Phantoms of the Dawn
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Foreword by Arthur Conan Doyle
The world may be divided into two classes, those who have psychic experiences but cannot write, and those who can write but have no psychic experiences. Every now and again it happens, however, that the two qualities are united in the same individual, as in the case of Mrs. Violet Tweedale. Whether as a result of her Northern blood, or from some inborn individual gift of her own, Mrs. Tweedale has the rare and wonderful power of clairvoyance. As to her narrative, if there is a better told story anywhere than her transcription of the clergyman's experience beginning with page 14, of this book, I should be good to know where I could find it. There are many most excellent narratives, but this one seems to me supreme in its atmosphere of romance and wonder.
Those who have read the previous book of the authoress, "Ghosts I have seen," will need no reassurance as to her powers of interesting the reader. There is no writer upon psychic subjects who excels her in this, and the reason probably is that there is no writer on psychic subjects who has herself, in her own person, got so near to the heart of the subject. It is a curious example of a hereditary independence of mind and moral courage for, as is well known, Mrs. Tweedale's grandfather was that Robert Chambers of Edinburgh who was famed in his day as a writer, and who was one of the little band of high-minded men who supported the great medium D. D. Home through all the persecutions of his latter years. The constant friendship of such men as Chambers, Carter Hall and a score of others is a sufficient refutation of the popular slanders upon Home's memory. It is time that the dirt was finally cleared from his grave, even if some of it has to be placed upon those of the men who persecuted him in life.
Mrs. Tweedale's present book differs from her former one in that the philosophic aspect of the subject obtains much more attention. One may differ from her conclusions, but no one can fail to appreciate the reverence with which they are advanced or the wealth of reading and illustration with which they are supported. All of us who have concerned ourselves in the psychic movement must ask often, "Quo Vadimus ?" and must, if we are honest, admit that we get an imperfect answer, for we are clearly in the early stages of that which has an enormous development in front of it — a development which far exceeds the grasp of our minds. I believe myself that by the time that development is completed the present theological views will be as extinct as the worship of Jupiter or Saturn, and yet that we shall find our-selves at the end nearer to the real Christ spirit than mankind has ever been since the first simple beautiful dawn of the new Faith. My own information, on which I may not at present enlarge, is that a great period of chastening trial awaits humanity, and that when this has passed it will be shewn that what we have done in our day and generation was to familiarise the world with those ideas which were to be the seeds of the universal simple undogmatic and practical religion of the millenial future.
Mrs. Tweedale has, I observe, given some account of a séance at which my wife and I had the privilege of being present. That account is a plain statement of fact which I fully substantiate, and I would endorse all that she says as to the character and powers of the medium Evan Powell. It was through him that I first came into contact both with my son and with my brother. Such powers as Mr. Powell possesses are the most precious things which the world contains, and it is a scandal that our medieval laws stand in the way of the free exercise of such gifts which resemble in type if not in degree those which illuminated the early days of Christianity. It is to be hoped that an earnest effort will soon be made to eliminate the vile " Witchcraft Act " with its hypocritical pretended widows who are disguised police women and agents provocateurs, from that statute book to which it is a disgrace. There are many ways by which the public can be guarded against fraud without a law which tries to extinguish that which is the most precious of all things — direct evidence of eternal life.
One point in this Powell seance is worth noting. Mrs. Tweedale has recounted how the medium insisted upon being bound, saying, " This is far too serious a matter to be trifled with, and there is no knowing what I might do whilst under control if I were not securely fastened." I have known him say the same words to me in my own house at an experimental sitting. Does not this precaution of an experienced and most genuine medium throw a clear light upon those cases where famous sensitives who had proved their true qualities on hundreds of occasions, have had their whole life's work discounted by shallow critics because they have once been found wandering outside the cabinet or away from their chair ? Such was the case with Madame d'Esperance, with Mrs. Corner and with many others. Had they had the wisdom, or had their audience had the wisdom to insist upon control, the phenomena would not have been interfered with and scandal would have been averted, since it would no longer have been possible for the medium whilst in a trance condition to have unconsciously placed himself in so equivocal a position.
There are points in which Mrs. Tweedale is not to be taken too literally — nor, I am sure, would she desire to be. When she speaks of the surface of the earth being possibly the scene of the hereafter, she refers no doubt to the immediate hereafter of those souls which are so heavily weighted with matter — it can really be expressed in terms of gravity — that they cannot rise, and are earth-bound pending their spiritual development. It is true that the other higher ones come quickly at our call, but we who know the speed of a wireless message need not wonder that our loving thought can reach them, and their visit follow upon it, in a period which can be measured in seconds.
So too when she speaks of our want of knowledge of the how of physical phenomena, she is speaking of course of the ultimate forces at work. Of the immediate forces, the emission of ectoplasm and the way it is used we have learned much from the labours of Professor Crawford, Dr. Geley and others. As to the ultimate forces, we know so little of the real nature of gravity, electricity, magnetism and other great agents of Nature that it is hardly fair to demand that the youngest of the sciences should be clear where the older ones are obscure.
Mrs. Tweedale says many wise things about our own sub-conscious selves and the powers which may exist within us quite unknown to ourselves. Her story in Chapter IV. of her experience with Mr. Hill is a remarkable example of it, and presents a complex study for the Psychic student. But admitting the truth of the existence of this vague but powerful force, we must not push it too far, or use it with slovenly reasoning as an explanation for facts which are really quite outside its boundaries. Catch phrases such as telepathy, subconscious, cryptoerthesia and others have been used too freely and too indiscriminately as a camouflage of our own ignorance, and as an excuse for not admitting the true explanation upon which all these lines of evidence converge.
Let me illustrate what I mean by an example. Suppose that I receive an intuition that some line of conduct will lead me into danger, and that thereby I escape that danger. I think that this may quite fairly be put down to the prevision of my own subconscious powers. The other day, as I stood in a gully waiting for my opponent at golf to play his ball, I moved my position by a couple of feet without any reason. Almost at the same instant his ball thudded up against the bank immediately behind my head. I would claim no spiritual interposition in such a case. I should consider that it came well within the range of those intuitive warnings which arise from our own extended personalities.
But now let us take another case. Last week I sat with my wife upon the borders of a lake in the Trossachs. Suddenly her hand became strongly agitated, and upon my asking who was there (we are in the habit of receiving automatic communications) her forefinger inscribed "Os" upon the stone beside us. "Is it Oscar ?" I asked. Three affirmative taps came from her fingers. Oscar was a nephew, killed in the war, who has often manifested to us since. I took out paper and pencil and handed them to my wife. "I love this place. I have stayed here" wrote Oscar, and then proceeded to tell us of the condition of his mother who had just passed over, together with other intimate details. When I returned to the hotel I searched the register but could not find Oscar. So far as I or my wife knew he had never been in Scotland in his life. I made inquiry in the family however, and I learn from his aunt that he had actually been in the Trossachs. If he was there he must have stayed at this, the only hotel. Now I claim that to put such a case as this down to the subconscious is not logical or honest. Even if the extended personalities of my wife and self could know that which we had no means of knowing, how can one suppose that one's unconscious self would proceed to dramatise itself as someone else and tell a series of thundering lies, mixed up with communications which, if not true, were to the last degree blasphemous. Such a supposition is opposed to all reason, while the spiritual explanation flows quite easily into the general stream of psychic evidence.
Mrs. Tweedale's remarkable book will of course receive the usual scornful denials from those who have never troubled to acquaint themselves with the facts. To all such she can answer with the retort of Schopenhauer : "Your denial does not argue that you have superior intelligence. It simply proves you to be ignorant of the latest acquisitions of know-ledge." Year by year, however, this knowledge is permeating the various strata of society, and as the old obdurate materialists of the bad old Nineteenth Century type die away the new psychic teaching finds a less prejudiced audience among the younger generation. I am glad to note the severity with which Mrs. Tweedale speaks of the aristocratic portion of our population. Their record in spiritual matters has been deplorable and they will assuredly get their reward. Save the ladies whom she has mentioned, and the whole-hearted work of Lord and Lady Molesworth, one can hardly recall any who have aided the great psychic movement. The case of our rich men is even worse. We are straitened on every side for want of funds for propaganda, and the same small group of men and women are at the present moment finding all the money and doing all the work. When I find our poor workers mortgaging their houses to build a corrugated iron meeting house, and our old mediums starving on the dole, I read with some indignation of the luxuries and extravagances in the empty lives of those who misuse the power of wealth. There is need of some great readjustment—and it will come.
ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
Crowborough, July 7th.