Conan Doyle papers 'to fetch 2m'

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

About 80% of Conan Doyle's lost papers have never been published

A lost collection of personal papers belonging to Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have been found.

The papers and other artefacts include a sketch for the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes in the novel A Study in Scarlet.

The papers - found in a London legal firm's offices - went missing 40 years ago during a dispute over his estate.

The collection, valued at about 2m, will go on display at Christie's auction house in May before being sold.

The collection of 3,000 items also includes personal letters, notes and hand-written manuscripts - 80% of which have never been published.

Opening the dozen or so large cardboard boxes, which had housed the archive since the 1960s, was a spine-tingling moment that I will never forget

Tom Lamb, Christie's

It also includes personal effects taken from Conan Doyle's writing desk after his death in 1930.

The sketch of Sherlock Holmes in the novel A Study in Scarlet, with the original title A Tangled Skein crossed through, is expected to fetch up to 150,000.

The collection will go on display at Christie's on 14 May, before being auctioned five days later.

Jane Flower, Christie's manuscript consultant, said the papers were first referred to in a biography of Conan Doyle by John Dickson Carr in 1949.

President's letter

She said: "The whereabouts of this material was previously unknown and it is for this reason that no modern day biography of the author exists.

"Scholars and admirers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have long been tantalised by the list of the writer's personal papers published in the authorised biography by John Dickson Carr."

Tom Lamb, the head of Christie's books and manuscripts department, added: "Opening the dozen or so large cardboard boxes, which had housed the archive since the 1960s, was a spine-tingling moment that I will never forget."

The collection also includes letters from his brother and sister, and others received from public figures, including Winston Churchill, Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, PG Wodehouse and the US president Theodore Roosevelt.

 

Conan Doyle sale disputed -21/3/04


TORONTO -- The British Library is urging a halt to the planned sale of 3,000 personal papers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in May by auction house Christie's in London, England, until a dispute over the papers' true owners -- one of whom may be the Toronto Public Library -- has been resolved. The papers, mostly unpublished, include research for Conan Doyle's books, diaries and letters between him and Rudyard Kipling, Winston Churchill and Oscar Wilde.

The British Library says some of these papers belong to it, since Conan Doyle's daughter, Jean Conan Doyle, left some materials to the library when she died in 1997.

The Toronto Public Library is concerned that the Christie's material, expected to fetch $4.8 million Cdn, might include part of a legacy to it from Conan Doyle's daughter-in-law, Anna Conan Doyle. She left five items to the Toronto library, which has the largest publicly accessible collection of Conan Doyle items in the world.

Since Anna's death in 1991, they have received one of the promised pieces: Angels of Darkness, an unpublished play by Conan Doyle. Among the other four items they are awaiting are the preliminary notes for A Study in Scarlet, the first Sherlock Holmes mystery.

The Conan Doyle ephemera up for sale by Christie's reportedly includes an early sketch of the deerstalker-capped detective in A Study in Scarlet that has an estimated value of $365,000 Cdn.

Determining ownership may be hard. Some of the material has been kept hidden for decades, due to squabbles and litigation over the estate after Conan Doyle died in 1930.

Suzanna Birchwood of the Toronto Public Library said: "Our first step is to figure out if any of the items that were bequeathed to us are, in fact, among the items at auction."

Doug Wrigglesworth, head of the Friends of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, is fairly sure the items claimed by the Toronto library are not among the papers at Christie's.

"The four items of ours are sitting in a lawyer's filing cabinet in Geneva, where they have been since Anna died, and we've been trying to get the estate to let us have them," he said.

The Christie's material includes correspondence relating to Conan Doyle's involvement in numerous court cases in which he believed miscarriages of justice had occurred. In one, his work led to the overturning of the conviction of a young lawyer for mutilating horses.

More personal items include the brass nameplate he hung outside his fledgling medical practice in Southsea, southern England, in 1882.

Also offered are his log books from the Hope, a Scottish whaling ship, on which he served as doctor shortly after graduating from medical school in 1880.

"It is a very vivid document, showing his relationship with the tight-knit Scottish whalers and life on board ship," said Jane Flower, a manuscript consultant at Christie's.

Other personal mementoes include his wallet, passport and the gold medal he had struck for his wife shortly before his death, engraved "To the best of nurses."


Copyright The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

 

The Sunday Times
March 14, 2004


Conan Doyle’s secret plan for troops in armour

 

A CAMPAIGN by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, to have British soldiers in the first world war issued with body armour has been revealed in a long-unseen collection of his papers that has turned up on the London auction market.

Inspired by his own medieval tales, Conan Doyle, who had been a medic in the Boer war, believed armour would reduce the slaughter on the western front. He sent letters on the subject to David Lloyd George, the prime minister, and Sir Douglas Haig, the commander-in-chief.

 

The 3,000 items in the archive, to be sold by Christie’s in May, include written exchanges between Conan Doyle and his family and notebooks for many of his works. One is a sketch for A Study in Scarlet, the first Holmes story, which is expected to fetch between 100,000 and 150,000.

There are also letters from famous figures such as Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde, Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. The collection is valued at about 2m.

Jane Flower, manuscripts consultant at Christie’s, said it was the best archive she had seen at auction in 30 years. But the collection, which is being sold by distant relatives of the author, is likely to be broken up, with much of it going abroad.

“It’s not feasible to keep it together. There just isn’t the money in this country,” said Flower, adding that the auction house and the vendors had approached the British Library before proceeding with the sale.

The papers, collected from the author’s study when he died in 1930, have lain for decades in the strongroom of a London solicitor awaiting the resolution of legal disputes over Conan Doyle’s legacy.

Although Conan Doyle’s body armour campaign failed, the papers show the various causes he pursued. They ranged from campaigns on behalf of prisoners sentenced to death to reform of the divorce laws, opposition to the Belgian regime in the Congo and the promotion of spiritualism, on which he spent much of the fortune he earned from Holmes.

The existence of some of the items has long been known but their whereabouts have been a mystery. These include a letter from Wilde congratulating Conan Doyle on his prose and thanking him for his own note in praise of Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.

“So that’s turned up at last,” said Owen Dudley Edwards, reader in history at Edinburgh University and author of books on both writers. “The friendship with Wilde was a very important one, he was certainly an influence on the continuation of the Holmes stories.”

The Sunday Times Magazine
March 14, 2004


Conan the librarian

For 70 years, the location of Arthur Conan Doyle's archive has been a mystery worthy of his most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes. Now, as the case is solved, Philip Norman unwraps the literary treasures

The great popular writers of the 18th and early 19th century enjoyed a status that even today's most prize-garlanded novelist or biographer cannot imagine. The likes of Kipling, G K Chesterton and H G Wells were figures of huge social as well as literary influence; sages and oracles to whom their countless readers instinctively turned for a moral view of the world, a perspective on the past or prophecies of the future. Among these prime ministers of prose, none was more universally venerated than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Conan Doyle has won immortality as creator of Sherlock Holmes, "the world's most famous man who never was", in Orson Welles's phrase. But the Holmes oeuvre represents only a fragment of an enormous output and a hugely varied, richly fulfilled life. He wrote numerous other novels and stories featuring serial heroes like the swaggering Napoleonic cavalryman Brigadier Gerard, the deceptively puny knight-at-arms Sir Nigel Loring, and the ferocious Professor Challenger, who discovered a lost world of dinosaurs and pterodactyls three generations ahead of Spielberg.

A qualified surgeon and eye specialist, he took a mobile hospital to the Boer war, wrote plays for Sir Henry Irving, stood twice, unsuccessfully, for parliament, was a historian, star lecturer and foreign correspondent, played cricket for the MCC, championed causes ranging from divorce-law reform to the Channel tunnel and, on occasion, became a consulting detective and righter of wrongs just like his greatest fictional creation. He devoted decades and a good part of his colossal earnings to the spiritualist movement, and was famously tricked by two mischievous young girls into believing in fairies.

The personal papers and memorabilia of Conan Doyle's great contemporaries have long since been laid out under glass at the British Museum or filed in the air-conditioned vaults of American universities. Yet, ironically, the writer who brings millions of pilgrims to London each year in search of Sherlock Holmes, Dr Watson and Professor Moriarty — and who has outsold J K Rowling and J R R Tolkien put together — can be studied in only the most fragmentary detail. Since Conan Doyle's death in 1930, aged 70, the whereabouts of his private archive has been a mystery as tantalising as any ever unfolded at 221B Baker Street.

The entire cache has now come to light and is to be auctioned on May 19 at Christie's for an estimated 2m. It is essentially the contents of Conan Doyle's study at his home near Crowborough, Sussex, on the day he wrote his last, immaculate pen-and-ink page. Its treasures range from diaries, research notes and correspondence with world figures, such as the US president Theodore Roosevelt, British leaders such as Lloyd George and Churchill, and the cricketer W G Grace, to intimate possessions such as his cash-book, wallet, and driving licence. Jane Flower, Christie's manuscripts consultant, calls it the most exciting find she has seen in 25 years.

The story behind its final emergence into the saleroom is a highly involved one, saying much about the shadow that even the most benign great men can cast on their descendants. By his second wife, Jean Leckie, Conan Doyle had two sons, Adrian and Denis, and a daughter, Jean. Adrian, the only one to try literature, later produced some Sherlock Holmes stories in passable imitation of his father. Denis married a spendthrift Georgian aristocrat named Princess Mdivani, who ended her days a resident in luxury hotels like the Savoy. Jean became an air commandant in the Women's Royal Air Force, and a dame. I met her once, and she told how, when she was small, her father would let her sit in his study while he wrote, so long as she never made a noise. She recalled the sound of his pen nib racing across the page with scarcely a pause for thought or correction.

Despite the royalties flooding in from Sherlock Holmes reprints, dramatisations and films, the family sold most of the story manuscripts to private collectors in the US. The archive stayed with Lady Conan Doyle, who devoted herself to the old-fashioned widowly task of putting her husband's papers "in order". After her death in the 1940s it passed to Adrian, who later moved to Switzerland. In 1949 he authorised a biography of his father by the mystery writer John Dickson Carr, the first outsider to gain access to the archive. Although bland and hagiographic, the book sparked a public row between Adrian and Mary, Conan Doyle's daughter by his first wife, who bitterly objected to its portrayal of her mother. More intriguing to Conan Doyle addicts was its appendix of archive papers that Dickson Carr had access to but barely made use of.

After the death of Adrian's widow, Anna, in 1992, and of his sister, Dame Jean Conan Doyle, in 1997, a dispute within the surviving family maintained the veil of secrecy about the archive, by now stored in the strongroom of a London solicitor's. Only with the settlement of this dispute could its existence be made public.

The papers were mostly kept in large manila envelopes annotated by Lady Conan Doyle, who invariably referred to her husband as "My Darling". In later years, Adrian added notes in a similarly reverential vein. There is a palpable effort by mother and son to present Conan Doyle as a paragon of all virtues, though, as Flower agrees, this hardly seems necessary. The big Scots medic with his walrus moustache, wherever one looks, seems to have been a lovely man. He was devoted to his first wife, Louise — "Touie" — who bore him two children and spent years stricken with tuberculosis. Though he fell for the beautiful Jean Leckie in Touie's declining years, he refused to go beyond friendship with her until he became a widower. The dominant female influence in his life was his mother, Mary Doyle, always referred to, half-adoringly, half-warily, as "the Ma'am".

From one contemporary source at least, we learn that he spoke in much the same highly charged dialogue he wrote for Sherlock Holmes.

P G Wodehouse recalled Conan Doyle talking about an American "writers' school" he'd found to be using his name without authorisation to recruit customers. "What most people at this point would have said would have been 'Hullo, this looks fishy,'" Wodehouse wrote. "The way [Conan Doyle] put it when telling the story was, 'I said to myself, Ha! There is villainy afoot!'"

The archive contains mementoes from every era of his unstoppably vigorous threescore years and ten. A leather folder preserves fragments of the first story Conan Doyle ever wrote, aged six — a characteristically all-action tale of hunters and tigers. Here are the illustrated logs he kept as a surgeon on the whaling ship Hope. (The nephew of the Punch artist "Dicky" Doyle, he was an accomplished draughtsman.) Here is the brass plate that hung outside his medical practice in Southsea, when he first began writing between consultations, and the Red Cross armband he wore as a volunteer in the Boer war. Here are his notes and drawings on heraldry for the medieval novels Sir Nigel and The White Company, which he himself thought — with good reason — were his greatest achievement as a storyteller. Here is his correspondence with his agent, A P Watt, in years when queues would form at bookstalls to devour the latest Holmes story in The Strand Magazine. As Flower has noted, sifting through the meticulously kept account books and royalty records, he could be "rather beady" about money.

The autograph letters from fellow literary giants are enough to make any collector salivate. Here is one from Kipling, saying he read Rodney Stone "in one gulp" and still wants more. Here is one from H G Wells, commiserating over hostile reviews of A Duet, an atypical Conan Doyle novel about young married love that some denounced as "immoral". Here is an adulatory note from Oscar Wilde, who is almost wistful in praising the "simplicity and strength" of Conan Doyle's prose and regretting the "mist of words" in his own work that makes him always "throw probability out of the window for the sake of a phrase".

Here are the letters of his father, Charles, a figure as tragically mysterious as any at the heart of a Holmes investigation. Charles was an artist of erratic brilliance, whose alcoholism and mental instability cast a pall of insecurity on his son's early life. In 1889 he was committed to an institution, which the family did its utmost to cover up. He died in 1893, the same year his son tried to kill off Holmes by plunging him into the Reichenbach Falls locked in combat with Professor Moriarty (though public demand and the huge fees offered by magazines brought him back a decade later).

It's perhaps too much to speculate what part filial guilt may have played in Conan Doyle's impulse to destroy his money-spinning creation. Certainly, he had first-hand knowledge of addiction when he gave Holmes a dependency on cocaine. And the theme of a prisoner with an anguished secret recurs in Holmes adventures like The Blanched Soldier and The Yellow Face.

Conan Doyle's reputation as a sage reached its height in the 1914-18 war, of which he later wrote a bestselling history. Years earlier he had predicted the crucial role of submarine warfare — unhappily, to deaf ears at the Admiralty. In an eerie echo of modern times, he also campaigned for troops at the front to be supplied with proper body armour, as he did for sailors in the Royal Navy to have life jackets.

The archive includes letters from many serving officers, among them Sir Douglas Haig, the British commander-in-chief, to whom Conan Doyle unsuccessfully gave his designs for a bulletproof vest. The device would doubtless have saved many lives, though not, alas, those of the two war casualties in his own family. One brown envelope is poignantly inscribed with a cross and the names of his eldest son, Kingsley (by his marriage to Touie), and his brigadier-general brother, Innes, both of whom died from influenza while debilitated by wounds sustained in action.

He mingled with the mightiest, but as the archive shows, a large part of his correspondence was with ordinary people writing to him for advice on almost any subject under the sun. His public expected him to be a real-life Holmes, and he did not disappoint them.

At times the problem would be exactly the kind of oddball mystery that Holmes relishes most. In 1909, for example, a woman named June Carver entreated his help in tracing a young Dane who had wooed and proposed to her, then disappeared. It was almost an exact reprise of A Case of Identity, written in the 1890s. Conan Doyle spent months tracking down the Dane, establishing him to be almost as dodgy as Hosmer Angel, the missing man in his story. "A case of Sherlock Holmes work on My Darling's part," wrote Lady Conan Doyle.

Two cases found him pitted against the police and the Establishment as fearlessly as Holmes ever was. In 1907 he cleared the name of George Edalji, a young Parsee lawyer who had received a seven-year prison sentence after being convicted of mutilating farm animals. Disgusted by the undercurrent of racism in Edalji's treatment, Conan Doyle visited the scene, doubtless accompanied by his assistant, Major Wood, the real-life Dr Watson. The clincher was his diagnosis of Edalji's astigmatic myopia, which made it impossible for the man to have attacked cattle and horses at dead of night as alleged. The gaps in the legal system exposed by Conan Doyle led directly to the institution of the Court of Criminal Appeal.

His longest crusade, stretching over 17 years, was on behalf of a man named Oscar Slater who was sentenced to death, later commuted to life imprisonment with hard labour, for the murder of a Glasgow woman on the flimsiest evidence in 1908. The archive includes a note from Slater to an about-to-be-released fellow convict urging him to "get in touch with Conan Doyle", which the recipient smuggled out under his dentures. Largely through Conan Doyle's persistent campaigning, Slater was exonerated of the murder and released in 1927. "Sir Conan Doyle," the freed man wrote to his champion as if at the conclusion of yet another Holmes story, "You breaker of my shackles, you lover of truth for justice sake, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the goodness you have shown towards me."

Strangely, however, Conan Doyle received no further public recognition after his knighthood in 1902, conferred for his services in South Africa. Flower suspects part of the reason may have been his increasing involvement with spiritualism, which in the 19th century had been respectable, even chic, but by the time of the great war was looking embarrassingly suburban. Conan Doyle is believed to have spent some 250,000 — several million today — in advancing its cause. The archive contains certificates he received from spiritualist groups to whom he lectured in Australasia and the US, as well as notes on seances, mediums and spirit manifestations. Tucked into his wallet is the description of a psychic message that impressed him, a picture of his lost son, Kingsley, and a jotted note about the "feeling of calm and restful happiness" with which he contemplates death.

The material has two notable absences. There is almost no Sherlock Holmes material, like the page on which Conan Doyle toyed with the notion of making Holmes's first name "Sherringford". And — possibly thanks to wifely tact — Flower has found no mention of the famous kerfuffle in 1917 when 10-year-old Frances Griffiths and 16-year-old Elsie Wright produced photographs they claimed to have taken of fairies dancing in a dell at Cottingley, Yorkshire. Today, they seem the most obvious schoolgirl hoax (as Frances would admit they were, 60 years later). Yet in The Strand Magazine for December 1920, Conan Doyle conceded "a prima-facie case" for their being genuine, and looked forward to further contacts with denizens of the fairy world. "The thought of them... will add a charm to every brook and valley and give romantic interest to every country walk," the big softie wrote. "We seem to be on the edge of a new continent, separated not by oceans but by subtle and surmountable psychic conditions."

Why sell off such an archive to individuals rather than in its entirety to an institution such as the British Library, where it might nurture the definitive biography of Conan Doyle, which has still not been written? While regretting the break-up of such a treasure, Flower says it couldn't have divided equitably between the remaining family members, nor sold outright as a piece of heritage. Libraries or museums might bid for the papers but would be less ready to acquire "trophy items" like the doctor's plate. The letters of his father, however, and other senior family members are not included in the sale, and may be offered to some national institution in the future.

Perhaps the most touching of the brown envelopes are those in which Lady Conan Doyle kept the early snowdrops her husband picked for her each spring on the anniversary of their first meeting. There is also the gold medallion he had specially made for her just before his death, inscribed "to the best of nurses", and the card that informed his public that ill health meant he could no longer take up the cudgels on their behalf. The motto he kept on his study wall sums up his life and is good enough advice to any writer: "Don't tell me of luck, for it's judgement and pluck/And a course that will never shirk/To give your mind to it, and know how to do it/And put all your heart in your work."