Conan Doyle Replies
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Conan Doyle replies to P. W. Wilson about his psychic belief.
Conan Doyle Replies
Comments on Article Discussing His Relation to Psychic Belief.
To the Editor of The New York Times:
I will not answer P. W. Wilson's very prejudiced and one-sided article so far as it relates to myself, but there are some points of fact which I must set right, as otherwise it might seem that I acquiesced in them.
1. He speaks of my rupture with Filson Young as having been because he exposed some hocus pocus at a seance. I quarreled with Mr. Young because when he was my guest at a seance he himself personated a spirit and played faked tricks on other sitters. He has admitted this. Does Mr. Wilson defend that conduct? If not, what is it that he is complaining of?
2. That I resented some "exposures" by Truth. The medium attacked was a Mrs. Brittain. I had sent this woman 100 mourners and in the 100 cases she had given names, particulars and evidential messages from the dead in 80 cases. She had done more, to my knowledge, to console humanity than any one of my acquaintances. Was I not right, then, to resent it when she was abused by an ignorant man who knew nothing of these facts?
3. That mediums I have recommended have been convicted of fraud. Any medium may be convicted, because the mere fact of being a medium is illegal by our benighted laws, but no medium I have ever recommended has been shown to be fraudulent in a sense which could be accepted by any real psychic student. The same applies. I believe to mediums recommended by Sir Oliver Lodge.
Mr. Wilson seems to be one of those strangely simple skeptics who believe that because a conjurer can make on a prepared stage a colorable imitation of some phenomenon, therefore the same phenomenon when it comes in your own dining room must be a conjuring trick. The world has been fooled long enough by absurdities of this sort. Houdini. Robert Kellar. Herrmann. Jacob and many other of the greatest conjurers in the world have agreed that psychic phenomena are on an entirely different plane to their own tricks, and I can, if challenged, give their words and the references from which they are extracted. How thin, then, is the argument that because Maskeline in order to draw an audience imitates ectoplasm, therefore the experiments of men like Crawford, Schrenck-Notzing, Geley and others, extending over years and illustrated by hundreds of photographs, are also conjuring tricks! I have had several good photographs of ectoplasm sent me by American psychics since I have been in New York. Are these conjuring tricks also?
I wrote about spiritualism in "Light" in the year 1887, and here I am writing about it still. And yet Mr. Wilson ventures to say that it is some sudden freak of mine and that I may abandon it tomorrow. To pretend that I am a man who has been changeable in his views is most absurd to any one who knows me. However, as I said before, I prefer to ignore all personalities.
Mr. Wilson is annoyed because I consider that Christianity would be in a stronger position if the Old Testament was not admitted to have an authority which could be compared with the new. To many of us the two books seem contradictory in the spirit of their teaching. If Mr. Wilson can really show that the doctrine of an eye for an eye is consistent with the Sermon on the Mount, or if he can make us understand why we have dropped half the Mosaic laws and yet quote the other half as if they were inspired, he would be a real help to earnest and honest minds.
Mr. Wilson says one thing, however, which is profoundly true. It is that all of us who take up this matter lose prestige by doing so. If any man wants prestige or any other worldly advantage let him leave it alone. It is only for those who have the moral courage and the self-sacrifice to care nothing about prestige or the opinion of the world so long as they know that they are furthering the cause of the most precious truth that has ever come to suffering humanity.
ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE.
Atlantic City. June 16. 1922.