Conan Doyle's Last Words on Spiritualism
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Conan Doyle's Last Words on Spiritualism
By Horace Leaf, F.R.G.S.
Conan Doyle's last words to me were:
"Spiritualism is the most important fact in life, and we must make this world accept it in the interests of both worlds!"
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was big in every way. His tall, massive figure, big, capable hands, strong heavy voice were in complete harmony with his large, versatile mind and generous outlook on life.
I first became acquainted with him during the World War, when he began so heartily to advocate spiritualism as a source of consolation to the bereaved; and when he invited me to co-operate with him in his first big lecture tour through Great Britain I was delighted to do so, partly because it brought me into frequent contact with his fine personality.
Simplicity and unpretentiousness were so naturally a part of his makeup that he retained an immense enthusiasm to the end of his life; indeed, his enthusiasm for the cause of spiritualism probably shortened his life. Not only did it bring to him an immense correspondence from all parts of the world, it literally forced him upon the public platform so frequently that it tried his iron constitution until it broke.
Into all that he undertook he poured the whole of his energy and ability, refusing to leave to anyone else the slightest dealt if he thought it would in any way lessen the quality of his work.
I had a good example of this in 1924. I had just completed an extensive lecture tour through Scandinavia and brought back with me a pressing commission from psychical researchers and spiritualists of Denmark, Norway and Sweden requesting Conan Doyle to visit those countries in connection with what had become his pet subject and principal work.
He entered into the idea with characteristic enthusiasm, and was obviously willing to go to the North Pole if by so doing he could arouse public interest in the question of human survival from the evidential point of view. I left him confident that my commission had been successfully carried out, and received confirmation a few days later in a letter in which he said:
- My Dear Leaf,
- I shall follow on your footsteps as you followed mine in the Antipodes and together I hope we may leave some mark upon a material world.
A few days later I received an invitation to meet him and he informed me with obvious concern that he could not undertake the tour as he felt he would be unable to get his message over effectively through his inability to speak any of the Scandinavian languages. He felt sure that the intervention of an interpreter between him and his audiences would militate against justice being done to what he fondly called "the Cause." It took four years to bring him to the conclusion that interpreter or not it was his duty to carry his convictions to North East Europe.
By a strange coincidence this decision cost him his health, for so strenuously did he work there that his heart gave way and he returned to England to suffer and to die. Yet so strong was his belief and enthusiasm that a few days before his death he led a deputation to the British Government praying for the removal of the restrictions of the various Acts of Parliament placing the practice of mediumship under a legal ban. So ill was he that the Home Secretary begged of him to be seated while he stated his case.
So intense were Sir Arthur's feelings that he spoke in broken accents.
"I beg you to stop the persecution of our religion," he said. "I implore you to prevent the use of agents provocateurs. We represent a great body of believers. We ask for justice."
All sympathetic students of psychical research and supernormal phenomena will regard this as the crowning effort of a life spent always in causes which Sir Arthur considered just. In this respect his interests extended far beyond science and religion. He will long be remembered for the successful fights he put up against miscarriages of justice. It was he who established the innocence and brought about the freedom of Adolph Beck, accused of defrauding women in London; of Oscar Slater, accused of murder in Scotland; of Edalji, charged with cattle maiming in the Midlands. For all this he not only received no financial reward, but freely spent his own time and money to satisfy Justice.
Spiritualism cost Conan Doyle both popularity and wealth. Not only did he take no reward for his lectures, he invariably subscribed largely to the funds of societies for whom he lectured. When in 1922 he asked me to follow in his footsteps through Australia and New Zealand, I explained that my financial position was too weak for me to undertake so expensive a trip. "It is all right," he said, "I have left £500 ($3,000) in Australia for you, and if you need more trust me to supply it." He lost as much as £2,000 ($10,000) per annum on his famous Psychic Bookshop, but insisted that the business should be continued since reading was the best way to get the public acquainted with spiritualism.
His boyish ingenuousness often led people to believe that he was credulous and easily deceived. Kindliness is often mistaken for simpleness; but those who knew him intimately were well aware that few individuals were more qualified to undertake the intricate and perplexing investigation of those remarkable people called mediums.
On several occasions I collaborated with him, acting as the psychic, and the results were invariably excellent because of his masterly treatment of the subject. His quiet friendly, sympathetic way immediately put the medium at ease. "Don't worry," he would say, "do the best you can, and if nothing comes through we shall nevertheless have done all we could."
It was through this wise and friendly treatment that we elicited the fact from the Beyond that Agatha Christie, the missing novelist, was living and would be found on a certain date, after the entire press and police and public had sought for her whereabouts for days. The information proved to be correct in every detail.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was keenly interested in hauntings, it was at his instigation that I undertook some of my most interesting investigations. Whenever possible he would join in these efforts to discover the cause of the strange disturbances, and "lay," if possible, the ghost.
It was during these experiments that his detective faculty came out, revealing the real Sherlock Holmes. The masterly creation of those famous detective plots and their equally masterly solution, should be sufficient guarantee of Conan Doyle's capabilities as a psychic investigator.
He and I once undertook to investigate a mysterious and eerie haunting in Golden Square, situated in the heart of London. The story was first reported in the columns of a leading English newspaper and had aroused an immense amount of interest. Doyle was immediately appealed to and readily undertook to discover the cause of the disturbances. My part was to be the medium if that should be necessary, while Sir Arthur was to superintend the arrangement. I realized the possibility of the whole affair being a practical joke for the purpose of discrediting Conan Doyle, and wondered rather fearfully how he would cope with the situation.
I had had much more experience of supernormal phenomena than he, and wondered how much the intense enthusiasm of the famous novelist would weaken his judgment. But immediately Sir Arthur commenced his preparations my fears were set at rest. I am still filled with admiration at the manner in which he cross-examined those who claimed to have seen the ghost, and at the excellent method he adopted to make quite sure that no trick or joke should deceive us.
The outcome of the investigation was the discovery of the restless spirit of Lenin, anxious to convey a message to all nations which he believed would be good not only for his own country but for all mankind. Sir Arthur's splendid account published the next day set nearly all England agog.
A good deal has been said by friend and foe about Conan Doyle's Celtic nature, as if this was a defect in his constitution militating against his ability to appreciate the true nature of mediumship. Anyone who has travelled or lived among Celts knows that they rank among the highest races. Doyle came from a brilliant family, some of whom will be long remembered, especially his uncle, "Dicky" Doyle, who designed the cover of Punch.
Sir Arthur's training, combined with his Celtic nature (Celts are notoriously psychic), was calculated to produce an ideal psychical researcher. Born in Edinburgh on May 22, 1859, he studied medicine at Edinburgh University, taking his degree at the age of 22. His finishing school was in the German Tyrol, and there he edited a school magazine, although he wrote his first short story at the age of six and illustrated it himself.
As his parents were far from wealthy and had difficulty in keeping him at college, he served as a medical assistant in order to help pay his fees. Before taking his medical degree he sailed to Greenland as surgeon on a whaler, and became so expert in the art of whale-catching that the ship's captain offered him the additional post of harpooner.
It is surprising how few people know that Doyle was a medical doctor, having for a time practiced as an oculist in Harley Street, the rendezvous of the leaders of the medical profession of Great Britain. His love of literature, however, proved too strong for the consulting room and drew him into the study, where for so many years he created literary characters which for liveliness have been compared with those of Dickens and Shakespeare.
He was a fine athlete, loving everything manly. Such varied games and sports as billiards, skiing, cricket and boxing won his adherence, while for boxing he has done more good in "Rodney Stone" than modern heavyweight fiascos can do harm.
The passing of Sir Arthur leaves a gap in more than one field of interest and accomplishment difficult to fill, especially in that one to which he gave so freely the last thirteen or fourteen years of his busy life. In his proselytising journeys he travelled more than 50,000 miles and spoke to more than 300,000 people in nearly every country.
Thousands of his admirers will anxiously await the day when he will carry out the promise to his family to return and communicate with, them from the Beyond.
Conan Doyle's Last Words
One of the last letters Conan Doyle wrote was to his American attorney, Mr. B. M. L. Ernst, of New York. In it he said:
"I write this in bed, as I have broken down badly and have developed angina pectoris, so there is just a chance that I may talk it all over with Houdini himself before so very long. I view the prospect with perfect equanimity. That is one thing that psychic knowledge does. It removes all fears of the future."*
It may well be that before these words appear in type the looked for message from him shall come through from the unseen world. When he died his son, Adrian Conan Doyle said:
"There is no question that my father will often speak to us, just as he did before he passed over. We will always know when he is speaking, but one has to be careful because there are practical jokers on the other side as there are here.
"It is quite possible that these jokers may attempt to impersonate him. But there are tests which my mother knows, such as little mannerisms of speech which cannot be impersonated and which will tell us it is my father himself who is speaking.
"My father was a great man and a splendid father and he was loved — and was happy because he knew it — by all of us.
"My mother's and father's devotion to each other at all times was one of the most wonderful things I have ever known. She nursed him right through his illness to the end.
"His last words were to her, and they show just how much he thought of her. He simply smiled up at her and said, 'You are wonderful.' He was in too much pain to say a lot. His breathing was very bad, and what he said was during a brief flash of consciousness. I never have seen any one take anything more gamely in all my life. Even when we all knew he was suffering great pain he always managed during times when he was conscious to keep a smile on his face for us."
(*) Courtesy of the New York Times