19. The Silver Mirror (1908)

It’s Hallowe’en, so settle down by the fire, pour yourself a stiff drink, and get ready for a Conan Doyle ghost story, ‘The Silver Mirror,’ from August 1908.

You can read the short story here: https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=The_Silver_Mirror

The episode can be heard here: http://doingsofdoyle.podbean.com/.


An accountant working on the case of White and Wotherspoons is on the trail of an outwardly respectable fraudster. He has twenty ledgers in which to follow and prove a case of false bookkeeping. His available time is limited, entailing long hours of concentrated work, and the attendant fatigue and brain-fog. By his side as he works sits a large antique silver mirror in which he expects to see only his own tired reflection. But, strangely, the harder he works, and the closer he gets to his quarry, the mirror begins to mist and cloud internally, and a picture of a past tragedy begins to emerge from within…

Writing and publication history

The Automated Sculpture Syndicate
The story was written in early 1908 as part of an intended series of short historical sketches, inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill (1906).

Conan Doyle had recently completed ‘A Pot of Caviare’ (1908), an additional chapter for his expanded 1899 work A Duet, with an Occasional Chorus, and the two plays The Fires of Fate and The House of Temperley (first performed in 1909).

He had also agreed to write the occasional reminiscence of Sherlock Holmes, to relieve some temporary money worries. A company he had supported for five years, the Automated Sculpture Syndicate, had recently gone bust and he had just made the expensive move to Windlesham in Crowborough, East Sussex.

The story was first collected in The Last Galley (1911) and later in Tales of Long Ago (1922).

The changing nature of ghost stories

M. R. James

Conan Doyle’s ‘The Haunted Grange at Goresthorpe’ (c. 1877), https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=The_Haunted_Grange_of_Goresthorpe

William Hope Hodgson, Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder (1913)

E. Heron, Ghosts: Being the Experiences of Flaxman Low (1899)

Algernon Blackwood, John Silence (1908)

Edward Bulwer Lytton, The Haunted and the Haunters; or, The House and the Brain (1859)

Charlotte Perkins Gillman, The Yellow Wall-Paper (1892)

Henry James, The Turn of the Screw (1898)

M. R. James, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904)

Psychic research

Place memory: Edmund Gurney (1847-88) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmund_Gurney and Eleanor Sidgwick (1845-1936) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleanor_Mildred_Sidgwick

Nigel Kneale, The Stone Tape (BBC, 1972), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Stone_Tape

Psychometry, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychometry_(paranormal)

Edison’s phonograph (1877)

T. C. Lethbridge (1901-1971), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T._C._Lethbridge


Dr John Dee
The legend of Narcissus, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissus_(mythology)

R. L. Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)

Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Lady of Shalott (1842)

Scrying mirrors, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrying

Dr John Dee (1527-1609), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dee

Sir Walter Scott, ‘My Aunt Margaret’s Mirror’ (1828)

Mary Elizabeth Braddon, ‘The Face in the Glass’ (c. 1880) and Lady Audley’s Secret (1862)

The Silver Mirror as spiritualist text

Kyle DeDecker’s paper at the Edinburgh Conan Doyle Project conference 2020, https://edinburgh-conan-doyle.org/conference-2020/ (Panel 4).

Charles Altamont Doyle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse

Palace of Holyrood House, https://www.rct.uk/visit/palace-of-holyroodhouse

Charles Altamont Doyle (1832-1893), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Altamont_Doyle

The Murder of Rizzio, 9 March 1566

Opie's The Murder of Rizzio
David Rizzio (1533-1566), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Rizzio

Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary,_Queen_of_Scots

Henry, Lord Darnley (1545-1567), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Stuart,_Lord_Darnley

Patrick Ruthven, 3rd Lord Ruthven (c. 1520-1566), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Ruthven,_3rd_Lord_Ruthven

James Hepburn, 4th Earl Bothwell (c. 1534-1578), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Hepburn,_4th_Earl_of_Bothwell

Sir Walter Scott, Tales of a Grandfather (1828-1830)

David Tweedie, David Rizzio and Mary Queen of Scots: Murder at Holyrood (2014)

Related Conan Doyle works

‘The Haunted Grange at Goresthorpe’ (c. 1877)

‘Through the Veil’ (1911)

‘The Leather Funnel’ (1902)

‘The Voice of Science’ (1892)

‘The Story of the Japanned Box’ (1899)

‘The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone’ (1921)

‘A Physiologist’s Wife’ (1885)

Next time on the Doings of Doyle…

We head to nineteenth century Japan for ‘Jelland’s Voyage’ (1892). You can read it here: https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php/Jelland's_Voyage

Become a Patron

If you are enjoying the podcast and want to become a patron, please visit our Patreon page.


Thanks to our sponsor, Belanger Books: www.belangerbooks.com, and to our patrons on Patreon.

Image credits: Thanks to Alexis Barquin at The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopaedia for permission to reproduce these images. Please support the encyclopaedia at www.arthur-conan-doyle.com.

Music credit: Sneaky Snitch Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons:  By Attribution 3.0 License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/