The Created Is Not the Creator

The Created Is Not the Creator

We all experience criticism from time to time and it is often delivered in a form that is neither enjoyable nor helpful. Wouldn’t it be pleasant to be able to make a riposte in verse such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s to one of these critics?

Poem 161. To an Undiscerning Critic

“Have you not learned, my esteemed commentator, that the created is not the creator?”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859—1930)
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 is it not on the verge of inanity
To put down to me my creation’s crude vanity?
He, the created, the puppet of fiction,
Would not brook rivals nor stand contradiction,
He, the created, would scoff and would sneer,
Where I, the Creator, would bow and revere.
So please grasp this fact with your cerebral tentacle,
The doll and its maker are never identical.

This is an entertaining reproof delivered by the creator of Sherlock Holmes to the critic Arthur Guiterman who had himself written a poem complaining about Holmes’s cavalier disregard for the methods of other well-known fictional detectives.

Conan Doyle reminds his critic that while Doyle himself had often praised Poe’s detective stories and freely acknowledged his debt to Dupin, his creation Sherlock Holmes is an egoist who will never admit that any other detective’s methods could approach the pitch to which he has brought the profession.

I like the rhymes Conan Doyle constructed here and I’m particularly delighted by:

And have admitted that in my detective work,
I owe to my model a deal of selective work.

I think the last couplet states the case in the bluntest possible way: having accused Guiterman of conflating him and his character and attributing Holmes’s beliefs and attitudes to him, Doyle finishes with a triumphant metaphor that reminds us of the essential difference between creator and creation.

The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia website helped me to identify the critic involved as Arthur Guiterman and includes his poem which is worth reading in itself—when I first read Conan Doyle’s poem, I didn’t have this context and I had assumed that the critic in question had been particularly excoriating but Guiterman’s verse is quite light and praises Conan Doyle quite fulsomely though he does give a sly dig at Conan Doyle’s defence of the Jameson Raid before raising the subject of Holmes’s mockery of his fictional rivals. I feel that criticism that ends with the following lines can’t be viewed as particularly vicious:

Frankly, Sir Conan, some hours I’ve eased with you
And, on the whole, I am pretty well pleased with you.

Arthur Guiterman