Spirit Life and Personality

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
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Spirit Life and Personality is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Westminster Gazette on 16 february 1922 and reprinted in Light on 25 february 1922.


Spirit Life and Personality

The Westminster Gazette
(16 february 1922, p. 1)

Sir A. Conan Doyle and Richet's Researches.

Finality Claim.

Ghosts that are Solid if Evanescent.

We have received from Sir A. Conan Doyle a letter referring to the cablegram from our Paris correspondent which appeared in yesterday's Westminster Gazette. Our correspondent wrote:

"A substantial ghost, with hands that are warm to the touch, eyes that see and turn in their orbits, a voice that can be heard, breath that throws off carbonic acid, feet that move, fingers that clutch — such is the modern ghost, according to a deliberate statement made by M. Charles Richet, member of the Institute of France, before the French Academy of Science yesterday (i.e. Monday).

"Thus the old idea of a cold and clammy ghost with clanking chains must be abandoned, along with no many other picturesque notions, killed by modern science."

Sir A. Conan Doyle's letter is as follows:

Sir, — Many of us who have worked upon psychic subjects will welcome your report from Paris in to-day's issue in which you give Professor Charles Richet's plain statement, delivered before the French Academy of Science, to the effect that the much-derided figures of the séance-room are as a matter of fact solid, though evanescent manifestations of life. The strange substance from which they are constructed has been named 'ectoplasm' by Professor Richet himself, and has been investigated very thoroughly for a number of years by Madame Bisson, Dr. Schrenck-Notzing, Dr. Crawford, Dr. Geley, and others, who have illustrated their remarks by hundreds of photographs. I may add that I have myself both touched and seen the substance. Yet we have been treated during the last few weeks to the humiliating spectacle of certain publicists, who should be instructing their readers, pouring ridicule upon this most important modern development in psychic investigation.
Charles Richet is the most famous physiologist in the world, and as such his words should be final. But he has told us nothing which was not known fifty years ago to Professor Crookes, whose long and careful experiments, with just such a form as Professor Richet postulates, were convincing to anyone who possesses the sense of evidence and is not bemused by the idea that there is something clever in incredulity.
Having received this high confirmation as to the existence of the actual forms, it will not be difficult for the reasoning man to go one step further and to accept — or at least to treat with respect — the assurance that we give when we say that these shapes can assume outlines which are familiar to us, and that they can show such signs of personality as to convince us of their identity. When I entered Madame Bisson's drawing-room I at once recognised the picture of her husband from having seen this ectoplasmic image in the photographs of her book. I am glad that the 'Westminster Gazette' has had the courage to give prominence to this all-important matter, but I would respectfully suggest that it has a solemn and religious bearing, and that all levity about clammy ghosts, chains, and the like is very distasteful to those who see the full human significance of these developments. — Yours, etc.
Arthur Conan Doyle.
15 February.

Other sources

Light (25 february 1922, p. 119)