Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Arthur Conan Doyle: how I came to have psychic experiences.

Truly amazing that this video exists. In other Doyle news, it appears that Sherlock Holmes is for the most part in the public domain.


Caption on black:
William Fox has the honor to present the world famous author and scientist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is famous the world over for his Sherlock Holmes stories. He has devoted the past 40 years to spiritualistic study and is one of the leading advocates of the existence of spirit life and communication with the beyond. 
[Outside a country cottage Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his dog walk into the shot, Doyle says to the dog "good old boy then" and sits down on a wooden chair, removes his hat and puts it on a table along with a book. A caption reads "Summer 1927" Doyle speaks with a distinct Scottish brogue.] 
Let's see now, I've got to speak one or two words just to try my voice I understand.  
[cut to middle close-up of Doyle] 
There are two things that people always want to ask me. One of them is how I ever came to write the Sherlock Holmes stories, and the other is about how I came to have psychic experiences and to take so much interest in that question. 
Well first of all, about the Sherlock Holmes stories. They came about in this way: I was quite a young doctor at the time and I had of course of scientific training, and I used to occasionally read detective stories, it often annoyed me how in the old-fashioned detective story the detective always seemed to get at his results either by some sort of lucky chance or fluke, or else it was quite unexplained how he got there. He got there but he never gave an explanation how. Now that didn't seem to me quite playing the game. It seemed to me that he's bound to give his reasons why he came to his conclusions. 
But when I began thinking about this I began to think of turning scientific methods, as it were, onto the work of detection. And I used, as a student to have an old professor his name was Bell, who was extraordinarily quick at deductive work. He would look at the patient, he would hardly allow the patient to open his mouth but he would make his diagnosis of the disease, also very often of the patient's nationality and occupation and other points, entirely by his power of observation. So naturally I thought to myself, "well if a scientific man like Bell was to come into the detective business, he wouldn't do these things by chance, he'd get the thing by building it up, scientifically."  
So, having once conceived that line of thought, you can well imagine that I had as it were, a new idea of the detective and one which it interested me to work out. I thought of a hundred little dodges, as you may say, a hundred little touches by which he could build up his conclusions and then I began to write stories on those lines. At first I think they attracted very little attention, but after a time when I began the short adventures one after the other coming out month after month in the Strand magazine, people began to recognize that it was different from the old detective, that there was something there which was new, they began to buy the magazine and uh, it uh prospered and so I may say did I, we both came along together. And from that time Sherlock Holmes fairly took root. I've written a good deal more about him than I ever intended to do but my hand has been forced by kind friends who continually wanted to know more, and so it is that this monstrous growth has come out of what was really a comparatively small seed. 
But the curious thing is how many people around the world are perfectly convinced that he is a living human being. I get letters addressed to him, I get letters asking for his autograph, I get letters addressed to his rather stupid friend, Watson, I've even had ladies writing to say that they'd be very glad to act as his housekeeper. One of them when she'd heard that he'd turned to the occupation of keeping bees wrote saying that she was an expert at segregating the queen, whatever that may mean, and that she was evidently pre-destined to be the housekeeper of Sherlock Holmes.   
I don't know that there's anything more that I can say with advantage, about him, but on the other point which is to me of course a very much more serious one, on the question of my taking up this psychic matter. Curiously enough my first experiences in that direction were just about the time when Sherlock Holmes was being built up in my mind. That would be about the year 1886 and 1887. So nobody can say that I've formed my opinions on psychic matters very hastily, it was just 41 years now since I wrote a signed article upon the subject which appeared in a magazine called Light so that I put myself on record. 
During these 41 years I never lost any opportunity of reading and studying and of experimenting on this matter. 
[Cut to close up.] 
People ask me will I write any more Sherlock Holmes stories, I certainly don't think it's at all probable. As I grow older the psychic subject always grows in intensity and one becomes more earnest upon it. And I should think that my few remaining years will probably be devoted much more in that direction than in the direction of literature. None the less of course I haven't abandoned writing, one has to earn one's living, but my principle thoughts are that I should extend if I can that knowledge which I have on psychic matters and spread it as far as I can to those who have been less fortunate. 
[Cut to mid close-up] 
Don't for one moment suppose that I am taking it upon myself to say that I am the inventor of spiritualism, or that I am even the principle exponent of it. There are many great mediums, many great psychical researchers, investigators of all sorts, all that I can do is to be a gramophone on the subject. To go about, to meet people face to face, to try and make them understand that this thing is not the foolish thing which is so often represented but that it really is the great philosophy and as I think the basis of all religious improvement in the future of the human race. I suppose I've sat with more mediums good, and bad, and indifferent than perhaps any living being. Anyhow, a larger variety because I've traveled so much all over the world and wherever I've gone, either in Australia, America, or South Africa, the best and the worst that can be had in that direction was put at my disposal. Therefore when people come along and contradict me, who've had no experience at all, read little and perhaps never been to a seance you can imagine that I don't take their opposition very seriously. When I talk on this subject I'm not talking about what I believe, I'm not talking about what I think, I'm talking about what I know. There's an enormous difference, believe me, between believing a thing and knowing a thing, and talking about things that I've handled, that I've seen, that I've heard with my own ears. And always mind you in the presence of witnesses,  I never risk hallucinations. I usually in most of my experiments have had six, eight or ten witnesses, all of whom have seen and heard the same things that I have done.  
Gradually I became more and more convinced on the matter as I studied year in, year out, but it was only in the time of the War, when all these splendid young fellows were disappearing from our view, when the whole world was saying, "what's become of them, where are they, what are they doing now? Have they dissipated into nothing, or are they still the grand fellas that we used to know?" It was only at that time that I realized the overpowering importance to the human race of knowing more about this matter.
Then it was that I flung myself more earnestly into it and that I felt the highest purpose that I could possibly devote the remainder of my life to, was trying to bring across to other people, something of that knowledge and assurance which I had acquired myself. Certainly the results have justified me. I am quite sure I could fill a room of my house with the letters that I have received from people, telling me of the consolation which my writings on this subject, and my lectures on this subject, have given to them. How they have once more heard the sound of a vanished voice and felt the touch of the vanished hand.
[Cut to original wide shot of cottage. Doyle collects his hat and book, pats his dog and walks out of camera range.
Well, good-bye.
Doyle so unshakably believed in the supernatural that Harry Houdini could not convince him that his "magic" was simply illusions - which ended their friendship. Doyle also notoriously believed in the Cottingley fairies, which look ridiculously fake to me and which were eventually confessed to be a hoax.

Yes, the creator of Sherlock Holmes thought this photo was believable.
As ridiculous and empirically wrong as Doyle's beliefs were, it's impossible not to feel sympathy for him. The video clip makes it clear that Doyle turned to spiritualism out of grief - he specifically mentions young men killed during World War I, and he lost his own son, who died as an indirect result of being wounded in action.

At the end of the clip, Doyle mentions what really matters to him - that his research into spiritualism has brought consolation to people, who were led to believe that their loved ones had not "dissipated into nothing." And Doyle is undeniably right when he discovers "the overpowering importance to the human race of knowing more about this matter."