. Biographer Andrew Lycett believes he has uncovered an important aspect of author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s life that was not previously known, and he reveals it in his new book, Conan Doyle: The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes. But his “revelation” has been in the public domain for over 70 years.
The Times arts correspondent Dalya Alberge (15 September 2007) wrote:
“Notebooks describing his earliest contact with mediums and psychic phenomena have emerged this week, 120 years after he wrote them, proving that his interest in seances had started 30 years earlier than previously thought.
“The author was working as a doctor in Portsmouth when he attended his first seance in 1887, the year that he published his first Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet.”
Andrew Lycett explained to The Times: “He had an interest in the paranormal from an early age, but the detail of his actual dabbling in seances had not been known. He didn’t come out as spiritualist until the First World War. What is interesting about this is that it shows him engaging with spiritualism at an earlier age than that.”
Writing in The Guardian, Lycett describes how Conan Doyle’s papers were kept under wraps after his death in 1930 by his squabbling family. It was only in May 2004, when they were put up for auction at Christie’s and the British Library bought most of his papers, that writers and researchers were given access to them. And Lycett tracked down the notebooks, which had been sold to an eminent New Jersey cardiologist and Sherlock Holmes enthusiast.
It is these which tell of Conan Doyle’s first experience of psychic phenomena in 1887, while practising as a doctor in Portsmouth, Hampshire. At a patient’s house, he sat with a group of people who saw a table moving and spelling out messages.
Lycett is not alone in believing that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s interest in Spiritualism came about through bereavement, after his son Kingsley and brother Innes died (having escaped the trenches of World War I) in a flu epidemic. The claim was recently repeated in a TV documentary about Houdini on the History Channel.
And yet, there is no excuse for such errors. There was no need for Lycett to gain access to the Conan Doyle diaries now residing in New Jersey to discover Conan Doyle’s long association with psychic phenomena because he was quite open about his early dealings with Spiritualism.
Reference to it can be found in Nandor Fodor’s impressive Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science (1934) which tells us:
“In the years between 1885-88, Doyle took part in table turning sittings at the house of his patient, General Drayson, a teacher in the Greenwich Naval College, a keen mathematician and a man of scholarly education. Through the mediumship of a railway signalman, apports were produced.
“The phenomena were too amazing for Doyle and he secretly underrated both the honesty of the medium and the intelligence of the sitters. But his interest was aroused.”
Sir Arthur’s History of Spiritualism also makes reference to his early interest in the paranormal and his decision to make the public more aware of the implications of spirit communication after the carnage of World War I.