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The Unknown Guest by Maurice Maeterlinck

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Translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos



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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"That is the man whom I saw."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

I shall perhaps be asked:

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

"The carriage then drove on."

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

After the writing comes a humorous drawing representing a bird

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I then said:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

"Well then, I shall have it!"

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

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

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

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


We will abridge our subject still further, referring readers who
wish to know the details to the originals, lest we should never
have done; or rather, instead of attempting an abridgment, which
would still be too long, so plentiful are the materials, we will
content ourselves with enumerating a few instances, all taken
from Bozzano's Des Phenomenes premonitoires. We read there of a
funeral procession seen on a high-road several days before it
actually passed that way; or, again, of a young mechanic who, in
the beginning of November, dreamt that he came home at half-past
five in the afternoon and saw his sister's little girl run over
by a tram-car while crossing the street in front of the house. He
told his dream, in great distress; and, on the 13th of the same
month, in spite of all the precautions that had been taken, the
child was run over by the tram-car and killed at the hour named.
We find the ghost, the phantom animal or the mysterious noise
which, in certain families, is the traditional herald of a death
or of an imminent catastrophe. We find the celebrated vision
which the painter Segantini had thirteen days before his decease,
every detail of which remained in his mind and was represented in
his last picture, Death. We find the Messina disaster dearly
foreseen, twice over, by a little girl who perished under the
ruins of the ill-fated city; and we read of a dream which, three
months before the French invasion of Russia, foretold to Countess
Toutschkoff that her husband would fall at Borodino, a village so
little known at the time that those interested in the dream
looked in vain for its name on the maps. Until now we have spoken
only of the spontaneous manifestations of the future. It would

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