Monday 19 August 2013

Favourite snatches (11)

Here's a tetchy response by - guess who? -  to Arthur Guitermann's poem To Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in which the writer accused the creator of Sherlock Holmes of stealing his ideas from Edgar Allen Poe. Poe's ratiocinative Monsieur Dupin (the first private detective in fiction) first appeared in The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841), forty-six years before Holmes made his debut, and it's true that Holmes's line of reasoning has something in common with Dupin's.

 The final couplet should be memorised by all literary biographers.

To an Undiscerning Critic

Sure there are times when one cries with acidity,
'Where are the limits of human stupidity?'
Here is a critic who says as a platitude
That I am guilty because 'in ingratitude
Sherlock, the sleuth-hound, with motives ulterior,
Sneers at Poe's Dupin as very "inferior".'
Have you not learned, my esteemed commentator,
That the created is not the creator?
As the creator I've praised to satiety
Poe's Monsieur Dupin, his skill and variety,
And have admitted that in my detective work
I owe to my model a deal of selective work.
But it is not on the verge of inanity
To put down to me my creation's crude vanity?
He, the created, would scoff and would sneer,
Where I, the creator, would bow and revere.
So please grip this fact with your cerebral tentacle:
The doll and its maker are never identical.

It was of course written by Conan Doyle himself. Scroll down for another snatch . . .

Still here? Then while we're at it here's a favourite snatch from the Holmes stories. It's from A Study in Scarlet - the list made by Dr. Watson who is aghast to discover that his new flat-mate doesn't know that the earth revolves around the sun, as is quite unconcerned about such ignorance. The mind, he says, has a finite capacity for information storage, and so learning useless things would merely reduce his ability to learn useful things. 

Watson, unaware of his friend's profession, rather peevishly lists Holmes' abilities in an attempt to guess what he does for a living:

Knowledge of Literature – nil.

Knowledge of Philosophy – nil.

Knowledge of Astronomy – nil.

Knowledge of Politics – Feeble.

Knowledge of Botany – Variable. Well up in belladonna, opium and poisons generally. Knows nothing of practical gardening.

Knowledge of Geology – Practical, but limited. Tells at a glance different soils from each other. After walks, has shown me splashes upon his trousers, and told me by their colour and consistence in what part of London he had received them.

Knowledge of Chemistry – Profound.

Knowledge of Anatomy – Accurate, but unsystematic.

Knowledge of Sensational Literature – Immense. He appears to know every detail of every horror perpetrated in the century.

Plays the violin well.

Is an expert singlestick player, boxer and swordsman.

Has a good practical knowledge of British law.

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