Seance That Ended a Friendship

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Seance That Ended a Friendship is an article published in the Daily Mail on 19 january 1922, including some quotes and a letter by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Seance That Ended a Friendship

Daily Mail (19 january 1922, p. 5)

Story of a Trumpet.

When "Spirit" Voices Stopped.

Under the title of "Hymns and Humbug," Mr. Filson Young, the author, describes in this week's issue (to be published on Saturday) of the Saturday Review, of which he is editor, a "spiritualistic" seance which he attended at Highgate, N., as the guest of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Mr. Young says he went with an open and sympathetic mind. He adds that the room was dark and that he sat next to the electric light switch. The people at the séance sat in a circle, 12 feet in diameter, and in the middle of the circle, before the séance began, standing on its broader end, was a zinc trumpet about 4 feet in length. Sitting next to Mr. Filson Young was a woman whose mother had recently died. A gramophone and musical box were part of the paraphernalia, and in the intervals there was a prayer, a hymn, and some songs.

After some other "spirit" voices had been heard, sounding apparently through the mouth of the trumpet, which seemed to be waving about in the air, Mr. Young writes, "a low voice was heard in front of my neighbour. At once people said:

"'Some one is trying to speak to you; it is evidently some one who has never been through before; the voices are very faint at first; we must make more noise.' So once more the gramophone was wound up. This time I did not sing, but listened attentively. During the song no voice of the trumpet came out of that black darkness, but as soon as it was over the faint voice was heard again, apparently addressing my neighbour, saying, 'Is that you, dear?' and similar phrases of recognition or greeting.

"'The lady beside me was obviously moved and entirely credulous. Perhaps it is my mother,' she said. 'Is that you, darling? Speak to me, mother. Oh, do speak to me. I am not in the least afraid.' The kind of conversation exchanged was generally very vague. 'Encourage her,' said the medium. 'Perhaps the will touch you!'

"It was at this moment that I began to put my theories to the test. I touched, lightly, the lady on my right, on the knee and on the arm, and on her dress, and the effect was remarkable. In an extremely emotional voice, shaking all over, she told her mother that she could feel her touch and her presence, that she recognised her and that she begged her to speak to her more. I confess that I was not a little shocked and did not repeat the experiment.

"But the voice sounding still quite near, at about the level of one's knee, I put out my hand in the dark and gently grasped what proved to be the broad end of the trumpet. The other end of it was pointing out towards the right hand of the circle, near where the medium sat. It was supported horizontally at its other end; and when I grasped it the other end was immediately let go. With immense care, avoiding making any noise or movement on my chair, I slowly raised the trumpet at arms length and gently laid it on the door behind Sir Arthur Doyle's chair. In doing this I, being half turned in my chair, inadvertently touched with my elbow the lady on my left, who immediately said that the spirit had touched her.


"There were no more spirit voices that afternoon... The voice had immediately ceased on my seizing the trumpet and was heard no more that afternoon... The medium, however, assured us that the power was immensely strong in the middle of the room.

"I confess that I shrank from having to explain the presence of the trumpet behind Sir Arthur's chair, and also felt sure they would say that the trumpet must be within the circle of influence'; so I took the opportunity, during the last verse of the hymn, at some risk of discovery, to twist round again, fish for it in the dark, lift it over the heads of my unsuspecting neighbours, and deposit it carefully within the circle — out of reach of the medium.

"When some one said the spirits had gone away we were told that that was unlikely at the signal for their departure was that they dropped the trumpet with a bang on the ground; but I knew that that signal would not be given; that they could not drop the trumpet because they could not reach it...

"At last they began to see that the spirits would not come back, and I was requested to turn on the light. There lay the trumpet where I had put it. The medium said nothing and did not refer to it; the secretary of the society commented on the fact that it was lying in that position and asked whom the spirits had been speaking to last; but as though by common consent the position of the trumpet seemed to be passed over.

"'Well!' said Sir Arthur, as we got up, 'I am sorry we have not had more exciting results, but at any rate you have heard something definite; you have had manifestations about which there can be no denial.' As I was putting my coat on in the hall I got my neighbour's attention for a moment and said, 'I cannot go away without telling you that the person who touched you was not your mother but me, and the voice, you heard was not your mother's but the medium's,' and without waiting for any comments, departed.

"In his prefatory remarks before the seance Sir Arthur said: 'This is either the most solemn thing in the world or the greatest blasphemy.' Most of my readers will, I think, agree with him."

Mr. Filson Young wrote to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stating that no manifestations of supernatural force occurred at the seance and received the following reply:

December 14, 1921.
"Dear Sir, — I was shocked and amazed to learn. from Mrs. ——— that you had admitted to her after the seance that you had been producing bogus phenomena and had seized the trumpet, thus interfering with the proceedings and spoiling the sitting. I could not have conceived you capable, as my guest, of acting in such a manner. I fear that this unpleasant incident must be the end of our acquaintance. I have apologised to the medium and the others. — Yours faithfully,