Life after Death

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Life after Death: An Interview with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is an interview of Arthur Conan Doyle published in The Strand Magazine in march 1919. Interview conducted by Hayden Church. Illustrated with a photo of Conan Doyle.

Life after Death: An Interview with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Strand Magazine (march 1919, p. 204)
The Strand Magazine (march 1919, p. 205)
The Strand Magazine (march 1919, p. 206)
The Strand Magazine (march 1919, p. 207)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who has become a convinced Spiritualist, has accorded me a striking interview ran the subject or Life after Death.

"Proved Beyond Question."

In his extraordinary book, "The New Revelation," published in the early part of last year, in which he expounds his belief that psychic phenomena have been proved beyond all question, and relates his own psychic experience since the beginning of his thirty years of investigation, Sir Arthur stated that he then knew of thirteen mothers of dead soldier boys who were in communication with their sons. He now tells me that the number of such mothers of whom lie has personal knowledge has grown to thirty, and that, in many instances, he himself has been privileged to place them in a position to establish this communication. And in most cases, he declares, the result has been "tidings of great joy." In only two was there absolute failure.

Sir Arthur took a specimen letter, just received, from his pocket, which began as follows : "I am writing to tell you that I had the most wonderful result with Mrs. - to-day. I cannot tell you the joy it has been to me. and I know now the joy it has been to my friend."

"That is the sort of thing," said Sir Arthur. "In each case the husband, where he is alive, is, so far as I know, agreed as to the evidence. In only one or two out of these cases was the parent acquainted with psychic matters before the war.

"In every case where communication is gained," Sir Arthur went on, "the mother is able to recognize almost immediately that it is really her dead son who is speaking through the medium or being described by the medium. At the very outset the latter will say, 'I see a tall fellow, with a yellow moustache,' or some such personal description ; 'isn't his name jack?' Then will follow reminiscence of the boys earthly life, in most cases details that could not possibly be known to, or imagined by, anyone - to say nothing of a perfect stranger - not intimately acquainted with the life and relations of this particular family. 'Don't you remember when I sowed turnip seed on the lawn?' That is one example that occurs to me.

"In some instances, moreover, as in the case of Raymond, the dead soldier son of Sir Oliver Lodge, who wrote so remarkable a book regarding their communications, matters connected with the son's existence here are touched upon which were not known to his parents, but which, upon investigation, prove to be perfectly accurate. This eliminates telepathy. And, last of all, come messages telling of these boys' life in the beyond - describing it, in many cases, with extraordinary detail, and invariably bearing testimony to the departed one's complete happiness, and expressing his fervent desire that his dear ones on earth should be aware of if, and that, far from mourning him as lost, they should go on living happily - exultantly - during the short period that needs to elapse before reunion takes place. 'It is only your grief which ever clouds my perfect happiness,' is what they say. 'It comes like a cold shadow upon us.'

"Several of these cases have peculiarities of their own. In two of them, the figures of the dead lads have appeared beside the mothers in a photograph. One of these was Mr. Wilkinson, of 49, Queen Victoria Street, who gave me leave to quote him. In one case the first message to the mother came through a stranger, to whom the correct address of the mother was given by the spirit. Then communication later became direct. In another case the method of sending messages was to give reference to particular pages and lines of books in distant libraries, the whole conveying a message. This procedure was to rule out all fear of telepathy. Verily, there is no way by which a truth can be proved by which this truth of the possibility of communication with the dead has not been proved."

"How is a mother, who has lost her son in the war, to go to work to get into communication with him?" I asked.

"How?" repeated Sir Arthur. "There is the difficulty! There are true men and there are frauds — blasphemous frauds, the most horrible of all frauds! You have to work warily. So far as professional mediums go, you will not find it difficult to get recommendations. The Spiritualist Alliance of 6, Queen's Square, W.C., would be the best adviser. Even with the best you may draw entirely blank. The conditions are very elusive. And yet some get the result at once. We cannot lay down laws, because the law works from the other side as well as this. But nearly every woman is an undeveloped medium. Let her try her own powers of automatic writing, perhaps, when genuine, the most satisfactory means of communication. There, again, what is done must be done with every precaution against self-deception, and in a reverent and prayerful mood. But if you are in earnest you will win through somehow, for your son is probably trying on the other side."

"Warning to Parents."

Here Sir Arthur sounded a warning.

"This matter of communication can be overdone," he declared. "If your boy were merely in a distant country, you would not expect him to continually drop his work and write long letters at all seasons. Having got in touch be moderate in your demands. Do not be satisfied with any evidence short of the best, but, having got that, you can, it seems to me, wait for that comparatively little time when you will join him in the Hereafter. As to the objection that it is illicit and dealing with devils," Sir Arthur added, with a smile, "I can only say that if Satan has set to work to convert agnostics and materialists to the fact of a life after death, and the necessity of preparing for it, he is becoming quite a reformed character."

On the ground that there is nothing so convincing as personal experience, I here asked Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to detail to me some of his own, which he personally regarded as most unquestionable. I also inquired what type of person was the medium to whom he sent the mothers who come to him wishful of getting into "correspondence," as he terms it, with their dead sons.

"She is a little woman with a misty eye," he said. "With me she is variable and inclined to be self-conscious. Sometimes she goes quite wrong, but at other times she has got me very extraordinary and undoubted messages. One instance I may give you as fairly representative.

"'I see a young officer in khaki,' she said. 'His name I cannot make out, but he says you will recognize him easily when you remember the gold coin that you gave him under peace conditions.'

"Immediately she uttered those last words," said Sir Arthur, "I knew that the spirit who was present was that of my brother-in-law, a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps, who was killed early in the war. Immediately he took his medical degree I went to him, largely by way of a joke, and consulted him about some minor ailment from which I was then suffering. On receiving his diagnosis, I presented him, by way of fee, with an old Georgian guinea which I had acquired some time before. He was quite delighted with it, and always treasured it there-after, wearing it on his chain. So immediately the 'gold coin' was mentioned by the medium I knew for a certainty that the message was a genuine one, and that my brother-in-law was the sender, since the medium could in no way know of the matter.

"Now I will tell you of another experience that I had recently," Sir Arthur went on, "and one that would have convinced me of the accuracy of these spirit messages, even if I had not had hundreds of absolutely incontestable ones before. In this case I was present at a seance with an amateur medium whom I had previously had no opportunity of testing. I was not sitting in the 'circle,' but was asked if I would care to put a question? 'Yes,' I said, 'I should like to have a test. Let her transmit a message that I will know is meant for me personally.'

"After a few minutes this message was spelled out: 'Food Komes (it was spelled with a K) before entomology.' It sounded perfectly ridiculous, and everybody present except myself was distressed that such an evident absurdity had come through. I, however, said immediately 'I regard that as absolutely final. The test is perfect.' And this is why I recognized the message as meant for me.

"On the day before that on which I attended this seance, I had told my two little boys, aged nine and seven (these are children of Sir Arthur's second marriage) that they must go to work and kill all the caterpillars and other predatory insects in our garden. They were not inclined to do it, for they are very tender-hearted little fellows, but I explained to them that these insects were just as much a menace to our food supply as the German submarines then were. They understood the necessity then, and started at once. So now you can see the significance of the message that I received : 'Food comes before entomology,' It demonstrated to me, to put it at the lowest, that there were abnormal forces at work."

Now, what is this "automatic writing" which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle recommends to the bereaved as an alternative to mediums as a means of getting into communication with those who have gone before? As he indicates, it is a method of communication which anyone may find himself able to practise. All, I understand, that one has to do is to put pencil to paper and try if, after practice, what appears to be a veritable message from outside will write itself automatically and have internal evidence of truth. "You may get nothing. You may get mere scrawl. You may get actual words."

Sir Arthur instances as one out of many extraordinary experiences of this kind a case that is recorded in Arthur Hill's recent book. "Man is a Spirit," of which he himself thinks most highly. It is contributed by a man who takes the name of Captain James. His testimony is, in part, as follows:—

"A week after my father's funeral I was writing a business letter, when something seemed to intervene between my hand and the motor centres of my brain, and the hand wrote at an amazing rate a letter, signed with my father's signature, and purporting to come from him. I was upset, and my right side and arm became cold and numb. For a year after these letters came frequently and always at unexpected times. I never knew what they contained until I examined them with a magnifying glass ; they were microscopic. And they contained a vast amount of matter with which it was impossible for me to be acquainted.

A Father's Secret.

"A most sacred secret known to no one but my father and mother, concerning a matter that occurred years before I was born, was told me in the script, with the comment, 'Tell your mother this, and she will know that it is I, your father, who am writing.' My mother had been unable to accept the possibility up to now. but when I told her this she collapsed and fainted. From that moment the letters became her greatest comfort, for they were lovers during the forty years of their married life, and his death almost broke her heart. I have compared the diction and vocabulary of these letters with those employed in my own writing, and I find no points of similarity between the two. I am as convinced that my father, in his original personality, still exists as if he were still in his study with the door shut. He is no more dead than he would be were he living in America."

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle says that one of the members of his own household at Crowborough was a lady who developed the power of automatic writing, occasionally with remarkable results. "For example," he said, "when the Lusitania was sunk and the morning papers announced that, so far as was known, there was no loss of life, the medium at once wrote : 'It is terrible, terrible - and will have a great influence on the war.' Since it was the first strong impulse which turned America toward the war, this message was true in both respects. On the other hand, there is no denying that other messages have proved to be not true. Especially in the matter of time they are quite unreliable; names also are very often stumbling-blocks. Of all forms of mediumship, this one seems to me the one which should be tested most rigidly, as it lends itself very easily not so much to deception as to self-deception, which is a more subtle and dangerous thing."

Of all instances of messages that have been received in this way, Sir Arthur, with seemingly good reason, considers by far the most extraordinary those which led to the discovery of the lost "Edgar Chapel" of Glastonbury Abbey. He strongly urged me, and all others interested in the subject of Psychic Phenomena, to read the book in which the discoverer of the lost chapel, Mr. Bligh Bond, British architect of distinction, and a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, tells of how he and a friend, for want of better guidance, tried the experiment of endeavouring to get in touch with the long dead custodians of the ancient Abbey, and how the astonishing series of messages that they received, most of them in Early English script and many of them in Latin, resulted in the discovery of one lost chapel, and appear likely to result in that of another, the "Loretto Chapel" of the mystic and storied fane.

Throughout these experiments, which stretched over three years, definite questions relating to the architecture and location of different parts of the ancient Abbey, which had disappeared as a result of desecration in bygone centuries, were put, and definite and nearly always enlightening answers were received. These purported to come from different members of the monkish sect which inhabited the Abbey five hundred years ago, some of them even being signed by one of its abbots - Abbot Beere - who since has been demonstrated to have been a real character. Most of the messages, however, were communicated by one "Father Johannes," a stonemason, who, by the way, mentions that one matter of which he speaks "would be about 1492," the year in which America was discovered! This monk, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle observed, is a "real character," many sides of his nature, some of them extremely quaint, being revealed by his communications.

The name of the work, so strongly recommended by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in which these extraordinary experiments, and their almost incredible results, are recorded, is "The Gate of Remembrance."

"It is only fair to add, and indeed to emphasize," said Sir Arthur, "that Mr. Bligh Bond is not a spiritualist, and attempts to explain his own results by some theory that all knowledge floats off into the cosmos and can be regathered by those who have the power. Personally, I am always ready to examine any explanation, but this particular one fails very notably to explain Abbot Beere and Brother John, with their own anecdotes of the detail of their ancient lives."

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle regards Spiritualism not as a religion in itself, but as a living proof of that life to come which is the foundation of all Religion.

"The basis of Reconstruction," he said, "must be the reconstruction of Religion, because religion, as it is now taught in the churches, has failed. It has failed because it is not believed. If it had not failed, such a world cataclysm as we have just witnessed would have been impossible in our day and generation. The terrible war that has just ended" (we were talking at a London hotel only a few minutes after the news that the armistice had been signed came through on the tape) "was an object-lesson intended to shock us, to steady us. God help us if we fail to profit by the lesson, for we shall never have such a chance again. It is now or never."

What is the nature of the Life Beyond as revealed by the supposedly spirit communications of the authenticity of which, in the mass, Sir Arthur believes so firmly?

"The messages," he said, "revolutionize, as it seems to me, all our conceptions of death. They teach that what St. Paul calls our spiritual body is the exact counterpart of our present one at its best, that the mind carries on as it was before, and that the Bishop of London expressed it very happily when he said that the man was the same five minutes after death as five minutes before, except that the cloud of illness had passed.

"He is in a world which is very analogous to our own, raised, as it were, to a higher octave; and expressed in terms of ether rather than in denser matter. It is a world of brightness, of intense intellectual activity, of pleasant work, of homely comfort, of sympathetic and loving companionship, all enhanced by the consciousness of God's tender care.

"This is the temporary ante-room to something even grander beyond. Such is the normal destiny of the average human being. For the wicked there are chastening spheres, which, however, should be regarded rather as hospitals for crippled souls than as places of punishment, though their cure comes through sorrow."

Such is "The New Revelation" as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sees it. He tells me that he is devoting much of his time to urging it upon the public here; that, in fact, his activities in this direction have "passed beyond his control." "I may lead a movement," he says, "but there is something ahead which is leading me." For the lectures he delivers on this subject he accepts no fees. He hopes to co-operate in a great and impressive Spiritualistic gathering at the Albert Hall, or some other large place of public assembly in London.