'THE SOUTHSEA NOTEBOOKS'
THE EARLY LITERARY, HISTORICAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL AUTOGRAPH NOTEBOOKS OF SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE, 1885-89, three volumes, original cloth-backed marbled boards, 4to, with later typed labels pasted onto upper covers, and comprising:
Volume I: literary, historical, scientific and philosophical notes, with scheme for a collection of eighteen short stories on inner front cover ('Light and Shade. Sent off. Nov. 27. 1885'), a reference to 'A tangled skein', which has been crossed through and replaced with 'A Study in Scarlet', and a note 'I have read Gaboriau's 'Lecoq the detective ...', 1885-88, 189 pages, including notes on inner covers, a few blanks, binding loose.
Volume II: account of ten seances, list of books on spiritual and occult subjects, notes on animal magnetism and hypnosis, remarks on General A.W. Drayson, verse in pencil (one page), 1886-87, 58 pages plus blanks, (3½ pages torn out), binding loose.
Volume III: literary, historical, scientific and philosophical notes, 1889, 67 pages, also five pages in another hand and later notes in another hand 'Some recollections of two visits with George Meredith', 6½ pages, binding loose.
These volumes provide astonishing testimony of Conan Doyle's industry and application during the crucial period of his intellectual development in the second half of the 1880s. They provide a commentary on his reading in the fields of literature, history, philosophy, geology, archaeology, spiritualism and many other subjects during the period of his literary apprenticeship.
Micah Clarke 'the first solid corner-stone laid for some sort of literary reputation', was conceived in 1885, A Study in Scarlet was written during March and April 1886, The Sign of Four in September and October 1890. Thus the notebooks cast light on the background to the two earliest Sherlock Holmes stories and his two major historical novels (Micah Clarke and The White Company, the latter written in 1889-90).
The collection of stories listed in volume I was published in 1890 with some additions and subtractions as The Captain of the Polestar and dedicated to Major General A.W. Drayson to whom Conan Doyle pays tribute in Volume II.
The notebooks reveal the extraordinary range of Conan Doyle's reading in English, French and German literature. He was fluent in French and German but Russian literature (Turgenev in particular) was known to him only in translation.
It is evident that Conan Doyle immersed himself in the works of Balzac, Dumas (père et fils), Flaubert, Maupassant; in Goethe, Heine and Richter; and in Carlyle, Emerson, Hazlitt, G.H. Lewes, Lowell, Poe and Ruskin, to name a few. He also read Gaboriau, the father of the detective novel in France whose Monsieur Lecoq is a precursor of Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle read with rapidity. In April 1888 he writes: 'Have read recently - Kingsley's Hypatia, Silence of Dean Maitland, Pendennis, Helmholtz's Lectures, Mrs. Browning's Poems, Swinburne's Poems, History of Our Own Times'. He notes with admiration that Samuel Johnson wrote '48 pages of the Life of Savage at a sitting' and Alexandre Dumas (père) '14 printed pages a day'.
Conan Doyle's wide reading in the history of England, France, Germany, Italy, the Ancient World, the New World (North America) is apparent, but the volumes show his vision gradually narrowing to specific themes such as medieval England, and Napoleonic France. By 1887 Conan Doyle's interest in spiritualism had been defined by his Southsea neighbour General Drayson, and he began to study the subject with intellectual rigour.
But perhaps most remarkable are the ideas, the epigrams, the allusions and the humorous asides which are scattered through these volumes, indicating with such clarity the creative process of one of English literature's most gifted storytellers at work. (3)