The finest salute the prize ring ever extended to literature took place in 1909, when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was offered the job of refereeing the Jeffries-Johnson fight for the world's heavyweight championship.
It seems to have been a perfectly serious offer. Jim Jeffries, the old, undefeated champion, had come out of retirement to meet the new title-holder, Jack Johnson, in the cause of white supremacy. The bids from fiercely competing promoters had been opened in Hoboken, N.J. on December 1, and after several days of wrangling and wary negotiation, Tex Rickard and Jack Gleason had won the privilege with a proposal of $101,000 plus two-thirds of the movie rights.
Over in England the author not only of the Sherlock Holmes stories but of those classic yarns of the prize ring, Rodney Stone, The Croxley Master and The Lord of Falcon-bridge, received a cable, then a letter signed by Irving Jefferson Lewis, managing editor of the New York Morning Telegraph, dated December 9:
"My dear Sir,—
"I hope you will pardon the liberty I took as a stranger in cabling to you asking if you would act at the championship battle between Jeffries and Johnson. The fact is that when the articles were signed recently your name was suggested for referee, and Tex Rickard, promoter of the fight, was greatly interested, as were many others.... In a voting contest several persons sent in your name as their choice. Believe me among sporting men of the best class in America you have many strong admirers; your splendid stories of the ring, and your avowed admiration for the great sport of boxing have made you thousands of friends.
"It was because of this extremely friendly feeling for you in America that I took the liberty of cabling to you. I thank you for your reply.
"It would indeed rejoice the hearts of the men in this country if you were at the ring side when the great negro fighter meets the white man Jeffries for the world's championship.
"I am, my dear Sir," etc.
In the bosom of his family the big, burly Anglo-Irishman was delighted with the message that had come to him from overseas. "By George," he exclaimed, "this is the most sporting proposition I ever heard!"
"Then you'll go?" asked Lady Doyle, who—knowing her husband—anticipated the answer.