Sussex Life October 2014 Poetry + solution
PUBLISHED: 15:13 06 October 2014
Solution for the Two Lives poem on page 76 of Sussex Life October 2014
Two lives, one life,
flesh and fable.
The doctor beached,
but patience rewarded.
Into the study, onto the scene,
three weeks of inspiration bred
a place in history,
but taking the mind from better things,
until – the hero fallen –
the writer freed.
Yet a fleeting respite,
fallen but not fallen,
slain but not slain,
the outcry heeded, the hero returns.
The writer rewarded,
for serving his King,
no fictional war.
A change of scene, new wife, new life,
new challenger in a lost world.
New goals, new fields of play.
A guiding light for a guiding light,
not keeping the ball out, not bowling the man out,
but holing the ball out -
a greater fear to lay.
That other hero too, rewarded.
Tea in the cottage on the green,
honey from the bees,
improbable, but true?
Solution - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle | Physician and Writer
Explanation of embedded clues - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930) was born in Edinburgh. He is best known as the creator of the ‘consulting detective’ Sherlock Holmes. Doyle had started writing short stories during his time as a medical student at the University of Edinburgh. It was to be some years though before he could make a living from his writing. He was first employed as a ship’s doctor on a Greenland Whaler Hope of Peterhead, then as ship’s surgeon on SS Mayumba, during a voyage to West Africa. “Beached”, he practised as a Doctor in Plymouth (briefly), in Portsmouth (Southsea) and as an ophthalmologist in London (unsuccessfully). He wrote in his autobiography that not a single patient had crossed his door. Consequently, in 1891, at the age of 32, he decided to abandon his medical career in favour of full-time writing.
Following the death of his first wife, Louise, from tuberculosis, he married his second wife, Jean, with whom he had maintained a platonic relationship for the last ten years of Louise’s ill-health. In a change of scene, they moved to Crowborough, East Sussex, in 1907, where he was to remain for the rest of his life. By then he was an established writer. In fact, by 1920 Doyle was one of the most highly paid writers in the world. His literary legacy not only includes the 56 short stories and 4 novels featuring Sherlock Holmes, but numerous other works – fantasy and science fiction, plays, romances, poetry, non-fiction, and historical novels.
Since University, Doyle had been writing a series of short stories and novels but struggled to get published. Finally, following just three weeks of concentrated writing, “patience (was) rewarded”. Sherlock Holmes (and Dr. Watson) first appeared in ‘A Study in Scarlet’ in Beeton’s Christmas Annual of 1887. In the poem, the other “life”, the “fable”, had appeared in “the study”, taking his “place in history”. A series of sequels soon followed published as ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ in the Strand Magazine. In 1891 though, in one of his regular letters to his mother, (also a master storyteller), Doyle wrote “I think of slaying Holmes ... and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things.” In particular, the “better things” were historical novels, he wanted to be known as a “serious” author. His mother replied “You won’t! You can’t! You mustn’t!”. This only gained a stay of execution however. Two years later, in ‘The Final Problem’, Holmes and his adversary, Professor Moriarty, apparently plunged to their deaths together down the Reichenbach Falls (Switzerland).
However, this was to be a “fleeting respite”. The death of Holmes sparked a public outcry. Twenty thousand readers of the Strand Magazine cancelled their subscriptions. Doyle heeded the outcry. In 1901, Holmes was brought back in ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’, set before the Reichenbach incident. Then, two years later, after a ten year gap, ‘The Return of Sherlock Holmes’ signalled his reappearance in the Strand Magazine, again in short stories. The first of these ‘The Adventure of the Empty House’ explained that only Moriarty had fallen. Holmes had faked his death to fool his other enemies.
“The writer rewarded” refers to Doyle’s Knighthood, granted by King Edward VII in 1902. Following service as a volunteer doctor in a field hospital in the Boer War, Doyle had written a short work justifying the UK’s role in the conflict. Although he believed this was the reason for his Honour, it was also well known that the King was a great Sherlock Holmes fan and would have been delighted at his reappearance!
The “change of scene, new wife, new life”, upon his move to Crowborough, also saw the creation of a second popular fictional character. The 1912 novel ‘The Lost World’ introduced Professor George Edward Challenger. A gift for film-makers, film versions have been produced in 1925, 1960, 1992 and 1998.
“New goals, new fields of play” refer to another, lesser known, talent of Doyle. Since his school days at Stoneyhurst College he had been an all-round sportsman. While in Southsea he had been goalkeeper for Portsmouth AFC (an amateur side) under the pseudonym A.C. Smith. Upon moving to London, between 1899 and 1907 he played ten first class matches for the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club), upon one occasion taking the wicket of W.G. Grace. Now in Sussex and living at Windlesham, near Crowborough Beacon Golf Club, he honed his passion for golf, becoming Club Captain in 1910 – “A guiding light for a guiding light”. One of his golfing companions there was Rudyard Kipling who also lived nearby, and whom he had infected with the golfing bug when he visited Kipling’s house in Vermont. He took his clubs, gave Kipling a lesson, and passed on the affliction.
The final verse returns to “that other hero”, Sherlock Holmes, in his retirement, to “a small farm on the Sussex Downs, five miles from Eastbourne” (Preface to ‘His Last Bow’, 1917). In the village of East Dean, identified by several Sherlock Holmes fans as the likely location, there is an old flint cottage on The Green, opposite the popular Tiger Inn, with a ‘Blue Plaque’. The inscription reads “SHERLOCK HOLMES Consulting Detective & Bee Keeper retired here 1903 – 1917”. There are also memorial statues of Holmes in Edinburgh, Baker Street (London) and even in the UK embassy in Moscow, installed following a Soviet TV series. Like Doyle, the fictional Holmes was also “rewarded”. In 2002, the royal Society of Chemistry bestowed an honorary fellowship upon him for his use of forensic science and analytical chemistry in popular literature. No wonder that in a survey or 1000 Britons by the search engine Ask Jeeves, 21% of respondents believed that Sherlock Holmes really existed. After all as Holmes would have said, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”!
Acknowledgement of sources:
Relevant websites found by searches for ‘Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’, ‘Sherlock Holmes’, ‘Sherlock Holmes blue plaque in East Dean’.
www.sherlockholmesonline.org (The Official Web Site of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Literary Estate).