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´╗┐Title: The Unknown Guest
Author: Maeterlinck, Maurice
Language: English
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Translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos



My Essay on Death[1] led me to make a conscientious enquiry into
the present position of the great mystery, an enquiry which I
have endeavoured to render as complete as possible. I had hoped
that a single volume would be able to contain the result of these
investigations, which, I may say at once, will teach nothing to
those who have been over the same ground and which have nothing
to recommend them except their sincerity, their impartiality and
a certain scrupulous accuracy. But, as I proceeded, I saw the
field widening under my feet, so much so that I have been obliged
to divide my work into two almost equal parts. The first is now
published and is a brief study of veridical apparitions and
hallucinations and haunted houses, or, if you will, the phantasms
of the living and the dead; of those manifestations which have
been oddly and not very appropriately described as
"psychometric"; of the knowledge of the future: presentiments,
omens, premonitions, precognitions and the rest; and lastly of
the Elberfeld horses. In the second, which will be published
later, I shall treat of the miracles of Lourdes and other places,
the phenomena of so called materialization, of the divining-rod
and of fluidic asepsis, not unmindful withal of a diamond dust of
the miraculous that hangs over the greater marvels in that
strange atmosphere into which we are about to pass.

[1] Published in English, in an enlarged form, under the title of
Our Eternity (London and New York, 1913)--Translator's Note.


When I speak of the present position of the mystery, I of course
do not mean the mystery of life, its end and its beginnings, nor
yet the great riddle of the universe which lies about us. In this
sense, all is mystery, and, as I have said elsewhere, is likely
always to remain so; nor is it probable that we shall ever touch
any point of even the utmost borders of knowledge or certainty.
It is here a question of that which, in the midst of this
recognized and usual mystery, the familiar mystery of which we
are almost oblivious, suddenly disturbs the regular course of our
general ignorance. In themselves, these facts which strike us as
supernatural are no more so than the others; possibly they are
rarer, or, to be more accurate, less frequently or less easily
observed. In any case, their deep-seated cause, while being
probably neither more remote nor more difficult access, seem
to lie hidden in an unknown region less often visited by our
science, which after all is but a reassuring and conciliatory
espression of our ignorance. Today, thanks to the labours of the
Society for Psychical Research and a host of other seekers, we
are able to approach these phenomena as a whole with a certain
confidence. Leaving the realm of legend, of after-dinner stories,
old wives' tales, illusions and exaggerations, we find ourselves
at last on circumscribed but fairly safe ground. This does not
mean that there are no other supernatural phenomena besides those
collected in the publications of the society in question and in a
few of the more weighty reviews which have adopted the same
methods. Notwithstanding all their diligence, which for over
thirty years has been ransacking the obscure corners of our
planet, it is inevitable that a good many things escape their
notice, besides which the rigour of their investigations makes
them reject three fourths of those which are brought before them.
But we may say that the twenty-six volumes of the society is
Proceedings and the fifteen or sixteen volumes of its Journal,
together with the twenty-three annuals of the Annales des
Sciences Psychiques, to mention only this one periodical of
signal excellence, embrace for the moment the whole field of the
extraordinary and offer some instances of all the abnormal
manifestations of the inexplicable. We are henceforth able to
classify them, to divide and subdivide them into general, species
and varieties. This is not much, you may say; but it is thus that
every science begins and furthermore that many a one ends. We
have therefore sufficient evidence, facts that can scarcely be
disputed, to enable us to consult them profitably, to recognize
whither they lead, to form some idea of their general character
and perhaps to trace their sole source by gradually removing the
weeds and rubbish which for so many hundreds and thousands of
years have hidden it from our eyes.


Truth to tell, these supernatural manifestations seem less
marvelous and less fantastic than they did some centuries ago;
and we are at first a little disappointed. One would think that
even the mysterious has its ups and downs and remains subject to
the caprices of some strange extra mundane fashion; or perhaps,
to be more exact, it is evident that the majority of those
legendary miracles could not withstand the rigorous scrutiny of
our day. Those which emerge triumphant from the test and defy our
less credulous and more penetrating vision are all the more
worthy of holding our attention. They are not the last survivals
of the riddle, for this continues to exist in its entirety and
grows greater in proportion as we throw light upon it; but we can
perhaps see in them the supreme or else the first efforts of a
force which does not appear to reside wholly in our sphere. They
suggest blows struck from without by an Unknown even more unknown
than that which we think we know, an Unknown which is not that of
the universe, not that which we have gradually made into an
inoffensive and amiable Unknown, even as we have made the
universe a son of province of the earth, but a stranger arriving
from another world, an unexpected visitor who comes in a rather
sinister way to trouble the comfortable quiet in which we were
slumbering, rocked by the firm and watchful hand of orthodox


Let us first be content to enumerate them. We shall find that we
have table-turning, with its raps; the movements and
transportations of inanimate objects without contact; luminous
phenomena; lucidite, or clairvoyance; veridical apparitions or
hallucinations; haunted houses; bilocations and so forth;
communications with the dead; the divining-rod; the miraculous
cures of Lourdes and elsewhere; fluidic asepsis; and lastly the
famous thinking animals of Elberfeld and Mannheim. These, if I be
not mistaken, after eliminating all that is in, sufficiently
attested, constitute the residue or caput mortuum of this
latter-day miracle.

Everybody has heard of table-turning, which may be called the A B
C of occult science. It is so common and so easily produced that
the Society for Psychical Research has not thought it necessary
to devote special attention to the subject. I need hardly add
that we must take count only of movements or "raps" obtained
without the hands touching the table, so as to remove every
possibility of fraud or unconscious complicity. To obtain these
movements it is enough, but it is also indispensable that those
who form the "chain" should include a person endowed with
mediumistic faculties. I repeat, the experiment is within the
reach of any one who cares to try it under the requisite
conditions; and it is as incontestable as the polarization of
light or as crystallization by means of electric currents.

In the same group may be placed the movement and transportation
of objects without contact, the touches of spirit hands, the
luminous phenomena and materialization. Like table-turning, they
demand the presence of a medium. I need not observe that we here
find ourselves in the happy hunting-ground of the impostor and
that even the most powerful mediums, those possessing the most
genuine and undeniable gifts, such as the celebrated Eusapia
Paladino, are upon occasion--and the occasion occurs but too
often--incorrigible cheats. But, when we have made every
allowance for fraud, there nevertheless remains a considerable
number of incidents so rigorously attested that we most needs
accept them or else abandon all human certainty.

The case is not quite the same with levitation and the wonders
performed, so travelers tell us, by certain Indian jugglers.
Though the prolonged burial of a living being is very nearly
proved and can doubtless be physiologically explained, there are
many other tricks on which we have so far no authoritative
pronouncement. I will not speak of the "mango-tree" and the
"basket-trick," which are mere conjuring; but the "fire-walk" and
the famous "rope-climbing trick" remain more of a mystery.

The fire-walk, or walk on red-hot bricks or glowing coals, is a
sort of religious ceremony practiced in the Indies, in some of
the Polynesian islands, in Mauritius and elsewhere. As the result
of incantations uttered by the high priest, the bare feet of the
faithful who follow him upon the bed of burning pebbles or brands
seem to become almost insensible to the touch of fire. Travelers
are anything but agreed whether the heat of the surface traversed
is really intolerable, whether the extraordinary power of
endurance is explained by the thickness of the horny substance
which protects the soles of the natives' feet, whether the feet
are burnt or whether the skin remains untouched; and, under
present conditions, the question is too uncertain to make it
worth while to linger over it.

"Rope-climbing" is more extraordinary. The juggler takes his
stand in an open space, far from any tree or house. He is
accompanied by a child; and his only impedimenta are a bundle of
ropes and an old canvas sack. The juggler throws one end of the
rope up in the air; and the rope, as though drawn by an invisible
hook, uncoils and rises straight into the sky until the end
disappears; and, soon after, there come tumbling from the blue
two arms, two legs, a head and so on, all of which the wizard
picks up and crams into the sack. He next utters a few magic
words over it and opens it; and the child steps out, bowing and
smiling to the spectators.

This is the usual form taken by this particular sorcery. It is
pretty rare and seems to be practised only by one sect which
originated in the North-West Provinces. It has not yet perhaps
been sufficiently investigated to take its place among the
evidence mentioned show. If it were really as I have described,
it could hardly be explained save by some strange hallucinatory
power emanating from the juggler or illusionist, who influences
the audience by suggestion and makes it see what he wishes. In
that case the suggestion or hallucination covers a very extensive
area. In point of fact, onlookers, Europeans, on the balconies of
houses at some distance from the crowd of natives, have been
known to experience the same influence. This would be one of the
most curious manifestations of that "unknown guest" of which we
shall speak again later when, after enumerating its acts and
deeds, we try to investigate and note down the eccentricities of
its character.

Levitation in the proper sense of the word, that is to say, the
raising, without contact, and floating of an inanimate object or
even of a person, might possibly be due to the same hallucinatory
power; but hitherto the instances have not been sufficiently
numerous or authentic to allow us to draw any conclusions. Also
we shall meet with it again when we come to the chapter treating
of the materializations of which it forms part.




This brings us without any break to the consideration of
veridical apparitions and hallucinations and finally to haunted
houses. We all know that the phantasms of the living and the dead
have now a whole literature of their own, a literature which owes
its birth to the numerous and conscientious enquiries conducted
in England, France, Belgium and the United States at the instance
of the Society for Psychical Research. In the presence of the
mass of evidence collected, it would be absurd to persist in
denying the reality of the phenomena themselves. It is by this
time incontestable that a violent or deep emotion can be
transmitted instantaneously from one mind to another, however
great the distance that separates the mind experiencing the
emotion from the mind receiving the communication. It is most
often manifested by a visual hallucination, more rarely by an
auditory hallucination; and, as the most violent emotion which
man can undergo is that which grips and overwhelms him at the
approach or at the very moment of death, it is nearly always this
supreme emotion which he sends forth and directs with incredible
precision through space, if necessary across seas and continents,
towards an invisible and moving goal. Again, though this occurs
less frequently, a grave danger, a serious crisis can beget and
transmit to a distance a similar hallucination. This is what the
S. P. R. calls "phantasms of the living." When the hallucination
takes place some time after the decease of the person whom it
seems to evoke, be the interval long or short, it is classed
among the "phantasms of the dead."

The latter, the so-called "phantasms of the dead," are the
rarest. As F. W. H. Myers pointed out in his Human Personality, a
consideration of the proportionate number of apparitions observed
at various periods before and after death shows that they
increase very rapidly for the few hours which precede death and
decrease gradually during the hours and days which follow; while
after about a year's time they become extremely rare and

However exceptional they may be, these apparitions nevertheless
exist and are proved, as far as anything can be proved, by
abundant testimony of a very precise character. Instances will be
found in the Proceedings, notably in vol. vi., pp. 13-65, etc.

Whether it be a case of the living, the dying, or the dead, we
are familiar with the usual form which these hallucinations take.
Indeed their main outlines hardly ever vary. Some one, in his
bedroom, in the street, on a journey, no matter where, suddenly
see plainly and clearly the phantom of a relation or a friend of
whom he was not thinking at the time and whom he knows to be
thousands of miles away, in America, Asia or Africa as the case
may be, for distance does not count. As a rule, the phantom says
nothing; its presence, which is always brief, is but a sort of
silent warning. Sometimes it seems a prey to futile and trivial
anxieties. More rarely, it speaks, though saying but little after
all. More rarely still, it reveals something that has happened, a
crime, a hidden treasure of which no one else could know. But we
will return to these matters after completing this brief


The phenomenon of haunted houses resembles that of the phantasms
of the dead, except that here the ghost clings to the residence,
the house, the building and in no way to the persons who inhabit
it. By the second year of its existence, that is to say, 1884,
the Committee on Haunted Houses of the S. P. R. had selected and
made an analysis of some sixty-five cases out of hundreds
submitted to it, twenty-eight of which rested upon first-hand and
superior evidence.[1] It is worthy of remark, in the first place,
that these authentic narratives bear no relation whatever to the
legendary and sensational ghost-stories that still linger in many
English and American magazines, especially in the Christmas
numbers. They mention no winding-sheets, coffins, skeletons,
graveyards, no sulphurous flames, curses, blood-curdling groans,
no clanking chains, nor any of the time-honoured trappings that
characterize this rather feeble literature of the supernatural.
On the contrary, the scenes enacted in houses that appear to be
really haunted are generally very simple and insignificant, not
to say dull and commonplace. The ghosts are quite unpretentious
and go to no expense in the matter of staging or costume. They
are clad as they were when, sometimes many years ago, they led
their quiet, unadventurous life within their own home. We find in
one case an old woman, with a thin grey shawl meekly folded over
her breast, who bends at night over the sleeping occupants of her
old home, or who is frequently encountered in the hall or on the
stairs, silent, mysterious, a little grim. Or else it is the
gentleman with a lacklustre eye and a figured dressing-gown who
walks along a passage brilliantly illuminated with an
inexplicable light. Or again we have another elderly lady,
dressed in black, who is often found seated in the bay window of
her drawing-room. When spoken to, she rises and seems on the
point of replying, but says nothing. When pursued or met in a
corner, she eludes all contact and vanishes. Strings are fastened
across the staircase with glue; she passes and the strings remain
as they were. The ghost--and this happens in the majority of
cases--is seen by all the people staying in the house: relatives,
friends, old servants and new. Can it be a matter of suggestion,
of collective hallucination? At any rate, strangers, visitors who
have had nothing said to them, see it as the others do and ask,
innocently: "Who is the lady in mourning whom I met in the

[1] Proceedings, vol. i., pp. 101-115; vol. ii., pp. 137-151;
vol. viii., pp. 311, 332, etc.

If it is a case of collective suggestion, we should have to admit
that it is a subconscious suggestion emitted without the
knowledge of the participants, which indeed is quite possible.

Though they belong to the same order, I will not here mention the
exploits of what the Germans call the Poltergeist, which take the
form of flinging stones, ringing bells, turning mattresses,
upsetting furniture and so forth. These matters are always open
to suspicion and really appear to be nothing but quaint frolics
of hysterical subjects or of mediums indulging their sense of
humour. The manifestations of the Poltergeist are fairly numerous
and the reader will find several instances in the Proceedings and
especially in the Journal of the S. P. R.

As for communications with the dead, I devoted a whole chapter to
these in my own essay entitled Our Eternity and will not return
to them now. It will be enough to recall and recapitulate my
general impression, that probably the dead did not enter into any
of these conversations. We are here concerned with purely
mediumistic phenomena, more curious and mere subtle than those of
table-rapping, but of the same character; and these
manifestations, however astonishing they may be, do not pierce
the terrestrial sphere wherein we are imprisoned.


Setting aside the religious hypotheses, which we are not
examining here, for they belong to a different order of ideas,[1]
we find, as an explanation of the Majority of these phenomena, or
at least as a means of avoiding an absolute and depressing
silence in regard to them, two hypotheses which reach the unknown
by more or less divergent paths, to wit, the spiritualistic
hypothesis and the mediumistic hypothesis. The spiritualists, or
rather the neospiritualists or scientific spiritualists, who must
not be confused with the somewhat over-credulous disciples of
Allan Kardec, maintain that the dead do not die entirely, that
their spiritual or animistic entity neither departs nor disperses
into space after the dissolution of the body, but continues an
active though invisible existence around us. The
neospiritualistic theory, however, professes only very vague
notions as to the life led by these discarnate spirits. Are they
more intelligent than they were when they inhabited their flesh?
Do they possess a wider understanding and mightier faculties than
ours? Up to the present, we have not the unimpeachable facts that
would permit us to say so. It would seem, on the contrary, if the
discarnate spirits really continue to exist, that their life is
circumscribed, frail, precarious, incoherent and, above all, not
very long. To this the objection is raised that it only appears
so to our feeble eyes. The dead among whom we move without
knowing it struggle to make themselves understood, to manifest
themselves, but dash themselves against the inpenetrable wall of
our senses, which, created solely to perceive matter, remain
hopelessly ignorant of all the rest, though this is doubtless the
essential part of the universe. That which will survive in us,
imprisoned in our body, is absolutely inaccessible to that which
survives in them. The utmost that they can do is occasionally to
cause a few glimmers of their existence to penetrate the fissures
of those singular organisms known as mediums. But these vagrant,
fleeting, venturous, stifled, deformed glimmers can but give us a
ludicrous idea of a life which has no longer anything in common
with the life--purely animal for the most part- which we lead on
this earth. It is possible; and there is something to be said for
the theory. It is at any rate remarkable that certain
communications, certain manifestations have shaken the scepticism
of the coldest and most dispassionate men of science, men utterly
hostile to supernatural influences. In order to some extent to
understand their uneasiness and their astonishment, we need only
read--to quote but one instance among a thousand--a disquieting
but unassailable article, entitled, Dans les regions inexplorees
de la biologic humaine. Observations et experiences sur Eusapia
Paladino, by Professor Bottazzi, Director of the Physiological
Institute of the University of Naples.[2] Seldom have experiments
in the domain of mediums or spirits been conducted with more
distrustful suspicion or with more implacable scientific
strictness. Nevertheless, scattered limbs, pale, diaphanous but
capable hands, suddenly appeared in the little physiological
laboratory of Naples University, with its doors heavily padlocked
and sealed, as it were, mathematically excluding any possibility
of fraud; these same hands worked apparatus specially intended to
register their touches; lastly, the outline of something black,
of a head, uprose between the curtains of the mediumistic
cabinet, remained visible for several seconds and did not retire
until itself apparently frightened by the exclamations of
surprise drawn from a group of scientists who, after all, were
prepared for anything; and Professor Bottazzi confesses that it
was then that, to quote his own words--measured words, as beseems
a votary of science, but expressive--he felt "a shiver all
through his body."

[1] On the same grounds, we will also leave on one side the
theosophical hypothesis, which, like the others, begins by
calling for an act of adherence, of blind faith. Its
explanations, though often ingenious, are no more than forcible
but gratuitous asservations and, as I said in Our Eternity, do
not give us the shadow of the commencement of a proof.

[2] Annales des Sciences Psychiques: April November 1907.

It was one of those moments in which a doubt which one had
thought for ever abolished grips the most unbelieving. For the
first time, perhaps, he looked around him with uncertainty and
wondered in what world he was. As for the faithful adherents of
the unknown, who had long understood that we must resign
ourselves to understanding nothing and he prepared for every sort
of surprise there was here, all the same, even for them, a
mystery of another character, a bewildering mystery, the only
really strange mystery, more torturing than all the others
together, because it verges upon ancestral fears and touches the
most sensitive point of our destiny.


The spiritualistic argument most worthy of attention is that
supplied by the apparitions of the dead and by haunted houses. We
will take no account of the phantasms that precede, accompany or
follow hard upon death: they are explained by the transmission of
a violent motion from one subconsciousness to another; and, even
when they are not manifested until several days after death, it
may still he contended that they are delayed telepathic
communications. But what are we to say of the ghosts that spring
up more than a year, nay, more than ten years after the
disappearance of the corpse? They are very rare, I know, but
after all there are some that are extremely difficult to deny,
for the accounts of their actions are attested and corroborated
by numerous and trustworthy witnesses. It is true that here
again, where it is in most cases a question of apparitions to
relations or friends, we may be told that we are in the presence
of telepathic incidents or of hallucinations of the memory. We
thus deprive the spiritualists of a new and considerable province
of their realm. Nevertheless, they retain certain private
desmesnes into which our telepathic explanations do not penetrate
so easily. There have in fact been ghosts that showed themselves
to people who had never known or seen them in the flesh. They are
more or less closely connected with the ghosts in haunted houses,
to which we must revert for a moment.

As I said above, it is almost impossible honestly to deny the
existence of these houses. Here again the telepathic
interpretation enforces itself in the majority of cases. We may
even allow it a strange but justifiable extension, for its limits
are scarcely known. It has happened fairly often, for instance,
that ghosts come to disturb a dwelling whose occupiers find, in
response to their indications, bones hidden in the walls or under
the floors. It is even possible, as in the case of William
Moir,[1] which was as strictly conducted and supervised as a
judicial enquiry, that the skeleton is buried at some distance
from the house and dates more than forty years back. When the
remains are removed and decently interred, the apparitions cease.

[1] Proceedings, vol. vi., pp. 35-41.

But even in the case of William Moir there is no sufficient
reason for abandoning the telepathic theory. The medium, the
"sensitive," as the English say, feels the presence or the
proximity of the bones; some relation established between them
and him--a relation which certainly is profoundly
mysterious--makes him experience the last emotion of the deceased
and sometimes allows him to conjure up the picture and the
circumstances of the suicide or murder, even as, in telepathy
between living persons, the contact of an inanimate object is
able to bring him into direct relation with the subconsciousness
of its owner. The slender chain connecting life and death is not
yet entirely broken; and we might even go so far as to say that
everything is still happening within our world.

But are there cases in which every link, however thin, however
subtle we may deem it, is definitely shattered? Who would venture
to maintain this? We are only beginning to suspect the
elasticity, the flexibility, the complexity of those invisible
threads which bind together objects, thoughts, lives, emotions,
all that is on this earth and even that which does not yet exist
to that which exists no longer. Let us take an instance in the
first volume of the Proceedings: M, X. Z., who was known to most
of the members of the Committee on Haunted Houses, and whose
evidence was above suspicion, went to reside in a large old
house, part of which was occupied by his friend Mr. G--. Mr. X.
Z. knew nothing of the history of the place except that two
servants of Mr. G--'s had given him notice on account of strange
noises which they had heard. One night--it was the 22nd of
September--Mr. X. Z., on his way up to his bedroom in the dark,
saw the whole passage filled with a dazzling and uncanny light,
and in this strange light he saw the figure of an old man in a
flowered dressing-gown. As he looked, both figure and light
vanished and he was left in pitch darkness. The next day,
remembering the tales told by the two servants, he made enquiries
in the village. At first he could find out nothing, but finally
an old lawyer told him that he had heard that the grandfather of
the present owner of the house had strangled his wife and then
cut his own throat on the very spot where Mr. X. Z. had seen the
apparition. He was unable to give the exact date of this double
event; but Mr. X. Z. consulted the parish register and found that
it had taken place on a 22nd of September.

On the 22nd of September of the following year, a friend of Mr.
G--'s arrived to make a short stay. The morning after his
arrival, he came down, pale and tired, and announced his
intention of leaving immediately. On being questioned, he
confessed that he was afraid, that he had been kept awake all
night by the sound of groans, blasphemous oaths and cries of
despair, that his bedroom door had been opened, and so forth.

Three years afterwards, Mr. X. Z. had occasion to call on the
landlord of the house, who lived in London, and saw over the
mantelpiece a picture which bore a striking resemblance to the
figure which he had seen in the passage. He pointed it out to his
friend Mr. G--, saying:

"That is the man whom I saw."

The landlord, in reply to their questions, said that the painting
was a portrait of his grandfather, adding that he had been "no
credit to the family."

Evidently, this does not in any way prove the existence of ghosts
or the survival of man. It is quite possible that, in spite of
Mr. X. Z.'s undoubted good faith, imagination played a subtle but
powerful part in these marvels. Perhaps it was set going by the
stories of the two servants, insignificant gossip to which no
attention was paid at the time, but which probably found its way
down into the weird and fertile depths of the subconsciousness.
The image was next transmitted by suggestion to the visitor
frightened by a sleepless night. As for the recognition of the
portrait, this is either the weakest or the most impressive part
of the story, according to the theory that is being defended.

It is none the less certain that there is some unfairness in
suggesting this explanation for every incident of the kind. It
means stretching to the uttermost and perhaps stretching too far
the elastic powers of that amiable maid-of-all-work, telepathy.
For that matter, there are cases in which the telepathic
interpretation is even more uncertain, as in that described by
Miss R. C. Morton in vol. viii. of the Proceedings.

The story is too long and complicated to be reproduced here. It
is unnecessary to observe that, in view of the character of Miss
Morton, a lady of scientific training, and of the quality of the
corroborative testimony, the facts themselves seem incontestable.

The case is that of a house built in 1860, whose first occupier
was an Anglo-Indian, the next tenant being an old man and the
house then remaining unlet for four years. In 1882, when Captain
Morton and big family moved in, there had never, so far as they
knew, been any question of its being haunted. Three months
afterwards, Miss Morton was in her room and on the point of
getting into bed, when she heard some one at the door and went to
it, thinking that it might be her mother. On opening the door,
she found no one there, but, going a few steps along the passage,
she saw a tall lady, dressed in black, standing at the head of
the stair. She did not wish to make the others uneasy and
mentioned the occurrence to no one except a friend, who did not
live in the neighborhood.

But soon the same figure dressed in black was seen by the various
members of the household, by a married sister on a visit to the
house, by the father, by the other sister, by a little boy, by a
neighbour, General A--, who saw a lady crying in the orchard and,
thinking that one of the daughters of the house was ill, sent to
enquire after her. Even the Mortons' two dogs on more than one
occasion clearly showed that they saw the phantom.

It was, as a matter of fact very harmonious: it said nothing; it
wanted nothing; it wandered from room to room, without any
apparent object; and, when it was spoken to, it did not answer
and only made its escape. The household became accustomed to the
apparition; it troubled nobody and inspired no terror. It was
immaterial, it could not be touched, but yet it intercepted the
light. After making enquiries, they succeeded in identifying it
as the second wife of the Anglo-Indian. The Morton family had
never seen the lady, but, from the description which they gave of
the phantom to those who had known her, it appeared that the
likeness was unmistakable. For the rest, they did not know why
she came back to haunt a house in which she had not died. After
1887, the appearances became less frequent, distinct, ceasing
altogether in 1889.


Let us assume that the facts as reported in the Proceedings are
certain and indisputable. We have very nearly the ideal case,
free from previous or ambient suggestion. If we refuse to believe
in the existence of ghosts, if we are absolutely positive that
the dead do not survive their death, then we must admit that the
hallucination took birth spontaneously in the imagination of Miss
Morton, an unconscious medium, and was subsequently trained by
telepathy to all those around her. In my opinion, this
explanation, however arbitrary and severe it may be, is the one
which it behooves us to accept, pending further proofs. But it
must be confessed that, in thus extending our incredulity, we
render it very difficult for the dead to make its existence

We possess a certain number of cases of kind, rigorously
investigated, cases probably representing but an infinitesimal
part of those which might be collected. Is it possible that they
one and all elude the telepathic explanation? It would be
necessary to make a study of them, conducted with the most
scrupulous and unremitting attention; for the question is not
devoid of interest. If the existence of ghosts were
well-established, it would mean the entrance into this world,
which we believe to be our world, of a new force that would
explain more than one thing which we are still far from
understanding. If the dead interfere at one point, there is a
reason why they should not interfere at every other point. We
should no longer be alone, among ourselves, in our
hermetically-closed sphere, as we are perhaps only too ready to
imagine it. We should have to alter more than one of our physical
and moral laws, more than one of our ideas; and it would no doubt
be the most important and the most extraordinary revelation that
would be expected in the present state of our knowledge and since
the disappearance of the old positive religions. But we are not
there yet: the proof of all this is still in the nursery-stage;
and I do not know if it will ever get beyond that. Nevertheless
the fact remains that, in these impenetrable regions of mystery
which we are now exploring, the one weak spot lies here, the one
wall in which there seems to be a chink--a strange one
enough--giving a glimpse into the other world. It is narrow and
vague and behind it there is still darkness; but it is not
without significance and we shall do well not to lose sight of


Let us observe that this survival of the dead, as the
neospiritualists conceive it, seems much less improbable since we
have been studying more closely the manifestations of the
extraordinary and incontestable spiritual force that lies hidden
within ourselves. It is not dependent in our thought, nor on our
consciousness, nor on our will; and very possibly it is not
dependent either on our life. While we are still breathing on
this earth it is already surmounting most of the great obstacles
that limit and paralyse our existence. It acts at a distance and
so to speak without organs. It passes through matter,
disaggregates it and reconstitutes it. It seems to possess, the
gift of ubiquity. It is not subject to the laws of gravity and
lifts weights out of all proportion with the real and measurable
strength of the body whence it is believed to emanate. It
releases and removes itself from that body; it comes and goes
freely and takes to itself substances and shapes which it borrows
all around it; and therefore it is no longer so strange to see it
surviving for a time that body to which it does not appear to be
as indissolubly bound as is our conscious existence. Is it
necessary to add that this survival of a part of ourselves which
we hardly know and which besides seems incomplete, incoherent and
ephemeral is wholly without prejudice to nor fate in the eternity
of the worlds? But this is a question which we are not called
upon to study here.

I shall perhaps be asked:

"If it is becoming increasingly difficult for all these
facts--and there are more of them accumulating every day--to be
embraced in the telepathic or psychometric theory, why not
frankly accept the spiritualistic explanation, which is the
simplest, which has an answer for everything and which is
gradually encroaching on all the others?"

That is true: it is the simplest theory, perhaps too simple; and,
like the religious theory, it dispenses as from all effort or
seeking. We have nothing to set against it but the mediumistic
theory, which doubtless does not account exactly for a good many
things, but which at least is on the same side of the hill of
life as ourselves and remains among us, upon our earth, within
reach of our eyes, our hands, our thoughts and our researches.
There was a time when lightning, epidemics and earthquakes were
attributed without distinction to the wrath of Heaven. Nowadays,
when we are more or less familiar with the source of the great
infectious diseases, the hand of Providence knows them no more;
and, though we are still ignorant of the nature of electricity
and the laws that regulate seismic shocks, we no longer dream,
while waiting to learn more about them, of looking for their
causes in the judgment or anger of an imaginary Being. Let us act
likewise in the present case. It behooves us above all to avoid
those rash explanations which, in their haste, leave by the
roadside a host of things that appear to be unknown or unknowable
only because the necessary effort has not yet been made to know
them. After all, while we must not eliminate the spiritualistic
theory, neither must we content ourselves with it. It is even
preferable not to linger over it until it has supplied us with
decisive arguments, for it is the duty of this theory which
sweeps us roughly out of our sphere to furnish us with such
arguments. For the present, it simply relegates to posthumous
regions, phenomena that appear to occur within ourselves; it adds
superfluous mystery and needless difficulty to the mediumistic
mystery whence it springs. If we were concerned with facts that
had no footing in this world, we should certainly have to turn
our eyes in another direction; but we see a large number of
actions performed which are of the same nature as those
attributed to the spirits and equally inexplicable, actions with
which, however, we know that they have nothing to do. When it is
proved that the dead exercise some intervention, we will bow
before the fact as willingly as we bow before the mediumistic
mysteries: it is a question of order, of internal policy and of
scientific method much more than of probability, preference or
fear. The hour has not yet come to abandon the principle which I
have formulated elsewhere with respect to our communications with
the dead, namely, that it is natural that we should remain at
home, in our own world, as long as we can, as long as we are not
violently driven from it by a series of irresistible and
incontrovertible proofs coming from the neighbouring abyss. The
survival of a spirit is no more improbable than the prodigious
faculties which we are obliged to attribute to the mediums if we
deny them to the dead. But the existence of mediums is beyond
dispute, whereas that of spirits is not; and it is therefore for
the spirits or for those who make use of their name to begin by
proving that they must. Before turning towards the mystery beyond
the grave, let us first exhaust the possibilities of the mystery
here on earth.



Now that we have eliminated the gods and the dead, what have we
left? Ourselves and all the life around us; and that is perhaps
enough. It is, at any rate, much more than we are able to grasp.

Let us now study certain manifestations that are absolutely
similar to those which we attribute to the spirits and quite as
surprising. As for these manifestations, there is not the least
doubt of their origin. They do not come from the other world;
they are born and die upon this earth; and they arise solely and
incontestably from our own actual living mystery. They are,
moreover, of all psychic manifestations, those which are easiest
to examine and verify, seeing that they can be repeated almost
indefinitely and that a number of excellent and well-known
mediums are always ready to reproduce them in the presence of any
one interested in the question. It is no longer a case of
uncertain and casual observation, but of scientific experiment.

The manifestations in question are so many phenomena of
intuition, of clairvoyance or clairaudience, of seeing at a
distance and even of seeing the future. These phenomena may
either be due to pure, spontaneous intuition on the part of the
medium, in an hypnotic or waking state, or else produced or
facilitated by one of the various empirical methods which
apparently see only to arouse the medium's subconscious faculties
and to release in some way his subliminal clairvoyance. Among
such methods, those most often employed are, as we all know,
cards, coffee-grounds, pins, the lines of the hand, crystal
globes, astrology, and so on. They possess no importance in
themselves, no intrinsic virtue, and are worth exactly what the
medium who uses them is worth. As M. Duchatel well says:

"In reality, there is only one solitary MANCY. The faculty of
seeing in TIME, like the faculty of seeing in SPACE, is ONE,
whatever its outward form or the process employed."

We will not linger now over those manifestations which, under
appearances that are sometimes childish and vulgar, often conceal
surprising and incontestable truths, but will devote the present
chapter exclusively to a series of phenomena which includes
almost all the others and which has been classed under the
generic and rather ill-chosen and ill-constructed title of
"psychometry." Psychometry, to borrow Dr. Maxwell's excellent
definition, is "the faculty possessed by certain persons of
placing themselves in relation, either spontaneously or, for the
most part, through the intermediary of some object, with unknown
and often very distant things and people."

The existence of this faculty is no longer seriously denied; and
it is easy for any one who cares to do so to verify it for
himself; for the mediums who possess it are not extremely rare,
nor are they inaccessible. It has formed the subject of a number
of experiments (see, among others, M. Warcollier's report in the
Annales des Sciences Psychiques of July, 1911) and of a few
treatises, in the front rank of which I would mention M.
Duchatel's Enquete sur des Cas de Psychometrie and Dr. Otty's
recently published book, Lucidite et Intuition, which is the
fullest, most profound and most conscientious work that we
possess on the matter up to the present. Nevertheless it may be
said that these regions quite lately annexed by metaphysical
science are as yet hardly explored and that fruitful surprises
are doubtless awaiting earnest seekers.


The faculty in question is one of the strangest faculties of our
subconsciousness and beyond a doubt contains the key to most of
the manifestations that seem to proceed from another world. Let
us begin by seeing, with the aid of a living and typical example,
how it is exercised.

Mme. M--, one of the best mediums mentioned by Dr. Osty, is given
an object which belonged to or which has been touched and handled
by a person about whom it is proposed to question her. Mme. M--
operates in a state of trance; but there are other noted
psychometers, such as Mme. F-- and M. Ph. M. de F--, who retain
all their normal consciousness, so that hypnotism or the
somnambulistic state is in no way indispensable to the awakening
of this extraordinary faculty of clairvoyance.

When the object, which is usually a letter, has been handed to
Mme. M--, she is asked to place herself in communication with the
writer of the letter or the owner of the object. Forthwith, Mme.
M-- not only sees the person in question, his physical
appearance, his character, his habits, his interests, his state
of health, but also, in a series of rapid and changing visions
that follow upon one another like cinematograph pictures,
perceives and describes exactly his immediate surroundings, the
scenery outside his window, the rooms in which he lives, the
people who live with him and who wish him well or ill, the
psychology and the most secret and unexpected intentions of all
those who figure in his existence. If, by means of your
questions, you direct her towards the past, she traces the whole
course of the subject's history. If you turn her towards the
future, she seems often to discover it as clearly as the past.
But we will for the moment reserve this latter point, to which we
shall return later in a chapter devoted to the knowledge of the


In the presence of these phenomena, the first thought that
naturally occurs to the mind is that we are once more concerned
with that astonishing and involuntary communication between one
subconsciousness and another which has been invested with the
name of telepathy. And there is no denying that telepathy plays a
great part in these intuitions. However, to explain their
working, nothing is equal to an example based upon a personal
experience. Here is one which is in no way remarkable, but which
plainly shows the normal course of the operation. In September,
1913, while I was at Elberfeld, visiting Krall's horses, my wife
went to consult Mme. M--, gave her a scrap of writing in my
hand--a note dispatched previous to my journey and containing no
allusion to it--and asked her where I was and what I was doing.
Without a second's hesitation, Mme. M-- declared that I was very
far away, in a foreign country where they spoke a language which
she did not understand. She saw first a paved yard, shaded by a
big tree, with a building on the left and a garden at the back: a
rough but not inapt description of Krall's stables, which my wife
did not know and which I myself had not seen at the time when I
wrote the note. She next perceived me in the midst of the horses,
examining them, studying them with an absorbed, anxious and tired
air. This was true, for I found those visits, which overwhelmed
me with a sense of the marvelous and kept my attention on the
rack, singularly exhausting and bewildering. My wife asked her if
I intended to buy the horses. She replied:

"Not at all; he is not thinking of it."

And, seeking her words as though to express an unaccustomed and
obscure thought, she added:

"I don't know why he is so much interested; it is not like him.
He has no particular passion for horses. He has some lofty idea
which I can't quite discover. . . ."

She made two rather curious mistakes in this experiment. The
first was that, at the time when she saw me in Krall's
stable-yard, I was no longer there. She had received her vision
just in the interval of a few hours between two visits.
Experience shows, however, that this is a usual error among
psychometers. They do not, properly speaking, see the action at
the very moment of its performance, but rather the customary and
familiar action, the principal thing that preoccupies either the
person about whom they are being consulted or the person
consulting them. They frequently go astray in time. There is not,
therefore, necessarily any simultaneity between the action and
the vision; and it is well never to take their statements in this
respect literally.

The other mistake referred to our dress: Krall and I were in
ordinary town clothes, whereas she saw us in those long coats
which stable-lads wear when grooming their horses.

Let us now make every allowance for my wife's unconscious
suggestions: she knew that I was at Elberfeld and that I should
be in the midst of the horses, and she knew or could easily
conjecture my state of mind. The transmission of thought is
remarkable; but this is a recognized phenomenon and one of
frequent occurrence and we need not therefore linger over it.

The real mystery begins with the description of a place which my
wife had never seen and which I had not seen either at the time
of writing the note which established the psychometrical
communication. Are we to believe that the appearance of what I
was one day to see was already inscribed on that prophetic sheet
of paper, or more simply and more probably that the paper which
represented myself was enough to transmit either to my wife's
subconsciousness or to Mme. M--, whom at that time I had never
met, an exact picture of what my eyes beheld three or four
hundred miles away? But, although this description is exceedingly
accurate--paved yard, big tree, building on the left, garden at
the back--is it not too general for all idea of chance
coincidence to be eliminated? Perhaps, by insisting further,
greater precision might have been obtained; but this is not
certain, for as a role the pictures follow upon one another so
swiftly in the medium's vision that he has no time to perceive
the details. When all is said, experiences of this kind do not
enable us to go beyond the telepathic explanation. But here is a
different one, in which subconscious suggestion cannot play any
part whatever.

Some days after the experiment which I have related, I received
from England a request for my autograph. Unlike most of those
which assail an author of any celebrity, it was charming and
unaffected; but it told me nothing about its writer. Without even
noticing from what town it was sent to me, after showing it to my
wife, I replaced it in its envelope and took it to Mme. M--. She
began by describing us, my wife and myself, who both of us had
touched the paper and consequently impregnated it with our
respective "fluids."

I asked her to pass beyond us and come to the writer of the note.
She then saw a girl of fifteen or sixteen, almost a child, who
had been in rather indifferent health, but who was now very well
indeed. The girl was in a beautiful garden, in front of a large
and luxurious house standing in the midst of rather hilly
country. She was playing with a big, curly-haired, long-eared
dog. Through the branches of the trees one caught a glimpse of
the sea.

On inquiry, all the details were found to be astonishingly
accurate; but, as usual, there was a mistake in the time, that is
to say, the girl and her dog were not in the garden at the
instant when the medium saw them there. Here again an habitual
action had obscured a casual movement; for, as I have already
said, the vision very rarely corresponds with the momentary


There is nothing exceptional in the above example; I selected it
from among many others because it is simple and clear. Besides,
this kind of experience is already, so to speak, classical, or at
least should be so, were it not that everything relating to the
manifestations of our subconsciousness is always received with
extraordinary suspicion. In any case, I cannot too often repeat
that the experiment is within everybody's reach; and it rarely
fails to achieve absolute success with capable psychometers, who
are pretty well known and whom it is open to any one to consult.

Let us add that it can be extended much further. If, for
instance, I had acted as I did in similar cases and asked the
medium questions about the young girl's home-circle, about the
character of her father, the health of her mother, the tastes and
habits of her brothers and sisters, she would have answered with
the same certainty, the same precision as one might do who was
not only a close acquaintance of the girl's, but endowed with
much more penetrating faculties of intuition than a normal
observer. In short, she would have felt and expressed all that
this girl's subconsciousness would have felt with regard to the
persons mentioned. But it must be admitted that, as we are here
no longer speaking of facts that are easily verified,
confirmation becomes infinitely more difficult.

There could be no question, in the circumstances, of transmission
of thought, since both the medium and I were ignorant of
everything. Besides, other experiments, easily devised and
repeated and more rigourously controlled, do away with that
theory entirely. For instance, I took three letters written by
intimate friends, put each of them in a double envelope and gave
them to a messenger unacquainted with the contents of the
envelopes and also with the persons in question to take to Mme.
M--. On arriving at the house, the messenger handed the
clairvoyant one of the letters, selected at random, and did
nothing further beyond putting the indispensable questions,
likewise at random, and taking down the medium's replies in
shorthand. Mme. M-- began by giving a very striking physical
portrait of the lady who had written the letter; followed this up
with an absolutely faithful description of her character, her
habits, her tastes, her intellectual and moral qualities; and
ended by adding a few details concerning her private life, of
which I myself was entirely unaware and of which I obtained the
confirmation shortly afterwards. The experiment yielded just as
remarkable results when continued with the two other letters.

In the face of this mystery, two explanations may be offered,
both equally perplexing. On the one hand, we shall have to admit
that the sheet of paper handed to the psychometer and impregnated
with human "fluid" contains, after the manner of some
prodigiously compressed gas, all the incessantly renewed,
incessantly recurring images that surround a person, all his past
and perhaps his future, his psychology, his state of health, his
wishes, his intentions, often unknown to himself, his most secret
instincts, his likes and dislikes, all that is bathed in light
and all that is plunged in darkness, his whole life, in short,
and more than his personal and conscious life, besides all the
lives and all the influences, good or bad, latent or manifest, of
all who approach him. We should have here a mystery as
unfathomable and at least as vast as that of generation, which
transmits, in an infinitesimal particle, the mind and matter,
with all the qualities and all the faults, all the acquirements
and all the history, of a series of lives of which none can tell
the number.

On the other hand, if we do not admit that so much energy can lie
concealed in a sheet of paper, continuing to exist and develop
indefinitely there, we must necessarily suppose that an
inconceivable network of nameless forces is perpetually radiating
from this same paper, forces which, cleaving time and space,
detect instantaneously, anywhere and at any distance, the life
that gave them life and place themselves in complete
communication, body and soul, senses and thoughts, past and
future, consciousness and subconsciousness, with an existence
lost amid the innumerous host of men who people this earth. It
is, indeed, exactly what happens in the experiments with mediums
in automatic speech or writing, who believe themselves to be
inspired by the dead. Yet, here it is no longer a discarnate
spirit, but an object of any kind imbued with a living "fluid"
that works the miracle; and this, we may remark in passing, deals
a severe blow to the spiritualistic theory.

Nevertheless, there are two rather curious objections to this
second explanation. Granting that the object really places the
medium in communication with an unknown entity discovered in
space, how comes it that the image or the spectacle created by
that communication hardly ever corresponds with the reality at
the actual moment? On the other hand, it is indisputable that the
psychometer's clairvoyance, his gift of seeing at a distance the
pictures and scenes surrounding an unknown being, is exercised
with the same certainty and the same power when the object that
sets his strange faculty at work has been touched by a person who
has been dead for years. Are we, then, to admit that there is an
actual, living communication with a human being who is no more,
who sometimes--, for instance, in a case of incineration--has
left no trace of himself on earth, in short, with a dead man who
continues to live at the place and at the moment at which he
impregnated the object with his "fluid" and who seems to be
unaware that he is dead?

But these objections are perhaps less serious than one might
believe. To begin with, there are seers, so-called
"telepsychics," who are not psychometers, that is to say, they
are able to communicate with an unknown and distant person
without the intermediary of an object; and in these seers, as in
the psychometers, the vision very rarely corresponds with the
actual facts of the moment: they too perceive above all the
general impression, the usual and characteristic actions. Next,
as regards communications with a person long since dead, we are
confronted with one of two things: either confirmation will be
almost impossible when it concerns revelations on the subject of
the dead man's private deeds and actions, which are unknown to
any living person or else communication will be established not
with the deceased, but with the living person, who necessarily
knows the facts which he is called upon to confirm. As Dr. Osty
very rightly says:

"The conditions are then those of perception by the intermediary
of the thoughts of a living person; and the deceased is perceived
through a mental representation. The experiment, for this reason,
is valueless as evidence of the reality of retrospective
psychometry and consequently of the recording part played by the

"The only class of experiment that could be of value from this
point of view, would be that in which confirmation would come
subsequently from documents whose contents remained unknown to
any living person until after the clairvoyance sitting. It might
then be proved that the object can latently register the human
personalities which have touched it and that it is sufficient in
itself to allow of a mental reconstruction of those personalities
through the interpretation of the register by a clairvoyant or


It may be imagined that experiments of this sort, in which there
is no crack, no leak on the side of the living, are anything but
easy to carry through. In the case of a murder, for instance, it
can always be maintained that the medium discovers the body and
the circumstances of the tragedy through the involuntary and
unconscious intermediary of the murderer, even when the latter
escapes prosecution and suspicion altogether. But a recent
incident, related by Dr. Osty with the utmost precision of detail
and the most scrupulous verification in the Annales des Sciences
Psychiques of April, 1914, perhaps supplies us with one of those
experiments which we have not been able to achieve until this
day. I give the facts in a few words.

On the 2nd of March of this year, M. Etienne Lerasle, an old man
of eighty-two, left his son's house at Cours-les-Barres (Cher)
for his daily walk and was not seen again. The house stands in
the middle of a forest on Baron Jaubert's estate. Vain searches
were made in every direction for the missing man's traces; the
ponds and pools were dragged to no purpose; and on the 8th of
March a careful and systematical exploration of the wood, in
which no fewer than twenty-four people took part, led to no
result. At last, on the 18th of March, M. Louis Mirault, Baron
Jaubert's agent, thought of applying to Dr. Osty, and supplied
him with a scarf which the old man had worn. Dr. Osty went to his
favourite medium, Mme. M--. He knew only one thing, that the
matter concerned an old man of eighty-two, who walked with a
slight stoop; and that was all.

As soon as Mme. M-- had taken the scarf in her hands, she saw the
dead body of an old man lying on the damp ground, in a wood, in
the middle of a coppice, beside a horse-shoe pond, near a sort of
rock. She traced the road taken by the victim, depicted the
buildings which he had passed, his mental condition impaired by
age, his fixed intention of dying, his physical appearance, his
habitual and characteristic way of carrying his stick, his soft
striped shirt, and so on.

The accuracy of the description caused the greatest astonishment
among the missing man's friends. There was one detail that
puzzled them a little: the mention of a rock in a part of the
country that possessed none. The search was resumed on the
strength of the data supplied by the clairvoyant. But all the
rocks in a forest are more or less alike; the indications were
not enough; and nothing was found.

It so happened that the second and third interviews with Mme. M--
had to be postponed until the 30th of March and the 6th of April
following. At each of these sittings, the details of the vision
and of the road taken became clearer and clearer and were given
with startling precision, so much so that, by pursuing step by
step the indications of the medium, the man's friends ended by
discovering the body, dressed as stated, lying in the middle of a
coppice, just as described, close to a huge stump of a tree all
covered with moss, which might easily be mistaken for a rock, and
on the edge of a crescent-shaped piece of water. I may add that
these particular indications applied to no other part of the


I refer the reader to Dr. Osty's conscientious and exhaustive
article for the numerous details which I have been obliged to
omit; but those which I have given are enough to show the
character of this extraordinary case. To begin with, we have one
certainty which appears almost unassailable, namely, that there
can be no question of a crime. No one had the least interest in
procuring the old man's death. The body bore no marks of
violence; besides, the minds of those concerned did not for a
moment entertain the thought of an assault. The poor man, whose
mental derangement was known to all those about him, obsessed by
the desire and thought of death, had gone quietly and obstinately
to seek it in the nearest coppice. There was therefore no
criminal in the case, in other words, there was no possible or
imaginable communication between the medium's subconsciousness,
and that of any living person. Hence we are compelled to admit
that the communication was established with the dead man or with
his subconsciousness, which continued to live for nearly a month
after his death and to wander around the same places; or else we
must agree that all this coming tragedy, all that the old man was
about to see, do and suffer was already irrevocably contained and
inscribed in the scarf at the moment when he last wore it.

In this particular case, considering that all relations with the
living were definitely and undeniably severed, I can see no other
explanations beyond these two. They are both equally astounding
and land us suddenly in a world of fable and enchantment which we
thought that we had left for good and all. If we do not adopt the
theory of the tell-tale scarf, we must accept that of the
spiritualists, who maintain that the spirits communicate with us
freely. It is possible that they may find a serious argument in
this case. But a solitary fact is not enough to support a theory,
all the more so as the one in question will never be absolutely
safe from the objection that could be raised if the case were one
of murder, which is possible, after all, and cannot be actually
disproved. We must, therefore, while awaiting other similar and
more decisive facts, if any such are conceivable, return to those
which are, so to speak, laboratory facts, facts which are only
denied by those who will not take the trouble to verify them; and
to interpret these facts there are only the two theories which we
mentioned above, before this digression; for, in these cases,
which are unlike those of automatic speech or writing, we have
not as a rule to consider the possibility of any intervention of
the dead. As a matter of fact, the best-known psychometers are
very rarely spiritualists and claim no connection with the
spirits. They care but little, as a rule, about the source of
their intuitions and seem very little interested in their exact
working and origin. Now it would be exceedingly surprising if,
acting and speaking in the name of the departed, they should be
so consistently ignorant of the existence of those who inspire
them; and more surprising still if the dead, whom in other
circumstances we see so jealously vindicating their identity,
should not here, when the occasion is so propitious, seek to
declare themselves, to manifest themselves and to make themselves


Dismissing for the time being the intervention of the dead, I
believe then that, in most of the cases which I will call
laboratory cases, because they can be reproduced at will, we are
not necessarily reduced to the theory of the vitalized object
representing wholly, indefinitely and inexhaustibly, through all
the vicissitudes of time and spice, every one of those who have
held it in their hands for a little while. For we must not forget
that, according to this theory, the object in question will
conceal and, through the intermediary of the medium, will reveal
as many distinct and complete personalities as it has undergone
contacts. It will never confuse or mix those different
personalities. They will remain there in definite strata,
distinct one from another; and, as Dr. Osty puts it, "the medium
can interpret each of them from beginning to end, as though he
were in communication with the far-off entity."

All this makes the theory somewhat incredible, even though it be
not much more so than the many other phenomena in which the shock
of the miraculous has been softened by familiarity. We can find
more or less everywhere in nature that prodigious faculty of
storing away inexhaustible energies and ineffaceable tram,
memories and impressions in space. There is not a thing in this
world that is lost, that disappears, that ceases to be, to retain
and to propagate life. Need we recall, in this connection, the
incessant mission of pictures perceived by the sensitized plate,
the vibrations of sound that accumulate in the disks of the
gramophone, the Hertzian waves that lose none of their strength
in space, the mysteries of reproduction and, in a word, the
incomprehensibility of everything around us?


Personally, if I had to choose, I should, in most of these
laboratory cases, frankly adopt the theory that the object
touched serves simply to detect, among the prodigious crowd of
human beings, the one who impregnated it with his "fluid."

"This object," says Dr. Osty, "has no other function than to
allow the medium's sensitiveness to distinguish a definite force
from among the innumerable forces that assail it."

It seem more and more certain that, as the cells of an immense
organism, we are connected with everything that exists by an
inextricable network of vibrations, waves, influences, of
nameless, numberless and uninterrupted fluids. Nearly always, in
nearly all men, everything carried along by these invisible wires
falls into the depths of the unconsciousness and passes
unperceived, which does not mean that it remains inactive. But
sometimes an exceptional circumstance--in the present case, the
marvellous sensibility of a first-class medium--suddenly reveals
to us, by the vibrations and the undeniable action of one of
those wires, the existence of the infinite network. I will not
speak here of trails discovered and followed in an almost
mediumistic manner, after an object of some sort has been sniffed
at. Such stories, though highly probable, as yet lack adequate
support. But, within a similar order of ideas, and in a humbler
world and one with more modest limits, the dog, for instance, is
incessantly surrounded by different scents and smells to which he
appears indifferent until his attention is aroused by one or
other of these vagrant effluvia, when he extricates it from the
hopeless tangle. It would seem as though the trail took life,
vibrating like a chord in unison with the animal's wishes,
becoming irresistible, and taking it to its goal after
innumerable winds and turns.

We see the mysterious network revealed also in
"cross-correspondence." Two or three mediums who do not know one
another, who are often separated by seas; or continents, who are
ignorant of the whereabouts of the one who is to complete their
thought, each write a part of a sentence which, as it stands,
conveys no meaning whatever. On piecing the fragments together,
we perceive that they fit to perfection and acquire an
intelligible and obviously premeditated sense. We here find once
more the same faculty that permits the medium to detect, among
thousands of others, a definite force which was wandering in
space. It is true that, in these cases, the spiritualists
maintain that the whole experiment is organized and directed by a
discarnate intelligence, independent of the mediums, which means
to prove its existence and its identity in this manner. Without
incontinently rejecting this theory, which is not necessarily
indefensible, we will merely remark that, since the faculty is
manifested in psychometry without the intervention of the
spirits, there can be no sufficient reason for attributing it to
them in cross-correspondence.


But in whom does it reside? Is it hidden in ourselves or in the
medium? According to Dr. Osty, the clairvoyants are mirrors
reflecting the intuitive thought that is latent in each of us. In
other words--it is we ourselves who are clairvoyant, and they but
reveal to us nor own clairvoyance. Their mission is to stir, to
awaken, to galvanize, to illumine the secrets of our
subconsciousness and to bring them to the surface of our normal
lives. They act upon our inner darkness exactly as, in the
photographic dark-room, the developing-bath acts upon the
sensitized plate, I am convinced that the theory is accurate as
regards intuition and clairvoyance proper, that is to say, in all
cases where we are in the medium's presence and more or less
directly in touch with him. But is it so in psychometry? Is it we
who, unknown to ourselves, know all that the object contains, or
is it the medium alone who discovers it in the object itself,
independently of the person who produces the object? When, for
instance, we receive a letter from a stranger, does this letter,
which has absorbed like a sponge the whole life and by choice the
subconscious life of the writer, disgorge all that it contained
into our subconsciousness? Do we instantly learn all that
concerns its author, absolutely as though he were standing before
us in the flesh and, above all, with his soul laid bare, though
we remain profoundly ignorant of the fact that we have learnt it
until the medium's intervention tells us so?

This, if you like, is simply shifting the question. Let it be the
medium or myself that discovers the unknown personality in the
object or tracks it across time and space: all that we do is to
widen the scope of our riddle, while leaving it no less obscure.
Nevertheless, there is some interest in knowing whether we have
to do with a general faculty latent in all men or an inexplicable
privilege reserved to rare individuals. The exceptional should
always be eliminated, if possible, and not left to hang over the
abyss like an unfinished bridge leading to nothing. I am well
aware that the compulsory intervention of the medium implies
that, in spite of all, we recognize his possession of abnormal
faculties; but at any rate we reduce their power and their extent
appreciably and we return sooner and more easily to the ordinary
laws of the great human mystery. And it is of importance that we
should be ever coming back to that mystery and ever bringing all
things back to it. But, unfortunately, actual experience does not
admit of this generalization. It is clearly a case of a special
faculty, one peculiar to the medium, one which is wholly unknown
to our latent intuition. We can easily assure ourselves of this
by causing the medium to receive through a third party and
enclosed in a series of three envelopes, as in the experiment
described above, a letter of which we know the writer, but of
which both the source and the contents are absolutely unknown to
the messenger. These unusual circumstances, in which all
subconscious communications between consultant and consulted are
strictly cut off, will in no way hamper the medium's
clairvoyance; and we may fairly conclude that it is actually the
medium himself who discovers directly, without any intermediary,
without "relays," to use M. Duchatel's expression, all that the
object holds concealed. It, therefore, seems certain that there
is, at least in psychometry, something more than the mere mirror
of which Dr. Osty speaks.


I consider it necessary to declare for the last time that these
psychometric phenomena, astonishing though they appear at first,
are known, proved and certain and are no longer denied or doubted
by any of those who have studied them seriously. I could have
given full particulars of a large number of conclusive
experiments; but this seemed to me as superfluous and tedious as
would be, for instance, a string of names of the recognized
chemical reactions that can be obtained in a laboratory. Any one
who pleases is at liberty to convince himself of the reality of
the facts, provided that he applies to genuine mediums and keeps
aloof from the inferior "seers" and especially the shams and
imposters who swarm in this region more than in any other. Even
with the best of them, he will have to be careful of the
involuntary, unconscious and almost inevitable interference of
telepathy, which is also very interesting, though it is a
phenomenon of a different class, much less surprising and
debatable than pure psychometry. He must also learn the art of
interrogating the medium and refrain from asking incoherent and
random questions about casual or future events. He will not
forget that "clairvoyance is strictly limited to the perception
of human personality," according to the role so well formulated
by Dr. Osty. Experiments have been made in which a psychometer,
on touching the tooth of a prehistoric animal, saw the landscapes
and the cataclysms of the earth's earliest ages displayed before
his eyes; in which another medium, on handling a jewel, conjured
up, it would seem with marvellous exactness, the games and
processions of ancient Greece, as though the objects permanently
retained the recollection or rediscovered the "astral negatives"
of all the events which they once witnessed. But it will be
understood that, in such cases, any effective control is, so to
speak, impossible and that the part played by telepathy cannot be
decided. It is important, therefore, to keep strictly to that
which can be verified.

Even when thus limiting his scope, the experimenter will meet
with many surprises. For instance, though the revelations of two
psychometers to whom the same letter is handed in succession most
often agree remarkably in their main outlines, it can also happen
that one of them perceives only what concerns the writer of the
letter, whereas the other will be interested only in the person
to whom the letter was addressed or to a third person who was in
the room where the letter was written. It is well to be forearmed
against these first mistakes, which, for that matter, in the
frequent cases where strict control is possible, but confirm the
existence and the independence of the astounding faculty.


As for the theories that attempt to explain it, I am quite
willing to grant that they are still somewhat confused. The
important thing for the moment is the accumulation of claims and
experiments that go feeling their way farther and farther along
all the paths of the unknown. Meanwhile, that one unexpected door
which sheds at the back of our old convictions more than one
unexpected door, which sheds upon the life and habits of our
secret being sufficient light to puzzle us for many a long day.
This brings us back once more to the omniscience and perhaps the
omnipotence of our hidden guest, to the brink of the mysterious
reservoir of every manner of knowledge which we shall meet with
again when we come to speak of the future, of the talking horses,
of the divining-rod, of materializations and miracles, in short,
in every circumstance where we pass beyond the horizon of our
little daily life. As we thus advance, with slow and cautious
footsteps, in them as yet deserted and very nebulous regions of
metapsychics, we are compelled to recognize that there must exist
somewhere, in this world or in others, a spot in which everything
is known, in which everything is possible, to which everything
goes, from which everything comes, which belongs to all, to which
all have access, but of which the long-forgotten roads must be
learnt again by our stumbling feet. We shall often meet those
difficult roads in the course of our present quest and we shall
have more than one occasion to refer again to those depths into
which all the supernatural facts of our existence flow, unless
indeed they take their source there. For the moment, that which
most above all engage our attention in these psychometric
phenomena is their purely and exclusively human character. They
occur between the living and the living, on this solid earth of
ours, in the world that lies before our eyes; and the spirits,
the dead, the gods and the interplanetary intelligences know them
not. Hardly anywhere else, except in the equally perplexing
manifestations of the divining-rod and in certain
materializations, shall we find with the same clearness this same
specific character, if we may call it so. This is a valuable
lesson. It tells us that our every-day life provides phenomena as
disturbing and of exactly the same kind and nature as those
which, in other circumstances, we attribute to other forces than
ours. It teaches us also that we must first direct and exhaust
our enquiries here below, among ourselves, before passing to the
other side; for our first care should be to simplify the
interpretations and explanations and not to seek elsewhere, in
opposition, what probably lies hidden within us in reality.
Afterwards, if the unknown overwhelm us utterly, if the darkness
engulf us beyond all hope, there will still be time to go, none
can tell where, to question the deities or the dead.



Premonition or precognition leads us to still more mysterious
regions, where stands, half merging from an intolerable darkness,
the gravest problem that can thrill mankind, the knowledge of the
future. The latest, the best and the most complete study devoted
to it is, I believe, that recently published by M. Ernest
Bozzano, under the title Des Phenomenes Premonitoires. Availing
himself of excellent earlier work, notably that of Mrs. Sidgwick
and Myers[1] and adding the result of his own researches, the
author collects some thousand cases of precognition, of which he
discusses one hundred and sixty, leaving the great majority of
the others on one side. Not because they are negligible, but
because he does not wish to exceed too flagrantly the normal
limits of a monograph.

[1] Proceedings, Vols.  V. and XI.

He begins by carefully eliminating all the episodes which, though
apparently premonitory, may be explained by self-suggestion (as
in the case, for instance, where some one smitten with a disease
still latent seems to foresee this disease and the death which
will be its conclusion), by telepathy (when a sensitive is aware
beforehand of the arrival of a person or a letter), or lastly by
clairvoyance (when a man dreams of a spot where he will find
something which he has mislaid, or an uncommon plant, or an
insect sought for in vain, or of the unknown place which he will
visit at some later date).

In all these cases, we have not, properly speaking, to do with a
pure future, but rather with a present that is not yet known.
Thus reduced and stripped of all foreign influences and
intrusions the number of instances in which there is a really
clear and incontestable perception of a fragment of the future
remains large enough, contrary to what is generally believed, to
make it impossible for us to speak of extraordinary accidents or
wonderful coincidences. There must be a limit to everything, even
to distrust, even to the most extensive incredulity, otherwise
all historical research and a good deal of scientific research
would become decidedly impracticable. And this remark applies as
much to the nature of the incidents related as to the actual
authenticity of the narratives. We can contest or suspect any
story whatever, any written proof, any evidence; but
thenceforward we must abandon all certainty or knowledge that is
not acquired by means of mathematical operations or laboratory
experiments, that is to say, three-fourths of the human phenomena
which interest us most. Observe that the records collected by the
investigators of the S. P. R., like those discussed by M.
Bozzano, are all told at first hand and that those stories of
which the narrators were not the protagonists or the direct
witnesses have been ruthlessly rejected. Furthermore, some of
these narratives are necessarily of the nature of medical
observations; as for the others, if we attentively examine the
character of those who have related them and the circumstances
which corroborate them, we shall agree that it is more just and
more reasonable to believe in them than to look upon every man
who has an extraordinary experience as being a priori a liar, the
victim of an hallucination, or a wag.


There could be no question of giving here even a brief analysis
of the most striking cases. It would require a hundred pages and
would alter the whole nature of this essay, which, to keep within
its proper dimensions, most take it for granted that most of the
materials which it examines are familiar. I therefore refer the
reader who may wish to form an opinion for himself to the
easily-accessible sources which I have mentioned above. It will
suffice, to give an accurate idea of the gravity of the problem
to any one who has not time or opportunity to consult the
original documents if I sum up in a few words some of these
pioneer adventures, selected among those which seem least open to
dispute; for it goes without saying that all have not the same
value, otherwise the question would be settled. There are some
which, while exceedingly striking at first sight and offering
every guarantee that could be desired to authenticity,
nevertheless do not imply a real knowledge of the future and can
be interpreted in another manner. I give one, to serve as an
instance; it is reported by Dr. Alphonse Teste in his Manuel
pratique du magnetisme animal.

On the 8th of May, Dr. Teste magnetizes Mme. Hortense--in the
presence of her husband. She is no sooner asleep than she
announces that she has been pregnant for a fortnight, that she
will not go her full time, that "she will take fright at
something," that she will have a fall and that the result will be
a miscarriage. She adds that, on the 12th of May, after having
had a fright, she will have a fainting-fit which will last for
eight minutes; and she then describes, hour by hour, the course
of her malady, which will end in three days' loss of reason, from
which she will recover.

On awaking, she retains no recollection of anything that has
passed; it is kept from her; and Dr. Teste communicates his notes
to Dr. Amidee Latour. On the 12th of May, he calls on M. and
Mme.--, finds them at table and puts Mme.-- to sleep again,
whereupon she repeats word for word what she told him four days
before. They wake her up. The dangerous hour is drawing near.
They take every imaginable precaution and even close the
shutters. Mme.--, made uneasy by these extraordinary measures
which she is quite unable to understand, asks what they are going
to do to her. Half-past three o'clock strikes. Mme.-- rises from
the sofa on which they have made her sit and wants to leave the
room. The doctor and her husband try to prevent her.

"But what is the matter with you?" she asks. "I simply must go

"No, madame, you shall not: I speak in the interest of your

"Well, then, doctor," she replies, with a smile, "if it is in the
interest of my health, that is all the more reason why you should
let me go out."

The excuse is a plausible one and even irresistible; but the
husband, wishing to carry the struggle against destiny to the
last, declares that he will accompany his wife. The doctor
remains alone, feeling somewhat anxious, in spite of the rather
farcical turn which the incident has taken. Suddenly, a piercing
shriek is heard and the noise of a body falling. He runs out and
finds Mme.-- wild with fright and apparently dying in her
husband's arms. At the moment when, leaving him for an instant,
she opened the door of the place where she was going, a rat, the
first seen there for twenty years, rushed at her and gave her so
great a start that she fell flat on her back. And all the rest of
the prediction was fulfilled to the letter, hour by hour and
detail by detail.


To make it quite clear in what spirit I am undertaking this study
and to remove at the beginning any suspicion of blind or
systematic credulity, I am anxious, before going any further, to
say that I fully realize that cases of this kind by no means
carry conviction. It is quite possible that everything happened
in the subconscious imagination of the subject and that she
herself created, by self-suggestion, her illness, her fright, her
fall and her miscarriage and adapted herself to most of the
circumstances which she had foretold in her secondary state. The
appearance of the rat at the fatal moment is the only thing that
would suggest a precise and disquieting vision of an inevitable
future event. Unfortunately, we are not told that the rat was
perceived by other witnesses than the patient, so that there is
nothing to prove that it also was not imaginary. I have therefore
quoted this inadequate instance only because it represents fairly
well the general aspect and the indecisive value of many similar
cases and enable us to note once and for all the objections which
can be raised and the precautions which we should take before
entering these suspicious and obscure regions.

We now come to an infinitely more significant and less
questionable case related by Dr. Joseph Maxwell, the learned and
very scrupulous author of Les Phenomenes Psychiques, a work which
has been translated into English under the title of Metapsychical
Phenomena. It concerns a vision which was described to him eight
days before the event and which he told to many people before it
was accomplished. A sensitive perceived in a crystal the
following scene: a large steamer, flying a flag of three
horizontal bars, black, white and red, and bearing the name
Leutschland, was sailing in mid-ocean. The boat was suddenly
enveloped in smoke; a great number of sailors, passengers and men
in uniform rushed to the upper deck; and the boat went down.

Eight days afterwards, the newspapers announced the accident to
the Deutschland, whose boiler had burst, obliging the steamboat
to stand to.

The evidence of a man like Dr. Maxwell, especially when we have
to do with a so-to-speak personal incident, possesses an
importance on which it is needless to insist. We have here,
therefore, several days beforehand, the very clear prevision of
an event which, moreover, in no way concerns the percipient: a
curious detail, but one which is not uncommon in these cases. The
mistake in reading Leutschland for Deutschland, which would have
been quite natural in real life, adds a note of probability and
authenticity to the phenomenon. As for the final act, the
foundering of the vessel in the place of a simple heaving to, we
must see in this, as Dr. J. W. Pickering and W. A. Sadgrove
suggest, "the subconscious dramatization of a subliminal
inference of the percipient." Such dramatization, moreover, are
instinctive and almost general in this class of visions.

If this were an isolated case, it would certainly not be right to
attach decisive importance to it; "but," Dr. Maxwell observes,
"the same sensitive has given me other curious instances; and
these cases, compared with others which I myself have observed or
with those of which I have received first-hand accounts, render
the hypothesis of coincidence very improbable, though they do not
absolutely exclude it."[1]

[1] Maxwell: Metapsychical Phenomena, p. 202.


Another and perhaps more convincing case, more strictly
investigated and established, a case which clearly does not admit
of explanation, by the theory of coincidence, worthy of all
respect though this theory be, is that related by M. Theodore
Flournoy, science professor at the university of Geneva, in his
remarkable work, Esprits et Mediums. Professor Flournoy is known
to be one of the most learned and most critical exponents of the
new science of metapsychics. He even carries his fondness for
natural explanations and his repugnance to admit the intervention
of superhuman powers to a point where it is often difficult to
follow him. I will give the narrative as briefly as possible. It
will be found in full on pp. 348 to 362 of his masterly book.

In August, 1883, a certain Mme. Buscarlet, whom he knew
personally, returned to Geneva after spending three years with
the Moratief family at Kazan as governess to two girls. She
continued to correspond with the family and also with a Mme.
Nitchinof, who kept a school at Kazan to which Mlles. Moratief,
Mme. Buscarlet's former pupils, went after her departure.

On the night of the 9th of December (O. S.) of the same year,
Mme. Buscarlet had a dream which she described the following
morning in a letter to Mme. Moratief, dated 10 December. She
wrote, to quote her own words:

"You and I were on a country-road when a carriage passed in front
of us and a voice from inside called to us. When we came up to
the carriage, we saw Mlle. Olga Popoi lying across it, clothed in
white, wearing a bonnet trimmed with yellow ribbons. She said to

"'I called you to tell you that Mme. Nitchinof will leave the
school on the 17th.'

"The carriage then drove on."

A week later and three days before the letter reached Kazan, the
event foreseen in the dream was fulfilled in a tragic fashion.
Mme. Nitchinof died on the 16th of an infectious disease; and on
the 17th her body was carried out of the school for fear of

It is well to add that both Mme. Buscarlet's letter and the
replies which came from Russia were communicated to Professor
Flournoy and bear the postmark dates.

Such premonitory dreams are frequent; but it does not often
happen that circumstances and especially the existence of a
document dated previous to their fulfilment give them such
incontestable authenticity.

We may remark in passing the odd character of this premonition,
which however is fully in accordance with the habits of our
unknown guest. The date is fixed precisely; but only a veiled and
mysterious allusion (the woman lying across the carriage and
cloaked in white) is made to the essential part of the
prediction, the illness and death.

Was there a coincidence, a vision of the future pure and simple,
or a vision of the future suggested by telepathic influence? The
theory of coincidence can be defended, if need be, here as
everywhere else, but would be very extraordinary in this case. As
for telepathic influence, we should have to suppose that, on the
9th of December, a week before her death, Mme. Nitchinof had in
her subconsciousness a presentiment of her end and that she
transmitted this presentiment across some thousands of miles,
from Kazan to Geneva, to a person with whom she had never been
intimate. It is very complex, but possible, for telepathy often
has these disconcerting ways. If this were so, the case which
would be one of latent illness or even of self-suggestion; and
the preexistence of the future, without being entirely disproved,
would be less clearly established.


Let us pass to other examples. I quote from an excellent article
of the importance of precognitions, by Messrs. Pickering and
Sadgrove, which appeared in the Annales des Sciences Psychiques
for 1 February 1908, the summary of an experiment by Mrs. A. W.
Verrall told in full detail in Vol. XX of the Proceedings. Mrs.
Verrall is a celebrated "automatist"; and her
"cross-correspondence" occupy a whole volume of the Proceedings.
Her good faith, her sincerity, her fairness and her scientific
precision are above suspicion; and she is one of the most active
and respected members of the Society for Psychical Research.

On the 11th of May, 1901, at 11.10 p.m., Mrs. Verrall wrote as

"Do not hurry date this hoc est quod volui--tandem. {greek
here} A. W. V. {greek here}. calx pedibus inhaerens difficultatem
superavit. magnopere adiuvas persectando semper. Nomen inscribere
iam possum--sic, en tibi!"[1]

[1] Xenoglossy is well known not to be unusual in automatic
writing; sometimes even the 'automatist' speaks or writes
languages of which he is completely ignorant. The Latin and Greek
passages are translated as follows:

"This is what I have wanted at last. Justice and joy speak a word
to the wise. A.W.V. and perhaps someone else. Chalk sticking to
the feet has got over the difficulty. You help greatly by always
persevering. Now I can write a name--thus, here it is!"

After the writing comes a humorous drawing representing a bird

That same night, as there were said to be "uncanny happenings" in
some rooms near the London Law Courts, the watchers arranged to
sit through the night in the empty rooms. Precautions were taken
to prevent intrusion and powdered chalk was spread on the floor
of the two smaller rooms, "to trace anybody or anything that
might come or go." Mrs. Verrall knew nothing of the matter. The
phenomena began at 12:43 A.M. and ended at 2:09 A.M. The watchers
noticed marks on the powdered chalk. On examination it was seen
that the marks were "clearly defined bird's footprints in the
middle of the floor, three in the left-hand room and five in the
right-hand room." The marks were identical and exactly 2 3/4
inches in width; they might be compared to the footprints of a
bird about the size of a turkey. The footprints were observed at
2:30 A. M.; the unexplained phenomena had begun at 12:43 that
same morning. The words about "chalk sticking to the feet" are a
singularly appropriate comment on the events; but the remarkable
point is that Mrs. Verrall wrote what we have said ONE HOUR AND

The persons who watched in the two rooms were questioned by Mr.
J. G. Piddington, a member of the council of the S. P. R., and
declared that they had not any expectation of what they

I need hardly add that Mrs. Verrall had never heard anything
about the happenings in the haunted house and that the watchers
were completely ignorant of Mrs. Verrall's existence.

Here then is a wry curious prediction of an event, insignificant
in itself, which is to happen, in a house unknown to the one who
foretells it, to people whom she does not know either. The
spiritualists, who score in this case, not without some reason,
will have it that a spirit, in order to prove its existence and
its intelligence, organized this little scene in which the
future, the present and the past are all mixed up together. Are
they right? Or is Mrs. Verrall's subconsciousness roaming like
this, at random, in the future? It is certain that the problem
has seldom appeared under a more baffling aspect.


We will now take another premonitory dream, strictly controlled
by the committee of the S. P. R.[1] Early in September, 1893,
Annette, wife of Walter Jones, tobacconist, of Old Gravel Lane,
East London, had her little boy ill. One night she dreamt that
she saw a cart drive up and stop near when she was. It contained
three coffins, "two white and one blue. One white coffin was
bigger than the other; and the blue was the biggest of the
three." The driver took out the bigger white coffin and left it
at the mother's feet, driving off with the others. Mrs. Jones
told her dream to her husband and to a neighbour, laying
particular stress on the curious circumstance that one of the
coffins was blue.

[1] Proceedings, vol. xi., p. 493.

On the 10th of September, a friend of Mr. and Mrs. Jones was
confined of a boy, who died on the 29th of the same month. Their
own little boy died on the following Monday, the 2nd of October,
being then sixteen months old. It was decided to bury the two
children on the same day. On the morning of the day chosen, the
parish priest informed Mr. and Mrs. Jones that another child had
died in the neighbourhood and that its body would be brought into
church along with the two others. Mrs. Jones remarked to her

"If the coffin is blue, then my dream will come true. For the two
other coffins were white."

The third coffin was brought; it was blue. It remains to be
observed that the dimensions of the coffins corresponded exactly
with the dream premonitions, the smallest being that of the child
who died first, the next that of the little Jones boy, who was
sixteen months old, and the largest, the blue one, that of a boy
six years of age.

Let us take, more or less at random, another case from the
inexhaustible Proceedings.[1] The report is written by Mr. Alfred
Cooper and attested by the Duchess of Hamilton, the Duke of
Manchester and another gentleman to whom the duchess related the
incident before the fulfilment of the prophetic vision:

[1] Proceedings, vol. xi., p. 505.

"A fortnight before the death of the late Earl of L.--," says Mr.
Cooper, "in 1882, I called upon the Duke of Hamilton, in Hill
Street, to see him professionally. After I had finished seeing
him, we went into the drawing-room where the duchess was, and the
duke said to me:

"'Oh, Cooper, how is the earl?'

"The duchess said, 'What earl?' and, on my answering, 'Lord L--,'
she replied:

"'That is very odd. I have had a most extraordinary vision. I
went to bed, but, after being in bed a short time, I was not
exactly asleep, but thought I saw a scene as if from a play
before me. The actors in it were Lord L--, in a chair, as if in a
fit, with a man standing near him with a red beard. He was by the
side of a bath, over which bath a red lamp was distinctly shown.'

"I then said:

"'I am attending Lord L-- at present; there is very little the
matter with him; he is not going to die; he will be all right
very soon.'

"Well, he got better for a week and was nearly well, but, at the
end of six or seven days after this, I was called to see him
suddenly. He had inflammation of both lungs.

"I called in Sir William Jenner, but in six days he was a dead
man. There were two male nurses attending on him; one had been
taken ill. But, when I saw the other, the dream of the duchess
was exactly represented. He was standing near a bath over the
earl and, strange to say, his beard was red. There was the bath
with the red lamp over it; and this brought the story to my mind.

"The vision seen by the duchess was told two weeks before the
death of Lord L--. It is a most remarkable thing."


But it is impossible to find space for the many instances
related. As I have said, there are hundreds of them, making their
tracks in every direction across the plains of the future. Those
which I have quoted give a sufficient idea of the predominating
tone and the general aspect of this sort of story. It is
nevertheless right to add that many of them are not at all tragic
and that premonition opens its mysterious and capricious vistas
of the future in connection with the most diverse and
insignificant events. It cares but little for the human value of
the occurrence and puts the vision of a number in a lottery in
the same plane as the most dramatic death. The roads by which it
reaches us are also unexpected and varied. Often, as in the
examples quoted, it comes to us in a dream. Sometimes, it is an
auditory or visual hallucination which seizes upon us while
awake; sometimes, an indefinable but clear and irresistible
presentiment, a shapeless but powerful obsession, an absurd but
imperative certainty which rises from the depths of our inner
darkness, where perhaps lies hidden the final answer to every

One might illustrate each of these manifestations with numerous
examples. I will mention only a few, selected not among the most
striking or the most attractive, but among those which have been
most strictly tested and investigated.[1] A young peasant from
the neighbourhood of Ghent, two months before the drawing for the
conscription, announces to all and sundry that he will draw
number 90 from the urn. On entering the presence of the
district-commissioner in charge, he asks if number 90 is still
in. The answer is yes.

[1] Proceedings, vol. xi., p. 545.

"Well then, I shall have it!"

And, to the general amazement, he does draw number 90.

Questioned as to the manner in which he acquired this strange
certainty, he declared that, two months ago, just after he had
gone to bed, he saw a huge, indescribable form appear in a corner
of his room, with the number 90 standing out plainly in the
middle, in figures the size of a man's hand. He sat up in bed and
shut and opened his eyes to persuade himself that he was not
dreaming. The apparition remained in the same place, distinctly
and undeniably.

Professor Georges Hulin, of the university of Ghent, and M. Jules
van Dooren, the district commissioner, who report the incident,
mention three other similar and equally striking cases witnessed
by M. van Dooren during his term of office. I am the less
inclined to doubt their declaration inasmuch as I am personally
acquainted with them and know that their statements, as regards
the objective reality of the facts, are so to speak equivalent to
a legal deposition. M. Bozzano mentions some previsions which are
quite as remarkable in connection with the gaming-tables at Monte

I repeat, I am aware that, in the case of these occurrences and
those which resemble them, it is possible once again to invoke
the theory of coincidence. It will be contended that there are
probably a thousand predictions of this kind which are never
talked about, because they were not fulfilled, whereas, if one of
them is accomplished, which is bound by the law of probabilities
to happen some day or other, the astonishment is general and free
rein is given to the imagination. This is true; nevertheless, it
is well to enquire whether these predictions are as frequent as
is loosely stated. In the matter of those which concern the
conscription-drawings, for instance, I have had the opportunity
of interrogating more than we constant witness of these little
dramas of fate; and all admitted that, on the whole, they are
much clearer than one would believe. Next, we must not forget
that there can be no question here of scientific proofs. We are
in the midst of a slippery and nebulous region, where we would
not dare to risk a step if we were not allowing ourselves to be
guided by our feelings rather than by certainties which we are
not forbidden to hope for, but which are not yet in sight.


We will abridge our subject still further, referring readers who
wish to know the details to the originals, lest we should never
have done; or rather, instead of attempting an abridgment, which
would still be too long, so plentiful are the materials, we will
content ourselves with enumerating a few instances, all taken
from Bozzano's Des Phenomenes premonitoires. We read there of a
funeral procession seen on a high-road several days before it
actually passed that way; or, again, of a young mechanic who, in
the beginning of November, dreamt that he came home at half-past
five in the afternoon and saw his sister's little girl run over
by a tram-car while crossing the street in front of the house. He
told his dream, in great distress; and, on the 13th of the same
month, in spite of all the precautions that had been taken, the
child was run over by the tram-car and killed at the hour named.
We find the ghost, the phantom animal or the mysterious noise
which, in certain families, is the traditional herald of a death
or of an imminent catastrophe. We find the celebrated vision
which the painter Segantini had thirteen days before his decease,
every detail of which remained in his mind and was represented in
his last picture, Death. We find the Messina disaster dearly
foreseen, twice over, by a little girl who perished under the
ruins of the ill-fated city; and we read of a dream which, three
months before the French invasion of Russia, foretold to Countess
Toutschkoff that her husband would fall at Borodino, a village so
little known at the time that those interested in the dream
looked in vain for its name on the maps. Until now we have spoken
only of the spontaneous manifestations of the future. It would
seem as though coming events, gathered in front of our lives,
bear with crushing weight upon the uncertain and deceptive dike
of the present, which is no longer able to contain them. They
ooze through, they seek a crevice by which to reach us. But, side
by side with these passive, independent and intractable
premonitions, which are but so many vagrant and furtive
emanations of the unknown, are others which do yield to entreaty,
allow themselves to be directed into channels, are more or less
obedient to our orders and will sometimes reply to the questions
which we put to them. They come from the same inaccessible
reservoir, are no less mysterious, but yet appear a little more
human than the others; and, without drugging ourselves with
puerile or dangerous illusions, we may be permitted to hope that,
if we follow them and study them attentively, they will one day
open to us the hidden paths that join that which is no more to
that which is not yet.

It is true that here, where we must needs mix with the somewhat
lawless world of professional mystery-mongers, we have to
increase our caution and walk with measured steps on very
suspicious ground. But in this region of pitfalls we glean a
certain number of facts that cannot reasonably be contested. It
will be enough to recall, for instance, the symbolic premonitions
of the famous "seeress of Prevorst," Frau Hauffe, whose prophetic
spirit was awakened by soap bubbles, crystals and mirrors;[1] the
clairvoyant who, eighteen years before the event, foretold the
death of a girl by the hand of her rival in 1907, in a written
prophecy which was presented to the court by the mother of the
murdered girl;[1] A. J. C. Kerner: Die Scherin von Prevorst 141
[1] the gypsy who, also in writing, foretold all the events in
Miss Isabel Arundel's life, including the name of her husband,
Burton, the famous explorer;[2] the sealed letter addressed to M.
Morin, vice-president of the Societe du Mesmerisme, describing
the most unexpected circumstances of a death that occurred a
month later;[3] the famous "Marmontel prediction," obtained by
Mrs. Verrall's cross-correspondences, which gives a vision, two
months and a half before their accomplishment, of the most
insignificant actions of a traveller in an hotel bedroom;[4] and
many others.

[1] Light, 1907, p. 219. The crime was committed in Paris and
made a great stir at the time.

[2] Lady Burton: The Life of Captain Sir Richd. F. Burton,
K.C.M.G., vol.i., p.253.

[3] Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, vol. ix., p.

[4] Proceedings, vol. xx., p. 331.


I will not review the various and very often grotesque methods of
interrogating the future that are most frequently practised
to-day: cards, palmistry, crystal-gazing, fortune-telling by
means of coffee-grounds, tea-leaves, magnetic needles and white
of egg, graphology, astrology and the rest. These methods, as I
have already said, are worth exactly what the medium who employs
them is worth. They have no other object than to arouse the
medium's subconsciousness and to bring it into relation with that
of the person questioning him. As a matter of fact, all these
purely empirical processes are but so many, often puerile forms
of self-manifestation adopted by the undeniable gift which is
known as intuition, clairvoyance or, in certain cases,
psychometry. I have spoken at sufficient length of this last
faculty not to linger over it now. All that we have still to do
is to consider it for a moment in its relations with the
foretelling of the future. A large number of investigations,
notably those conducted by M. Duchatel and Dr. Osty, show that,
in psychometry, the notion of time, as Dr. Joseph Maxwell
observes, is very loose, that is to say, the past, present and
future nearly always overlap. Most of the clairvoyant or
psychometric subjects, when they are honest, do not know, "do not
feel," as M. Duchatel very ably remarks, "what the future is.
They do not distinguish it from the other tenses; and
consequently they succeed in being prophets, but unconscious
prophets." In a word--and this is a very important indication
from the point of view of the probable coexistence of the three
tenses--it appears that they see that which is not yet with the
same clearness and on the same plane as that which is no more,
but are incapable of separating the two visions and picking out
the future which alone interests us. For a still stronger reason,
it is impossible for them to state dates with precision.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that, when we take the trouble to
sift their evidence and have the patience to await the
realization of certain events which are sometimes not due for a
long time to come, the future is fairly often perceived by some
of these strange soothsayers.

There are psychometers, however, and notably Mme. M--, Dr. Osty's
favorite medium, who never confuse the future and the past. Mme.
M-- places her visions in time according to the position which
they occupy in space. Thus she sees the future in front of her,
the past behind her and the present beside her. But,
notwithstanding these distinctly-graded visions, she also is
incapable of naming her dates exactly; in fact, her mistakes in
this respect are so general that Dr. Osty looks upon it as a pure
chronological coincidence when a prediction is realized at the
moment foretold.

We should also observe that, in psychometry, only those events
can be perceived which relate directly to the individual
communicating with the percipient, for it is not so much the
percipient that sees into us as we that read in our own
subconsciousness, which is momentarily lighted by his presence.
We must not therefore ask him for predictions of a general
character, whether, for instance, there will be a war in the
spring, an epidemic in the summer or an earthquake in the autumn.
The moment the question concerns events, however important, with
which we are not intimately connected, he is bound to answer, as
do all the genuine mediums, that he sees nothing.

The area of his vision being thus limited, does he really
discover the future in it? After three years of numerous,
cautious and systematic experiments with some twenty mediums, Dr.
Osty categorically declares that he does:

"All the incidents," he says, "which filled these three years of
my life, whether wished for by me or not, or even absolutely
contrary to the ordinary routine of my life, had always been
foretold to me, not all by each of the clairvoyant subjects, but
all by one or other of them. As I have been practising these
tests continually, it seems to me that the experience of three
years wholly devoted to this object should give some weight to my
opinion on the subject of predictions."

This is incontestable; and the sincerity, scientific
conscientiousness and high intellectual value of Dr. Osty's fine
work inspire one with the most entire confidence. Unfortunately,
he contents himself with quoting too summarily a few facts and
does not, as he ought, give us in extenso the details of his
experiments, controls and tests. I am well aware that this would
be a thankless and wearisome task, necessitating a large volume
which a mass of puerile incidents and inevitable repetitions
would make almost readable. Moreover, it could scarcely help
taking the form of an intimate and indiscreet autobiography; and
it is not easy to bring one's self to make this sort of public
confession. But it has to be done. In a science which is only in
its early stages, it is not enough to show the object attained
and to state one's conviction; it is necessary above all to
describe every path that has been taken and, by an incessant and
infinite accumulation of investigated and attested facts, to
enable every one to draw his own conclusions. This has been the
cumbrous and laborious method of the Proceedings for over thirty
years; and it is the only right one. Discussion is possible and
fruitful only at that price. In all these extraconscious matters,
we have not yet reached the stage of definite deduction, we are
still bringing up materials to the scene of operations.

Once more, I know that, in these cases, as I have seen for
myself, the really convincing facts are necessarily very rare;
indeed, nowhere else do we meet with the same difficulty. If the
medium tells you, for instance, as Mme. M. seems easily to do,
how you will employ your day from the morning onwards, if she
sees you in a certain house in a certain street meeting this or
that person, it is impossible to say that, on the one hand, she
is not already reading your as yet unconscious plans or
intentions, or that, on the other hand, by doing what she has
foreseen, you are not obeying a suggestion against which you
could not fight except by violently doing the opposite to what it
demands of you, which again would be a case of inverted
suggestion. None therefore would have any value save predictions
of unlikely happenings, clearly defined and outside the sphere of
the person interested. As Dr. Osty says:

"The ideal prognostication would obviously be that of an event so
rare, so sudden and unexpected, implying such a change in one's
mode of life that the theory of coincidence could not decently be
put forward. But, as everybody is not, in the peaceful course of
his threatened by such an absolutely convincing event, the
clairvoyant cannot always reveal to the person experimenting--and
reveal it for a more or less approximate date--one of those
incidents whose accomplishment would carry irresistible

In any case, the question of psychometric prognostications calls
for further enquiry, although it is easy even at the present day
to forsee the results.


Let us now return to our spontaneous premonitions, in which the
future comes to seek us of its own accord and, so to speak, to
challenge us at home. I know from personal experience that, when
we embark upon these disconcerting matters, the first impression
is scarcely favourable. We are very much inclined to laugh, to
treat as wearisome tales, as hysterical hallucinations, as
ingenious or interested fictions most or those incidents which
give too violent a shock to the narrow and limited idea which we
have of our human life. To smile, to reject everything beforehand
and to pass by with averted head, as was done, I remember, in the
time of Galvani, and in the early days of hypnotism, is much more
easy and seems more respectable and prudent than to stop, admit
and examine. Nevertheless we must not forget that it is to some
who did not smile so lightly that we owe the best part of the
marvels from whose heights we are preparing to smile in our turn.
For the rest, I grant that, thus presented, hastily and
summarily, without the details that throw light upon them and the
proofs that support them, the incidents in question do not show
to advantage and, inasmuch as they are isolated and sparingly
chosen, lose all the weight and authority derived from the
compact and imposing mass whence they are arbitrarily detached.
As I said above, nearly a thousand cases have been collected,
representing probably not the tenth part of those which a more
active and general search might bring together. The number is
evidently of importance and denotes the enormous pressure of the
mystery; but, if there were only half a dozen genuine cases--and
Dr. Maxwell's, Professor Flournoy's, Mrs. Verrall's, the
Marmontel, Jones and Hamilton cases and some others are
undoubtedly genuine--they would be enough to show that, under the
erroneous idea which we form of the past and the present, a new
verity is living and moving, eager to come to light.

The efforts of that verity, I need hardly say, display a very
different sort of force after we have actually and attentively
read those hundreds of extraordinary stories which, without
appearing to do so, strike to the very roots of history. We soon
lose all inclination to doubt. We penetrate into another world
and come to a stop all out of countenance. We no longer know
where we stand; before and after overlap and mingle. We no longer
distinguish the insidious and factitious but indispensable line
which separates the years that have gone by from the years that
are to come. We clutch at the hours and days of the past and
present to reassure ourselves, to fasten on to some certainty, to
convince ourselves that we are still in our right place in this
life where that which is not yet seems as substantial, as real,
as positive, as powerful as that which is no more. We discover
with uneasiness that time, on which we based our whole existence,
itself no longer exists. It is no longer the swiftest of our
gods, known to us only by its flight across all things: it alters
its position no more than space, of which it is doubtless but the
incomprehensible reflex. It reigns in the centre of every event;
and every event is fixed in its centre; and all that comes and
all that goes passes from end to end of our little life without
moving by a hair's breadth around its motionless pivot. It is
entitled to but one of the thousand names which we have been wont
to lavish upon its power, a power that seemed to us manifold and
innumerable: yesterday, recently, formerly, erewhile, after,
before, tomorrow, soon, never, later fall like childish masks,
whereas to-day and always completely cover with their united
shadows the idea which we form in the end of a duration which has
no subdivisions, no breaks and no stages, which is pulseless,
motionless and boundless.


Many are the theories which men have imagined in their attempts
to explain the working of the strange phenomenon; and many others
might be imagined.

As we have seen, self-suggestion and telepathy explain certain
cases which concern events already in existence, but still latent
and perceived before the knowledge of them can reach us by the
normal process of the senses or the intelligence. But, even by
extending these two theories to their uttermost point and
positively abusing their accommodating elasticity, we do not
succeed in illumining by their aid more than a rather restricted
portion of the vast undiscovered land. We must therefore look for
something else.

The first theory which suggests itself and which on the surface
seems rather attractive is that of spiritualism, which may be
extended until it is scarcely distinguishable from the
theosophical theory and other religious suppositions. It assumes
the revival of spirits, the existence of discarnate or other
superior and more mysterious entities which surround us, interest
themselves in our fate, guide our thoughts and our actions and,
above all, know the future. It is, as we recognized when speaking
of ghosts and hanted houses, a very acceptable theory; and any
one to whom it appears can adopt it without doing violence to his
intelligence. But we must confess that it seems less necessary
and perhaps even less clearly proved in this region than in that.
It starts by begging the question: without the intervention of
discarnate beings, the spiritualists say, it is impossible to
explain the majority of the premonitory phenomena; therefore we
must admit the existence of these discarnate beings. Let us grant
it for the moment, for to beg the question, which is merely an
indefensible trick of the superficial logic of our brain, does
not necessarily condemn a theory and neither takes away from nor
adds to the reality of things. Besides, as we shall insist later,
the intervention or non-intervention of the spirits is not the
point at issue; and the crux of the mystery does not lie there.
What most interest us is far less the paths or intermediaries by
which prophetic warnings reach us than the actual existence of
the future in the present. It is true--to do complete justice to
neospiritualism--that its position offers certain advantages from
the point of view of the almost inconceivable problem of the
preexistence of the future. It can evade or divert some of the
consequences of that problem. The spirits, it declares, do not
necessarily see the future as a whole, as a total past or
present, motionless and immovable, but they know infinitely
better than we do the numberless causes that determine any agent,
so that, finding themselves at the luminous source of those
causes, they have no difficulty in foreseeing their effects. They
are, with respect to the incidents still in process of formation,
in the position of an astronomer who foretells, within a second,
all the phases of an eclipse in which a savage sees nothing but
an unprecedented catastrophe which he attributes to the anger of
his idols of straw or clay. It is indeed possible that this
acquaintance with a greater number of causes explains certain
predictions; but there are plenty of others which presume a
knowledge of so many causes, causes so remote and so profound,
that this knowledge is hardly to be distinguished from a
knowledge of the future pure and simple. In any case, beyond
certain limits, the preexistence of causes seems no clearer than
that of effects. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that the
spiritualists gain a slight advantage here.

They believe that they gain another when they say or might say
that it is still possible that the spirits stimulate us to
realize the events which they foretell without themselves clearly
perceiving them in the future. After announcing, for instance,
that on a certain day we shall go to a certain place and do a
certain thing, they urge us irresistibly to proceed to the spot
named and there to perform the act prophesied. But this theory,
like those of self-suggestion and telepathy, would explain only a
few phenomena and would leave in obscurity all those cases,
infinitely more numerous because they make up almost the whole of
our future, in which either chance intervenes or some event in no
way dependent upon our will or the spirit's, unless indeed we
suppose that the latter possesses an omniscience and an
omnipotence which take us back to the original mysteries of the

Besides, in the gloomy regions of precognition, it is almost
always a matter of anticipating a misfortune and very rarely, if
ever, of meeting with a pleasure or a joy. We should therefore
have to admit that the spirits which drag me to the fatal place
and compel me to do the act that will have tragic consequences
are deliberately hostile to me and find diversion only in the
spectacle of my suffering. What could those spirits be, from what
evil world would they arise and how should we explain why our
brothers and friends of yesterday, after passing through the
august and peace-bestowing gates of death, suddenly become
transformed into crafty and malevolent demons? Can the great
spiritual kingdom, in which all passions born of the flesh should
be stilled, be but a dismal abode of hatred, spite and envy? It
will perhaps be said that they lead us into misfortune in order
to purify us; but this brings us to religious theories which it
is not our intention to examine.


The only attempt at an explanation that can hold its own with
spiritualism has recourse once again to the mysterious powers of
our subconsciousness. We must needs to recognize that, if the
future exists to-day, already such as it will be when it becomes
for us the present and the past, the intervention of discarnate
minds or of any other spiritual entity adrift from another sphere
is of little avail. We can picture an infinite spirit
indifferently contemplating the past and future in their
coexistence; we can imagine a whole hierarchy of intermediate
intelligences taking a more or less extensive part in the
contemplation and transmitting it to our subconsciousness. But
all this is practically nothing more than inconsistent
speculation and ingenious dreaming in the dark; in any case, it
is adventitious, secondary and provisional. Let us keep to the
facts as we see them: an unknown faculty, buried deep in our
being and generally inactive, perceives, on rare occasions,
events that have not yet taken place. We possess but one
certainty on this subject, namely, that the phenomenon
actually occurs within ourselves; it is therefore within
ourselves that we must first study it, without burdening
ourselves with suppositions which remove it from its centre and
simply shift the mystery. The incomprehensible mystery is the
preexistence of the future; once we admit this--and it seems very
difficult to deny--there is no reason to attribute to imaginary
intermediaries rather than to ourselves the faculty of descrying
certain fragments of that future. We see, in regard to most of
the mediumistic manifestations, that we possess within ourselves
all the unusual forces with which the spiritualists endow
discarnate spirits; and why should it be otherwise as concerns
the powers of divination? The explanation taken from the
subconsciousness is the most direct, the simplest, the nearest,
whereas the other is endlessly circuitous, complicated and
distant. Until the spirits testify to their existence in an
unanswerable fashion, there is no advantage in seeking in the
grave for the solution of a riddle that appears indeed to lie at
the roots of our own life.


It is true that this explanation does not explain much; but the
others are just as ineffectual and are open to the same
objections. These objections are many and various; and it is
easier to raise them than to reply to them. For instance, we can
ask ourselves why the subconsciousness or the spirits, seeing
that they read the future and are able to announce an impending
calamity, hardly ever give us the one useful and definite
indication that would allow us to avoid it. What can be the
childish or mysterious reason of this strange reticence? In many
cases it is almost criminal; for instance, in a case related by
Professor Hyslop[1] we see the foreboding of the greatest
misfortune that can befall a mother germinating, growing, sending
out shoots, developing, like some gluttonous and deadly plant, to
stop short on the verge of the last warning, the one detail,
insignificant in itself but indispensable, which would have saved
the child. It is the case of a woman who begins by experiencing a
vague but powerful impression that a grievous "burden" was going
to fall upon her family. Next month, this premonitory feeling
repeats itself very frequently, becomes more intense and ends by
concentrating itself upon the poor woman's little daughter. Each
time that she is planning something for the child's future, she
hears a voice saying:

"She'll never need it."

[1] Proceedings, vol. xiv., p. 266.

A week before the catastrophe, a violent smell of fire fills the
house. From that time, the mother begins to be careful about
matches, seeing that they are in safe places and out of reach.
She looks all over the house for them and feels a strong impulse
to burn all matches of the kind easily lighted. About an hour
before the fatal disaster, she reaches for a box to destroy it;
but she says to herself that her eldest boy is gone out, thinks
that she may need the matches to light the gas-stove and decides
to destroy them as soon as he comes back. She takes the child up
to its crib for its morning sleep and, as she is putting it into
the cradle, she hears the usual mysterious voice whisper in her

"Turn the mattress."

But, being in a great hurry, she simply says that she will turn
the mattress after the child has taken its nap. She then goes
downstairs to work. After a while, she hears the child cry and,
hurrying up to the room, finds the crib and its bedding on fire
and the child so badly burnt that it dies in three hours.


Before going further and theorizing about this case, let us once
more state the matter precisely. I know that the reader may
straightway and quite legitimately deny the value of anecdotes of
this kind. He will say that we have to do with a neurotic who has
drawn upon her imagination for all the elements that give a
dramatic setting to the story and surround with a halo of mystery
a sad but commonplace domestic accident. This is quite possible;
and it is perfectly allowable to dismiss the case. But it is none
the less true that, by thus deliberately rejecting everything
that does not bear the stamp of mathematical or judicial
certainty, we risk losing as we go along most of the
opportunities or clues which the great riddle of this world
offers us in its moments of inattention or graciousness. At the
beginning of an enquiry we must know how to content ourselves
with little. For the incident in question to be convincing,
previous evidence in writing, more or less official statements
would be required, whereas we have only the declarations of the
husband, a neighbour and a sister. This is insufficient, I agree;
but we must at the same time confess that the circumstances are
hardly favourable to obtaining the proofs which we demand. Those
who receive warnings of this kind either believe in them or do
not believe in them. If they believe in them, it is quite natural
that they should not think first of all of the scientific
interest of their trouble, or of putting down in writing and thus
authenticating its premonitory symptoms and gradual evolution. If
they do not believe in them, it is no less natural that they
should not proceed to speak or take notice of inanities of which
they do not recognize the value until after they have lost the
opportunity of supplying convincing proofs of them. Also, do not
forget that the little story in question is selected from among a
hundred others, which in their turn are equally indecisive, but
which, repeating the same facts and the same tendencies with a
strange persistency, and by weakening the most inveterate

[1] See, in particular, Bozzano's cases xlix. and lxvii. These
two, especially case xlix., which tells of a personal experience
of the late W. T. Stead, are supported by more substantial
proofs. I have quoted Professor Hyslop's case, because the
reticence is more striking.


Having said this much, in order to conciliate or part company
with those who have no intention of leaving the terra firma of
science, let us return to the case before us, which is all the
more disquieting inasmuch as we may consider it a sort of
prototype of the tragic and almost diabolical reticence which we
find in most premonitions. It is probable that under the mattress
there was a stray match which the child discovered and struck;
this is the only possible explanation of the catastrophe, for
there was no fire burning on that floor of the house. If the
mother had turned the mattress, she would have seen the match;
and, on the other hand, she would certainly have turned the
mattress if she had been told that there was a match underneath
it. Why did the voice that urged her to perform the necessary
action not add the one word that was capable of ensuring that
action? The problem moreover is equally perturbing and perhaps
equally insoluble whether it concerns our own subconscious
faculties, or spirits, or strange intelligences. Those who give
these warnings must know that they will be useless, because they
manifestly foresee the event as a whole; but they must also know
that one last word, which they do not pronounce, would be enough
to prevent the misfortune that is already consummated in their
prevision. They know it so well that they bring this word to the
very edge of the abyss, hold it suspended there, almost let it
fall and recapture it suddenly at the moment when its weight
would have caused happiness and life to rise once more, to the
surface of the mighty gulf. What then is this mystery? Is it
incapacity or hostility? If they are incapable, what is the
unexpected and sovereign force that interposes between them and
us? And, if they are hostile, on what, on whom are they revenging
themselves? What can be the secret of those inhuman games, of
those uncanny and cruel diversions on the most slippery and
dangerous peaks of fate? Why warn, if they know that the warning
will be in vain? Of whom are they making sport? Is there really
an inflexible fatality by virtue of which that which has to be
accomplished is accomplished from all eternity? But then why not
respect silence, since all speech is useless? Or do they, in
spite of all, perceive a gleam, a crevice in the inexorable wall?
What hope do they find in it? Have they not seen more clearly
than ourselves that no deliverance can come through that crevice?
One could understand this fluttering and wavering, all these
efforts of theirs, if they did not know; but here it is proved
that they know everything, since they foretell exactly that which
they might prevent. If we press them with questions, they answer
that there is nothing to be done, that no human power could avert
or thwart the issue. Are they mad, bored, irritable, or accessory
to a hideous pleasantry? Does our fate depend on the happy
solution of some petty enigma or childish conundrum, even as our
salvation, in most of the so-called revealed religious, is
settled by a blind and stupid cast of the die? Is all the liberty
that we are granted reduced to the reading of a more or less
ingenious riddle? Can the great soul of the universe be the soul
of a great baby?


But, rather than pursue this subject, let us be just and admit
that there is perhaps no way out of the maze and that our
reproaches are as incomprehensible as the conduct of the spirits.
Indeed, what would you have them do in the circle in which our
logic imprisons them? Either they foretell us a calamity which
their predictions cannot avert, in which case there is no use in
foretelling it, or, if they announce it to us and at the same
time give us the means to prevent it, they do not really see the
future and are foretelling nothing, since the calamity is not to
take place, with the result that their action seems equally
absurd in both cases.

It is obvious: to whichever side we turn, we find nothing but the
incomprehensible. On the one hand, the preestablished,
unshakable, unalterable future which we have called destiny,
fatality or what you will, which suppresses man's entire
independence and liberty of action and which is the most
inconceivable and the dreariest of mysteries; on the other,
intelligences apparently superior to our own, since they know
what we do not, which, while aware that their intervention is
always useless and very often cruel, nevertheless come harassing
us with their sinister and ridiculous predictions. Must we resign
ourselves once more to living with our eyes shut and our reason
drowned in the boundless ocean of darkness; and is there no


For the moment we will not linger in the dark regions of
fatality, which is the supreme mystery, the desolation of every
effort and every thought of man. What is clearest amid this
incomprehensibility is that the spiritualistic theory, at first
sight the most seductive, declares itself, on examination, the
most difficult to justify. We will also once more put aside the
theosophical theory or any other which assumes a divine intention
and which might, to a certain extent, explain the hesitations and
anguish of the prophetic warnings, at the cost, however, of other
puzzles, a thousand times as hard to solve, which nothing
authorizes us to substitute for the actual puzzle, formless and
infinite, presented to our uninitiated vision.

When all is said, it is perhaps only in the theory which
attributes those premonitions to our subconsciousness that we are
able to find, if not a justification, at least a sort of
explanation of that formidable reticence. They accord fairly well
with the strange, inconsistent, whimsical and disconcerting
character of the unknown entity within us that seems to live on
nothing but nondescript fare borrowed from worlds to which nor
intelligence as yet has no access. It lives under our reason, in
a sort of invisible and perhaps eternal palace, like a casual
guest, dropped from another planet, whose interests, ideas,
habits, passions have naught in common with ours. If it seems to
have notions on the hereafter that are infinitely wider and more
precise than those which we possess, it has only very vague
notions on the practical needs of our existence. It ignores us
for years, absorbed no doubt with the numberless relations which
it maintains with all the mysteries of the universe; and, when
suddenly it remembers us, thinking apparently to please us, it
makes an enormous, miraculous, but at the same time clumsy and
superfluous movement, which upsets all that we believed we knew,
without teaching us anything. Is it making fun of us, is it
jesting, is it amusing itself, is it facetious, teasing, arch, or
simply sleepy, bewildered, inconsistent, absent-minded? In any
case, it is rather remarkable that it evidently dislikes to make
itself useful. It readily performs the most glamorous feats of
sleight-of-hand, provided that we can derive no profit from them.
It lifts up tables, moves the heaviest articles, produces flowers
and hair, sets strings vibrating, gives life to inanimate objects
and passes through solid matter, conjures up ghosts, subjugates
time and space, creates light; but all, it seems, on one
condition, that its performances should be without rhyme or
reason and keep to the province of supernaturally vain and
puerile recreations. The case of the divining-rod is almost the
only one in which it lends us any regular assistance, this being
a sort of game, of no great importance, in which it appears to
take pleasure. Sometimes, to say all that can be said, it
consents to cure certain ailments, cleanses an ulcer, closes a
wound, heals a lung, strengthens or makes supple an arm or leg,
or even sets bones, but always as it were by accident, without
reason, method or object, in a deceitful, illogical and
preposterous fashion. One would set it down as a spoilt child
that has been allowed to lay hands on the most tremendous secrets
of heaven and earth; it has no suspicion of their power, jumbles
them all up together and turns them into paltry, inoffensive
toys. It knows everything, perhaps, but is ignorant of the uses
of its knowledge, It has its arms laden with treasures which it
scatters in the wrong manner and at the wrong time, giving bread
to the thirsty and water to the hungry, overloading those who
refuse and stripping the suppliant bare, pursuing those who flee
from it and fleeing from those who pursue it. Lastly, even at its
best moments, it behaves as though the fate of the being in whose
depths it dwells interested it hardly at all, as though it had
but an insignificant share in his misfortunes, feeling assured,
one might almost think, of an independent and endless existence.

It is not surprising, therefore, when we know its habits, that
its communications on the subject of the future should be as
fantastic as the other manifestations of its knowledge or its
power. Let us add, to be quite fair, that, in those warnings
which we would wish to see efficacious, it stumbles against the
same difficulties as the spirits or other alien intelligences
uselessly foretelling the event which they cannot prevent, or
annihilating the event by the very fact of foretelling it.


And now, to end the question, is our unknown guest alone
responsible? Does it explain itself badly or do we not understand
it? When we look into the matter closely, there is, under those
anomalous and confused manifestations, in spite of efforts which
we feel to be enormous and persevering, a sort of incapacity for
self expression and action which is bound to attract our
attention. Is our conscious and individual life separated by
impenetrable worlds from our subconscious and probably universal
life? Does our unknown guest speak an unknown language and do the
words which it speaks and which we think that we understand
disclose its thought? Is every direct road pitilessly barred and
is there nothing left to it but narrow, dosed paths in which the
best of what it had to reveal to us is lost? Is this the reason
why it seeks those odd, childish, roundabout ways of automatic
writing, cross-correspondence, symbolic premonition and all the
rest? Yet, in the typical case which we have quoted, it seems to
speak quite easily and plainly when it says to the mother:

"Turn the mattress."

If it can utter this sentence, why should it find it difficult or
impossible to add:

"You will find the matches there that will set fire to the

What forbids it to do so and closes its mouth at the decisive
moment? We relapse into the everlasting question: if it cannot
complete the second sentence because it would be destroying in
the womb the very event which it is foretelling, why does it
utter the first?


But it is well in spite of everything to seek an explanation of
the inexplicable; it is by attacking it on every side, at all
hazards, that we cherish the hope of overcoming it; and we may
therefore say to ourselves that our subconsciousness, when it
warns us of a calamity that is about to fall upon us, knowing all
the future as it does, necessarily knows that the calamity is
already accomplished. As our conscious and unconscious lives
blend in it, it distresses itself and flutters around our
overconfident ignorance. It tries to inform us, through
nervousness, through pity, so as to mitigate the lightning
cruelty of the blow. It speaks all the words that can prepare us
for its coming, define it and identify it; but it is unable to
say those which would prevent it from coming, seeing that it has
come, that it is already present and perhaps past, manifest,
ineffaceable, on another plane than that on which we live, the
only plane which we are capable of perceiving. It finds itself,
in a word, in the position of the man who, in the midst of
peaceful, happy and unsuspecting folk, alone knows some bad news.
He is neither able nor willing to announce it nor yet to hide it
completely. He hesitates, delays, makes more or less transparent
allusions, but does not either say the last word that would, so
to speak, let loose the catastrophe in the hearts of the people
around him, for to those who do not know of it the catastrophe is
still as though it were not there. Our subconsciousness, in that
case, would act towards the future as we act towards the past,
the two conditions being identical, so much so that it often
confuses them, as we can see more particularly in the celebrated
Marmontel case, where it evidently blunders and reports as
accomplished an incident that will not take place until several
months later. It is of course impossible for us, at the stage
which we have reached, to understand this confusion or this
coexistence of the past, the present and the future; but that is
no reason for denying it; on the contrary, what man understands
least is probably that which most nearly approaches the truth.


Lastly, to complicate the question, it may be very justly
objected that, though premonitions in general are useless and
appear systematically to withhold the only indispensable and
decisive words, there are, nevertheless, some that often seem to
save those who obey them. These, it is true, are rarer than the
first, but still they include a certain number that are well
authenticated. It remains to be seen how far they imply a
knowledge of the future.

Here, for instance, is a traveler who, arriving at night in a
small unknown town and walking along the ill-lighted dock in the
direction of an hotel of which he roughly knows the position, at
a given moment tech an irresistible impulse to turn and go the
other way. He instantly obeys, though his reason protests and
"berates him for a fool" in taking a roundabout way to his
destination. The next day he discovers that, if he had gone a few
feet farther, he would certainly have slipped into the river;
and, as he was but a feeble swimmer, he would just as certainly,
being alone and unaided in the extreme darkness, have been

[1] Proceedings, vol. xi., p. 422.

But is this a prevision of an event? No, for no event is to take
place. There is simply an abnormal perception of the proximity of
some unknown water and consequently of an imminent danger, an
unexplained but fairly frequent subliminal sensitiveness. In a
word, the problem of the future is not raised in this case, nor
in any of the numerous cases that resemble it.

Here is another which evidently belongs to the same class, though
at first sight it seems to postulate the preexistence of a fatal
event and a vision of the future corresponding exactly with a
vision of the past. A traveler in South America is descending a
river in a canoe; the party are just about to run close to a
promontory when a sort of mysterious voice, which he has already
heard at different momentous times of his life, imperiously
orders him immediately to cross the river and gain the other
shore as quickly as possible. This appears so absurd that he is
obliged to threaten the Indians with death to force them to take
this course. They have scarcely crossed more than half the river
when the promontory falls at the very place where they meant to
round it.[1]

[1] Flournoy: Esprits et mediums, p. 316.

The perception of imminent danger is here, I admit, even more
abnormal than in the previous example, but it comes under the
same heading. It is a phenomenon of subliminal hypersensitiveness
observed more than once, a sort of premonition induced by
subconscious perceptions, which has been christened by the
barbarous name of "cryptaesthesia." But the interval between the
moment when the peril is signalled and that at which it is
consummated is too short for those questions which relate to a
knowledge or a preexistence of the future to arise in this

The case is almost the same with the adventure of an American
dentist, very carefully investigated by Dr. Hodgson. The dentist
was bending over a bench on which was a little copper in which he
was vulcanizing some rubber, when he heard a voice calling, in a
quick and imperative manner, these words:

"Run to the window, quick! Run to the window, quick!"

He at once ran to the window and looked out to the street below,
when suddenly he heard a tremendous report and, looking round,
saw that the copper had exploded, destroying a great part of the

[1] Proceedings, vol. xi., p. 424.

Here again, a subconscious cautiousness was probably amused by
certain indications imperceptible to our ordinary senses. It is
even possible that there exists between things and ourselves a
sort of sympathy or subliminal communion which makes us
experience the trials and emotions of matter that has reached the
limits of its existence, unless, as is more likely, there is
merely a simple coincidence between the chance idea of a possible
explosion and its realization.

A last and rather more complicated case is that of Jean Dupre,
the sculptor, who was driving alone with his wife along a
mountain road, skirting a perpendicular cliff. Suddenly they both
heard a voice that seemed to come from the mountain crying:


They turned round, saw nobody and continued their road. But the
cries were repeated again and again, without anything to reveal
the presence of a human being amid the solitude. At last the
sculptor alighted and saw that the left wheel of the carriage,
which was grazing the edge of the precipice, had lost its
linch-pin and was on the point of leaving the axle-tree, which
would almost inevitably have hurled the carriage into the abyss.

Need we, even here, relinquish the theory of subconscious
perceptions? Do we know and can the author of the anecdote, whose
good faith is not in question, tell us that certain unperceived
circumstances, such as the grating of the wheel or the swaying of
the carriage, did not give him the first alarm? After all, we
know how easily stories of this kind involuntarily take a
dramatic turn even at the actual moment and especially


These examples--and there are many more of a similar kind--are
enough, I think, to illustrate this class of premonitions. The
problem in these cases is simpler than when it relates to
fruitless warnings; at least it is simpler so long as we do not
bring into discussion the question of spirits, of unknown
intelligences, or of an actual knowledge of the future; otherwise
the same difficulty reappears and the warning, which this time
seems efficacious, is in reality just as vain. In fact, the
mysterious entity which knows that the traveler will go to the
water's edge, that the wheel will be on the point of leaving the
axle, that the copper will explode, or that the promontory will
fall at a precise moment, must at the same time know that the
traveler will not take the last fatal step, that the carriage
will not be overturned, that the copper will not hurt anybody and
that the canoe will pull away from the promontory. It is
inadmissible that, seeing one thing, it will not see the other,
since everything happens at the same point, in the course of the
same second. Can we say that, if it had not given warning, the
little saving movement would not have been executed? How can we
imagine a future which, at one and the same time, has parts that
are steadfast and others that are not? If it is foreseen that the
promontory will fall and that the traveler will escape, thanks to
the supernatural warning, it is necessarily foreseen that the
warning will be given; and, if so, what is the point of this
futile comedy? I see no reasonable explanation of it in the
spiritist or spiritualistic theory, which postulates a complete
knowledge of the future, at least at a settled point and moment.
On the other hand, if we adhere to the theory of a subliminal
consciousness, we find there an explanation which is quite worthy
of acceptation. This subliminal consciousness, though, in the
majority of cases, it has no clear and comprehensive vision of
the immediate future, can nevertheless possess an intuition of
imminent danger, thanks to indications that escape our ordinary
perception. It can also have a partial, intermittent and so to
speak flickering vision of the future event and, if doubtful, can
risk giving an incoherent warning, which, for that matter, will
change nothing in that which already is.


In conclusion, let us state once more that fruitful premonitions
necessarily annihilate events in the bud and consequently work
their own destruction, so that any control becomes impossible.
They would have an existence only if they prophesied a general
event which the subject would not escape but for the warning. If
they had said to any one intending to go to Messina two or three
months before the catastrophe, "Don't go, for the town will be
destroyed before the month is out," we should have an excellent
example. But it is a remarkable thing that genuine premonitions
of this kind are very rare and nearly always rather indefinite in
regard to events of a general order. In M. Bozzano's excellent
collection, which is a sort of compendium of Premonitory
phenomena, the only pretty clear cases are nos. cli, and clviii.,
both of which are taken from the Journal of the S.P.R. In the
first,[1] a mother sent a servant to bring home her little
daughter, who had already left the house with the intention of
going through the "railway garden," a strip of ground between the
se. wall and the railway embankment, in order to sit on the great
stone, by the seaside and see the trains pass by. A few minutes
after the little girl's departure, the mother had distinctly and
repeatedly heard a voice within her say:

"Send for her back, or something dreadful will happen to her."

[1] Journal, vol. viii., p. 45.

Now, soon after, a train ran off the line and the engine and
tender fell, breaking through the protecting wall and crashing
down on the very stones where the child was accustomed to sit.

In the other case,[1] into which Professor W. F. Barrett made a
special enquiry, Captain MacGowan was in Brooklyn with his two
boys, then on their holidays. He promised the boys that he would
take them to the theatre and booked seats on the previous day;
but on the day of the proposed visit he heard a voice within him
constantly saying:

"Do not go to the theatre; take the boys back to school."

[1] Ibid., vol. i., p. 283.

He hesitated, gave up his plan and resumed it again. But the
words kept repeating themselves and impressing themselves upon
him; and, in the end, he definitely decided not to go, much to
the two boys' disgust. That night the theatre was destroyed by
fire, with a loss of three hundred lives.

We may add to this the prevision of the Battle of Borodino, to
which I have already alluded, I will give the story in fuller
detail, as told in the journal of Stephen Grellet the Quaker.

About three months before the French army entered Russia, the
wife of General Toutschkoff dreamt that she was at an inn in a
town unknown to her and that her father came into her room,
holding her only son by the hand, and said to her, in a pitiful

"Your happiness is at an end. He"--meaning Countess Toutschkoff's
husband--"has fallen. He has fallen at Borodino."

The dream was repeated a second and a third time. Her anguish of
mind was such that she woke her husband and asked him:

"Where is Borodino?" They looked for the name on the map and did
not find it.

Before the French armies reached Moscow, Count Toutschkoff was
placed at the head of the army of reserve; and one morning her
father, holding her son by the hand, entered her room at the inn
where she was staying. In great distress, as she had beheld him
in her dream, he cried out:

"He has fallen. He has fallen at Borodino."

Then she saw herself in the very same room and through the
windows beheld the very same objects that she had seen in her
dreams. Her husband was one of the many who perished in the
battle fought near the River Borodino, from which an obscure
village takes its name.[1]

[1] Memoirs of the Life and Labours of Stephen Grellet, vol i.,
p. 434.


This is evidently a very rare and perhaps solitary example of a
long-dated prediction of a great historic event which nobody
could foresee. It stirs more deeply than any other the enormous
problems of fatality, free-will and responsibility. But has it
been attested with sufficient rigour for us to rely upon it? That
I cannot say. In any case, it has not been sifted by the S.P.R.
Next, from the special point of view that interests us for the
moment, we are unable to declare that this premonition had any
chance of being of avail and preventing the general from going to
Borodino. It is highly probable that he did not know where he was
going or where he was; besides, the irresistible machinery of war
held him fast and it was not his part to disengage his destiny.
The premonition, therefore, could only have been given because it
was certain not to be obeyed.

As for the two previous cases, nos. clv. and clviii., we must
here again remark the usual strange reservations and observe how
difficult it is to explain these premonitions save by attributing
them to our subconsciousness. The main, unavoidable event is not
precisely stated; but a subordinate consequence seems to be
averted, as though to make us believe in some definite power of
free will. Nevertheless, the mysterious entity that foresaw the
catastrophe must also have foreseen that nothing would happen to
the person whom it was warning; and this brings us back to the
useless farce of which we spoke above. Whereas, with the theory
of a subconscious self, the latter may have--as in the case of
the traveler, the promontory, the copper or the carriage-not this
time by inferences or indications that escape our perception, but
by other unknown means, a vague presentiment of an impending
peril, or, as I have already said, a partial, intermittent and
unsettled vision of the future event, and, in its doubt, may
utter its cry of alarm.

Whereupon let us recognize that it is almost forbidden to human
reason to stray in these regions; and that the part of a prophet
is, next to that of a commentator of prophecies, one of the most
difficult and thankless that a man can attempt to sustain the
world's stage.


I am not sure if it is really necessary, before closing this
chapter, to follow in the wake of many others and broach the
problem of the preexistence of the future, which includes those
of fatality, of free will, of time and of space, that is to say,
all the points that touch the essential sources of the great
mystery of the universe. The theologians and the metaphysicians
have tackled these problems from every side without giving us the
least hope of solving them. Among those which life sets us, there
is none to which our brain seems more definitely and strictly
closed; and they remain, if not as unimaginable, at least as
incomprehensible as on the day when they were first perceived.
What corresponds, outside us, with what we call time and space?
We know nothing about it; and Kant, speaking in the name of the
"apriorists," who hold that the idea of time is innate in us,
does not teach us much when he tells us that time, like space, is
an a priori form of our sensibility, that is to say, an intuition
preceding experience, even as Guyau, among the "empiricists," who
consider that this idea is acquired only by experience, does not
enlighten us any more by declaring that this same time is the
abstract formula of the changes in the universe. Whether space,
as Leibnitz maintains, be an order of coexistence and time an
order of sequences, whether it be by space that we succeed in
representing time or whether time be an essential form of any
representation, whether time be the father of space or space the
father of time, one thing is certain, which is that the efforts
of the Kantian or neo-Kantian apriorists and of the pure
empiricists and the idealistic empiricists all end in the same
darkness; that all the philosophers who have grappled with the
formidable dual problem, among whom one may mention
indiscriminately the names of the greatest thinkers of yesterday
and to-day--Herbert Spencer, Helmholtz, Renouvier, James Sully,
Stumpf, James Ward, William James, Stuart Mill, Ribot, Fouillee,
Guyau, Bain, Lechalas, Balmes, Dunan and endless others--have
been unable to tame it; and that, however much their theories may
contradict one another, they are all equally defensible and alike
struggle vainly in the darkness against shadows that are not of
our world.


To catch a glimpse of this strange problem of the preexistence of
the future, as it shows itself to each of us, let us essay more
humbly to translate it into tangible images, to place it as it
were upon the stage. I am writing these lines sitting on a stone,
in the shade of some tall beeches that overlook a little Norman
village. It is one of those lovely summer days when the sweetness
of life is almost visible in the azure vase of earth and sky. In
the distance stretches the immense, fertile valley of the Seine,
with its green meadows planted with restful trees, between which
the river flows like a long path of gladness leading to the misty
hills of the estuary. I am looking down on the village-square,
with its ring of young lime-trees. A procession leaves the church
and, amid prayers and chanting, they carry the statue of the
Virgin around the sacred pile. I am conscious of all the details
of the ceremony: the sly old cure perfunctorily bearing a small
reliquary; four choirmen opening their mouths to bawl forth
vacantly the Latin words which convey nothing to them; two
mischievous serving-boys in frayed cassocks; a score of little
girls, young girls and old maids in white, all starched and
flounced, followed by six or seven village notables in baggy
frockcoats. The pageant disappears behind the trees, comes into
sight again at the bend of the road and hurries back into the
church. The clock in the steeple strikes five, as though to ring
down the curtain and mark in the infinite history of events which
none will recollect the conclusion of a spectacle which never
again, until the end of the world and of the universe of worlds,
will be just what it was during those seconds when it beguiled my
wandering eyes.

For in vain will they repeat the procession next year and every
year after: never again will it be the same. Not only will
several of the actors probably have disappeared, but all those
who resume their old places in the ranks will have undergone the
thousand little visible and invisible changes wrought by the
passing days and weeks. In a word, this insignificant moment is
unique, irrecoverable, inimitable, as are all the moments in the
existence of all things; and this little picture, enduring for a
few seconds suspended in boundless duration, has lapsed into
eternity, where henceforth it will remain in its entirety to the
end of time, so much so that, if a man could one day recapture in
the past, among what some one has called the "astral negatives,"
the image of what it was, he would find it intact, unchanged,
ineffaceable and undeniable.


It is not difficult for us to conceive that one can thus go back
and see again the astral negative of an event that is no more; and
retrospective clairvoyance appears to us a wonderful but not an
impossible thing. It astonishes but does not stagger our reason.
But, when it becomes a question of discovering the same picture
in the future, the boldest imagination flounders at the first
step. How are we to admit that there exists somewhere a
representation or reproduction of that which has not yet existed?
Nevertheless, some of the incidents which we have just been
considering seem to prove in an almost conclusive manner not only
that such representations are possible, but that we may arrive at
them more frequently, not to say more conveniently, than at those
of the past. Now, once this representation preexists, as we are
obliged to admit in the case of certain number of premonitions,
the riddle remains the same whether the preexistence be one of a
few hours, a few years or several centuries. It is therefore
possible--for, in these matters, we must go straight to extremes
or else leave them alone--it is therefore possible that a seer
mightier than any of to-day, some god, demigod or demon, some
unknown, universal or vagrant intelligence, saw that procession a
million years ago, at a time when nothing existed of that which
composes and surrounds it and when the very earth on which it
moves had not yet risen from the ocean depths. And other seers,
as mighty as the first, who from age to age contemplated the same
spot and the same moment, would always have perceived, through
the vicissitudes and upheavals of seas, shores and forests, the
same procession going round the same little church that still lay
slumbering in the oceanic ooze and made up of the same persons
sprung from a race that was perhaps not yet represented on the


It is obviously difficult for us to understand that the future
can thus precede chaos, that the present is at the same time the
future and the past, or that that which does not yet exists
already at the same time at which it is no more. But, on the
other hand, it is just as hard to conceive that the future does
not preexist, that there is nothing before the present and that
everything is only present or past. It is very probable that, to
a more universal intelligence than ours, everything is but an
eternal present, an immense punctum stans, as the metaphysicians
say, in which all the events are on one plane; but it is no less
probable that we ourselves, so long as we are men, in order to
understand anything of this eternal present, will always be
obliged to divide it into three parts. Thus caught between two
mysteries equally baffling to our intelligence, whether we deny
or admit the preexistence of the future, we are really only
wrangling over words: in the one case, we give the name of
"present," from the point of view of a perfect intelligence, to
that which to us is the future; in the other, we give the name of
"future" to that which, from the point of view of a perfect
intelligence, is the present. But, after all, it is incontestable
in both cases that, at least from our point of view, the future
preexists, since preexistence is the only name by which we can
describe and the only form under which we can conceive that which
we do not yet see in the present.


Attempts have been made to shed light on the riddle by
transferring it to space. It is true that it there loses the
greater part of its obscurity; but this apparently is because, in
changing its environment, it has completely changed its nature
and no longer bears any relation to what it was when it was
placed in time. We are told, for instance, that innumerable
cities distributed over the surface of the earth are to us as if
they were not, so long as we have not seen them, and only begin
to exist on the day when we visit them. That is true; but space,
outside all metaphysical speculations, has realities for us which
time does not possess. Space, although very mysterious and
incomprehensible once we pass certain limits, is nevertheless
not, like time, incomprehensible and illusory in all its parts.
We are certainly quite able to conceive that those towns which we
have never seen and doubtless never will see indubitably exist,
whereas we find it much more difficult to imagine that the
catastrophe which, fifty years hence, will annihilate one of them
already exists as really as the town itself. We are capable of
picturing a spot whence, with keener eyes than these which we
boast to-day, we should see in one glance all the cities of the
earth and even those of other worlds, but it is much less easy
for us to imagine a point in the ages whence we should
simultaneously discover the past, the present and the future
because the past, the present and the future are three orders of
duration which cannot find room at the same time in our
intelligence and which inevitably devour one other. How can we
picture to ourselves, for instance, a point in eternity at which
our little procession already exists, while it is not yet and
although it is no more? Add to this the thought that it is
necessary and inevitable, from the millenaries which had no
beginning, that, at a given moment, at a given place, the little
procession should leave the little church in a given manner and
that no known or imaginable will can change anything in it, in
the future any more than in the past; and we begin to understand
that there is no hope of understanding.


We find among the cases collected by M. Bozzano a singular
premonition wherein the unknown factors of space and time are
continued in a very curious fashion. In August, 1910, Cavalliere
Giovanni de Figueroa, one of the most famous fencing masters at
Palermo, dreamt that he was in the country, going along a road
white with dust, which brought him to a broad ploughed field. In
the middle of the field stood a rustic building, with a
ground-floor used for store-rooms and cow-sheds and on the right
a rough hut made of branches and a cart with some harness lying
in it.

A peasant wearing dark trousers, with a black felt hat on his
head, came forward to meet him, asked him to follow him and took
him round behind the house. Through a low, narrow door they
entered a little stable with a short, winding stone staircase
leading to a loft over the entrance to the house. A mule fastened
to a swinging manger was blocking the bottom step; and the
chevalier had to push it aside before climbing the staircase. On
reaching the loft, he noticed that from the ceiling were
suspended strings of melons, tomatoes, onions and Indian corn. In
this room were two women and a little girl; and through a door
leading to another room he caught sight of an extremely high bed,
unlike any that he had ever seen before. Here the dream broke
off. It seemed to him so strange that he spoke of it to several
of his friends, whom he mentions by name and who are ready to
confirm his statements.

On the 12th of October in the same year, in order to support a
fellow-townsman in a duel, he accompanied the seconds, by
motorcar, from Naples to Marano, a place which he had never
visited nor even heard of. As soon as they were some way in the
country, he was curiously impressed by the white and dusty road.
The car pulled up at the side of a field which he at once
recognized. They lighted; and he remarked to one of the seconds:
"This is not the first time that I have been here. There should
be a house at the end of this path and on the right a hut and a
cart with some harness in it."

As a matter of fact, everything was as he described it. An
instant later, at the exact moment foreseen by the dream, the
peasant in the dark trousers and the black felt hat came up and
asked him to follow him. But, instead of walking behind him, the
chevalier went in front, for he already knew the way. He found
the stable and, exactly at the place which it occupied two months
before, near its swinging manger, the mule blocking the way to
the staircase. The fencing master went up the steps and once more
saw the loft, with the ceiling hung with melons, onions and
tomatoes, and, in a corner on the right, the two silent women and
the child, identical with the figures in his dream, while in the
next room he recognized the bed whose extraordinary height had so
much impressed him.

It really looks as if the facts themselves, the extramundane
realities, the eternal verities, or whatever we may be pleased to
call them, have tried to show us here that time and space are one
and the same illusion, one and the same convention and have no
existence outside our little day-spanned understanding; that
"everywhere" and "always" are exactly synonymous terms and reign
alone as soon as we cross the narrow boundaries of the obscure
consciousness in which we live. We are quite ready to admit that
Cavaliere de Figueroa may have had by clairvoyance an exact and
detailed vision of places which he was not to visit until later:
this is a pretty frequent and almost classical phenomenon, which,
as it affects the realities of space, does not astonish us beyond
measure and, in any case, does not take us out of the world which
our senses perceive. The field, the house, the hut, the loft do
not move; and it is no miracle that they should be found in the
same place. But, suddenly, quitting this domain where all is
stationary, the phenomenon is transferred to time and, in those
unknown places, at the foretold second, brings together all the
moving actors of that little drama in two acts, of which the
first was performed some two and a half months before, in the
depths of some mysterious other life where it seemed to be
motionlessly and irrevocably awaiting its terrestrial
realization. Any explanation would but condense this vapour of
petty mysteries into a few drops in the ocean of mysteries. Let
us note here again, in passing, the strange freakishness of the
premonitions. They accumulate the most precise and circumstantial
details as long as the scene remains insignificant, but come to a
sudden stop before the one tragic and interesting scene of the
drama: the duel and its issue. Here again we recognize the
inconsistent, impotent, ironical or humorous habits of our
unknown guest.


But we will not prolong these somewhat vain speculations
concerning space and time. We are merely playing with words that
represent very badly ideas which we do not put into form at all.
To sum up, if it is difficult for us to conceive that the future
preexists, perhaps it is even more difficult for us to understand
that it does not exist; moreover, a certain number of facts tend
to prove that it is as real and definite and has, both in time
and in eternity, the same permanence and the same vividness as
the past. Now, from the moment that it preexists, it is not
surprising that we should be able to know it; it is even
astonishing, granted that it overhangs us on every side, that we
should not discover it oftener and more easily. It remains to be
learnt what would become of our life if everything were foreseen
in it, if we saw it unfolding beforehand, in its entirety, with
its events which would have to be inevitable, because, if it were
possible for us to avoid them, they would not exist and we could
not perceive them. Suppose that, instead of being abnormal,
uncertain, obscure, debatable and very unusual, prediction
became, so to speak, scientific, habitual, clear and infallible:
in a short time, having nothing more to foretell, it would die of
inanition. If, for instance, it was prophesied to me that I must
die in the course of a journey in Italy, I should naturally
abandon the journey; therefore it could not have been predicted
to me; and thus all life would soon be nothing but inaction,
pause and abstention, a soft of vast desert where the embryos of
still-born events would be gathered in heaps and where nothing
would grow save perhaps one or two more or less fortunate
enterprises and the little insignificant incidents which no one
would trouble to avoid. But these again are questions to which
there is no solution; and we will not pursue them further.



I will first sum up as briefly as possible, for who so may still
be ignorant of them, the facts which it is necessary to know if
one would fully understand the marvelous story of the Elberfeld
horses. For a detailed account, I can refer him to Herr Karl
Krall's remarkable work, Denkende Tiere (Leipsig, 1912), which is
the first and principal source of information amid a bibliography
that is already assuming considerable dimensions.

Some twenty years ago there lived in Berlin an old misanthrope
named Wilhelm von Osten. He was a man with a small private
income, a little eccentric in his ways and obsessed by one idea,
the intelligence of animals. He began by undertaking the
education of a horse that gave him no very definite results. But,
in 1900, he became the owner of a Russian stallion who, under the
name of Hans, to which was soon added the Homeric and well-earned
prefix of Kluge, or Clever, was destined to upset all our notions
of animal psychology and to raise questions that rank among the
most unexpected and the most absorbing problems which man has yet

Thanks to Von Osten, whose patience, contrary to what one might
think, was in no wise angelic but resembled rather a frenzied
obstinacy, the horse made rapid and extraordinary progress. This
progress is very aptly described by Professor E. Clarapede, of
the university of Geneva, who says, in his excellent monograph on
the Elberfeld horses:

"After making him familiar with various common ideas, such as
right, left, top, bottom and so on, his master began to teach him
arithmetic by the intuitive method. Hans was brought to a table
on which were placed first one, then two, then several small
skittles. Von Osten, kneeling beside Hans, uttered the
corresponding numbers, at the same time making him strike as many
blows with his hoof as there were skittles on the table. Before
long, the skittles were replaced by figures written on a
blackboard. The results were astonishing. The horse was capable
not only of counting (that is to say, of striking as many blows
as he was asked), but also of himself making real calculations,
of solving little problems. . . .

"But Hans could do more than mere sums: he knew how to read; he
was a musician, distinguishing between harmonious and dissonant
chords. He also had an extraordinary memory: he could tell the
date of each day of the current week. In short, he got through
all the tasks which an intelligent schoolboy of fourteen is able
to perform."


The rumour of these curious experiments soon spread; and visitors
flocked to the little stable-yard in which Von Osten kept his
singular pupil at work. The newspapers took the matter up; and a
fierce controversy broke forth between those who believed in the
genuineness of the phenomenon and those who saw no more in it
than a barefaced fraud. A scientific committee was appointed in
1904, consisting of professors of psychology and physiology, of
the director of a zoological garden, of a circus manager and of
veterinary surgeons and cavalry-officers. The committee
discovered nothing suspicious, but ventured upon no explanation.
A second committee was then appointed, numbering among its
members Herr Oskar Pfungst, of the Berlin psychological
laboratory. Herr Pfungst, after a long series of experiments,
drew up a voluminous and crushing report, in which he maintained
that the horse was gifted with no intelligence, that it did not
recognize either letters or figures, that it really knew neither
how to calculate nor how to count, but merely obeyed the
imperceptible, infinitesimal and unconscious signs which escaped
from its master.

Public opinion veered round suddenly and completely. People felt
a sort of half-cowardly relief at beholding the prompt collapse
of a miracle which was threatening to throw confusion into the
self satisfied little fold of established truths. Poor Von Osten
protested in vain: no one listened to him; the verdict was given.
He never recovered from this official blow; he became the
laughing-stock of all those whom he had at first astounded; and
he died, lonely and embittered, on the 29th of June, 1909, at the
age of seventy-one.


But he left a disciple whose faith had not been shaken by the
general defection. A well-to-do Elberfeld manufacturer, Herr
Krall, had taken a great interest in Von Osten's labours and,
during the latter years of the old man's life, had eagerly
followed and even on occasion directed the education of the
wonderful stallion. Von Osten left Kluge Hans to him by will; on
his own side, Krall had bought two Arab stallions, Mohammed and
Zarif whose prowess soon surpassed that of the pioneer. The whole
question was reopened, events took a vigorous and decisive turn
and, instead of a weary, eccentric old man, discouraged almost to
sullenness and with no weapons for the struggle, the critics of
the miracle found themselves faced by a new adversary, young and
high-spirited, endowed with remarkable scientific instinct,
quick-witted, scholarly and well able to defend himself.

His educational methods also differ materially from Von Osten's.
It was a strange thing, but deep down in the rather queer,
cross-grained soul of the old enthusiast there had grown up
gradually a sort of hatred for his four-legged pupil. He felt the
stallion's proud and nervous will resisting his with an obstinacy
which he qualified as diabolical. They stood up to each other
like two enemies: and the lessons almost assumed the form of a
tragic and secret struggle in which the animal's soul rebelled
against man's domination.

Krall, on the other hand, adores his pupils; and this atmosphere
of affection has in a manner of speaking humanized them. There
are no longer those sudden movements of wild panic which reveal
the ancestral dread of man in the quietest and best-trained
horse. He talks to them long and tenderly, as a father might talk
to his children; and we have the strange feeling that they listen
to all that he says and understand it. If they appear not to
grasp an explanation or a demonstration, he will begin it all
over again, analyze it, paraphrase it ten times in succession,
with the patience of a mother. And so their progress has been
incomparably swifter and more astounding than that of old Hans.
Within a fortnight of the first lesson Mohammed did simple little
addition and subtraction sums quite correctly. He had learnt to
distinguish the tens from the units, striking the latter with his
right foot and the former with his left. He knew the meaning of
the symbols plus and minus. Four days later, he was beginning
multiplication and division. In four months' time, he knew how to
extract square and cubic roots; and, soon after, he learnt to
spell and read by means of the conventional alphabet devised by

This alphabet, at the first glance, seems rather complicated. For
that matter, it is only a makeshift; but how could one find
anything better? The unfortunate horse, who is almost voiceless,
has only one way in which to express himself: a clumsy hoof,
which was not created to put thought into words. It became
necessary, therefore, to contrive, as in table-turning, a special
alphabet, in which each letter is designated by a certain number
of blows struck by the right foot and the left. Here is the copy
handed to visitors at Elberfeld to enable them to follow the
horse's operations:

-- 1  2  3  4  5  6
10 E  N  R  S  M  C
20 A  H  L  T  A: CH
30 I  D  G  W  J SCH
40 O  B  F  K  O: --
50 U  V  Z  P  U: --
60 EI AU EU X  Q  --

To mark the letter E, for instance, the stallion will strike one
blow with his left foot and one with his right; for the letter L,
two blows with his left foot and three with his right; and so on.
The horses have this alphabet so deeply imprinted in their memory
that, practically speaking, they never make a mistake; and they
strike their hoofs so quickly, one after the other, that at first
one has some difficulty in following them.

Mohammed and Zarif--for Zarif's progress was almost equal to that
of his fellow-pupil, though he seems a little less gifted from
the standpoint of higher mathematics-Mohammed and Zarif in this
way reproduce the words spoken in their presence, spell the names
of their visitors, reply to questions put to them and sometimes
make little observations, little personal and spontaneous
reflections to which we shall return presently. They have created
for their own use an inconceivably fantastic and phonetic system
of spelling which they stubbornly refuse to relinquish and which
often makes their writing rather difficult to read. Deeming most
of the vowels useless, they keep almost exclusively to the
consonants; thus Zucker, for instance, becomes Z K R; Pferd, P F
R T, or F R T, and so on.

I will not set forth in detail the many different proofs of
intelligence lavished by the singular inhabitants of this strange
stable. They are not only first-class calculators, for whom the
most repellent fractions and roots possess hardly any secrets:
they distinguish sounds, colours, and scents, read the time on
the face of a watch, recognize certain geometrical figures,
likenesses and photographs.

Following on these more and more conclusive experiments and
especially after the publication of Krall's great work, Denkende
Tiere, a model of precision and arrangement, men's minds were
faced with clear and definite problem which, this time, could not
be challenged. Scientific committees followed one another at
Elberfeld; and their reports became legion. Learned men of every
country--including Dr. Edinger, the eminent Frankfort
neurologist; Professors Dr. H. Kraemer and H. E. Ziegler, of
Stuttgart; Dr. Paul Saresin, of Bale; Professor Ostwald, of
Berlin; Professor A. Beredka, of the Pasteur Institute; Dr. E.
Clarapede, of the university of Geneva; Professor Schoeller and
Professor Gehrke, the natural philosopher, of Berlin; Professor
Goldstein, of Darmstadt; Professor von Buttel-Reepen, of
Oldenburg; Professor William Mackenzie, of Genoa; Professor R.
Assagioli, of Florence; Dr. Hartkopf, of Cologne; Dr.
Freudenberg, of Brussels; Dr. Ferrari, of Bologna, etc., etc.,
for the list is lengthening daily--came to study on the spot the
inexplicable phenomenon which Dr. Clarapede proclaims to be "the
most sensational event that has ever happened in the
psychological world."

With the exception of two or three sceptics or convinced
misoneists and of those who made too short a stay at Elberfeld,
all were unanimous in recognizing that the facts were as stated
and that the experiments were conducted with absolute fairness.
Disagreement begins only when it becomes a matter of commenting
on them, interpreting them and explaining them.


To complete this short preamble, it is right to add that, for
some time past, the case of the Elberfeld horses no longer stands
quite alone. There exists at Mannheim a dog of a rather doubtful
breed who performs almost the same feats as his equine rivals. He
is less advanced than they in arithmetic, but does little
additions, subtractions and multiplications of one or two figures
correctly. He reads and writes by tapping with his paw, in
accordance with an alphabet which, it appears, he has thought out
for himself; and his spelling also is simplified and phoneticized
to the utmost. He distinguishes the colour in a bunch of flowers,
counts the money in a purse and separates the marks from the
pfennigs. He knows how to seek and find words to define the
object or the picture placed before him. You show him, for
instance, a bouquet in a vase and ask him what it is.

"A glass with little flowers," he replies.

And his answers are often curiously spontaneous and original. In
the course of a reading-exercise in which the word Herbst,
autumn, chanced to attract attention, Professor William Mackenzie
asked him if he could explain what autumn was.

"It is the time when there are apples," Rolf replied.

On the same occasion, the same professor, without knowing what it
represented, held out to him a card marked with red and blue

"What's this?"

"Blue, red, lots of cubes," replied the dog.

Sometimes his repartees are not lacking in humour.

"Is there anything you would like me to do for you?" a lady of
his acquaintance asked, one day.

And Master Rolf gravely answered:

"Wedelen," which means, "Wag your tail!"

Rolf, whose fame is comparatively young, has not yet, like his
illustrious rivals of the Rhine Province, been the object of
minute enquiries and copious and innumerable reports. But the
incidents which I have just mentioned and which are vouched for
by such men as Professor Mackenzie and M. Duchatel, the learned
and clear-sighted vice-president of the Societe Universelle
d'Etudes Psychiques,[1] who went to Mannheim for the express
purpose of studying them, appear to be no more controvertible
than the Elbenfeld occurrences, of which they are a sort of
replica or echo. It is not unusual to find these coincidences
amongst abnormal phenomena. They spring up simultaneously in
different quarters of the globe, correspond with one another and
multiply as though in obedience to a word of command. It is
probable therefore that we shall see still more manifestations of
the same class. One might almost say that a new spirit is passing
over the world and, after awakening in man forces whereof he was
not aware, is now reaching other creatures who with us inhabit
this mysterious earth, on which they live, suffer and die, as we
do, without knowing why.

[1] See the interesting lecture by M. Edmond Duchatel, published
in the Annales des Sciences Psychiques, October 1913.


I have not been to Mannheim, but I made my pilgrimage to
Elberfeld and stayed long enough in the town to carry away with
me the conviction shared by all those who have undertaken the

A few months ago, Herr Krall, whom I had promised the year before
that I would come and see his wonderful horses, was kind enough
to repeat his invitation in a more pressing fashion, adding that
his stable would perhaps be broken up after the 15th of September
and that, in any case, be would be obliged, by his doctor's
orders, to interrupt for an indefinite period a course of
training which he found exceedingly fatiguing.

I at once left for Elberfeld, which, as everybody knows, is an
important manufacturing-town in Rhenish Prussia and is, in fact,
more quaint, pleasing and picturesque than one might expect. I
had long since read everything that had been published on the
question; and I was wholly persuaded of the genuineness of the
incidents. Indeed it would be difficult to have any doubts after
the repeated and unremitting supervision and verification to
which the experiments are subjected, a supervision which is of
the most rigorous type, often hostile and almost ill-mannered. As
for their interpretation, I was convinced that telepathy, that is
to say, the transmission of thought from one subconsciousness to
another, remained, however strange it might be in this new
region, the only acceptable theory; and this in spite of certain
circumstances that seemed plainly to exclude it. In default of
telepathy proper, I inclined toward the mediumistic or subliminal
theory, which was very ably outlined by M. de Vesmes in a
remarkable lecture delivered, on the 22nd of December, 1912,
before the Societe Universelle d'Etudes Psychiques. It is true
that telepathy, especially when carried to its extreme limits,
appeals above all to the subliminal forces, so that the two
theories overlap at more than one point and it is often difficult
to make out where the first ends and the second begins. But this
discussion will be more appropriate a little later.


I found Herr Krall in his goldsmith's shop, a sort of palace of
Golconda, streaming and glittering with the most precious pearls
and stones on earth. Herr Krall, it is well to remember, in order
to dispel any suspicion of pecuniary interest, is a rich
manufacturer whose family for three generations, from father to
son, have conducted one of the most important jewelry businesses
in Germany. His researches, so far from bringing him the least
profit, cost him a great deal of money, take up all his leisure
and some part of the time which he would otherwise devote to his
business and, as usually happens, procure him from his fellow
citizens and from not a few scientific men more annoyance, unfair
criticism and sarcasm than consideration or gratitude. His work
is preeminently the disinterested and thankless task of the
apostle and pioneer.

For the rest, Herr Kraft, though his faith is active, zealous and
infectious, has nothing in common with the visionaries or
illuminati. He is a man of about fifty, vigorous, alert and
enthusiastic, but at the same time well-balanced; accesible to
every idea and even to every dream, yet practical and methodical,
with a ballast of the most invincible common-sense. He inspires
from the outset that fine confidence, frank and unrestrained,
which instantly disperses the instinctive doubt, the strange
uneasiness and the veiled suspicion that generally separate two
people who meet for the first time; and one welcomes in him, from
the very depths of one's being, the honest man, the staunch
friend whom one can trust and whom one is sorry not to have known
earlier in life.

We go together through the streets and along the bustling quays
of Elberfeld to the stable, situated at a few hundred steps from
the shop. The horses are taking the air outside the doors of
their boxes, in the yard shaded by a lime-tree. There are four of
them: Mohammed, the most intelligent, the most gifted of them
all, the great mathematician of the party; his double, Zarif, a
little less advanced, less tractable, craftier, but at the same
time more fanciful, more spontaneous and capable of occasional
disconcerting sallies; next, Hanschen, a little Shetland pony,
hardly bigger than a Newfoundland dog, the street-urchin of the
band, always quivering with excitement, roguish, flighty,
uncertain and passionate, but ready in a moment to work you out
the most difficult addition and multiplication sums with a
furious scrape of the hoof; and lastly the latest arrival, the
plump and placid Berto, an imposing black stallion, quite blind
and lacking the sense of smell. He has been only a few months at
school and is still, so to speak, in the preparatory class, but
already does--a little more clumsily, but more good humouredly
and conscientiously--small addition and subtraction sums quite as
well as many a child of the same age.

In a corner, Kama, a young elephant two or three years old, about
the size of an outrageously "blown" donkey, rolls his mischievous
and almost knavish eye, under the shelter of his wide ears, each
resembling a great rhubarb-leaf, and with his stealthy,
insinuating trunk carefully picks up whatever he considers fit to
eat, that is to say, pretty well everything that lies about on
the stones. Great things were hoped of him, but hitherto he has
disappointed all expectations: he is the dunce of the
establishment. Perhaps he is too young still: his little
elephant-soul no doubt resembles that of a sucking-babe which, in
the place of its feet and hands, plays with the stupendous nose
that must first explore and question the universe. It is
impossible to grip his attention; and, when they set out before
him his alphabet of movable letters, instead of naming those
which are pointed out to him he applies himself to pulling them
off their stems, in order to swallow them surreptitiously. He has
disheartened his kind master, who, pending the coming of the
reason and wisdom promised by the proboscidian legends, leaves
him in a contented state of ignorance made more blissful by an
almost insatiable appetite.


But I ask to see the great pioneer, Kluge Hans, Clever Hans. He
is still alive. He is old: he must be sixteen or seventeen; but
his old age, alas, is not exempt from the baneful troubles from
which men themselves suffer in their decline! Hans has turned out
badly, it appears, and is never mentioned save in ambiguous
terms. An imprudent or vindictive groom, I forget which, having
introduced a mare into the yard, Hans the Pure, who till then had
led an austere and monkish existence, vowed to celibacy, science
and the chaste delights of figures, Hans the Irreproachable
incontinently lost his head and cut himself open on the
hanging-rail of his stall. They had to force back his intestines
and sew up his belly. He is now rusticating miserably in a meadow
outside the town. So true it is that a life cannot be judged
except at its close and that we are sure of nothing until we are


Before the sitting begins, while the master is making his morning
inspection, I go up to Muhamed, speak to him and pat him, looking
straight into his eyes meanwhile in order to catch a sign of his
genius. The handsome creature, well-bred and in hard condition,
is as calm and trusting as a dog; he shows himself excessively
gracious and friendly and tries to give me some huge licks and
mighty kisses which I do my best to avoid because they are a
little unexpected and overdemonstrative. The expression of his
limpid antelope-eyes is deep, serious and remote, but it differs
in no wise from that of his brothers who, for thousands of years,
have seen nothing but brutality and ingratitude in man. If we
were able to read anything there, it would not be that
insufficient and vain little effort which we call thought, but
rather an indefinable, vast anxiety, a tear-dimmed regret for the
boundless, stream-crossed plains where his sires sported at will
before they knew man's yoke. In any case, to see him thus
fastened by a halter to the stable-door, beating off the flies
and absently pawing the cobbles, Muhamed is nothing more than a
well-trained horse who seems to be waiting for his saddle or
harness and who hide, his new secret as profoundly as all the
others which nature has buried in him.


But they are summoning me to take my place in the stable where
the lessons are given. It is a small room, empty and bare, with
peat-moss litter bedding and white-washed walls. The horse is
separated from the people present by breast-high wooden
partitions. Opposite the four-legged scholar is a black-board,
nailed to the wall; and on one side a corn-bin which forms a seat
for the spectators. Muhamed is led in. Krall, who is a little
nervous, makes no secret of his uneasiness. His horses are fickle
animals, uncertain, capricious and extremely sensitive. A trifle
disturbs them, confuses them, puts them off. At such times,
threats, prayers and even the irresistible charm of carrots and
good rye-bread are useless. They obstinately refuse to do any
work and they answer at random. Everything depends on a whim, the
state of the weather, the morning meal or the impression which
the visitor makes upon them. Still, Krall seems to know, by
certain imperceptible signs, that this is not going to be a bad
day. Muhamed quivered with excitement, snorts loudly through his
nostrils, utters a series of indistinct little whinnyings:
excellent symptoms, it appears. I take my seat on the corn-bin.
The master, standing beside the black-board, chalk in hand,
introduces me to Muhamed in due form, as to a human being:

"Muhamed, attention! This is your uncle"--pointing to me--"who
has come all the way to honour you with a visit. Mind you don't
disappoint him. His name is Maeterlinck." Krall pronounced the
first syllable German-fashion: Mah. "You understand: Maeterlinck.
Now show him that you know your letters and that you can spell a
name correctly, like a clever boy. Go ahead, we're listening."
Muhamed gives a short neigh and, on the small, movable board at
his feet, strikes first with his right hoof and then with his
left the number of blows which correspond with the letter M in
the conventional alphabet used by the horses. Then, one after the
other, without stopping or hesitating, he marks the letters A D R
L I N S H, representing the unexpected aspect which my humble
name assumes in the equine mind and phonetics. His attention is
called to the fact that there is a mistake. He readily agrees and
replaces the S H by a G and then the G by a K. They insist that
he must put a T instead of the D; but Muhamed, content with his
work, shakes his head to say no and refuses to make any further


I assure you that the first shock is rather disturbing, however
much one expected it. I am quite aware that, when one describes
these things, one is taken for a dupe too readily dazzled by the
doubtless childish illusion of an ingeniously contrived scene.
But what contrivances, what illusions have we here? Do they lie
in the spoken word? Why, to admit that the horse understands and
translates his master's words is just to accept the most
extraordinary part of the phenomenon! Is it a case of
surreptitious touches or conventional signs? However
simple-minded one may be, one would nevertheless notice them more
easily than a horse, even a horse of genius. Krall never lays a
hand on the animal; he moves all round the little table, which
contains no appliances of any sort; for the most part, he stands
behind the horse which is unable to see him, or comes and sits
beside his guest on the innocuous corn-bin, busying himself,
while lecturing his pupil, in writing up the minutes of the
lesson. He also welcomes with the most serene readiness any
restrictions or tests which you propose. I assure you that the
thing itself is much simple, and clearer than the suspicions of
the arm-chair critics and that the most distrustful mind world
not entertain the faintest idea of fraud in the frank, wholesome
atmosphere of the old stable.

"But," some one might have said, "Krall, who knew that you were
coming to Elberfeld, had of course thoroughly rehearsed his
little exercise in spelling, which apparently is only an exercise
in memory."

For conscience' sake, though I did not look upon the objection as
serious, I submitted it to Krall, who at once said: "Try it for
yourself. Dictate to the horse any German word of two or three
syllables, emphasizing it strongly. I'll go out of the stable and
leave you alone with him."

Behold Muhamed and me by ourselves. I confess that I am a little
frightened. I have many a time felt less uncomfortable in the
presence of the great ones or the kings of the earth. Whom am I
dealing with exactly? However, I summon my courage and speak
aloud the first word that occurs to me, the name of the hotel at
which I am staying: Weidenhof. At first, Muhamed, who seems a
little puzzled by his master's absence, appears not to hear me
and does not even deign to notice that I am there. But I repeat
eagerly, in varying tones of voice, by turns insinuating,
threatening, beseeching and commanding:

"Weidenhof! Weidenhof! Weidenhof!"

At last, my mysterious companion suddenly makes up his mind to
lend me his ears and straightway blithely raps out the following
letters, which I write down on the black-board as they come:


It is a magnificent specimen of equine spelling! Triumphant and
bewildered, I call in friend Krall, who, accustomed as he is to
the prodigy, thinks it quite natural, but knits his brows:

"What's this, Muhamed? You've made a mistake again. It's an F you
want at the end of the word, not a Z. Just correct it at once,

And the docile Muhamed, recognizing his blunder, gives the three
blows with his right hoof, followed by the four blows with his
left, which represent the most unexceptionable F that one could
ask for.

Observe, by the way, the logic of his phonetic writing: contrary
to his habit, he strikes the mute E after the W, because it is
indispensable; but, finding it included in the D, he considers it
superfluous and suppresses it with a high hand.

You rub your eyes, question yourself, ask yourself in the
presence of what humanized phenomenon, of what unknown force, of
what new creature you stand. Was all this what they hid in their
eyes, those silent brothers of ours? You blush at arm's long
injustice. You look around you for some sort of trace, obvious or
subtle, of the mystery. You feel yourself attacked in your
innermost citadel, where you held yourself most certain and most
impregnable. You have felt a breath from the abyss upon your
face. You would not be more astonished if you suddenly heard the
voice of the dead. But the most astonishing thing is that you are
not astonished for long. We all, unknown to ourselves, live in
the expectation of the extraordinary; and, when it comes, it
moves us much less than did the expectation. It is as though a
sort of higher instinct, which knows everything and is not
ignorant of the miracles that hang over our heads, were
reassuring us in advance and helping us to make an easy entrance
into the regions of the supernatural. There is nothing to which
we grow accustomed more readily than to the marvellous; and it is
only afterwards, upon reflection, that our intelligence, which
knows hardly anything, appreciates the magnitude of certain


But Muhamed gives unmistakable signs of impatience to show that
he has had enough of spelling. Thereupon, as a diversion and a
reward, his kind master suggests the extraction of a few square
and cubic roots. Muhamed appears delighted: these are his
favourite problems: for he takes less interest than formerly in
the most difficult multiplications and divisions. He doubtless
thinks them beneath him.

Krall therefore writes on the blackboard various numbers of which
I did not take note. Moreover, as nobody now contests the fact
that the horse works them with ease, it would hardly be
interesting to reproduce here several rather grim problems of
which numerous variants will be found in the accounts and reports
of experiments signed by Drs. Mackenzie and Hartkopff, by
Overbeck, Clarapede and many others. What strikes one
particularly is the facility, the quickness, I was almost saying
the joyous carelessness with which the strange mathematician
gives the answers. The last figure is hardly chalked upon the
board before the right hoof is striking off the units, followed
immediately by the left hoof marking the tens. There is not a
sign of attention or reflection; one is not even aware of the
exact moment at which the horse looks at the problem: and the
answer seems to spring automatically from an invisible
intelligence. Mistakes are rare or frequent according as it
happens to be a good or bad day with the horse; but, when he is
told of them, he nearly always corrects them. Not unseldom, the
number is reversed: 47, for instance, becomes 74; but he puts it
right without demur when asked.

I am manifestly dumbfounded; but perhaps these problems are
prepared beforehand? If they were, it would be very
extraordinary, but yet less surprising than their actual
solution. Krall does not read this suspicion in my eyes, because
they do not show it; nevertheless, to remove the least shade of
it, he asks me to write a number of my own on the black-board for
the horse to find the root.

I must here confess the humiliating ignorance that is the
disgrace of my life. I have not the faintest idea of the
mysteries concealed within these recondite and complicated
operations. I did my humanities like everybody else; but, after
crossing the useful and familiar frontiers of multiplication and
division I found it impossible to advance any farther into the
desolate regions, bristling with figures, where the square and
cubic roots hold sway, together with all sorts of other monstrous
powers, without shapes or faces, which inspired me with
invincible terror. All the persecutions of my excellent
instructors wore themselves out against a dead wall of stolidity.
Successively disheartened, they left me to my dismal ignorance,
prophesying a most dreary future for me, haunted with bitter
regrets. I must say that, until now, I had scarcely experienced
the effects of these gloomy predictions; but the hour has come
for me to expiate the sins of my youth. Nevertheless, I put a
good face upon it: and, taking at random the first figures that
suggest themselves to my mind, I boldly write on the black-board
an enormous and most daring number. Muhamed remains motionless.
Krall speaks to him sharply, telling him to hurry up. Muhamed
lifts his right hoof, but does not let it fall. Krall loses
patience, lavishes prayers, promises and threats; the hoof
remains poised, as though to bear witness to good intentions that
cannot be carried out. Then my host turns round, looks at the
problem and asks me:

"Does it give an exact root?"

Exact? What does he mean? Are there roots which. . .? But I dare
not go on: my shameful ignorance suddenly flashes before my eyes.
Krall smiles indulgently and, without making any attempt to
supplement an education which is too much in arrears to allow of
the slightest hope, laboriously works out the problem and
declares that the horse was right in refusing to give an
impossible solution.


Muhamed receives our thanks in the form of a lordly portion of
carrots; and a pupil is introduced whose attainments do not tower
so high above mine: Hanschen, the little pony, quick and lively
as a big rat. Like me, he has never gone beyond elementary
arithmetic: and so we shall understand each other better and meet
on equal terms.

Krall asks me for two numbers to multiply. I give him 63 X 7. He
does the sum and writes the product on the board, followed by the
sign of division: 441 / 7. Instantly Hanschen, with a celerity
difficult to follow, gives three blows, or rather three violent
scrapes with his right hoof and six with his left, which makes
63, for we must not forget that in German they say not
sixty-three, but three-and-sixty. We congratulate him; and, to
evince his satisfaction, he nimbly reverses the number by marking
36 and then puts it right again by scraping 63. He is evidently
enjoying himself and juggling with the figures. And additions,
subtractions, multiplications and divisions follow one after the
other, with figures supplied by myself, so as to remove any idea
of collusion. Hanschen seldom blunders; and, when he does, we
receive a very clear impression that his mistake is voluntary: he
is like a mischievous schoolboy playing a practical joke upon his
master. The solutions fall thick as hail upon the little
spring-board; the correct answer is released by the question as
though you were pressing the button of an electric push. The
pony's flippancy is as surprising as his skill. But in this
unruly flippancy, in this hastiness which seems inattentive there
is nevertheless a fixed and permanent idea. Hanschen paws the
ground, kicks, prances, tosses his head, looks as if he cannot
keep still, but never leaves his spring-board. Is he interested
in the problems, does he enjoy them? It is impossible to say; but
he certainly has the appearance of one accomplishing a duty or a
piece of work which we do not discuss, which is important,
necessary and inevitable.

But the lesson suddenly ends with a joke carried rather too far
by the pupil, who catches his good master by the seat of his
trousers, into which he plants disrespectful teeth. He is
severely reprimanded, deprived of his carrots and sent back in
disgrace to his private apartments.


Next comes Bette, who is like a big, sleek Norman horse. He makes
the calm, dignified, peaceful entrance of a blind giant. His
large, dark, brilliant eyes are quite dead, deprived of any
reflex power. He feels about with his hoof for the board on which
he is to rap his answers. He has not yet gone beyond the
rudiments of mathematics; and the early part of his education was
particularly difficult. They managed to make him understand the
value and meaning of the numbers and of the addition- and
multiplication-signs by means of little taps on his sides. Krall
speaks to him as a father might speak to the youngest of his
sons. He explains to him fondly the easy sums which I suggest his
doing: two plus three, eight minus four, four times three; he

"Mind! It's not plus three or minus three this time, but four
multiplied by three!"

Berto hardly ever makes a mistake. When he does not understand
the question, he waits for it to be written with the finger on
his side; and the careful way in which he works it out like some
backward and afflicted child is an infinitely pathetic sight. He
is much more zealous and conscientious than his fellow-pupils;
and we feel that, in the darkness wherein he dwells, this work
is, next to his meals, the only spark of light and interest in
his existence. He will certainly never rival Muhamed, for
instance, who is the arithmetical prodigy, the Inaudi, of horses;
but he is a valuable and living proof that the theory of
unconscious and imperceptible signs, the only one which the
German theorists have hitherto seriously considered, is now
clearly untenable.

I have not yet spoken of Zarif. He is not in the best of tempers;
and besides, in arithmetic, he is only a less learned and more
capricious Muhamed. He answers most of the questions at random,
stubbornly raising his foot and declining to lower it, so as
clearly to mark his disapproval; but he solves the last problem
correctly when he is promised a panful of carrots and no more
lessons for that morning. The groom enters to lead him away and
makes some movement or other at which the horse starts, rears and

"That's his bad conscience," says Krall, gravely.

And the expression assumes a singular meaning and importance in
this hybrid atmosphere, steeped in an indefinable something from
another world.

But it is half-past one, the sacred German dinner-hour. The
horses are taken back to their racks and the men separate,
wishing one another the inevitable Mahlzeit.

As he walks with me along the quays of the black and muddy
Wupper, Krall says:

"It is a pity that you did not see Zarif in one of his better
moods. He is sometimes more startling than Muhamed and has given
me two or three surprises that seem incredible. One morning, for
instance, I came to the stable and was preparing to give him his
lesson in arithmetic. He was no sooner in front of the
spring-board than he began to stamp with his foot. I left him
alone and was astounded to hear a whole sentence, an absolutely
human sentence, come letter by letter from his hoof: 'Albert has
beaten Hanschen,' was what he said to me that day. Another time,
I wrote down from his dictation, 'Hanschen has bitten Kama.' Like
a child seeing its father after an absence, he felt the need to
inform me of the little doings of the stable; he provided me with
the artless chronicle of a humble and uneventful life."

Krall, for that matter, living in the midst of his miracle, seems
to think this quite natural and almost inevitable. I, who have
been immersed in it for only a few hours, accept it almost as
calmly as he does. I believe without hesitation what he tells me;
and, in the presence of this phenomenon which, for the first time
in man's existence, gives us a sentence that has not sprung from
a human brain, I ask myself whither we are tending, where we
stand and what lies ahead of us.. . .


After dinner, the experiments begin again, for my host is
untiring. First of all, pointing to me, he asks Muhamed if he
remembers what his uncle's name is. The horse raps out an H.
Krall is astonished and utters fatherly reprimands:

"Come, take care! You know it's not an H."

The horse raps out an E. Krall becomes a little impatient: he
threatens, he implores, he promises in turn, carrots and the
direst punishments, such as sending for Albert, the groom, who,
on special occasions, recalls idle and inattentive pupils to a
sense of duty and decorum, for Krall himself never chastises his
horses, lest he should lose their friendship or their confidence.
So he continues his reproaches:

"Come now, are you going to be more careful and not rap out your
letters anyhow?"

Muhamed obstinately goes his own way and strikes an R. Then
Krall's open face lights up:

"He's right," he says. "You understand: H E R, standing for Herr.
He wanted to give you the title to which every man wearing a top
hat or a bowler has the right. He does it only very rarely and I
had forgotten all about it. He probably heard me call you Herr
Maeterlinck and wanted to get it perfectly. This special
politeness and this excess of zeal augur a particularly good
lesson. You've done very well, Mohammed, my child; you've done
very well and I beg your pardon. Now kiss me and go on."

But Mohammed, after giving his master a hearty kiss, still seems
to be hesitating. Then Krall, to put him on the right track
observes that the first letter of my name is the same as the
first letter of his own. Mohammed strikes a K, evidently thinking
of his master's name. At last, Krall draws a big M on the
black-board, whereupon the horse, like one suddenly remembering a
word which he could not think of, raps out, one after the other
and without stopping, the letters M A Z R L K, which, stripped of
useless vowels, represent the curious corruption which my name
has undergone, since the morning, in a brain that is not a human
brain. He is told that this is not correct. He seems to agree,
gropes about a little and writes, M A R Z L E G K. Krall repeats
my name and asks which is the first letter to be altered. The
stallion marks an R.

"Good, but what letter will you put instead?"

Mohammed strikes an N.

"No, do be careful!"

He strikes a T.

"Very good, but in what place will the T come?"

"In the third," replies the horse; and the corrections continue
until my patronomic comes out of its strange adventure almost

And the spelling, the questioning, the sums, the problems are
resumed and follow upon one another, as wonderful, as bewildering
as before, but already a little dimmed by familiarity, like any
other prolonged miracle. It is important, besides, to notice that
the instances which I have given are not to be classed among the
most remarkable feats of our magic horses. Today's is a good
ordinary lesson, a respectable lesson, not illumined by flashes
of genius. But in the presence of other witnesses the horses
performed more startling exploits which broke down even more
decisively the barrier, which is undoubtedly an imaginary one,
between animal and human nature. One day, for instance, Zarif;
the scamp of the party, suddenly stopped in the middle of his
lesson. They asked him the reason.

"Because I am tired."

Another time, he answered:

"Pain in my leg."

They recognize and identify pictures shown to them, distinguish
colours and scents. I have made a point of stating only what I
saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears; and I declare
that I have done so with the same scrupulous accuracy as though I
were reporting a criminal trial in which a man's life depended on
my evidence.

But I was practically convinced of the truth of the incidents
before going to Elberfeld; and it was not to check them that I
made the journey. I was anxious to make certain if the telepathic
theory, which was the only one that I considered admissible,
would withstand the tests which I intended to apply to it. I
opened my mind on the subject to Krall, who at first did not
quite grasp what I was asking. Like most men who have not made a
special study of the questions, he imagined that telepathy meant
above all a deliberate and conscious transmission of thought; and
he assured me that he never made any effort to transmit his and
that, for the most part, the horses gave a reply which was the
exact opposite of what he was expecting. I did not doubt this for
a moment; in fact, direct and deliberate transmission of thought
is, even among men, a very rare, difficult and uncertain,
phenomenon, whereas involuntary, unpremeditated and unsuspected
communications between one subconsciousness and another can no
longer be denied except by those who of set purpose ignore
studies and experiments that are within the reach of any one who
will take the trouble to engage in them. I was persuaded
therefore that the horses acted exactly like the "tipping-tables"
which simply translate the subliminal ideas of one or another of
those present by the aid of conventional little taps. When all is
said, it is much less surprising to see a horse than a table lift
its foot and much more natural that the living substance of an
animal rather than the inert matter of a thing should be
sensitive and susceptible to the mysterious influence of a
medium. I knew quite well that experiments had been made in order
to eliminate this theory. People, for instance, prepared a
certain number of questions and put them in sealed envelopes.
Then, on entering the presence of the horse, they would take one
of the envelopes at random, open it and write down the problem on
the black-board; and Mohammed or Zarif would answer with the same
facility and the same readiness as though the solution had been
known to all the onlookers. But was it really unknown to their
subconsciousness? Who could say for certain? Tests of this kind
require extraordinary precautions and a special dexterity; for
the action of the subconsciousness is so subtle, takes such
unexpected turns, delves in the museum of so many forgotten
treasures and operates at such distances that one is never sure
of escaping it. Were those precautions taken? I was not convinced
that they were; and, without pretending to decide the question, I
said to myself that my blissful ignorance of mathematics might
perhaps be of service in shedding light upon some part of it.

For this ignorance, however deplorable from other points of view,
gave me a rare advantage in this case. It was in fact extremely
unlikely that my subliminal consciousness, which had never known
what a cubic root was or the root of any other power, could help
the horse. I therefore took from a table a list containing
several problems, all different and all equally unpleasant
looking, covered up the solutions, asked Krall to leave the
stable and, when alone with Zarif, copied out one of them on the
black-board. In order not to overload these pages with details
which would only be a repetition of one another, I will at once
say that none of the antitelepathic tests succeeded that day. It
was the end of the lesson and late in the afternoon; the horses
were tired and irritable; and, whether Krall was there or not,
whether the problem was elementary or difficult, they gave only
absurd replies, wilfully "putting their foot in it," as one might
say with very good reason. But, next morning, on resuming their
task, when I proceeded as described above, Mohammed and Zarif,
doubtless in a better temper and already more accustomed to their
new examiner, gave in rapid succession correct answers to nearly
every problem set them. I am bound in fairness to say that there
was no appreciable difference between these results and those
which are obtained in the presence of Krall or other onlookers
who, consciously or unconsciously, are already aware of the
answer required.

I next thought of another and much simpler test, but one which,
by virtue of its very simplicity, could not be exposed to any
elaborate and farfetched suspicions. I saw on one of the shelves
in the stable a panel of cards, about the size of an octavo
volume, each bearing an arabic numeral on one of its sides. I
once more asked my good friend Krall, whose courtesy is
inexhaustible, to leave me alone with his pupil. I then shuffled
the cards and put three of them in a row on the spring-board in
front of the horse, without looking at them myself. There was
therefore, at that moment, not a human soul on earth who knew the
figures spread at the feet of my companion, this creature so full
of mystery that already I no longer dare call him an animal.
Without hesitation and unasked, he rapped out correctly the
number formed by the cards. The experiment succeeded, as often as
I cared to try it, with Hanschen, Mohammed and Zarif alike.
Mohammed did even more: as each figure was of a different colour,
I asked him to tell me the colour--of which I myself was
absolutely ignorant--of the first letter on the right. With the
aid of the conventional alphabet, he replied that it was blue,
which proved to be the case. Of course, I ought to have
multiplied these experiments and made them more exhaustive and
complicated by combining, with the aid of the cards and under the
same conditions, exercises in multiplication, division and the
extracting of roots. I had not the time; but, a few days after I
left, the subject was resumed and completed by Dr. H. Hamel. I
will sum up his report of the experiments: the doctor, alone in
the stable with the home (Krall was away, travelling), puts down
on the black-board the sign + and then places before and after
this sign, without looking at either of them, a card marked with
a figure which he does not know. He next asks Mohammed to add up
the two numbers. Mohammed at first gives a few heedless taps with
his hoof. He is called to order and requested to be serious and
to attend. He then gives fifteen distinct taps. The doctor next
replaces the sign + by X and, again without looking at them,
places two cards on the blackboard and asks the horse not to add
up the two figures this time, but to multiply them. Mohammed taps
out, "27," which is right, for the black-board says, "9 X 3." The
same success follows with other multiplication sums: 9 X 2, 8 X
6. Then the doctor takes from an envelope a problem of which he
does not know the solution: fourth root of 7890481. Mohammed
replies, "53." The doctor looks at the back of the paper: once
more, the answer is perfectly correct.


Does this mean that every risk of telepathy is done away with? It
would perhaps be rash to make a categorical assertion. The power
and extent of telepathy are as yet, we cannot too often repeat,
indefinite, indiscernible, untraceable and unlimited. We have but
quite lately discovered it, we know only that its existence can
no longer be denied; but, as for all the rest, we are at much the
same stage as that whereat Galvani was when he gave life to the
muscles of his dead frogs with two little plates of metal which
roused the jeers of the scientists of his time, but contained the
germ of all the wonders, of electricity.

Nevertheless, as regards telepathy in the sense in which we
understand and know it to-day, my mind is made up. I am persuaded
that it is not in this direction that we must seek for an
explanation of the phenomenon; or, if we are determined to find
it there, the explanation becomes complicated with so many
subsidiary mysteries that it is better to accept the prodigy as
it stands, in its original obscurity and simplicity. When, for
instance, I was copying out one of the grisly problems which I
have mentioned, it is quite certain that my conscious
intelligence could make neither head nor tail of it. I did not so
much as know what it meant or whether the exponent 3. 4. 5 called
for a multiplication, a division or some other mathematical
operation which I did not even try to imagine; and, rack MY
memory as I may, I cannot remember any moment in my life when I
knew more about it than I do now. We should therefore have to
admit that MY subliminal self is a born mathematician, quick,
infallible and endowed with boundless learning. It is possible
and I feel a certain pride at the thought. But the theory simply
shifts the miracle by making it pass from the horse's soul to
mine; and the miracle becomes no clearer by the transfer, which,
for that matter, does not sound probable. I need hardly add that,
a fortiori, Dr. Hamel's experiments and many others which I have
not here the space to describe finally dispose of the theory.


Let us see how those who have interested themselves in these
extraordinary manifestations have attempted to explain them.

As we go along, we will just shear through the feeble undergrowth
of childish theories. I shall not, therefore, linger over the
suggestions of cheating, of manifest signs addressed to the eye
or ear, of electrical installations that are supposed to control
the answers, nor other idle tales of an excessively clumsy
character. To realize their inexcusable inanity we have but to
spend a few minutes in the honest Elberfeld stable.

At the beginning of this essay, I mentioned the attack made by
Herr Pfungst. Herr Pfungst, the reader will remember, claims to
prove that all the horse's replies are determined by
imperceptible and probably unconscious movement on the part of
the person putting the questions. This interpretation, which
falls to the ground, like all the others, in the face of the
actual facts, would not deserve serious discussion, were it not
that the Berlin psychologist's report created an immense
sensation some years ago and has succeeded in intimidating the
greater part of the official German scientific world to this day.
It is true that the report in question is a monument of useless
pedantry, but we are none the less bound to admit that, such as
it was, it annihilated poor Von Oaten, who, being no
controversialist and not knowing how to proclaim the truth which
was struggling for utterance, died in gloom and solitude.

To make an end of this cumbrous and puerile theory, is it
necessary to emphasize again that experiments in which the animal
does not see the questioner are as regularly successful as the
others? Krall, if you ask him, will stand behind the horse, will
speak from the end of the room, will leave the stable altogether;
and the results are just the same. They are the same again when
the tests are made in the dark or when the animal's head is
covered with a close-fitting hood. They do not vary either in the
case of Berto, who is stone-blind, or when any other person
whatever sets the problem in Krall's absence. Will it be
maintained that this outsider or that stranger is acquainted
beforehand with the imperceptible signs that are to dictate the
solution which he himself often does not know?

But what is the use of prolonging this fight against a cloud of
smoke? None of it can bear examination; and it calls for a
genuine effort of the will to set one's self seriously to refute
such pitiful objections.


On the ground thus cleared and at the portal of this unlooked-for
riddle, which comes to disturb our peace in a region which we
thought to be finally explored and conquered, there are only two
ways, if not of explaining, at least of contemplating the
phenomenon: to admit purely and simply the almost human
intelligence of the horse, or to have recourse to an as yet very
vague and indefinite theory which, for lack of a better
designation, we will call the mediumistic or subliminal theory
and of which we will strive presently--and no doubt vainly--to
dispel the grosser darkness. But, whatever interpretation we
adopt, we are bound to recognize that it plunges us into a
mystery which is equally profound and equally astonishing on
either side, one directly related to the greatest mysteries that
overwhelm us; and it is open to us to accept it with resignation
or rejoicing, according as we prefer to live in a world wherein
everything is within the reach of our intelligence or a world
wherein everything is incomprehensible.

As for Krall, he does not doubt for an instant that his horses
solve for themselves, without any assistance, without any outside
influence, simply by their own mental powers, the most arduous
problems set them. He is persuaded that they understand what is
said to them and what they say, in short, that their brain and
their will perform exactly the same functions as a human brain
and will. It is certain that the facts seem to prove him right
and that his opinion carries way great weight, for, after all, he
knows his horses better than any one does; he has beheld the
birth or rather the awakening of that dormant intelligence, even
as a mother beholds the birth or the awakening of intelligence in
her child; he has perceived its first gropings, known its first
resistance and its first triumphs; he has watched it taking
shape, breaking away and gradually rising to the point at which
it stands to-day; in a word, he is the father and the principal
and sole perpetual witness of the miracle.


Yes, but the miracle comes as such a surprise that, the moment we
set foot in it, a sort of instinctive aberration seizes us,
refusing to accept the evidence and compelling us to search in
every direction to see if there is not another outlet. Even in
the presence of those astounding horses and while they are
working before our eyes, we do not yet sincerely believe that
which fills and subdues our gaze. We accept the facts, because
there is no means of escaping them; but we accept them only
provisionally and with all reserve, putting off till later the
comfortable explanation which will give us back our familiar,
shallow certainties. But the explanation does not come; there is
none in the homely and not very lofty regions wherein we hoped to
find one; there is neither fault nor flaw in the mighty evidence;
and nothing delivers us from the mystery.

It must be confessed that this mystery, springing from a point
where we least expected to come upon the unknown, bears enough
within itself to scatter all our convictions. Remember that,
since man appeared upon this earth, he has lived among creatures
which, from immemorial experience, he thought that he knew as
perfectly as he knows an object fashioned by his hands. Out of
these creatures he chose the most docile and, as he called them,
the most intelligent, attaching in this case to the word
intelligence a sense so narrow as to be almost ridiculous. He
observed them, scrutinized them, tried them, analyzed them and
dissected them in every imaginable way; and whole lives were
devoted to nothing but the study of their habits, their
faculties, their nervous system, their pathology, their
psychology, their instincts. All this led to certainties which,
among those supported by our unexplained little existence on an
inexplicable planet, would seem to be the least doubtful, the
least subject to revision. There is no disputing, for instance,
that the horse is gifted with an extraordinary memory, that he
possesses the sense of direction, that he understands a few signs
and even a few words and that he obeys them. It is equally
undeniable that the anthropoid apes are capable of imitating a
great number of our actions and of our attitudes: but it is also
manifest that their bewildered and feverish imagination perceives
neither their object nor their scope. As for the dog, the one of
all these privileged animals who lives closest to us, who for
thousands and thousands of years has eaten at our table and
worked with us and been our friend, it is manifest that, now and
then, we catch a rather uncanny gleam in his deep, watchful eyes.
It is certain that he sometimes wanders in a curious fashion
along the mysterious border that separates our own intelligence
from that which we grant to the other creatures inhabiting this
earth with us. But it is no less certain that he has never
definitely passed it. We know exactly how far he can go; and we
have invariably found that our efforts, our patience, our
encouragement, our passionate appeals, have hitherto failed to
draw him out of the somewhat narrow, darkly enchanted circle
wherein nature seems to have imprisoned him once and for all.


There remains, it is true, the insect-world, in which marvellous
things happen. It includes architects, geometricians,
mechanicians, engineers, weavers, physicists, chemists and
surgeons who have forestalled most of our human inventions. I
need not here remind the reader of the wasps' and bees' genius
for building, the social and economic organization of the hive
and the ant-hill, the spider's snares, the eumenes' nest and
hanging egg, the odynerus' cell with its neat stacks of game, the
sacred beetle's filthy but ingenius ball, the leafcutter's
faultless disks, the brick-laying of the mason-bee, the three
dagger-thrusts which the aphex administers to the three
nerve-centres of the cricket, the lancet of the cerceris, who
paralyses her victims without killing them and preserves them for
an indefinite period as fresh meat, nor a thousand other features
which it would be impossible to enumerate without recapitulating
the whole of Henri Fabre's work and completely altering the
proportions of the present essay. But here such silence and such
darkness reign that we have nothing to hope for. There exists, so
to speak, no bench-mark, no means of communication between the
world of insects and our own; and we are perhaps less far from
grasping and fathoming what takes place in Saturn or Jupiter than
what is enacted in the ant-hill or the hive. We know absolutely
nothing of the quality, the number, the extent or even the nature
of their senses. Many of the great laws on which our life is
based do not exist for them: those, for instance, which govern
fluids are completely reversed. They seem to inhabit our planet,
but in reality move in an entirely different world. Understanding
nothing of their intelligence pierced with disconcerting gaps, in
which the blindest stupidity suddenly comes and destroys the
ablest and most inspired schemes, we have given the name of
instinct to that which we could not apprehend, postponing our
interpretation of a word that touches upon life's most insoluble
riddles. There is, therefore, from the point of view of the
intellectual faculties, nothing to be gathered from those
extraordinary creatures who are not, like the other animals, our
"lesser brothers," but strangers, aliens from we know not where,
survivors or percursors of another world.


We were at this stage, slumbering peacefully in our
long-established convictions, when a man entered upon the scene
and suddenly showed us that we were wrong and that, for long
centuries, we had over looked a truth which was scarcely even
covered with a very thin veil. And the strangest thing is that
this astonishing discovery, is in no wise the natural consequence
of a new invention, of processes or methods hitherto unknown. It
owes nothing to the latest acquirements of our knowledge. It
springs from the humblest idea which the most primitive man might
have conceived in the first days of the earth's existence. It is
simply a matter of having a little more patience, confidence and
respect for all that which shares our lot in a world whereof we
know none of the purposes. It is simply a matter of having a
little less pride and of looking a little more fraternally upon
existences that are much more fraternal than we believed. There
is no secret about the almost puerile ingenuousness of Von
Osten's methods and Krall's. They start with the principle that
the horse is an ignorant but intelligent child; and they treat
him as such. They speak, explain, demonstrate, argue and mete out
rewards or punishments like a schoolmaster addressing little boys
of five or six. They begin by placing a few skittle-pins in front
of their strange pupil. They count them and make him count them
by alternately lifting and lowering the horse's hoof. He thus
obtains his first notion of numbers. They next add one or two
more skittles and say, for instance:

"Three skittles and two skittles are five skittles."

In this way, they explain and teach addition; next, by the
reverse process, subtraction, which is followed by
multiplication, division and all the rest.

At the beginning, the lessons are extremely laborious and demand
an untiring and loving patience, which is the whole secret of the
miracle. But; as soon as the first barrier of darkness is passed,
the progress becomes bewilderingly rapid.

All this is incontestable; and the facts are there, before which
we must need bow. But what upsets all our convictions or, more
correctly, all the prejudices which thousands of years have made
as invincible as axioms, what we do not succeed in understanding
is that the horse at once understands what we want of him; it is
that first step, the first tremor of an unexpected intelligence,
which suddenly reveals itself as human. At what precise second
did the light appear and was the veil rent under? It is
impossible to say; but it is certain that, at a given moment,
without any visible sign to reveal the prodigious inner
transformation, the horse acts and replies as though he suddenly
understood the speech of man. What is it that sets the miracle
working? We know that, after a time, the horse associates certain
words with certain objects that interest him or with three or
four events whose infinite repetition forms the humble tissue of
his daily life. This is only a sort of mechanical memory which
has nothing in common with the most elementary intelligence. But
behold, one fine day, without any perceptible transition, he
seems to know the meaning of a host of words which possess no
interest for him; which represent to him no picture, no memory;
which he has never had occasion to connect with any sensation,
agreeable or disagreeable. He handles figures, which even to man
are nothing but obscure and abstract ideas. He solves problems
that cannot possibly be made objective or concrete. He reproduces
letters which, from his point of view, correspond with nothing
actual. He fixes his attention and makes observations on things
or circumstances which in no way affect him, which remain and
always will remain alien and indifferent to him. In a word, he
steps out of the narrow ring in which he was made to turn by
hunger and fear--which have been described as the two great
moving powers of all that is not human--to enter the immense
circle in which sensations go on being shed till ideas come into


Is it possible to believe that the horses really do what they
appear to do? Is there no precedent for the marvel? Is there no
transition between the Elberfeld stallions and the horses which
we have known until this day? It is not easy to answer these
questions, for it is only since yesterday that the intellectual
powers of our defenseless brothers have been subjected to
strictly scientific experiments. We have, it is true more than
one collection of anecdotes in which the intelligence of animals
is lauded to the skies; but we cannot rely upon these
ill-authenticated stories. To find genuine and incontestable
instances we must have recourse to the works, rare as yet, of
scientific men who have made a special study of the subject. M.
Hachet-Souplet, for example, the director of the Institut de
Psychologie Zoologique, mentions the case of a dog who learnt to
acquire an abstract idea of weight. You put in front of him eight
rounded and polished stones, all of exactly the same size and
shape, but of different weights. You tell him to fetch the
heaviest or the lightest; he judges their weight by lifting them
and, without mistake, picks out the one required.

The same writer also tells the story of a parrot to whom he had
taught the word "cupboard" by showing him a little box that could
be hung up on the wall at different heights and in which his
daily allowance of food was always ostentatiously put away;

"I next taught him the names of a number of objects," says M.
Hachet-Souplet, "by holding them out to him. Among them was a
ladder; and I prevailed upon the bird to say, 'Climb,' each time
that he saw me mount the steps. One morning, when the parrot's
cage was brought into the laboratory, the cupboard was hanging
near the ceiling, while the little ladder was stowed away in a
corner among other objects familiar to the bird. Now the parrot,
every day, when I opened the cupboard, used to scream, 'Cupboard!
Cupboard! Cupboard!' with all his might. My problem was,
therefore, this: seeing that the cupboard was out of my reach and
that, therefore, I could not take his food out of it; knowing, on
the other hand, that I was able to raise myself above the level
of the floor by climbing the ladder; and having the words 'climb'
and 'ladder' at his disposal: would he employ them to suggest to
me the idea of using them in order to reach the cupboard? Greatly
excited, the parrot flapped his wings, bit the bars of his cage,
and screamed:

"'Cupboard! Cupboard! Cupboard!'"

"And I got no more out of him that day. The next day, the bird,
having received nothing but millet, for which he did not much
care, instead of the hemp-seed contained in the cupboard, was in
paroxysms of anger; and, after he had made numberless attempts to
force open his bars, his attention was at last caught by the
ladder and he said:

"'Ladder, climb, cupboard!'"

We have here, as the author remarks, a marvellous intellectual
effort. There is an evident association of ideas; cause is linked
with effect; and examples such as this lesson appreciably the
distance separating our learned horses from their less celebrated
brethren. We must admit, however, that this intellectual effort,
if we observe, animals a little carefully, is much less uncommon
than we think. It surprises us in this case because a special
and, when all is said, purely mechanical arrangement of the
parrot's organ gives him a human voice. At every moment, I find
in my own dog associations of ideas no less evident and often
more complex. For instance, if he is thirsty, he seeks my eyes
and next looks at the tap in the dressing-room, thus showing that
he very plainly connects the notions of thirst, running water and
human intervention. When I dress to go out, he evidently watches
all my movements. While I am lacing my boots, he conscientiously
licks my hands, in order that my divinity may be good to him and
especially to congratulate me on my capital idea of going out for
a constitutional. It is a sort of general and as yet vague
approval. Boots promise an excursion out of doors, that is to
say, space, fragrant roads, long grass full of surprises, corners
scented with offal, friendly or tragic encounters and the pursuit
of wholly illusory, game. But the fair vision is still in anxious
suspense. He does not yet know if he is going with me. His fate
is now being decided; and his eyes, melting with anguish, devour
my mind. If I buckle on my leather gaiters, it means the sudden
and utter extinction, of all that constitutes the joy of life.
They leave not a ray of hope. They herald the hateful, lonely
motorcycle, which he cannot keep up with; and he stretches
himself sadly in a dark corner, where he goes back to the gloomy
dreams of an unoccupied, forsaken dog. But, when I slip my arms
into the sleeves of my heavy great-coat, one would think that
they were opening the gates of the most dazzling paradise. For
this implies the car, the obvious, indubitable motor-car, in
other words, the radiant summit of the most superlative delight.
And delirious barks, inordinate bounds, riotous, embarrassing
demonstrations of affection greet a happiness which, for all
that, is but an immaterial idea, built up of artless memories and
ingenuous hopes.


I mention these matters only because they are quite ordinary and
because there is nobody who has not made a thousand similar
observations. As a rule, we do not notice that these humble
manifestations represent sentiments, associations of ideas,
inferences, deductions, an absolute and altogether human mental
effort. They lack only speech; but speech is merely a mechanical
accident which reveals the operations of thought more clearly to
us. We are amazed that Mohammed or Zarif should recognize the
picture of a horse, a donkey, a hat, or a man on horseback, or
that they should spontaneously report to their master the little
events that happen in the stable; but it is certain that our own
dog is incessantly performing a similar work and that his eyes,
if we could read them, would tell us a great deal more. The
primary miracle of Elberfeld is that the stallions should have
been given the means of expressing what they think and feel. It
is momentous; but, when closely looked into, it is not
incomprehensible. Between the talking horses and my silent dog
there is an enormous distance, but not an abyss. I am saying this
not to detract from the nature or extent of the prodigy, but to
call attention to the fact that the theory of animal intelligence
is more justifiable and less fanciful than one is at first
inclined to think.


But the second and greater miracle is that man should have been
able to rouse the horse from his immemorial sleep, to fix and
direct his attention and to interest him in matters that are more
foreign and indifferent to him than the variations of temperature
in Sirius or Aldebaran are to us. It really seems, when we
consider our preconceived ideas, that there is not in the animal
an organic and insurmountable inability to do what man's brain
does, a total and irremediable absence of intellectual faculties,
but rather a profound lethargy and torpor of those faculties. It
lives in a sort of undisturbed stolidity, of nebulous slumber. As
Dr. Ochorowicz very justly remarks, "its waking state is very
near akin to the state of a man walking in his sleep." Having no
notion of space or time, it spends its life, one may say, in a
perpetual dream. It does what is strictly necessary to keep
itself alive; and all the rest passes over it and does not
penetrate at all into its hermetically closed imaginings.
Exceptional circumstances--some extraordinary need, wish, passion
or shock--are required to produce what M. Hachet-Souplet calls
"the psychic flash" which suddenly thaws and galvanizes its
brain, placing it for a minute in the waking state in which the
human brain works normally. Nor is this surprising. It does not
need that awakening in order to exist; and we know that nature
never makes great superfluous efforts.. "The intellect," as
Professor Clarapede well says, "appears only as a makeshift, an
instrument which betrays that the organism is not adapted to its
environment, a mode of expression which reveals a state of

It is probable that our brain at first suffered from the same
lethargy, a condition, for that matter, from which many men have
not yet emerged; and it is even more probable that, compared with
other modes of existence, with other psychic phenomena, on
another plane and in another sphere, the dense sleep in which we
move is similar to that in which the lower animals have their
being. It also is traversed, with increasing frequency, by
psychic flashes of a different order and a different scope.
Seeing, on the one side, the intellectual movement that seems to
be spreading among our lesser brothers and, on the other, the
ever more constantly repeated manifestations of our
subconsciousness, we might even ask ourselves if we have not
here, on two different planes, a tension, a parallel pressure, a
new desire, a new attempt of the mysterious spiritual force which
animates the universe and which seems to be incessantly seeking
fresh outlets and fresh conducting rods. Be this as it may, when
the flash has passed, we behave very much as the animals do: we
promptly lapse into the indifferent sleep which suffices also for
our miserable ways. We ask no more of it, we do not follow the
luminous trail that summons us to an unknown world, we go on
turning in our dismal circle, like contented sleep-walkers, while
Isis' sistrum rattles without respite to rouse the faithful.


I repeat, the great miracle of Elberfeld is that of having been
able to prolong and reproduce at will those isolated "psychic
flashes." The horses, in comparison with the other animals, are
here in the state of a man whose subliminal consciousness had
gained the upper hand. That man would lead a higher existence, in
an almost immaterial atmosphere, of which the phenomena of
metaphysics, sparks falling from a region which we shall perhaps
one day reach, sometimes give us an uncertain and fleeting
glimpse. Our intelligence, which is really lethargy and which
keeps us imprisoned in a little hollow of space and time, would
there be replaced by intuition, or rather by a sort of imminent
knowledge which would forthwith make us sharers in all that is
known to a universe which perhaps knows all things.
Unfortunately, we have not, or at least, unlike the horses, we
are not acquainted with a superior being who interests himself in
us and helps us to throw off our torpor. We have to become our
own god, to rise above ourselves and to keep ourselves raised by
our unaided strength. It is almost certain that the horse would
never have come out of his nebulous sphere without man's
assistance; but it is not forbidden to hope that man, with no
other help than his own courage and high purpose, may yet succeed
in breaking through the sleep that cramps him and blinds him.


To come back then to our horses and to the main point, which is
the isolated "psychic flash," it is admitted that they know the
values of figures, that they can distinguish and identify smells,
colours, forms, objects and even graphic reproductions of those
objects. They also understand a large number of words, including
some of which they were, never taught the meaning, but which they
picked up as they went along by hearing them spoken around them.
They have learnt, with the assistance of an exceedingly
complicated alphabet, to reproduce the words, thanks to which
they manage to convey impressions, sensations, wishes,
associations of ideas, observations and even spontaneous
reflections. It has been held that all this implies real acts of
intelligence. It is, in fact, often very difficult to decide
exactly how far it is intelligence and how far memory, instinct,
imitative genius, obedience or mechanical impulse, the effects of
training, or happy coincidences.

There are cases, however, which admit of little or no hesitation.
I give a few.

One day Krall and his collaborator, Dr. Scholler, thought that
they would try and teach Mohammed to express himself in speech.
The horse, a docile and eager pupil, made touching and fruitless
efforts to reproduce human sounds. Suddenly, he stopped and, in
his strange phonetic spelling, declared, by striking his foot on
the spring-board:

"Ig hb kein gud Sdim. I have not a good voice."

Observing that he did not open his mouth, they strove to make him
understand, by the example of a dog, with pictures, and so on,
that, in order to speak, it is necessary to separate the jaws.
They next asked him:

"What must you do to speak?"

He replied, by striking with his foot:

"Open mouth."

"Why don't you open yours?"

"Weil kan nigd: because I can't."

A few days after, Zarif was asked how he talks to Mohammed.

"Mit Munt: with mouth."

"Why don't you tell me that with your mouth?"

"Weil ig kein Stim hbe: because I have no voice." Does not this
answer, as Krall remarks, allow us to suppose that he has other
means than speech of conversing with his stable-companion?

In the course of another lesson, Mohammed was shown the portrait
of a young girl whom he did not know.

"What's that?" asked his master.

"Metgen: a girl?"

On the black-board:

"Why is it a girl?"

"Weil lang Hr hd: because she has long hair."

"And what has she not?"


They next produced the likeness of man with no moustache.

"What's this?"

"Why is it a man?"

"Weil kurz Hr hd: because he has short hair."

I could multiply these examples indefinitely by drawing on the
voluminous Elberfeld minutes, which, I may say in passing, have
the convincing force of photographic records. All this, it must
be agreed, is unexpected and disconcerting, had never been
foreseen or suspected and may be regarded as one of the strangest
prodigies, one of the most stupefying revelations that have taken
place since man has dwelt in this world of riddles, Nevertheless,
by reflecting, by comparing, by investigating, by regarding
certain forgotten or neglected landmarks and starting-points, by
taking into consideration the thousand imperceptible gradations
between the greatest and the least, the highest and the lowest,
it is still possible to explain, admit and understand. We can, if
it comes to that, imagine that, in his secret self, in his tragic
silence, our dog also makes similar remarks and reflections. Once
again, the miraculous bridge which, in this instance, spans the
gulf between the animal and man is much more the expression of
thought than thought itself. We may go further and grant that
certain elementary calculations, such as little additions, little
subtractions of one or two figures, are, after all, conceivable;
and I, for my part, am inclined to believe that the horse really
executes them. But where we get out of our depth, where we enter
into the realm of pure enchantment is when it becomes a matter of
mathematical operations on a large scale, notably of the finding
of roots. We know, for instance, that the extraction of the
fourth root of a number of six figures calls for eighteen
multiplications, ten subtractions and three divisions and that
the horse does thirty-one sums in five or six seconds, that is to
say, during the brief, careless glance which he gives at the
black-board on which the problem is inscribed, as though the
answer came to him intuitively and instantaneously.

Still, if we admit the theory of intelligence, we must also admit
that the horse knows what he is doing, since it is not until
after learning what a squared number or a square root means that
he appears to understand or that, at any rate, he gradually works
out correctly the ever more complicated calculations required of
him. It is not possible to give here the details of this
instruction, which was astonishingly rapid. The reader will find
them on pages 117 et seq. of Krall's book, Denkende Tiere. Krall
begins by explaining to Mohammed that 2 squared is equal to 2 X 2
= 4; that 2 cubed is equal to 2 X 2 X 2 = 6; that 2 is the square
root of 4; and so on. In short, the explanations and
demonstrations are absolutely similar to those which one would
give to an extremely intelligent child, with this difference,
that the horse is much more attentive than the child and that,
thanks to his extraordinary memory, he never forgets what he
appears to have understood. Let us add, to complete the magical
and incredible character of the phenomenon that, according to
Krall's own statement, the horse was not taught beyond the point
of extracting the square root of the number 144 and that he
spontaneously invented the manner of extracting all the others.


Must we once more repeat, in connection with these startling
performances, that those who speak of audible or visible signals,
of telegraphy and wireless telegraphy, of expedients, trickery or
deceit, are speaking of what they do not know and of what they
have not seen? There is but one reply to be made to any one who
honestly refuses to believe:

"Go to Elberfeld---the problem is sufficiently important,
sufficiently big with consequences to make the journey worth
while--and, behind closed doors, alone with the horse, in the
absolute solitude and silence of the stable, set Mohammed to
extract half-a dozen roots which, like that which I have
mentioned, require thirty-one operations. You must yourself be
ignorant of the solutions, so as to do away with any transmission
of unconscious thought. If he then gives you, one after the
other, five or six correct solutions, as he did to me and many
others, you will not go away with the conviction that the animal
is able by its intelligence to extract those roots, because that
conviction would upset too thoroughly the greater part of the
certainties on which your life is based; but you will, at any
rate, be persuaded that you have been for a few minutes in the
presence of one of the greatest and strangest riddles that can
disturb the mind of man; and it is always a good and salutary
thing to come into contact with emotions of this order."


Truth to say, the theory of intelligence in the animal would be
so extraordinary as to be almost untenable. If we are determined,
at whatever cost, to pin our faith to it, we are bound to call in
the aid of other ideas, to appeal, for instance, to the extremely
mysterious and essentially uncomprehended and incomprehensible
nature of numbers. It is almost certain that the science of
mathematics lies outside the intelligence. It forms a mechanical
and abstract whole, more spiritual than material and more
material than spiritual, visible only through its shadow and yet
constituting the most immovable of the realities that govern the
universe. From first to last it declares itself a very strange
force and, as it were, the sovereign of another element than that
which nourishes our brain. Secret, indifferent, imperious and
implacable, it subjugates and oppresses us from a great height or
a great depth, in any case, from very far, without telling us
why. One might say that figures place those who handle them in a
special condition. They draw the cabalistic circle around their
victim. Henceforth, he is no longer his own master, he renounces
his liberty, he is literally "possessed" by the powers which he
invokes. He is dragged he knows not whither, into a formless,
boundless immensity, subject to laws that have nothing human
about them, in which each of those lively and tyrannical little
signs which move and dance in their thousands under the pen
represents nameless, but eternal, invincible and inevitable
verities. We think that we are directing them and they enslave
us. We become weary and breathless following them into their
uninhabitable spaces. When we touch them, we let loose a force
which we are no longer able to control. They do with us what they
will and always end by hurling us, blinded and benumbed, into
blank infinity or upon a wall of ice against which every effort
of our mind and will is shattered.

It is possible, therefore, in the last resort, to explain the
Elberfeld mystery by the no less obscure mystery that surrounds
numbers. This really only means moving to another spot in the
gloom; but it is often just by that moving to another spot that
we end by discovering the little gleam of light which shows us a
thoroughfare. In any case, and to return to more precise ideas,
more than one instance has been cited to prove that the gift of
handling great groups of figures is almost independent of the
intelligence proper. One of the most curious is that of an
Italian shepherd boy, Vito Mangiamele, who was brought before the
Paris Academy of Science in 1837 and who, at the age of ten,
though devoid of the most rudimentary education, was able in half
a minute to extract the cubic root of a number of seven figures.
Another, more striking still, also mentioned by Dr. Clarapede in
his paper on the learned horses, is that of a man blind from
birth, an inmate of the lunatic-asylum, at Armentieres. This
blind man, whose name is Fleury, a degenerate and nearly an
idiot, can calculate in one minute and fifteen seconds the number
of seconds in thirty-nine years, three months and twelve days,
not forgetting the leap-years. They explain to him what a square
root is, without telling him the conventional method of finding
it; and soon he extracts almost as rapidly as Inaudi himself,
without a blunder, the square roots of numbers of four figures,
giving the remainder. On the other hand, we know that a
mathematical genius like Henri Pomcare confessed himself
incapable of adding up a column of figures without a mistake.


>From the maybe enchanted atmosphere that surrounds numbers we
shall pass more easily to the even more magic mists of the final
theory, the only one remaining to us for the moment: the
mediumistic or subliminal theory. This, we must remember, is not
the telepathic theory proper which decisive experiments have made
us reject. Let us have the courage to venture upon it. When one
can no longer interpret a phenomenon by the known, we must needs
try to do so by the unknown. We, therefore, now enter a new
province of a great unexplored kingdom, in which we shall find
ourselves without a guide.

Mediumistic phenomena, manifestations of the secondary or the
subliminal consciousness, between man and man, are, as we have
more than once had occasion to assure ourselves, capricious,
undisciplined, evasive and uncertain, but more frequent than one
thought and, to one who examines, them seriously and honestly,
often undeniable. Have similar manifestations been discovered
between man and the animals? The study of these manifestations,
which is very difficult even in the case of man, becomes still
more so when we question witnesses doomed to silence. There are,
however, some animals which are looked upon as "psychic," which,
in other words, seem indisputably to be sensitive to certain
subliminal influences. One usually classes the cat, the dog and
the horse in this somewhat ill-defined category. To these
superstitious animals one might perhaps add certain birds, more
or less birds of omen, and even a few insects, notably the bees.
Other animals, such as, for instance, the elephant and the
monkey, appear to be proof against mystery. Be this as it may, M.
Ernest Bozzano, in an excellent article on Les Perceptions
psychiques des animaux,[1] collected in 1905 sixty-nine cases of
telepathy, presentiments and hallucinations of sight or hearing
in which the principal actors are cats, dogs and horses. There
are, even among them, ghosts or phantoms of dogs which, after
their death, return to haunt the homes in which they were happy.
Most of these cases are taken from the Proceedings of the S. P.
R., that is to say, they have nearly all been very strictly
investigated. It is impossible, short of filling these pages with
often striking and touching but rather cumbersome anecdotes, to
enumerate them here, however briefly. It will be sufficient to
note that sometimes the dog begins to howl at the exact moment
when his master loses his life, for instance, on a battlefield,
hundreds of miles from the place where the dog is. More commonly,
the cat, the dog and the horse plainly manifest that they
perceive, often before men do, telepathic apparitions, phantasms
of the living or the dead. Horses in particular seem very
sensitive to places that pass as haunted or uncanny. On the
whole, the result of these observations is that we can hardly
dispute that these animals communicate as much as we do and
perhaps in the same fashion with the mystery that lies around us.
There are moments at which, like man, they see the invisible and
perceive events, influences and emotions that are beyond the
range of their normal senses. It is, therefore, permissible to
believe that their nervous system or some remote or secret part
of their being contains the same psychic elements connecting them
with an unknown that inspires them with as much terror as it does
ourselves. And, let us say in passing, this terror is rather
strange; for, after all, what have they to fear from a phantom or
an apparition, they who, we are convinced have no after-life and
who ought, therefore, to remain perfectly indifferent to the
manifestations, of a world in which they will never set foot?

[1] Annales des sciences psychiques, August, 1905, pp 422-469.

I shall perhaps be told that it is not certain that these
apparitions are objective, that they correspond with an external
reality, but that it is exceedingly possible that they spring
solely from the man's or the animal's brain. This is not the
moment to discuss this very obscure point, which raises the whole
question of the supernatural and all the problems of the
hereafter. The only important thing to observe is that at one
time it is man who transmits his terror, his perception or his
idea of the invisible to the animal and at another the animal
which transmits its sensations to man. We have here, therefore,
intercommunications which spring from a deeper common source than
any that we know and which, to issue from it or go back to it,
pass through other channels than those of our customary senses.
Now all this belongs to that unexplained sensibility, to that
secret treasure, to that as yet undetermined psychic power which,
for lack of a better term, we call subconsciousness or subliminal
consciousness. Moreover, it is not surprising that in the
animals, these subliminal faculties not only exist, but are
perhaps keener and more active than in ourselves, because it is
our conscious and abnormally individualized life that atrophies
them by relegating them to a state of idleness wherein they have
fewer and fewer opportunities of being exercised, whereas in our
brothers who are less detached from the universe,
consciousness--if we can give that name to a very uncertain and
confused notion of the ego--is reduced to a few elementary
actions. They are much less separated than ourselves from the
whole of the circumambient life and they still possess a number
of those more general and indeterminate senses whereof we have
been deprived by the gradual encroachment of a narrow and
intolerant special faculty, our intelligence. Among these senses
which up to the present we have described as instincts, for
want--and it is becoming a pressing want--of a more suitable and
definite word, need I mention the sense of direction, migration,
foreknowledge of the weather, of earthquakes and avalanches and
many others which we doubtless do not even suspect? Does all this
not belong to a subconsciousness which differs from ours only in
being so much richer?


I am fully aware that this explanation by means of the subliminal
consciousness will not explain very much and will at most invoke
the aid of the unknown to illuminate the incomprehensible. But to
explain a phenomenon, a Dr. J. de Modzelwski very truly says, "is
to put forward a theory which is more familiar and more easily
comprehensible to us than the phenomenon at issue." This is
really what we are constantly and almost exclusively doing in
physics, chemistry, biology and in every branch of science
without exception. To explain a phenomenon is not necessarily to
make it as clear and lucid as that two and two are four; and,
even so, the fact that two and two are four is not, when we go to
the bottom of things, as clear and lucid as it seems. What in
this case, as in most others, we wrongfully call explaining is
simply confronting the unexpected mystery which these horses
offer us with a few phenomena which are themselves unknown, but
which have been perceived longer and more frequently. And this
same mystery, thus explained, will serve one day to explain
others. It is in this way that science goes to work. We must not
blame it: it does what it can; and it does not appear that there
are other ways.


If we assent to this explanation by means of the subliminal
consciousness, which is a sort of mysterious participation in all
that happens in this world and the others, many obstacles
disappear and we enter into a new region in which we draw
strangely nearer to the animals and really become their brothers
by closer links, perhaps the only essential links in life. They
take part from that moment in the great human problems, in the
extraordinary actions of our unknown guest; and, if, since we
have been observing the indwelling force more attentively,
nothing any longer surprises us of that which it realizes in us,
no more should anything surprise us of that which it realizes in
them. We are on the same plane with them, in some as yet
undetermined element, when it is no longer the intelligence that
reigns alone, but another spiritual power, which pays no heed to
the brain, which passes by other roads and which might rather be
the psychic substance of the universe itself, no longer set in
grooves, isolated and specialized by man, but diffused, multiform
and perhaps, if we could trace it, equal in everything that

There is, henceforth, no reason why the horses should not
participate in most of the mediumistic, phenomena which we find
existing between man and man; and their mystery ceases to be
distinct from those of human metaphysics. If their subliminal is
akin to ours, we can begin by extending to its utmost limits the
telepathic theory, which has, so to speak, no limits, for, in the
matter of telepathy, as Myers has said, all that we are permitted
to declare is that "life has the power of manifesting itself to
life." We may ask ourselves, therefore, if the problem which I
set to the horse, without knowing the terms of it, is not
communicated to my subliminal, which is ignorant of it, by that
of the horse, who has read it. It is practically certain that
this is possible between human subliminals. Is it I who see the
solution and transmit it to the horse, who only repeats it to me?
But, suppose that it is a problem which I myself am incapable of
solving? Whence does the solution come, then? I do not know if
the experiment has been attempted, under the same conditions,
with a human medium. For that matter, if it succeeded, it would
be very much the same as the no less subliminal phenomenon of the
arithmetical prodigies, or lightning calculators, with which, in
this rather superhuman atmosphere, we are almost forced to
compare the riddle of the mathematical horses. Of all the
interpretations, it is the one which, for the moment, appears to
me the least eccentric and the most natural.

We have seen that the gift of handling colossal figures is almost
foreign to the intelligence proper; one can, even declare that,
in certain cases, it is evidently and completely independent of
such intelligence. In these cases, the gift is manifested prior
to any education and from the earliest years of childhood. If we
refer to the list of arithmetical prodigies given by Dr.
Scripure,[1] we see that the faculty made its appearance in
Ampere at the age of three, in Colburn at six, in Gauss at three,
in Mangiamele at ten, in Safford at six, in Whateley at three,
and so on. Generally, it lasts for only a few years, becoming
rapidly enfeebled with age and usually vanishing suddenly at the
moment when its possessor begins to go to school.

[1] American Journal of Psychology, 1 April 1891.

When you ask those children and even most of the lightning
calculators who have come to man's estate how they go to work to
solve the huge and complicated problems set them, they reply that
they know nothing about it. Bidder, for instance, declares that
it is impossible for him to say how he can instinctively tell the
logarithm of a number consisting of seven or eight figures. It is
the same with Safford, who, at the age of ten, used to do in his
head, without ever making a mistake, multiplication-sums the
result of which ran into thirty-six figures. The solution
presents itself authoritatively and spontaneously; it is a
vision, an impression, an inspiration, an intuition coming one
knows not whence, suddenly and indubitably. As a role, they do
not even try to calculate. Contrary to the general belief, they
have no peculiar methods; or, if method there be, it is more a
practical way of subdividing the intuition. One would think that
the solution springs suddenly from the very enunciation of the
problem, in the same way as a veridical hallucination. It appears
to rise, infallible and ready-done, from a sort of eternal and
cosmic reservoir wherein the answers to every question lie
dormant. It must, therefore, be admitted that we have here a
phenomenon that occurs above or below the brain, by the side of
the consciousness and the mind, outside all the intellectual
methods and habits; and it is precisely for phenomena of this
kind that Myers invented the word "subliminal."[1]

[1] I have no need to recall the derivation of the term
subliminal: beneath (sub) the threshold (limen) of consciousness.
Let us add, as M. de Vesme very rightly remarks, that the
subliminal is not exactly what classical psychology calls the
subconsciousness, which latter records only notions that are
normally perceived and possesses only normal faculties, that is
to say, faculties recognized to-day by orthodox science.


Does not all this bring us a little nearer to our calculating
horses? From the moment that it is demonstrated that the solution
of a mathematical problem no longer depends exclusively on the
brain, but on another faculty, another spiritual power whose
presence under various forms has been ascertained beyond a doubt
in certain animals, it ceases to be wholly rash or extravagant to
suggest that perhaps, in the horse, the same phenomenon is
reproduced and developed in the same unknown, wherein moreover
the mysteries of numbers and those of subconsciousness mingle in
a like darkness. I am well aware that an explanation laden to
such an extent with mysteries explains but very little more than
silence does; nevertheless, it is at least a silence traversed by
restless murmurs, and sedulous whispers that are better than the
gloomy and hopeless ignorance to which we would have perforce to
resign ourselves if we did not, in spite of all, to perform the
great duty of man, which is to discover a spark in the darkness.

It goes without saying that objections are raised from every
side. Among men, arithmetical prodigies are looked upon as
monsters, as a sort of extremely rare teratological phenomenon.
We can count, at most, half-a-dozen in a century, whereas, among
horses, the faculty would appear to be almost general, or at
least quite common. In fact, out of six or seven stallions whom
Krall tried to initiate into the secrets of mathematics, he found
only two that appeared to him too poorly gifted for him to waste
time on their education. These were, I believe, two thoroughbreds
that were presented to him by the Grand-duke of Mecklenburg and
sent back by Krall to their sumptuous stables. In the four or
five others, taken at random as circumstances supplied them, he
met with aptitudes unequal, it is true, but easily developed and
giving the impression that they exist normally, latent and
inactive, at the bottom of every equine soul. From the
mathematical point of view, is the horse's subliminal
consciousness then superior to man's? Why not? His whole
subliminal being is probably superior to one, of greater range,
younger, fresher, more alive and less heavy, since it is not
incessantly attacked, coerced and humiliated by the intelligence
which gnaws at it, stifles it, cloaks it and relegates it to a
dark corner which neither light nor air can penetrate. His
subliminal consciousness is always present, always alert; ours is
never there, is asleep at the bottom of a deserted well and needs
exceptional operations, results and events before it can be drawn
from its slumber and its unremembered deeps. All this seems very
extraordinary; but, in any case, we are here in the midst of the
extraordinary; and this outlet is perhaps the least hazardous. It
is not a question, we must remember, of a cerebral operation, an
intellectual performance, but of a gift of divination closely
allied to other gifts of the same nature and the same origin
which are not the peculiar attribute of man. No observation, no
experiment enables us, up to the present, to establish a
difference between the subliminal of human beings and that of
animals. On the contrary, the as yet restricted number of actual
cases reveals constant and striking analogies between the two. In
most of those arithmetical operations, be it noted, the
subliminal of the horse behaves exactly like that of the medium
in a rate of trance. The horse readily reverses the figures of
the solution; he replies, "37," for instance, instead of "73,"
which is a mediumistic phenomenon so well-known and so frequent
that it has been styled "mirror-writing." He makes mistakes
fairly often in the most elementary additions, and subtractions
and much less frequently in the extraction of the most
complicated roots, which again, in similar cases, such as
"xenoglossy" and psychometry, is one of the eccentricities of
human mediumism and is explained by the same cause, namely, the
inopportune intervention of the ever fallible intelligence,
which, by meddling in the matter, alters the certainties of a
subliminal which, when left to itself, never makes a mistake. It
is, in fact, quite probable that the horse, being really able to
do the small sums, no longer relies solely on his intuition and,
from that moment, gropes and flounders about. The solution hovers
between the intelligence and the subliminal and, passing from the
one, which is not quite sure of it, to the other, which is not
urgently appealed to, comes out of the conflict as best it may.
The case is the same with the psychometric or spiritualistic
medium who seeks to profit by what he knows in the ordinary way,
so as to complete the visions or revelations of his subconscious
sensibility. He, too, in this instance, is nearly always guilty
of flagrant and inexplicable blunders.

Many other similarities will be found to exist, notably the way
in which the lessons vary. Nothing is more uncertain and
capricious than manifestations of human mediumism. Whether it be
a question of automatic writing, psychometry, materializations or
anything else, we meet with series of sittings that yield none
but absurd results. Then, suddenly, for reasons as yet
obscure--the state of the weather, the presence of this or that
witness, or I know not what--the most undeniable
and bewildering manifestations occur one after the other. The
case is precisely the same with the horses: their queer fancies,
their unaccountable and disconcerting freaks drive poor Krall to
despair. He never opens the door of that uncertain stable, on
important days, without a sinking at the heart. Let the beard or
the frown of some learned professor fail to please the horses:
they will, forthwith, take an unholy delight in giving the most
irrelevant answer to the most elementary question, for hours and
even days on end.

Other common features are the strongly-marked personality of the
mediumistic "raps" and the communications known as "deferred
telepathic communications," that is to say, those in which the
answer is obtained at the end of a sitting to a question put at
the beginning and forgotten by all those present. What at first
sight seems one of the strongest objections urged against the
mediumism of the horse even tends to confirm it. If the reply
comes from the horse's subconsciousness, it has been asked, how
is it that it should be necessary first to teach him the elements
of language, mathematics and so forth, and that Berto, for
instance, is incapable of solving the same problems as Mohammed?
This objection has been very ably refuted by M. de Vesme, who

"To produce automatic writing, a medium must have learnt to
write; before Victorien Sardou or Mlle Helene Schmidt could
produce their mediumistic drawings and paintings, they had to
possess an elementary knowledge of drawing and painting; Tartini
would never have composed The Devil's Sonata in a dream, if he
had not known music; and so forth. Unconscious cerebration,
however wonderful, can only take effect upon elements already
acquired in some way or another. The subconscious cerebration of
a man blind from birth will not make him see colours."

Here, then, in this comparison which might easily be extended,
are several fairly well- defined features of resemblance. We
receive a vivid impression of the same habits, the same
contradictions, and the same eccentricities; and we once more
recognize the strange and majestic shadow of our unknown guest.


One great objection remains, based upon the very nature of the
phenomenon, upon the really inseparable distance that separates
the whole life of the horse from the abstract and impenetrable
life of numbers. How can his subliminal consciousness interest
itself for a moment in signs that represent nothing to him, have
no relation to his organism and will never touch his existence?
But in the first place, it is just the same with the child or the
illiterate calculator. He is not interested either in the figures
which he lets loose. He is completely ignorant of the
consequences of the problems which he solves. He juggles with
digits which have hardly any more meaning to him than to the
horse. He is incapable of accounting for what he does; and his
subconsciousness also  acts in a sort of indifferent and remote
dream. It is true that, in his case, we can appeal to heredity
and to memory; but is this difference enough to settle the
difficulty and definitely to separate the two phenomena? To
appeal to heredity is still to appeal to the subliminal; and it
is not at all certain that the latter is limited by the interest
of the organism sheltering it. It appears, on the contrary, in
many circumstances, to spread and extend far beyond that organism
in which it is domiciled, one would say, accidentally and
provisionally. It likes to show, apparently, that it is in
relation with all that exists. It declares itself, as often as
possible, universal and impersonal. It has but a very indifferent
care, as we have seen in the matter of apparitions and
premonitions, for the happiness and even the safety of its host
and protector. It prophesies to its companion of a lifetime
events which he cannot avoid or which do not concern him. It
makes him see beforehand, for instance, all the circumstances of
the death of a stranger whom he will only hear of after the
event, when this event is irrevocable. It brings a crowd of
barren presentiments and conjures up veridical hallucinations
that are wholly alien and idle. With psychometric, typtological
or materializing mediums, it practises art for art's sake, mocks
at space and time, passes through personalities, sees through
solid bodies, brings into communication thoughts and motions
worlds apart, reads souls and lives by the light of a flower, a
rag of a scrap of paper; and all this for nothing, to amuse
itself, to astonish us, because it adores the superfluous, the
incoherent, the unexpected, the improbable, the bewildering, or
rather, perhaps, because it is a huge, rough, undisciplined force
still struggling in the darkness and coming to the surface only
by wild fits and starts, because it is an enormous expansion of a
spirit striving to collect itself, to achieve consciousness, to
make itself of service and to obtain a hearing. In any case, for
the time being, it appeals just what we have described, and would
be unlike itself if it behaved any otherwise in the case that
puzzles us.


Lastly, to close this chapter, let us remark that it is nearly
certain that the solution given by calculating children and
horses is not of a mathematical nature at all. They do not in any
way consider the problem or the sum to be worked. They simply
find the answer straight away to a riddle, the guessing of which
is made easy by the actual nature of figures which keep their
secrets badly. To any one in the requisite state of mind, it
becomes a question of a sort of elementary charade, which hides
its answer only from those who speak another language. It is
evident that every problem, however complex it may appear,
carries within its very enunciation its one, invariable solution,
scarce veiled by the indiscreet signs that contain or cover it.
It is there, under the numbers that have no other object than to
give it life, coming, stirring and ceaselessly proclaiming itself
a necessity. It is not surprising therefore that eyes sharper
than ours and ears open to other vibrations should see and hear
it without knowing what it represents, what it implies or from
what prodigious mass of figures and operations it merges. The
problem itself speaks; and the horse but repeats the sign which
he hears whispered in the mysterious life of numbers or deep down
in, the abyss where the eternal verities hold sway. He
understands none of it, he has no need to understand, he is but
the unconscious medium who lends his voice or his limbs to the
mind that inspires him. There is here but a bare and simple
answer, bearing no precise significance, seized in an alien
existence. There is here but a mechanical revelation, so to
speak, a sort of special reflex which we can only record and
which, for the rest, is as inexplicable as any other phenomenon
of consciousness or instinct. After all, when we think of it, it
is just as, astonishing that we should not perceive the solution
as it is that we should discover it. However, I grant that all
this is but a venturesome interpretation to be taken for what it
is worth, an experimental or interim theory with which we must
needs content ourselves since all the others have hitherto been
controverted by the facts.


Let us now briefly sum up what the Elberfeld experiments have
yielded us. Having put aside telepathy in the narrow sense--which
perhaps enters into more than one phenomenon but is not
indispensable to it, for we see these same phenomena repeated
when telepathy is practically impossible--we cannot help
observing that, if we deny the existence or the influence of the
subliminal, it is all the more difficult to contest the existence
and the intervention of the intelligence, at any rate up to the
extracting of roots, after which there is a steep precipice which
ends in darkness. But, even if we stop at the roots, the sudden
discovery of an intellectual force so similar to our own, where
we were accustomed to see but an irremediable impotency, is no
doubt one of the most unexpected revelations that we have
received since the invisible and the unknown began to press upon
us with a persistence and an impatience which they had not
displayed heretofore. It is not easy to foresee as yet the
consequences and the promises of this new aspect which the great
riddle of the intelligence is suddenly adopting. But I believe
that we shall soon have to revise some of the essential ideas
which are the foundations of our life and that some rather
strange horizons are appearing out of the mists in the history of
psychology, of morality, of human destiny and of many other


So much for the intelligence. On the other hand, what we deny to
the intelligence we are constrained to grant to the subliminal;
and the revelation is even more disconcerting. We should then
have to admit that them is in the horse--and hence most probably
in everything that lives on this earth--a psychic power similar
to that which is hidden beneath the veil of our reason and which,
as we learn to know it, astonishes, surpasses and dominates our
reason more and more. This psychic power, in which no doubt we
shall one day be forced to recognize the genius of the universe
itself, appears, as we have often observed, to be all-wise,
all-seeing and all-powerful. It has, when it is pleased to
communicate with us or when we are allowed to penetrate into it,
an answer for every question,  and perhaps a remedy for every
ill. We will not enumerate its virtues again. It will be enough
for us to recall with what ease it mocks at space, time and all
the obstacles that beset our poor human knowledge and
understanding. We believed it, like all that seems to us superior
and marvellous, the intangible, inalienable and incommunicable
attribute of man, with even better reason than his intelligence.
And now an accident, strangely belated, it is true, tells us
that, at one precise point, the strangest and least foreseen of
all, the horse and the dog draw more easily and perhaps more
directly than ourselves upon its mighty reservoirs. By the most
inexplicable of anomalies, though one that is fairly consistent
with the fantastic character of the subliminal, they appear to
have access to it only at the spot that is most remote from their
habits and most unknown to their propensities, for there is
nothing in the world about which animals trouble less than
figures. But is this not, perhaps because we do not see what goes
on elsewhere? It so happens that the infinite mystery of numbers
can sometimes be expressed by a very few simple movements which
are natural to most animals; but there is nothing to tell us
that, if we could teach the horse and the dog to attach to these
same movements the expression of other mysteries, they would not
draw upon them with equal facility. It has been successfully
attempted to give them a more or less clear idea of the value of
a few figures and perhaps of the course and nature of certain
elementary operations; and this appears to have been enough to
open up to them the most secret regions of mathematics in which
every question is answered beforehand. It is not wholly illusive
to suppose that, if we could impart to them, for instance, a
similar notion of the future, together with a manner of conveying
to us what they see there, they might also have access to strange
visions of another class, which are jealously kept from us by the
too-watchful guardians of our intelligence. There is an
opportunity here for experiments which will doubtless prove
exceedingly arduous, for the future is not so easily seen and
above all not so easily interpreted and expressed as a number. It
is possible, moreover, that, when we know how to set about it, we
shall obtain most of the human mediumistic phenomena; rapping,
the moving of objects, materialization even and Heaven knows what
other surprises held in store for us by that astounding
subliminal to whose fancy there appears to be no bounds. In any
case, if we accept the divining of numbers, as we are almost
forced to do, it is almost certain that the divining of other
matters must follow. An unexpected breach is made in the wall
behind which lie heaped the great secrets that seem to us, as our
knowledge and our civilization increase, to become stronger and
more inaccessible. True, it is a narrow breach; but it is the
first that has been opened in that part of the hitherto
uncrannied wall which is not turned towards mankind. What will
issue through it? No one can foretell what we may hope.


What astonishes us most is that this revelation has been so long
delayed. How are we to explain that man has lived to this day
with his domestic animals never suspecting that they harboured
mediumistic or subliminal faculties as extraordinary as those
which he vaguely felt himself to possess. One would have in this
connection to study the mysterious practices of ancient India and
of Egypt; the numerous and persistent legends of animals talking,
guiding their masters and foretelling the future; and, nearer to
ourselves, in history proper, all that science of augury and
soothsaying which derived its omens from the flight of birds, the
inspection of entrails, the appetite or attitude of the sacred or
prophetic animals, among which horses were often numbered. We
here find one of those innumerous instances of a lost or
anticipated power which make us suspect that mankind has
forestalled or forgotten all that we believe ourselves to be
discovering. Remember that there is almost always some distorted,
misapprehended or dimly--seen truth at the bottom of the most
eccentric and wildest creeds, superstitions and legends. All this
new science of metaphysics or of the investigation of our
subconsciousness and of unknown powers, which has scarcely begun
to unveil its first mysteries, thus finds landmarks and defaced
but recognizable traces in the old religions, the most
inexplicible traditions and the most ancient history. Besides,
the probability of a thing does not depend upon undeniably
established precedents. While it is almost certain that there is
nothing new under the sun or in the eternity preceding the suns,
it is quite possible that the same forces do not always act with
the same energy. As I observed, nearly twenty years ago, in The
Treasure of the Humble, at a time when I hardly knew at all what
I know so imperfectly to-day:

"A spiritual"--I should have said, a psychic-"epoch is perhaps
upon us, an epoch to which a certain number of analogies are
found in history. For there are periods recorded when the soul,
in obedience to unknown laws, seemed to rise to the very surface
of humanity, whence it gave clearest evidence of its existence
and of its power. . . . It would seem, at moments such as these,
as though humanity," --and, I would add to-day, all that lives
with it on this earth--"were on the point of struggling from
beneath the crushing burden of matter that weighs it down."

One might in fact believe that a shudder which we have not yet
experienced is passing over everything that breathes; that a new
activity, a new restlessness is permeating the spiritual
atmosphere which surrounds our globe; and that the very animals
have felt its thrill. One might say that, by the side of the
niggardly private spring which would only supply our
intelligence, other streams are spreading and rising to the same
level in every form of existence. A sort of word of command is
being passed from rank to rank; and the same phenomena are
bursting forth in every quarter of the globe in order to attract
our attention, as though the obstinately dumb genius that lay
hidden in the pregnant silence of the universe, from that of the
stones, the flowers and the insects to the mighty silence of the
stars, were at last trying to tell us some secret whereby it
would be better known to us or to itself. It is possible that
this is but an illusion. Perhaps we are simply more attentive and
better informed than of old. We learn at the very instant what
happens in every part of our earth and we have acquired the habit
of more minutely observing and examining the things that happen.
But the illusion would in this case have all the force, all the
value and all the meaning of the reality and would enjoin the
same hopes and the same obligation.



We have now studied certain manifestations of that which we have
called in turn and more or less indiscriminately the subconscious
mind, the subliminal consciousness and the unknown guest, names
to which we might add that of the superior subconsciousness or
superior psychism invented by Dr. Geley. Granting that these
manifestations are really proved, it is no longer possible to
explain them or rather to classify them without having recourse
to fresh theories. Now we can entertain doubts on many points, we
can cavil and argue; but I defy anyone approaching these facts in
a serious and honest spirit to reject them all. It is permissible
to neglect the most extraordinary; but there are a multitude of
others which have become or, to speak more accurately, are
acknowledged to be as frequent and habitual as any fact whatever
in normal, everyday life. It is not difficult to reproduce them
at will, provided we place ourselves in the condition demanded by
their very nature; and, this being so, there remains no valid
reason for excluding them from the domain of science in the
strict sense of the word.

Hitherto, all that we have learnt regarding these occurrences is
that their origin is unknown. It will be said that this is not
much and that the discovery is nothing to boast of. I quite
agree: to imagine that one can explain a phenomena by saying that
it is produced by an unknown agency would indeed be childish. But
it is already something to have marked its source; not to be
still lingering in the thick of a fog, trying any and every
direction in order to find a way out, but to be concentrating our
attention on a single spot which is the starting-point of all
these wonders, so that at each instant we recognize in each
phenomenon the characteristic customs, methods or features of the
same unknown agency. It is very nearly all that we can do for the
moment; but this first effort is not wholly to be despised.


It has seemed to us then that it was our unknown guest that
expressed itself in the name of the dead in table-turning and in
automatic writing and speaking. This unknown guest has appeared
to us to take within us the place of those who are no more, to
unite itself perhaps with forces that do not die, to visit the
grave with the object of bringing thence inexplicable phantoms
which rise up in front of us fruitlessly or haunt our houses
without telling us why. We have seen it, in experiments in
clairvoyance and intuition, suppressing all the obstacles that
banish or conceal thought and, through bodies that have become
transparent, reading in our very souls forgotten secrets of the
past, sentiments that have not yet taken shape, intentions as yet
unborn. We have discovered that some object once handled by a
person now far away is enough to make it take part in the
innermost life of that person, to go deeper and rise higher than
he does, to see what he sees and even what he does not see: the
landscape that surrounds him, the house which he inhabits and
also the dangers that threaten him and the secret passions by
which he is stirred. We have surprised it wandering hither and
thither, at haphazard, in the future, confounding it with the
present and the past, not conscious of where it is but seeing far
and wide, knowing perhaps everything but unaware of the
importance of what it knows, or as yet incapable of turning it to
account or of making itself understood, at once neglectful and
overscrupulous, prolix and reticent, useless and indispensable.
We have seen it, lastly, although we had hitherto looked upon it
as indissolubly and unchangeably human, suddenly emerge from
other creatures and there reveal faculties akin to ours, which
commune with them deep down in the deepest mysteries and which
equal them and sometimes surpass them in a region that wrongly
appeared to us the only really unassailable province of mankind,
I mean the obscure and abstruse province of numbers.

It has many other no less strange and perhaps more important
manifestations, which we propose to examine in a later volume,
notably its surprising therapeutic virtues and its phenomena of
materialization. But, without expressing a premature judgment on
what we do not yet know, perhaps we have sketched it with
sufficient clearness in the foregoing pages to enable us
henceforward to disentangle certain general and characteristic
features from a confusion of often contradictory lines.


But, in the first place, does it really exist, this tragic and
comical, evasive and unavoidable figure which we make no claim to
portray, but at most to divest of some of its shadows? It were
rash to affirm it too loudly; but meanwhile, in the realms where
we suppose it to reign, everything happens as though it did
exist. Do away with it and you are obliged to people the world
and burden your life with a host of hypothetical and imaginary
beings: gods, demigods, angels, demons, saints, spirits, shells,
elementals, etherial entities, interplanetary intelligences and
so on; except it and all those phantoms, without disappearing,
for they may very well continue to live in its shadow, become
superfluous or accessory. It is not intolerant and does not
definitely eliminate any of the hypotheses by the aid of which
man has hitherto striven to explain what he did not understand,
hypotheses which, in regard to some matters, are not
inadmissible, although not one of them is confirmed; but it
brings him back to itself, absorbs them and rules them without
annihilating them. If, for instance, to select the most
defensible theory, one which it is sometimes difficult to dismiss
absolutely, if you insist that the discarnate spirits take part
in your actions, haunt your house, inspire your thoughts, reveal
your future, it will answer:

"That is true, but it is still I; I am discarnate, or rather I am
not wholly incarnate: it is only a small part of my being that is
embodied in your flesh; and the rest, which is nearly all of me,
comes and goes freely both among those who once were and among
those who are yet to be; and, when they seem to speak to you, it
is my own speech that borrows their customs and their voice in
order to make you listen and to amuse your often slumbering
attention. If you prefer to deal with superior entities of
unknown origin, with interplanetary or supernatural
intelligences, once more it is I; for, since I am not entirely in
your body, I must needs be elsewhere; and to be elsewhere when
one is not held back by the weight of the flesh is to be
everywhere if one so pleases."

We see, it has a reply to everything, it takes every name that we
wish and there is nothing to limit it, because it lives in a
world wherein bounds are as illusory as the useless words which
we employ on earth.


While it has a reply to everything, certain manifestations which
it deliberately ascribes to the spirits have brought upon it a
not undeserved reproach. To begin with, as Dr. Maxwell observes,
it has no absolutely fixed doctrine. In nearly every country in
the world, when it speaks in the name of the spirits, it declares
that they undergo reincarnation and readily relates their past
existences. In England, on the contrary, it usually asserts that
they do not become reincarnated. What does this mean? Surely this
ignorance or this inconsistency on the part of that which appears
to know everything is very strange! And worse, sometimes it
attributes to the spirits, sometimes to itself or any one or
anything the revelations which it makes to us. When exactly is it
speaking the truth? At least on two occasions out of three, it
deludes itself or deludes us. If it deceive itself, if it is
mistaken about a matter in which it should be easy for it to know
the truth, what can it teach us on the subject of a world of
whose most elementary laws it is ignorant, since it does not even
know whether it is itself or another that speaks to us in the
name of that world? Are we to believe that it was in the same
darkness as our poor superficial ego, which it pretends so often
to enlighten and which it does in fact inspire in most of the
great events of life? If it deceives us, why does it do so? We
can see no object: it asks for nothing, not for alms, nor
prayers, nor thoughts, on behalf of those whose mantle it assumes
for the sole purpose of leading us astray. What is the use of
those mischievous and puerile pranks, of those ghastly graveyard
pleasantries? It must lie then for the mere pleasure of lying;
and our unknown guest, that infinite and doubtless immortal
subconsciousness in which we have placed out last hopes, is after
all but an imbecile, a buffoon or a rank swindler!


I do not believe that the truth is as hideous as this. Our
unknown guest does not deceive itself any more than it deceives
us; but it is we who deceive ourselves. It has not the stage to
itself; and its voice is not the voice that sounds in our ears,
which were never made to catch the echoes of a world that is not
like ours. If it could speak to us itself and tell us what it
knows, we should probably at that instant cease to be on this
earth. But we are immersed in our bodies, entombed prisoners with
whom it cannot communicate at will. It roams around the walls, it
utters warning cries. It knocks at every door, but all that
reaches us is a vague disquiet, an indistinct murmur that is
sometimes translated to us by a half-awakened gaoler who, like
ourselves, is a lifelong captive. The gaoler does his best; he
has his own way of speaking, his familiar expressions; he knows,
and, with the aid of the words which he possesses and those which
he hears repeated, he tries to make us understand what he hardly
understands himself. He does not know exactly whence the sounds
come which he hears; and, according as tempests, wars or riots
happen to be uppermost at the moment, he attributes them to the
winds, to tramping soldiers or to frenzied crowds. In other words
and speaking without metaphor, it is the medium who draws from
his habitual language and from that suggested to him by his
audience the wherewithal to clothe and identify the strange
presentiments, the unfamiliar visions that come from some unknown
region. If he believes that the dead survive, he will naturally
imagine that it is the dead who speak to him. If he has a
favourite spirit, angel, demon or god, he will express himself in
its name; if he has no preconceived opinion, he will not even
allude to the origin of the revelations which he is making. The
inarticulate language of the subconsciousness necessarily borrows
that of the normal consciousness; and the two become confused
into a sort of shifting and multiform jargon. And our unknown
guest, which is not thinking of delivering a course of lectures
upon its entity, but simply giving us as best it can a more or
less warning or mark of its existence, seems to care but little
as to the garments in which it is rigged out, having indeed no
choice in the matter, for, either because it is unable to
manifest itself or because we are incapable of understanding it,
it has to be content with whatever comes to hand.

Besides, if we attribute too exclusively to the spirits that
which comes from another quarter, the mistake is doubtless no
great one in its eyes; for it is not madness to believe that it
lives with that which does not die in the dead even as with that
which does not die in ourselves, with that which does not descend
into the grave even as with that which does not take flesh at the
hour of birth.


There is no reason therefore to condemn the other theories
entirely. Most of them doubtless contain something more than a
particle of truth; in particular, the great quarrel between the
subconscious school and the spiritualists is based on the whole
upon a misunderstanding. It is quite possible and even very
probable that the dead are all around us, since it is impossible
that the dead do not live. Our subconsciousness must mingle with
all that does not die in them; and that which dies in them or
rather disperses and loses all its importance is but the little
consciousness accumulated on this earth and kept up until the
last hour by the frail bonds of memory. In all those
manifestations of our unknown guest, it is our posthumous ego
that already lives in us while we are still in the flesh and at
moments joins that which does not die in those who have quitted
their body. Then does the existence of our unknown guest presume
the immortality of a part of ourselves? Can one possibly doubt
it? Have you ever imagined that you would perish entirely? As for
me, what I cannot picture is the manner in which you would
picture that total annihilation. But, if you cannot perish
entirely, it is no less certain that those who came before you
have not perished either; and hence it is not altogether
improbable that we may be able to discover them and to
communicate with them. In this wider sense, the spiritualistic
theory is perfectly admissible; but what is not at all admissible
is the narrow and pitiful interpretation which its proponents too
often give it. They see the dead crowding around us like wretched
puppets indissolubly attached to the insignificant scene of their
death by the thousand little threads of insipid memories and
infantile hobbies. They are supposed to be here, blocking up our
homes, more abjectly human than if they were still alive, vague,
inconsistent, garrulous, derelict, futile and idle, tossing
hither and thither their desolate shadows, which are being slowly
swallowed up by silence and oblivion, busying themselves
incessantly with what no longer concerns them, but almost
incapable of doing us a real service, so much so that, in short,
they would end by persuading us that death serves no purpose,
that it neither purifies nor exalts, that it brings no
deliverance and that it is indeed a thing of terror and despair.


No, it is not the dead who thus speak and act. Besides, why bring
them into the matter unnecessarily? I could understand that we
should be obliged to do so if there were no similar phenomena
outside them; but in the intuition and clairvoyance of
nonspiritualistic mediums and particularly in psychometry we
obtain communications between one subconsciousness and another
and revelations of unknown, forgotten or future incidents which
are equally striking, though stripped of the vapid gossip and
tedium reminiscences with which we are overwhelmed by defunct
persons who are all the more jealous to prove their identity
inasmuch as they know that they do not exist.

It is infinitely more likely that there is strange medley of
heterogeneous forces in the uncertain regions into which we are
venturing. The whole of this ambiguous drama, with its incoherent
crowds, is probably enacted round about the dim estuary where our
normal consciousness flows into our subconsciousness. The
consciousness of the medium--for we must not forget that there is
necessarily always a medium at the sources of these
phenomena--the consciousness of the medium, obscured by the
condition of trance but yet the only one that possesses our human
speech and can make itself heard, takes in first and almost
exclusively what it best understands and what most interests it
in the stifled and mutilated revelations of our unknown guest,
which for its part communicates with the dead and the living and
everything that exists. The rest, which is the only thing that
matters, but which is less clear and less vivid because it comes
from afar, only very rarely makes its difficult way through a
forest of insignificant talk. We may add that our
subconsciousness, as Dr. Geley very rightly observes, is formed
of superposed elements, beginning with the unconsciousness that
governs the instinctive movements of the organic life of both the
species and the individual and passing by imperceptible degrees
till it rises to the superior psychism whose power and extent
appear to have no bounds. The voice of the medium, or that which
we hear within ourselves when, at certain moments of excitement
or crisis in our lives, we become our own medium, has therefore
to traverse three worlds or three provinces: that of the
atavistic instincts which connect us with the animal; that of
human or empirical consciousness; and lastly that of our unknown
guest or our superior subconsciousness which links us to immense
invisible realities and which we may, if we wish, call divine or
superhuman. Hence it is not surprising that the intermediary, be
he spiritualist, autonomist, palingenesist or what he will,
should lose himself in those wild and troubled eddies and that
the truth or message which he brings us, tossed and tumbled in
every direction, should reach us broken, shattered and pulverized
beyond recognition.

For the rest, I repeat, were it not for the absurd prominence
given to our dead in the spiritualistic interpretation, this
question of origin would have little importance, since both life
and death are incessantly joining and uniting in all things.
There are assuredly dead people in all these manifestations,
seeing that we are full of dead people and that the greater part
of ourselves is at this moment steeped in death, that is to say,
is already living the boundless life that awaits us on the
farther side of the grave.


We should be wrong, however, to fix all our attention on these
extraordinary phenomena, either those with which we unduly
connect the deceased or those no less striking ones in which we
do not believe that they take part. They are evidently precious
points of emergence that enable us approximately to mark the
extent, the forms and the habits of our mystery. But it is within
ourselves, in the silence of the darkness of our being, where it
is ever in motion, guiding our destiny, that we should strive to
surprise that mystery and to discover it. And I am not speaking
only of the dreams, the presumptions, the vague intuitions, the
room or less brilliant inspirations which are so many more
manifestations, specific as it were and analogous with those that
have occupied us. There is another, a more secret and much more
active existence which we have scarcely begun to study and which
is, if we descend to the bed-rock of truth, our only real
existence. From the darkest corners of our ego it directs our
veritable life, the one that is not to die, and pays no heed to
our thought or to anything emanating from our reason, which
believes that it guides nor steps. It alone knows the long past
that preceded our birth and the endless future that will follow
our departure from this earth. It is itself that future and that
past, all those from whom we have sprung and all those who will
spring from us. It represents the individual not only the species
but that which preceded it and that which will follow it; and it
has neither beginning nor end: that is why nothing touches it,
nothing moves it which does not concern that which it represents.
When a misfortune or a joy befall us, it knows their value
instantly, knows if they are going to open or to dose the wells
of life. It is the one thing that is never wrong. In vain does
reason demonstrate to it, by irresistible arguments, that it is
hopelessly at fault: silent under its immovable mask, whose
expression we have not yet been able to react it pursues its way.
It treats us as insignificant children, void of understanding,
never answers our objections, refuses what we ask and lavishes
upon us that which we refuse. If we go to the right, it
reconducts us to the left. If we cultivate this or that faculty
which we think that we possess or which we would like to possess,
it hides it under some other which we did not expect and did not
wish for. It saves us from a danger by imparting to our limbs
unforeseen and unerring movements and actions which they had
never made before and which are contrary to those which they had
been taught to make: it knows that the hour has not yet come when
it will be useless to defend ourselves. It chooses our love in
spite of the revolt of our intelligence or of our poor, ephemeral
heart. It smiles when we are frightened and sometimes it is
frightened when we smile. And it is always the winner,
humiliating our reason, crushing our wisdom and silencing
arguments and passions alike with the contemptuous hand of
destiny. The greatest doctors surround our sick-bed and deceive
themselves and us in foretelling our death or our recovery: it
alone whispers in our car the truth that will not be denied. A
thousand apparently mortal blows fall upon our head and not a
lash of its eyelids quivers; but suddenly a tiny shock, which our
senses had not even transmitted to our brain, wakes it with a
start. It sits up, looks around and understands. It has seen the
crack in the vault that separates the two lives. It gives the
signal for departure. Forthwith panic spreads from cell to cell;
and the innumerous city that we are utters yells of horror and
distress and hustles around the gates of death.


That great figure, that new being has been there, in our
darkness, from all time, though its awkward and extravagant
actions, until recently attributed to the gods, the demons or the
dead, am only now asking for our serious attention. It has been
likened to an immense block of which our personality is but a
diminutive facet; to an iceberg of which we see a few glistening
prisms that represent our life, while nine-tenths of the enormous
mass remain buried in the shadows of the sea. According to Sir
Oliver Lodge, it is that part of our being that has not become
carnate; according to Gustave Le Bon, it is the "condensed" soul
of our ancestors, which is true, beyond a doubt, but only a part
of the truth, for we find in it also the soul of the future and
probably of many other forces which are not necessarily human.
William James saw in it a diffuse cosmic consciousness and the
chance intrusion into our scientifically organized world of
remnants and bestiges of the primordial chaos. Here are a number
of images striving to give us an idea of a reality so vast that
we are unable to grasp it. It is certain that what we see from
our terrestrial life is nothing compared with what we do not see.
Besides, if we think of it, it would be monstrous and
inexplicable that we should be only what we appear to be, nothing
but ourselves, whole and complete in ourselves, separated,
isolated, circumscribed by our body, our mind, our consciousness,
our birth and our death. We become possible and probable only on
the conditions that we project beyond ourselves on every side and
that we stretch in every direction throughout time and space.


But how shall we explain the incredible contrast between the
immeasurable grandeur of our unknown guest, the assurance, the
calmness, the gravity of the inner life which it leads in us and
the puerile and sometimes grotesque incongruities of what one
might call its public existence? Inside us, it is the sovereign
judge, the supreme arbiter, the prophet, almost the god
omnipotent; outside us, from the moment that it quits its shelter
and manifests itself in external actions, it is nothing more than
a fortune-teller, a bone-setter, a sort of facetious conjuror or
telephone-operator, I was on the verge of saying a mountebank or
clown. At what particular instant is it really itself? Is it
seized with giddiness when it leaves its lair? Is it we who no
longer hear it, who no longer understand it, as soon as it ceases
to speak in a whisper and to act in the dark recesses of our
life? Are we in regard to it the terrified hive invaded by a huge
and inexplicable hand, the maddened ant-hill trampled by a
colossal and incomprehensible foot? Let us not venture yet to
solve the strange riddle with the aid of the little that we know.
Let us confine ourselves, for the moment, to noting on the way
some other, rather easier questions which we can at least try to

First of all, are the facts at issue really new? Was it only
yesterday that the existence of our unknown guest and its
external manifestations were revealed to us? Is it our attention
that makes them appear more numerous, or is it the increase in
their number that at last attracts out attention?

It does indeed seem that, however far we go back in history, we
everywhere find the same extraordinary phenomena, under other
names and often in a more glamorous setting. Oracles, prophecies,
incantations, haruspication, "possession," evocation of the dead,
apparitions, ghosts, miraculous cures, levitation, transmission
of thought, apparent resurrections and the rest are the exact
equivalent, though magnified by the aid of plentiful and obvious
frauds of our latter-day supernaturalism. Turning in another
direction, we are able to see that psychical phenomena are very
evenly distributed over the whole surface of the globe. At all
events, there does not appear to be any race that is absolutely
or peculiarly refractory to them. One would be inclined to say,
however, that they manifest themselves by preference among the
most civilized nations--perhaps because that is where they are
most carefully sought after--and among the most primitive. In
short, it cannot be denied that we are in the presence of
faculties or senses, more or less latent but at the same time
universally distributed, which form part of the general and
unvarying inheritance of mankind. But have these faculties or
senses undergone evolution, like most of the others? And, if they
have not done so on our earth, do they show traces of an
extraplanetary evolution? Is there progress or reaction? Are they
withered and useless branches, or buds swollen with sap and
promise? Are they retreating before the march of intelligence or
invading its domain?


M. Ernest Bozzano, one of the most learned, most daring and most
subtle exponents of the new science that is in process of
formation, in the course of a remarkable essay in the Annales des
sciences psychiques,[1] gives it as his opinion that they have
remained stationary and unchanged. He considers that they have
become in no way diffused, generalized and refined, like so many
others that are much less important and useful from the point of
view of the struggle for life, such as the musical faculty, for
instance. It does not even seem, says M. Bozzano, that it is
possible to cultivate or develop them systematically. The Hindu
race in particular, who for thousands of years have been devoting
themselves to the study of these manifestations, have arrived at
nothing but a better knowledge of the empirical methods
calculated to produce them in individuals already endowed with
these supernormal faculties. I do not know to what extent M.
Bozzano's assertions are beyond dispute. They concern historical
or remote facts which it is very difficult to verify. In any
case, it is something to have perfected , as has been done in
India, the empirical methods favourable to the production of
supernormal phenomena. One might even say that it is about all
that we have the right to expect, seeing that, by the author's
own admission, these faculties are latent in every man and that,
as has frequently been seen, it needs but an illness, a lesion,
or sometimes even the slightest emotion or a mere passing
faintness to make them suddenly reveal themselves in an
individual who seemed most hopelessly devoid of them. It is
therefore quite possible that, by improving the methods, by
attacking the mystery from other quarters, we might obtain more
decisive results than the Hindus. We must remember that our
western science has but lately interested itself in these
problems and that it has means of investigating and experimenting
which the Asiatics never possessed. It may even be declared that
at no time in the existence of our world has the scientific mind
been better-equipped, better-suited to cope with every task, or
more exact, more skilful and more penetrating than it is today.
Because the oriental empirics have failed, there is no reason to
believe that it will not succeed in awakening and cultivating in
every man those faculties which would often be of greater use to
him than those of the intellect itself. It is not overbold to
suggest that, from certain points of view, the true history of
mankind has hardly begun.

[1] September, 1906.


Nevertheless, in so far as concerns the natural evolution of
those faculties, M. Bozzano's assertion seem fairly well-
justified. We do not, in fact, observe a startling or even
appreciable difference between what they were and what they are.
And this anomaly is the more surprising in as much as it is
almost universally accepted that a sense or a faculty becomes
developed in proportion to its usefulness; and there are few, I
think, that would have been not only more useful but even more
necessary to man. He has always had a keen and primitive interest
in knowing without delay the most secret thoughts of his
fellow-man, who is often his adversary and sometimes his mortal
enemy. He has always had an interest no less great in immediately
transmitting those thoughts through space, in seeing beyond the
continents and seas, in going back into the past, in advancing
into the future, in being able to find in his memory at will not
only all the acquirements of his personal experience but also
those of his ancestors, in communicating with the dead and
perhaps with the sovereign intelligence diffused over the
universe, in discovering hidden springs and treasures, in
escaping the harsh and depressing laws of matter and gravity, in
relieving pain, in curing the greater number of his disorders and
even in restoring his limbs, not to mention many other miracles
which he could work if he knew all the mighty forces that
doubtless slumber in the dark recesses of his life.

Is this once more an unexpected character of the eccentric
physiology of our unknown guest? Here are faculties more precious
than the most precious faculties that have made us what we are,
faculties whose magic buds sprout on every side underneath our
intelligence but have never burst into flower, as though a wind
from another sphere had killed them with its icy breath. Is it
because it occupies itself first and foremost with the species
that it thus neglects the individual? But, after all, the species
is only an aggregate of successive individuals; and its evolution
consequently depends upon their evolution. There would therefore
have been an evident advantage to the species in developing
faculties that would perhaps have carried it much farther and
much higher than has been done by its brain-power, which alone
has progressed. If there is no evolution for them here, do they
develop elsewhere? What are those powers which exist outside and
independent of the laws of this earth? Do they then belong to
other worlds? But, if so, what are they doing in ours? One would
sometimes think, at the sight of so much neglectfulness,
uncertainty and inconsistency, that man's evolution had been
intentionally retarded by a superior will, as though that will
feared that he was going too fast, that he was anticipating some
pre established order and moving prematurely out of his appointed


And the riddles accumulate which we cannot hope to solve. It has
been said that these abnormal faculties are communications or
infiltrations, themselves abnormal, which have found their way
through the partitions that separate our consciousness from our
subconsciousness. This is very likely, but it is only a minor
side of the question. It would be important before all to know
what that subconsciousness represents, whither it tends and with
what it itself is communicating. Is the impersonal form of
knowledge a necessary or an accidental stage? Is the impersonal
form which it takes in the subconsciousness the only true one? Is
there really, as everything seems to prove, a hopeless
incompatibility between our intellectual faculties and those
families of uncertain origin, to such an extent that the latter
are unable to manifest themselves except when the former are
weakened or temporarily suspended? It has, at any rate, been
observed that they are hardly ever exercised simultaneously. Are
we to believe that, at a given moment, mankind or the genius that
presides over its destinies had to make an exclusive and awful
choice between cerebral energy and the mysterious forces of the
subconsciousness and that we still find traces of its hesitations
in our organism? What would have become of a race of man in which
the subconsciousness had triumphed over the brain? Is not this
the case with animals; and would not the race have remained
purely animal? Or else would not this preponderance of a
subconscious more powerful than that of the animals and almost
independent of our body have resulted in the disappearance of
life as we know it; and should we not even now be trading the
life which we shall probably lead when we are dead? Here are a
number of questions to which there are no answers and which are
nevertheless perhaps not so idle as one might at first believe.


Amidst this antagonism, whose triumph are we to hope for? Is any
alliance between the two opposing forces for ever impossible so
long as we are in the flesh? What are we to do meanwhile? If a
choice be inevitable, which way will our choice incline; and
which victim shall we sacrifice? Shall we listen to those who
tell us that there is nothing more to be gained or learnt in
those inhospitable regions where all our bewildering phenomena
have been known since man first was man? Is it true that
occultism--as it is very improperly called, for the knowledge
which it seeks is no more occult than any other--is it true that
occultism is marking time, that it is becoming hopelessly
entangled in the same doubtful facts and that it has not taken a
single step forward since its renaissance more than fifty years
ago? One must be entirely ignorant of the wonderful efforts of
those fruitful years to venture upon such an assertion. This is
not the place to discuss the question, which would require full
and careful treatment; but we may safely say that until now there
is no science which in so short a time has brought order out of
such a chaos, ascertained, checked and classified such a quantity
of facts, or more rapidly awakened, cultivated and trained in man
certain faculties which he had never seriously been believed to
possess; and furthermore none which has caused to be recognized
as incontestable and thus introduced into the circle of the
realities whereon we base our lives a number of unlikely
phenomena which had hitherto been contemptuously passed over. We
are still, it is true, waiting for the domestication of the new
force, its practical application to daily use. We are waiting for
the all-revealing, decisive manifestation which will remove our
last doubts and throw light upon the problem down to its very
source. But let us admit that we are likewise waiting for this
manifestation in the great majority of sciences. In my case, we
are already in the presence of an astonishing mass of
well-weighed and verified materials which, until now, had been
taken for the refuse of dreams, fragments of wild legends,
meaningless and unimportant. For more than three centuries, the
science of electricity remained at very much the same point at
which our psychical sciences stand to-day. Men were recording,
accumulating, trying to interpret a host of odd and futile
phenomena, toying with Ramsden's machine, with Leyden jars, with
Volta's rough battery. They thought that they had discovered an
agreeable pastime, an ingenious plaything for the laboratory or
study; and they had not the slightest suspicion that they were
touching the sources of an universal, irresistible, inexhaustible
power, invisibly present and active in all things, that would
soon invade the surface of our globe. Nothing tells us that the
psychic forces of which we are beginning to catch a glimpse have
not similar surprises in store for us, with this difference, that
we are here concerned with energies and mysteries which are
loftier, grander and doubtless fraught with graver consequences,
since they affect our eternal destinies, traverse alike our life
and our death and extend beyond our planet.


It is not true therefore that the psychical sciences have said
their last word and that we have nothing more to expect from
them. They have but just awakened or reawakened; and, to postdate
Guyau's prediction by a hundred years, we might say, with them in
our minds, that the twentieth century "will end with discoveries
as ill-formulated but perhaps as important in the moral world as
those of Newton and Laplace in the astronomical world." But,
though we have much to hope from them, that is no reason why we
should look to them for everything and abandon in their favour
that which has brought us where we are. The choice of which we
spoke, between the brain and the subconsciousness, has been made
long ago; and it is not our part to make it over again. We are
carried along by a force acquired in the course of two or three
thousand years; and our methods, like our intellectual habits,
have of themselves become transformed into sort of minor
subconsciousness superposed upon the major subconsciousness and
sometimes mingling with it. Henri Bergson, in his very fine
presidential address to the Society for Psychical Research on the
28th of May, 1913, said that he had sometimes wondered what would
have happened if modern science, instead of setting out from
mathematics, instead of bringing all its forces to converge on
the study of matter, had begun by the consideration of mind; if
Kepler, Galileo and Newton, for instance, had been psychologists:

"We should certainly," said he, "have had a psychology of which
to-day we can form no idea, any more than before Galileo we could
have imagined what our physics would be; a psychology that
probably would have been to our present psychology what our
physics is to Aristotle's. Foreign to every mechanistic idea, not
even conceiving the possibility of an explanation, science would
have enquired into, instead of dismissing a priori facts, such as
those which you study; perhaps 'psychical research' would have
stood out as its principal preoccupation. The most general laws
of mental activity once discovered (as, in fact, the fundamental
laws of mechanics were discovered), we should have passed from
mind, properly so-called, to life; biology would have been
constituted, but a vitalist biology, quite different from ours,
which would have sought behind the sensible forms of living
beings the inward, invisible force of which the sensible forms
are the manifestations."

It would therefore in the very first days of its activity have
encountered all these strange problems: telepathy,
materializations, clairvoyance, miraculous cures, knowledge of
the future, the possibility of survival, interplanetary
intelligence and many others, which it has neglected hitherto and
which, thanks to its neglect, are still in their infancy. But, as
the human mind is not able to follow two diametrically opposite
directions at the same time, it would necessarily have rejected
the mathematical sciences. A steamship coming from another
hemisphere, one in which men's minds had taken, unknown to
ourselves, the road which our own has actually taken, would have
seemed to us as wonderful, as incredible as the phenomena of our
subconsciousness seem to us to-day. We should have gone very
far in what at present we call the unknown or the occult; but we
should have known hardly anything of physics, chemistry or
mechanics, unless, which is very probable, we had come upon them
by another road as we travelled round the occult. It is true that
certain nations, the Hindus particularly, the Egyptians and
perhaps the Incas, as well as others, in all probability, who
have not left sufficient traces, thus went to work the other way
and obtained nothing decisive. Is this again a consequence of the
hopeless incompatibility between the faculties of the brain and
those of the subconsciousness? Possibly; but we must not forget
that we are speaking of nations which never possessed our
intellectual habits, our passion for precision, for verification,
for experimental certainty; indeed, this passion has only been
fully developed in ourselves within the last two or three
centuries. It is to be presumed therefore that the European would
have gone much farther in the other direction than the Oriental.
Where would he have arrived? Endowed with a different brain,
naturally clearer, more exacting, more logical, less credulous,
more practical, closer to realities, more attentive to details,
but with the scientific side of his intelligence uncultivated,
would he have gone astray or would he have met the truths which
we are still seeking and which may well be more important than
all our material conquests. Ill-prepared, ill-equipped,
ill-balanced, lacking the necessary ballast of experiments and
proofs, would he have been exposed to the dangers familiar to all
the too-mystical nations? It is very difficult to imagine so. But
the hour has now perhaps come to try without risk what he could
not have done without grave peril. While abandoning no whit of
his understanding, which is small compared with the boundless
scope of the subconsciousness, but which is sure, tried and
docile, he can now embark upon the great adventure and try to do
that which has not been done before. It is a matter of
discovering the connecting link between the two forces. We are
still ignorant of the means of aiding, encouraging, developing
and taming the greater of the two and of bringing it closer to
us; the quest will be the most difficult, the most mysterious
and, in certain respects, the most dangerous that mankind has
ever undertaken. But we can say to ourselves, without fear of
being very far wrong, that it is the best task at the moment. In
any case, this is the first time since man has existed that he
will be fronting the unknown with such good weapons, even as it
is also the first time since its awakening that his intelligence,
which has reached a summit from which it can understand almost
everything, will at last receive help from outside and hear a
voice that is something more than the echo of its own.

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