The Eternal Question

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
The Eternal Question (1919)

The Eternal Question is a book written by Allen Clarke published in july 1919 by J. M. Dent & Sons including a foreword written by Arthur Conan Doyle on 21 may 1919.


p. v
p. vi
p. vii
p. viii


The author has made a valuable contribution to psychic literature, and to the evidence for survival. It is none the less valuable because it is in some ways rather grudging, and comes from one who, by his own admission, has in the past, before personal experience helped him towards the light, shown himself to be adverse to material evidences of the powers which lie beyond us. One who, like myself, has utterly convinced himself of the complete truth of the Spiritualist position, finds himself a little impatient in the face of a judgment which slowly forms itself by observing evidence which is of a type that has been so often observed and recorded before, but none the less the convictions so formed have a special value of their own, and the facts upon which they are founded are new buttresses — if, indeed, new buttresses be needed — to that wonderful temple of revelation which has been the most remarkable construction of our epoch. I can the less blame the author for the deliberate way in which he has come to his final conclusions, since I took many years myself before I was absolutely satisfied as to the facts.

The author is a man of intellect, but he is something more than a man of intellect — he is a man of heart. The latter is, I think, even more valuable than the former in ascertaining spiritual truth, and it is everything in applying it. One continually meets investigators who have admitted the facts — who can possibly help admitting them who has examined the evidence? — and having admitted them, seem to think that the matter ends there. A man of heart realises that it is there that it really begins. The brain has done its work when the evidence is sifted, the truth detected, and the deductions drawn. Then comes the work of the heart, to carry the happy news, to cheer the sufferer, to gladden the despondent, to apply all this glorious knowledge to actual life, and to banish for ever all fear of the unfolding which we have called death. As well might a foolish, earth-bound caterpillar dread the change which is going to turn him into a lovely sky-free butterfly, as the virtuous man dread death.

The author is extraordinarily fortunate in the evidence which has been vouchsafed him. Most of us have had to travel far afield for that which has been brought to his own fireside. His home has become the very type of that which the future home may normally become when the psychic power has been more fully and more universally developed. He has had the good fortune to marry a lady who has not only that intuitive understanding which enables so many women to get far more directly to truth than man can do, but one who has a rare faculty for exercising, in the usual intermittent fashion, the sixth sense, which brings us in touch with that other world which lies so near to our own when the bends of love and insight draw it close. He is fortunate, too, in his own nature, which is evidently strongly psychic, and helpful to the clairvoyant and clairaudient powers of his wife. A man so blessed owes some repayment to the power which has blessed him, and this debt is paid in this volume, which should open a new line of thought and inquiry in the minds of all who read it.

In his own wealth of evidence, brought so easily before his eyes, the author hardly does justice perhaps to the difficulties of those who have to go forth and do the best they can. He speaks rather disparagingly of the travelling

clairvoyant with his Sunday exhibition, and smiles at his clumsy speech and questionable grammar. But in the last great spiritual movement we are told that Peter and John, two leading apostles, were very ignorant men, and good liquid may pass through very common pipes. I am not sure that education and a complex mind are not rather drawbacks where the inspirational things of the spirit are concerned. Just as a blank paper is the best for taking an inscription. It is to be observed that the spirit controls upon the other side are nearly always from undeveloped races, especially Red Indian, and that the reason given for this preference is that the child of nature, with his sane and yet simple mental organism, is the ideal transmitter. If we apply this equally to the mechanism upon our side, we can see that this primitive type of man may be blessed rather than marred by superficial defects. I have been told recently of a clairvoyant who gave twenty-four correct descriptions of spirits in one day, all of them recognised by someone in a crowded Manchester audience, the name and address of the deceased being given in each case, and the residences covering an area of forty miles. This was a very wonderful and convincing exhibition of clairvoyance, yet the clairvoyant was a bargeman by trade, and the control an old Irish woman. Now, as ever, it is the humble who are exalted in the things of the spirit.

There are some of the experiences here set forth which are of special value to the psychic student. One of them is the experiment in which the author covered his wife's eyes, and by doing so seemed to shut out the clairvoyant vision. It would be well if he could check this by doing it again should the opportunity recur. It has been generally supposed that the physical eye is not concerned in such vision, and in the case of certain psychics it is undoubtedly subjective. If the author is correct, then it was objective in the case of his wife, and so it must be where several observers all agree as to one appearance. It is probable that spirits use both methods, the building up of an object which can be seen by the clairvoyant eye, and the impression of an object which can be made upon the clairvoyant brain.

The whole story of the two wives, their spiritual commerce, and the guardianship by the spirit of the first wife of the dead child of the second wife, is a very beautiful one, and very hopeful, too, as pointing to the kindlier, more charitable, and broader relationships which are established in the beyond.


As to the author's speculations upon other matters which go beyond the bounds of Spiritualism, I have read them with interest and instruction, but do not feel competent to express an opinion upon them. — A. C. D.

Crowborough, May 21st, 1919.