Wednesday, April 5, 2017

"The Process of Drawing Deductions from Established Facts Was As Old As the Sun, and the Application of the Principle to Literature Had Fascinated Writers from the Earliest Ages"

"Forerunners of Sherlock Holmes."
By Anonymous.
First appearance: The Strand Magazine, August 1906.
Article (7 pages, with 5 illos).
Online at (HERE) and at The Bookshelf (reprint HERE, with 1 illo).
(Note: SPOILERS for several classic mysteries, including "The Purloined Letter" and "File No. 113.")
"Brilliant creation as he was, however, Sherlock Holmes stands forth as another example of the famous dictum, 'There is nothing new under the sun'."
. . . and to prove how Holmes and his methods are nothing new, our author adduces several examples of Sherlockian-style deduction from literature of centuries past:

  ~ The story of the dervish and the missing camel
  ~ The episode of the Queen's pet dog and the King's most beautiful horse
  ~ The missing letter hidden in plain sight
  ~ The mysteries of the incriminating scratch on the safe and a pasted-up letter, elucidated by the detective who "introduced that hostility to the deductive philosophy which has always been characteristic of detective stories"
  ~ and finally a missing gemstone and the search for a paint-smeared petticoat.

You might agree with the author's final thoughts:

  "Not very long ago a writer in one of the weekly papers declared that the detective in literature is passing to decay. It may be doubted, however, whether, so long as deduction exercises its fascination, he will ever disappear from the pages of fiction. The processes on which he works are, as we have seen, of the most remote antiquity, and they have not lost their fascination yet."
- The episode of the dog and the horse comes from Voltaire's Zadig; go (HERE) for the full chapter; Ellery Queen believed that a "mighty blow, paving the way for modern ratiocination, was struck by Voltaire in Chap. III of his Zadig; or, The Book of Fate . . ."
- In "The Incunabular Period" chapter in Queen's Quorum (1951) (excerpts HERE), EQ briefly alludes to the story of the dervish and the camel:

  "The detective-crime story, however, was still a delicate plant: it sprouted feebly — but it 
did not die. In medieval literature we pick up the scarlet thread in tales from the Gesta Romanorum, first translated into English in the Fifteen Century; in selections from Juan Manuel's El Conde Lucanor, about the wisdom of Don Patronio; in Boccaccio's Decameron and in MUIN-AL-DIN JUVAINI'S PERSIAN CLASSIC, NIGARISTAN . . ."
- You can find a related article in The Literary Digest, August 29, 1908 (HERE), from which we quote:

  "The figure of Joseph Bell was very clear in Conan Doyle's mind, Mr. Maurice continues, when he sat down to write 'A Study in Scarlet.' A part was also played by the American premier in detective fiction . . .

  "He had been reading Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Purloined Letter' and 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue,' the tales which introduce M. Dupin, and had formed some very definite ideas of his own about the detective in fiction.

  "'In a work which consists in the drawing of detectives,' he once wrote, 'there are only one or two qualities which one can use, and an author is forced to hark back upon them constant-ly, so that every detective must really resemble every other detective to a greater or less extent. There is no great originality required in devising or constructing such a man, and the only possible originality which one can get into a story about a detective is in giving him original plots and problems to solve, as in his equipment there must be an alert acuteness of mind to grasp facts, and the relation which each of them bears to the other.'

  "After thinking over his detective for some time Dr. Doyle began building up a scientific system by which everything might be logically reasoned out. Along purely intellectual lines Poe had done that before with M. Dupin, Sherlock Holmes was practical and systematic, and where he differed from Dupin was that in consequence of his previous scientific education he possest a vast fund of exact knowledge from which to draw . . . .

  "While it remained for Sherlock Holmes to make generally popular the science of deduction, the methods employed, in some form or other, may be traced back from writer to writer until they are lost in the mists of antiquity."

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