The Coming of the Fairies, by Arthur Conan Doyle

Chapter 4

The Second Series

When Mr. Gardner was in Yorkshire in July, he left a good camera with Elsie, for he learned that her cousin Frances was about to visit her again and that there would be a chance of more photographs. One of our difficulties has been that the associated aura of the two girls is needful. This joining of auras to produce a stronger effect than either can get singly is common enough in psychic matters. We wished to make full use of the combined power of the girls in August. My last words to Mr. Gardner, therefore, before starting for Australia were that I should open no letter more eagerly than that which would tell me the result of our new venture. In my heart I hardly expected success, for three years had passed, and I was well aware that the processes of puberty are often fatal to psychic power.

I was surprised, therefore, as well as delighted, when I had his letter at Melbourne, informing me of complete success and enclosing three more wonderful prints, all taken in the fairy glen. Any doubts which had remained in my mind as to honesty were completely overcome, for it was clear that these pictures, specially the one of the fairies in the bush, were altogether beyond the possibility of fake. Even now, however, having a wide experience of transference of pictures in psychic photography and the effect of thought upon ectoplasmic images, I feel that there is a possible alternative explanation in this direction, and I have never quite lost sight of the fact that it is a curious coincidence that so unique an event should have happened in a family some members of which were already inclined to occult study, and might be imagined to have formed thought-pictures of occult appearances. Such suppositions, though not to be entirely dismissed, are, as it seems to me, far-fetched and remote.

Here is the joyous letter which reached me at Melbourne:

September 6, 1920.

MY DEAR DOYLE,

Greetings and best wishes! Your last words to me before we parted were that you would open my letter with the greatest interest. You will not be disappointed — for the wonderful thing has happened!

I have received from Elsie three more negatives taken a few days back. I need not describe them, for enclosed are the three prints in a separate envelope. The “Flying Fairy” and the “Fairies’ Bower” are the most amazing that any modern eye has ever seen surely! I received these plates on Friday morning last and have since been thinking furiously.

A nice little letter came with them saying how sorry they were (!) that they couldn’t send more, but the weather had been bad (it has been abominably cold), and on only two afternoons had Elsie and Frances been able to visit the glen. (Frances has now returned to Scarborough at the call of school.) All quite simple and straightforward and concluding with the hope that I might be able to spend another day with them at the end of this month.

I went over to Harrow at once, and Snelling without hesitation pronounced the three as bearing the same proofs of genuineness as the first two, declaring further that at any rate the “bower” one was utterly beyond any possibility of faking! While on this point I might add that today I have interviewed Illingworth’s people and somewhat to my surprise they endorsed this view. (Now if you have not yet opened the envelope please do so and I will continue . . . )

I am going to Yorkshire on the 23rd inst. to fill some lecture engagements and shall spend a day at C., and of course take photos of these spots and examine and take away any “spoilt” negatives that will serve as useful accompaniments. The bower negative, by the way, the girls simply could not understand at all. They saw the sedate-looking fairy to the right, and without waiting to get in the picture Elsie pushed the camera close up to the tall grasses and took the snap . . . .

To this letter I made answer as follows:

Melbourne, October 21, 1920.

DEAR GARDNER,

My heart was gladdened when out here in far Australia I had your note and the three wonderful prints which are confirmatory of our published results. You and I needed no confirmation, but the whole line of thought will be so novel to the ordinary busy man who has not followed psychic inquiry, that he will need that it be repeated again and yet again before he realizes that this new order of life is really established and has to be taken into serious account, just as the pigmies of Central Africa.

I felt guilty when I laid a delay-action mine and left the country, leaving you to face the consequences of the explosion. You knew, however, that it was unavoidable. I rejoice now that you should have this complete shield against those attacks which will very likely take the form of a clamour for further pictures, unaware that such pictures actually exist.

The matter does not bear directly upon the more vital question of our own fate and that of those we have lost, which has brought me out here. But anything which extends man’s mental horizon, and proves to him that matter as we have known it is not really the limit of our universe, must have a good effect in breaking down materialism and leading human thought to a broader and more spiritual level.

It almost seems to me that those wise entities who are conducting this campaign from the other side, and using some of us as humble instruments, have recoiled before that sullen stupidity against which Goethe said the gods themselves fight in vain, and have opened up an entirely new line of advance, which will turn that so-called “religious,” and essentially irreligious, position, which has helped to bar our way. They can’t destroy fairies by antediluvian texts, and when once fairies are admitted other psychic phenomena will find a more ready acceptance.

Good-bye, my dear Gardner, I am proud to have been associated with you in this epoch-making incident. We have had continued messages at seances for some time that a visible sign was coming through — and perhaps this was what is meant. The human race does not deserve fresh evidence, since it has not troubled, as a rule, to examine that which already exists. However, our friends beyond are very long-suffering and more charitable than I, for I will confess that my soul is filled with a cold contempt for the muddle-headed indifference and the moral cowardice which I see around me.

Yours sincerely,
ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE.

The next letters from Mr. Gardner told me that in September, immediately after this second series was taken, he had gone north again, and came away more convinced than ever of the honesty of the whole Wright family and of the genuine nature of the photographs. From this letter I take the following extracts:

“My visit to Yorkshire was very profitable. I spent the whole day with the family and took photographs of the new sites, which proved to be in close proximity to the others. I enclose a few prints of these. It was beside the pond shown that the ‘cradle’ or bower photograph was taken. The fairy that is in the air was leaping rather than flying. It had leapt up from the bush below five or six times, Elsie said, and seemed to hover at the top of its spring. It was about the fifth time that it did so that she snapped the shutter. Unfortunately, Frances thought the fairy was leaping on to her face, the action was so vigorous, and tossed her head back. The motion can be detected in the print. The fairy who is looking at Elsie in the other photograph is holding a bunch of fairy hare-bells. I thought this one had ‘bobbed’ hair and was altogether quite in the fashion, her dress is so up-to-date! But Elsie says her hair was close-curled, not bobbed. With regard to the ‘cradle’ Elsie tells me they both saw the fairy on the right and the demure-looking sprite on the left, but not the bower. Or rather, she says there was only a wreath of faint mist in between and she could make nothing of it. We have now succeeded in bringing this print out splendidly, and as I can get certificates from experts giving the opinion that this negative could not possibly be ‘faked’ we seem to be on perfectly safe ground. The exposure times in each case were one-fiftieth of a second, the distance about three to four feet, the camera was the selected ‘Cameo’ that I had sent to Elsie, and the plates were of those that I had sent too.

“The colours of dresses and wings, etc., I have complete, but will post these particulars on when writing at length a little later and have the above more fully written out.” . . .

November 27, 1920.

“The photographs:

“When I was in Yorkshire in September investigating the second series, I took photos of the spots, of course, and the full account of the success. The children only had two brief hours or so of decent sunshine during the whole of that fortnight they were together in August. On the Thursday they took two and on the Saturday one. If it had been normal weather we might have obtained a score or more. Possibly, however, it is better to go slowly — though I propose we take the matter further again in May or June. The camera I had sent was the one used, and also the plates (which had all been marked privately by the Illingworth Co., independently of me). The three new fairy negatives proved to be of these and can be certified so to be by the manager. The Cradle or Bower negative is, as I think I told you, declared to be utterly unfakeable, and I can get statements to this effect . . . .”

In a subsequent fuller account Mr. Gardner says:

“On Thursday afternoon, August 26, a fairly bright and sunny day, fortunately (for the unseasonably cold weather experienced generally could hardly have been worse for the task), a number of photographs were taken, and again on Saturday, August 28. The three reproduced here are the most striking and amazing of the number. I only wish every reader could see the superlatively beautiful enlargements made directly from the actual negatives. The exquisite grace of the flying fairy baffles description — all fairies, indeed, seem to be super-Pavlovas in miniature. The next, of the fairy offering a flower — an etheric harebell — to Iris, is a model of gentle and dignified pose, but it is to the third that I would draw special and detailed attention. Never before, or otherwhere, surely, has a fairy’s bower been photographed!

“The central ethereal cocoon shape, something between a cocoon and an open chrysalis in appearance, lightly suspended amid the grasses, is the bower or cradle. Seated on the upper left-hand edge with wing well displayed is an undraped fairy apparently considering whether it is time to get up. An earlier riser of more mature age is seen on the right possessing abundant hair and wonderful wings. Her slightly denser body can be glimpsed within her fairy dress. Just beyond, still on the right, is the clear-cut head of a mischievous but smiling elf wearing a close-fitting cap. On the extreme left is a demure-looking sprite, with a pair of very diaphanous wings, while just above, rather badly out of focus, however, is another with wings still widely extended, and with outspread arms, apparently just alighting on the grass tops. The face in half profile can just be traced in a very clear and carefully toned print that I have. Altogether, perhaps, this of the bower is the most astonishing and interesting of the more successful photographs, though some may prefer the marvellous grace of the flying figure.

“The comparative lack of definition in this photograph is probably accounted for by the absence of the much denser human element. To introduce us in this way directly to a charming bower of the fairies was quite an unexpected result on the part of the girls, by the way. They saw the somewhat sedate fairy on the right in the long grasses, and, making no attempt this time to get in the picture themselves, Iris put the camera very close up and obtained the snap. It was simply good fortune that the bower was close by. In showing me the negative, Iris only remarked it as being a quaint little picture that she could not make out!”

There the matter stands, and nothing has occurred from that time onwards to shake the validity of the photographs. We were naturally desirous of obtaining more, and in August 1921 the girls were brought together once again, and the very best photographic equipment, including a stereoscopic camera and a cinema camera, were placed at their disposal. The Fates, however, were most unkind, and a combination of circumstances stood in the way of success. There was only a fortnight during which Frances could be at Cottingley, and it was a fortnight of almost incessant rain, the long drought breaking at the end of July in Yorkshire. In addition, a small seam of coal had been found in the Fairy Glen, and it had been greatly polluted by human magnetism. These conditions might perhaps have been overcome, but the chief impediment of all was the change in the girls, the one through womanhood and the other through board-school education.

There was one development, however, which is worth recording. Although they were unable to materialize the images to such an extent as to catch them upon a plate, the girls had not lost their clairvoyant powers, and were able, as of old, to see the sprites and elves which still abounded in the glen. The sceptic will naturally say that we have only their own word for that, but this is not so. Mr. Gardner had a friend, whom I will call Mr. Sergeant, who held a commission in the Tank Corps in the war, and is an honourable gentleman with neither the will to deceive nor any conceivable object in doing so. This gentleman has long had the enviable gift of clairvoyance in a very high degree, and it occurred to Mr. Gardner that we might use him as a cheek upon the statements of the girls. With great good humour, he sacrificed a week of his scanty holiday — for he is a hard-worked man — in this curious manner. But the results seem to have amply repaid him. I have before me his reports, which are in the form of notes made as he actually watched the phenomena recorded. The weather was, as stated, bad on the whole, though clearing occasionally. Seated with the girls, he saw all that they saw, and more, for his powers proved to be considerably greater. Having distinguished a psychic object, he would point in the direction and ask them for a description, which he always obtained correctly within the limit of their powers. The whole glen, according to his account, was swarming with many forms of elemental life, and he saw not only wood-elves, gnomes, and goblins, but the rarer undines, floating over the stream. I take a long extract from his rather disjointed notes, which may form a separate chapter.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/doyle/arthur_conan/fairies/chapter4.html

Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 21:33