Modern Miracles

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Modern Miracles is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in Common Sense on 12 july 1919.

Modern Miracles

Sir A. Conan Doyle Replies to Mr. Jerome K. Jerome

Sir, Mr. Jerome K. Jerome appeals to me to answer some questions about spiritualism, propounded in your columns. This I am happy to do, although I am bound to say that if he had read, even superficially, upon the subject he would not have needed to ask them.

1. Why is a medium bound in a physical phenomenon seance?

Because otherwise the sceptics would declare that he himself produced the results. In some cases he has been put in a locked cage for the same reason.

2. Why in the dark?

Because experience has shown that the results are better in the dark. It would be more convenient if this were not so. It would also be more convenient if photographs could be developed outside a dark room. In each case physical law is the obstacle.

3. Why a tambourine?

It is the only instrument which shows by its rattle where it is in a dark room. A luminous cross is equally good and is now occasionally used.

4. Why such puerile messages?

Death alters nothing, and we find every grade of intelligence upon the further side from a sprite to an archangel. We get what we deserve. If Mr. Jerome would come to me and examine the 120 books upon this subject which form my reference library he would find that the tone of the communications is by no means so low as he thinks. Some of them are as high as mortal brain can follow.

Mr. Jerome complains that the raps at Hydesville did not disclose something wonderful. I think that when they disclosed intelligence separated from ordinary matter they did disclose something wonderful — the most wonderful thing that our age has known. I agree that many of the manifestations seem puerile, but if one looks behind them at the force which produces them they cease to be puerile, but form the starting point of a chain of thought and experiment which is all-important. The appeal was made to a coarse-minded and materialistic generation, and it was just such crude phenomena that were needed to shake them out of their complacency. It would have seemed better to us if an archangel had appeared in Trafalgar Square, but I suppose the problem was made more obscure so that we should have the merit of using our wits and our patience.

Mr. Jerome compares the modern miracles with those of the New Testament. They are, I think, the same. Save for the raising of the dead I cannot recall any miracle in the New Testament which has not been claimed, upon good authority, as having occurred in the experience of spiritualists.

I have myself experienced the rushing wind, the tongues of fire, and the direct voice. As to our modern miracles being funny and those of the Testament free from this taint, it all depends upon the spirit in which an incident is described. I have no doubt that if a cynical press man had told the story of the loaves and fishes or of the Gadarene swine he could have made it very funny, but that does not really dispose of the matter.

I cannot cover all the ground here, but I have done so in my New Revelation, and would be glad to send Mr. Jerome a copy. I care nothing about proselytising, but if I could give so old a friend the joy which this knowledge brings with it I should spare no pains to do so.

Yours faithfully,

Windlesham, Crowborough, Sussex. July 4.