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Friday, August 12, 2011

It is Always 1895

Perhaps the most famous of all Sherlockian poems is the sonnet 221B by Vincent Starrett. I like the second stanza so much that it appears permanently on the right side of this blog.

The first eight lines go this way:

Here dwell together still two men of note
Who never lived and so can never die:
How very near they seem, yet how remote
That age before the world went all awry.
But still the game’s afoot for those with ears
Attuned to catch the distant view-halloo:
England is England yet, for all our fears–
Only those things the heart believes are true.

There is much to like there, but for my taste the first two lines seem very strained, as if the author were reaching too far for a rhyme.

I prefer the end of the same author's classic essay "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes," later incorporated into the book of the same name, which conveys much the same mood as the poem. Here's the final paragraph:

But there can be no grave for Sherlock Holmes or Doctor Watson . . . Shall they not always live in Baker Street? Are they not there as one writes? . . . Outside the hansoms rattle through the rain, and Moriarty plans his latest deviltry. Within, the sea coal flames upon the hearth and Holmes and Watson take their well-won ease . . . So they still live for all that love them well: in a romantic chamber of the heart, in a nostalgic country of the mind, where it is always 1895.

The phrase "it is always 1895" is a familiar one for Sherlockians, but even some who recognize Vincent Starrett as its originator may have forgotten that he used it twice.

What is your favorite poem or poetic writing about Sherlock Holmes?


  1. I've always been rather partial to the prose version of Always1895 from 'The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes' (p. 93 Penzler edition).

    To end with: "in a romantic chamber of the heart, in a nostalgic country of the mind, where it is always 1895" seems somehow more powerful to me than the more hyperbolic "Here, though the world explode, these two survive, and it is always eighteen ninety-five."

    Obviously I love the phrase enough to name my blog www.always1895.net in remembrance of both Starrett (we're also both from Chicago) and the ethos embodied in said phrase.

    I have a half written, kind of sardonic, post that will get finished eventually which looks at a point made by Michael Harrison that, in terms of important cases, etc, 1895 is a lot less important than other years (e.g. 1888, 1891, etc). Though Harrison is probably correct in some sense, there's still something special about "eighteen ninety-five" as expressed by V.S. that trumps all other years.

    Anyway, thanks for the thought provoking post!!

  2. Thanks, Matt. I've always assumed that 1895 was a symbolic year, not one mentioned for particular significance but Harrison's point is interesting. I have now added your very interesting blog to my blog roll.