Trumpet Voices at a Seance

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Trumpet "Voices" at a Seance is an article published in the Daily Mail on 27 january 1922, including some quotes by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Trumpet "Voices" at a Seance

Daily Mail (27 january 1922, p. 5)

Sir A. Conan Doyle's Reply.

Mr. Filson Young and "Ectoplasm."

We trace some extracts last week from an article entitled "Hymns and Humbug" which Mr. Filson Young, the editor of the Saturday Review, published in the latest issue of that journal, describing a "spiritualistic" séance which he attended at Highgate, N., as the guest of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sir Arthur has written a reply to Mr. Filson Young for publication in his next issue, and he has forwarded a copy of it to us.

Below we give some extracts from Sir A. Conan Doyle's reply, together with some of Mr. Filson Young's interpolated comments (between brackets) and passages from an article in which he makes some "final remarks."

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Mr. Filson Young.

When we had assembled and the lights were lowered, you at ones declared that you heard jingling, as of bells, in your corner. This no doubt was an invention upon your part in the hope that some of the company would corroborate a false statement. No one else heard them. A lady shortly afterwards declared that she saw a whitish vapour in the room. You eagerly corroborated. No one else saw it. It is evident that you were either imaginative, or else deliberately deceitful from the very first.

[I do not accept the accuracy of this statement. The bell-like Angle which I heard was, I supposed, produced by an accidental movement of the musical box. The intention attributed to me is absurd, as I was still in a perfectly sympathetic and expectant state of mind. As to the whitish vapour, a touch of liver or a sudden plunge into darkness is an excellent producer of light phenomena.]


Presently, as you say, we heard voices. These voices were unquestionably male voices, deep and throaty... "There could be no doubt whatever that the tones were those of a man," says Quex of The Evening News. Since then these voices assuredly did not come from the medium [a Mrs. Johnson], they must, if these were fraud, have been produced by one of the male sitters. These sitters were myself, the secretary of the Psychological Society, H. Engholm, managing director of 'Light,' and my friend Mr. Stavedey Bulford.

[I have not professed to give an exact account of how these phenomena were produced, because there were half a dozen-ways, in which they could have been produced which would have afforded an infinitely more reasonable explanation than that of spirit voices... So long as a natural explanation is possible. I must reject the supernatural.]

You say that the voices had some inflections of the medium. Of course they had. The material basis — the ectoplasm — from which the voice is produced, is, of course, drawn from the medium. [Of course.] At first, while the power is low, it will always retain some traces of her. As that power develops these traces are lost.


There came next the trumpet messages. The trumpet went to Mr. Engholm, at the further side of the circle, and he had a message which he declares to be evidential. It then went to the lady upon my left... The medium said: "I see by the trumpet two figures, one of a young officer, the other of an elderly lady." The sitter told me afterwards that those were exactly the two whom she had come to seek. Then, just as she was getting a message which to her at least was sacred, you touched her. What could she imagine save that it was a spirit touch?... The same applies to the lady on your left, who also felt your touch. Both ladies complained to me bitterly of your conduct after the seance.

[I have explained, and you in one of your interviews stated, that the touching of the lady on the left with my elbow was accidental, and caused by my turning in my chair.]

You then thought it right to seize the trumpet, which was in mid-air. Between the lady who was receiving the message and the medium there was my own rather broad frame, and on my right my wife, who assures me that she was in such close touch of the medium that any movement would have been detected. She assures me also, and I can partly corroborate, that the medium was talking to those about her while the message was going through. How then can you possibly establish your case that it was the medium who was bending forward past two sitters and talking to the third one? It is a physical impossibility.

[Physical impossibility? The tine between the medium and the lady who was being humbugged was an arc of our circle. The circumference of a circle lies outside its arc, therefore your broad frame was not "between" those two points, in the tense that a line between them would have to cut through it. It was on one side of that line. Even Watson would admit this.]

As to the direction of the trumpet, of course it pointed away from her, since the power comes from her and the trumpet is actually attached to her by an ectoplasmic hand.

[Good heavens!]


You seized the trumpet and you felt resistance. This is entirely what one could expect, since the trumpet is held by the aforesaid ectoplasmic rod, which is a material object. You put the trumpet on the floor and the proceedings stopped. What is there in all this? It could not have been otherwise. Even mental want of harmony can retard or spoil a seance, and when on the top of this is added levity, deceit, and actual physical interference, there was no possibility of re-establishing those delicate conditions which are essential to success. The medium, I may add, was ill for several days afterwards, and complained to my wife at the first moment you touched the trumpet of the sickness which she experienced.

[If this ghastly occurrence had really taken place, and, as I understand it, the medium's ectoplasmic entrails had been torn from her. I cannot understand why she did not mention it at the time, or, if she did mention it to Lady Conan Doyle, why that lady did not immediately, in the interests of humanity, or of ecto-humanity, stop the séance.]


In some final remarks Mr. Filson Young says:

I confess that any leanings I may have had towards spiritualism have been effectively discouraged by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; and for that I thank him. I do not at all understand why he should have been so annoyed with me, and I think it a pity that he should consider it necessary to impute bad faith to me. I make and have made no such imputation against him.

On the other hand, it does seem to me a matter of considerable importance whether the voices heard in the Highgate parlour were the voices of the dead or the voices of a paid medium... Mrs. Johnson accuses me (Evening News) of not "playing the game." If I had understood that we were playing a game in which certain rules were to be observed, and in which the control of the toys was to be entirely in the hands of certain people. I should have declined the invitation.

Then there is the dark nonsense about the ectoplasm, of which it is difficult to write patiently. What I did was gently to take the trumpet. which I found extended in the air, and lay it on the floor; and the hand that released it to me did so very willingly.

All the evidence that the Psychical Research Society seem able to get about ectoplasm (Proceedings, January 1922) is that they found some fragments of something which proved to be chewed paper on the person of a medium whom they tested.