Tory Historian has been reading the excellent biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle by John Dickson Carr, another famous detective story writer. It brings the old boy to life in a way no subsequent "life" has managed to do though TH has a bone to pick with JDC: The Adventure of the Dancing Men is not one of the best Sherlock Holmes stories but one of the worst. It is completely incredible, very silly and gives no indication as to how Holmes works out the conclusion. Sorry Mr Carr. Completely wrong there.

However, John Dickson Carr shows that, in his own way Conan Doyle was a proto-Anglospherist, something that we know from a story that he does not like for reasons TH fails to understand, The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor.

Conan Doyle spent some time in South Africa during the earlier stages of the Boer War, working in a private hospital, treating soldiers who were suffering from the dreadful emetic fever. On his return, he wrote a history of the war up to 1901 and made some trenchant suggestions as to necessary army reforms. Lord Roberts agreed with him but, as Carr says, none of the "military experts" did. Infantry taking cover? Cavalry abandoning swords and lances in favour of guns? Pshaw. What is this "amateur" trying to achieve? Survival and victory? Eventually, of course, all his suggestions were adopted.

In the 1900 election he fought the Edinburgh Central Division constituency and gathered a very respectable vote, considerably reducing the Radical majority. Among all his many other activities he turned his attention to the subject of Anglo-American relations:
As the year drew to a close, he settled down to write a short essay that is almost startling in its prophecy. Entitled An Anglo-American Reunion, it consisted of a trenchant plea for a much closer understanding between the two nations, and he coupled that plea with the warning that, unless this essential relationship was brought about by good will, then it might be forced into existence in some future time as a measure of self preservation against an eventual threat from Russia. 
This was an interesting take on the subject. This was not the first time Conan Doyle wrote about the closeness between the two countries that was, to him, as real as it was hidden to many on both sides of the Atlantic who looked at immediate developments only. In this 2007 essay on the whole subject of the Anglospere Christopher Hitchens quoted something the great write had said in Detroit in 1895 at the height of anti-British agitation in the United States because of a British-Venezuelan border dispute:
You Americans have lived up to now within your own palings, and know nothing of the real world outside. But now your land is filled up, and you will be compelled to mix more with the other nations. When you do so you will find that there is only one which can at all understand your ways and your aspirations, or will have the least sympathy. That is the mother country which you are now so fond of insulting. She is an Empire, and you will soon be an Empire also, and only then will you understand each other, and you will realize that you have only one real friend in the world.
These words must have seemed very strange at the time; they have been proved correct since many times.


  1. test Says:
  2. I fail to see that the Dancing Men is silly. The pictures are clearly a code - a substitution cipher, a very easy-to-break code, as I guess a Holmes mystery isn't the place for advanced cryptography - and falls easily to frequency analysis, which Holmes explains. Perhaps you might explain what you thought so silly or incredible about it?

  3. A mistake on my part. It wasn't The Dancing Men, which is not silly though falls into the category of having silly women, but The Adventure of the Man with the Twisted Lip. JDC, for some reason, considers it to be one of the best. And it is silly, completely incredible (not that that would bother JDC and we know nothing about Holmes's thought processes. Apologies for my error.

  4. Nice analytical post about Sir Doyle. He is one of the best writers and is my all time favorite :)


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