. But put against that his lifelong devotion to sport. I believe that I am correct in stating that Conan Doyle played for Hampshire in both football and cricket. He most certainly figured much in first-class cricket with the M.C.C. ; reached the third round of the Amateur Billiards Championship ; was a hard rider to hounds ; drove as one of the British team in the Prince Henry race against Germany ; introduced skiing into Switzerland ; and, finally, was a dangerous man with the gloves. I remember an old pug who had boxed with him telling me that, if all else failed, Conan Doyle could have made a living in the game — a strange contradiction in the design of one who took his mental joys from the must, the rust and the lore of the long ago.
There was breadth of mind in the man who could convey to a son's consciousness that in the case of sexual illness he could rely absolutely upon the parental comprehension and assistance. Au contraire, there was narrow-mindedness in the man who revolted violently to the mildest of risque observations. In a different measure the same may be said about his reaction to the most harmless liberty taken by any well-meaning stranger. Indeed, there were few things that could stir Conan Doyle more swiftly to a roar of Celtic rage than the clap on the back, the uninvited use of his Christian name or the presumptuous observation. It was the iron man who spoke unaffectedly for an hour and a half to the Tunbridge Wells audience despite the news of his eldest son's death that had reached him but a few minutes before he mounted the platform. We meet him in the hands that violently broke his son's pipe into matchwood in a public place because the writer of this article insisted on smoking it despite the presence of women. With this hard and sometimes threatening figure before us, the reader will not find it difficult to believe that even at the age of 70, my father sallied out in a capital city of the Empire with the express purpose of thrashing with his favourite umbrella the rascal who had publicly stated that he was making psychic propaganda from the death of his eldest son.
But this is the very individual who would drive thirty miles out of his route in order that he might have the honour to be of assistance to some old gypsy woman ; the man who could be moved to emotion on the desolate knoll of Camelot ; who would sit all night by the bedside of a sick servant to read aloud to him or soothe his pain. One can understand why, when Conan Doyle went to the Boer War, his butler went with him as a devoted squire. Trifles all, but when a man's whole private life in great and small is composed of such marked anachronisms, the serious biographer finds himself with that best of all biographical windfalls — the strong individualist. Here, again, we have the epitome of Holmes at work. My memories as a youth are mottled with sudden, silent periods when, following upon some agitated stranger or missive, my father would disappear into his study for two or three days on end. It was not a question of affectation but complete mental absorption that checked and counter-checked, pondered, dissected and sought the clue to some mystery that had been hurried to him as the last court of appeal. The hushed footfalls of the whole household, the tray of untasted food standing on the threshold, the subconscious feeling of tension that would settle on family and staff alike, were no less than the reflected essence of the brain, the lamp, and the letter that wrought their unpublicized drama on the inner side of that curtained door.
Thus in our minds' eye we see the cold-brained and dissecting criminologist — only to find ourselves a moment later face to face with the man who, in the most cavalier manner possible, would lose far more money than he could afford in support of every wild project of treasure trove or sunken galleon ; the adventurer who in the last year of his life would insist that he should experience the sensation of 120 m.p.h. in the mechanic's seat of a racing car ; the companion who strode across the moonlit moor holding forth in the most fascinating manner on the Weald strata or the bloody history of the Ashdown smugglers and roaring out sea chanties in a manner that leaves memory behind it as fresh and as happy as the salt wind in one's face.
This innate individualism made itself felt even in his most personal idiosyncrasies. The Holmes stories are full of little slips of memory and attention ranging from the whereabouts of Watson's wound to the blue of a character's eyes that become miraculously brown by the end of the tale. These are lapses of recollection. On the other hand, Conan Doyle's memory was so extraordinary that it entered the realms of the freakish. For instance, if one examined him on any book that he had not read for as much as twenty years, he could give a fair outline of the plot and the name of every principal character. I have tested him on this on many occasions. Again, meeting any ex-Service man years after the Great War, and having ascertained his regiment, he could, and would, immediately inform the astounded recipient not only of his former brigade and division but the principal actions in which he took part! Of the numerous cases that I witnessed I cannot recall a single instance in which he was at fault. Ever uncertain of poor Watson's wound, his mind was a great store-house of assimilated knowledge in a series of time-proof compartments. His powers of observation were such that, as I have already publicly stated, he could tell at a glance a man's occupation and characteristics by the identical methods of his own creation, Sherlock Holmes.
Mr. Hayden Coffin, the American journalist, has offered us interesting confirmation in his recent statement to the Press that my father told him in a private interview in 1918 that — "If anyone is Holmes, then I must confess that it is I." For half a century, a variety of writers and critics have, with insufficient knowledge, confused the public mind by placing all the credit, and not a minor part of that credit, for Sherlock Holmes at the feet of Dr. Joseph Bell, which is analogous to the ridiculous position that could arise if the plaudits due to a brilliant virtuoso were reserved only for the teacher who gave him his original music lessons. Conan Doyle was too great in himself to be annoyed by this misconception. Indeed, I know that he derived no small degree of amusement from it. And yet he threw out a clue when he wrote — "a man cannot spin a character out of his own inner consciousness and make it really lifelike unless he has the possibilities of that character within himself."
Dr. Bell's remarkable characteristics brought to their full growth the deductive propensities latent in Conan Doyle. They did that, and they did no more. If the good doctor had been endowed with the power to create extraordinary gifts that were not already innate, then the Edinburgh University course of 1876-81 would have produced, among the many hundreds of students that passed under his aegis, a spate of incarnated Sherlock Holmeses What, then, is the alternative conclusion ? That my father himself had those very gifts, probably to an even greater degree than Dr. Bell, a conclusion proved by the fact that those attributes were not only expressed in his stories, but put into practice by my father on numberless occasions. In power of deductive observation I have never known his equal. These strange gifts played their part in Conan Doyle's private life. In travelling through the capital cities of the world, it was one of my keenest enjoyments to accompany my father to any principal restaurant, and there to listen to his quiet speculations as to the characteristics, professions and other idiosyncrasies, all quite hidden from my eyes, of our fellow diners. Sometimes we could not prove the correctness or otherwise of his findings as the particular subject might be unknown to the head-waiter ; but whenever those concerned were known to the maitre d'hôtel, the accuracy of my father's deduction was positively startling. As a foot-note, here is a point that will intrigue Holmes enthusiasts. In the mind's eye, we surely visualize the Master complete with dust-red dressing-gown and curving pipe. But these were the accoutrements of Conan Doyle, and the originals are still in the family possession !
Paradoxically, his powers of attention were so variable that it was no rare occurrence to behold a very preoccupied Conan Doyle emerging from the portals of the Athenseum Club, august in everything save for his son's Homburg, several sizes too small for that massive cranium, perched precariously upon the very top of his head. Be it my hat or an old riding cloak carelessly donned en route from his flat, such sartorial aberrations were ever synonymous with a crime problem afoot, a legend to probe, or a plot to weave. In one instance (the disappearance of a young man in such circumstances that the Police believed the body to have been destroyed after murder), I met my father actually wearing a brown boot with a black one — symptoms of a concentration that boded ill for the wrong-doer ; for, within two days, and without leaving London, he had found the missing man in hiding in Liverpool on the very evidence that had suggested his destruction.
Since I began writing this article I have made a discovery that will be of interest to Holmes students the world over. In rummaging through one of my father's old chests, I unearthed a bundle of his early medical treatises and, tucked among them, a collection of five manuscripts in his writing. They prove that Dr. Watson not only came to life before Holmes, but that the original Study in Scarlet had no Sherlock Holmes in it ! Watson alone held the stage in company with Jefferson Hope, etc. The title of A Study in Scarlet has been roughly scratched out in this original MS., which takes the form of a lengthy dramatic script, and altered to The Angels of Darkness. While it in no way detracts from Holmes, this discovery does confer a new and pleasing distinction upon Watson.
Conan Doyle's influence upon European and Asiatic criminology will deserve a chapter to itself in the real biography that remains to be written by a greater pen than mine. The training of the Egyptian Police upon his methods, the significant gesture of the French Sûreté in naming the great Lyons Crime laboratories in honour of Conan Doyle, the tribute of the Police College of China, the extraordinary fables and legends that have sprung to life in all parts of the world in regard to Holmes as a living personality — it is a wide field to cover.
I do not intend here to discuss my father's championship of Spiritualism ; but there is one point that I must mention, in view of some misinformed and, in a few instances, deliberately malicious, nonsense that has been written about his "swift conversion" or "credulity." My father began his investigations as a bitter opponent of any belief in a life after death and — this is of paramount importance — he refused to pronounce any final judgment before he had devoted thirty-three years to his researches.
But the matter assumes gravity when the value of a man's power of forming a correct opinion upon evidence is concerned, and so I can do no better than to quote from memory a few of the instances in which my father interfered in public matters.
Twice he saw that verdicts were wrong and persevered in the face of many obstacles until he got them reversed. I allude to the cases of Edalji and Slater. He was the first in 1890 to warn the public from Berlin that Koch's treatment was by no means the certain cure that it was supposed to be, and to stop sufferers from swarming over. His letter appeared in the Daily Telegraph. In The Times, at the time of the Boer War, he wrote suggesting the formation of the Imperial Yeomanry before it was formed, and in the same paper he also wrote showing how a barrage could make a position, such as a kopje, indefensible and a death-trap. Thus he anticipated the fire tactics of the Great War. When he returned from the Boer War, he had a controversy in Cornhill and other journals in which he put forward certain military lessons from the war, nearly all of which have been justified. They included the forecast that no artillery would be so heavy that it would not be used in the next war ; that cavalry would be valuable as riflemen rather than as swordsmen ; that an efficient army can be vamped up more quickly than orthodox opinion would admit ; that rifle fire was everything ; and that, above all, rifle clubs should be encouraged. Most of these contentions stood the test of time. His history The Great Boer War is still accepted as the classical account, and was so fair in its con-tents that the most full and flattering review of it was written. from St. Helena by one of the Boer leaders extolling its impartial and chivalrous spirit. When Queen Victoria died, he wrote to The Times advocating the change in the Coronation oath which would delete the insult to Catholics. In this he anticipated what was actually done. Before the Great War he saw exactly how Germany would use her submarines against our food carriers, and had a story in the Strand to illustrate it, after sending memoranda in vain to the Navy and War Office. He attended and spoke at meetings for advocating the Channel tunnel, the neglect of which probably cost us 100 million pounds in the subsequent war. When the war broke out, he protested again and again in the Press against the want of lifebelts on warships, and in consequence a rush order was given which provided every man with an inflatable collar. He worked for body armour for the troops, which materialized so far as head-cover went. I would add the Congo agitation, and the attempt to reform our divorce laws, as two other subjects at which he worked, the first of them entirely successful, the latter commended by a Royal Commission.
These are a few of the points in which my father interfered in public affairs, and I leave it to the reader to decide whether his views on deeper matters were likely to be wild when on so many other subjects they have shown themselves to be judicious. The mere task of stating accurately the events of the Great War in his six-volume work in historical form might, one would have hoped, have vindicated his good judgment.
In regard to the last, it was typical of Conan Doyle that he should have arranged the publication of his Magnum Opus on a non-profit basis in order that the poorest soldier could possess an accurate account of what had been achieved through his own courage. However tedious the work, he would insist on a similar non-profit system, so far as he himself was concerned, in every aspect of his life where honour and justice might be gained, refusing all profits from his books on the Boer War and Great War, his defence of Slater or the Congo natives, from his record-breaking world lecture tours on Spiritualism and even to accept pay for his military service.
Incidentally, it is worth recalling that, in conjunction with Major St. Quentain, Conan Doyle was father of the Home Guard. After three weeks of head-scratching, the War Office disbanded his nation-wide organization in the early days of the last war ; but the blue-print was preserved for resuscitation in 1940 on exactly similar lines. Though a patriot, my father was not a Nationalist. He was an Internationalist and belonged equally to all parts of the human race. The French with truly gallic perception gave him the affectionate soubriquet of "Le Bon Geant," and it is pleasant to recall that, upon the arrival of their naval squadron at Portsmouth in 1905, it was in my father's house that the officers, some hundreds in number, found their welcome and entertainment. In Germany, the Nation's regard was based upon respect for his powers of scientific deduction and conclusion. This was carried so far that in 1916, Admiral Capelle of the German Imperial Navy, speaking in the Reichstag, stated that "the German people could thank the British Government for ignoring the warning given them in 1913 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on the coming shape of U-boat warfare." Denmark gave him a Viking's chair, and Canada a mountain. Spain put his head on a stamp. But it was for America that my father had his most lively understanding and affection, and these emotions were reciprocated. Holmes's words in The Noble Bachelor are illuminating. Conan Doyle believed firmly in their youth-type, perceiving in them a repetition of those virile, short-nosed, strong-necked, curly-haired heads of the Artist-Warriors that were last seen en masse in the days of the Athenian sagas, and are recorded to posterity upon the statuary and coinage of the Age. I do not think that England has ever realized Conan Doyle's immense popularity in America. I could choose no better illustration than his incognito visit to Coney Island when, upon entering the largest dance hall upon the floor of which some two thousand couples were engaged in the Charleston, he was instantly recognized, the band struck up "God save The King," and the whole vast concourse of young men and women stood to attention. Later in the evening, when we visited another amusement centre, exactly the same thing occurred. Several of New York's great dailies named him as the second most popular British subject of our age to visit America, second only to the, as he then was, Prince of Wales. With a lesser man, this kind of experience would have been a heady wine. To him it was merely a source of amazement and heart-warm gratitude.
Mr. Julian Arnold in his recent book Giants in Dressing Gowns makes an interesting link-up between my father's relationship to America and his warnings, recorded as far back as 1923, that a monstrous world war would commence in 1939 or 1940. Mr. Arnold's comments are so relevant that I will venture to quote a few lines.
"As one regards the darkness of these skies to-day, it is strange to recall the famous novelist's prescience and the correctness of his readings of the scroll of fate. It was to prepare against the prognosticated Armageddon that Conan Doyle bent most of his later energies, and few men have better used their abilities to that end or striven more diligently to promote good understanding between Americans and Britishers. At every opportunity it was the endeavour of my gifted friend to cultivate amicable relations amongst all the English-speaking peoples, so that in the day of trial they should not be afraid to stand against their enemies in the gate. His last writings abound with clarion calls to preparedness, and among his speeches a fine instance is seen in his address before the Lotus Club of New York wherein he said, '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 a 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 a great Britisher dies, when a mighty voice is hushed for ever, 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, a thousand fathoms deep, which sweeps us onward to the same goal.'"
How true and applicable to-day are those words publicly uttered by my father in 1924, and so tragically illustrated in the emotional reaction that shook Great Britain at the recent death of President Roosevelt. I must add that, in the few pages of his book that are devoted to Conan Doyle, Mr. Arnold has given to the world an admirable little vignette drawn from truth and from the authority of an intimate and personal knowledge.
If the inanimate be capable of expressing the animate, then my father's writing-desk was symptomatic of his wide field of interests. It was littered with an extraordinary assortment of objects, among which memory identifies Boer War medals and Mauser bullets, Greek coins, dum-dum bullets from a German sniper, the tooth of an ichthyosaurus, an Iron Cross, ancient Egyptian statuettes, a large crystalline growth from the stomach of a whale, pieces of Roman glass and pottery, and a vast coin gripped in the lava that destroyed Pompeii. The imagination of Conan Doyle lay in bits and pieces upon its work-bench.
To touch upon the most intimate and, perhaps, the most important aspect of any man's character, namely his mental approach to woman, the epilogue that my mother has left to posterity in the pages of Dr. Lamond's Arthur Conan Doyle is a light shining, and no woman who reads those words, penned by a wife thirty years after her wedding-day, has aught to learn from me.
As for this "man in the street" nonsense that Pearson has so absurdly misinterpreted for his readers, here is the true account of the occasion, at which, incidentally, I was present. In his Wanderings of a Spiritualist, my father writes as follows in reference to a lunch given in his honour by the British Empire League: "Sir Joseph Cook, Federal Chancellor of the Exchequer, made a pleasant speech, recalling our adventures on the Somme, when he had his baptism of fire. In my reply I pulled the leg of my audience with some success, for I wound up by saying very solemnly that I was something greater than Governments and the Master of Cabinet Ministers. By the time I had finished my tremendous claims I am convinced that they expected some extravagant occult pretension, whereas I actually wound up with the words 'for I am the man in the street.' There was a good deal of amusement caused." Thus, in black and white, we behold that Conan Doyle carefully recorded as a deliberate joke the only occasion in his life that he is known to have used such a phrase. But that this stranger, having read the book, should wrench a text from its context, and thus convey as a serious self-valuation a remark that is plainly shown to have been no more than a humorous pleasantry, is inexcusable.
In his writings, my father's methods of preparation were peculiarly thorough. For instance, before he wrote The White Company, he buried himself for a year in a tiny cottage in the New Forest, his sole companions being sixty-five works of reference on every aspect of the fourteenth century. Only at the conclusion of that long hermitage did he pick up the pen to write his great novel. I have dozens of exercise books and notebooks in my possession, each one filled from cover to cover with his tiny copper-plate handwriting interspersed with diagrams and sketches, and each containing the raw bones of one or other of his books. Immense research was, in every instance, the plinth on which he erected the edifice of his literary prowess and the draperies of his imagination. His facts were exact to the finest detail. Usually, he was at work in his study by 6.30 each morning, an hour's sleep in the afternoon, work until eleven at night, and then to bed with the Bible (every page is brilliantly annotated), a treatise on the latest excavations in Egypt or, perhaps, all the newspaper reports on the Heavyweight Championship gathered together into one huge bundle. Incidentally, he took up oil painting in his seventieth year.
The big atmosphere of Conan Doyle ran as an undiminished force throughout my twenty-one years under his roof. From those days when, as a little boy, I would be lifted to the window by a goggle-eyed nurse to watch my father and the then Prime Minister of England pacing slowly up and down the lawn in earnest discussion, down to the hour that, with his great fist in mine, the scion of Chivalry passed to his ancestors, I find that the strength and variety of my father's presence was such that indirectly it cost me dear. I mean that, being an average man myself, I discovered the company of other average men to be bitterly disappointing and incomparable in every way with the forceful individualism that had burned so brilliantly in Arthur Conan Doyle.
I will conclude with the four following tributes that I have selected from the many in my possession for their crisp valuation of a great man.
The voice of Russia—
- "Conan Doyle was a charming and powerful personality."
- Professor Kovaloff, late Minister to the Czar.
- "Let us do him all honour which human mind and human language may say of a great and brave man of his renown."
- Admiral Türk, German Imperial Navy.
- "There can never have been a more honourable man than Conan Doyle."
- Sir James Barrie.
His epilogue rests for posterity in the words of that gallant soldier and author, Lieut.-Col. Graham Seton Hutchinson, D.S.O.—
- "Conan Doyle was the perfect pattern of a gentleman."
- Published by John Murray.
- With the exception of this tradition, the above facts have been checked and confirmed by the late Sir Arthur Vicars, Ulster King-at-Arms and himself a relative, and by Sir Edmund Bewdley, late of the Office of Arms, Dublin Castle.