Mr. Jerome and Spirits

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Mr. Jerome and Spirits is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in Common Sense on 16 august 1919.

Mr. Jerome and Spirits

Sir, As Mr. Jerome K. Jerome has had his second innings, perhaps you will kindly allow me to be upon equal terms with him. I note from his remarks that he is sceptical about the facts of the physical phenomena of Spiritualism. But from every word of his article it is evident that he has never examined these alleged facts, and that apart from my own short epitome of the subject, which he has read in the interval between articles, he has no acquaintance with the evidence. Under these circumstances, what is his dissent worth? Clever man as he is, it is not the same weight as the opinion of the first man you meet in the street, if that man has chanced to have real knowledge of what has occurred. To put it in a definite form, has he carefully read Sir William Crookes' laboratory experiments as described by himself from 1871 to 1873? Has he read the researches of Dr. Crawford, of Belfast, set forth in two books between 1915 and 1919? Has he read Professor Geley's recent experiments, which were checked by a hundred French scientists of various types? Has he read the work of Professor Schrenck-Notzing, the German inquirer? Has he seen the books of the famous Professor Lombroso and the record of his twenty years' work? All these works have been accompanied by photographs. Does he accuse all these distinguished scientists of faking these photographs, without the faintest personal object, and indeed with risk of incurring professional ruin? If he has not consulted these authorities then he has no right to assume so intolerant an attitude, and to jeer at those who have. If, on the other hand, he has consulted those authorities, and is still a sceptic, then his mental attitude is beyond my comprehension. It seems to me that the maddest theory ever invented by the human brain is that for seventy years a great number of people in many varying countries have all been claiming to have certain personal experiences, often seen by many at one time, and that the whole thing originates in colossal stupidity or impish mischief. Can anyone really continue to hold such a theory as that? I notice that opponents of the movement are more and more being pushed away from it, and are adopting the alternative, but contradictory ground, that such knowledge is illicit.

In quoting some small instances of abnormal happenings given in my book, Mr. Jerome entirely misrepresents them, and shows that extraordinary inaccuracy which seems inseparable from every controversialist who attacks Spiritualism. For example, in the case of the lady who wrote automatically about the terrible nature of the Lusitania disaster, Mr. Jerome suppresses the fact that it was at a time when we had every reason to believe that there was no loss of life. That is, of course, the whole point of the story. Again, in describing my Piave dream, he does not mention that I had never at that time consciously heard of the Piave, and that it was not within the war zone when I recorded the dream. This, again, is the whole point of the anecdote. As to the argument that three cool-headed and responsible men of the world like Lord Adair, Lord Seaton and Captain Wynne are to be disbelieved as witnesses to a fact which all three have seen — namely, the levitation of Mr. Home — because false witnesses swore away the lives of witches in the Middle Ages, I can hardly believe that Mr. Jerome would seriously uphold it. I am fairly well acquainted with the history of witchcraft, and the main characteristics of the old trials were the illiteracy and general independability of the witnesses.

Mr. Jerome is very anxious to know what is our "new religion." I think he will find something very like it if he goes back nineteen hundred years and studies the Christianity of Christ. There he will read of those same signs and wonders which we call "phe-nomena," there he will read of the discerning of spirits which we call "clairvoyance," and there also he will read of a good deal of ridicule and misrepresentation which did not prevent the new movement from conquering the world, even as this, its successor, is bound to do. This time, however, we must see to it that the sacred fire is not smothered by formalism and the intrusion of materialism. I agree with Mr. Jerome that we have lived to see some very terrible phases of human history. At the same time, I am convinced that anything more unselfish and noble than the conduct of the British Empire as a whole, and of Britons as individuals, during the last five years, has never been known. It is true that the present and future may not be at so high a level, but at least in the wartime the nation has risen with hardly an exception to an extraordinary point of moral grandeur. Personally, I do not at all take the view that Christ was one who would stand by and see cruelty or oppression without interference; but I prefer to believe that had He been amongst us, He would have been the first to risk a second martyrdom in the cause of justice and freedom. He would have done His part in the scourging of the Germans out of Belgium as whole-heartedly as He scourged the tradespeople out of the Temple. I cannot accept the watery, cold-blooded, unpractical reading which some have given to His character. However, I have said enough, and must not lay any greater burden upon your hospitable columns.

Yours, etc.,

Crowborough, August 11