Conan Doyle's Proof

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Conan Doyle's Proof is an article written by Arthur Conan Doyle published in The New-York Times on 3 march 1923.

Conan Doyle's Proof

The New-York Times (3 march 1923)

He Presents More Evidence on the Subject of Ectoplasm.

To the Editor of The New York Times:

It will be within your remembrance that shortly after my visit to America it was announced that four professors of the Sorbonne sitting with Eva, the well-known ectoplasmic subject, had got no results in a succession of attempts. I pointed out at the time that this was not to be taken too seriously, as the the matter is one which calls for very delicate adjustments, and even Mme. Bisson, sitting under ideal conditions, often failed to obtain this curious evasive stuff, which may prove in the future to be all-pervading, and yet is exceedingly difficult to demonstrate. The press, however, both in England and in America, commented unfavorably upon the subject, and the opinion was freely expressed that this experiment showed the substance to be non-existent. Such criticism was natural enough, and yet it was painful to those who, like myself, have declared that we have seen and handled the substance in a good light. Our personal honor was involved.

It is therefore with some relief that I have received the report of the recent demonstration by Dr. Shrenck-Notzing at Munich, which surely puts an end to the whole debate, so that any one who reopens it is inexcusably ignorant or willfully perverse. In the case of a young medium, Willy S., the German savant has recently demonstrated ectoplasm to 100 men of science, most of them skeptics and some of them bitter opponents before this experience, without leaving one of them unconvinced. Of these hundred men twenty-three are university professors, including Zimmer, Becher, Kalker, Freytag, Salzer, Caretz, Pauli, Vanino, Huber, Hartogs, Heilner and Gefger of Munich, Driesch of Leipsic, Alruz of Upsala, Pauli of Jena and others, some of whom verified their results in as many as thirteen seances. A detailed account of the experiments is promised in the next number of the Revue Metapsychique of Paris.

So that seems to be settled as clearly as any matter can be settled, but we can hardly leave it without pointing the moral. We were publicly assured by Professor Jastrow, Mr. Black of Montreal, and, I am sorry to say, by my friend Mr. Houdini, that this was all what they called "bunk," and that what we had observed was really, regurgitated food. In vain we pointed out that the substance was white, whereas the medium had been compelled to swallow carmine. In vain, also, I showed that what I observed and reported was on the lower body of Eva, and later around the feet of Frau Silbert. My last mails from the States still bring to me this absurd assertion that it was regurgitated food.

Criticism is most welcome and helpful but I would beg our opponents to exercise some restraint in it, or they make the subject and themselves rather ridiculous. I have mentioned Mr. Houdini, and his opinion weighs with many, for he is an admitted master of his own art, and there are many who cannot disabuse themselves from the idea that the medium and the conjurer are closely allied. In some cases they may be so, but when Mr. Houdini - or Mr. Maskelyne over here - says that he can do whatever any medium can do under the same conditions, he is talking wildly. If I were disposed to take up Mr. Houdini's challenge, the first three tests to which I should submit him would be to

1. Ask him to show me my mother exactly as I knew her in life, within three feet of me, in the presence of witnesses who know her.

2. Allow me to have an intimate talk with my "dead" son.

3. Allow me to discuss family matters with my "dead" brother, in which he should give me the name of the Danish physician who is attending his widow.

All in the presence of from six to twelve witnesses. How absurd it is to assert that such results could be got by conjuring.

But seriously I would beg our critics, in the face of this demonstration of ectoplasm, to realize their own responsibility and to moderate their language. We Spiritualists are rightly held accountable for what we say, and when I make a statement I have my dates and my witnesses and I make it upon some solid basis or experience and fact. I have before, me as I write an interview with Mr. Houdini, reported by Karl K. Kitchen. In it he is quoted as saying that he has attended 10,000 séances. That is just one a day for thirty years. Sundays included. He goes on to say that he has sat with "practically every well-known medium in the world." I have myself sat with nearly every European medium of repute, together with many American, and I only know two Eva and Mrs. Wriedt, with whom, Mr. Houdini has sat, the result being negative in each case, but with nothing at all in the shape of art exposure. I mention these facts as I am sure Mr. Houdini's remarks have been misunderstood or misrepresented, and that he would wish to modify or correct them. But again I say that the time has come when our critics must show a greater sense of responsibility, or with the rapid growth of psychic knowledge they will find their position as unenviable one.

Crowborough, Sussex, Feb. 9. 1923.