The Magic Circle

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

The Magic Circle is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Times on 2 august 1919.

The Magic Circle

The Times (2 august 1919)



Sir, — I notice that some prominence is given in your columns to an alleged challenge from a body calling itself "The Magic Circle," which appears to be addressed to me and to concern itself with the physical phenomena of spiritualism. I have not heard personally from the body in question, nor do I know any of the names, save that of their official adviser. Mr. J. N. Maskelyne, who occasionally presents paid performances in which he parodies spiritualistic séances, and, with the aid of a trick stage and an expert assistant, endeavours to imitate the phenomena. His presence would not predispose any spiritualist to regard the body which he "officially advises" as an independent set of inquirers.

I would point out, however, that already two organizations for investigation have gone deeply into this matter. The first was the Dialectical Society, formed in 1869 and compromising a number of men of independent mind drawn from various professions. After an exhaustive inquiry, the sub-committee appointed to examine the phenomena, four-fifths of whom were agnostic at the outset, unanimously reported after 40 sittings that the phenomena were "veritable facts." Since then the Society for Psychical Research has been formed, and though it has not given, and probably never will give, a collective report, it is notorious that of the brilliant group who formed the society, including Professor Sir William Barrett, F. W. H. Myers, Dr. Hodgson, Professor and Mrs. Sidgwick, Mr. Gurney, and others, the great majority were forced to accept the spiritual hypothesis. In these circumstances it is difficult to understand what good purpose can be served by the "Magic Circle" in its investigation, since it would be sifting material already twice sifted through a sieve more finely meshed than their own. How could their work hope to have the weight which attaches to the three years' investigation of Crookes in his laboratory, the careful experiments of Professor Crawford at Belfast, the report of Professor Geley in Paris, or the scientific tests described by Dr. Zollner, of Leipzig ?

Yours faithfully,