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22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, KStJ, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

Mary Conan Doyle Talks With a Great and Petulant Prelate

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Mary Conan Doyle Talks With a Great and Petulant Prelate is an article written by Mary Conan Doyle, the first daughter of Arthur Conan Doyle, first published in the Waterloo Evening Courier on 12 february 1921.


Mary Conan Doyle Talks With a Great and Petulant Prelate

Waterloo Evening Courier
(5 february 1921, p. 3)
St. Louis Globe-Democrat
(27 february 1921, magazine section, p. 13)

The Daughter of the Author of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Talks in His Cloistered Cell With England's Great Publicist, Father Bernard Vaughan.

"One of those days I shall have a mission for America and will tell you, but not yet. Spiritualism? Three-sixths humbug, two-sixths sub-conscious, one-sixth is DIABOLICAL. Leave it alone! The spirits have no right to return to earth!"

The scene is a monk's cell with mullioned window, and leaded glass containing a confessional-box oppressively large in so small a space, a table and two chairs, and various portraits of ecclesiastical ancestors on the walls. No color — no light — a hollow silence.

A sense of indefinable depression pervades the place, and a certain impersonal aloofness.

Suddenly a youth whistling "Swanee" passes below the window down the street. Sweet assurance of the twentieth century, despite medieval surroundings.

More dull silence, broken by shuffling feet passing down a stone corridor, and then a voice — high and imperious.

"Where is she? Where did you say?"

Patter, patter, pat.

Then the door flung open admitting the impatient prelate in anything but a good humor.

"Well?" he asked. "What is it? What do you want? What's it all about?"

"You were to talk——" I began.

"No! I don't want to talk. I've no mission for America," said Father Vaughan. "What? Your letter? Yes, I got it, but I'm not interested; can't be expected to be on tap' you know!"

Suitable and soothing remarks were inserted here. The gentleman was ruffled. There was something in the back of his mind. In reply to a general query he broke in.

"No, of course not! I don't want to spoil your article. Sit down!"

Followed a scene comic and deplorable, in which the reporter got interviewed by the celebrity winding up with:

"You a spiritualist?"

"Yes — in my own way," I said, scenting an opening at last.

"Why, do you think this interest is so universal among all nations just now?" I asked.

His face was a study as he sat in brooding thought; granite eyes, deep lines, autocratic features. The bearing of one used to absolute authority. Everything about him is strong. Yet it is a man's fine strength all narrowed down to a point of terrible brilliance.

"I'll tell you what I think. My own personal opinion. Three-sixths is humbug. Two-sixths sub-conscious, and one-sixth — diabolical."

"What of these frequent recognitions of near relatives?"

"Delusion. To expect a thing is half way to believing it!"

"But that applies to everything in life."

He shot a quick suspicious glance at me.

"Better leave it alone," he said. "The bible condemns it. The church of Christ forbids it. We have no right to communicate nor the spirits to return, to earth, It's quite wrong, from every view. I have seen many persons unbalanced and made mental wrecks, by it. I have never seen anyone improved."

"Yes — but——"

No use. Sudden realization that the prelate-mind is not reversible. To some, life is easy, if incomprehensible, because there is no "other side" to the problem.

"And further," broke in the imperious voice, "I am surer of the next life than of this (with a quick sweeping gesture).

"What need of more?"

Certainly it was beautifully conclusive.

Rising, the prelate extended a hand.

"One of these days," he said, "I shall have a mission for America. It will come to me... but not now. This is not the time."

So appeared Father Bernard Vaughan that morning. It would be inaccurate to say that he was that man. For nearly all great men have moods. He showed only a phase of his character — his temper chiefly, and a certain histrionic ability — a beautiful, well-modulated voice, and an extraordinary command of gesture.

He comes of one of the oldest Catholic families in England, and bears the stamp of the aristocrat very plainly. His 73 years sit lightly, on him, and his vitality, and capacity for enthusiasm are boundless.

It has been a full, vivid life, from his school days at "Stonyhurst" in the North of England, through the period of probation at Manchester which was to prepare and fit him for his later career — up to the time he came to London in 1901. From then on he was in full swing.

It is a record of great activities crowned with triumph, both as a preacher, and in practical work amongst the poor. He did a great deal to promote the welfare of workers in the east end of London. He organized clubs and recreation rooms as a counter attraction to the public houses, at that time the only meeting place for the poor outside their own homes. He is a strong temperance man — though not an extreme prohibitionist.

Following on his London activities came the big tour in the states and Canada. Later he traveled and lectured in China, Italy and France, with the same immense personal success. In 1916 he received a letter of congratulation from the pope on obtaining his "religious jubilee" and was granted the privilege of the "portable altar."

Father Vaughan has also considerable standing as a writer, and has, brought out works on various subjects, mostly touching on different aspects of religious and civil life. The author's art combined with the orator's enhances the power his influence, for, tho spoken eloquence makes a mighty strong appeal, it's only the written, word that sticks.

Two quite opposite strains of character are united in him. From one view he is the sanctified actor, the artist using all the effects at his command to produce a certain atmosphere in which a desired idea can flourish.

The other view is the socialistic humanitarian. He is at times hearty, humorous, almost American in his racy phraseology!

These two sides may be plainly due to the special characteristics of his family. The Vaughans of Hereford were all either priests or soldiers. One brother was a colonel in the Guards regiment, while the other was an archbishop-cardinal. The two brothers in the priesthood were a striking contrast. The cardinal had none of the "fighting" qualities of Bernard, but was the perfect, suave, diplomatic type.

It was not entirely a clerical atmosphere that Father Vaughan was brought up in.

Probably the possession of this dual style is the secret of his immense popularity. The "man in the street" reveres him for his solid achievements on their behalf; while society loves him for his sheer effective in the pulpit. Even though his "Missions" happened to be their "sins," the fact only added zest to their interest.

They flocked to his church, and revelled in the novelty of being collectively slanged.

John Knox held the same sway over the Scottish Court in the Middle Ages.

Curious consistency of human nature!

Father Vaughan shares the Pope's views on the modern woman's abbreviated attire. Its abandoned immodesty — its cheap vulgarity — its ugliness supply him with a "constant theme.

He drives home with sledgehammer blows his indictment on the gay ones, who use their charms to the beguiling of the unwary man. Yet, these continue to worship God and mammon quite successfully. Father Vaughan has lost none of his popularity by plain speaking — but society just remains society all the same!

He loves to pounce on shams and humbugs as a gardener picks slugs off a gooseberry bush. No camouflage avails. He lays bare the real motive in all its puny egotism. Those seeking the limelight of notoriety equally share his condemnation.

Another battering-ram, is the divorce question. As a good Catholic he thinks that divorce is "of the devil." Yet, he argues when the church adopts, a strange attitude. In extreme cases where two people are utterly incompatible, she pronounces them free, but evades the divorce question by simply denying that the marriage ever existed!

Father Vaughan doesn't want to see any sort of reform or amendment of our present laws.

It is pure medievalism — the very stronghold of tradition.

He is a modern Jeremiah — and London his Israel.


- - - - -

A bit of Inside History about Father Vaughan and Conan Doyle.

There is a snapper to this vivid personal sketch of Miss Mary Conan Doyle's. Her tempestuous, agile-witted and aggressive father, now Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was brought up a Catholic, but in his youth he became involved in a bitter and relentless war on that religion and after crossing pens with the greatest priests of Great Britain left that church and became a protestant. When later he became an absolute convert to spiritualism he crossed swords with the protestant clergy and continued on his independent way. But the pen of the great creator of Sherlock Holmes mane many lifelong enemies among the clergy and it is not to be wondered at that when Father Vaughan after many years found a chance to get back at his old antagonist of the pen thru that gentleman's daughter he seized it with his characteristic skill and directness.