Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Detectives of Poe, Doyle, and Gaboriau by Carolyn Wells 1913

The Detectives of Poe, Doyle, and Gaboriau by Carolyn Wells 1913

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Conan Doyle's Detective Stories, being short-stories, more closely resemble Poe's tales than Gaboriau's novels do. Perhaps this is due more to a certain analogy of structure than to the actual working mentality of the detective. Dupin and his historian have rooms together, just as Holmes and Watson do. In each case the curiosity of the historian is first aroused by noticing the unconventional habits and studies of his companion. Dupin has his detractors among the official police, just as Holmes has his Greyson and his Lestrade, and Lecoq his Gevrol.

Perhaps the fatuous Watson chronicles his friend's exploits with even franker admiration than the nameless companion of Dupin, but they are equally earnest in their graphic and detailed recitals. It is to be regretted that so definite a character as Dupin's historian had no name for his better identification, that like Doctor Watson he might have "passed into the language."

Professor Brander Matthews gives this interesting dissertation upon the Teller of Poe's tales:

"Upon the preternaturally acute observer who was to control the machinery of the tale, the American poet bestowed a companion of only an average alertness and keenness; and to this commonplace companion the romancer confided the telling of the story. By this seemingly simple device Poe doubled the effectiveness of his work, because this unobservant and unimaginative narrator of the unraveling of a tangled skein by an observant and imaginative analyst naturally recorded his own admiration and astonishment as the wonder was wrought before his eyes, so that the admiration and astonishment were transmitted directly and suggestively, to the readers of the narrative.

"In the 'Gold-Bug' the wonder-worker is Legrand, and in both the 'Murders in the Rue Morgue' and the 'Purloined Letter' he is M. Dupin; and in all three tales the telling of the story is entrusted to an anonymous narrator, serving not only as a sort of Greek chorus to hint to the spectators the emotions they ought to feel, but also as the describer of the personality and peculiarities of Legrand and Dupin, who are thus individualized, humanized, and related to the real world. If they had not been accepted by the narrator as actual beings of flesh and blood, they might otherwise retain the thinness and the dryness of disembodied intelligences working in a vacuum.

"This device of the transmitting narrator is indisputably valuable; and, properly enough, it reappears in the one series of detective tales which may be thought by some to rival Poe's. The alluring record of the investigations of Mr. Sherlock Holmes is the work of a certain Dr. Watson, a human being but little more clearly characterized than the anonymous narrators who have preserved for us the memory of Legrand and Dupin. But Poe here again exhibited a more artistic reserve than any of his imitators, in so far as he refrained from the undue laudation of the strange intellectual feats which are the central interest of these three tales.

"In the 'Gold Bug' he even heightens his suspense by allowing the narrator to suggest that Legrand might be of unsound mind; and in the 'Murders in the Rue Morgue' the narrator, although lost in astonishment at the acuteness of Dupin, never permits his admiration to become fulsome; he holds himself in, as though fearing that overpraise might provoke a denial. Moreover, Poe refrained from all exhibitions of Dupin's skill merely for its own sake—exhibitions only dazzling the spectators and not furthering his immediate purpose."

Watson is doubtless fulsome, but like begets like, and the Reading Public, quick to take the cue, are also fulsome in praise of Sherlock Holmes.

BUY: Sherlock Holmes and the White Wolf of London by John Pirillo

According to Mr. Arthur Bartlett Maurice, Sherlock Holmes possesses the attributes of both Poe's and Gaboriau's heroes. Mr. Maurice asserts that, "If in one line we can trace the ancestry of Sherlock Holmes to Edgar Allan Poe's Dupin, in another we can work back to Gaboriau, not, however, to the great Lecoq, but to old Tabaret, better known to the official police who are introduced into the tales as Pere Tirauclair. From Dupin, Holmes derived his intellectual acumen, his faculty of mentally placing himself in the position of another, and thereby divining the other's motives and plans, his raising of the observation of minute outward details to the dignity of an exact science. Pere Tirauclair inspired him to that wide knowledge of criminal and contemporary history which enabled him to throw a light on the most puzzling problem and to find some analogy to the most outre case. With Lecoq, Holmes has absolutely nothing in common."

We object to this last clause. If nothing more, Sherlock Holmes certainly has methods of procedure in common with Gaboriau's detectives. Tirauclair, Lecoq's master and teacher, conducts his investigations after this manner:

As the old fellow spoke, his little gray eyes dilated, and became brilliant as carbuncles. His face reflected an internal satisfaction; even his wrinkles seemed to laugh. His figure became erect, and his step was almost elastic, as he darted into the inner chamber. He remained there about half an hour; then came out running, then re-entered and then again came out; once more he reappeared and disappeared again almost immediately. The magistrate could not help comparing him to a pointer on the scent, his turned up nose even moved about as if to discover some subtle odor left by the assassin. All the while he talked loudly and with much gesticulation, apostrophizing himself, scolding himself, uttering little cries of triumph or self-encouragement. He did not allow Lecoq to have a moment's rest. He wanted this or that or the other thing. He demanded paper and a pencil. Then he wanted a spade; and finally he cried out for plaster of Paris, some water and a bottle of oil. When more than an hour had elapsed, the investigating magistrate began to grow impatient, and asked what had become of the amateur detective. "He is on the road," replied the corporal, "lying flat in the mud, and mixing some plaster in a plate. He says he has nearly finished, and that he is coming back presently."

Sherlock Holmes when setting forth on a similar investigation conducts himself not dissimilarly. We quote from "A Study in Scarlet:"

He whipped a tape measure and a large, round magnifying-glass from his pocket. With these two implements he trotted noiselessly about the room, sometimes stopping, occasionally kneeling, and once lying flat upon his face. So engrossed was he with his occupation that he appeared to have forgotten our presence, for he chattered away to himself under his breath the whole time, keeping up a running fire of exclamations, groans, whistles, and little cries suggestive of encouragement and of hope. As I watched him I was irresistibly reminded of a pure blooded, well trained fox-hound as it dashes backward and forward through the covert, whining in its eagerness, until it comes across the lost scent. For twenty minutes or more he continued his researches, measuring with the most exact care the distance between marks which were entirely invisible to me, and occasionally applying his tape to the walls in an equally incomprehensible manner. In one place he gathered very carefully a little pile of gray dust from the floor, and packed it away in an envelope. Finally he examined with his glass the word upon the wall, going over every letter of it with the most minute exactness. This done, he appeared to be satisfied, for he replaced his tape and his glass in his pocket.

The result by Gaboriau's man is announced in these words:

"The assassin then gained admission without difficulty. He is a young man, a little above the middle height, elegantly dressed. He wore on that evening a high hat. He carried an umbrella, and smoked a trabucos cigar in a holder."

While Sherlock Holmes triumphantly asserts:

"There has been murder done, and the murderer was a man. He was more than six feet high, was in the prime of life, had small feet for his height, wore coarse, square-toed boots, and smoked a Trichinopoly cigar. He came here with his victim in a four-wheeled cab, which was drawn by a horse with three old shoes and one new one on his off fore-leg. In all probability the murderer had a florid face, and the finger-nails of his right hand were remarkably long."

In "The Widow Lerouge," from which the above Gaboriau extracts are quoted, the discomfited Inspector Gevrol, exclaims,

"Ridiculous! this is too much!"

While in the other case, Lestrade and Gregson content themselves with

Glancing at each other with an incredulous smile.

Mr. Maurice further observes: "The deductions of Dupin and of Sherlock Holmes we are ready to accept, because we feel that it is romance, and in romance we care to refute only what seriously jars our sense of what is logical; we take those of Lecoq, because they convince beyond all question, because when one has been forced upon us, we are ready defiantly to maintain that no other is possible."

However, Dupin himself refers to his own work thus:

"I said 'legitimate deductions;' but my meaning is not thus fully expressed. I designed to imply that the deductions are the sole proper ones, and that the suspicion arises inevitably from them as the single result."

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