The Case for Spiritualism

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

The Case for Spiritualism is an article written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Graphic on 21 february 1920.

It was a reply to Edward Clodd's attack : The Revival of the Cult of Spiritualism: A Scathing Criticism (14 february 1920).

The Case for Spiritualism

The Graphic (21 february 1920, p. 260)

A reply by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Mr. Edward Clodd's strong attack in last week's issue of "The Graphic".

There is ample evidence in Mr. Clodd's article, apart from his own implied confession, that he is in the habit of "cutting the pages and smelling the paper-knife" when he reads a book upholding the truth of spiritualism. On the other hand, he has the eye of a hawk for a scandalous paragraph written by any unknown or anonymous journalist. These are greedily swallowed, while the considered statements of results obtained by men like Crookes, Lombroso, Crawford, or Ricket, under absolute test conditions, sometimes in their own laboratories, are waved aside as worthless. Was there ever so absurd, so unscientific a position ! It shows the depth of unreason to which a prejudice can sink a naturally clear brain.

The errors as to fact in Mr. Clodd's contribution to The Graphic are so numerous that it would take a long article to thrash them out. Here I can only indicate them and ask the reader to consult the authorities and verify my remarks. The date given in the article for the outbreak of psychic phenomena in America is 1818. This is obviously a misprint for 1848, and I only mention it lest the reader should be confused. The passage about Katie Cook having been detected in fraud before going to Sir William Crookes is utterly wrong. The matter occurred in the early seventies, but the facts are worth recalling. Miss Cook at the time was a schoolgirl of fifteen with strong undeveloped powers as a physical medium. There was a dispute as to the genuine character of her phenomena owing to a Mr. Volkmann seizing a solid figure which eluded him. As we now know the ectoplasm forms a solid figure, such a figure as after wards became famous as Katie King, and to feel it there was a confirmation rather than an exposure. This was not realised, however, and Florrie Cook had to face adverse criticism, one of the critics being Professor Crookes.

Miss Cook called upon him, proclaimed her innocence, and said : "You believe me to be an impostor. Well, you shall see. I will come to your house. Mrs. Crookes will supply me with clothes, and send those that I come in away. Satisfy yourself completely and finally one way or the other I make only one condition. If you find I am a fraud denounce me as publicly as you please. If you find that the phenomena are genuine say so, and clear me before the world." This statement is taken from Miss Cook's account ("Two Worlds," March, 1897), published in Sir William's lifetime. What his judgment was is common knowledge. After two years of observation he entirely endorsed her honesty, and so vindicated her from the original aspersion. Is it not a scandal then to assert now that "Miss Cook had been detected in spurious personification of Katie" ?

When he comes to the Fox sisters, whom he calls "hussies," Mr. Clodd writes with his usual prejudice and want of charity. Miss Kate Fox married Mr. Jencken of the English Bar, and gave repeated demonstrations in private life of the reality of her powers. Says Professor Crookes : "It seems only necessary for her to place her hand upon any substance for loud thuds to be heard in it, like a triple pulsation, so loud as to be heard several rooms away. I have heard them in a living tree, on a sheet of glass, on an iron wire, on a membrane, the roof of a cab, and the floor of a theatre." Thousands have verified under every sort of test condition the impossibility of the medium having produced them. The only possible excuse for Mr. Clodd's statement is an interview alleged to have occurred between some American pressman and Mrs. Kane, formerly Miss Margaret Fox. After the period of this newspaper sensation, Mr. Funk, the American investigator, who was not at that time a spiritualist, found her living in very unhappy circumstances in New York, recorded some extraordinary manifestations received from her, and added, alluding to her mental condition, much strained by the psychic labours of a lifetime, "At that time her affidavit for or against anything should not be given the slightest weight." And this is the sole excuse upon which Mr. Clodd attempts to wipe out the whole testimony of the Fox family, and their fifty years of public work !

Mr. Clodd's criticisms of Eusapia Palladino and of Raymond are equally superficial and inaccurate but I have already taken up too much of your space. A man who can argue that because a belief has always in one shape or form existed, therefore it must be false, seems to me to exhibit a very perverse mentality.