Notes of the Month
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Notes of the Month is an article written by the editor of The Occult Review in november 1921.
Notes of the Month
"I am no ordinary woman," observes Charley's Aunt in the play, and in reading through The Wanderings of a Spiritualist,  by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, one is bound to admit that " the bloke what wrote Sherlock Holmes," as he was somewhat disrespectfully described by one of his New Zealand audience, is no ordinary spiritualist. And yet, there is one spiritualist who, though unlike him in many ways, in his type of mentality certainly presents a curious resemblance to the celebrated creator of "Sherlock Holmes." Both evince the same extraordinary mental activity, and curiosity with regard to all kinds of problems of general and utilitarian interest.
The Wanderings of a Spiritualist
Both deal with them when they meet with them, from the same speculative and practical standpoint. If anyone, after reading through The Wanderings of a Spiritualist, would take the trouble to peruse, for example, my all too brief essay on Emanuel Swedenborg, in Mystics and Occultists of All Ages,  they will, I am sure, be at once struck with the parallel. In Sir Arthur's book we have a work. purporting to deal with the author's propaganda as a spiritualist, but he is
perpetually departing from his main thesis to make comments, criticisms, and suggestions, in reference to every conceivable subject of general practical interest and importance. At one time he speculates on the geological history of Australia, and the causes which led to its present configuration ; at another he deals with the sheep-shearing industry, and Lord Wolseley's brother's invention of the electric clip, which did away with the slow and clumsy process of hand shearing. Then, again, he treats of the all-important problem of irrigation in the Southern continent.
A Variety Entertainment
He discusses the catastrophe of Atlantis and the probable effect of the tidal wave resulting from such a calamity on the other portions of the earth's surface. Again he treats of the migrations of the various races, and comments on Dr. Macmillan Brown's theory that the Maoris arc probably of the same stock as the Europeans, that they had wandered Japan-wards and had finally taken to the sea. He writes freely of the political conditions of Australia and its future prospects as a world-power, and stresses the mis¬takes made by Labour Governments which have encouraged innumerable strikes and hampered the development of the country. Again, we have his theory with regard to the much-discussed battle of Jutland and Jellicoe's refusal to close with the German fleet. This leads him to criticize the errors in the construction of our battleships and to make the comment, " All's well that ends well, but it was stout hearts, and not clear heads, which pulled us through."
We have plenty of observations, inter alia, on Australian cricket and the comparative merits and defects of the English and Australian teams. The author of this very varied and discursive book at another time handles the problem of orthodox Christianity with no little freedom, and in particular criticizes St. Paul and contrasts his teaching with that of the Great Master whom he claimed to interpret.
"Paul," he says, "with his tremendous energy and earnestness fixed Christianity upon the world, but I wonder what Peter and those who had actually heard Christ's words, thought about it all. We have had Paul's views about Christ, but we do not know Christ's views about Paul." He is perhaps rather unfair to St. Paul as an orator. "He was certainly," he tells us, "long winded and probably monotonous in his diction, or he could hardly have reduced one of his audience to such a deep sleep that he fell out of the window." He must, however, argues Sir Arthur, have had a powerful voice, for Sir Arthur himself has stood on the rocky pulpit on Mars Hill at Athens, and declares that from the acoustic point of view the conditions are abominable. "As to his preaching," he adds, "he had a genius for making a clear thing obscure, even as Jesus had a genius for making an obscure thing clear."
Was St. Paul a Bachelor?
"One thing," says Sir Arthur, "can safely be said of Paul, that he was either a bachelor or else a domestic bully with a very submissive wife, or he would never have dared to express his well-known views about women." Perhaps our author holds the view that St. Paul's wife was the "thorn in the flesh" to which he makes reference on one occasion! Seriously, however, I do not think that there is any r question but that St. Paul was a bachelor. He makes an allusion which surely implies this in i Corinthians ix : " Am I not free ? " he asks, " am I not an Apostle ?... My defence to them that examine me is this. Have we no right to lead about a wife that is a believer, even as the rest of the Apostles, and the brethren of the Lord and Cephas ? " I quote from the Revised Version, as the Authorized Version is mistranslated. Clearly St. Paul claims that if he chose he would be fully justified in marrying, but equally clearly he did not choose to do so.
The Apostles as "Psychics"
With regard to the Master himself, our author remarks: "That he was a highly trained psychic, or as we should say, medium, is obvious to anyone who studies the miracles and it is certainly not derogatory to say that they were done along the lines of God's law rather than that they were inversions of it.
I cannot doubt also that he chose his Apostles for their psychic powers." Presumably this was the explanation of how Judas got himself chosen among the twelve; for clearly his moral character did not justify it. That Mary the mother of Jesus was opposed to his mission is, thinks Sir Arthur, very probable. "Women are dubious about spiritual novelties, and one can well believe that her heart ached to see her noble elder son turn from the sure competence of his father's business at Nazareth to the precarious existence of a wandering preacher."
Our author has his own views on every conceivable subject, and has no idea of hiding his light under a bushel. He has seen the mango-tree trick performed by a native conjurer. "He did it so admirably," says Sir Arthur, "that I can well understand those who think it is an occult process. I watched the man narrowly and I believe that I solved the little mystery, though even now I cannot be sure." Sir Arthur thinks it was pure trickery. The seed was passed round for examination. It was then laid among some loose earth, water was poured upon it, and it was covered with a handkerchief.
An Explanation of the Mangotree Trick
In about a minute he exposed the same or another seed with the capsule burst and a light green leaf protruding. "Clearly," says our author, "it had been palmed off and substituted for the other." The process was repeated, and next time when the handkerchief was whisked off, there was the plant a foot high with thick foliage and blossoms. But among the impedimenta which the Indian juggler bad with him was a little rag doll. "My explanation," says Sir Arthur, "is that by a miracle of packing the whole of the plant had been compressed into the rag doll. The scrabbling of the hands under the cloth was to smooth out the leaves after it was pulled from this cover. I observed that the leaves were still rather crumpled, and that there were dark specks of fungi which would not be there if the plant was straight from nature's manufactory." Clearly it is the creator of Sherlock Holmes and not the spiritualist who wrote the above passage.
Elsewhere he gives us his views on the subject of Theosophy. His criticism of this cult is that there is no adequate proof. The Theosophist, in short, is too much of a dogmatist, from Sir Arthur's point of view ; and I think a large number of those who sympathize most with the Theosophical standpoint will be inclined to agree with him in this.
His Views on Theosophy
I ask [he writes], for proofs, and Spiritualism has given them to me, but why should I abandon one faith in order to embrace another? I have done with faith. It is a golden mist in which human beings wander in devious tracks with many a collision. I need the white clear light of knowledge. For that we build from below brick by brick, never getting beyond a provable fact. There is the building which will last. But these others seem to build from above downwards, beginning by the assumption that there is supreme human wisdom at the apex.
This our author stigmatizes as a dangerous habit of thought, which has led the race astray before, and may do so again. He admits that there may be much in the Ancient Wisdom, but distrusts the evidence; and above all other people in the movement, he distrusts its founder, Madame Blavatsky. But is not Mrs. Besant, against whose character and principles no charges have ever been brought, far more dogmatic than her predecessor, and in consequence, from Sir Arthur's point of view, far more open to attack? Certainly it is curious that the champions of a faith which claims to be entirely undogmatic should have laid themselves open so frequently to the charge of dogmatic assertion without any adequate proof. The fact is, it appears to me, that Spiritualism lacks a philosophical scheme in which its psychic evidences may find their proper relation to each other; while Theosophy lacks the necessary evidence required to substantiate its extraordinarily detailed statements with regard to the nature of man and the history of the human race.
Spiritualism and Theosophy Compared
We may accept the hypothesis of the akashic records without being willing to admit that any particular Theosophist who has claimed to read them, has interpreted them aright. When, however, all this is granted, we must admit that there are traditions of the past embodied in the Ancient Wisdom which are being every day more and more conclusively established by the accumulating evidence of present-day investigation; and that a cult without a workable hypothesis on which to build can scarcely be seriously regarded from the philosophical standpoint. Automatic or other communications descriptive of conditions on other planes of being entirely fail, even if they can be substantiated, to fill this gap. Some theory of the evolution of consciousness from the lowest to the highest is required before the mind can rest satisfied that life, either here or on the next plane, has any real meaning or purpose at all. To this question of questions: "Has life a purpose?" no answer is provided by proving that after the physical body has perished, the consciousness still survives, however comforting to certain natures this knowledge may be. For myself, it does not appear to be possible, in envisaging this profoundly important subject, to separate the problem of how we came to be what we are in this life, from its natural corollary, what we are destined to become hereafter. The attempt to dissociate the two has always resulted in the past in the building of illusory creeds which have no true philosophical basis. The history of mankind is strewn with the fragments of such dis-credited and half-forgotten faiths; and those who attempt to build again on these same shifting sands are only inviting a similar fate for their creed to that which has overtaken all the other orthodoxies of the past in turn.
I have compared Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Emanuel Swedenborg in one particular. I would venture to commend the observations of this remarkable seer and man of science as peculiarly applicable to the present context. There are, in fact, two methods of arriving at the truth, and we cannot dissociate one from the other. Speaking before the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on December 14, 1740, Swedenborg explained his philosophical method as follows:
There are two ways by which to trace out those things in nature which lie either open before us, or are hidden from our eyes - viz., the a priori which is also called the synthetical method, and the a posteriori, or the analytical method. Both are necessary in reflecting upon and tracing out one and the same thing: for in order to do so there is required both light a priori and experience a posteriori. Now, while the learned among the ancients followed the former light as remotely and profoundly as they possibly could, those at a later period were induced not to accept anything as evidence, unless it was confirmed by experience. Hence also some of the learned at the present day seem to have agreed to let thought rest, and to make experiments which would appeal to the senses; yet they did so with the hope and intent that some day experience would be connected with theory: for experience deprived of an insight into the nature of things is knowledge without learning, and a foundation without a building to rest upon it. The observations of the outward senses merely furnish data and give information about things which the understanding ought to investigate, and concerning which it ought to form its judgments…
For the purpose of reaching this noble end, the learned scientific men of these later times have collected and accumulated such an abundant and invaluable treasure of experiments and facts, that we seem likely to be able soon to advance a step beyond, and to trace out the secret properties of nature a posteriori, or by the analytical method, and thus to meet our learned forefathers who reached the same goal a priori, and with their help to climb up a higher Parnassus than they were able to do in their times.
It is surely clear that whether we are dealing with the problems of science or the profounder question of the immortality and ultimate destiny of the human race, facts as facts are useless to us, however conclusive the evidence in support of them may be, unless they can be made to form an integral part of a coherent structure on which can be based a faith founded on knowledge, and on a logical deduction from our premises. The meaning of life will never be explained by a mere collection of tomes of evidence such as has been provided by the S.P.R. Such evidence is useful only in so far as it enables us to build up a philosophical hypothesis which will at once appeal to our reason and square with the facts so far as we know them. The riddle of the sphinx is not to be read in the séance room, though the séance room may afford a clue. Nor is it to be solved by communications from the other side, even where the authenticity of such communications is established beyond all reasonable possibility of doubt. The problem is essentially one for the philosopher and the seer, who will reject no possible avenue of knowledge, while testing all alike in the spirit of true criticism, not valuing evidence for its own sake, but only in so far as it enables him to fill in one more niche in the Temple of Truth. Home and the Rymer Family
Perhaps I should make a passing allusion to a criticism of D. D. Home, in which I would suggest that our author is rather unfair to the celebrated medium. The criticism in question has to do with his relations to the Rymer family, whom Sir Arthur thinks that Daniel D. Home treated badly. He refers to the Mr. Rymer in question as Home's benefactor, but the evidence before me rather suggests that the boot was on the other foot. In any case it is clear from a letter of Mrs. Rymer's to her "Dear Dan" that in order to enable his wife and children to join her husband in Australia, Home made her a present of £50. The Rymers apparently had lost very heavily through some unfortunate business trans¬actions, and the husband had gone to try and make a fresh start in Australia. Home may well have found that the assistance he gave the family, and presumably in particular the son in his European travels, was placing too great a strain upon his own finances. He was a man who constitutionally found it difficult to say "No," and if my suggestion is right, he might quite possibly have found it necessary to part company with the youth in question rather than embarrass himself further. In any case it is obvious that the relations between Home and the Rymer family were not broken by any friction that may have arisen in this connection, as Mrs. Rymer's letter to Home in which she expresses her thanks for his "affectionate liberality," and signs herself his " sincere and grateful friend," is subsequent in date to these European travels.
It is evident from his book that Sir Arthur was on a number of occasions brought into serious conflict with the orthodox clergy in Australia and New Zealand. It has often appeared to me a strange fact that these outworn superstitions of the past should take such firm root in the new countries of the world. One might reasonably have expected that they would be laughed out of court. But in spite of a certain number of violent attacks from this quarter it is obvious that the tour was a pronounced success. There is, in fact, nothing like unreasoning opposition to bring to the fore one's true friends, and wherever Sir Arthur went his audiences were clearly not only overflowing but enthusiastic.
Sir Arthur touches incidentally on the problems of drink and temperance in relation to his experiences in Australasia. Though by no means an extremist himself, he favours the limitation of the drink traffic, and remarks on the number of cases of drunkenness which he met with in parts of the Southern Continent. One amusing interview he cites with a man with whom he found himself drawn into conversation on a New Zealand ferry boat.
A Startling Resemblance
There was a man [he tells us], seated opposite me who assumed the air of elaborate courtesy and extreme dignity, which is one phase of alcoholism.
"'Sense me, sir!" said he, looking at me with a glassy stare, "but you bear most 'straordinry resemblance Olver Lodge."
I said something amiable.
"Yes, sir - 'straordinary I Have you ever seen Olver Lodge, sir ?"
"Yes, I have."
"Well, did you perceive resemblance?"
"Sir Oliver, as I remember him, was a tall man with a grey beard."
He shook his head at me sadly.
"No, sir, - I heard him at Wellington last week. No beard. A moustache, sir, same as your own."
"You're sure it was Sir Oliver ?"
A slow smile came over his face.
"BIesh my soul-Conan Doyle--that's the name. Yes, sir, you bear truly remarkable resemblance Conan Doyle."
I did not say anything further, so I dare say he has not discovered yet the true cause of the resemblance.
I have written sufficient to make it plain that whatever criticisms may be levelled against Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's latest book, dullness and lack of variety will not be among them. The reader need have no fear of suffering the fate of the member of St. Paul's congregation to whom our author alludes, as having gone to sleep and fallen out of the window as a result of the tediousness of the Apostle's discourse.
On Monday, October 17, at the Savoy Hotel, a demonstration was given by the entertainers Mercedes and his colleague, Mlle Stantone, of thought transference of a novel character. Mlle Stantone sat blindfolded at a piano with her back to the audience. Mercedes moved about among the company present and asked them in turn to write on a piece of paper the name of a song or piece of music. Mercedes looked at the name written, and asked the writer to stand up and say, "Will you please play my selection?" Mlle Stantone in most cases, without hesitation, gave the name of the piece required and played it on the piano. The audience were impressed with the success of the performance, and it appeared as if the possibility of collusion by means of a code was eliminated.
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