Crusader of Spiritualism
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Crusader of Spiritualism is an article written by a journalist of The Register (Adelaide, Australia) first published on 27 september 1920.
- in The Register (27 september 1920 [AU])
- in The Times (28 september 1920 [UK])
- in Light (13 november 1920 [UK])
Crusader of Spiritualism
Conan Doyle on "The Human Argument."
There could not have been a more impressive set of circumstances than those which attended the first Australian lecture by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at the Adelaide Town Hall on Saturday night. The audience, large, representative, and thoughtful, was in its calibre and proportions a fitting compliment to a world celebrity and his mission. Many of the intellectual leaders of the city were present — University professors, pulpit personalities, men eminent in business, legislators, every section of the community contributed a quota. It cannot be doubted, of course, that the brilliant literary fame of the lecturer was an attraction added to that strange subject which explored the "unknown drama of the soul." Over all, Sir Arthur dominated by his big arresting presence. His face has a rugged, kindly strength, tense and earnest in its grave moments, and full of winning animation when the sun of his rich humour plays on the powerful features. It is not altogether a sombre journey he makes among the shadow, but apparently one of happy, as well as tender, experiences, so that laughter is not necessarily excluded from the exposition. Do not let that be misunderstood. There was no intrusion of the slightest flippancy. Sir Arthur, the whole time, exhibited that attitude of reverence and humility demanded of one traversing a domain on the borderland of the tremendous. Nothing approaching a theatrical presentation of the case for spiritualism marred the discourse. It was for the most part a plain statement. First things had to be said, and the explanatory ground work laid for future development. It was a lucid and illuminating introduction. Sir Arthur had a budget of notes, but after he had turned over a few pages he sallied forth with fluent independence, under the inspiration of a vast mental store of material. A finger jutted out now and again with thrust of passionate emphasis, or his big glasses twirled during moments of descriptive ease, and occasionally both hands were held forward as though delivering settled points to the audience for its examination. A dear, well-disciplined voice, excellent diction, and conspicuous sincerity of manner marked the lecture, and no one could have found fault with the way in which Sir Arthur presented his case.
— Subject Concerning All. —
The lecturer approached the audience in no spirit of impatient dogmatism, but in the capacity of an understanding mind seeking to illumine the darkness of doubt in those who had not shared his great experiences. He did not dictate, but reasoned and pleaded, taking the people into his confidence with strong conviction and a consoling faith. "I want to speak to you to-night on a subject which concerns the destiny of every man and woman in this room," began Sir Arthur, bringing everybody at once into an intimate personal circle. "No doubt the Almighty, by putting an angel in King William street could convert every one of you to spiritualism, but the Almighty law is that we most use our own brains, and find out our own salvation, and it is not made too easy for us." Sir Arthur said he began investigating the subject 34 years ago, and he admitted that he had felt all the time that he was ankle deep in a large ocean, and that a little further in lay profound gulfs of which he knew nothing. Yet, while ankle deep he had realized that he was able to tell something to people who were dry shod on the shore. Once his interest was aroused be applied himself with prodigious energy to research, then set out on a lecturing tour, and had spoken to 150,000 people face to face, and believed he had got the message across to them. Sir Arthur explained how, like so many medical students, he had emerged from his course wrapped in materialism, but he was soon drawn to the mysteries of table rocking, 'for when you are a young doctor, and your leading patient begins to take an interest in things, you've got to take an interest in them too, or you get left". (Laughter.) So he attended a family seance. He thought they were shaking the table, and he had no doubt they thought he was, but that incident sent him on a long and wonderful journey, culminating in the tender reunion with his dead son. "I heard his voice," he declared, with great warmth of conviction, "My wife heard it even before I did. 'There's Kingsley,' she said. I enquired, 'Is that you, boy!' and he replied, 'Yes, father.' His hand came on my head, a strong hand, for he was a big fellow, and he bent forward and kissed my forehead. I said. 'Are you happy. boy?' There was a slight pause. 'So happy,' was the response, and then we had a little intimate conversation, of quite a private character. He had been a most religious boy. We had had a difference over spiritualism, and my son told me be was sorry. Then the voice died away. I had letters afterwards from several who present, and all gave corroborative testimony. There is no flaw in the evidence: It is complete as it stands." The audience listened to that touching account in impressive silence, "and my boy is here tonight," announced Sir Arthur, with convincing emphasis, motioning with his right hand towards the reading desk. The whole personality of the man was aflame with sincerity, and the crowd was hushed, as if sharing his spiritual exaltation. Tracing the development of the movement for psychic enquiry, Sir Arthur recounted how the truth had spread from America to Europe, and practically all over the world. Scientific opposition was instant and stubborn, regarding spiritualism as a gross delusion, but it was breaking down before the conquering light of revelation. Spooks, false mediums, and all rascally tricks which clouded the truth and beauty of demonstrated facts had been exposed by spiritualists themselves. Sir Arthur declared that he did not know of one case — and his reading on the subject had been enormous — where scientific men who had read, say, 25 books and attended the same number of seances, had decided against the subject. Sir Oliver Lodge, whom he looked upon as the greatest intellectual force in Europe, had been so fired by psychic investigation that he had delivered more than 80 lectures in America. "Lady Lodge," said the lecturer, " shares her husband's opinions be cause she shared his experiences. Proof has come to her, just as my wife shares my opinions, not because I am her husband, but because she has been convinced by the same proofs that came to me. We have a message for the Australians, and by God's help we will get it across to them. I hope most of you are sceptics. It is of no use talking to people who agree with you. I would far rather talk to people who do not know."
— Not a Conspiracy. —
Sir Arthur threw out an impassioned challenge to those who doubted the bona fides of eminent advocates of spiritualism. "Do you imagine," he demanded, half in protest, half in indignation, "that all these people are in a conspiracy to deceive the public? That is inconceivable. Or do you imagine that they are stark, staring mad, because that is the only other alternative? Why, these men are leaders of science! Is it likely, that they will agree on something which is without foundation in fact?" The lecturer said he had never understood the prejudice and antagonism of leaders of religion. Why, here was they great ally in the doctrine of immortality. Then there were the levity and contempt of an ignorant press, the fraud of mediums, and the foolish exclusiveness of spiritualists who for a long time kept important evidence in their own little backrooms. All that sort of thing had to be met and defeated, and the black guards and hangers on had to be put to rout. Between all those forces the subject got covered up. "Floating tambourines, and tables rocking in the air," proceeded Sir Arthur, clearing away the debris of criticism; "they are childish things, but they were also signals drawing the attention of a generation so materialistic that nothing would have attracted it, except something appealing to their senses. I get stacks of letters regarding manifestations. The last time I counted them they made 72. Six were failures, six half and half, and in 60 cases there was no question or doubt that they got through from the other aide. I don't know what the telephone is like in Adelaide, but if you get through 60 times out of 72 in London you are doing, very well indeed." (Laughter.) Sir Arthur proceeded with graphic and genuine feeling to give in stances in which he insisted voices had come over from across the great boundary, voices of individual identity which described the processes of death and their present life. Impressively appealing were those eloquent intimate touches in the lecturer's peroration, in which he sought to establish that there there no broken ties in the passing over to the world beyond the valley of the shadows. There was, he said, a law of sympathy and love which acted on the other side of the grave. As the eyes grew dimmer here they grew brighter there, as they beheld loved ones going to meet them. The law was that everything went to normal, and that men and women drifted rapidly bock to their best. Death was going to bring them untold happiness, because their friends were nearer to them after death than before. Sir Arthur spoke from the thrill of his own profound beliefs. "My title, my literary fame," he declared dramatically, "are as dross in the gutter compared with what I get out of those things. God does not give us such experiences for our private use, but for the comfort of all. I am not here for conversions. I am here to state a case and to leave you something to think over." Sir Arthur, who was accompanied on the platform by Lady Doyle, was applauded for an arresting and notable discourse, and in acknowledgment he paid a tribute to the fine, sympathetic attention of the audience.