Lectures at the International Spiritualist Congress of Paris 1925

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

From 6 to 13 september 1925, the International Spirit Congress was held at the Maison des Spirites (House of Spiritists) in Paris (8 rue Copernic, Paris 16e). Arthur Conan Doyle was named Honorary President of the event and he gave 2 lectures :

  • A first free public lecture at opening day on sunday 6 september (8.30 pm) at the « Salle des Sociétés Savantes » (8 rue Danton, Paris 6e), but the Hall was no where near big enough, there being more than 1000 people by 8 pm assembled outside and unable to get in. He delivered what amounted to an address and an attempt to give his lantern lecture (on physical phenomena). But it was marred by an inept photographic operator (presumably no projections were made) and the need for a good interpreter. So the lecture had to be rescheduled...
  • On the 6th day of the Congress (friday 11 september, 9 pm), Conan Doyle gave a second lecture at a bigger place : « Salle Wagram » (39/41 avenue de Wagram, Paris 17e), with an admission charge (unknown amount) to restrict the number of attendees. The meeting was presided over by M. Pascal Forthuny who yielded his scheduled lecture spot to Conan Doyle. Forthuny then provided a written report of the, once again, inadequacy of the venue. "Thousands" were unable to get in to the packed Salle Wagram. It is a very remarkable report on the magnitude of the situation.

All the Congress lectures and reports were published in 1927 by Éditions Jean Meyer (B.P.S. [1]).

Opening session of the Congress at the « Salle des Sociétés Savantes ». Arthur Conan Doyle is the first from the right, sitting at the table.

First Lecture (sunday 6 september 1925)

International Spiritualist Congress of Paris 1925 - General Report (Éditions Jean Meyer, 1927, p. 27)
International Spiritualist Congress of Paris 1925 - General Report (Éditions Jean Meyer, 1927, p. 28)
International Spiritualist Congress of Paris 1925 - General Report (Éditions Jean Meyer, 1927, p. 29)

What Spiritualism is going to do in the world

My friend Bernard Shaw has said that when he speaks French, he does not say what he wants to say but what he can. I am often in the same difficulty. Nevertheless I hope that to day writing in French I shall say as well as I can what I wish to say. First of all I shall express my thanks to my French colleagues for having appointed me Honorary President of the International Spiritualist Congress. On the subject of Spiritualism I have spoken in the Tropical heat of the Red Sea, in Australia, in New Zealand, in America, from New-York to San-Francisco, in Canada from Vancouver to Montreal. I have been listened to in Hotel Salons, upon ocean liners, and elsewhere! This time I am proud to speak in the intellectual centre of the world; addressing myself no longer to unbelievers and sceptics, but to brothers in belief, our allies in the great war which we spiritualists are all waging; the war against materialism.

This is the most terrible enemy; it is the cause of all the evils of humanity. It will destroy the world if we do not succeed in strangling it, in overthrowing it. It presents itself as a many headed monster, the materialism of a society thirsting after pleasure and material riches, the materialism of science, materialism of morals, materialism of Churches, temples, mosques and synagogues, formalist, dogmatic, and trivial, forgetful of that which is true living communion with the Higher World. The different religions, belated in their worn-out conceptions and their rigid formulas have forgotten the very meaning of these words « Communion with the Higher World ». That which was their strength, becomes the reason of their weakness, owing to the false interpretation which they offer of it. To listen to them, one might suppose that God had abandoned us, two thousand years ago. Nevertheless we know that He is over with us, that He directs our steps, that there are Angels at Paris, at London, even as at Jerusalem, that the Jews have not alone had the privilege of Revelation, and that this Revelation is within our reach to day, and to morrow, if we will take the trouble to seek for it.

Are we then the Adversaries of Confessions of whatever kind? By no means, we are the friends and allies of every living and real religion. We possess no monopoly of spirituality. We recognise that in every creed there are adepts who posses the gift of spirituality, the virtue essential. But Peter has said « Knowledge is better than Faith ». History has proved since, that Faith does not suffice. Now we bring Knowledge to the World to heal its diseases, and if it rejects our remedy, then nothing will serve to heal it.

Materialists assert « Death ends everything » ? In the darkness which surrounds them, for them there is not a ray of hope. Often men of high character, they live very worthily without the slightest thought of any personal reward. These will be rewarded in spite of themselves. But there are others less marked with the seal of superiority : these abandon themselves to the degraded philosophy which counsels them to make the most of this present life, at all costs, since it is without hereafter. Thus do they make use of it without scruple. They add to the scandals of the world and increase these in social circles and everywhere else. It is through these persons that injust wars are provoked, through them that the worst abuses of fortune flourish, it is they who struggle for success in trampling under foot their contemporaries. What does it matter to them since they consider themselves free of all responsibility to any one whatever, whether in this life or above?

Our first task is therefore to prove that personality survives death. Faith has already asserted this, but it has not proved it. We shall prove it at last. Through the nebulosities of the creeds we bring the torch of reason. We have proofs, for those who without prejudice consider the question. These proofs are formal, overwhelming. Men of the highest intellectual capacity have at the end agreed upon it, such as Thiers, Abraham Lincoln, Victor Hugo, Sardou, Ruskin, Oliver Lodge, William Crookes, Lombroso, Zollner, Flammarion, that great worker schuss death has put science into mourning; Marshal French was a spiritualist, and we have received from Marshal Haig a message of encouragement.

For my, part, I have no doubt; I have spoken to relations and to deceased friends. I have seen before me, just as they were in life, my mother and my nephew. I do not here express an opinion, but the certitude of what I know. And I call this knowledge the greatest advance that the human race has made in the history of all the ages.

The newspapers, most often only mention subjective phenomena of secondary character, often even trivial, and they deride this triviality, being ignorant of the fact that death changes nothing suddenly, and that in this region also it is true « nature non fecit saltus » — nature does nothing by jumps. Besides if spirithalist assemblies are not worthy to receive anything better than trivialities, they do not receive anything else. If we seek the angels, they come, because we are worthy to receive angels. This is why I hope that one day the word « angelism » may be substituted for the word « spiritualism », for the search for the angel is the essential part of our effort, of our cult.

The objection will be advanced « this cult is not a religion ». In my meaning of the word it is all the religion I have. From being a materialist, I have become a believer in this. Out of this I have made myself a religion solid, reasonable, and reasoned out. Are there many of whom it would be possible to say as much? And how generous is my religion! It embraces all, and not merely a set of co-religionists. It fraternises with all Christians, all Buddhists, all Mohammedans. It offers its vigour to all religions whose vigour is decaying.

Here is the great task which is ours. We are pouring a stream of water, clear and pure into the unhealthy marshes of the World. For sixty years we have been laughed at. Sarcasm retreats and hesitates. At this moment spiritualists are rising up everywhere. This Congress is a magnificent demonstration of this truth. The world is waking up to the light. It understands that spiritualism is bringing it a radiant light upon life and death, which are ever life. It grasps the meaning and reason of destiny. Our victory will be complete on the day when, all men rallying to us and ceasing to oppose us, shall call themselves « good spiritualists », good « angelists » and loyal soldiers of God.

This meeting attracted so large a public that the hall was incapable of holding it. The projection of the photos, owing to lack of the proper light was not satisfactory. There was subsequently obtained from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, his consent to give a second lecture on the following day, in the largest hall obtainable in Paris, the « Salle Wagram ».

Second Lecture (friday 11 september 1925)

International Spiritualist Congress of Paris 1925 - General Report (Éditions Jean Meyer, 1927, p. 69)
International Spiritualist Congress of Paris 1925 - General Report (Éditions Jean Meyer, 1927, p. 70)
International Spiritualist Congress of Paris 1925 - General Report (Éditions Jean Meyer, 1927, p. 71)
International Spiritualist Congress of Paris 1925 - General Report (Éditions Jean Meyer, 1927, p. 72)

I held a meeting on Sunday last at the « Salle des Societés Savantes », I was not entirely satisfied with the result. I wish however to express my admiration for the patience and good humour of the crowded audience who suffered from the mistakes of the photographic operator.

The great thing in life is to learn from failure and so we know what changes to make. The first was to change the photographic operator, the second was to charge for admission as other wise the crowd is too great, the third was that I should recognise my own limitations and ask for Mr. Ripert's help as my interpreter. With these changes I have every hope that you will be able to see and to understand these photographs.

I hope to show you some interesting photos tonight, but first, I would say a few words upon our position as Spiritists. We believe that materialism is the great curse of the world, and that it will destroy the world if it is not checked. The old religions have failed to check it. It increases continually. It is clear then that if we are not to despair some new force is needed. It is a force which we believe that we can supply.

We think that all religion depends upon the certainty that we live after death. That is the essential thing. How can we make mankind sure of this? If we could make it sure — absolutely sure — we should make it more spiritual. How can we do it?

It is no use to speak of faith. There are too many faiths and not enough proofs. The age of faith is part. The spread of materialism proves it. But here is something better than faith. It is knowledge. To know is better than to believe. We think that if the age of faith is part, the age of knowledge has begun.

Is this knowledge possible for all? I know that it is possible because I have experienced it. I do not think, I know. As sure as I stand here so sure is it that I have received messages from the dead, that I have heard them, hat I have seen them. I have seen my mother as clearly as ever I saw her in life six months after her death in the presence of witnesses.

If I were alone you might think me deluded. But I am not alone. There are thousands and tens of thousands in all nations who have had the same experience. There are hundreds in this Hall who have had it. To all of us the matter is for ever proved.

The papers deal always with phenomena. To us phenomena are a secondary matter. They are only to call our attention. That is their object. It is like the bell of the telephone. The bell is only a signal and the voice which follows is the real thing.

So it is when a friend comes to us. We do not speak only of the knock which he gives at the door. That is his signal. We pass that and we give our attention to him. These raps are knockings at the door of life.

I have said that the phenomena are secondary. What then is important? It is that we can come into contact with those who have passed to another life, and that from them we can learn by their own strange wireless telegraphy what their fate has been, where they now are, and what effect their life here has had upon their life there.

All this they have told as again and again. It is the most important message which has come to man for two thousand years. He has laughed at it and insulted it. But the time is at hand when he will no longer laugh.

This thing is so big and has so many aspects that it is difficult to enable you to see it as a whole. Let me try to help you by a comparison. Picture to yourselves a house, with a rough foundation, and with two stages above it. The foundation is the phenomenal side, which gives us rough actual proofs of external intelligent forces. The first floor is more important. It is the actual communication with those whom we have lost. It is beautiful and wonderful but the next floor is more important still. It is the knowledge of God, of heaven, of life, of human destiny, which we get from those who have gone before us through the door of death.

Death changes nothing. Our Etheric bodies are the same as our earthly bodies in all respects. Our Etheric mind and character is the same. We are the same persons but in another room.

Sceptics complain that the messages are trivial. There are trivial souls, and many send trivial messages. But we get what we deserve. Like comes to like. If we have lofty desires and we seek high teaching, then see come in contact with high spirits, who are in truth what the older religions called angels. It is their direct teaching which will now reform the religions of the world.

What is their teaching? The world must study it seriously. It has been set forth in many communications. In a word it is the most reasonable and clear explanation of man's destiny which has ever been given to the world.

When one considers the fate of the average man, how hard is his life, how much he endures, it is not punishment which he should get at the end. It is compensation, and reward. So we learn from our heavenly guides that for the great majority of mankind a life of great happiness amid beautiful surroundings is waiting, immediately after death.

It is not a life of idleness. Such a life could not be happy. But it is life in which we use our natural faculties and develope our own gifts. It is this world expressed in ethereal terms, happier, more beautiful, with love and reunion, and all which will soothe our poor tired souls and hearts. Our dead friends cannot find words to express the glorious human happiness of their new life.

But to reach this glorious spiritual life one must ourself be spiritual. And when I say spiritual I really mean unselfish. Every thing lies in that. If your mind is sunk in matter, if you have no thought save for money or sensual pleasure, then you are not ready for a spiritual sphere. You have to wait. The place of waiting may be grey and loosely. The waiting may be long. But to all of us there comes light at last. None of God's children is lost.

There is not one heaven. There are many graduated heavens. When your spirit, is high enough it passes on. And then on. And on again. There is no end to the glorious future of man.

You ask me where are these heavens, with temples, with homes, with gardens, with all that can make life beautiful. They have art and science and music, and literature and drama. But where?

Please remember that we know the Universe only by one little spectrum of colours, and three little octaves of sound. That is all. Beyond that we know nothing save that there are other sounds and other colours beyond our range. A world constructed in these sounds and colours might be very near us and yet we could not know it. Therefore it is a vain question to ask where is the l'Au-delà.

There is one other point which I would wish you to understand. We are not against any religion. Our knowledge is for all the world. We say to all this is what we have discovered. Take it. Use it as best you can. Add it to the religion you already have and you will find that religion all the better. If you have no religion then here is one which you can examine for yourself. Now I could speak for many hours on this matter but I must get to the photographs. I can only refer you to the literature which can be got at 8, rue Copernic, on our subject. But before we turn down the lights I will explain a little of what you will see. That will save interruptions later.

It is necessary that I should say a little about ectoplasm. Ectoplasm is a peculiar substance which received its name from Prof. Charles Richet, but which was well known to the Spiritists many years ago. Our knowledge is still very incomplete but there is reason to think that we all throw out a vapor of ectoplasm, and that a medium is only a person who has more than his neighbours.

You will understand that spirits cannot easily communicate with us as spirits. They are of a different order, and their etheric bodies can make no impression upon our senses. Therefore it was necessary to find some substance which was on the one side ethereal enough for them to use, and on the other material enough for us to see and touch. Such a substance is ectoplasm, the half way house between spirit and matter.

I have said that it is a vapor. I will show you photographs of it in that condition. But if there is much it becomes solid. I have had it in my hand. It is soft, jellylike and full of life. It is drawn from the medium. Among its peculiarities is that it is very sensitive to light. That is why physical seances are held in the dark, because the ectoplasm, the base of all phenomena dissolves in the light.

The last fifty years have been devoted to protoplasm. I prophesy that the next fifty will be given to ectoplasm.

When the ectoplasm has been formed the spirit can use it in many ways It may form rods which carry force, and which make rapping noises, or raise objects at a distance. Or it may form images, and if there is so much ectoplasm that a whole form can he built up, then that can move and speak, because the spirit will get within it and use it. The great Sir William Crookes said of these phenomena after testing them for three years in his own home: « They are perfectly incredible and perfectly true ». We can only say the same.

Now I think you will understand the photographs better after this explanation. These psychic photographs of dead friends seem to be forms built up of ectoplasm. I will show you one remarkable photograph which will show you exactly how they are built up. Now I have tried your patience long enough and I will explain the other things as we proceed.

In conclusion, I have said that spiritism is like a house of several floors built up from its foundations. We have explored the foundations and got to the first floor, but all the higher floors, science and philosophy, are still unexplored.

I have myself known at one time what it is to live without belief and conviction, and how much we are rewarded when we can attain to something which reconciles reason and the facts like those you have come to see. That will be a happy day when, amidst the troubles of this world, we shall find a sure pathway which will grow wider until it will permit the progress of entire humanity.

(Enthusiastic applause and ovation to the speaker).

Then followed the lantern projections of the admirable collection of spiritist and metapsychic photos belonging to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. We very much regret that we are unable to reproduce this series of unique illustra-tions here.

Report of the lecture by M. Forthuny

International Spiritualist Congress of Paris 1925 - General Report (Éditions Jean Meyer, 1927, p. 72)
International Spiritualist Congress of Paris 1925 - General Report (Éditions Jean Meyer, 1927, p. 73)
International Spiritualist Congress of Paris 1925 - General Report (Éditions Jean Meyer, 1927, p. 74)
International Spiritualist Congress of Paris 1925 - General Report (Éditions Jean Meyer, 1927, p. 75)

The lecture which Sir A. Conan Doyle was to have given at the « Salle des Sociétés Savantes » had been announced in the Daily press, which simultaneously published numerous interviews with the great British spiritualist. Long before the time fixed, the crowd was waiting at the doors, and those responsible for keeping order as well as the police, were not slow in being convinced that their efforts to discipline such a crowd would be in vain. At 8 pm., that which might easily have been foreseen, happened. The barriers were carried away and the notice boards broken to pieces, and when the famous speaker came to the front of the platform to begin his address; more than one thousand spectators were stationed outside on the pavement of the street, despairing to find room. It was a memorable evening, although one had to regret a mysterious difficulty which to some extent contributed to role it of some distinction. Indeed it must be admitted in regard to this, that if the moral success of spiritism on that evening was immense, its material success was spoilt by the clumsiness (wilful or not) of the operator who succeeded in rendering the projection of the photos with which the speaker intended to illustrate his address almost always unintelligible. Whether it was owing to incompetence or premeditation, it happened that a large number, of pictures were presented upside down, or with the focussing imperfect, not to mention the fact of the portrait of the English psychist which persisted in returning to the Screen, in a highly suspicious manner. It was stated, after the meeting had ended that these mistakes might very well have been done maliciously, and public feeling gave support to this declaration, which had nothing in it at all improbable.

Whatever the case may have been, the organisers of the International Congress and the Congress in its entirety, came away from the spectacle of the packed meeting and of a public obviously impatient to see and know, with the conviction that it was necessary before the end of the Congress to call together again the people of Paris. Their sympathy had been so obvious that it was wished to give them another opportunity to hear the words of the author of the « New Revelation », and to study sender conditions (at last suitable) the graphic documents he had brought to prove the reality of a phenomenon stubbornly contested elsewhere, viz the photography of the dead beside the living.

And thus was hastily elaborated the project of a second public lecture at the « Salle Wagram ». This latter took place on the 11 September 1925. It was supposed that this time the size of the hall would suffice to hold an audience three or four times larger than that of the « Salle des Sociétés Savantes ». It was thought that, deceived by their disappointment, upon the left bank, the excluded ones on that evening would obtain their revenge on the right bank, which after all they certainly would deserve.

Not less advertised through the daily press, as in the case of the first lecture, that given at the Salle Wagram repeated, on the score of attendance, the great success of the one which preceded it. The same long files of people in the Avenue and side street, the same impossibility to find room for all who had come in the assurance of entering and seeing. The side rooms were opened to the public. The crowd was massed up as far as the screen, and even behind it; it was crammed in the upper gallery; a little more, and it would have invaded the platform. But there is a well known principle in physics; compressibility has limits, and there was no denying the fact, that at last, if a needle had been thrown into this over-packed hall, it would not have reached the floor. Twice already, the lecturer was obliged to break off his opening speech and his commentary on the photos, in order to wait until a double wave of determined spectators lead been distributed as well as things allowed. These were people who through some artifice, had got past the service entrances of the hall, and were determined not to go back before making a triumphant entry into the meeting. It may be said that more then two thousand persons, and this figure must be below the true one, — were unable that evening to find room in that spacious hall.

There are various ways in which a cause may prove that it is gaining ground. It may point to the resounding approbation which it increasingly receives in the world at large; or it may speak of the polemics which increase in passion around, and concerning it; or it may produce a list always growing more important, of the publications, journals, reviews and works whose inspiration it has furnished. Or finally it may give statistics of the number of its supporters, and testify to its life, vigour and activity, by placing before the eyes of the sceptic long columns of figures in which the authority of number confounds incredulity.

It is this last argument which Spiritism used that memorable evening, when Sir Arthur C. Doyle, acclaimed in the Salle Wagram, knew that in the street thousands of regrets were on the lips of those who had been deprived of the pleasure of hearing and applauding him. This demonstration was so striking and so eloquent, that the next morning the newspapers unanimously expressed their surprise in every key. They did not disguise their astonishment, and that although they had been already warned about the « spiritist onslaught » which is forcing the world involuntarily to admit that there were so many thousands of people in Paris interested in the matter. It was confessed that if three days later, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have agreed to give a third lecture in the Trocadero, even this hall would have been too small to hold the audience of the famous British pioneer.

The foreign press did not fail to voice its surprise also, and outside the frontier, there was a chorus of satisfaction in the spiritist reviews, when the telegraph had announced to their editors the news of this material triumph of our certainties among the masses (otherwise of such divided opinions) of the population of Paris. To quote only one comment which we fond in the jouurnal « The Two Worlds » general idea may be gained of the tone in which in spiritist circles this important success was received :

In « The Two Worlds » for 2 october 1925. Doctor Abraham Wallace wrote : « The second lecture of Sir A. Conan Doyle, on Friday, took place in the Salle Wagram, one of the largest in Paris. It was a brilliant success, some thousands of persons got inside, and thousands had to remain outside the doors. One of my friends, wedged in the dense crowd, heard a Police Inspector say that the Opera itself, and the Trocadero, would have been too small to hold such a crowd. A subordinate added : Only the Place de la Concorde would have been suitable to give such a lecture ».

The « Revue Spirite » of november 1925, in reproducing this paragraph added :

« Dr Abraham Wallace, rightly says, that withal their humourous appearance, these opinions are the truest homage that could have been paid to Sir A. Conan Doyle and the spiritist cause. And the author concludes by observing that the French press reflected the opinion of the Inspector, for every time the reporters, who had come perhaps, to indulge somewhat in their sarcasm, went away understanding that it was not the time for laughing, but to take Spiritism seriously ».

Besides, no one, either at the lecture at the « Sociétés Savantes » or in the « Salle Wagram » dreamed of laughing. The Parisian joviality, the love of chaff against which to a certain extent, one might have been on one's guard, did not appear at all in these meetings.

Decidedly here was a proof, in this sphere, as in others, that, times have indeed changed, and that spiritism is no longer a subject for laughter, either in the public or the press.

It is needless to say that the public as regards its convictions was extremely varied. There could be seen in the front row a well known writer of the « Temps », who owns a justly esteemed name. Whatever the sympathy of this able writer for the spiritists might have been, it goes without saying, that as regards spiritism itself, he did not commit himself, either towards his readers to whom he would speak on the morrow, or on his own personal account.

As for the public itself, there were to be found many present whose ideas about human survival and the basis of our doctrines were firmly fixed. These came to see and hear and to confirm themselves in their own opinions, which they had no intention of permitting to be shaken. But apart from these determined opponents, — among whom we recognised some priests who had for the occasion discarded their clerical attire, — there were others less obstinate, and although they were not believers, they came for information, and seized the opportunity to gain more light upon it with impartiality, from the words of a spiritist who is both a brilliant writer and a scientific man.

We are strongly inclined to think that these were, much more numerous than the first type, if one may judge by the sincerity of the applause which broke out on all sides, when Sir A. Conan Doyle was defending either some doctrine firmly supported by positive reasoning, or a photo, admirable, but very disturbing, whose authenticity, after explanation, he vouched for. As for the rest of the audience, there were shades of every variety of opinion. There were those who by scientific, or philosophic temperament, or by sentimental inclination either approach spiritism with prudence and explore it like a scrupulous logician, or else trust themselves to it because they have found in it (as much through their heart as their intellect) the law of truth. Spiritism, that day, astonished by its demonstrations which may be styled « plastic », many persons refractory to its teachings. It must have shaken the tenacious doubts of a large number of neutrals, it must have attracted more than one mind absorbed in the great future, and who until then had held aloof from the problem of problems, through fear to attack it squarely. And last of all, it must have received its confirmation as a certainty in souls who already held it to be the most generous and beneficent of guides for Man to the Light on High.

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  1. B.P.S. = Bibliothèque de Philosophie Spiritualiste Moderne et des Sciences Psychiques.