ByKit Simpson Browne, writer at
Writer-at-large. Bad jokes aplenty. Can be gently prodded on Twitter at @kitsb1
Kit Simpson Browne

Sherlock Holmes may well be the world's most famous proponent of logical thinking, scientific inquiry and generally being a smart-ass. Particularly in his most recent incarnation as Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock can easily be seen as a symbol of reason and the empirical in a world sometimes lacking those qualities. If you give him a mystery, he will find an explanation. Always.

His creator, on the other hand, was as adept at creating mysteries as he was at solving them. The British Library's recent release of several key Sir Arthur Conan Doyle audio recordings may sound pretty dull and dry - until you realize that they date from both before and after his death.

The background to which is as fascinating as any Sherlock Holmes story.

Conan Doyle, though a legend of literature, was notoriously disinterested in the success of Holmes, his most famous creation. Instead, his passions lay in more otherworldly directions - in the world of Spiritualism.

A movement that was arguably a product of the 19th Century's embrace of science, Spiritualism enabled it's believers to see their faith as an extension of the technology around them, rather than in direct conflict with it. It also provided a relief from the unrelenting traumas of the era's conflicts - from the Civil War through the First World War, the movement thrived.

It was the latter that reportedly confirmed Conan Doyle's belief in Spiritualism, after a séance left him believing he had spoken to the son he lost during the war.

Speaking of Spiritualism in a 1930, he remarked:

People ask, what do you get from spiritualism? The first thing you get is that it absolutely removes all fear of death. Secondly, it bridges death for those dear ones whom we may lose. We need have no fear that we are calling them back, for all that we do is to make such conditions as experience has taught us, will enable them to come if they wish. And the initiative lies always with them.

He was, more than anything else, a believer in the ability of the dead to communicate with the living. It even destroyed his friendship with legendary magician Harry Houdini - who spent much of his life actively debunking those scam artists who sought to take advantage of the Spiritualist movement. As Mark Strauss of puts it:

"Their relationship came to a bitter end when Conan Doyle invited Houdini to a private séance, during which Conan Doyle's wife, Jean, claimed to have contact Houdini's mother. It was an embarrassing sham — a written message from his "mother," the wife of a rabbi, began with the sign of the cross — and Houdini deeply resented it."

Conan Doyle, though, remained a believer, and did so until his death in 1930.

All of which makes The British Library's recent discovery all the more fascinating - because four years after his death, Conan Doyle was reported to have spoken at a mass séance in London - and to have been recorded doing so.

And you can hear that recording right here.

Whether or not you consider the séance to be a hoax, the recording is an incredibly intriguing glimpse into popular dreams and beliefs of the time - ones that Conan Doyle himself shared. That his one time friend Houdini - had he still been alive himself - would have been quick to debunk it only adds to the fascination.

Would Sherlock Holmes have believed it, though, or would he have been quick to find a means of debunking it? Let me know what you guys think below!


Would Sherlock Holmes have believed that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was speaking from beyond the grave?



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