Life After Death. Sir Conan Doyle's Lecture

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Life After Death is an article of a journalist of The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) published on 16 november 1920.


Life After Death

The Sydney Morning Herald (16 november 1920)



Sir Arthur Conan Doyle partly laid the case for spiritualism before a great house at the Town Hall last night; as he explained, his later lectures will deal with other phases of the subject. In last night's address, which he enlitled "The Human Argument," he reviewed the support which this movement has received from scientists like Sir Oliver Lodge. Sir William Crookes, Dr. Alfred Russell Wallace, and others; and devoted part of the evening to an autobiographical sketch, in which he recounted his own beginnings in the movement. This part of his lecture was of dramatic interest, by reason of his description of his meeting with his dead son.

Sir Arthur made a plain statement of his case, declaring at its conclusion that he was content to sow the seed in the soil, and that he was not here to make converts. He began with an apology for a sore throat, which had confined him to his room that day; and towards the end of the night there was a trace of huskiness in his voice, but there was never any difficulty in hearing him in all parts of the great hall. He has a well-placed voice, robust, and with a touch of the Celtic accent. He took his audience on his journey to the shadowy realms in a spirit of evident sincerity, with reverence, and yet not in a sombre mood. Often he made laughter by his pleasantries; but of the subject itself he spoke as if nothing else mattered. There was an impressive moment at the close of his address when he declared that his title, any little savings he had made, any literary reputation he had made, anything on earth save his honour and his family - all was as mud in the gutter when compared to the importance of this question. "I would lose all these," he affirmed, "rather than lose what I know of this subject."

He began investigating it 34 years ago, he told his audience, and if 34 years' study did not make an expert, he did not know what the qualification could be. He was popularly supposed to know a little about detective work - (laughter) - and that, he would admit, was of some value in this study. Yet he felt that he was only ankle-deep in a large ocean, wherein were profound gulfs; but, though only ankle-deep, he wag able to tell something to people who stood on the shore dryshod.

Tracing the history of the movement, he dealt graphically with the famous Fox manifestations in America. However much one might criticise what had occurred in that case, one thing was certain; that through these very first spirit communications which had come to the world an unknown murder was discovered. These communications had come to very humble people, but God's ways were not our ways. It was the humble people who had clung to this revelation of spirit communication in the face of insult and obloquy, and he was a blind man indeed who could not realise the progress the movement was making to-day over the earth. Educated men had left the Churches-only one person in ten entered a church in London; "but we," he added, "have done something to revivify the knowledge of life after death, and instead of being met by vituperation from the pulpits, we ought to have had the right hand of Christianity given to us." (Applause.)

Then the lecturer reviewed the names of the scientific men who had investigated spiritualism. These included Professor Hare, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania; Alfred Russell Wallace, Lombroso, the famous alienist, and "our great modern leader. Sir Oliver Lodge," he went on amidst applause. There was not, he declared, a man in Europe with a bigger or more analytical brain than Sir Oliver Lodge. Lady Hodge shared her husband's opinions, because she shared his experiences, "exactly," he added, as my wife has shared my experiences, and therefore shares my belief." Could they think that these scientific men were in a conspiracy to delude the public? There was no question of mistake. Either that, or they were mad, unless in the other alternative the thing was true. It was impossible to suppose that they were in such a conspiracy, and the records of these scientific men did not suggest madness on their part.

Describing his own progress in the movement, he said that when he was a young man, and wrote the "Stark Munro Letters, he was a materialist. Then he took his audience through the steps in his journey to spiritualism, beginning when, he attended a family seance of a patient, "for," said he, With dry humour, "when you're a young doctor, it is well to take an interest in the things your leading patient is interested in." He thought at this seance that the others were shaking the table, and possibly they thought it was he who was doing so; but that was the beginning of a long course of study, culminating in the meeting with his son.

There was dramatic silence as in simple language he told this narrative of this meeting at a seance in which Evan Powell, a coal miner, was the medium. "My wife, who was present at the seance, exclaimed, 'It's Kingsley!' Then I heard the voice, 'Father!' it said. Then there were two or three words, 'Father, pardon!'" There was, said the lecturer, only one thing for which his son could really have asked his pardon; he was religious, and was frightened of spiritualism,and could not agree with his father upon it; and now here he was coming to him through it. He asked his son if he were happy, and the reply came, "So happy," and then suddenly he felt his son's Brent strong hand upon his head before the spirit drifted away. The event was attested by those who were present, and he had collected this evidence for his debate with M'Cabe, the materialist, in London.

In a voice of conviction, Sir Arthur, speaking of this meeting with his son, challenged anyone to say that that was a devil.

Someone in the hall interrupted, "It was!" Sir Arthur laughed. "If any man says that, it only shows the extraordinary twists that the human mind can take!"

Another man in the front of the hall rose, but whether in agreement or dissent was not clear. There was loud counter-cheering at this show of opposition, and the lecturer went on to comment with another laugh, that if the devil went about the world imploring people to practise unselfishness as the only way to progress, then the devil didn't know his job.

Another manifestation Which he described occurred at a seance at Merthyr Tydvil when he heard the voice of his brother, who had been a brigadier-general in the British army, and in this case the name by which the dead man had been known only in the family circle was used. The spirit was asked about his wife, a Danish lady, concerning whose health the family were anxious, and in reply gave some name which proved to be that of a psychic curer. Whose was this voice, demanded Sir Arthur, if not that of the loving husband anxious to bring succour to his wife?

Enumerating his reasons why spiritualism had not been generally adopted by the world, he said the fault was partly with the leaders of the people, and partly with the spiritualism themselves. When the human race adopted it, it would turn on those clergy who resisted it, and say to them that they ought to have taken the trouble to examine it. The leaders of organised societies of science, who had at first scoffed at mesmerism, and afterwards adopted it under its new name of hypnotism, were also responsible. They would probably give spiritualism a new name some day, and adopt it in the same way. (Laughter.) The Press he also blamed, for having, he asserted, treated the matter with the most shameful levity and superficiality.

The early spiritualists, he said, ran into all sorts of eccentricities which gave good copy to the Press and a bad name to the movement. Then there was fraud on the part of mediums, and the bad use of their gifts for fortune-telling, horse-racing, and the Stock Exchange. All these things had no relation to this movement at all. Again, it was necessary to have darkness for certain phenomena, for the reason that psychoplasm, the raw material of all phenomena - a substance material enough to be appreciated on this side, and ethereal enough to be manipulated on the other side - dissolved in light. But at the same time darkness afforded a very good screen for the swindler. Whenever spiritualists detected these swindlers they themselves denounced them. The spiritualists were to blame, moreover, for having given up their propaganda work because of abuse.

He had never yet met an evil spirit. He had received foolish messages, and once a message which was not true; but when he regarded the amount of angelic help and support and comfort he had received, and weighed that against the very little deceit he had seen on the other side, the one could not possibly be compared to the other.

The lecturer described messages which came through automatic writing to a friend who was staying with his wife and himself. This lady had lost three brothers in the retreat from Mons, and his wife had lost her brother there; and, the messages came from the four young men, and were convincing because of the knowledge of military details which they displayed. How important it was to those who had lost a dear child in the war to know that that child was nearer to them at this hour than probably they had even been when they were in this life. (Applause.) His wife and he had resolved to spend the remainder of their lives in trying to get that knowledge across to the world. (Applause.)

In answer to the objection or the Rev. S. G. Fielding, that the seance led to insanity and depravity, Sir Arthur denied that there was any depravity among spiritualists, and said the remark about insanity was due to an erroneous statement by Dr. Forbes Winslow that there were 10,000 people in the asylums through spiritualism - a statement which he had afterwards withdrawn.

Sir Arthur spoke for an hour and a half without a note. His wife was present with him on the platform.