The Lay of the Grasshopper

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
The Lay of the Grasshopper (1883)

The Lay of the Grasshopper is a poem written anonymously by Arthur Conan Doyle in 1883 at Southsea.

At the University of Lausanne is a scrapbook of Conan Doyle's containing a newspaper advertisement for the Gresham Life Insurance Society (a London society but with an agent in Portsmouth, George Barden. According to Jon Lellenberg and Daniel Stashower (A Life in Letters, HarperPress 2007) this advertisement and letters to his mother converge to the conclusion that this poem was written by Conan Doyle, and therefore is its very first publication.

The Lay of the Grasshopper

When pestilence comes from the pest-ridden South,
And no quarter of safety the searcher can find,
When one is afraid e'en to open one's mouth,
For the germs of infection are borne on the wind.
When fruit it is cheap, and when coffins are dear;
Ah then, my dear friends, 'tis a comfort to know
That whatever betide, we have by our side,
A policy good for a thousand or so.

When the winter comes down with its escort of ills,
Lumbago and pleurisy, toothache and cold;
When the Doctor can scarce with his potions and pills
Keep the life in the young, or death from the old;
When rheumatic winds from each cranny and chink
Seize hold of our joints in their fingers of snow;
Still whatever betide, we retain by our side
That policy good for a thousand or so.

When the thunder is loud and the lightning is bright,
When the rash skater fears that the ice means to go;
When the red flag of danger is waved in your sight,
And the railway train rocks and the loud whistles blow,
When the little boat scuds on the wings of the gale,
And the mad waters rage as they wash to and fro;
Ah, those are the days when the careless one prays
For a policy good for a thousand or so.

So heed ye, ye heedless! Bestir ye, ye wise!
Take this warning, or else be for ever to blame;
Hie away to an office — in Poultry it lies,
And the GRESHAM, I trow, is that Office's name—
From that moment, my friends, you may laugh at all fates,
As the shield of Assurance you hold to the foe;
For whatever betide, you will have by your side
A policy good for a thousand or so.