Conan Doyle - Life and Career - Spiritualism

Spiritualism

Following the death of his wife Louisa in 1906, the death of his son Kingsley just before the end of World War I, and the deaths of his brother Innes, his two brothers-in-law (one of whom was E. W. Hornung, creator of the literary character Raffles) and his two nephews shortly after the war, Conan Doyle sank into depression. He found solace supporting spiritualism and its attempts to find proof of existence beyond the grave. In particular, according to some, he favoured Christian Spiritualism and encouraged the Spiritualists' National Union to accept an eighth precept – that of following the teachings and example of Jesus of Nazareth. He also was a member of the renowned paranormal organisation The Ghost Club. Its focus, then and now, is on the scientific study of alleged paranormal activities in order to prove (or refute) the existence of paranormal phenomena.

On 28 October 1918 Kingsley Doyle died from pneumonia, which he contracted during his convalescence after being seriously wounded during the 1916 Battle of the Somme. Brigadier-General Innes Doyle died, also from pneumonia, in February 1919. Sir Arthur became involved with Spiritualism to the extent that he wrote a Professor Challenger novel on the subject, The Land of Mist.

His book The Coming of the Fairies (1921) shows he was apparently convinced of the veracity of the five Cottingley Fairies photographs (which decades later were exposed as a hoax). He reproduced them in the book, together with theories about the nature and existence of fairies and spirits. In The History of Spiritualism (1926), Conan Doyle praised the psychic phenomena and spirit materialisations produced by Eusapia Palladino and Mina "Margery" Crandon.

Conan Doyle was friends for a time with Harry Houdini, the American magician who himself became a prominent opponent of the Spiritualist movement in the 1920s following the death of his beloved mother. Although Houdini insisted that Spiritualist mediums employed trickery (and consistently exposed them as frauds), Conan Doyle became convinced that Houdini himself possessed supernatural powers—a view expressed in Conan Doyle's The Edge of the Unknown. Houdini was apparently unable to convince Conan Doyle that his feats were simply illusions, leading to a bitter public falling out between the two.

Richard Milner, an American historian of science, has presented a case that Conan Doyle may have been the perpetrator of the Piltdown Man hoax of 1912, creating the counterfeit hominid fossil that fooled the scientific world for over 40 years. Milner says that Conan Doyle had a motive—namely, revenge on the scientific establishment for debunking one of his favourite psychics—and that The Lost World contains several encrypted clues regarding his involvement in the hoax.

Samuel Rosenberg's 1974 book Naked is the Best Disguise purports to explain how, throughout his writings, Conan Doyle left open clues that related to hidden and suppressed aspects of his mentality.

In 1970, a woman identified only as Vera claimed that she had transcribed works via her dead mother from numerous deceased authors including Conan Doyle. Vera's father, a retired 73 year-old bank officer only identified as "Mr. A" submitted the material - a collection entitled "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" - to author Peter Fleming who dismissed it as "tosh". Author Duff Hart-Davis noted that the work was "crude, devoid of literary merit, and all almost exactly the same" despite allegedly being the work of numerous authors.

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