The Arthur Conan Doyle EncyclopediaThe Arthur Conan Doyle EncyclopediaThe Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, KStJ, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

Anecdote of the Boston Cabman

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

The anecdote of the Boston Cabman was told by Arthur Conan Doyle during his literary lecture tour in America between october and december 1894. As it happened on his arrival in Boston, it can be dated around 30 october 1894. The anecdote was first reproduced in the Boston Record in november 1894, and reprinted in various American and British newspapers the following days until april 1895. However, in 1894 the press didn't reproduce the final punch line. The story was focused on the free tickets to the lecture. It's only in january 1895, when Conan Doyle was returned to England, that the punch line appeared for the first time.

In 1900, Major James B. Pond, the American lecture agent of Arthur Conan Doyle, published his book Eccentricities of Genius [1] where the anecdote was reproduced (see below) within a chapter dedicated to Conan Doyle. As the book was reviewed in newspapers, the anecdote was again spread in the press until late 1901.

In march 1907, The Daily News reprinted the anecdote for no known reasons, and it was again spread in the press until summer 1907 when the French press noticed the anecdote and published a modified version, Paris instead Boston, and Conan Doyle returning from Marseilles and Lyons from the Riviera instead the USA lecture tour. The French article was afterward reproduced in UK and US with the wrong version until 1915.

In 1917-1918, the original anecdote appeared again in the press, and in 1919, William W. Ellsworth reproduced it in his book A Golden Age of Authors, published by Houghton-Mifflin Co. in USA (see below).

In 1924, Conan Doyle himself was quite upset by such repetitions and he gave an example of another version in his auto-biography Memories and Adventures, Chapter XI. Sidelights on Sherlock Holmes (see below).

Nowadays, the anecdote is known as a mere joke and people don't even know it was a real event in the life of Arthur Conan Doyle.



Editions

The anecdote has been published more than 220 times in the press between 1894 and 1929 with many different versions...


See all 220+ references and anecdote titles



1894: Untitled (First publications)

[Note that the first publications in 1894 didn't mention the punch line.]


A. Conan Doyle was astonished when a Boston cabman told him "he would rather have a ticket to his lecture than the fare." He thought he was traveling incognito and asked the man how he found him out. The man replied that "he knew him as a member of the Cabmen's Literary guild, to which the lecturer's itinerary had been telegraphed in advance, and that he recognized Dr. Doyle to be the man, because his coat lapels had been evidently grasped by New York reporters, his hair manifestly cut by a Philadelphia barber, his hat seemingly saved with difficulty front the pirates by whom he was surrounded at a Chicago luncheon, while his overshoes bore traces of Buffalo mud and there was an odor of a Utica cigar upon his person." The doctor surrendered at indiscretion, and gave to the fellow a ticket for his whole family.



1895: A Puzzled Novelist (with punch line)

Boston Record article reprinted in The Daily Deadwood Pioneer-Times (11 january 1895, p. 2)

He Was Used to Detectives, but This Boston Cabman Amazed Him.

The express from the west was just in, and a traveler stepped out of the side door of the Albany station into the outstretched arms of 14 Boston cabmen and hack drivers.

The traveler, a stoutly built man, between 30 and 40, with a good humored face in a solid, dark mustache, selected one whom he detected in partially putting away into the side pocket of his overcoat a dog eared copy of Carlyle's "French Revolution." The cabman touched his hat in modest appreciation of the favor shown by his new fare, and after bundling a large valise upon the dashboard opened the door and stood waiting with a keen twinkle of expectancy.

"You may take me to Young's or — or Parker's perhaps," said the traveler, with a distinct English accent and a decided interrogative inflection in his voice.

"Pardon me," was the immediate answer, "but I think you'll find Major Pond waiting for you at Parker's."

The traveler's jaw quivered for a moment, but only for a moment. After darting a sharp glance at the cabman he bowed, as if obeying orders, and entered the vehicle.

The ride was a noisy one, but brief. Rattle, rattle, bump, batter, bump! The fare, glancing through the glass in the front of the carriage, found his man sitting as erect as the £10 a week man of lady Churchill. As the cab rolled into School street the traveler sank into the corner of the cushioned seat in the attitude of deepest meditation.

A moment more seemingly, and the door opened. The stoutly built passenger felt in his pocket for change.

"If it is not too great an intrusion, sir, I should greatly prefer a ticket to your lecture. If you have none of the printed ones with you, your agent would doubtless honor one of your visiting cards if penciled by yourself."

The passenger showed signs of strong inward emotion.

"Come, come, I am not accustomed to be beaten at my own tricks," said he almost gruffly. "Tell me how you have ascertained this, and you shall have tickets for your whole family and such cigars as you smoke here in America besides," breaking at the end into a smile.

"Of course we all knew that you were coming on this train — that is, all of the members of our Cabmen's Literary guild," was the half apologetic reply. "As it happens, I am the only member on duty at this station this morning, and I had that advantage. If you will excuse other personal remarks, your coat are badly twisted downward where they have been grasped by the pertinacious New York reporters. Your hair has the Quakerish cut of a Philadelphia barber, and your hat, battered at the brim in front, shows where you have tightly grasped it in the struggle to stand your ground at a Chicago literary luncheon. Your right overshoe has a large block of Buffalo mud just under the instep, the odor of a Utica cigar hangs about your clothing, and the overcoat itself show, the slovenly brushing of the porters on the through sleepers from Albany. The crumbs of doughnut on the top of your bag — pardon me, your luggage — could only have come there in Springfield, and stenciled upon the very end of the 'Wellington' in fairly plain lettering to the name 'Conan Doyle.'"

"Now I know where Sherlock Holmes went when he died," said this great writer of detective stories after the cabman had finished his third glass of brandy neat. "That leaves me free to write anymore adventures of his that I wish, except that I must locate them in Boston." — Boston Record.



1900: The original anecdote (in Major J. B. Pond's book)

The night before Dr. Doyle sailed for England, Friday, December 6, 1894, the Aldine Club gave him a farewell dinner. Hamilton W. Mabie presided and introduced the guest of the evening, who had just arrived from Boston. It was a literary crowd of our choicest men of letters. Dr. Doyle seemed to have no set speech, but prefaced his reply to Mabie with an account of his arrival in Boston :

"I arrived in Boston and alighted from the train almost into the arms of a dozen cabbies. One of them had a dog-eared book peeping out of his pocket, and I instinctively called him, saying as I got in: You may drive me to Young's, or Parker's — perhaps.' "Pardon me,' said the cabbie, I think you'll find Major Pond waiting for you at Parker's, sir.'

"What could I do but stare and acquiesce by taking my seat speechlessly? We arrived, and the observant cabman was at the door. I started to pay my fare when he said, quite respectfully :

" If it is not too great an intrusion, sir, I should greatly prefer a ticket to your lecture. If you have none of the printed ones with you, your agent would doubtless honor one of your visiting-cards, if pencilled by yourself.'

"I had to be gruff or laugh outright, and so said :

"'Come, come, I am not accustomed to be beaten at my own tricks. Tell me how you ascertained who I am, and you shall have tickets for your whole family, and such cigars as you smoke here in America, besides.'

"'Of course we all knew that you were coming on this train — that is, all of the members of the Cabmen's Literary Guild,' was the half-apologetic reply. 'As it happens, I am the only member on duty at this station this morning, and I had that advantage. If you will excuse other personal remarks, your coat lapels are badly twisted downward, where they have been grasped by the pertinacious New York reporters. Your hair has the Quakerish cut of a Philadelphia barber, and your hat, battered at the brim in front, shows where you have tightly grasped it, in the struggle to stand your ground at a Chicago literary luncheon. Your right overshoe has a large block of Buffalo mud just under the instep, the odor of a Utica cigar hangs about your clothing, and the overcoat itself shows the slovenly brushing of the porters of the through sleepers from Albany. The crumbs of doughnut on the top of your bag — pardon sue, your luggage — could only have come there in Springfield, and stencilled upon the very end of the "Wellington," in fairly plain lettering, is the name, "Conan Doyle."'

"Now I know where Sherlock Holmes went when he died. That leaves me free to write any snore adventures of his that I wish as long as I locate them in Boston."



1901: Conan Doyle and the Cabman

Hampshire Advertiser (29 june 1901, p. 5)

On the arrival of the author of "Sherlock Holmes" in Boston, U.S., where he was engaged to lecture, he alighted from the train almost into the arms of a dozen cabbies. One of them had a dog-eared book peeping out of his pocket, and Dr. Doyle instinctively called him, saying, "You may drive me to Young's — or Parker's perhaps?" "Pardon me," said the cabby. "I think you will find Major Pond waiting for you at Parker's, sir." Dr. Doyle stared at the man, and acquiesced by taking his seat speechlessly. "We arrived," he says, "and the observant cabman was at the door. On receiving his fare the man said quite respectfully, "If it is not too great an intrusion, sir, I should greatly prefer a ticket for your lecture. If you have none of the printed ones with you, your agent would doubtless honour one of your visiting cards, if pencilled by yourself." "Come, come," I said, "I am not accustomed to be beaten at my own tricks. Tell me how you ascertained who I am and you shall have tickets for your whole family." "Of course," he explained, "we all knew that you were coming on by this train — that is, all the members of the Cabmen's Literary Guild. As it happens, I am the only member on duty at the station this morning, and I had that advantage. If you excuse personal remarks," he went on, "your coat-labels are badly twisted downwards, where they have been grasped by the pertinacious New York reporters. Your hair has the Quakerish cut of a Philadelphia barber, and your hat, battered at the brim in front, shows where you have tightly grasped it in the struggle to stand your ground at a Chicago literary luncheon. Your right overshoe has a large block of Buffalo mud just under the instep, the odour of a Utica cigar hangs about your clothing, and the overcoat itself shows the slovenly brushing of the porters of the through-sleepers from Albany. The crumbs of doughnut on the top of your bag — pardon me, your luggage — could only have come there in Springfield, and stencilled upon the very end of the Wellington, in fairly plain lettering, is the name "Conan Doyle.""





1907: Cabby as Sherlock Holmes

Reno Gazette-Journal (17 december 1907, p. 6)

The French newspapers related the other day that Conan Doyle, the great "Sherlick Holmes" [3] man, arrived at Paris from Marseilles and Lyons. The cabman who brought him from the station to the hotel addressed him by his name. Doyle was surprised and asked how he knew. The cabman replied that he had read in his paper that the famous Conan Doyle would come to Marseilles and Lyons, and he had observed at once that the stranger's hair was cut by a Marseilles barber, and that on the heel of his left shoe was dirt from Lyons. Doyle was highly pleased to see that his "Sherlock Holmes" method proved so successful. The great detective mind then asked whether there was still another symptom which had led to his recognition. "Yes," said the cabman finally. "your full name is painted on your trunk."




1908: A Sherlock Holmes Cabby

The Houston Post (4 february 1908, p. 10)

(From the Pall Mall Gazette.)

The French newspapers related the other day that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle arrived at Paris from Marseilles and Lyons. The cabman who bought him from the station to the hotel addressed him by his name. Sir Arthur was surprised, and asked how he knew. The cabman replied that he had read in his paper that the famous Conan Doyle would come to Marseilles and Lyons, and he had observed at once that the stranger's hair was cut by a Marseilles barber, and that on the heel of his left shoe was dirt from Lyons. The novelist was highly gratified to see that his "Sherlock Holmes" method proved so successful. The great detective mind then asked whether there was still another symptom which had led to his recognition. "Yes," said the cabman finally, "your full name is painted on your trunk!"




1908: Untitled (in Le Figaro)

Le Figaro (16 december 1908, p. 1)

Sir Conan Doyle, le celebre créateur du non moins célèbre policier Sherlock Holmes, se plaît à raconter la plaisante aventure qui lui arriva lors d'un de ses récents passages à Paris. Arrivant du midi de la France, il héla à la gare de Lyon un fiacre pour se faire conduire à son hotel. Arrivé à destination, il paya son cocher, qui le remercia de son généreux pourboire en l'appelant par son nom. Etonnement légitime de l'écrivain qui lui demanda comment il pouvait le connaître :

- Voici, répondit l'automédon. J'ai lu dans les journaux que sir Conan Doyle devait arriver de Nice à Paris, après s'être arrêté à Marseille et à Lyon. Or j'ai constaté que vous vous étiez fait couper les cheveux chez un coiffeur de Marseille et que vous aviez encore sur vos chaussures un peu de boue des rues de Lyon. Il ne m'en a pas fallu davantage pour constater votre identité.

Sir Conan Doyle fut plutôt d'une admiration quelque peu perplexe à la constatation du résultat surprenant qu'avait donné pour son identité l'application de sa methode déductive. Il demande au cocher si c'étaient la les seuls indices qui avaient guidé son étonnante perspicacité.

- Ma foi non, répliqua avec un sourire légèrement narquois son interlocuteur, il y en a un autre : c'est votre nom qui est inscrit en grosses lettres sur votre malle !






1908: Sherlock Holmes and the Parisian Cabby

The Yorkshire Evening Post (17 december 1908, p. 4)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, according to the "Figaro," tells a good story of an experience with a Parisian cabby. Coming up from the Riviera, he took a cab at the Gare de Lyon, and drove to his hotel, where he tipped the driver substantially. "Merci, Monsieur Conan Doyle," said the cocher, to the astonishment of Sir Arthur, who asked him how on earth he knew his name. "Voici," said the cabby, "I read in the papers that Sir Doyle was to arrive in Paris from Nice, after stopping at Marseilles and Lyons on the way. Now I noted that you had had your hair cut at Marseilles, and that you had Lyons mud still on your boots. Therefore you must Sir Doyle." The creator of Sherlock Holmes was more amazed than ever. "Do you mean to say that was all the evidence you had to go upon?" "Well, to be honest, no," answered the cabby, with a grin, "I also saw your name written on your box."





1908: Sir Conan Doyle and the Paris Cabby

Western Times (18 december 1908, p. 4)

"The Figaro" relates a good story, told by Sir A. Conan Doyle, of an experience with a Parisian cabby. Coming up from the Riviera, Sir Conan took a cab, and drove to his hotel, where he tipped the driver substantially. "Merci, Monsieur Conan Doyle," said the man, to the astonishment of his fare, who asked how on earth he knew his name. "Voici," said the cabby, "I read in the papers that Sir Doyle was to arrive in Paris from Nice, after stopping at Marseilles and Lyons on the way. Now I noted that you had had your hair cut at Marseilles, and that you had Lyons mud still on your boots. Therefore you must be Sir Doyle." The creator of Sherlock Holmes was more amazed than ever. Do you mean to say that was all the evidence you had to go upon ? "Well, to be honest, no," answered the cabby, with a grin, "I also saw your name written on your box."







1918: Untitled (with illustration)

The Decatur Herald (16 august 1918, p. 11)

During a lecture tour through the United States Sir Conan Doyle arrived one day in Boston and was considerably astonished when a cabman accosted him and addressed him by name. "How did you know who I was?" said Sir Conan Doyle, much interested and not a little flattered by the recognition. If you'll excuse my saying so," said the cabman, "the lapels of your coat look as if they had been grabbed by New York reporters, your hair looks as if It had been cut in Philadelphia, your hat looks as if you had had to stand your ground is Chicago, and your right shoe has evident Buffalo mud under the instep and — and —"

"And what?" queried Sir Arthur.

"Well," replied the cabman, "I saw 'Conan Doyle' in big white letters on your trunk."









1919: The original anecdote reprinted by William W. Ellsworth



1924: A shortened version reproduced by Arthur Conan Doyle

There are certain Sherlock Holmes stories, apocryphal I need not say, which go round and round the press and turn up at fixed intervals with the regularity of a comet. One is the story of the cabman who is supposed to have taken me to an hotel in Paris.

"Dr. Doyle," he cried, gazing at me fixedly, "I perceive from your appearance that you have been recently at Constantinople. I have reason to think also that you have been at Buda, and I perceive some indication that you were not far from Milan." "Wonderful. Five francs for the secret of how you did it?" "I looked at the labels pasted on your trunk," said the astute cabby.







  1. Published by G. W. Dillingham Co. in US in 1900 and reprinted in 1901 by Chatto & Windus in UK.
  2. First publication with punch line
  3. sic

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