Upper Norwood Literary and Scientific Society (5 november 1892)
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
This article is a report of the Upper Norwood Literary and Scientific Society published in The Norwood News on 5 november 1892.
With Dr. Conan Doyle for lecturer, and "The Genius and Writings of George Meredith" for subject, it was only to be expected that a numerous audience would assemble in any of the varieties of weather which the month of November indulges in. It was therefore, to no purpose that the rain rained and the wind blew deterntivately on Wednesday evening last. The accommodation of the Royal Normal College was taxed to the full. "What went ye out for to hear," would have been a question, to which a candid answer from a few of the audience might have bees of great assistance to the lecturer. All things considered, it is probable that a very general reply would have been a wish to have the oracle interpreted, to be furnished with some clue to his grammatical methods, some means of disentangling his complicated, if not confused, ideas. But the lecturer had not anticipated that demand, or bad decided not to grapple with it. He did indeed admit that the novels are "difficult reading," and that he himself had "never comprehended" at least one of them. He also set aside, as not within his province, all the writings which are classed by their author as "poems," which was a convenient method of eluding the accumulated tortuosities that out — Herod Herod and out — Browning Browning. But for the uninitiated there was no helping hand, no mere match of illumination. The pre-eminent greatness of Meredith was strongly asserted, and his function explained as that of a novelist's novelist — a cistern, or was it a spring? from which other writers draw their inspiration. But popular? No; that could not be alleged, nor was it to be hoped for in any near future. His unconventionality was given as the reason of these things, but no attempt was made to explain why it is that a writer will be no perverse as to use a style which only a few profess to understand, of whom it is possible that some are self-deceived. "The style is the man, not a shirt but a skin," said Dr. Doyle, quoting his author. That may be so, and yet shirts are probably used even by George Meredith — at least, when he goes in society; and there would be no great inconsistency in a little less display of the natural man in his writings. But is it the natural man? Is it not an elaborate perversity of art? Is not the skin tattooed with grotesque forms, and stained with curious pigments? In that condition not even a New Zealand chief would expect to be received in "conventional" circles. And it is conventional society to which Mr. Meredith appeals, but appeals in vain in his "unconventional" costume — or lack of costume.
Dr. Doyle did not overstrain the attention of his audience by refinement of criticism. He stated generally the characteristics of his author, remarking particularly on his aphorisms, his phrases, his excess of sparkle, and not disguising his want of story-telling faculty, and his not infrequent dulness. He even thought that, living in other times, Meredith might have been a dramatist or an essayist, and with better fortune. It is probable, however, that the interest of the lecture centred for most hearers in the long endings from Richard Foverel and Harry Richmond, readings intelligible enough, and sufficiently captivating to result probably in a great demand at Mr. Harrison's Library, and then next and next, in bewildered disappointment, and frantic resort to something "made easy."
It may he necessary to explain that no attempt was made to report the lecture, Dr. Doyle having expressed a wish to that effect. The above notes and comments are, therefore, extremely meagre.