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sh societyLast week I did a performance for the Sherlock Holmes Society in which I touched upon Sir Arthur Conan's Doyle rather naive belief in Spiritualism.  I thought therefore I would repeat an anecdote which I recounted in one of my Dickens's newsletters back in May, 2013. 

At one of his later séances, Conan Doyle claimed to have communicated with the spirit of Charles Dickens.  The séance was conducted by the double handed act of Florizel von Reuter and his mother.  Apparently she would point so rapidly to letters on the Ouija board that it was impossible to follow what was spelt out: fortunately her son was on hand to write the words down!

florizel von reuterConan Doyle reported the encounter in a chapter titled 'The Alleged Posthumous Writings Of Known Authors' in his 1930 book The Edge of the Unknown (the year he died).  Conan Doyle was convinced it was the spirit of Charles Dickens because the latter revealed what had happened to Edwin Drood in Dickens's final, uncompleted book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.  Drood was not, as the logical narrative of the book seems to suggest, murdered after all; but instead was hidden by another character in a large cupboard.

conan doyleConan Doyle was convinced of the truth of this - partly because Florizel claimed never to have read Edwin Drood, whilst his mother only had a “very vague memory” of it; and also because this was "a solution entirely new" to him.  He concluded that “this seems to me to be exceedingly important, both from a literary and from a psychic point of view”.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood was completed by a number of writers; although none of them came up with the ending which Conan Doyle thought came direct from the author's mouth.  A medium finished the book by channelling the spirit of Charles Dickens.  Dickens's son wrote that he had never read it but understood that it offered "sad proof of how quickly the faculties deteriorate after death".

paperback pickwickStephen Jarvis, the author of Death and Mr Pickwick, spent nearly a year trying to track down a missing, unpublished manuscript called The Life of Robert Seymour, which had mysteriously vanished in the 1920s; and which would have considerably helped him in his researches.  Having run up against one blind alley after another, he was persuaded by his brother to consult a professional psychic who worked with the police, to see if she could assist in finding the document.

During the consultation (which unfortunately failed to shed any light on the actual whereabouts of the manuscript), the psychic suddenly said "Who is Spencer?" This was a very significant name to Stephen, as Walter T Spencer was a man who had attempted to purchase the manuscript when it was put up for auction at Sotheby's in 1919 - but had been unable to pay the very high reserve price.  According to Stephen, only he really knew this fact, so it was, to quote him: "VERY weird for the psychic to say that name".

psychicMy explanation to Stephen was as follows:

"Asking a question such "Who is Spencer?" is a classic technique of a psychic. You will probably find she asked many such questions, but you forgot the others: you only remember the one that has some significance to you. Notice the vagueness of the question. She is not saying why Spencer might be of significance to you - she's asking you to make the connection. Most people when asked such a question would desperately search in their mind for anything vaguely related to a Spencer. Maybe they saw a film recently starring Spencer Tracey? Perhaps they were a big fan of Lady Di? Possibly they had a relative called Spencer? Whatever you come up with, the psychic will latch onto that and infer that is what she was thinking about when she asked the question. Occasionally they will strike lucky, which is clear she did in your case. If, at that point, you had given nothing away but said: "Yes, Spencer does mean something to me, can you tell me what?" she would have been flummoxed. But the natural response is to tell her why it is of significance and then she can enlarge on that (i.e. feedback to you what you've already told her).

spencer"If you had come back and said that Spencer meant nothing; either she will just forget about it and move on (in which case you will probably forget afterwards that she even asked the question) or she will make some vague statement like: "The name might have some meaning to you in the future". Then a few days later (or the next month, or the following year) you meet someone called Spencer (the fact that you meet myriads of other people with different names you conveniently forget about) - and give the psychic the credit for an amazing prediction."

Of course the other, far shorter and simpler, explanation - which is far easier to understand and agree with - is that the psychic was genuinely psychic!  

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