Sir Arthur CONAN DOYLE. A series of approximately 83 autograph letters signed (one with signature excised), 32 autograph postcards signed and one letter signed with the text in the hand of A.H. Wood ('as I am a little tired') to his brother Innes Doyle (three to Innes's wife Clara), Southsea, South Norwood, Undershaw, Windlesham and elsewhere including Harrogate, Galashiels, Jersey, Farnham, Lyndhurst, Le Touquet, London, Lord's Cricket Ground, Eastbourne and Winnipeg, 18 April 1890 - 14 February , many n.d., altogether approximately 180 pages, mostly 8vo, one letter enclosing an autograph letter signed by E.W. Hornung to Arthur; with letters to Innes from Touie (three, of which two on shared paper with Sir Arthur), Mary ('Toots', two), Kingsley (one) and one other, and a series of press cuttings about the death of Touie.
ONE OF CONAN DOYLE'S MOST REVEALING CORRESPONDENCES
Conan Doyle's tone throughout his correspondence with his brother is one of frank communication of his concerns, his pleasures and his hopes in all areas of his activity. This frankness is most marked in discussions of his family and personal life, and it is apparent that on the burning issue of the writer's relations with Jean before his marriage, he hid nothing from his brother:
'My last letter about my private affairs must have surprised you rather. You must not feel however [that any] harm will arise from it or that any pain will ever be given to Touie. She is as dear to me as ever, but, as I said, there is a large side of my life which was unoccupied but is no longer so. It will all fit in very well, and nobody be the worse and two of us be very much the better. I shall see to it very carefully that no harm comes to anyone. I say all this lest you, at a distance, might fear that we were drifting towards trouble' (17 June 1899).
Thereafter in the years before Touie's death there are frequent (perhaps studiedly) casual references to Jean, usually as 'J', which give an insight into the means the two found for meeting -- 'J. is all right. I hope to see her for an hour tomorrow at lunch. We both talk much of you'; 'Jean is doing well. She came down to Tunbridge with me to my afternoon lecture and we had quite a good time. All goes smoothly and well. Neither she nor I would cause Touie a moment's pain -- nor will we'.
Touie's last days, in June-July 1906, are the subject of a moving series of bulletins, chiefly by postcard: 'You will be grieved to hear that poor Touie is not so well. Last night she was a little delirious ... I much fear the tubercle has gone to her brain, the most dangerous of all conditions'; thereafter the bulletins (dated by postal markings) are 'T. does very well. No fear of any crisis' (n.d.), 'Touie better' (19 June) 'T. holds her own well' (20th) 'T. about the same. Still rather anxious' (22nd), 'I fear my poor dear Touie is slowly and painlessly passing' (29 June), 'About the same' (3 July, 10.45 am), 'Not so well -- sinking' (same day, 6.45 pm), and finally 'She passed in peace' (telegram, 4 July). A last postcard in the series thanks Innes for his 'practical sympathy which upheld me much. I am just going to her with some flowers'.
The other events of family life are equally a matter of instant communication, with particular reference to Innes's wife and children who lived in Crowborough while he was at the Front in World War I; after the birth of a child, Conan Doyle gives firm advice on names -- '"Oscar" would be an outrage ... A pretty name is an asset. I practice what I preach, as Denis, Adrian, Kingsley prove'. On Conan Doyle's own parental concerns, there is particular discussion of Kingsley: 'we have now decided K's line of life ... That line will be Medical Research, with special bearing on Cancer'; or during the War -- '[Kingsley is] a fine lad ... I never feel I know him in the heart, he lives behind a very tight mask ... His one fault is his extreme secretiveness'. Another concern is Innes's own career -- the early letters are above all exhortations to study hard; there are offers of financial support if it is needed ('The money will be found and without effort ... Your career is mine'); around 1903 Conan Doyle was evidently waging a vigorous campaign to have his brother posted back from the Far East to England. There is frank advice on medical matters -- in 1890 Innes is to persist with sport in spite of growing pains ('I used to get growing pains in my side & also flutterings of the heart from flatulence, but is all wore away'), and in 1894 the delights of anaesthesia for tooth extraction are warmly endorsed ('It turns it into a pleasure'); and there is constant news of other family members -- in particular Lottie before her journey to India and marriage in 1899 -- and of domestic events, including the purchase of Conan Doyle's first car, 'a fine little 10 horse power Wolseley with seats for five'. Cricket is a frequent subject, especially in the early 1900s.
Innes evidently had a vivid interest in his brother's literary and theatrical career, and there is much on this. There are a number of reports on the progress of the William Gillette production of Sherlock Holmes in 1899: early in the year, Conan Doyle confesses that 'all my future plans must depend upon Sherlock Holmes'; on 17 June he is full of confidence -- 'Sherlock Holmes is going to be great. I talked it all over with Gillette. Two of his acts are simply grand'; in another letter 'Sherlock seems to have done very well indeed at Buffalo'; and later 'Sherlock is going to be a Record, & beat Charley's Aunt'. A series of postcards send bulletins on the progress of Conan Doyle's assault on the London theatre in 1909-1910, with the consecutive productions of The Fires of Fate, of his boxing play The House of Temperley, and then of the Sherlock Holmes play, The Speckled Band: the postcards frequently send merely the week's audience figures -- good in the first case, ultimately disappointing for Temperley, in spite of 'Lord Esher [having] taken the whole house (£300) for Feb 11th to stuff it with Territorials', and wildly successful for The Speckled Band. There is news too of the progress of his novels, and of the related financial negotiations: 'I have done 116,000 Sir Nigel. 130,000 will do him ... It is far my best'; in 1903 he is bargaining for Holmes stories with American publishers -- 'They offered 6,000 for all rights in 6 Holmes stories .. I offer them the American rights at that figure'; 'The Lost World comes out on Oct 15th. That should do very well. I have another Challenger story on the stocks'; of one English lecture tour, he reports that he has organised '14 in all, averaging about 25 guineas'.
Politics and Conan Doyle's various public causes are a further theme, particularly at the time of his election campaigns: 'I am an ardent protectionist ... Why should we conquer one fifth of the world ... & then get no profit out of it?'; 'I would carry Caithness by showing up in the character of an old Peterhead whalesman. I'm not sure that a peajacket and a Souwester would not be my canvassing kit'. On the Irish Question he has firm views -- 'I believe I am right -- tho' I am prepared to admit a strong argument on the other side'; he sees the difficulty as 'a conflict between the 17th Century in the North and the 15th in the South while the 20th looked on from London'. Of the causes Conan Doyle championed, he remarks in 1909 that he is 'deep in Congo which makes, I think, good progress' and later urges Innes to 'Drop a Congo book on anyone who counts'; later he rails at 'the wicked decision of the Oscar Slater decision [sic] which compels me to reopen that campaign'. On the news of his knighthood, he remarks that it 'seems funny, but the terms on which it is offered would not permit of refusal'; at the same period he was made Deputy Lieutenant of Surrey, which 'sounds good, but what it means I have not yet discovered'.
A final significant theme, inevitably in view of Innes's military career, is warfare and specifically Conan Doyle's histories of the Boer War and World War I. At the outbreak of the former, he is dismissive -- the Boers 'seem to do nothing save under compulsion and damn little then'; but by the end they command his respect: 'They really are a very fine lot of chaps -- I don't know where we could find their equals. Flash vulgarity is the weak spot of our race, I think, and they seem to be without that'. The Great War, with the involvement of so many family members and the stimulus of his own historical account, causes much more of a ferment of emotions. Conan Doyle makes frequent references to his own three activities, of writing, digging potatoes, and drilling Crowborough volunteers: 'I dig and write and dig and try not to worry'; 'I am in a thorough rut working at my history all day and drilling most evenings ... I am entitled to be called a full private & wear our uniform which is calculated to scare a German or anyone else'. His reports on the progress of his history are sometimes full of the excitement of the task -- 'My information is gorgeous. Outside the W.O. no one can possible have such accurate data as I ... I have between ourselves all Haig's diaries, and Smith Dorrien's, several Brigadiers and CO's reports, and am promised all the papers of the 7th Division'; nevertheless he often prompts Innes to seek out particular details -- 'I want the order of the Battle of Ypres advance badly ... make a mental note'. In spite of this stimulus, at times Conan Doyle is simply cast down, sending in one note 'Just a hand grasp in these perilous days. You were always a good old brother', grumbling in another at 'The Rain and the Russians! I don't know which are most damnable', in another struggling for hope -- 'Things look dark for the moment on all sides -- but there is a god'. One of the last letters to Innes encapsulates the openness of the correspondence: their brother-in-law E.W. Hornung had made some remarks to Connie in private about a mood of pacifism in the army, which Conan Doyle has raised as a public issue: he forwards to Innes Hornung's letter protesting at his 'peculiar procedure' in doing this, commenting on the letter as 'rather rotten in tone ... Queer fellow, Willie. It is not the way one friend writes to another, nor do I think he is my friend au fond ...'.
In this way, Conan Doyle's letters to his beloved brother reveal every aspect of his character, from the most personal matters to his greatest public concerns, from the trivia of private life to the triumphs of his literary career. With the exception of his letters to the Mam, CONAN DOYLE'S LETTERS TO INNES ARE PROBABLY THE MOST EXTENSIVE AND REVEALING SERIES TO SURVIVE.