The Arthur Conan Doyle EncyclopediaThe Arthur Conan Doyle EncyclopediaThe Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
22 May 1859, Edinburgh M.D., Kt, KStJ, D.L., LL.D., Sportsman, Writer, Poet, Politician, Justicer, Spiritualist Crowborough, 7 July 1930

Sir Arthur Gallops 15,000 Miles in this Continent

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Sir Arthur Gallops 15,000 Miles in this Continent is an article written by Horace Green published in The New-York Times on 25 may 1924.

Review of Arthur Conan Doyle's essay : Our Second American Adventure (15 february 1924).

Sir Arthur Gallops 15,000 Miles in this Continent

The New-York Times (25 may 1924, section 3, p. 17)

His American Husbandry of the Seeds of Spiritualistic Belief

OUR SECOND AMERICAN ADVENTURE. By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Illustrated. 250 pp. Boston; Little, Brown & Co. $3.

Tolstoy, to the last, was ashamed of "Anna Karenina," to which he referred as a stupid love tale — yet it remained the most popular, and one of the most artistic, of his works. When he entered the preaching period, as exemplified by "The Resurrection" and "The Kreutser Sonata," he was shocked at the interest aroused in what to him was a by-product. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would be shocked at the popular appeal of "Our Second American Adventure," which is more rounded, picturesque, vivid, in some places more humorous, and everywhere just as sincere as his corresponding diary of a year ago called "Our American Adventure". But the main theme of spirit existence is inconclusive.

This amazing literary evangelist, accompanied by Lady Doyle, Denis, Malcolm and Billy (the latter a girl), dashed 15,000 miles across the American continent and back by way of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada and the Adirondacks; played golf with Butchart, professional at the Biltmore Country Club; lectured on the hereafter; hobnobbed with Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford in the Pickford-Fairbanks studios; attended seances; studied the Goldwyn Cinema plant; watched our marathon dancers in the last throes; smashed a bottle of whisky in his trunk and was afraid of being taken for a bootlegger; entered combat with the pressmen of San Francisco; studied ectoplasmic mediums and the Canadian coal fields; treked along the Colorado; traveled on horseback through part of the Rockies; Kodak-hunted and converted guides in wonderful Jasper Park; camped and fished at Loon Lake, Adirondacks, and showed spirit pictures in a prizefight barn. It is thoroughly Arthurian — which is to say, an exuberant, human, naive, and yet artistic diary, written for the most part on the spot. The constant mixture of mundane and psychic — using the latter term in its general meaning — is not only because the events are chronologically recorded, but because Sir Arthur wants to impress new readers that outside of his special domain he is a sensible, hard-headed observer. Incidentally he reveals himself a showman par excellence.

Sir Arthur's mission was to ripen the seeds of spiritualistic belief which had been scattered on his first visit. There are several additions to our psychic material; the Lally photographs of spirit heads around the coffin of a lady who had died at the age of 76; a chapter devoted to the visions of Joseph Smith and an analysis of the cause of Mormonism, and passages concerning the alleged discovery of Dr. Littlefield of Seattle, that thought waves can produce definite images upon blood minerals. Coming within the domain of psychic science, none of them, however, is overwhelming proof to the unconvinced spiritualist.

Of the genuineness of most spiritistic phenomena — genuine in the sense that the phenomena are seen in the mind's eye of the observer whether or not they actually exist — Sir Arthur's latest volume leaves no doubt whatsoever. The conclusion is corroborated by thousands of witnesses recorded by Flammarion, the French astronomer; Schrenck-Notzing, the German scientist, and others. For example, we recall Flammarion's care of the servant girl sent to fetch beer from the keg in the deep cellar of a French castle. She had heard stories of haunting by an evil spirit. She descended to the cellar in some fear. A few moments later a scream was heard. The girl was found in a faint. On becoming conscious she described a terrible phantom. This phantom, she said, approached her just as she had filled the jug, put his fingers around her throat and choked her into unconsciousness. To corroborate her story the marks of fingers were clearly visible on her throat. From a medical point of view this story is said to be quite possible on this basis — provided the self-hypnosis (which we assume caused the vision of the ghost) were strong enough, it might induce the sensation of being choked by ghostly fingers. A chemical reaction of blood would then cause finger marks to appear on the surface of the skin, in the same manner as blisters have been known to appear where a hypnotic subject was told that he was being burned by a match. The red surface and blisters are caused by rush of blood to protect the surface from a flame, either real or imagined. Similarly, the hair actually does "stand on end" in the face of sudden fear. That fear may be because a wild bear is around the corner or because you believe he is around the corner.

But Sir Arthur, as we know. accounts for such phenomena through the influence of persons commonly spoken of as dead.

On the night of Sir Arthur's opening lecture of the second American adventure (a lecture which, by the way, the burly Britisher had not intended to give), this writer happened to be seated in one of the front rows of Carnegie Hall, near by, on the left side, being middle-aged lady of ancestry probably mixed and of countenance not particularly intelligent. Those in the adjacent seats will recall that at the end a rather unusual scene took place. Sir Arthur showed a picture of the London Cenotaph for the dead soldiers before the two minutes silence on Nov. 11, 1923. Around the Cenotaph were crowded thousands of bereaved Britishers thinking of their dead. The second picture at the end of the silent prayer showed myriads of shadowy spirit faces, shoulder upon shoulder, fading into the distance — the most remarkable and eerie photograph this witness ever hopes to see. In the dusk of the great ball there was produced what Sir Arthur called "a noticeable psychic atmosphere," broken by the high female voice of the lady sitting near me, who pointed and cried, "Look, there they are' See them! Don't you see them? The spirits! The spirits!"

The speaker intervened with a few steadying words, the tights were switched on and the obsessed lady was led out. Obviously, there was no fake about the business. In layman's language one should have said that the person had become emotionally hypnotized and was not responsible for her actions. But Conan Doyle puts the case on spiritual grounds. The sequel is given in his book. After the hall had been cleared he says that Lady Doyle attended to the lady, who declared that for some time when in trance she had been possessed by the deceased mother of some soldier who was most anxious to convey to other bereaved mothers what had become of their sons. She said it was not her own voice which had called out. "It was this other entity who had now taken possession of her and through her had addressed the audience." Sir Arthur admits he cannot check the statement, but gives it for what it may be worth.

Reverting for a moment to lighter passages, the British novelist tells us that he found Mary Pickford intensely psychic herself, while Fairbanks had a robust open mind which only asked for definite experience; also (quoting Christy Mathewson) that baseball has been a tricky game in the United States and that it "used to be no uncommon thing to mix soap with the earth round the pitcher's box so that when the pitcher rubbed his hand it would become slippery rather than dry."

To the medium Jonson of Altadena, Cal., a great deal of space and a small appendix is devoted, since Sir Arthur pronounce, the Jonson seance one of the most remarkable he had attended in his life. Sir Arthur's account of the materialisation of his own mother, of a little girl called Crystal Dahlgren, who said she had died years ago in North Dakota, and of a certain Captain Cubitt, is, indeed remarkable and remarkably good readings, but to cold critics not convincing because of the usual concomitants, like loud music* before entrance and departure of the spirit forms, and lockers at the side of the cabinet and a bolted and wired door at the back. Sir Arthur gives as credential for the medium that he had been investigated by Mr. Yaryan, who had been Chief of Police under the Grant Government. (If the investigation was made recently, a conservative estimate would therefore place Mr. Yaryan's age at more than 80.) But in fairness one must say that those present were deeply impressed, or entranced, and that those not under the spell can render only inferential judgment.

More and more as he progresses in his belief Sir Arthur puts at spiritualistic interpretation — and encourages other investigators to do the same — upon phenomena which all materialists and most psychologists solve without hurdling the grave. Take the following novel treatment for lunacy:

On Sunday, May 20, I had a long talk with Dr. Wickland and his remarkable wife. Dr. Wickland is doing pioneer psychic work as an alienist, and is about to bring out a book which may cause ridicule in this generation and respect in the next one. He is convinced that many forms of lunacy are produced by obsession exactly as portrayed in the New Testament. That is the starting point of his system, and it is one which is founded upon a great deal of direct experiment and observation. The next stage is the discovery that static electricity makes the obsessing entity very uncomfortable. He leaves the victim more readily if he has another habitation, even though it only serves as a half-way:, before he entirely disappear. These seem to be the three main planks of his platform.
The procedure then is as follows: The sufferer is placed on a platform with static electric attachments. The controlling spirit is reasoned with, kindly in the first place, more severely afterward. Meanwhile Mrs. Wickland is placed in trance. If the entity is still obstinate, electricity is gently applied, he leaves the sufferer and possesses Mrs. Wickland, from whom he is expelled by the powers of her own natural spirit, as it returns to her body. This brave lady is 61 years of age, and I have never seen any one healthier and saner at the age, so it is clear that this self-sacrificing and dangerous task has not hurt her.
I have never met any one who has such wide experience of the lower class of invisible, as he calls them, as Dr. Wickland, for he is working with them every day. "They are not wicked for the most part," said he, "though you get a mean one now and then. They are simply ignorant. They don't know where they are and they can't believe they are dead. They are dreadfully puzzled and worried, like people in a wild dream." "I wish I had taken more carbolic acid." cried one; "I did not take enough or I would not still be living." These words came through on Nov. 14. The woman, who gave her name and address had died from suicide on the 8th. The doctor verified it, though he had never heard of her before. They are to be treated, as every one should be treated, with love. They are usually quite amenable to that and to argument. For some reason they find that it is not a single spirit, but a colony which takes possession of a person. "My name is Legion," says the New Testament. Dr. Wickland claims to have expelled as many as fifteen from one person. It opens up a vista of medical possibilities, all depending upon the practical recognition of spiritualism.

This brings one back momentarily to the crux of the whole spiritualistic business. No serious-minded person can deny that Joan of Arc heard voices, that the disciples saw visions, that St. Paul did likewise, that Conan Doyle converses with the dead. These visions, trances, dreams — whatever you wish to call them — usually come to persons of serious, emotional nature whose natural channels of expression are temporarily or permanently checked by death or denial. They are also likely to come during the transmission from youth to manhood. In the case of Joseph Smith, who saw a great vision, which forms the background of Mormon faith. Sir Arthur says: "He was 15 years of age, that period when both in males and females the outbreak of psychic power is most common." Cannot these manifestations be explained on the basis of abnormal psychology of one kind or another? We think so. Alienists, psychiatrists agree. But Sir Arthur bridges the gap into the next world. Listen to Sir Arthur's summing up:

The spiritual forces give and always have given explanations which have not been improved upon by our earthly science. Those explanations are that a vapor which used to be called animal magnetism, or odyllic force, but is now called ectoplasm, issues from certain specially endowed persons, in this case the Jonsons; that it is collected in a confined space, the cabinet, by the presiding spirit-control; that the spirits wishing to manifest themselves have been already assembled; that a simulacrum of earth-form is built up in succession by the experienced control in the shape of an ectoplasmic mold, this simulacrum being more or less like the original; that the manifesting spirit then inhabits its own simulacrum for a longer or shorter period, using it as a temporary body, that it is then dissolved and a fresh form built up, and that finally the medium is exhausted by the constant emission and so the proceedings cease. This is the teaching which we get from the other side, and I do not know anything which covers the facts more completely.

(*) "Lively, please, I don't like funeral music," one of the spirit forms cried as it was about to disappear.