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Title: Our Eternity
Author: Maeterlinck, Maurice
Language: English
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                              OUR ETERNITY


[Illustration: _Hope._ _After the painting by G. F. WATTS._]


                              OUR ETERNITY


                          MAURICE MAETERLINCK

                             TRANSLATED BY

                      ALEXANDER TEIXEIRA DE MATTOS

                           METHUEN & CO. LTD.
                          36 ESSEX STREET W.C.


                               CHAPTER I

                         OUR INJUSTICE TO DEATH


It has been well said:

“Death and death alone is what we must consult about life; and not some
vague future or survival, where we shall not be. It is our own end; and
everything happens in the interval between death and now. Do not talk to
me of those imaginary prolongations which wield over us the childish
spell of number; do not talk to me—to me who am to die outright—of
societies and peoples! There is no reality, there is no true duration,
save that between the cradle and the grave. The rest is mere bombast,
show, delusion! They call me a master because of some magic in my speech
and thoughts; but I am a frightened child in the presence of death!”[1]


Footnote 1:

  Marie Lenéru, _Les Affranchis_, Act III., Sc. iv.



That is where we stand. For us, death is the one event that counts in
our life and in our universe. It is the point whereat all that escapes
our vigilance unites and conspires against our happiness. The more our
thoughts struggle to turn away from it, the closer do they press around
it. The more we dread it, the more dreadful it becomes, for it but
thrives on our fears. He who seeks to forget it has his memory filled
with it; he who tries to shun it meets naught else. It clouds everything
with its shadow. But though we think of death incessantly, we do so
unconsciously, without learning to know death. We compel our attention
to turn its back upon it, instead of going to it with uplifted head. All
the forces which might avail to face death we exhaust in averting our
will from it. We deliver death into the groping hands of instinct and we
grant it not one hour of our intelligence. Is it surprising that the
idea of death, which should be the most perfect and the most luminous of
ideas—being the most persistent and the most inevitable—remains the
flimsiest and the only one that is a laggard? How should we know the one
power which we never look in the face? How could it have profited by
gleams kindled only to help us escape it? To fathom its abysses, we wait
until the most enfeebled, the most disordered moments of our life
arrive. We do not think of death until we have no longer the strength, I
will not say, to think, but even to breathe. A man returning among us
from another century would have difficulty in recognizing, in the depths
of a present-day soul, the image of his gods, of his duty, of his love
or of his universe; but the figure of death, when everything has changed
around it and when even that which composes it and upon which it depends
has vanished, he would find almost untouched, rough-drawn as it was by
our fathers, hundreds, nay, thousands of years ago. Our intelligence,
grown so bold and active, has not worked upon this figure, has not, so
to speak, retouched it in any way. Though we may no longer believe in
the tortures of the damned, all the vital cells of the most sceptical
among us are still steeped in the appalling mystery of the Hebrew Sheol,
the pagan Hades, or the Christian Hell. Though it may no longer be
lighted by very definite flames, the gulf still opens at the end of life
and, if less known, is all the more formidable. And, therefore, when the
impending hour strikes to which we dared not raise our eyes, everything
fails us at the same time. Those two or three uncertain ideas whereon,
without examining them, we had meant to lean give way like rushes
beneath the weight of the last minutes. In vain we seek a refuge among
reflexions that are illusive or are strange to us and do not know the
roads to our heart. No one awaits us on the last shore where all is
unprepared, where naught remains afoot save terror.


Bossuet, the great poet of the tomb, says:

“It is not worthy of a Christian”—and I would add, of a man—“to postpone
his struggle with death until the moment when it arrives to carry him

It were a salutary thing for each of us to work out his idea of death in
the light of his days and the strength of his intelligence and stand by
it. He would say to death:

“I know not who you are, or I would be your master; but, in days when my
eyes saw clearer than to-day, I learnt what you were not: that is enough
to prevent you from becoming mine.”

He would thus bear, graven on his memory, a tried image against which
the last agony would not prevail and from which the phantom-stricken
eyes would draw fresh comfort. Instead of the terrible prayer of the
dying, which is the prayer of the depths, he would say his own prayer,
that of the peaks of his existence, where would be gathered, like angels
of peace, the most lucid, the most rarefied thoughts of his life. Is not
that the prayer of prayers? After all, what is a true and worthy prayer,
if not the most ardent and disinterested effort to reach and grasp the


“The doctors and the priests,” said Napoleon, “have long been making
death grievous.”

And Bacon wrote:

“_Pompa mortis magis terret quam mors ipsa._”

Let us, then, learn to look upon death as it is in itself, free from the
horrors of matter and stripped of the terrors of the imagination. Let us
first get rid of all that goes before and does not belong to it. Thus,
we impute to it the tortures of the last illness; and that is not just.
Illnesses have nothing in common with that which ends them. They form
part of life and not of death. We readily forget the most cruel
sufferings that restore us to health; and the first sun of convalescence
destroys the most unbearable memories of the chamber of pain. But let
death come; and at once we overwhelm it with all the evil done before
it. Not a tear but is remembered and used as a reproach, not a cry of
pain but becomes a cry of accusation. Death alone bears the weight of
the errors of nature or the ignorance of science that have uselessly
prolonged torments in whose name we curse death because it puts a term
to them.


In point of fact, whereas sicknesses belong to nature or to life, the
agony, which seems peculiar to death, is wholly in the hands of men. Now
what we most dread is the awful struggle at the end and especially the
last, terrible second of rupture which we shall perhaps see approaching
during long hours of helplessness and which suddenly hurls us, naked,
disarmed, abandoned by all and stripped of everything, into an unknown
that is the home of the only invincible terrors which the soul of man
has ever felt.

It is doubly unjust to impute the torments of that second to death. We
shall see presently in what manner a man of to-day, if he would remain
faithful to his ideas, should picture to himself the unknown into which
death flings us. Let us confine ourselves here to the last struggle. As
science progresses, it prolongs the agony which is the most dreadful
moment and the sharpest peak of human pain and horror, for the watchers,
at least; for very often the consciousness of him whom death, in
Bossuet’s phrase, has “brought to bay” is already greatly dulled and
perceives no more than the distant murmur of the sufferings which it
seems to be enduring. All doctors consider it their first duty to
prolong to the uttermost even the cruellest pangs of the most hopeless
agony. Who has not, at the bedside of a dying man, twenty times wished
and not once dared to throw himself at their feet and implore them to
show mercy? They are filled with so great a certainty and the duty which
they obey leaves so little room for the least doubt that pity and
reason, blinded by tears, curb their revolt and recoil before a law
which all recognize and revere as the highest law of man’s conscience.


One day, this prejudice will strike us as barbarous. Its roots go down
to the unacknowledged fears left in the heart by religions that have
long since died out in the intelligence of men. That is why the doctors
act as though they were convinced that there is no known torture but is
preferable to those awaiting us in the unknown. They seem persuaded that
every minute gained amid the most intolerable sufferings is snatched
from the incomparably more dreadful sufferings which the mysteries of
the hereafter reserve for men; and, of two evils, to avoid that which
they know to be imaginary, they choose the only real one. Besides, in
thus postponing the end of a torture, which, as old Seneca says, is the
best part of that torture, they are but yielding to the unanimous error
which makes its enclosing circle more iron-bound every day: the
prolongation of the agony increasing the horror of death; and the horror
of death demanding the prolongation of the agony.


The doctors, on their side, say or might say that, in the present stage
of science, two or three cases excepted, there is never a certainty of
death. Not to support life to its last limits, even at the cost of
insupportable torments, might be murder. Doubtless there is not one
chance in a hundred thousand that the patient escape. No matter. If that
chance exist which, in the majority of cases, will give but a few days,
or, at the utmost, a few months of a life that will not be the real
life, but much rather, as the Romans called it, “an extended death,”
those hundred thousand useless torments will not have been in vain. A
single hour snatched from death outweighs a whole existence of tortures.

Here are, face to face, two values that cannot be compared; and, if we
mean to weigh them in the same balance, we must heap the scale which we
see with all that remains to us, that is to say, with every imaginable
pain, for at the decisive hour this is the only weight which counts and
which is heavy enough to raise by a hair’s-breadth the other scale that
dips into what we do not see and is loaded with the thick darkness of
another world.


Swollen by so many adventitious horrors, the horror of death becomes
such that, without reasoning, we accept the doctors’ reasons. And yet
there is one point on which they are beginning to yield and to agree.
They are slowly consenting, when there is no hope left, if not to
deaden, at least to dull the last agonies. Formerly, none of them would
have dared to do so; and, even to-day, many of them hesitate and, like
misers, measure out miserly drops of the clemency and peace which they
ought to lavish and which they grudge in their dread of weakening the
last resistance, that is to say, the most useless and painful quiverings
of reluctant life refusing to give place to oncoming rest.

It is not for me to decide whether their pity might show greater daring.
It is enough to state once more that all this has no concern with death.
It happens before it and beneath it. It is not the arrival of death, but
the departure of life that is appalling. It is not death, but life that
we must act upon. It is not death that attacks life; it is life that
wrongfully resists death. Evils hasten up from every side at the
approach of death, but not at its call; and, though they gather round
it, they did not come with it. Do you accuse sleep of the fatigue that
oppresses you if you do not yield to it? All those strugglings, those
waitings, those tossings, those tragic cursings are on the side of the
slope to which we cling and not on the other side. They are, for that
matter, accidental and temporary and emanate only from our ignorance.
All our knowledge merely helps us to die a more painful death than the
animals that know nothing. A day will come when science will turn upon
its error and no longer hesitate to shorten our woes. A day will come
when it will dare and act with certainty; when life, grown wiser, will
depart silently at its hour, knowing that it has reached its term, even
as it withdraws silently every evening, knowing that its task is done.
Once the doctor and the sick man have learnt what they have to learn,
there will be no physical nor metaphysical reason why the advent of
death should not be as salutary as that of sleep. Perhaps even, as there
will be nothing else to take into consideration, it will be possible to
surround death with profounder ecstasies and fairer dreams. In any case
and from this day, with death once acquitted of that which goes before,
it will be easier to look upon it without fear and to lighten that which
comes after.


Death, as we usually picture it, has two terrors looming behind it. The
first has neither face nor form and permeates the whole region of our
mind; the other is more definite, more explicit, but almost as powerful.
The latter strikes all our senses. Let us examine it first.

Even as we impute to death all the evils that precede it, so do we add
to the dread which it inspires all that happens beyond it, thus doing it
the same injustice at its going as at its coming. Is it death that digs
our graves and orders us to keep there that which is made to disappear?
If we cannot think without horror of what befalls the beloved in the
grave, is it death or we that placed him there? Because death carries
the spirit to some place unknown, shall we reproach it with our bestowal
of the body which it leaves with us? Death descends into our midst to
change the place of a life or change its form: let us judge it by what
it does and not by what we do before it comes and after it is gone. For
it is already far away when we begin the frightful work which we try
hard to prolong to the very utmost, as though we were persuaded that it
is our only security against forgetfulness. I am well aware that, from
any other than the human point of view, this proceeding is very
innocent; and that, looked upon from a sufficient height, decomposing
flesh is no more repulsive than a fading flower or a crumbling stone.
But, when all is said, it offends our senses, shocks our memory, daunts
our courage, whereas it would be so easy for us to avoid the foul
ordeal. Purified by fire, the remembrance lives enthroned as a beautiful
idea; and death is naught but an immortal birth cradled in flames. This
has been well understood by the wisest and happiest nations in history.
What happens in our graves poisons our thoughts together with our
bodies. The figure of death, in the imagination of men, depends before
all upon the form of burial; and the funeral rites govern not only the
fate of those who depart, but also the happiness of those who stay, for
they raise in the ultimate background of life the great image upon which
men’s eyes linger in consolation or despair.


There is, therefore, but one terror particular to death: that of the
unknown into which it hurls us. In facing it, let us lose no time in
putting from our minds all that the positive religions have left there.
Let us remember only that it is not for us to prove that they are not
proved, but for them to establish that they are true. Now not one of
them brings us a proof before which an honest intelligence can bow. Nor
would it suffice if that intelligence were able to bow; for man lawfully
to believe and thus to limit his endless seeking, the proof would need
to be irresistible. The God offered to us by the best and strongest of
them has given us our reason to employ loyally and fully, that is to
say, to try to attain, before all and in all things, that which appears
to be the truth. Can He exact that we should accept, in spite of it, a
belief whose doubtfulness, from the human point of view, is not denied
by its wisest and most ardent defenders? He only offers us a very
uncertain story, which, even if scientifically substantiated, would be
merely a beautiful lesson in morality and which is buttressed by
prophecies and miracles no less doubtful. Must we here call to mind that
Pascal, to defend that creed which was already tottering at a time when
it seemed at its zenith, vainly attempted a demonstration the mere
aspect of which would be enough to destroy the last remnant of faith in
a wavering mind? Better than any other, he knew the stock proofs of the
theologians, for they had been the sole study of the last years of his
life. If but one of these proofs could have resisted examination, his
genius, one of the three or four most profound and lucid geniuses ever
known to humanity, must have given it an irresistible force. But he does
not linger over these arguments, whose weakness he feels too well; he
pushes them scornfully aside, he glories and, in a manner, rejoices in
their futility:

“Who then will blame Christians for not being able to give a reason for
their faith, those who profess a religion for which they cannot give a
reason? They declare, in presenting it to the world, that it is a
foolishness, _stultitiam_; and then you complain that they do not prove
it! If they proved it, they would not be keeping their word; it is in
being destitute of proofs that they are not destitute of sense.”

His solitary argument, the one to which he clings desperately and
devotes all the power of his genius, is the very condition of man in the
universe, that incomprehensible medley of greatness and wretchedness,
for which there is no accounting save by the mystery of the first fall:

“For man is more incomprehensible without that mystery than the mystery
itself is incomprehensible to man.”

He is therefore reduced to establishing the truth of the Scriptures by
an argument drawn from the very Scriptures in question; and—what is more
serious—to explain a wide and great and indisputable mystery by another,
small, narrow and crude mystery that rests only upon the legend which it
is his business to prove. And, let us observe in passing, it is a fatal
thing to replace one mystery by another and lesser mystery. In the
hierarchy of the unknown, mankind always ascends from the smaller to the
greater. On the other hand, to descend from the greater to the smaller
is to relapse into the condition of primitive man, who carries his
barbarism to the point of replacing the infinite by a fetish or an
amulet. The measure of man’s greatness is the greatness of the mysteries
which he cultivates or on which he dwells.

To return to Pascal, he feels that everything is crumbling around him;
and so, in the collapse of human reason, he at last offers us the
monstrous wager that is the supreme avowal of the bankruptcy and despair
of his faith. God, he says, meaning his God and the Christian religion
with all its precepts and all its consequences, exists or does not
exist. We are unable, by human arguments, to prove that He exists or
that He does not exist.

“If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, because, having
neither divisions nor bounds, He has no relation to us. We are therefore
incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is.”

God is or is not.

“But to which side shall we lean? Reason can determine nothing about it.
There is an infinite gulf that separates us. A game is played at the
uttermost part of this infinite distance, in which heads may turn up or
tails. Which will you wager? There is no reason for betting on either
one or the other; you cannot reasonably defend either.”

The correct course would be not to wager at all.

“Yes, but you must wager: this is not a matter for your will; you are
launched in it.”

Not to wager that God exists means wagering that He does not exist, for
which He will punish you eternally. What then do you risk by wagering,
at all hazards, that He exists? If He does not, you lose a few small
pleasures, a few wretched comforts of this life, because your little
sacrifice will not have been rewarded; if He exists, you gain an
eternity of unspeakable happiness.

“‘It is true, but, in spite of all, I am so made that I cannot believe.’

“Never mind, follow the way in which they began who believe and who at
first did not believe either, taking holy water, having masses said,
etc. That in itself will make you believe and will reduce you to the
level of the beasts.”

“'But that is just what I am afraid of.’

“Why? What have you to lose?”

Nearly three centuries of apologetics have not added one useful argument
to that terrible and despairing page of Pascal. And this is all that
human intelligence has found to compel our life. If the God who demands
our faith will not have us decide by our reason, by what then must our
choice be made? By usage? By the accidents of race or birth, by some
æsthetic or sentimental pitch-and-toss? Or has He set within us another
higher and surer faculty before which the understanding must yield? If
so, where is it? What is its name? If this God punishes us for not
having blindly followed a faith that does not force itself irresistibly
upon the intelligence which He gave us; if He chastises us for not
having made, in the presence of the great enigma with which He confronts
us, a choice which is rejected by that best and most divine part which
He has implanted in us, we have nothing left to reply: we are the dupes
of a cruel and incomprehensible sport, we are the victims of a terrible
snare and an immense injustice; and, whatever the torments wherewith
that injustice may load us, they will be less intolerable than the
eternal presence of its Author.

                               CHAPTER II



And now we stand before the abyss. It is void of all the dreams with
which our fathers peopled it. They thought that they knew what was
there; we know only what is not there. It is the vaster by all that we
have learnt to know nothing of. While waiting for a scientific certainty
to break through its darkness—for man has the right to hope for that
which he does not yet conceive—the only point that interests us, because
it is situated in the little circle which our actual intelligence traces
in the thickest blackness of the night, is to know whether the unknown
for which we are bound will be dreadful or not.

Outside the religions, there are four imaginable solutions and no more:
total annihilation; survival with our consciousness of to-day; survival
without any sort of consciousness; lastly, survival in the universal
consciousness, or with a consciousness different from that which we
possess in this world.


Total annihilation is impossible. We are the prisoners of an infinity
without outlet, wherein nothing perishes, wherein everything is
dispersed, but nothing lost. Neither a body nor a thought can drop out
of the universe, out of time and space. Not an atom of our flesh, not a
quiver of our nerves will go where they will cease to be, for there is
no place where anything ceases to be. The brightness of a star
extinguished millions of years ago still wanders in the ether where our
eyes will perhaps behold it this very night, pursuing its endless road.
It is the same with all that we see, as with all that we do not see. To
be able to do away with a thing, that is to say, to fling it into
nothingness, nothingness would have to exist; and, if it exists, under
whatever form, it is no longer nothingness. As soon as we try to analyze
it, to define it, or to understand it, thoughts and expressions fail us,
or create that which they are struggling to deny. It is as contrary to
the nature of our reason and probably of all imaginable reason to
conceive nothingness as to conceive limits to infinity. Nothingness,
besides, is but a negative infinity, a sort of infinity of darkness
opposed to that which our intelligence strives to illumine, or rather it
is but a child-name or nickname which our mind has bestowed upon that
which it has not attempted to embrace, for we call nothingness all that
escapes our senses or our reason and exists without our knowledge.


But, it will perhaps be said, though the annihilation of every world and
every thing be impossible, it is not so certain that their death is
impossible; and, to us, what is the difference between nothingness and
everlasting death? Here again we are led astray by our imagination and
by words. We can no more conceive death than we can conceive
nothingness. We use the word death to cover those fragments of
nothingness which we believe that we understand; but, on closer
examination, we are bound to recognize that our idea of death is much
too puerile for it to contain the least truth. It reaches no higher than
our own bodies and cannot measure the destinies of the universe. We give
the name of death to anything that has a life a little different from
ours. Even so do we act towards a world that appears to us motionless
and frozen, the moon, for instance, because we are persuaded that any
form of existence, animal or vegetable, is extinguished upon it for
ever. But it is now some years since we learnt that the most inert
matter, to outward seeming, is animated by movements so powerful and
furious that all animal or vegetable life is no more than sleep and
immobility by the side of the swirling eddies and immeasurable energy
locked up in a wayside stone.

“There is no room for death!” cried Emily Brontë.

But, even if, in the infinite series of the centuries, all matter should
really become inert and motionless, it would none the less persist under
one form or another; and persistence, though it were in total
immobility, would, after all, be but a form of life stable and silent at
last. All that dies falls into life; and all that is born is of the same
age as that which dies. If death carried us to nothingness, did birth
then draw us out of that same nothingness? Why should the second be more
impossible than the first? The higher human thought rises and the wider
it expands, the less comprehensible do nothingness and death become. In
any case—and this is what matters here—if nothingness were possible,
since it could not be anything whatever, it could not be dreadful.

                              CHAPTER III

                          THE SURVIVAL OF OUR


Next comes survival with our consciousness of to-day. I have broached
this question in an essay on _Immortality_,[2] of which I will only
reproduce a few essential passages, restricting myself to supporting
them with new considerations.

What composes this sense of the ego which turns each of us into the
centre of the universe, the only point that matters in space and time?
Is it formed of sensations of our body, or of thoughts independent of
our body? Would our body be conscious of itself without our mind? And,
on the other hand, what would our mind be without our body? We know
bodies without mind, but no mind without a body. It is almost certain
that an intelligence devoid of senses, devoid of organs to create and
nourish it, exists; but it is impossible to imagine that ours could thus
exist and yet remain similar to that which has derived all that inspires
it from our sensibility.

This ego, as we conceive it when we reflect upon the consequences of its
destruction, this ego, therefore, is neither our mind nor our body,
since we recognize that both are waves that roll by and are incessantly
renewed. Is it an immovable point, which could not be form or substance,
for these are always in evolution, nor yet life, which is the cause or
effect of form and substance? In truth, it is impossible for us either
to apprehend or define it, or even to say where it dwells. When we try
to go back to its last source, we find little more than a succession of
memories, a mass of ideas, confused, for that matter, and unsettled, all
connected with the same instinct, the instinct of living: a mass of
habits of our sensibility and of conscious or unconscious reactions
against the surrounding phenomena. When all is said, the most steadfast
point of that nebula is our memory, which seems, on the other hand, to
be a somewhat external, a somewhat accessory faculty and, in any case,
one of the frailest faculties of our brain, one of those which disappear
the most promptly at the least disturbance of our health. As an English
poet has very truly said, “that which cries aloud for eternity is the
very part of me that will perish.”


Footnote 2:

  This essay forms part of the volume published under the title of _Life
  and Flowers_.—_Translator’s Note._



It matters not: that uncertain, indiscernible, fleeting and precarious
ego is so much the centre of our being, interests us so exclusively,
that every reality disappears before this phantom. It is utterly
indifferent to us that, throughout eternity, our body or its substance
should know every joy and every glory, undergo the most splendid and
delightful transformations, become flower, perfume, beauty, light, air,
star—and it is certain that it does so become and that we must look for
our dead not in our graveyards, but in space and light and life—it is
likewise indifferent to us that our intelligence should expand until it
takes part in the life of the worlds, until it understands and governs
it. We are persuaded that all this will not affect us, will give us no
pleasure, will not happen to ourselves, unless that memory of a few
almost always insignificant facts accompany us and witness those
unimaginable joys.

“I care not,” says this narrow ego, in its firm resolve to understand
nothing, “I care not if the loftiest, the freest, the fairest portions
of my mind be eternally living and radiant in the supreme gladnesses:
they are no longer mine; I do not know them. Death has cut the network
of nerves or memories that connected them with I know not what centres
wherein lies the point which I feel to be my very self. They are thus
set loose, floating in space and time; and their fate is as alien to me
as that of the most distant stars. All that befalls has no existence for
me unless I can recall it within that mysterious being which is I know
not where and precisely nowhere and which I turn like a mirror about
this world whose phenomena take shape only in so far as they are
reflected in it.”


Thus our longing for immortality destroys itself while expressing
itself, since it is on one of the accessory and most transient parts of
our whole life that we base all the interest of our after-life. It seems
to us that, if our existence be not continued with the greater part of
its drawbacks, of the pettiness and blemishes that characterize it,
nothing will distinguish it from that of other beings; that it will
become a drop of ignorance in the ocean of the unknown; and that,
thenceforth, all that may come to pass will no longer concern us.

What immortality can one promise to men who almost necessarily conceive
it in this guise? What is the use of it? asks a puerile but profound
instinct. Any immortality that does not drag with it through eternity,
like the fetters of the convict that we were, the strange consciousness
formed during a few years of movement, any immortality that does not
bear that indelible mark of our identity is for us as though it were
not. Most of the religions have been well aware of this and have
reckoned with that instinct which desires and at the same time destroys
the after-life. It is thus that the Catholic Church, going back to the
most primitive hopes, promises us not only the integral preservation of
our earthly ego, but even the resurrection of our own flesh.

There lies the crux of the riddle. When we demand that this small
consciousness, that this sense of a special ego—almost childish and, in
any case, extraordinarily limited; probably an infirmity of our actual
intelligence—should accompany us into the infinity of time in order that
we may understand and enjoy it, are we not wishing to perceive an object
with the aid of an organ which is not intended for that purpose? Are we
not asking that our hand should discover the light or that our eye
should appreciate perfumes? Are we not, rather, acting like a sick man
who, in order to recognize himself, to be quite sure that he is himself,
should think it necessary to continue his sickness in health and in the
unending sequence of his days? The comparison, indeed, is more accurate
than is the habit of comparisons. Picture a blind man who is also
paralyzed and deaf. He has been in this condition from his birth and has
just attained his thirtieth year. What can the hours have embroidered on
the imageless web of this poor life? The unhappy man must have gathered
at the back of his memory, for lack of other recollections, a few
halting sensations of heat and cold, of weariness and rest, of more or
less active physical sufferings, of hunger and thirst. It is probable
that all human joys, all our hopes and ideals, all our dreams of
paradise will be reduced for him to the vague sense of well-being that
follows the alleviation of a pain. There you have the only possible
equipment of that consciousness and that ego. The intellect, having
never been invoked from without, will sleep soundly, all-ignorant of
itself. Nevertheless, the poor wretch will have his little life, to
which he will cling as closely and eagerly as though he were the
happiest of men. He will dread death; and the idea of entering into
eternity without carrying with him the emotions and the memories of his
dark and silent sick-bed will plunge him into the same despair into
which we are plunged by the thought of abandoning a glorious life of
light and love for the icy darkness of the tomb.


Let us now suppose that a miracle suddenly quicken his eyes and ears and
reveal to him, through the open window by his bedside, the dawn rising
over the plain, the song of the birds in the trees, the murmur of the
wind among the leaves and of the water lapping its banks, the echoing of
human voices among the morning hills. Let us suppose also that the same
miracle, completing its work, restore the use of his limbs. He rises,
stretches his arms to that prodigy which as yet for him possesses
neither reality nor name: the light! He opens the door, staggers out
amidst the effulgence; and his whole body is merged in the wonder of it
all. He enters into an ineffable life, into a sky whereof no dream could
have given him a foretaste; and, by a freak which is readily admissible
in this sort of cure, health, introducing him to this inconceivable and
unintelligible existence, wipes out in him all memory of days past.

What will be the state of this ego, of this central focus, the
receptacle of all our sensations, the spot in which converges all that
belongs in its own right to our life, the supreme point, the “egotic”
point of our being, if I may venture to coin a word? Memory being
abolished, will that ego recover within itself a few traces of the man
that was? A new force, the intellect, awaking and suddenly displaying
unprecedented activity, what relation will that intellect keep up with
the inert, dull germ whence it has sprung? Where, in his past, shall the
man fix his moorings so that his identity may endure? And yet will there
not survive within him some sense or instinct, independent of his
memory, his intellect and I know not what other faculties, that will
make him recognize that it is indeed in him that the liberating miracle
has been wrought, that it is indeed his life and not his neighbour’s,
transformed, irrecognizable, but substantially the same, that has issued
from the silence and the darkness to prolong itself in harmony and
light? Can we picture the disorder, the wandering hither and thither of
that bewildered consciousness? Have we any idea in what manner the ego
of yesterday will unite with the ego of to-day and how the “egotic”
point, the only point which we are anxious to preserve intact, will
behave in that delirium and that upheaval?

Let us first endeavour to reply with sufficient precision to this
question which comes within the province of our actual and visible life;
for, if we are unable to do this, how can we hope to solve the other
problem that stares every man in the face at the hour of death?


This sensitive point, in which the whole problem is summed up—for it is
the only one in question; and, except in so far as it is concerned,
immortality is certain—this mysterious point, to which, in the presence
of death, we attach so high a value, we lose, strange to say, at any
moment in life without feeling the least anxiety. Not only is it
destroyed nightly in our sleep, but even in waking it is at the mercy of
a host of accidents. A wound, a shock, an illness, a little alcohol, a
little opium, a little smoke are enough to affect it. Even when nothing
impairs it, it is not uniformly perceptible. An effort is often
necessary, a deliberate looking into ourselves, before we can recover it
and become aware of some particular event. At the least distraction, a
joy passes by us without touching us, without giving up the pleasure
which it contains. One would say that the functions of that organ by
which we taste and know life are intermittent and that the presence of
our ego, except in pain, is but a rapid and perpetual sequence of
departures and returns. What reassures us is that we think ourselves
certain to find it intact on awaking, after the wound, the shock or the
distraction, whereas we are persuaded, so fragile do we feel it to be,
that it is bound to disappear for ever in the awful impact between life
and death.


One foremost truth, pending others which the future will no doubt
reveal, is that, in these questions of life and death, our imagination
has remained very childish. Almost every elsewhere, it is ahead of
reason; but here it still loiters over the games of infancy. It
surrounds itself with the barbaric dreams and longings wherewith it
cradled the hopes and fears of cave-dwelling man. It asks for things
that are impossible because they are too small. It clamours for
privileges which, if obtained, were more to be dreaded than the most
enormous disasters with which nihility threatens us. Can we think
without shuddering of an eternity contained wholly within our paltry
present-day consciousness? And behold how, in all this, we obey the
illogical whims of fancy, which men in the olden time called _la folle
du logis_. Which of us, if he were to go to sleep to-night in the
scientific certainty of awaking in a hundred years exactly as he is
to-day, with his body intact, even on condition that he lost all memory
of his previous life—would such memories not be useless?—which of us
would not welcome that age-long sleep with the same confidence as the
brief, gentle slumbers of his every night? And yet between real death
and this sleep there would be only the difference of that awakening
deferred for a century, an awakening as alien to the sleeper as the
birth of a posthumous child would be.

Or else, to say very much what Schopenhauer said to one who was
unwilling to admit an immortality into which he would not carry his

“Suppose that, to snatch you from some intolerable suffering, you were
promised an awakening and a return to consciousness after a wholly
unconscious sleep of three months?”

“‘I would accept it gladly.’

“But suppose that, at the end of the three months, they forgot you and
did not wake you until ten thousand years had passed, how much the wiser
would you be? And, sleep once begun, what difference does it make to you
whether it last for three months or for ever?”


Let us then consider that all that composes our consciousness comes
first of all from our body. Our mind does but organize that which is
supplied by our senses; and even the images and the words—which in
reality are but images—by the aid of which it strives to sever itself
from those senses and deny their sway are borrowed from them. How could
that mind remain what it was, when it has nothing left of that which
formed it? When our mind no longer has a body, what shall it carry with
it into infinity whereby to recognize itself, seeing that it knows
itself only by favour of that body? A few memories of their common life?
Will those memories, which were already fading in this world, suffice to
separate it for ever from the rest of the universe, in boundless space
and in unlimited time?

“But,” I shall be told, “there is more in us than our intelligence
discovers. We have many things within us which our senses have not
placed there; we contain a greater being than the one we know.”

That is probable, nay, certain: the share occupied by the inconscient,
that is to say, by that which represents the universe, is enormous and
preponderant. But how shall the ego which we know and whose destiny
alone concerns us recognize all those things and that greater being
neither of which it has ever known? What will it do in the presence of
that stranger? If I be told that the stranger is myself, I will readily
agree; but was that which upon earth felt and weighed my joys and
sorrows and gave birth to the few memories and thoughts that remain to
me, was that this impassive, unseen stranger who existed in me all
unsuspected, even as I am probably about to live in him without his
concerning himself with a presence that will bring him but the sorry
recollection of a thing that has ceased to be? Now that he has taken my
place, while destroying, in order to acquire a larger consciousness, all
that formed my small consciousness here below, is it not another life
commencing, a life whose joys and sorrows will pass above my head, not
even brushing with their new-born wings the being which I am conscious
of to-day?


Lastly, how shall we explain that, in that consciousness which ought to
survive us, the infinity that precedes our birth has left no trace? Had
we no consciousness in that infinity, or did we perchance lose it on
coming into the world and did the catastrophe that produces the whole
terror of death take place at the moment of our birth? None can deny
that this infinity has the same rights over us as that which follows our
decease. We are as much the children of the first as of the second; and
we must of necessity have a part in both. If you maintain that you will
always exist, you are bound to admit that you have always existed; we
cannot imagine the one without having to imagine the other. If nothing
ends, nothing begins, for any such beginning would be the end of
something. Now, although I have existed since all time, I have no
consciousness whatever of my previous existence, whereas I shall have to
carry to the boundless horizon of the endless ages the tiny
consciousness acquired during the instant that elapses between my birth
and my death. Can my true ego, then, which is about to become eternal,
date only from my short sojourn on this earth? And all the preceding
eternity, which is of exactly the same value as that which follows,
since it is the same, shall it not count? Will it be flung into
nihility? Why is a strange privilege accorded to a few meaningless days
spent on an unimportant planet? Is it because in that previous eternity
we had no consciousness? What do we know about it? It seems very
unlikely. Why should the acquisition of consciousness be a phenomenon
unrepeated in an eternity that had at its disposal innumerable billions
of chances, among which—unless we set a limit to the infinity of the
ages—it is impossible to conceive that the thousands of coincidences
which went to form my present consciousness did not occur over and over
again? The moment we turn our gaze upon the mysteries of that eternity
wherein all that happens must already have happened, it seems much more
credible, on the contrary, that we have had consciousness upon
consciousness which our life of to-day hides from our view. If they have
existed and if, at our death, one consciousness must survive, the others
must survive as well, for there is no reason to bestow so
disproportionate a favour upon that consciousness which we have acquired
here below. And, if all of them survive and awaken at the same time,
what will become of the petty consciousness of a few terrestrial
moments, when it is submerged in those eternal existences? Besides, even
if it were to forget all its previous existences, what would become of
it amid the perpetual buffeting, the endless wash of its posthumous
eternity? For it is but as a poor sand-drift of an island in the
unrelenting jaws of two boundless oceans. It would hold its own there,
puny and so precarious, only on condition that it acquired nothing more,
that it remained for ever closed, isolated and confined, impenetrable
and insensible to all things, in the midst of the astounding mysteries,
the fabulous treasures and visions which it would have eternally to pass
through without ever seeing or hearing anything; and that surely would
be the worst death and the worst destiny that could befall us. We are,
therefore, driven on all sides towards the theories of an universal
consciousness or of a modified consciousness, both of which we shall
examine presently.

                               CHAPTER IV



But, before broaching those questions, it were perhaps well to study two
interesting solutions of the problem of personal survival, solutions
which, although not new, have at least been lately renewed. I refer to
the neotheosophical and neospiritualistic theories, which are, I think,
the only ones that can be seriously discussed. The first is almost as
old as man himself; but a popular movement, of some magnitude in certain
countries, has rejuvenated the doctrine of reincarnation, or the
transmigration of souls, and brought it once more into prominence. It
cannot be denied that of all the religious theories, reincarnation is
the most plausible and the least repellent to our reason. Nor must we
overlook that it has on its side the authority of the most ancient and
widespread religions, those which have incontestably furnished humanity
with the greatest aggregate of wisdom and which we have not yet
exhausted of their truths and mysteries. In reality, the whole of Asia,
whence we derive almost everything which we know, has always believed
and still believes in the transmigration of souls.

As Mrs. Annie Besant, the remarkable apostle of the new theosophy, very
rightly says:

“There is no philosophical doctrine which has behind it so magnificent
an intellectual ancestry as the doctrine of reincarnation; none for
which there is such a weight of the opinion of the wisest of men; none,
as Max Müller declared, on which the greatest philosophers of humanity
have been so thoroughly in accord.”

This is all quite true. But it would need other proofs to win our
distrustful faith to-day. I have sought in vain for a single one in the
leading works of our modern theosophists. They confine themselves to a
mere reiteration of dogmatic statements, which are of the vaguest. Their
great argument—the chief and, when all is said, the only argument which
they adduce—is but a sentimental argument. Their doctrine that the soul,
in its successive existences, is purified and exalted with more or less
rapidity according to its efforts and deserts is, they maintain, the
only one that satisfies the irresistible instinct of justice which we
bear within us. They are right; and, from this point of view, their
posthumous justice is immeasurably superior to that of the barbaric
Heaven and the monstrous Hell of the Christians, where rewards and
punishments are for ever meted out to virtues and vices which are for
the most part puerile, unavoidable or accidental. But this, I repeat, is
only a sentimental argument, which has but an infinitesimal value in the
scale of evidence.


We may admit that certain of their theories are rather ingenious; and
what they say of the part played by the “shells,” for instance, or the
“elementals,” in the spiritualistic phenomena, is worth about as much as
our clumsy explanations of fluidic and supersensible bodies. Perhaps, or
even no doubt, they are right when they insist that everything around us
is full of living, sentient forms, of diverse and innumerous types, “as
different from one another as a blade of grass and a tiger, or a tiger
and a man,” which are incessantly brushing against us and through which
we pass unawares. If all the religions have overpopulated the world with
invisible beings, we have perhaps depopulated it too completely; and it
is extremely possible that we shall find one day that the mistake was
not on the side which one imagines. As Sir William Crookes so well puts
it, in a remarkable passage:

“It is not improbable that other sentient beings have organs of sense
which do not respond to some or any of the rays to which our eyes are
sensitive, but are able to appreciate other vibrations to which we are
blind. Such beings would practically be living in a different world to
our own. Imagine, for instance, what idea we should form of surrounding
objects were we endowed with eyes not sensitive to the ordinary rays of
light but sensitive to the vibrations concerned in electric and magnetic
phenomena. Glass and crystal would be among the most opaque of bodies.
Metals would be more or less transparent, and a telegraph wire through
the air would look like a long narrow hole drilled through an impervious
solid body. A dynamo in active work would resemble a conflagration,
whilst a permanent magnet would realise the dream of mediaeval mystics
and become an everlasting lamp with no expenditure of energy or
consumption of fuel.”

All this, with so many other things which they assert, would be, if not
admissible, at least worthy of attention, if those suppositions were
offered for what they are, that is to say, very ancient hypotheses that
go back to the early ages of human theology and metaphysics; but, when
they are transformed into categorical and dogmatic assertions, they at
once become untenable. Their exponents promise us, on the other hand,
that, by exercising our minds, by refining our senses, by etherealizing
our bodies, we shall be able to live with those whom we call dead and
with the higher beings that surround us. It all seems to lead to nothing
very much and rests on very frail bases, on very vague proofs derived
from hypnotic sleep, presentiments, mediumism, phantasms and so forth.
It is rather surprising that those who call themselves “clairvoyants,”
who pretend to be in communication with this world of discarnate spirits
and with other worlds still nearer to the divine, bring us no evidential
proofs. We want something more than arbitrary theories about the
“immortal triad,” the “three worlds,” the “astral body,” the “permanent
atom,” or the “Karma-Loka.” As their sensibility is keener, their
perception subtler, their spiritual intuition more penetrating than
ours, why do they not choose as a field for investigation the phenomena
of prenatal memory, for instance, to take one subject at random from a
multitude of others, phenomena which, although sporadic and open to
question, are still admissible? We are only too eager to allow ourselves
to be convinced, for all that adds anything to man’s importance, range
or duration must needs be gladly welcomed.[3]


Footnote 3:

   To learn the precise truth about the neotheosophical movement and its
  first manifestations, the reader should study the striking report
  drawn up, after an impartial, but strict enquiry, by Dr. Hodgson, who
  was sent to India for this special purpose by the Society for
  Psychical Research. In it he unveils, in a masterly fashion, the
  obvious and often clumsy impositions of the famous Mme. Blavatsky and
  the whole neotheosophical organization (_Proceedings_, Vol. III, pp.
  201-400: _Hodgson’s Report on Phenomena connected with Theosophy_).


                               CHAPTER V

                         THE NEOSPIRITUALISTIC
                        HYPOTHESIS: APPARITIONS


Outside theosophy, investigations of a purely scientific nature have
been made in the baffling regions of survival and reincarnation.
Neospiritualism, or psychicism or experimental spiritualism, had its
origin in America in 1870. In the following year, the first strictly
scientific experiments were organized by Sir William Crookes, the man of
genius who opened up most of the roads at the end of which men were
astounded to discover unknown properties and conditions of matter; and,
as early as 1873 or 1874, he obtained, with the aid of the medium
Florence Cook, phenomena of materialization that have hardly been
surpassed. But the real inauguration of the new science dates from the
foundation of the Society of Psychical Research, familiarly known as the
S.P.R. This society was formed in London, twenty-eight years ago, under
the auspices of the most distinguished men of science in England and
has, as we know, made a methodical and strict study of every case of
supernormal psychology and sensibility. This study or investigation,
originally conducted by Edmund Gurney, F. W. H. Myers and Frank Podmore
and continued by their successors, is a masterpiece of scientific
patience and conscientiousness. Not an incident is admitted that is not
supported by unimpeachable testimony, by definite written records and
convincing corroboration; in a word, it is hardly possible to contest
the essential veracity of the majority of them, unless we begin by
making up our minds to deny any positive value to human evidence and by
making any conviction, any certainty impossible that derives its source
therefrom.[4] Among those supernormal manifestations, telepathy,
telergy, previsions and so forth, we will take cognizance only of those
which relate to life beyond the grave. They can be divided into two
categories: (1) real, objective and spontaneous apparitions, or direct
manifestations; (2) manifestations obtained by the agency of mediums,
whether induced apparitions, which we will put aside for the moment
because of their frequently questionable character,[5] or communications
with the dead by word of mouth or automatic writing. We will stop for a
moment to consider those extraordinary communications. They have been
studied at length by such men as F. W. H. Myers, Richard Hodgson, Sir
Oliver Lodge and the philosopher William James, the father of the new
pragmatism; they profoundly impressed and almost convinced these men and
they therefore deserve to arrest our attention.


Footnote 4:

  How strict these investigations are is shown by the perpetual attacks
  on the S.P.R. in the spiritualistic press, which constantly refers to
  it as the Society “for the suppression of facts,” “for the wholesale
  imputation of imposture,” “for the discouragement of the sensitive and
  for the repudiation of every revelation of the kind which was said to
  be pressing itself upon humanity from the regions of light and

Footnote 5:

  It would, however, be unjust to assert that all these apparitions are
  open to question. For instance, it is impossible to deny the reality
  of the celebrated Katie King, the double of Florence Cook, whose
  actions and movements were rigorously investigated and controlled by a
  man like Sir William Crookes for a period of three years. But, looked
  upon as a proof of survival—notwithstanding that Katie King professed
  to be a dead person who had returned to earth to expiate certain
  sins—her manifestations are not so valuable as the communications
  obtained since her time. In any case, they bring us no revelation
  concerning existence beyond the grave; and Katie, who was so young, so
  much alive, whose pulsations could be counted, whose heart was heard
  beating, who was photographed, who distributed locks of her hair to
  those present, who replied to every question put to her, Katie herself
  never uttered a word on the subject of the secrets of the next world.



As concerns the manifestations of the first category, it is, of course,
impossible to give even a summary account of the most striking of them
in these pages; and I refer the reader to the volumes of the
_Proceedings_. It is enough to remember that numerous apparitions of
deceased persons have been investigated and studied by men of science
like Sir William Crookes, Alfred Russel Wallace, Robert Dale Owen,
Professor Aksakof, Paul Gibier and others. Gurney, who is one of the
classics of this new science, gives two hundred and thirty instances of
this sort; and, since then, the _Journal_ of the S.P.R. and the
spiritualistic reviews have never ceased to record new ones. It appears
therefore to be as well established as a fact can be that a spiritual or
nervous shape, an image, a belated reflexion of life is capable of
subsisting for some time, of releasing itself from the body, of
surviving it, of traversing enormous distances in the twinkling of an
eye, of manifesting itself to the living and, sometimes, of
communicating with them.

For the rest, we have to recognize that these apparitions are very
brief. They only take place at the precise moment of death or follow
very shortly after. They do not seem to have the least consciousness of
a new or superterrestrial life differing from that of the body whence
they issue. On the contrary, their spiritual energy, at a time when it
ought to be absolutely pure, because it is rid of matter, seems greatly
inferior to what it was when matter surrounded it. These more or less
uneasy phantasms, often tormented with trivial cares, have never,
although they come from another world, brought us one single revelation
of topical interest concerning that world whose prodigious threshold
they have crossed. Soon, they fade away and disappear for ever. Are they
the first glimmers of a new existence or the final glimmers of the old?
Do the dead thus use, for want of a better, the last link that binds
them and makes them perceptible to our senses? Do they afterwards go on
living around us, without again succeeding, in spite of their
endeavours, in making themselves known or giving us an idea of their
presence, because we have not the organ that is necessary to perceive
them, even as all our endeavours would not succeed in giving a man who
was blind from birth the least notion of light and colour? We do not
know at all; nor can we tell whether it be permissible to draw any
conclusion from all these incontestable phenomena. They would really
assume importance only if it were possible to verify or to induce
apparitions of beings whose death dated back a certain number of years.
We should then at last have the positive proof, which has always escaped
us hitherto, that the spirit is independent of the body, that it is
cause, not effect, that it can thrive, find sustenance and perform its
functions without organs. The greatest question that humanity has ever
set itself would thus be, if not solved, at least rid of some of its
obscurity; and, forthwith, personal survival, while continuing to be
wrapped in the mysteries of the beginning and the end, would become
defensible. But we have not yet reached that stage. Meanwhile, it is
interesting to observe that there really are ghosts, spectres and
phantoms. Once again, science steps in to confirm a general belief of
mankind and to teach us that a belief of this sort, however absurd it
may at first seem, still deserves careful examination.

                               CHAPTER VI

                      COMMUNICATIONS WITH THE DEAD


The spiritualists communicate or think that they communicate with the
dead by means of what they call automatic speech and writing. These are
obtained by the agency of a medium[6] in a state of ecstasy or rather of
“trance,” to employ the vocabulary of the new science. This condition is
not one of hypnotic sleep, nor does it seem to be an hysterical
manifestation; it is often associated, as in the case of the medium Mrs.
Piper, with perfect health and complete intellectual and physical
balance. It is rather the more or less voluntary emergence of a second
or subliminal personality or consciousness of the medium; or, if we
admit the spiritualistic hypothesis, his occupation, his “psychic
invasion,” as Myers calls it, by forces from another world. In the
“entranced” subject, the normal consciousness and personality are
entirely done away with; and he replies “automatically,” sometimes by
word of mouth, more often in writing, to the questions put to him. It
has happened that he speaks and writes simultaneously, his voice being
occupied by one spirit and his hand by another, who thus carry on two
independent conversations. More rarely, the voice and the two hands are
“possessed” at one and the same time; and we receive three different
communications. Obviously, manifestations of this sort lend themselves
to frauds and impostures of every kind; and the distrust aroused is at
first invincible. But there are some that make their appearance
encompassed with such guarantees of good faith and sincerity, so often,
so long and so rigorously checked by scientific men of unimpeachable
character and authority and of originally inflexible scepticism that it
becomes difficult to maintain a suspicion at the finish.[7]
Unfortunately, I am not able to enter here into the details of some of
these purely scientific sittings, those for instance of Mrs. Piper, the
famous medium with whom F. W. H. Myers, Richard Hodgson, Professor
Newbold, of the University of Pennsylvania, Sir Oliver Lodge and William
James worked during a number of years. On the other hand, it is
precisely the accumulation and coincidences of these abnormal details
which gradually produce and confirm the conviction that we are in the
presence of an entirely new, improbable, but genuine phenomenon, which
is sometimes difficult of classification among exclusively terrestrial
phenomena. I should have to devote to these “communications” a special
study which would exceed the limits of this essay; and I will therefore
content myself with referring those who care to know more of the subject
to Sir Oliver Lodge’s book, _The Survival of Man_, recently translated
into French under the title of _La Survivance humaine_; and, above all,
to the twenty-five bulky volumes of the _Proceedings_ of the S.P.R.,
notably to the report and comments of William James on the Piper-Hodgson
sittings in Vol. XXIII. and to Vol. XIII., where Hodgson examines the
facts and arguments that may be adduced for or against the agency of the
dead; and, lastly, to Myers’ great work, _Human Personality and its
Survival after Bodily Death_.


Footnote 6:

  Those who take up the study of these supernormal manifestations
  usually ask themselves:

  “Why mediums? Why make use of these often questionable and always
  inadequate intermediaries?”

  The reason is that, hitherto, no way has been discovered of doing
  without them. If we admit the spiritualistic theory, the discarnate
  spirits which surround us on every side and which are separated from
  us by the impenetrable and mysterious wall of death seek, in order to
  communicate with us, the line of least resistance between the two
  worlds and find it in the medium, without our knowing why, even as we
  do not know why an electric current passes along copper wire and is
  stopped by glass or porcelain. If, on the other hand, we admit the
  telepathic hypothesis, which is the more probable, we observe that the
  thoughts, intentions or suggestions transmitted are, in the majority
  of cases, not conveyed from one subconscious intelligence to another.
  There is need of an organism that is, at the same time, a receiver and
  a transmitter; and this organism is found in the medium. Why? Once
  more, we know absolutely nothing about it, even as we do not know why
  one body or combination of bodies is sensitive to concentric waves in
  wireless telegraphy, while another is not affected by it. We here
  grope, as, for that matter, we grope almost everywhere, in the obscure
  domain of undisputed, but inexplicable facts. Those who care to
  possess more precise notions on the theory of mediumism will do well
  to read the admirable address delivered by Sir William Crookes, as
  president of the S.P.R., on the 29th of January 1897.

Footnote 7:

  These questions of fraud and imposture are naturally the first that
  suggest themselves when we begin to study these phenomena. But the
  slightest acquaintance with the life, habits and proceedings of the
  three or four great mediums of whom we are going to speak is enough to
  remove even the faintest shadow of suspicion. Of all the explanations
  conceivable, that one which attributes everything to imposture and
  trickery is unquestionably the most extraordinary and the least
  probable. Moreover, by reading Richard Hodgson’s report entitled,
  _Observations of certain Phenomena of Trance_ (_Proceedings_, Vols.
  VIII. and XIII.; and also J. H. Hyslop’s report, Vol. XVI.), we can
  observe the precautions taken, even to the extent of employing special
  detectives, to make certain that Mrs. Piper, for instance, was unable,
  normally and humanly speaking, to have any knowledge of the facts
  which she revealed. I repeat, from the moment that one enters upon
  this study, all suspicions are dispelled without leaving a trace
  behind them; and we are soon convinced that the key to the riddle must
  not be sought in imposture. All the manifestations of the dumb,
  mysterious and oppressed personality that lies concealed in every one
  of us have to undergo the same ordeal in their turn; and those which
  relate to the divining-rod, to name no others, are at this moment
  passing through the same crisis of incredulity. Less than fifty years
  ago, the majority of the hypnotic phenomena which are now
  scientifically classified were likewise looked upon as fraudulent. It
  seems that man is loth to admit that there lie within him many more
  things than he imagined.



The “entranced” mediums are invaded or possessed by different familiar
spirits to whom the new science gives the somewhat inappropriate and
ambiguous name of “controls.” Thus, Mrs. Piper is visited in succession
by Phinuit, George Pelham, or “G.P.,” Imperator, Doctor and Rector. Mrs.
Thompson, another very celebrated medium, has Nelly for her usual
tenant, while graver and more illustrious personages would take
possession of Stainton Moses the clergyman. Each of these spirits
retains a sharply defined character, which is consistent throughout and
which, moreover, for the most part bears no relation to that of the
medium. Amongst these, Phinuit and Nelly are undoubtedly the most
attractive, the most original, the most living, the most active and,
above all, the most talkative. They centralize the communications after
a fashion; they come and go officiously; and, should any one of those
present wish to be brought into touch with the soul of a deceased
relative or friend, they fly in search of it, find it amid the invisible
throng, usher it in, announce its presence, speak in its name, transmit
and, so to speak, translate the questions and replies; for it seems that
it is very difficult for the dead to communicate with the living and
that they need special aptitudes and a concurrence of extraordinary
circumstances. We will not yet examine what they have to reveal to us;
but to see them thus fluttering to and fro amid the multitude of their
discarnate brothers and sisters gives us a first impression of the next
world which is none too reassuring; and we say to ourselves that the
dead of to-day are strangely like those whom Ulysses conjured up out the
Cimmerian darkness three thousand years ago: pale and empty shades,
bewildered, incoherent, puerile and terror-stricken, like unto dreams,
more numerous than the leaves that fall in autumn and, like them,
trembling in the unknown winds from the vast plains of the other world.
They no longer even have enough life to be unhappy and seem to drag out,
we know not where, a precarious and idle existence, to wander aimlessly,
to hover round us, slumbering or chattering among one another of the
minor matters of the world; and, when a gap is made in their darkness,
to come up in haste from all sides, like flocks of famished birds,
hungering for light and the sound of a human voice. And, in spite of
ourselves, we think of the _Odyssey_ and the sinister words of the shade
of Achilles as it issued from Erebus:

“Do not, O illustrious Ulysses, speak to me of death; I would wish,
being on earth, to serve for hire with another man of no estate, who had
not much livelihood, rather than rule over all the departed dead.”


What have these latter-day dead to tell us? To begin with, it is a
remarkable thing that they appear to be much more interested in events
here below than in those of the world wherein they move. They seem,
above all, jealous to establish their identity, to prove that they still
exist, that they recognize us, that they know everything; and, to
convince us of this, they enter into the most minute and forgotten
details with extraordinary precision, perspicacity and prolixity. They
are also extremely clever at unravelling the intricate family connexions
of the person actually questioning them, of any of the sitters, or even
of a stranger entering the room. They recall this one’s little
infirmities, that one’s maladies, the eccentricities or tendencies of a
third. They have cognizance of events taking place at a distance: they
see, for instance, and describe to their hearers in London an
insignificant episode in Canada. In a word, they say and do almost all
the disconcerting and inexplicable things that are sometimes obtained
from a first-rate medium; perhaps they even go a little further; but
there comes from it all no breath, no glimmer of the hereafter, not even
the something vaguely promised and vaguely waited for.

We shall be told that the mediums are visited only by inferior spirits,
incapable of tearing themselves from earthly cares and soaring towards
greater and loftier ideas. It is possible; and no doubt we are wrong to
believe that a spirit stripped of its body can suddenly be transformed
and reach, in a moment, the level of our imaginings; but could they not
at least inform us where they are, what they feel and what they do?


And now it seems that death itself has elected to answer these
objections. Frederic Myers, Richard Hodgson and William James, who so
often, for long and ardent hours, questioned Mrs. Piper and Mrs.
Thompson and obliged the departed to speak by their mouths, are now
themselves among the shades, on the other side of the curtain of
darkness. They at least knew exactly what to do in order to reach us,
what to reveal in order to allay men’s uneasy curiosity. Myers in
particular, the most ardent, the most convinced, the most impatient of
the veil that parted him from the eternal realities, formally promised
those who were continuing his work that he would make every imaginable
effort out yonder, in the unknown, to come to their aid in a decisive
fashion. He kept his word. A month after his death, when Sir Oliver
Lodge was questioning Mrs. Thompson in her trance, Nelly, the medium’s
familiar spirit, suddenly declared that she had seen Myers, that he was
not yet fully awake, but that he hoped to come, at nine o’clock in the
evening, and “communicate” with his old friend of the Psychical Society.

The sitting was suspended and resumed at half past eight; and Myers’
“communication” was at last obtained. He was recognized by the first few
words he spoke; it was really he; he had not changed. Faithful to his
idiosyncracy when on earth, he at once insisted on the necessity for
taking notes. But he seemed dazed. They spoke to him of the Society for
Psychical Research, the sole interest of his life. He had lost all
recollection of it. Then memory gradually revived; and there followed a
quantity of post-mortem gossip on the subject of the society’s next
president, the obituary article in the _Times_, the letters that should
be published and so on. He complained that people would not let him
rest, that there was not a place in England where they did not ask for

“Call Myers! Bring Myers!”

He ought to be given time to collect himself, to reflect. He also
complained of the difficulty of conveying his ideas through the mediums:
“they were translating like a schoolboy does his first lines of
Virgil.”[8] As for his present condition, “he groped his way as if
through passages, before he knew he was dead. He thought he had lost his
way in a strange town ... and, even when he saw people that he knew were
dead, he thought they were only visions.”

This, together with more chatter of a no less trivial nature, is about
all that we obtained from Myers’ “control” or “impersonation,” of which
better things had been expected. The “communication” and many others
which, it appears, recall in a striking fashion Myers’ habits, character
and ways of thinking and speaking, would possess some value if none of
those by whom or to whom they were made had been acquainted with him at
the time when he was still numbered among the living. As they stand,
they are most probably but reminiscences of a secondary personality of
the medium or unconscious suggestions of the questioner or the sitters.


Footnote 8:

  In this and other “communications,” I have quoted the actual English
  words employed, whenever I have been able to discover



A more important communication and a more perplexing, because of the
names connected with it, is that which is known as “Mrs. Piper’s
Hodgson-Control.” Professor William James devotes an account of over a
hundred and twenty pages to it in Vol. XXIII. of the _Proceedings_. Dr.
Hodgson, in his lifetime, was secretary of the American branch of the
S.P.R., of which William James was vice-president. For many years, he
devoted himself to the medium Mrs. Piper, working with her twice a week
and thus accumulating an enormous mass of documents on the subject of
posthumous manifestations, a mass whose wealth has not yet been
exhausted. Like Myers, he had promised to come back after his death;
and, in his jovial way, he had more than once declared to Mrs. Piper
that, when he came to visit her in his turn, as he had more experience
than the other spirits, the sittings would take a more decisive shape
and that “he would make it hot for them.” He did come back, a week after
his death, and manifested himself by automatic writing (which, with Mrs.
Piper as medium, was the most usual method of communication) during
several sittings at which William James was present. I should like to
give an idea of these manifestations. But, as the celebrated Harvard
professor very truly observes, the shorthand report of a sitting of this
kind at once alters its aspect from start to finish. We seek in vain for
the emotion experienced on thus finding one’s self in the presence of an
invisible but living being, who not only answers your questions, but
anticipates your thoughts, understands before you have finished
speaking, grasps an allusion and caps it with another allusion, grave or
smiling. The life of the dead man, which, during a strange hour, had, so
to speak, surrounded and penetrated you, seems to be extinguished for
the second time. Stenography, which is devoid of all emotion, no doubt
supplies the best elements for arriving at a logical conclusion; but it
is not certain that here, as in many other cases where the unknown
predominates, logic is the only road that leads to the truth.

“When I first undertook,” says William James, “to collate this series of
sittings and make the present report, I supposed that my verdict would
be determined by pure logic. Certain minute incidents, I thought, ought
to make for spirit-return or against it in a ‘crucial’ way. But watching
my mind work as it goes over the data, convinces me that exact logic
plays only a preparatory part in shaping our conclusions here; and that
the decisive vote, if there be one, has to be cast by what I may call
one’s general sense of dramatic probability, which sense ebbs and flows
from one hypothesis to another—it does so in the present writer at
least—in a rather illogical manner. If one sticks to the detail, one may
draw an anti-spiritist conclusion; if one thinks more of what the whole
mass may signify, one may well incline to spiritist interpretations.”[9]

And, at the end of his article, he sums up in the following words:

“_I myself feel as if an external will to communicate were probably
there_, that is, I find myself doubting, in consequence of my whole
acquaintance with that sphere of phenomena, that Mrs. Piper’s
dream-life, even equipped with ‘telepathic’ powers, accounts for all the
results found. But if asked whether the will to communicate be
Hodgson’s, or be some mere spirit-counterfeit of Hodgson, I remain
uncertain and await more facts, facts which may not point clearly to a
conclusion for fifty or a hundred years.”[10]

As we see, William James is inclined to waver; and at certain points in
his account he appears to waver still more and indeed to say
deliberately that the spirits “have a finger in the pie.” These
hesitations on the part of a man who has revolutionized our
psychological ideas and who possessed a brain as wonderfully organized
and well-balanced as that of our own Taine, for instance, are very
significant. As a doctor of medicine and a professor of philosophy,
sceptical by nature and scrupulously faithful to experimental methods,
he was thrice qualified to conduct investigations of this kind to a
successful conclusion. It is not a question of allowing ourselves, in
our turn, to be unduly influenced by those hesitations; but, in any
case, they show that the problem is a serious one, the gravest, perhaps,
if the facts were beyond dispute, which we have had to solve since the
coming of Christ; and that we must not expect to dismiss it with a shrug
or a laugh.


Footnote 9:

  _Proceedings_, Vol. XXIII, p. 33.

Footnote 10:

  _Ibid._ p. 120.



I am obliged, for lack of space, to refer those who wish to form an
opinion of their own on the “Piper-Hodgson” case to the text of the
_Proceedings_. The case, at the same time, is far from being one of the
most striking; it should rather be classed, were it not for the
importance of the sitters concerned, among the minor successes of the
Piper series. Hodgson, according to the invariable custom of the
spirits, is, first of all, bent on making himself recognized; and the
inevitable and tedious string of trifling reminiscences begins twenty
times over again and fills page after page. As usual in such instances,
the recollections common to both the questioner and the spirit who is
supposed to reply are brought out in their most circumstantial, their
most insignificant and also their most private details with astonishing
eagerness, precision and vivacity. And observe that, for all these
details, which he discloses with such extraordinary facility, the dead
man speaking goes by preference, one would say, to the most hidden and
forgotten treasures of the living listener’s memory. He spares him
nothing; he harps on everything with childish satisfaction and
apprehensive solicitude, not so much to persuade others as to prove to
himself that he still exists. And the obstinacy of this poor invisible
being, in striving to manifest himself through the hitherto uncrannied
doors that separate us from our eternal destinies, is at once ridiculous
and tragic:

“Do you remember, William, when we were in the country at So-and-so’s,
that game we played with the children; do you remember my saying
such-and-such a thing when I was in that room where there was
such-and-such a chair or table?”

“Why, yes, Hodgson, I do remember now.”

“A good test, that?”

“First-rate, Hodgson!”

And so on, indefinitely. Sometimes, there is a more significant incident
that seems to surpass the mere transmission of subliminal thought. They
are talking, for instance, of a frustrated marriage which was always
surrounded with great mystery, even to Hodgson’s most intimate friends:

“Do you remember a lady-doctor in New York, a member of our society?”

“No, but what about her?”

“Her husband’s name was Blair ... I think.”

“Do you mean Dr. Blair Thaw?”

“Oh, yes. Ask Mrs. Thaw if I did not at a dinner-party mention something
about the lady. I may have done so.”

James writes to Mrs. Thaw, who declares that, as a matter of fact,
fifteen years before, Hodgson had said to her that he had just proposed
to a girl and been refused. Mrs. Thaw and Dr. Newbold were the only
people in the world who knew the particulars.

But to come to the further sittings. Among other points discussed is the
financial position of the American branch of the S.P.R., a position
which, at the death of the secretary, or rather factotum, Hodgson, was
anything but brilliant. And behold the somewhat strange spectacle of
different members of the society debating its affairs with their defunct
secretary. Shall they dissolve? Shall they amalgamate? Shall they send
the materials collected, most of which are Hodgson’s, to England? They
consult the dead man; he replies, gives good advice, seems fully aware
of all the complications, all the difficulties. One day, in Hodgson’s
life-time, when the society was found to be short of funds, an anonymous
donor had sent the sum necessary to relieve it from embarrassment.
Hodgson alive did not know who the donor was; Hodgson dead picks him out
among those present, addresses him by name and thanks him publicly. On
another occasion, Hodgson, like all the spirits, complains of the
extreme difficulty which he finds in conveying his thought through the
alien organism of the medium:

“I find now difficulties such as a blind man would experience in trying
to find his hat,” he says.

But, when, after so much idle chatter, William James at last puts the
essential questions that burn our lips—“Hodgson, what have you to tell
us about the other life?”—the dead man becomes shifty and does nothing
but seek evasions:

“It is not a vague fantasy but a reality,” he replies.

“But,” Mrs. William James insists, “do you live as we do, as men do?”

“What does she say?” asks the spirit, pretending not to understand.

“Do you live as men do?” repeats William James.

“Do you wear clothing and live in houses?” adds his wife.

“Oh yes, houses, but not clothing. No, that is absurd. Just wait a
moment, I am going to get out.”

“You will come back again?”


“He has got to go out and get his breath,” remarks another spirit, named
Rector, suddenly intervening.

It has not been waste of time, perhaps, to reproduce the general
features of one of these sittings which may be regarded as typical. I
will add, in order to give an idea of the farthest point which it is
possible to attain, the following instance of an experiment made by Sir
Oliver Lodge and related by him. He handed Mrs. Piper, in her “trance,”
a gold watch which had just been sent him by one of his uncles and which
belonged to that uncle’s twin brother, who had died twenty years before.
When the watch was in her possession, Mrs. Piper, or rather Phinuit, one
of her familiar spirits, began to relate a host of details concerning
the childhood of this twin brother, facts dating back for more than
sixty-six years and of course unknown to Sir Oliver Lodge. Soon after,
the surviving uncle, who lived in another town, wrote and confirmed the
accuracy of most of these details, which he had quite forgotten and of
which he was only now reminded by the medium’s revelations; while those
which he could not recollect at all were subsequently declared to be in
accordance with fact by a third uncle, an old sea-captain, who lived in
Cornwall and who had not the least notion why such strange questions
were put to him.

I quote this instance not because it has any exceptional or decisive
value, but simply, I repeat, by way of an example; for, like the case
connected with Mrs. Thaw, mentioned above, it marks pretty exactly the
extreme points to which people have up to now, thanks to spirit agency,
penetrated the mysteries of the unknown. It is well to add that cases in
which the supposed limits of the most far-reaching telepathy are so
manifestly exceeded are fairly uncommon.


Now what are we to think of all this? Must we, with Myers, Newbold,
Hyslop, Hodgson and so many others, who studied this problem at length,
conclude in favour of the incontestable agency of forces and
intelligences returning from the farther bank of the great river which
it was deemed that none might cross? Must we acknowledge with them that
there are cases ever more numerous which make it impossible for us to
hesitate any longer between the telepathic hypothesis and the
spiritualistic hypothesis? I do not think so. I have no prejudices—what
were the use of having any, in these mysteries?—no reluctance to admit
the survival and the intervention of the dead; but it is wise and
necessary, before leaving the terrestrial plane, to exhaust all the
suppositions, all the explanations there to be discovered. We have to
make our choice between two manifestations of the unknown, two miracles,
if you prefer, whereof one is situated in the world which we inhabit and
the other in a region which, rightly or wrongly, we believe to be
separated from us by nameless spaces which no human being, alive or
dead, has crossed to this day. It is natural, therefore, that we should
stay in our own world, as long as it gives us a foothold, as long as we
are not pitilessly expelled from it by a series of irresistible and
irrefutable facts issuing from the adjoining 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 the medium, contrary to that of the spirit, is
unquestionable; and therefore it is for the spirit, or for those who
make use of its name, first to prove that it exists.

Do the extraordinary phenomena of which we have spoken—transmission of
thought from one subconscious mind to another, perception of events at a
distance, subliminal clairvoyance—occur when the dead are not in
evidence, when the experiments are being made exclusively between living
persons? This cannot be honestly contested. Certainly no one has ever
obtained among living people series of communications or revelations
similar to those of the great spiritualistic mediums, Mrs. Piper, Mrs.
Thompson and Stainton Moses, nor anything that can be compared with
these so far as continuity or lucidity is concerned. But, though the
quality of the phenomena will not bear comparison, it cannot be denied
that their inner nature is identical. It is logical to infer from this
that the real cause lies not in the source of inspiration, but in the
personal value, the sensitiveness, the power of the medium. For the
rest, Mr. J. G. Piddington, who devoted an exceedingly detailed study to
Mrs. Thompson, plainly perceived in her, when she was not “entranced”
and when there were no spirits whatever in question, manifestations
inferior, it is true, but absolutely analogous to those involving the
dead.[11] These mediums are pleased, in all good faith and probably
unconsciously, to give to their subliminal faculties, to their secondary
personalities, or to accept, on their behalf, names which were borne by
beings who have crossed to the farther side of the mystery: this is a
matter of vocabulary or nomenclature which neither lessens nor increases
the intrinsic significance of the facts. Well, in examining these facts,
however strange and really unparalleled some of them may be, I never
find one which proceeds frankly from this world or which comes
indisputably from the other. They are, if you wish, phenomenal border
incidents; but it cannot be said that the border has been violated. In
the story of Sir Oliver Lodge’s watch, for instance, which is one of the
most characteristic and one which carries us

farther than most, we must attribute to the medium faculties that have
ceased to be human. She must have put herself in touch, whether by
perception of events at a distance, or by transmission of thought from
one subconscious mind to another, or again by subliminal clairvoyance,
with the two surviving brothers of the deceased owner of the watch; and,
in the past subconsciousness of those two brothers, distant from each
other, she had to rediscover a host of circumstances which they
themselves had forgotten and which lay hidden beneath the heaped-up dust
and darkness of six-and-sixty years. It is certain that a phenomenon of
this kind passes the bounds of the imagination and that we should refuse
to credit it if, first of all, the experiment had not been controlled
and certified by a man of the standing of Sir Oliver Lodge and if,
moreover, it did not form one of a group of equally significant facts
which clearly show that we are not here concerned with an absolutely
unique miracle or with an unhoped-for and unprecedented concourse of
coincidences. It is simply a matter of distant perception, subliminal
clairvoyance and telepathy raised to the highest power; and these three
manifestations of the unexplored depths of man are to-day recognized and
classified by science, which is not saying that they are explained: that
is another question. When, in connexion with electricity, we use such
terms as positive, negative, induction, potential and resistance, we are
also applying conventional words to facts and phenomena of whose inward
essence we are utterly ignorant; and we must needs be content with
these, pending better. There is, I insist, between these extraordinary
manifestations and those given to us by a medium who is not speaking in
the name of the dead, but a difference of the greater and the lesser, a
difference of extent or degree and in no wise a difference in kind.


Footnote 11:

  For a discussion of these cases, which would take us too far from our
  subject, see Mr. J. G. Piddington’s paper, _Phenomena in Mrs.
  Thompson’s Trance_ (_Proceedings_, Vol. XVIII, pp. 180 _et seq._);
  also Professor A. C. Pigou’s article in Vol. XXIII (pp. 286 _et
  seq._), which treats of “Cross Correspondence” without the agency of



For the proof to be more decisive, it would be necessary that no one,
neither the medium nor the witnesses, should ever have known of the
existence of him whose past is revealed by the dead man, in other words,
that every living link should be eliminated. I do not believe that this
has actually occurred up to the present, nor even that it is possible;
in any case, it would be very difficult to control such an experiment.
Be this as it may, Dr. Hodgson, who devoted part of his life to the
quest of specific phenomena wherein the boundaries of mediumistic power
should be plainly overstepped, believes that he found them in certain
cases, of which—as the others were of very much the same nature—I will
merely mention one of the most striking.[12] In a course of excellent
sittings with Mrs. Piper the medium, he communicated with various dead

who reminded him of a large number of common memories. The medium, the
spirits and he himself seemed in a wonderfully accommodating mood; and
the revelations were plentiful, exact and easy. In this extremely
favourable atmosphere, he was placed in communication with the soul of
one of his best friends, who had died a year before and whom he simply
calls “A.” This A, whom he had known more intimately than most of the
spirits with whom he had communicated previously, behaved quite
differently and, while establishing his identity beyond dispute,
vouchsafed only incoherent replies. Now A “had been troubled much, for
years before his death, by headaches and occasionally mental exhaustion,
though not amounting to positive mental disturbance.”

The same phenomenon appears to recur whenever similar troubles have come
before death, as in cases of suicide.

“If the telepathic explanation is held to be the only one,” says Dr.
Hodgson (I give the gist of his observations), “if it is claimed that
all the communications of these discarnate minds are only suggestions
from my subconscious self, it is unintelligible that, after having
obtained satisfactory results from others whom I had known far less
intimately than A and with whom I had consequently far fewer
recollections in common, I should get from him, in the same sittings,
nothing but incoherencies. I am thus driven to believe that my
subliminal self is not the only thing in evidence, that it is in the
presence of a real, living personality, whose mental state is the same
as it was at the hour of death, a personality which remains independent
of my subliminal consciousness and absolutely unaffected by it, which is
deaf to its suggestions and draws from its own resources the revelations
which it makes.”

The argument is not without value, but its full force would be obtained
only if it were certain that none of those present knew of A’s madness;
otherwise it can be contended that, the notion of madness having
penetrated the subconscious intelligence of one of them, it worked upon
it and gave to the replies induced a form in keeping with the state of
mind presupposed in the dead man.


Footnote 12:

  _Proceedings_, Vol. XIII, pp. 349-350 and 375.



Of a truth, by extending the possibilities of the medium to these
extremes, we furnish ourselves with explanations which forestall nearly
everything, bar every road and all but deny to the spirits any power of
manifesting themselves in the manner which they appear to have chosen.
But why do they choose that manner? Why do they thus restrict
themselves? Why do they jealously hug the narrow strip of territory
which memory occupies on the confines of both worlds and from which none
but indecisive or questionable evidence can reach us? Are there then no
other outlets, no other horizons? Why do they tarry around us, stagnant
in their little pasts, when, in their freedom from the flesh, they ought
to be able to wander at ease over the virgin stretches of space and
time? Do they not yet know that the sign which will prove to us that
they survive is to be found not with us, but with them, on the other
side of the grave? Why do they come back with empty hands and empty
words? Is that what one finds when one is steeped in infinity? Beyond
our last hour is it all bare and shapeless and dim? If it be so, let
them tell us; and the evidence of the darkness will at least possess a
grandeur that is all too absent from these cross-examining methods. Of
what use is it to die, if all life’s trivialities continue? Is it really
worth while to have passed through the terrifying gorges which open on
the eternal fields, in order to remember that we had a great-uncle
called Peter and that our Cousin Paul was afflicted with varicose veins
and a gastric complaint? At that rate, I should choose for those whom I
love the august and frozen solitudes of the everlasting nothing. Though
it be difficult for them, as they complain, to make themselves
understood through a strange and sleep-bound organism, they tell us
enough categorical details about the past to show that they could
disclose similar details, if not about the future, which they perhaps do
not yet know, at least about the lesser mysteries which surround us on
every side and which our body alone prevents us from approaching. There
are a thousand things, large or small, alike unknown to us, which we
must perceive when feeble eyes no longer arrest our vision. It is in
those regions from which a shadow separates us and not in foolish
tittle-tattle of the past that they would at last find the clear and
genuine proof which they seem to seek with such enthusiasm. Without
demanding a great miracle, one would nevertheless think that we had the
right to expect from a mind which nothing now enthrals some other
discourse than that which it avoided when it was still subject to

                              CHAPTER VII

                          CROSS CORRESPONDENCE


This is where things stood when, of late years, the mediums, the
spiritualists, or, rather, it appears, the spirits themselves—for one
cannot tell exactly with whom we have to do—perhaps dissatisfied at not
being more definitely recognized and understood, invented, for a more
effectual proof of their existence, what has been called “cross
correspondence.” Here, the position is reversed: it is no longer a
question of various and more or less numerous spirits revealing
themselves through the agency of one and the same medium, but of a
single spirit manifesting itself almost simultaneously through several
mediums often at great distances from one another and without any
preliminary understanding among themselves. Each of these messages,
taken alone, is usually unintelligible and yields a meaning only when
laboriously combined with all the others.

As Sir Oliver Lodge says:

“The object of this ingenious and complicated effort clearly is to prove
that there is some definite intelligence underlying the phenomena,
distinct from that of any of the automatists, by sending fragments of a
message or literary reference which shall be unintelligible to each
separately—so that no effective mutual telepathy is possible between
them—thus eliminating or trying to eliminate what had long been
recognized by all members of the Society for Psychical Research as the
most troublesome and indestructible of the semi-normal hypotheses. And
the further object is evidently to prove as far as possible, by the
substance and quality of the message, that it is characteristic of the
one particular personality who is ostensibly communicating, and of no

The experiments are still in their early stages; and the most recent
volumes of the _Proceedings_ are devoted to them. Although the
accumulated mass of evidence is already considerable, there is no
conclusion to be drawn from it as yet; and, in any case, whatever the
spiritualists may say, the suspicion of telepathy seems to me to be in
no way removed. The experiments form a rather fantastic literary
exercise, one much superior, intellectually, to the ordinary
manifestations of the mediums; but, up to the present, there is no
reason for placing their mystery in the other world rather than in this.
Men have tried to see in them a proof that somewhere, in time or space,
or else beyond both, there is a sort of immense cosmic reserve of
knowledge upon which the spirits go and draw freely. But, if the reserve
exist, which is very possible, nothing tells us that it is not the
living rather than the dead who repair to it. It is very strange that
the dead, if they really have access to the immeasurable treasure,
should bring back nothing from it but a kind of ingenious child’s
puzzle, although it ought to contain myriads of lost or forgotten
notions and acquirements, heaped up during thousands and thousands of
years in abysses which our mind, weighed down by the body, can no longer
penetrate, but which nothing seems to close against the investigations
of freer and more subtle activities. They are evidently surrounded by
innumerable mysteries, by unsuspected and formidable truths that loom
large on every side. The smallest astronomical or biological revelation,
the least secret of olden time, such as that of the temper of copper,
possessed by the ancients, an archæological detail, a poem, a statue, a
recovered remedy, a shred of one of those unknown sciences which
flourished in Egypt or Atlantis: any of these would form a much more
decisive argument than hundreds of more or less literary reminiscences.
Why do they speak to us so seldom of the future? And for what reason,
when they do venture upon it, are they mistaken with such disheartening
regularity? One would think, rather, that, in the sight of a being
delivered from the trammels of the body and of time, the years, whether
past or future, ought all to lie outspread on one and the same
plane.[14] We may, therefore, say that the ingenuity of the proof turns
against it.

All things considered, as in the other attempts and notably those of the
famous medium Stainton Moses, there is the same characteristic inability
to bring us the veriest particle of truth or knowledge of which no
vestige could be found in a living brain or in a book written on this
earth. And yet it is inconceivable that there should not somewhere exist
a knowledge that is not as ours and truths other than those which we
possess here below.

The case of Stainton Moses, whose name we have just mentioned, is a very
striking one in this respect. This Stainton Moses was a dogmatic,
hard-working clergyman, whose learning, Myers tells us, in the normal
state, did not exceed that of an ordinary schoolmaster. But he was no
sooner “entranced” before certain spirits of antiquity or of the middle
ages, who are hardly known save to profound scholars, among others St.
Hippolytus, Bishop of Ostia, Plotinus, Athenodorus, the tutor of
Augustus, and, more particularly, Grocyn, the friend of Erasmus, took
possession of his person and manifested themselves through his agency.
Now Grocyn, for instance, furnished certain information about Erasmus
which was at first thought to have been gathered in the other world, but
which was subsequently discovered in forgotten, but nevertheless
accessible books. On the other hand, Stainton Moses’ integrity was never
questioned for an instant by those who knew him; and we may therefore
take his word for it when he declares that he had not read the books in
question. Here again, the mystery, inexplicable though it be, seems
really to lie hidden in the midst of ourselves. It is unconscious
reminiscence, if you will, suggestion at a distance, subliminal reading,
but, no more than in cross correspondence, is it indispensable to have
recourse to the dead and to drag them by main force into the riddle,
which, seen from our side of the grave, is dark and impassioned enough
as it is. Furthermore, we must not insist unduly on this cross
correspondence. We must remember that the whole thing is in its earliest
stages and that the dead appear to have no small difficulty in grasping
the requirements of the living.


Footnote 13:

  _The Survival of Man_, Chap. xxv, p. 325.

Footnote 14:

  In this connexion, however, we find two or three rather perturbing
  facts, a remarkable one being, at a spiritualistic meeting held by the
  late W. T. Stead, the prediction of the murder of King Alexander and
  Queen Draga, described with the most circumstantial details. A
  verbatim report of this prediction was drawn up and signed by some
  thirty witnesses; and Stead went next day to beg the Servian minister
  in London to warn the king of the danger that threatened him. The
  event took place, as announced, a few months later. But “precognition”
  does not necessarily require the intervention of the dead; moreover,
  every case of this kind, before being definitely accepted, would call
  for prolonged investigation in every particular.



In regard to this subject, as to the others, the spiritualists are fond
of saying:

“If you refuse to admit the agency of spirits, the majority of these
phenomena are absolutely inexplicable.”

Agreed; nor do we pretend to explain them, for hardly anything is to be
explained upon this earth. We are content simply to ascribe them to the
incomprehensible power of the mediums, which is no more improbable than
the survival of the dead and has the advantage of not going outside the
sphere which we occupy and of bearing relation to a large number of
similar facts that occur among living people. Those singular faculties
are baffling only because they are still sporadic and because but a very
short time has elapsed since they received scientific recognition.
Properly speaking, they are no more marvellous than those which we use
daily without marvelling at them: our memory, for instance, our
understanding, our imagination and so forth. They form part of the great
miracle that we are; and, having once admitted the miracle, we should be
surprised not so much at its extent as at its limits.

Nevertheless, to close this chapter, I am not at all of opinion that we
must definitely reject the spiritualistic theory: that would be both
unjust and premature. Hitherto, everything remains in suspense. We may
say that things are still very little removed from the point marked by
Sir William Crookes, in 1874, in an article which he contributed to the
_Quarterly Journal of Science_:

“The difference between the advocates of Psychic Force and the
Spiritualists consists in this—that we contend that there is as yet
insufficient proof of any other directing agent than the Intelligence of
the Medium, and no proof whatever of the agency of Spirits of the Dead;
while the Spiritualists hold it as a faith, not demanding further proof,
that Spirits of the Dead are the sole agents in the production of all
the phenomena. Thus the controversy resolves itself into a pure question
of _fact_, only to be determined by a laborious and long-continued
series of experiments and an extensive collection of psychological
_facts_, which should be the first duty of the Psychological Society,
the formation of which is now in progress.”

Meanwhile, it is saying a good deal that rigorous scientific
investigations have not utterly shattered a theory which so radically
confounds the idea which we were wont to form of death. We shall see
presently why, in considering our destinies beyond the grave, we need
have no reason to linger too long over these apparitions or these
revelations, even though they should really be incontestable and to the
point. They would seem, all told, to be but the incoherent and
precarious manifestations of a transitory state. They would at best
prove, if we were bound to admit them, that a reflexion of ourselves, an
after-vibration of the nerves, a bundle of emotions, a spiritual
silhouette, a grotesque and forlorn image, or, more correctly, a sort of
truncated and uprooted memory can, after our death, linger and float in
a space where nothing remains to feed it, where it gradually becomes wan
and lifeless, but where a special fluid, emanating from an exceptional
medium, succeeds, at moments, in galvanizing it. Perhaps it exists
objectively, perhaps it subsists and revives only in the recollection of
certain sympathies. It would, after all, be not unlikely that the memory
which represents us during our life should continue to do so for a few
weeks or even a few years after our decease. This would explain the
evasive and deceptive character of those spirits which, possessing but a
mnemonic existence, are naturally able to interest themselves only in
matters within their reach. Hence their irritating and maniacal energy
in clinging to the slightest facts, their sleepy dulness, their
incomprehensible indifference and ignorance and all the wretched
absurdities which we have noticed more than once.

But, I repeat, it is much simpler to attribute these absurdities to the
special character and the as yet imperfectly-recognized difficulties of
telepathic communication. The unconscious suggestions of the most
intelligent among those who take part in the experiment are impaired,
disjointed and stripped of their main virtues in passing through the
obscure intermediary of the medium. It may be that they stray, make
their way into certain forgotten corners which the intelligence no
longer visits and thence bring back more or less surprising discoveries;
but the intellectual quality of the aggregate will always be inferior to
that which a conscious mind would yield. Besides, once more, it is not
yet time to draw conclusions. We must not lose sight of the fact that we
have to do with a science which was born but yesterday and which is
groping for its implements, its paths, its methods and its aim in a
darkness denser than the earth’s. The boldest bridge that men have yet
undertaken to throw across the river of death is not to be built in
thirty years. Most sciences have centuries of thankless efforts and
barren uncertainties behind them; and there are, I imagine, few among
the younger of them that can show from the earliest hour, as this one
does, promises of a harvest which may not be the harvest of their
conscious sowing, but which already bids fair to yield much unknown and
wondrous fruit.[15]


Footnote 15:

  To exhaust this question of survival and of communications with the
  dead, I ought to speak of Dr. Hyslop’s recent investigations, made
  with the assistance of the mediums Smead and Chenoweth (communications
  with William James). I ought also to mention Julia’s famous “bureau”
  and, above all, the extraordinary sittings of Mrs. Wriedt, the trumpet
  medium, who not only obtains communications in which the dead speak
  languages of which she herself is completely ignorant, but raises
  apparitions said to be extremely disturbing. I ought, lastly, to
  examine the facts set forth by Professor Porro, Dr. Venzano and M.
  Rozanne and many other things besides, for spiritualistic
  investigation and literature are already piling volume upon volume.
  But it was not my intention nor my pretension to make a complete study
  of scientific spiritualism. I wished merely to omit no essential point
  and to give a general, but accurate idea of this posthumous atmosphere
  which no really new and decisive fact has come to unsettle since the
  manifestations of which we have spoken.


                              CHAPTER VIII



So much for survival proper. But certain spiritualists go farther and
attempt the scientific proof of palingenesis and the transmigration of
souls. I pass over their merely moral or scientific arguments, as well
as those which they discover in the prenatal reminiscences of
illustrious men and others. These reminiscences, though often
disturbing, are still too rare, too sporadic, so to speak; and the
supervision has not always been sufficiently close for us to be able to
rely upon them with safety. Nor do I propose to pay attention to the
proofs based upon the inborn aptitudes of genius or of certain infant
prodigies, aptitudes which are difficult to explain, but which may
nevertheless be attributed to unknown laws of heredity. I shall be
content to recall briefly the results of some of Colonel de Rochas’
experiments, which leave one at a loss for an explanation.

First of all, it is only right to say that Colonel de Rochas is a savant
who seeks nothing but objective truth and does so with a scientific
strictness and integrity that have never been questioned. He puts
certain exceptional subjects into an hypnotic sleep and, by means of
downward passes, makes them trace back the whole course of their
existence. He thus takes them successively to their youth, their
adolescence and down to the extreme limits of their childhood. At each
of these hypnotic stages, the subject reassumes the consciousness, the
character and the state of mind which he possessed at the corresponding
stage in his life. He goes over the same events, with their joys and
sorrows. If he has been ill, he once more passes through his illness,
his convalescence and his recovery. If, for instance, the subject is a
woman who has been a mother, she again becomes pregnant and again
suffers the pains of child-birth. Carried back to an age when she was
learning to write, she writes like a child and her writing can be placed
side by side with the copy-books which she filled at school.

This in itself is very extraordinary; but, as Colonel de Rochas says:

“Up to the present, we have walked on firm ground; we have been
observing a physiological phenomenon which is difficult of explanation,
but which numerous experiments and verifications allow us to look upon
as certain.”

We now enter a region where still more surprising enigmas await us. Let
us, to come to details, take one of the simplest cases. The subject is a
girl of eighteen, called Joséphine. She lives at Voiron, in the
department of the Isère. By means of downward passes, she is brought
back to the condition of a baby at its mother’s breast. The passes
continue and the wonder-tale runs its course. Joséphine can no longer
speak; and we have the great silence of infancy, which seems to be
followed by a silence more mysterious still. Joséphine no longer answers
except by signs; _she is not yet born_, “she is floating in darkness.”
They persist; the sleep becomes heavier; and suddenly, from the depths
of that sleep, rises the voice of another being, a voice unexpected and
unknown, the voice of a churlish, distrustful and discontented old man.
They question him. At first, he refuses to answer, saying that “of
course he’s there, as he’s speaking;” that “he sees nothing;” and that
“he’s in the dark.” They increase the number of passes and gradually
gain his confidence. His name is Jean Claude Bourdon; he is an old man;
he has long been ailing and bed-ridden. He tells the story of his life.
He was born at Champvent, in the parish of Polliat, in 1812. He went to
school until he was eighteen and served his time in the army with the
7th Artillery at Besançon; and he describes his gay times there, while
the sleeping girl makes the gesture of twirling an imaginary moustache.
When he goes back to his native place, he does not marry, but he has a
mistress. He leads a solitary life (I omit all but the essential facts)
and dies at the age of seventy, after a long illness.

We now hear the dead man speak; and his posthumous revelations are not
sensational, which, however, is not an adequate reason for doubting
their genuineness. He “feels himself growing out of his body;” but he
remains attached to it for a fairly long time. His fluidic body, which
is at first diffused, takes a more concentrated form. He lives in
darkness, which he finds disagreeable; but he does not suffer. At last,
the night in which he is plunged is streaked with a few flashes of
light. The idea comes to him to reincarnate himself and he draws near to
her who is to be his mother (that is to say, the mother of Joséphine).
He encircles her until the child is born, whereupon he gradually enters
the child’s body. Until about the seventh year, this body was surrounded
by a sort of floating mist in which he used to see many things which he
has not seen since.

The next thing to be done is to go back beyond Jean Claude. A
mesmerization lasting nearly three quarters of an hour, without
lingering at any intermediate stage, brings the old man back to
babyhood. A fresh silence, a new limbo; and then, suddenly, another
voice and an unexpected individual. This time, it is an old woman who
has been very wicked; and so she is in great torment (she is dead, at
the actual instant; for, in this inverted world, lives go backwards and
of course begin at the end). She is in deep darkness, surrounded by evil
spirits. She speaks in a faint voice, but always gives definite replies
to the questions put to her, instead of cavilling at every moment, as
Jean Claude did. Her name is Philomène Carteron.

“By intensifying the sleep,” adds Colonel de Rochas, whom I will now
quote, “I induce the manifestations of a living Philomène. She no longer
suffers, seems very calm and always answers very coldly and distinctly.
She knows that she is unpopular in the neighbourhood, but no one is a
penny the worse and she will be even with them yet. She was born in
1702; her maiden name was Philomène Charpigny; her grandfather on the
mother’s side was called Pierre Machon and lived at Ozan. In 1732, she
married, at Chevroux, a man named Carteron, by whom she had two
children, both of whom she lost.

“Before her incarnation, Philomène had been a little girl, who died in
infancy. Previous to that, she was a man who had committed murder; and
it was to expiate this crime that she endured much suffering in the
darkness, even after her life as a little girl, when she had had no time
to do wrong. I did not think it necessary to carry the hypnosis further,
because the subject appeared exhausted and her paroxysms were painful to

“But, on the other hand, I noticed one thing which would tend to show
that the revelations of these mediums rest on an objective reality. At
Voiron, one of the regular attendants at my demonstrations is a young
girl, Louise ——. She possesses a very sedate and thoughtful cast of
mind, not at all open to hypnotic suggestion; and she has in a very high
degree the capacity (which is comparatively common in a lesser degree)
of perceiving the magnetic effluvia of human beings and, consequently,
the fluidic body. When Joséphine revives the memory of her past, a
luminous aura is observed around her and is perceived by Louise. Now, to
the eyes of Louise, this aura becomes dark when Joséphine is in the
phase separating two existences. In every instance, there is a strong
reaction in Joséphine when I touch points where Louise tells me that she
perceives the aura, whether it be dark or light.”


I thought it well to give the report of one of these experiments almost
_in extenso_, because those who maintain the palingenesic theory find in
these the only appreciable argument which they possess. Colonel de
Rochas renewed them more than once with different subjects. Among these,
I will mention only one, a girl called Marie Mayo, whose history is more
complicated than Joséphine’s and whose successive reincarnations take us
back to the seventeenth century and carry us suddenly to Versailles,
among the historical personages moving around Louis XIV.

Let us add that Colonel de Rochas is not the only mesmerizer who has
obtained revelations of this kind, which may be henceforth classed among
the incontestable facts of hypnotism. I have mentioned his alone,
because they offer the most substantial guarantees from every point of

What do they prove? We must begin, as in all questions of this kind, by
entertaining a certain distrust of the medium. It goes without saying
that all mediums, by the very nature of their faculties, are inclined to
imposture, to trickery. I know that Colonel de Rochas, like Dr. Richet
and like Professor Lombroso, was occasionally hoaxed. That is the
inherent defect of the machinery which we must perforce employ; and
experiments of this sort will never possess the scientific value of
those made in a physical or chemical laboratory. But this is not an _a
priori_ reason for denying them any sort of interest. As a question of
fact, are imposture and trickery possible here? Obviously, even though
the experiments be conducted under the strictest supervision. However
complicated it may be, the subject can have learnt his lesson and can
cleverly avoid the traps laid for him. The best guarantee, when all is
said, lies in his good faith and his moral sense, which the
experimenters alone are in a position to test and to know; and for that
we must trust to them. Besides, they neglect no precaution necessary to
make imposture extremely difficult. After taking the subject, by means
of transverse passes, up the stream of his life, they make him come down
the same stream; and the same events pass in the reverse order. Repeated
tests and counter-tests always yield identical results; and the medium
never hesitates or goes astray in the labyrinth of names, dates and

Moreover, it would be requisite for these mediums, who are generally
people of merely average intelligence, suddenly to become great poets in
order thus to create, down to every detail, a series of characters,
differing entirely one from the other, in which everything is in
keeping—gestures, voice, temper, mind, thoughts, feeling—and ever ready
to reply, in harmony with their inmost nature, to the most unexpected
questions. It has been said that every man is a Shakspeare in his
dreams; but have we not here to do with dreams which, in their
uniformity, bear a singular resemblance to fact?

I think, therefore, that we may be allowed, until we receive evidence to
the contrary, to leave fraud out of the question. Another objection that
might be raised, as was done with respect to the Myers phantoms, is the
insignificance of their revelations from beyond the grave. I would
rather look on this as an argument in behalf of their good faith. Those
whose imagination is rich enough to create the wonderful persons whom we
see living in their sleep would doubtless find no great difficulty in
inventing a few fantastic but plausible details on the subject of the
next world. Not one of them thinks of it. They are Christians and
therefore carry deep down in themselves the traditional terror of hell,
the fear of purgatory and the vision of a paradise full of angels and
palms. They never allude to any of it. Although they are most often
ignorant of all the theories of reincarnation, they conform strictly to
the theosophical or neospiritualistic hypothesis and are unconsciously
faithful to it in their very indefiniteness: they speak vaguely of “the
dark” in which they find themselves. They tell nothing, because they
know nothing. It is impossible apparently for them to give any account
of a state that is still illumined. In fact, it is very likely, if we
admit the hypothesis of reincarnation and of evolution after death, that
nature, here as elsewhere, does not proceed by bounds. There is no
special reason why she should take a prodigious and inconceivable leap
between life and death.

We did not find the dramatic change which, at first thought, we are
rather inclined to expect. The spirit is first of all confused at losing
its body and every one of its familiar ways; it only recovers itself by
degrees. It resumes consciousness slowly. This consciousness is
subsequently purified, exalted and extended, gradually and indefinitely,
until, reaching other spheres, the principle of life that animates it
ceases to reincarnate itself and loses all contact with us. This would
explain why we never have any but minor and elementary revelations.

All that concerns this first phase of the survival is fairly probable,
even to those who do not admit the theory of reincarnation. For the
rest, we shall see presently that the solutions which man’s imagination
finds there merely change the question and are inadequate and


Footnote 16:

  In order to hide nothing and to bring all the documents into court, we
  may point out that Colonel de Rochas ascertained upon enquiry that the
  subjects’ revelations concerning their former existences were
  inaccurate in several particulars:

  “Their narratives were also full of anachronisms which disclosed the
  presence of normal recollections among the suggestions that came from
  an unknown source. Nevertheless, one perfectly indubitable fact
  remains, which is that of the existence of certain visions recurring
  with the same characteristics in the case of a considerable number of
  persons unknown to one another.”



We now come to the most serious objection, that of suggestion. Colonel
de Rochas declares that he and all the other experimenters who have
given themselves up to this study “have not only avoided everything that
could put the subject on a definite tack, but have often tried in vain
to lead him astray by different suggestions.” I am convinced of it:
there can be no question of voluntary suggestion. But do we not know
that, in these regions, unconscious and involuntary suggestion is often
more powerful and effective than the other? In the hackneyed and rather
childish experiment of table-turning, for instance, which, after all, is
only a crude and elementary form of telepathy, the replies are nearly
always dictated by the unconscious suggestion of a participant or a mere
on-looker.[17] We should therefore first of all have to make sure that
neither the hypnotizer nor the onlookers, nor yet the subject himself,
have ever heard of the reincarnated persons. It will be enough, I shall
be told, to employ for the counter-tests another operator and different
onlookers who are ignorant of the previous revelations. Yes, but the
subject is not ignorant of them; and it is possible that the first
suggestion has been so profound that it will remain for ever stamped
upon the unconsciousness and that it will reproduce the same
incarnations indefinitely, in the same order.

All this does not mean that the phenomena of suggestion are not
themselves laden with mysteries; but that is another question. For the
moment, as we see, the problem is almost insoluble and control
impracticable. Meanwhile, since we have to choose between reincarnation
and suggestion, it is right that we should confine ourselves, in the
first instance, to the latter, in accordance with the principles which
we have observed in the case of automatic speech and writing. Between
two unknowns, common sense and prudence decree that we should turn first
to the one on whose frontiers lie certain facts more frequently
recorded, the one which shows a few familiar glimmers. Let us exhaust
the mystery of our life before forsaking it for the mystery of our
death. Throughout this vast expanse of treacherous ground, it is
important that, until fresh evidence arrives, we should keep to one
inflexible rule, namely, that thought-transference exists as long as it
is not absolutely and physically impossible for the subject or some
person in the room to have cognizance of the incident in question,
whether the cognizance be conscious or not, forgotten or actual. Even
this guarantee is not sufficient, for it is still possible, as we saw in
the case of Sir Oliver Lodge’s watch, for some one taking no part in the
sitting and even very far away from it to be placed in communication
with the medium by some unknown means and to influence the medium at a
distance and unwittingly. Lastly, to provide for every contingency,
before letting death come upon the boards, it would be necessary to make
certain that atavistic memory does not play an unforeseen part. Cannot a
man, for instance, carry hidden in the depths of his being the
recollection of events connected with the childhood of an ancestor whom
he has never seen and communicate it to the medium by unconscious
suggestion? It is not impossible. We carry in ourselves all the past,
all the experience of our ancestors. If, by some magic, we could
illumine the prodigious treasures of the subconscious memory, why should
we not there discover the events and facts that form the sources of that
experience? Before turning towards yonder unknown, we must utterly
exhaust the possibilities of this terrestrial unknown. It is moreover
remarkable but undeniable that, despite the strictness of a law which
seems to shut out every other explanation, despite the almost unlimited
and probably excessive scope allotted to the domain of suggestion, there
nevertheless remain some facts which perhaps call for another

But let us return to reincarnation and recognize, in passing, that it is
very regrettable that the arguments of the theosophists and
neospiritualists are not compelling, for there never was a more
beautiful, a juster, a purer, a more moral, fruitful and consoling, nor,
to a certain point, a more probable creed than theirs. It alone, with
its doctrine of successive expiations and purifications, accounts for
all the physical and intellectual inequalities, all the social
iniquities, all the hideous injustices of fate. But the quality of a
creed is no evidence of its truth. Even though it is the religion of six
hundred millions of mankind, the nearest to the mysterious origins, the
only one that is not odious and the least absurd of all, it will have to
do what the others have not done, to bring unimpeachable testimony; and
what it has given us hitherto is but the first shadow of a proof begun.


Footnote 17:

  In this connexion may I be permitted to quote a personal experience?
  One evening, at the Abbaye de Saint-Wandrille, where I am wont to
  spend my summers, some newly-arrived guests were amusing themselves by
  making a small table spin on its foot. I was quietly smoking in a
  corner of the drawing-room, at some distance from the little table,
  taking no interest in what was happening around it and thinking of
  something quite different. After due entreaty, the table replied that
  it held the spirit of a seventeenth-century monk, who was buried in
  the east gallery of the cloisters, under a flagstone dated 1693. After
  the departure of the monk, who suddenly, for no apparent reason,
  refused to continue the interview, we thought that we would go, with a
  lamp, and look for the grave. We ended by discovering, in the far
  cloister on the eastern side, a tombstone in very bad condition,
  broken, worn down, trodden into the ground and crumbling, on which, by
  examining it very closely, we were able, with great difficulty, to
  decipher the inscription, “A.D. 1693.” Now, at the moment of the
  monk’s reply, there was no one in the drawing-room except my guests
  and myself. None of them knew the abbey; they had arrived that very
  evening, a few minutes before dinner, after which, as it was quite
  dark, they had put off their visit to the cloisters and the ruins
  until the following day. Therefore, short of a belief in the “shells”
  or the “elementals” of the theosophists, the revelation could only
  have come from me. Nevertheless, I believed myself to be absolutely
  ignorant of the existence of that particular tombstone, one of the
  least legible among a score of others, all belonging to the
  seventeenth century, which pave this part of the cloisters.



And even that would not put an end to the riddle. In principle,
reincarnation, sooner or later, is inevitable, since nothing can be lost
nor remain stationary. What has not been demonstrated in any way and
will perhaps remain indemonstrable is the reincarnation of the whole
identical individual, notwithstanding the abolition of memory. But what
matters to him that reincarnation, if he be unaware that he is still
himself? All the problems of the conscious survival of man start up
anew; and we have to begin all over again. Even if scientifically
established, the doctrine of reincarnation, just like that of a
survival, would not set a term to our questions. It replies to neither
the first nor the last, those of the beginning and the end, the only
ones that are essential. It simply shifts them, pushes them a few
hundreds, a few thousands of years back, in the hope perhaps of losing
or forgetting them in silence and space. But they have come from the
depths of the most prodigious infinities and are not content with a
tardy solution. I am most certainly interested in learning what is in
store for me, what will happen to me immediately after my death. You
tell me:

“Man, in his successive incarnations, will make atonement by suffering,
will be purified, in order that he may ascend from sphere to sphere
until he returns to the divine essence whence he sprang.”

I am willing to believe it, notwithstanding that all this still bears
the somewhat questionable stamp of our little earth and its old
religions; I am willing to believe it, but even then? What matters to me
is not what will be for some time, but what will be for always; and your
divine principle appears to me not at all infinite nor definite. It even
seems to me greatly inferior to that which I conceive without your help.
Now, if it were based on thousands of facts, a religion that belittles
the God conceived by my loftiest thought could never dominate my
conscience. Your infinity or your God, while even more unintelligible
than mine, is nevertheless smaller. If I be again immerged in Him, it
means that I emerged from Him; if it be possible for me to have emerged
from Him, then He is not infinite; and, if He be not infinite, what is
He? We must accept one thing or the other: either He purifies me because
I am outside Him and He is not infinite; or, being infinite, if He
purify me, then there was something impure in Him, because it is a part
of Himself which He is purifying in me. Moreover, how can we admit that
this God who has existed for all time, who has the same infinity of
millenaries behind Him as in front of Him, should not yet have found
time to purify Himself and put a period to His trials? What He was not
able to do in the eternity previous to the moment of my existence He
will not be able to do in the subsequent eternity, for the two are
equal. And the same question presents itself where I am concerned. My
principle of life, like His, exists from all eternity, for my emergence
out of nothing would be more difficult of explanation than my existence
without a beginning. I have necessarily had innumerable opportunities of
incarnating myself; and I have probably done so, seeing that it is
hardly likely that the idea only came to me yesterday. All the chances
of reaching my goal have therefore been offered to me in the past; and
all those which I shall find in the future will add nothing to the
number, which was already infinite. There is not much to say in answer
to these interrogations which spring up everywhence the moment our
thought glances upon them. Meanwhile, I had rather know that I know
nothing than feed myself on illusory and irreconcilable assertions. I
had rather keep to an infinity whose incomprehensibility has no bounds
than restrict myself to a God whose incomprehensibility is limited on
every side. Nothing compels you to speak of your God; but, if you take
upon yourself to do so, it is necessary that your explanations should be
superior to the silence which they break.


It is true that the scientific spiritualists do not venture as far as
this God; but then, tight-pressed between the two riddles of the
beginning and the end, they have almost nothing to tell us. They follow
the tracks of our dead for a few seconds, in a world where seconds no
longer count; and then they abandon them in the darkness. I do not
reproach them, because we have here to do with things which, in all
probability, we shall not know in the day when we shall think that we
know everything. I do not ask that they shall reveal to me the secret of
the universe, for I do not believe, like a child, that this secret can
be expressed in three words or that it can enter my brain without
bursting it. I am even persuaded that beings who might be millions of
times more intelligent than the most intelligent among us would not yet
possess it, for this secret must be as infinite, as unfathomable, as
inexhaustible as the universe itself. The fact none the less remains
that this inability to go even a few years beyond the life after death
detracts greatly from the interest of their experiments and revelations;
at best, it is but a short space gained; and it is not by this juggling
on the threshold that our fate is decided. I am ready to pass over what
may befall me in the short interval filled by those revelations, as I am
even now passing over what befalls me in my life. My destiny does not
lie there, nor my home. I do not doubt that the facts reported are
genuine and proved; but what is even much more certain is that the dead,
if they survive, have not a great deal to teach us, whether because, at
the moment when they can speak to us, they have nothing yet to tell us,
or because, at the moment when they might have something to reveal to
us, they are no longer able to do so, but withdraw for ever and lose
sight of us in the immensity which they are exploring.

                               CHAPTER IX

                     THE FATE OF OUR CONSCIOUSNESS


Let us dispense with their uncertain aid and endeavour to make our way
to the other side alone. To return then to the theories which we were
examining before these necessary digressions, it would seem that
survival with our present consciousness is nearly as impossible and as
incomprehensible as total annihilation. Moreover, even if it were
admissible, it could not be dreadful. It is certain that, when the body
disappears, all physical sufferings will disappear at the same time; for
we cannot imagine a spirit suffering in a body which it no longer
possesses. With them will vanish simultaneously all that we call mental
or moral sufferings, seeing that all of them, if we examine them well,
spring from the ties and habits of our senses. Our spirit feels the
reaction of the sufferings of our body, or of the bodies that surround
it; it cannot suffer in itself or through itself. Slighted affection,
shattered love, disappointments, failures, despair, betrayal, personal
humiliations, as well as the sorrows and the loss of those whom it
loves, acquire their potent sting only by passing through the body which
it animates. Outside its own pain, which is the pain of not knowing, the
spirit, once delivered from its flesh, could suffer only in the
recollection of the flesh. It is possible that it still grieves over the
troubles of those whom it has left behind on earth. But to its eyes,
since it no longer reckons the days, these troubles will seem so brief
that it will not grasp their duration; and, knowing what they are and
knowing whither they lead, it will not behold their severity.

The spirit is insensible to all that is not happiness. It is made only
for infinite joy, which is the joy of knowing and understanding. It can
grieve only at perceiving its own limits; but to perceive those limits,
when there are no more bonds to space and time, is already to transcend


It is now a question of knowing whether that spirit, sheltered from all
sorrow, will remain itself, will perceive and recognize itself in the
bosom of infinity; and up to what point it is important that it should
recognize itself. This brings us to the problems of survival without
consciousness, or survival with a consciousness different from that of

Survival without consciousness seems at first sight the more probable.
From the point of view of the good or ill awaiting us on the other side
of the grave, it amounts to annihilation. It is lawful, therefore, for
those who prefer the easiest solution and that most consistent with the
present state of human thought, to limit their anxiety to that. They
have nothing to dread; for, on close inspection, every fear, if any
remained, should deck itself with hopes. The body disintegrates and can
no longer suffer; the mind, separated from the source of pleasure and
pain, is extinguished, scattered and lost in a boundless darkness; and
what comes is the great peace so often prayed for, the sleep without
measure, without dreams and without awakening.

But this is only a solution that fosters indolence. If we press those
who speak of survival without consciousness, we perceive that they mean
only their present consciousness, for man conceives no other; and we
have just seen that it is almost impossible for that manner of
consciousness to persist in infinity.

Unless, indeed, they would deny every sort of consciousness, even that
cosmic consciousness into which their own will fall. But this were to
solve very quickly and very blindly, with a stroke of the sword in the
night, the greatest and most mysterious question that can arise in a
man’s brain.


It is evident that, in the depths of our thought limited on every side,
we shall never be able to form the least idea of an infinite
consciousness. There is even an essential antinomy between the words
consciousness and infinity. To speak of consciousness is to mean the
most definite thing conceivable in the finite; consciousness, properly
speaking, is the finite huddled into itself in order to discover and
feel its closest limits, to the end that it may enjoy them as closely as
possible. On the other hand, it is impossible for us to separate the
idea of intelligence from the idea of consciousness. Any intelligence
that does not seem capable of transforming itself into consciousness
becomes for us a mysterious phenomenon to which we give names more
mysterious still, lest we should have to admit that we understand
nothing of it at all. Now, on this little earth of ours, which is but a
dot in space, we see expended in every scale of life (remember, for
instance, the wonderful combinations and organisms of the insect world)
a mass of intelligence so vast that our human intelligence cannot even
dream of assessing it. Everything that exists—and man first of all—is
incessantly drawing upon that inexhaustible reserve. We are therefore
irresistibly driven to ask ourselves if that cosmic intelligence is not
the emanation of an infinite consciousness, or if it must not, sooner or
later, elaborate one. And this sets us tossing between two irreducible
impossibilities. What is most probable is that here again we are judging
everything from the lowlands of our anthropomorphism. At the summit of
our infinitesimal life, we see only intelligence and consciousness, the
extreme point of thought; and from this we infer that, at the summits of
all lives, there could be naught but intelligence and consciousness,
whereas these perhaps occupy only an inferior place in the hierarchy of
spiritual or other possibilities.


Survival absolutely denuded of consciousness would, therefore, be
possible only if we denied a cosmic consciousness. As soon as we admit
this consciousness, under whatsoever form, we are bound to share in it;
and, up to a certain point, the question is indistinguishable from that
of the continuance of a more or less modified consciousness. There is,
for the moment, no hope of solving it; but we are free to grope in its
darkness, which is not perhaps equally dense at all points.

Here begins the open sea. Here begins the glorious adventure, the only
one abreast with human curiosity, the only one that soars as high as its
highest longing. Let us accustom ourselves to regard death as a form of
life which we do not yet understand; let us learn to look upon it with
the same eye that looks upon birth; and soon our mind will be
accompanied to the steps of the tomb with the same glad expectation that
greets a birth.

Suppose that a child in its mother’s womb were endowed with a certain
consciousness; that unborn twins, for instance, could, in some obscure
fashion, exchange their impressions and communicate their hopes and
fears to each other. Having known naught but the warm maternal shades,
they would not feel straitened nor unhappy there. They would probably
have no other idea than to prolong as long as possible that life of
abundance free from cares and of sleep free from alarms. But, if, even
as we are aware that we must die, they too knew that they must be born,
that is to say, suddenly leave the shelter of that gentle darkness and
abandon for ever that captive but peaceful existence, to be precipitated
into an absolutely different, unimaginable and boundless world, how
great would be their anxieties and their fears! And yet there is no
reason why our own anxieties and fears should be more justified and less
ridiculous. The character, the spirit, the intentions, the benevolence
or the indifference of the unknown to which we are subject do not alter
between our birth and our death. We remain always in the same infinity,
in the same universe. It is perfectly reasonable and legitimate to
persuade ourselves that the tomb is no more dreadful than the cradle. It
would even be legitimate and reasonable to accept the cradle only on
account of the tomb. If, before being born, we were permitted to choose
between the great peace of non-existence and a life that should not be
completed by the glorious hour of death, which of us, knowing what he
ought to know, would accept the disquieting problem of an existence that
would not lead to the reassuring mystery of its end? Which of us would
wish to come into a world where we can learn so little, if he did not
know that he must enter it if he would leave it and learn more? The best
thing about life is that it prepares this hour for us, that it is the
one and only road leading to the magic gateway and into that
incomparable mystery where misfortunes and sufferings will no longer be
possible, because we shall have lost the body that produced them; where
the worst that can befall us is the dreamless sleep which we number
among the greatest boons on earth; where, lastly, it is almost
unimaginable that a thought should not survive to mingle with the
substance of the universe, that is to say, with infinity, which, if it
be not a waste of indifference, can be nothing but a sea of joy.


Before fathoming that sea, let us remark to those who aspire to maintain
their ego that they are calling for the sufferings which they dread. The
ego implies limits. The ego cannot subsist except in so far as it is
separated from that which surrounds it. The stronger the ego, the
narrower its limits and the clearer the separation. The more painful
too; for the mind, if it remain as we know it—and we are not able to
imagine it different—will no sooner have seen its limits than it will
wish to overstep them; and, the more separated it feels, the greater
will be its longing to unite with that which lies outside. There will
therefore be an eternal struggle between its being and its aspirations.
And really it would have served no object to be born and die only to
arrive at these interminable contests. Have we not here yet one more
proof that our ego, as we conceive it, could never subsist in the
infinity where it must needs go, since it cannot go elsewhere? It
behoves us therefore to clear away conceptions that emanate only from
our body, even as the mists that veil the daylight from our sight
emanate only from the lowlands. Pascal has said, once and for all:

“The narrow limits of our being conceal infinity from our view.”


On the other hand—for we must keep nothing back, nor turn from the
adverse darkness should it seem nearest to the truth, nor show any
bias—on the other hand, we can grant to those who yearn to remain as
they are that the survival of an atom of themselves would suffice for a
new entrance into an infinity from which their body no longer separates

If it seems impossible that anything—a movement, a vibration, a
radiation—should stop or disappear, why then should thought be lost?
There will, no doubt, subsist more than one idea powerful enough to
allure the new ego, which will nourish itself and thrive on all that it
will find in that boundless environment, just as the other ego, on this
earth, nourished itself and throve on all that it met there. Since we
have been able to acquire our present consciousness, why should it be
impossible for us to acquire another? For that ego which is so dear to
us and which we believe ourselves to possess was not made in a day; it
is not at present what it was at the hour of our birth. Much more chance
than purpose has entered into it; and much more foreign substance than
any inborn substance which it contained. It is but a long series of
acquisitions and transformations, of which we do not become aware until
the awakening of our memory; and its kernel, of which we do not know the
nature, is perhaps more immaterial and less concrete than a thought. If
the new environment which we enter on leaving our mother’s womb
transforms us to such a point that there is, so to speak, no connexion
between the embryo that we were and the man that we have become, is it
not right to think that the far newer, stranger, wider and richer
environment which we enter on quitting life will transform us even more?
We can see in what happens to us here a figure of what awaits us
elsewhere and can readily admit that our spiritual being, liberated from
its body, if it does not mingle at the first onset with the infinite,
will develop itself there gradually, will choose itself a substance and,
no longer trammelled by space and time, will go on for ever growing. It
is very possible that our loftiest wishes of to-day will become the law
of our future development. It is very possible that our best thoughts
will welcome us on the farther shore and that the quality of our
intellect will determine that of the infinite which crystallizes around
it. Every hypothesis is permissible and every question, provided it be
addressed to happiness; for unhappiness is no longer able to answer us.
It finds no place in the human imagination that methodically explores
the future. And, whatever be the force that survives us and presides
over our existence in the other world, this existence, to presume the
worst, could be no less great, no less happy than that of to-day. It
will have no other career than infinity; and infinity is nothing if it
be not felicity. In any case, it seems fairly certain that we spend in
this world the only narrow, grudging, obscure and sorrowful moment of
our destiny.


We have said that the peculiar sorrow of the mind is the sorrow of not
knowing or not understanding, which includes the sorrow of being
powerless; for he who knows the supreme causes, being no longer
paralyzed by matter, becomes one with them and acts with them; and he
who understands ends by approving, or else the universe would be a
mistake, which is not possible, an infinite mistake being inconceivable.
I do not believe that another sorrow of the sheer mind can be imagined.
The only one sorrow which, at first thought, might seem admissible—and
which, in any case, could be but ephemeral—would arise from the sight of
the pain and misery remaining on the earth which we have left. But this
sorrow, after all, would be but one aspect and an insignificant phase of
the sorrow of being powerless and of not understanding. As for the
latter, though it is not only beyond the domain of our intelligence, but
even at an insuperable distance from our imagination, we may say that it
would be intolerable only if it were without hope. But, for that, the
universe would have to abandon any attempt to understand itself, or else
admit within itself an object that remained for ever foreign to it.
Either the mind will not perceive its limits and, consequently, will not
suffer from them, or else it will overstep them as it perceives them;
for how could the universe have parts eternally condemned to form no
part of itself and of its knowledge? Hence we cannot understand that the
torture of not understanding, supposing it to exist for a moment, should
not end by absorption in the state of infinity, which, if it be not
happiness as we comprehend it, could be naught but an indifference
higher and purer than joy.

                               CHAPTER X

                      THE TWO ASPECTS OF INFINITY


Let us turn our thoughts towards it. The problem goes beyond humanity
and embraces all things. It is possible, I think, to view infinity under
two distinct aspects. Let us contemplate the first of them. We are
plunged in a universe that has no limits in space or time. It can
neither go forward nor go back. It has no origin. It never began, nor
will it ever end. The myriads of years behind it are even as the myriads
which it has yet to unroll. From all time it has been at the boundless
centre of the days. It could have no aim, for, if it had one, it would
have attained it in the infinity of the years that lie behind us;
besides, that aim would be outside itself and, if there were anything
outside it, it would be bounded by that thing and would cease to be
infinity. It is not making for anywhere, for it would have arrived
there; consequently, all that the worlds within its pale, all that we
ourselves do can have no influence upon it. All that it will do it has
done. All that it has not done remains undone because it can never do
it. If it have no mind, it will never have one. If it have one, that
mind has been at its climax from all time and will remain there,
changeless and immovable. It is as young as it has ever been and as old
as it will ever be. It has made in the past all the efforts and all the
trials which it will make in the future; and, as all the possible
combinations have been exhausted since what we cannot even call the
beginning, it does not seem as if that which has not taken place in the
eternity that stretches before our birth can happen in the eternity that
will follow our death. If it have not become conscious, it will never
become conscious; if it know not what it wishes, it will continue in
ignorance, hopelessly, knowing all or knowing nothing and remaining as
near its end as its beginning.

This is the gloomiest thought to which man can attain. So far, I do not
think that its depths have been sufficiently sounded. If it were really
irrefutable—and some may contend that it is—if it actually contained the
last word of the great riddle, it would be almost impossible to live in
its shadow. Naught save the certainty that our conceptions of time and
space are illusive and absurd can lighten the abyss wherein our last
hope would perish.


This universe thus conceived would be, if not intelligible, at least
admissible by our reason; but in that universe float billions of worlds
limited by space and time. They are born, they die and they are born
again. They form part of the whole; and we see, therefore, that parts of
that which has neither beginning nor end themselves begin and end. We,
in fact, know only those parts; and they are of a number so infinite
that in our eyes they fill all infinity. That which is going nowhere
teems with that which appears to be going somewhere. That which has
always known what it wants, or will never learn, seems to be eternally
experimenting with more or less ill-success. At what goal is it aiming,
since it is already there? Everything that we discover in that which
could not possibly have an object looks as though it were pursuing one
with inconceivable ardour; and the mind that animates what we see in
that which should know everything and possess itself seems to know
nothing and to seek itself without intermission. Thus all that is
apparent to our senses in infinity gainsays that which our reason is
compelled to ascribe to it. According as we fathom it, we come to
understand how deep is our want of understanding; and, the more we
strive to penetrate the two incomprehensible problems that stand face to
face, the more they contradict each other.


What will become of us amid all this confusion? Shall we leave the
finite wherein we dwell to be swallowed up in this or the other
infinite? In other words, shall we end by absorption in the infinite
which our reason conceives, or shall we remain eternally in that which
our eyes behold, that is to say, in numberless changing and ephemeral
worlds? Shall we never leave those worlds which seem doomed to die and
to be reborn eternally, to enter at last into that which, from all
eternity, can neither have been born nor have died and which exists
without either future or past? Shall we one day escape, with all that
surrounds us, from this unhappy speculation, to find our way at last
into peace, wisdom, changeless and boundless consciousness, or into
hopeless unconsciousness? Shall we have the fate which our senses
foretell, or that which our intelligence demands? Or are both senses and
intelligence only illusions, puny implements, vain weapons of an hour,
which we never intended to examine or defy the universe? If there really
be a contradiction, is it wise to accept it and to deem impossible that
which we do not understand, seeing that we understand almost nothing? Is
truth not at an immeasurable distance from these inconsistencies which
appear to us enormous and irreducible and which, doubtless, are of no
more importance than the rain that falls upon the sea?


But, even to our poor understanding to-day, the discrepancy between the
infinity conceived by our reason and that perceived by our senses is
perhaps more apparent than real. When we say that, in a universe that
has existed since all eternity, every experiment, every possible
combination has been made; when we declare that there is no chance that
what has not taken place in the uncountable past can take place in the
uncountable future, our imagination perhaps attributes to the infinity
of time a preponderance which it cannot possess. In truth, all that
infinity contains must be as infinite as the time at its disposal; and
the chances, encounters and combinations that lie therein have not been
exhausted in the eternity that has gone before us any more than they
could be in the eternity that will come after us. The infinity of time
is no vaster than the infinity of the substance of the universe. Events,
forces, chances, causes, effects, phenomena, fusions, combinations,
coincidences, harmonies, unions, possibilities, lives are represented in
it by innumerous numbers that entirely fill a bottomless and vergeless
abyss where they have been shaken together from what we call the
beginning of the world that had no beginning and where they will be
stirred up until the end of a world that will have no end. There is,
therefore, no climax, no changelessness, no immovability. It is probable
that the universe is seeking and finding itself every day, that it has
not become entirely conscious and does not yet know what it wants. It is
possible that its ideal is still veiled by the shadow of its immensity;
it is also possible that experiments and chances are following one upon
the other in unimaginable worlds, compared wherewith all those which we
see on starry nights are no more than a pinch of gold-dust in the ocean
depths. Lastly, if either be true, it is also true that we ourselves, or
what remains of us—it matters not—will profit one day by those
experiments and those chances. That which has not yet happened may
suddenly supervene; and the next state, with the supreme wisdom which
will recognize and be able to establish that state, is perhaps ready to
arise from the clash of circumstances. It would not be at all
astonishing if the consciousness of the universe, in the endeavour to
form itself, had not yet encountered the combination of necessary
chances and if human thought were actually supporting one of those
decisive chances. Here there is a hope. Small as man and his brain may
appear, they have exactly the value of the most enormous forces that
they are able to conceive, since there is neither great nor small in the
immeasurable; and, if our body equalled the dimensions of all the worlds
which our eyes can see, it would have exactly the same weight and the
same importance as compared with the universe that it has to-day. The
mind alone perhaps occupies in infinity a space which comparisons do not
reduce to nothing.


For the rest, if everything must be said, at the cost of constantly and
shamelessly contradicting one’s self in the dark, and to return to the
first supposition, the idea of possible progress, it is extremely
probable that this again is one of those childish disorders of our brain
which prevent us from seeing the thing that is. It is quite as probable,
as we have seen above, that there never was, that there never will be
any progress, because there could not be a goal. At most there may occur
a few ephemeral combinations which, to our poor eyes, will seem happier
or more beautiful than others. Even so we think gold more beautiful than
the mud in the street, or the flower in a splendid garden happier than
the stone at the bottom of a drain; but all this, obviously, is of no
importance, has no corresponding reality and proves nothing in

The more we reflect upon it, the more pronounced is the infirmity of our
intelligence which cannot succeed in reconciling the idea of progress
and even the idea of experiment with the supreme idea of infinity.
Although nature has been incessantly and indefatigably repeating herself
before our eyes for thousands of years, reproducing the same trees and
the same animals, we cannot contrive to understand why the universe
indefinitely recommences experiments that have been made billions of
times. It is inevitable that, in the innumerable combinations that have
been and are being made in termless time and boundless space, there have
been and still are millions of planets and consequently millions of
human races exactly similar to our own, side by side with myriads of
others more or less different from it. Let us not say to ourselves that
it would require an unimaginable concourse of circumstances to reproduce
a globe like to our earth in every respect. We must remember that we are
in the infinite and that this unimaginable concourse must necessarily
take place in the innumerousness which we are unable to imagine. Though
it need billions and billions of cases for two features to coincide,
those billions and billions will encumber infinity no more than would a
single case. Place an infinite number of worlds in an infinite number of
infinitely diverse circumstances: there will always be an infinite
number for which those circumstances will be alike; if not, we should be
setting bounds to our idea of the universe, which would forthwith become
more incomprehensible still. From the moment that we insist sufficiently
upon that thought, we necessarily arrive at these conclusions. If they
have not struck us hitherto, it is because we never go to the farthest
point of our imagination. Now the farthest point of our imagination is
but the beginning of reality and gives us only a small, purely human
universe, which, vast as it may seem, dances in the real universe like
an apple on the sea. I repeat, if we do not admit that thousands of
worlds, similar in all points to our own, in spite of the billions of
adverse chances, have always existed and still exist to-day, we are
sapping the foundations of the only possible conception of the universe
or of infinity.


Now how is it that those millions of exactly similar human races, which
from all time suffer what we have suffered and are still suffering,
profit us nothing, that all their experiences and all their schools have
had no influence upon our first efforts and that everything has to be
done again and begun again incessantly?

As we see, the two theories balance each other. It is well to acquire by
degrees the habit of understanding nothing. There remains to us the
faculty of choosing the less gloomy of the two or persuading ourselves
that the mists of the other exist only in our brain. As that strange
visionary, William Blake, said:

                    “Nor is it possible to thought
                     A greater than itself to know.”

Let us add that it is not possible for it to know anything other than
itself. What we do not know would be enough to create the world afresh;
and what we do know cannot add one moment to the life of a fly. Who can
tell but that our chief mistake lies in believing that an intelligence,
were it an intelligence thousands of times as great as ours, directs the
universe? It may be a force of quite another nature, a force that
differs as widely from that on which our brain prides itself as
electricity, for instance, differs from the wind that blows. That is why
it is fairly probable that our mind, however powerful it become, will
always grope in mystery. If it be certain that everything in us must
also be in nature, because everything comes to us from her, if the mind
and all the logic which it has placed at the culminating point of our
being direct or seem to direct all the actions of our life, it by no
means follows that there is not in the universe a force greatly superior
to thought, a force having no imaginable relation to the mind, a force
which animates and governs all things according to other laws and of
which nothing is found in us but almost imperceptible traces, even as
almost imperceptible traces of thought are all that can be found in
plants and minerals.

In any case, there is nothing here to make us lose courage. It is
necessarily the human illusion of evil, ugliness, uselessness and
impossibility that is to blame. We must wait not for the universe to be
transformed, but for our intelligence to expand or to take part in the
other force; and we must maintain our confidence in a world which knows
nothing of our conceptions of purpose and progress, because it doubtless
has ideas whereof we have no idea, a world, moreover, which could
scarcely wish itself harm.


“These are but vain speculations,” it will be said. “What matters, after
all, the idea which we form of those things which belong to the
unknowable, seeing that the unknowable, were we a thousand times as
intelligent as we are, is closed to us for ever and that the idea which
we form of it will never have any value?”

That is true; but there are degrees in our ignorance of the unknowable;
and each of those degrees marks a triumph of the intelligence. To
estimate more and more completely the extent of what it does not know is
all that man’s knowledge can hope for. Our idea of the unknowable was
and always will be valueless, I admit; but it nevertheless is and will
remain the most important idea of mankind. All our morality, all that is
in the highest degree noble and profound in our existence has always
been based on this idea devoid of real value. To-day, as yesterday, even
though it be possible to recognize more clearly that it is too
incomplete and relative ever to have any actual value, it is necessary
to carry it as high and as far as we can. It alone creates the only
atmosphere wherein the best part of ourselves can live. Yes, it is the
unknowable into which we shall not enter; but that is no reason for
saying to ourselves:

“I am closing all the doors and all the windows; henceforth, I shall
interest myself only in things which my everyday intelligence can
compass. Those things alone have the right to influence my actions and
my thoughts.”

Where should we arrive at that rate? What things can my intelligence
compass? Is there a thing in this world that can be separated from the
inconceivable? Since there is no means of eliminating that
inconceivable, it is reasonable and salutary to make the best of it and
therefore to imagine it as stupendously vast as we are able. The gravest
reproach that can be brought against the positive religions and notably
against Christianity is that they have too often, if not in theory, at
least in practice, encouraged such a narrowing of the mystery of the
universe. By broadening it, we broaden the space wherein our mind will
move. It is for us what we make it: let us then form it of all that we
can reach on the horizon of ourselves. As for the mystery itself, we
shall, of course, never reach it; but we have a much greater chance of
approaching it by facing it and going whither it draws us than by
turning our backs upon it and returning to that place where we well know
that it no longer is. Not by diminishing our thoughts shall we diminish
the distance that separates us from the ultimate truths; but by
enlarging them as much as possible we are sure of deceiving ourselves as
little as possible. And the loftier our idea of the infinite, the more
buoyant and the purer becomes the spiritual atmosphere wherein we live
and the wider and deeper the horizon against which our thoughts and
feelings stand out, the horizon which is all their life and which they

“Perpetually to construct ideas requiring the utmost stretch of our
faculties,” wrote Herbert Spencer, “and perpetually to find that such
ideas must be abandoned as futile imaginations, may realize to us more
fully than any other course, the greatness of that which we vainly
strive to grasp.... By continually seeking to know and being continually
thrown back with a deepened conviction of the impossibility of knowing,
we may keep alive the consciousness that it is alike our highest wisdom
and our highest duty to regard that through which all things exist as
the Unknowable.”


Whatever the ultimate truth may be, whether we admit the abstract,
absolute and perfect infinity—the changeless, immovable infinity which
has attained perfection and which knows everything, to which our reason
tends—or whether we prefer that offered to us by the evidence,
undeniable here below, of our senses—the infinity which seeks itself,
which is still evolving and not yet established—it behoves us above all
to foresee in it our fate, which, for that matter, must, in either case,
end by absorption in that very infinity.

                               CHAPTER XI

                      OUR FATE IN THOSE INFINITIES


The first infinity, the ideal infinity, corresponds most nearly with the
requirements of our reason, which is not a reason for giving it the
preference. It is impossible for us to foresee what we shall become in
it, because it seems to exclude any becoming. It therefore but remains
for us to address ourselves to the second, to that which we see and
imagine in time and space. Furthermore, it is possible that it may
precede the other. However absolute our conception of the universe, we
have seen that we can always admit that what has not taken place in the
eternity before us will happen in the eternity after us and that there
is nothing save an untold number of chances to prevent the universe from
acquiring in the end that perfect consciousness which will establish it
at its zenith.


Behold us, then, in the infinity of those worlds, the stellar infinity,
the infinity of the heavens, which assuredly veils other things from our
eyes, but which cannot be a total illusion. It seems to us to be peopled
only with objects—planets, suns, stars, nebulæ, atoms, imponderous
fluids—which move, unite and separate, repel and attract one another,
which shrink and expand, are for ever shifting and never arrive, which
measure space in that which has no confines and number the hours in that
which has no term. In a word, we are in an infinity that seems to have
almost the same character and the same habits as that power in the midst
of which we breathe and which, upon our earth, we call nature or life.

What will be our fate in that infinity? We are asking ourselves no idle
question, even if we should unite with it after losing all
consciousness, all notion of the ego, even if we should exist there as
no more than a little nameless substance—soul or matter, we cannot
tell—suspended in the equally nameless abyss that replaces time and
space. It is not an idle question, for it concerns the history of the
worlds or of the universe; and this history, far more than that of our
petty existence, is our own great history, in which perhaps something of
ourselves or something incomparably better and vaster will end by
meeting us again some day.


Shall we be unhappy there? It is hardly reassuring when we consider the
ways of nature and remember that we form part of a universe that has not
yet gathered its wisdom. We have seen, it is true, that good and bad
fortune exist only in so far as regards our body and that, when we have
lost the organ of suffering, we shall not meet any of the earthly
sorrows again. But our anxiety does not end here; and will not our mind,
lingering upon our erstwhile sorrows, drifting derelict from world to
world, unknown to itself in an unknowable that seeks itself hopelessly,
will not our mind know here the frightful torture of which we have
already spoken and which is doubtless the last that imagination can
touch with its wing? Finally, if there were nothing left of our body and
our mind, there would still remain the matter and the spirit (or, at
least, the obviously single force to which we give that double name)
which composed them and whose fate must be no more indifferent to us
than our own fate; for, let us repeat, from our death onwards, the
adventure of the universe becomes our own adventure. Let us not,
therefore, say to ourselves:

“What can it matter? We shall not be there.”

We shall be there always, because everything will be there.


And will this everything wherein we shall be included, in a world ever
seeking itself, continue a prey to new and perpetual and perhaps painful
experiences? Since the part that we were was unhappy, why should the
part that we shall be enjoy a better fortune? Who can assure us that
yonder unending combinations and endeavours will not be more sorrowful,
more stupid and more baneful than those which we are leaving; and how
shall we explain that these have come about after so many millions of
others which ought to have opened the eyes of the genius of infinity? It
is idle to persuade ourselves, as Hindu wisdom would, that our sorrows
are but illusions and appearances: it is none the less true that they
make us very really unhappy. Has the universe elsewhere a more complete
consciousness, a more just and serene understanding than on this earth
and in the worlds which we discern? And, if it be true that it has
somewhere attained that better understanding, why does the mind that
presides over the destinies of our earth not profit by it? Is no
communication possible between worlds which must have been born of the
same idea and which lie in its depths? What would be the mystery of that
isolation? Are we to believe that the earth marks the farthest stage and
the most successful experiment? What, then, can the mind of the universe
have done and against what darkness must it have struggled, to have come
only to this? But, on the other hand, that darkness and those barriers
which can have come only from itself, since they could have arisen no
elsewhere, have they the power to stay its progress? Who then could have
set those insoluble problems to infinity and from what more remote and
profound region than itself could they have issued? Some one, after all,
must know the answer to them; and, as behind infinity there can be none
that is not infinity itself, it is impossible to imagine a malignant
will in a will that leaves no point around it which is not wholly
covered. Or are the experiments begun in the stars continued
mechanically, by virtue of the force acquired, without regard to their
uselessness and their pitiful consequences, according to the custom of
nature, who knows nothing of our parsimony and squanders the suns in
space as she does the seed on earth, knowing that nothing can be lost?
Or, again, is the whole question of our peace and happiness, like that
of the fate of the worlds, reduced to knowing whether or not the
infinity of endeavours and combinations be equal to that of eternity?
Or, lastly, to come to what is most likely, is it we who deceive
ourselves, who know nothing, who see nothing and who consider imperfect
that which is perhaps faultless, we, who are but an infinitesimal
fragment of the intelligence which we judge by the aid of the little
shreds of understanding which it has vouchsafed to lend us?


How could we reply, how could our thoughts and glances penetrate the
infinite and the invisible, we who do not understand nor even see the
thing by which we see and which is the source of all our thoughts? In
fact, as has been very justly observed, man does not see light itself.
He sees only matter, or rather the small part of the great worlds which
he knows by the name of matter, touched by light. He does not perceive
the immense rays that cross the heavens save at the moment when they are
stopped by an object akin to those with which his eye is familiar upon
this earth: were it otherwise, the whole space filled with innumerable
suns and boundless forces, instead of being an abyss of absolute
darkness, absorbing and extinguishing pencils of light that shoot across
it from every side, would be but a monstrous and unbearable ocean of
flashes. And, if we do not see the light, at least we think we know a
few of its rays or its reflexions; but we are absolutely ignorant of
that which is unquestionably the essential law of the universe, namely,
gravitation. What is that force, the most powerful of all and the least
visible, imperceptible to our senses, without form, without colour,
without temperature, without substance, without savour and without
voice, but so awful that it suspends and moves in space all the worlds
which we see and all those which we shall never know? More rapid, more
subtle, more incorporeal than thought, it wields such sway over
everything that exists, from the infinitely great to the infinitely
small, that there is not a grain of sand upon our earth nor a drop of
blood in our veins but are penetrated, wrought upon and quickened by it
until they act at every moment upon the farthest planet of the last
solar system that we struggle to imagine beyond the bounds of our

Shakspeare’s famous lines,

          “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
           Than are dreamt of in your philosophy,”

have long since become utterly inadequate. There are no longer more
things than our philosophy can dream of or imagine: there is none but
things which it cannot dream of, there is nothing but the unimaginable;
and, if we do not even see the light, which is the one thing that we
believed we saw, it may be said that there is nothing all around us but
the invisible.

We move in the illusion of seeing and knowing that which is strictly
indispensable to our little lives. As for all the rest, which is
well-nigh everything, our organs not only debar us from reaching, seeing
or feeling it, but even restrain us from suspecting what it is, just as
they would prevent us from understanding it, if an intelligence of a
different order were to bethink itself of revealing or explaining it to
us. The number and volume of those mysteries is as boundless as the
universe itself. If mankind were one day to draw near to those which
to-day it deems the greatest and the most inaccessible, such as the
origin and the aim of life, it would at once behold rising up behind
them, like eternal mountains, others quite as great and quite as
unfathomable; and so on, without end. In relation to that which it would
have to know in order to hold the key to this world, it would always
find itself at the same point of central ignorance. It would be just the
same if we possessed an intelligence several million times greater and
more penetrating than ours. All that its miraculously increased power
could discover would encounter limits no less impassable than at
present. All is boundless in that which has no bounds. We shall be the
eternal prisoners of the universe. It is therefore impossible for us to
appreciate in any degree whatsoever, in the smallest conceivable
respect, the present state of the universe and to say, as long as we are
men, whether it follows a straight line or describes an immense circle,
whether it is growing wiser or madder, whether it is advancing towards
the eternity which has no end or retracing its steps towards that which
had no beginning. Our sole privilege within our tiny confines is to
struggle towards that which appears to us the best and to remain
heroically persuaded that no part of what we do within those confines
can ever be wholly lost.


But let not all these insoluble questions drive us towards fear. From
the point of view of our future beyond the grave, it is in no way
necessary that we should have an answer to everything. Whether the
universe have already found its consciousness, whether it find it one
day or seek it everlastingly, it could not exist for the purpose of
being unhappy and of suffering, neither in its entirety, nor in any one
of its parts; and it matters little if the latter be invisible or
incommensurable, considering that the smallest is as great as the
greatest in what has neither limit nor measure. To torture a point is
the same thing as to torture the worlds; and, if it torture the worlds,
it is its own substance that it tortures. Its very fate, wherein we have
our part, protects us; for we are simply morsels of infinity. It is
inseparable from us as we are inseparable from it. Its breath is our
breath, its aim is our aim and we bear within us all its mysteries. We
participate in it everywhere. There is naught in us that escapes it;
there is naught in it but belongs to us. It extends us, fills us,
traverses us on every side. In space and time and in that which, beyond
space and time, has as yet no name, we represent it and summarize it
completely, with all its properties and all its future; and, if its
immensity terrifies us, we are as terrifying as itself.

If, therefore, we had to suffer in it, our sufferings could be but
ephemeral; and nothing matters that is not eternal. It is possible,
although somewhat incomprehensible, that parts should err and go astray;
but it is impossible that sorrow should be one of its lasting and
necessary laws; for it would have brought that law to bear against
itself. In like manner, the universe is and must be its own law and its
sole master: if not, the law or the master whom it must obey would be
the universe alone; and the centre of a word which we pronounce without
being able to grasp its scope would be simply shifted. If it be unhappy,
that means that it wills its own unhappiness; if it will its
unhappiness, it is mad; and, if it appear to us mad, that means that our
reason works contrary to everything and to the only laws possible,
seeing that they are eternal, or, to speak more humbly, that it judges
what it wholly fails to understand.


Everything, therefore, must end, or perhaps already be, if not in a
state of happiness, at least in a state exempt from all suffering, all
anxiety, all lasting unhappiness; and what, after all, is our happiness
upon this earth, if it be not the absence of sorrow, anxiety and

But it is childish to talk of happiness and unhappiness where infinity
is in question. The idea which we entertain of happiness and unhappiness
is something so special, so human, so fragile that it does not exceed
our stature and falls to dust as soon as we take it out of its little
sphere. It proceeds entirely from a few contingencies of our nerves,
which are made to appreciate very slight happenings, but which could as
easily have felt everything the opposite way and taken pleasure in that
which is now pain.

I do not know if my readers remember the striking passage in which Sir
William Crookes shows how well-nigh all that we consider as essential
laws of nature would be falsified in the eyes of a microscopic man,
while forces of which we are almost wholly ignorant, such as
surface-tension, capillarity, the Brownian movements, would
preponderate. Walking on a cabbage-leaf, for instance, after the dew had
fallen, and seeing it studded with huge crystal globes, he would infer
that water was a solid body which assumes spherical form and rises in
the air. At no great distance, he might come to a pond, when he would
observe that this same matter, instead of rising upwards, now seems to
slope downwards in a vast curve from the brink. If he managed, with the
aid of his friends, to throw into the water one of those enormous steel
bars which we call needles, he would see that it made a sort of concave
trough on the surface and floated tranquilly. From these experiments and
a thousand others which he might make, he would naturally deduce
theories diametrically opposed to those upon which our entire existence
is based. It would be the same if the changes were made in the direction
of time, to take an hypothesis imagined by the philosopher William

“Suppose we were able, within the length of a second, to note distinctly
ten thousand events instead of barely ten, as now; if our life were then
destined to hold the same number of impressions it might be a thousand
times as short. We should live less than a month, and personally know
nothing of the change of seasons. If born in winter, we should believe
in summer as we now believe in the heats of the carboniferous era. The
motions of organic beings would be so slow to our senses as to be
inferred, not seen. The sun would stand still in the sky, the moon be
almost free from change and so on. But now reverse the hypothesis, and
suppose a being to get only one thousandth part of the sensations that
we get in a given time, and consequently to live a thousand times as
long. Winters and summers will be to him like quarters of an hour.
Mushrooms and the swifter growing plants will shoot into being so
rapidly as to appear instantaneous creations; annual shrubs will rise
and fall from the earth like restlessly boiling water-springs; the
motions of animals will be as invisible as are to us the movements of
bullets and cannon-balls; the sun will scour through the sky like a
meteor, leaving a fiery trail behind him, &c. That such imaginary cases
(barring the super-human longevity) may be realized somewhere in the
animal kingdom, it would be rash to deny.”


We believe that we see nothing hanging over us but catastrophes, deaths,
torments and disasters; we shiver at the mere thought of the great
interplanetary spaces, with their intense cold and their awful and
gloomy solitudes; and we imagine that the worlds that revolve through
space are as unhappy as ourselves because they freeze, or disaggregate,
or clash together, or are consumed in unutterable flames. We infer from
this that the genius of the universe is an abominable tyrant, seized
with a monstrous madness, delighting only in the torture of itself and
all that it contains. To millions of stars, each many thousand times
larger than our sun, to nebulæ whose nature and dimensions no figure, no
word in our language is able to express, we attribute our momentary
sensibility, the little ephemeral play of our nerves; and we are
convinced that life there must be impossible or appalling, because we
should feel too hot or too cold. It were much wiser to say to ourselves
that it would need but a trifle, a few papillæ more or less to our skin,
the slightest modification of our eyes and ears, to turn the temperature
of space, its silence and its darkness into a delicious spring-time, an
incomparable music, a divine light.

“Nothing is too wonderful to be true,” said Faraday.

It were much more reasonable to persuade ourselves that the catastrophes
our imagination sees there are life itself, the joy and one or other of
those immense festivals of mind and matter in which death, thrusting
aside at last our two enemies, time and space, will soon permit us to
take part. Each world dissolving, extinguished, crumbling, burnt or
colliding with another world and pulverized means the commencement of a
magnificent experiment, the dawn of a marvellous hope and perhaps an
unexpected happiness drawn direct from the inexhaustible unknown. What
though they freeze or flame, collect or disperse, pursue or flee one
another: mind and matter, no longer united by the same pitiful hazard
that joined them in us, must rejoice at all that happens; for all is but
birth and rebirth, a departure into an unknown filled with wonderful
promises and maybe an anticipation of some ineffable event.

                              CHAPTER XII



In order to retain a livelier image of all this and a more exact memory,
let us give a last glance at the road which we have travelled. We have
put aside, for reasons which we have stated, the religious solutions and
total annihilation. Annihilation is physically impossible; the religious
solutions occupy a citadel without doors or windows into which human
reason does not penetrate. Next comes the hypothesis of the survival of
our ego, released from its body, but retaining a full and unimpaired
consciousness of its identity. We have seen that this hypothesis,
strictly defined, has very little likelihood and is not greatly to be
desired, although, with the surrender of the body, the source of all our
ills, it seems less to be feared than our actual existence. On the other
hand, as soon as we try to extend or to exalt it, so that it may appear
less barbarous or less crude, we come back to the hypothesis of a cosmic
consciousness or of a modified consciousness, which, together with that
of survival without any sort of consciousness, closes the field to every
supposition and exhausts every forecast of the imagination.

Survival without any sort of consciousness would be tantamount for us to
annihilation pure and simple and consequently would be no more dreadful
than the latter, that is to say, than a sleep with no dreams and with no
awakening. The hypothesis is unquestionably more acceptable than that of
annihilation; but it prejudges very rashly the questions of a cosmic
consciousness and of a modified consciousness.


Before replying to these, we must choose our universe, for we have the
choice. It is a matter of knowing how we propose to look at infinity. Is
it the moveless, immovable infinity, from all eternity perfect and at
its zenith, and the purposeless universe that our reason will conceive
at the farthest point of our thoughts? Do we believe that, at our death,
the illusion of movement and progress which we see from the depths of
this life will suddenly fade away? If so, it is inevitable that, at our
last breath, we shall be absorbed in what, for lack of a better term, we
call the cosmic consciousness. Are we, on the other hand, persuaded that
death will reveal to us that the illusion lies not in our senses, but in
our reason and that, in a world incontestably alive, despite the
eternity preceding our birth, all the experiments have not been made,
that is to say that movement and evolution continue and will never and
nowhere stop? In that case, we must at once accept the hypothesis of a
modified or progressive consciousness. The two aspects, after all, are
equally unintelligible, but defensible; and, although really
irreconcilable, they agree on one point, namely, that unending pain and
unredeemed misery are alike excluded from them both for ever.


The hypothesis of a modified consciousness does not necessitate the loss
of the tiny consciousness acquired in our body; but it makes it almost
negligible, flings, drowns and dissolves it in infinity. It is of course
impossible to support this hypothesis with satisfactory proofs; but it
is not easy to shatter it like the others. Were it permissible to speak
of likeness to truth in this connexion, when our only truth is that we
do not see the truth, it is the most likely of the interim hypotheses
and gives a magnificent opening for the most plausible, the most varied
and the most alluring dreams. Will our ego, our soul, our spirit, or
whatever we call that which will survive us in order to continue us as
we are, will it find again, on leaving the body, the innumerable lives
which it must have lived since the thousands of years that had no
beginning? Will it continue to increase by assimilating all that it
meets in infinity during the thousands of years that will have no end?
Will it linger for a time around our earth, leading, in regions
invisible to our eyes, an ever higher and happier existence, as the
theosophists and spiritualists contend? Will it move towards other
planetary systems, will it emigrate to other worlds whose existence is
not even suspected by our senses? Everything seems permissible in this
great dream, save that which might arrest its flight.

Nevertheless, so soon as it ventures too far in the ultramondane spaces,
it crashes into strange obstacles and breaks its wings against them. If
we admit that our ego does not remain eternally what it was at the
moment of our death, we can no longer imagine that, at a given second,
it stops, ceases to expand and rise, attains its perfection and its
fulness, to become no more than a sort of motionless wreck suspended in
eternity and a finished thing in the midst of that which will never
finish. That would indeed be the only real death and the more fearful
inasmuch as it would set a limit to an unparalleled life and
intelligence, beside which those which we possess here below would not
even weigh what a drop of water weighs when compared with the ocean, or
a grain of sand when placed in the scales with a mountain-chain. In a
word, either we believe that our evolution will one day stop, implying
thereby an incomprehensible end and a sort of inconceivable death; or we
admit that it has no limit, whereupon, being infinite, it assumes all
the properties of infinity and must needs be lost in infinity and united
with it. This, withal, is the latter end of theosophy, spiritualism and
all the religions in which man, in his ultimate happiness, is absorbed
by God. And this again is an incomprehensible end, but at least it is
life. And then, taking one incomprehensibility with another, after doing
all that is humanly possible to understand one or the other riddle, let
us by preference leap into the greatest and therefore the most probable,
the one which contains all the others and after which nothing more
remains. If not, the questions reappear at every stage and the answers
are always conflicting. And questions and answers lead us to the same
inevitable abyss. As we shall have to face it sooner or later, why not
make for it straightway? All that happens to us in the interval
interests us beyond a doubt, but does not detain us, because it is not


Behold us then before the mystery of the cosmic consciousness. Although
we are incapable of understanding the act of an infinity that would have
to fold itself up in order to feel itself and consequently to define
itself and separate itself from other things, this is not an adequate
reason for declaring it impossible; for, if we were to reject all the
realities and impossibilities that we do not understand, there would be
nothing left for us to live upon. If this consciousness exist under the
form which we have conceived, it is evident that we shall be there and
take part in it. If there be a consciousness somewhere, or some thing
that takes the place of consciousness, we shall be in that consciousness
or that thing, because we cannot be elsewhere. And, as this
consciousness or this thing cannot be unhappy, because it is impossible
that infinity should exist for its own unhappiness, neither shall we be
unhappy when we are in it. Lastly, if the infinity into which we shall
be projected have no sort of consciousness nor anything that stands for
it, the reason will be that consciousness or anything that might replace
it is not indispensable to eternal happiness.


That, I think, is about as much as we may be permitted to declare, for
the moment, to the spirit anxiously facing the unfathomable space
wherein death will shortly hurl it. It can still hope to find there the
fulfilment of its dreams; it will perhaps find less to dread than it had
feared. If it prefer to remain expectant and to accept none of the
hypotheses which I have expounded to the best of my power and without
prejudice, it nevertheless seems difficult not to welcome, at least,
this great assurance which we find at the bottom of every one of them,
namely, that infinity could not be malevolent, seeing that, if it
eternally tortured the least among us, it would be torturing something
which it cannot tear out of itself and that it would therefore be
torturing its very self.

I have added nothing to what was already known. I have simply tried to
separate what may be true from that which is assuredly not true; for, if
we do not know where truth is, we nevertheless learn to know where it is
not. And, perhaps, in seeking for that undiscoverable truth, we shall
have accustomed our eyes to pierce the terror of the last hour by
looking it full in the face. Many things, beyond a doubt, remain to be
said which others will say with greater force and brilliancy. But we
need have no hope that any one will utter on this earth the word that
shall put an end to our uncertainties. It is very probable, on the
contrary, that no one in this world, nor perhaps in the next, will
discover the great secret of the universe. And, if we reflect upon this
even for a moment, it is most fortunate that it should be so. We have
not only to resign ourselves to living in the incomprehensible, but to
rejoice that we cannot go out of it. If there were no more insoluble
questions nor impenetrable riddles, infinity would not be infinite; and
then we should have for ever to curse the fate that placed us in a
universe proportionate to our intelligence. All that exists would be but
a gateless prison, an irreparable evil and mistake. The unknown and the
unknowable are necessary and will perhaps always be necessary to our
happiness. In any case, I would not wish my worst enemy, were his
understanding a thousandfold loftier and a thousandfold mightier than
mine, to be condemned eternally to inhabit a world of which he had
surprised an essential secret and of which, as a man, he had begun to
grasp the least tittle.

                                THE END


                              _Printed by_
                        MORRISON & GIBB LIMITED

                          Transcriber's Notes

Obviously typographical errors have been silently corrected. Nothing
else has been changed.

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