Making Modernism

Arthur Conan Doyle to Herbert Stone, 1897

Arthur Conan Doyle had visited Chicago during his 1894 lecture tour of the United States and Canada.  In this letter to Herbert S. Stone, cofounder of the influential publishing house Stone & Kimball, Doyle indicates that he had met and befriended some of the city’s leading intellectuals and artists.  He specifically names Franklin Head, a banker and patron of the arts; Herbert’s father Melville, founder of the Chicago Daily News and general manager of the Associated Press; Eugene Field, a popular journalist and poet; and Isaac E. Scott, a noted furniture designer.

Perhaps the most striking feature of Doyle’s letter, however, is the whimsical cartoon that Doyle has drawn in the margins.  Stick figures representing the two men convey a sense of Doyle’s playfulness as well as his fondness for Stone.  Doyle seems to suggest that, despite the great distance separating them, such modern technologies as steamships and the transatlantic cable continued to connect them.  Thus in addition to underscoring Chicago’s status as an important destination for foreign authors and artists when they toured the United States, Doyle’s letter also reveals the growing perception that new technologies were making international travel and communication much easier.

Notably, Doyle’s drawing omits any reference to New York, implying a direct connection between Britain and Chicago instead.  Stone certainly would have appreciated this gesture on Doyle’s part because Stone and many of the authors he published viewed Stone’s publishing house—and Chicago’s cultural scene more generally—as an important alternative to the literary establishment in New York and Boston.  While Doyle does not appear to have published anything with Stone—though other British authors, such as H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw, did—Doyle’s characterization of Stone’s books as “charming” can be viewed as an affirmation of Stone’s efforts to challenge the status quo.

-Nathaniel Cadle, Florida International University

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