A Poem from 1939

Judith “Cocoa” brought attention to a poem from 1939 that was featured on the Almost Holmes website (and found on this site as well):

‘The stately Holmes of England, how beautiful he stood
Long, long ago in Baker Street–and still in Hollywood
He keeps the ancient flair for clues, the firm incisive chin,
The deerstalker, the dressing-gown, the shag, the violin.

But Watson, Doctor Watson! How altered, how betrayed
The fleet of foot, the warrior once, the faster than Lestrade!
What imbecile production, what madness of the moon
Has screened my glorious Watson as well nigh a buffoon?

Is this the face that went with Holmes on half a hundred trips
Through nights of rain, by gig, by train, are these the eyes, the lips?
These goggling eyes, these stammering lips, can these reveal the mind
How strong to tread where duty led, his practice cast behind?

His not to reason why nor doubt the great detective’s plan–
The butt, maybe, of repartee yet still the perfect man,
Brave as the British lion is brave, brave as the buffalo,
What do they know of England who do not Watson know?

We have not many Sherlocks to sift the right from wrong
When evil stalks amongst us and craft and crime are strong,
Let not the Watsons fail us, the men of bull-dog mould,
Where still beneath the tight frock-coat beats on the heart of gold.

Watson, who dared the Demon Hound nor asked for fame nor fee,
Thou should’st be living at this hour. England hath need of thee!’
Thus did I muse and muse aloud while wondering at the flick
Till people near me turned and said, ‘Shut up, you make us sick!’
E. V. Knox, editor of Punch

Isn’t it curious to think that there was a time, several years ago, where Watson was often portrayed as a buffoon on screen and rarely viewed otherwise? Yet adaptions in the past thirty or so years have often gone in quite the opposite direction by featuring truer qualities that we know from the Canon. Perhaps, from this generation onward, interpretations of Dr Watson will continue to lean towards him being seen as the loyal and heroic companion instead of the convenient comedic foil.

2 Replies to “A Poem from 1939”

  1. 1939 – that must have been E V Knox’s reaction to the 20th Century Fox film of “The Hound of the Baskervilles”. It shows how shocking Nigel Bruce’s portrayal of the good doctor was to those who knew and loved the canon – many of them, at any rate. Mind you, if you’ve seen (as I’m sure you have) the film of Conan Doyle himself, made a year or so before his death in 1930, you may remember that he dismissed Watson as Holmes’s “rather stupid friend”. What a contrast to Hercule Poirot, who recognised that Watson is a magnificent creation!

    As you no doubt know, E V Knox, who wrote for “Punch” under the name of “Evoe”, was a brother of Mgr Ronald A Knox, author of the famous “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes”. For some reason, a third brother, Dilwyn, doesn’t feature in the film “The Imitation Game”, although he was a senior colleague of Alan Turing’s at Bletchley Park…

    1. That is incredibly informative! Thank you so much for sharing that information with us, “Count.” ^_^

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