The Society for Psychical Research and Mr. Hope

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

The Society for Psychical Research and Mr. Hope is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in Light on 17 february 1923.

The Society for Psychical Research and Mr. Hope

Light (17 february 1923, p. 101)

To The Editor of Light.

Sir, — While the matter is fresh in my memory, I should be glad to put on record a few impressions of the Hope case as affected by the S.P.R. meeting. I explained at that meeting that I was ready to assist in any attempt at an honourable readjustment by the Society, but no answer seemed to be forthcoming. We can only hope that wiser counsels will prevail. I was careful not to utter anything Which could be construed into a threat in my remarks; but obviously the matter cannot be left as if it had never occurred. If Hope's wrongs cannot be righted we can at least take such steps that our mediums shall be screened in the future from unjust treatment, and yet the work of experimental psychic research go on. It would be premature to discuss how this could be brought about.

It is strange how difficult it is to make our opponents see what are really very obvious points. Perhaps there was some want of clearness on my part. For example, the Chairman, Sir Lawrence Jones, who conducted the proceedings with great urbanity had clearly no grasp of the salient points of the case, for in his concluding remarks ho observed, as if it were a matter of common agreement, that, of course, it might equally have been someone at the College who had returned to the S.P.R. the anonymous plate. I do wish that he would understand:—

1. That no one at the College end could possibly have known that the S.P.R. had anything to do with the experiment. Mr. Price came on the introduction of the London Spiritualist Alliance. He is, of course, a member of the S.P.R., but so are many of us. There was no reason in the world why the College should connect the S.P.R. with the experiment, or even know that it was an experiment, not an ordinary sitting.

2. That no one at the College could know that it was a marked plate. . Only those who marked it could know that, since it had been undeveloped, and therefore only they could have sent it back, wrapped in College papers, in a clumsy attempt to implicate the College, what other motive could one give for such an act?

These two crucial points were quite ignored in the Chairman's concluding remarks, which I could hardly interrupt, as the meeting had already been a lengthy one. But it was disappointing, for a Chairman is like a judge, whose summing up should be careful and accurate.

I thought that Mr. Salter made the best of a bad case; the "best" being to evade it entirely. The only point upon which I stand corrected is that the plates were inside a cupboard, and not in a drawer as I stated. On the last day they were in a drawer. That is now admitted. As to the drawer being locked, or the. door being locked, that is a matter of no importance so long as the Keys were in the hands of officials or the Society, for we can have no assurance how far their trust may have been abused by others, or what the inner truth might be. If the Society will reverse the case, and imagine such a defence put up by a Spiritualist body where proceedings or results were suspect, they will understand how quickly it could be swept away.

But the Society has often bad entirely different standards of evidence for its own use and for the use of other people. Consider the marks which Mr. Price made upon the carrier, and which he thinks established the change. I say frankly that if Mr. Price could make that point good, he would have gone far to prove his case. Without that point there is really no case at all, for he made it clear both in his original report, and in his answers (taken down by a stenographer) to the questions of Mr. Engholm, that ho did not see a change of carriers, nor would he have expressed surprise (as tho Rev. Drayton Thomas pointed out) at any subsequent stage, had he actually seen the change. Thus everything depends upon the pin-pricks. I had expected to find them small, but they were smaller and less visible than I could have foreseen, though they were made in calm deliberation and with the full force of Mr. Price's thumb. I had some little difficulty in seeing them, and I can never believe that, when done furtively and in the presence of one whose suspicions must be allayed, it could be done so clearly that one could, with a quick glance, verify them, and with subsequent quick glances be sure that they were not there. I believe in Mr. Price's honesty, but bis publishing of the sixpenny pamphlet showed a certain malignancy of feeling which is not compatible with calm judgment or unprejudiced observation. Bad as this evidence is, it is absolutely all that the Society now has to rely upon, and it is incredible to me that the honourable men who form the Council will allow it to be claimed that their continued imprimatur should be upon the production which has wrought such irreparable mischief in so wanton a way.

I had some sympathy with the Hon. Everard Feilding's complaint that the wrapper belonging to the S.P.R. should have been returned, and it was the only point, I think, upon which there was some difference of opinion in our Committee. If it were to be done over again I should be in favour of photographing and then returning it. But when Mr. Feilding went on to say that no good could have come from a joint examination of the affair in its earlier stages he ignores the fact that this would have got over all the contention about the marks on the wrapper, since both parties would have seen them simultaneously. Such an examination was essential if truth was to be attained.

Yours faithfully,

Arthur Conan Doyle.
February 6th, 1923.