Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Adventure of the Cardboard Box

In May 1925, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle came to Belfast. After visiting the Giant’s Causeway and the Dark Hedges and getting wrote-off in Fibber Magee’s [1], Doyle gave the first of two lectures at the Ulster Hall. 
The following account is taken from The Northern Whig and Belfast Post of 14 May [2].
The Best Gift of All
“The New Revelation” was the title of a lecture delivered by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle before a large audience in the Ulster Hall, Belfast, last night.
The Rev. Canon R. W. Seaver presided, and explained that he was there as a seeker after truth, and spoke for himself only, and not for any church or body. Personally he had never attended a seance in his life, but he believed that the great enemy of modern life was not Spiritualism but materialism. (Applause.)
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was given a hearty reception on rising to speak, said that Spiritualism was by all odds the most the most important question to-day, and proceeded to explain how he came to take an active part in it. He first took it up in 1886, and during 38 years he had never ceased to read and investigate the subject. During the last nine years he and his wife had devoted almost the whole of their time to its study. His experience in thinking out detective work had enabled him to deal with many rascally camp followers.
He left Edinburgh University an agnostic, believing in the superiority of matter. Shortly after he started practice as a doctor his best patient asked him to come to seances he held. He went, stating frankly, that he had no belief in the thing and what he saw appeared childish and crude. But it arrested his attention and he began to read about the matter both for and against it. He mentioned a few of the great names who believed in it. It was impossible to put them all down as insane or rogues. He gradually found out that those who opposed the subject usually had never been to a seance to investigate it.
Altogether he had collected the names of about 100 professors at universities who had subscribed to the existence of psychical power. Some endorsed the phenomena, and some saw as well the religious implications. He could not see the meaning of it all.
When the war came the whole world was saying, “Where are our boys who went forth and disappeared? Are they still individualities? Are they alive, and what sort of life is it they are leading?” No clergyman or scientist could answer.
It was then, said Sir Arthur, he began to understand the futility of the Spiritualistic phenomena; they were only signals. It was as if there came a knock at the door and they discussed the knock without trying to find out who was knocking; as if they sat round discussing a ring on a telephone bell without attempting to take down the receiver.
The pattern was becoming clear, he continued, and he next described messages received through automatic writing from four young soldiers who were dead by a lady who visited his house. He watched carefully to make sure that there was no fraud or self-deception, and, finally finding none, decided that he would be a moral coward if he did not believe. The difference between believing and knowing, he added, was a great thing.
He and his wife decided to bring across to the race of men the message that was so important that beside it politics and economics sank into insignificance. It involved breaking up their home, dislocating their lives, and interrupting his literary career, but he never regretted the course he had taken.
Proceeding, he narrated certain experiences in Spiritualism. He told how his son came back a year after his death. He (the speaker) was at Southsea. A Mr. Powell, a Spiritualist, visited him, and with three friends there in the evening they tied Mr. Powell up with a rope, so that he could not move, in a corner of the room. Then they turned out the light.
He explained why physical seances were held in the dark. There was a material, he said, which was the basis of spirit phenomena, known as ectoplasm, which emanated from all people in the form of vapour. A medium was one who had a greater amount of ectoplasm than others. But ectoplasm was soluble in light.
Suddenly, went on Sir Arthur, there came from the dark his son’s voice and spoke to him of a thing known only to himself and his wife. The others present substantiated what had taken place. If they could not substantiate a thing by the evidence of people in the room, how could they substantiate any fact.
He related the true story of two boys on the South Coast of Australia who went out in a yacht and were never seen again. At a seance not long afterwards a medium went into a trance, which meant that his soul left his body for a space, so that another tenant might come, and one of the boys, through the medium, told the father that they had been drowned and that his brother had been eaten by a shark of a most unusual kind. Later, near Geelong, an unusual kind of shark was caught by fishers, and on being cut open was found to contain a watch and studs and some other small articles identified as those of the boy in question.
“What is the good of trying to explain the thing,” said Sir Arthur, “except that the boy did come back and tell his message through the medium.”
The real importance of Spiritualism for them, he continued, was that by getting into touch with higher spirits even than their dear dead ones Spiritualism gave them something more solid than faith. To get into touch with higher knowledge that explained the ordinations of God Almighty and the fate that awaited them, that was the pinnacle of Spiritualism.
Learning from messages he told them what they knew of death. Death was pleasant, like sinking into a sweet sleep; the illness before was often painful. On the other side those who loved them were drawn to receive them. Every man had a second body, an ethereal body, like the one he now had, with the same mind and character. He was first of all taken to a place of rest, where he passed a period in coma to give him strength to take up the new life.
The world there was like the world here reproduced on a higher plane, and each one lived with those most congenial to him. It was not what they believed but what they had done and what they were that determined their place in that world. If one died an old man, one became rejuvenated and a child, grew up to normal manhood.
That world, however, was not the final heaven. Everything was graduated, until ultimately they came to the final blaze of glory beyond the imagination. As they got higher desires they passed on until they reached them.
God was infinitely kinder than they had ever imagined. The majority of people, leaving out saints and criminals, passed on straight to that extraordinary happiness.
In the course of remarks on Christianity, Sir Arthur said that the New Testament was crammed with Spiritualism. Christ was the greatest of all psychics. All the gifts of the modern medium St. Paul took as signs of saintliness.
In conclusion, he said that death when they did not know where they were going was dismal and bleak. But once they knew they had no fear. Death was a glorious and beautiful thing. The best gift life had for them was the last gift of all. (Applause.)
The Chairman said that the speaker had given them a new idea of God. Spiritualism was largely Christianity as it ought to be expressed.
The meeting concluded with the singing of the Doxology.
A bouquet of flowers was presented to Lady Doyle.
1. Only one of these is true.
2. I have made no corrections to the text.
The Northern Whig and Belfast Post, 14 May 1925

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