Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sherlock's Motto in "The Creeping Man".

 

"We will go out together and see what we can do" (NORW)
"We can but try - the motto of the firm." (CREE)


Not a bad motto to live by.

Simply, modestly it speaks of everyday perseverance - realism in English words of one syllable.

The identical unassuming tone is sounded at a low moment for Holmes in The Norwood Builder when 'It's... all as wrong as it can go.' And is set against 'Lestrade's little cock-a-doodle of victory.' 

Granada TV give to Watson the line Doyle has Holmes speak in the scene illustrated, in recognition of ''The Firm's" equal partnership. Holmes is lost indeed without his Boswell's moral support.

The motto of the Firm is highlighted by Holmes in CREE at a less dramatic moment. The pair are in Camford improvising an excuse to call on the eccentric Professor Presbury. (The Granada version revises both the opening Sunday scene in Baker St, and that set the following morning at Camford; it omits the motto conversation and presents a more 'liverish' Watson than Doyle's).

Has Watson the 'effrontery', inquires Holmes, to pretend they have a non-existent appointment?

'We can but try' prompts one of those 'I THOUGHT I knew my Watson!' moments we savour.

“Excellent, Watson! Compound of the Busy Bee and Excelsior. We can but try–the motto of the firm."

The good Doctor may not be as 'liverish' in the original but he has certainly been doubly inconvenienced. Holmes called him out (every Sherlockian knows how!) on a Sunday evening when his practice was especially busy and (unlike the rootless Holmes) Watson has  had to make 'frantic plans' to clear the decks on Monday.

Hence, while in Granada's NORW Holmes needs encouragement, here it is Watson's spirit to be raised. 

'Effrontery' is calculated to appeal to his capacity for bare-faced audacity and nerve. The word's Latin origin (effrons) translates literally as 'putting forth one's forehead''Excelsior' is Latin too: 'ever upward'.

I find no adequate explanation on the internet of Holmes's enigmatic, capitalised references to Busy Bee and Excelsior. Some commentators postulate contemporary business names. I initially thought they may refer to early motorbike or car manufacturers (shades of Palmer tyres).

I think rather that we have here an American connection. Moreover, the logic of Holmes's sentences applies the word 'compound' to the 'motto' rather than Bee & Excelsior standing for Holmes and Watson.


New York State's motto is 'Excelsior' and appears on that State's great seal.



Utah is 'The Beehive State' as indicated at the centre of its Coat of Arms.

That lovely State by State series for children 'Discover America' teaches through information presented as alphabetic elements. Each letter is accompanied by a little rhyme. Here is Letter B in the Utah book:
"Busy Bees, that's what we are--
Our symbol is the hive.
From mining to technology,
this helps our state survive."

The sidebar reads:
 "The state insect is the honeybee. On the flag, bees buzz around a yellow hive. An early name for the state was "Deseret," which meant honeybee. Utah's nickname is the "Beehive State." The state motto is "industry" which means hard work. In 1847 Mormon pioneer settled in Salt Lake City in an attempt to find religious freedom. They had to be resourceful and industrious in order to survive in the harsh desert. They grew their own food, produced as much as they could for themselves, and mined the nearby hills. They tried to be self-sufficient and at one point, they even wanted to be a separate country".

We are on familiar Mormon territory with Holmes here. Doyle. too. of course, writing CREE in 1923, has the benefit of several tours of the USA to draw on as well as a lifetime of passion for all matters American.

In the context, the detective's characteristic chemical compounding of two State motto(e)s is designed to dramatise and romanticise the friends' current enterprise and elevate the status of their partnership to a United Firm - a reminder to Watson of what they stand for... with Industry you move Forward. Best foot to the front, Watson!

And, yes, there is something of the Masonic about these references - the beehive is a central symbol there too. That is equally apt. re-inforcing the close bond of two who work for each other to bring home the honey. 
The workers awake...and the game's afoot!