Dr. Conan Doyle. Mortimer Menpes. 1901. Watercolor. Source: War Impressions, facing 152. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Menpes’s Reminiscences of Arthur Conan Doyle

There was also Dr. Conan Doyle, whose splendid work at Langman's Hospital, Bloemfontein, will live for ever in the minds of hundreds of men. We talked of Sherlock Holmes, which I was amazed to hear Dr. Doyle declare to be not a good work. "Why, Sherlock Holmes was merely a mechanical creature," he exclaimed, "not a man of flesh and blood, and easy to create because he was soulless. One story by Edgar Allan Poe would be worth a dozen such." Curiously enough, in real life the Doctor has no capacity for detecting anything, and he was quite amazed at my "cuteness" in discovering a missing dot on a V.R.I, stamp. He told me that the detective story he liked best was the one about the serpent ; he could not for the life of him remember its title. He has no faith whatever in the professional critic. He prefers the child's views, fresh and sincere. "I want the boy critic," he exclaimed, "the boy who will chuck a book down and call it “rot,” or will read it through twice and call it “ripping,” that's the person I want to criticise my work. And do you know," he added, " the book that appealed to me the most as a boy of fifteen was The Cloister and the Hearth ; yet, curiously enough, it is the book that I enjoy the most to-day." In talking of books, plots, and critics, Dr. Doyle mentioned casually that he always fixes the end of his story before he begins to write, and he gave a very clever little illustration of the advisability of this course. Suppose you know that a pin lies in a Japanese vase on the top of a shelf. You can weave an amazingly exciting story round the finding of that pin, and would brave anything to find it ; but if you don't know that it is there, all brigandeering is gone, and you find yourself running into pillar-boxes and all sorts of quaint obstructions. Dr. Conan Doyle is tall, with a heavy figure, fair, looking more like a typical country squire than a man of letters. He talks slowly and deliberately ; but on the whole he is cleverer as a listener than as a talker. I should gather from what I saw of him that he is a man who would be always misplacing things through want of method. For example, I have seen him put a letter carefully into his breast pocket, and two minutes later search diligently for it in another. But the thing that strikes you most forcibly when first meeting Dr. Doyle is the big heart of the man. [122-23]

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Menpes, Mortime. War Impressions Being A Record in Colour. London: Adam & Charles Black, 1901. Internet Archive version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 13 December 2014.

Last modified 15 December 2014