GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE OF SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
A collection of approximately 230 letters to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1884-1929, the correspondents including:
George Moore (three letters), Noël Coward, Douglas Fairbanks (two), Professor E. Ray Lankester, Francis Galton, Lord Northcliffe, Lord Curzon, Earl of Rosebery (three), Morley Roberts, A.J. Balfour, Gerald Du Maurier, C.M. Yonge, Leslie Stephen, R. Baden Powell, A.T. Quiller-Couch, Sybil Thorndike, Vilhjalmur Stefansson (three), Kathleen Scott (wife of Robert Falcon Scott), E.D. Morel, Mrs Enrico Caruso, Anthony Hope Hawkins (8), Lord Roberts, H. Rider Haggard (7), Ellen Terry (two), Arthur Pinero (two), John Masefield, Mrs Humphrey Ward, F.C. Burnand (two), Israel Zangwill (four), Linley Sambourne, Edmund Gosse (two), Owen Seaman and others; the remaining correspondents including detectives, aspiring writers, music hall performers, schoolmasters, Hungarians, a 'Total Disabled Sailor' from Portsmouth (who considers Conan Doyle 'a Priest'), and many other professions and nationalities.
A number of correspondents write in praise of Conan Doyle's literary works: Lord Rosebery commends Sherlock Holmes, 'which if I happen to be ill is the one book I at once take to'; Francis Galton writes with reference to a question of detection in 1903, admitting that he has difficulty in imagining 'how a wax mould of a sealing-wax impression could leave a legible finger-print on a wall'. George Moore writes with compliments on a play he has read in manuscript, 'it made me cry like a child', while there is high praise from E. Ray Lankester of the Natural History Museum, for The Lost World, 'It is just sufficiently conceivable to make it "go" smoothly'. The critical attacks on A Duet seem to have prompted a number of stout commendations, with one correspondent assuring Conan Doyle that 'men and women whose hearts are not gall-bladders love it & thank you for writing it'; another writes that 'you have idealised the heart of the humdrum'; another, referring to the controversial meeting between the hero and his mistress, 'I don't see how anyone can object to the "Violet Incident"'. There are letters of appreciation too for The White Company, The Stark-Munro Letters, Sir Nigel, The Magic Door (preferred 'because it revealed more of your personality'), Memories and Adventures, the Brigadier Gerard stories, and Sherlock Holmes (one correspondent writes in 1930 that 'Sherlock ripens with advancing years'). There is a particularly warm commendation in 1913 from a Canadian schoolmaster, who hopes that his boys will be inspired by 'the love of honour & manliness & the hatred for everything mean & sordid, so beautifully exemplified in the life of Sir Nigel [Loring] ... to be better & more honourable men & more worthy citizens of the Empire'.
A considerable body of the correspondence comprises requests for help or thanks for help received. These are from all sorts of people: William Burns (of the William J. Burns International Detective Agency, Inc) asks in 1915 for advice on a miscarriage of justice in Georgia; another correspondent writes in 1913 asking Conan Doyle to intervene in a 'sensational murder trial' in Warsaw; two interesting letters request his intervention in the case of the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels, naming as the chief suspect Ernest Shackleton's brother, and adding that 'Scotland Yard told me that the brother who is an explorer well versed in advertizing himself was a bad lot financially too'. Some letters are from simple enthusiasts: an elderly American lady writes in 1927 'What must God Be? to Create Such As You? ... O You Wonder of the Earth'; James Douglas writes two years later, with admiration for Conan Doyle's Spiritualist work, 'What a tornado you are!'. A most charming letter from an Austro-Hungarian couple explains that they have learnt English solely by reading Conan Doyle's books, and begs to be excused 'all faults and our strange and clumsy style' (1910).
There is much appreciation from the humbler members of the literary community: the struggling author J.J. Bullen writes a series of 17 letters, 1899-1913, discussing his attempts to write fiction, and begging for a loan; another would-be author writes somewhat inconsequently in 1907 that 'My writings are of the style of Sherlock Holmes ... I have however not started any yet as I do not think I possess sufficient talent'. Letters from well-known authors are often equally courteous: Rider Haggard sends one of his publications in 1898 with the comment 'I send you enclosed, chiefly because you would have written it so much better'; in 1899 he refers to the A Duet controversy, 'I am very glad to see that you have been smiting the multiple reviewer'; a number of his other letters discuss the fortunes of the Salvation Army. There are several letters inviting contributions to publications: F.C. Burnand looks forward to a contribution to Punch in 1900; Central News Ltd writes in February 1897 asking 'whether in the event of a European War at any time, you would be willing to act as Special Correspondent'; a very early correspondent requests something 'wittily satirical' on university life in 1884.
Conan Doyle's own causes are the source of much correspondence: one letter responds to his views on the proper treatment for 'Hardened Offenders', as proposed in a letter to the Times, by suggesting the use of the Hebridean islands of Tiree and Col for the sequestration of these undesirables; another letter responds to his complaints of 'the State of the Strand after nightfall' and the 'urgent necessity of cleansing the Strand of some of its worst abominations'. The Irish Question is the subject of an interesting letter from Edward Carson (6 May 1916), on the 'utter fallacy' of expecting Ulster to 'accept S. & W. Irish rule until the latter have shown some aptitude for governing a great commercial community', and suggesting a right for Ulster to join the remainder of Ireland at a later stage. Other causes touched on are the Congo reform, the Channel Tunnel, urban poverty and Spiritualism (on which subject Douglas Fairbanks writes in 1924 with easy regret 'Am afraid we'll have to miss the interesting psychic experience').
The First World War is the source of some of the most interesting letters: there is a small group of letters from the Front (including one from a former gardener at Windlesham) and from prisoners of war (including a brother of Lily Loder-Symonds); an Englishwoman married to a German writes at the outset of the war begging for Conan Doyle's intervention in the treatment of internees; the collection also includes a menu, dated by Conan Doyle 11 July 1916, for a dinner given in his honour by the French 20ème Division. One of the oddest letters in the collection comes from a Fish, Game, Poultry & Rabbit Salesman in Liverpool, 8 October 1914: 'It would be a ghastly crime to allow our British women and children to fall into the hands of Germans who hate us so much. There should be an announcement in the papers to this effect "Kill the women and children. All others stand by for the present". Come and see me. This is terribly important, and I am very busy about it'.
A few of the letters defy classification, but have significant points of interest nonetheless: among these are a letter in 1909 from the 'sole surviving witness of the burial of Edgar Allen Poe', who describes the occasion (suitably enough) as 'cold blooded & unchristianlike'; and a letter from Irving Jefferson Lewis, Managing Editor of the New York Morning Telegraph, 9 December 1909, asking Conan Doyle to referee the Jeffries-Johnson world heavyweight boxing title fight: 'It would ... rejoice the hearts of the men in this country if you were at the ringside when the great negro fighter meets the white man Jeffries for the world's championship' -- an offer Conan Doyle was to refuse, with much reluctance.