Sunday, December 09, 2007

Was Voltaire Sherlock Holmes' grandfather?

I posted last week about François-Marie Arouet, detective, suggesting that Voltaire would make a good fictional sleuth. I'd forgotten at the time that he wrote a vignette often cited as a forerunner of the classic tale of detection. Here’s part of that vignette, from Zadig:

“As regards the king of kings’ horse, you may know that as I walked along the road in this wood I saw the marks of horseshoes, all equal distances apart. That horse, said I, gallops perfectly. The dust on the trees in this narrow road only seven feet wide brushed off a little right and left three and a half feet from the middle of the road. This horse, said I, has a tail three and half feet long, and its movement left and right has swept away this dust. I saw beneath the trees, which made a cradle five feet high, some leaves newly fallen from the branches, and I recognized that this horse had touched there and was hence fifteen hands high. As regards his bit, it must be of twenty-three carat gold, for he rubbed the studs against a stone which I knew to be a touchstone and tested. From the marks his hoofs made on certain pebbles I knew the horse was shod with eleven scruple silver.”
That’s pretty Holmesian, and it was published in 1747 – 112 years before Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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