Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Unknown Guest by Maurice Maeterlinck

Part 2 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

seem as though coming events, gathered in front of our lives,
bear with crushing weight upon the uncertain and deceptive dike
of the present, which is no longer able to contain them. They
ooze through, they seek a crevice by which to reach us. But, side
by side with these passive, independent and intractable
premonitions, which are but so many vagrant and furtive
emanations of the unknown, are others which do yield to entreaty,
allow themselves to be directed into channels, are more or less
obedient to our orders and will sometimes reply to the questions
which we put to them. They come from the same inaccessible
reservoir, are no less mysterious, but yet appear a little more
human than the others; and, without drugging ourselves with
puerile or dangerous illusions, we may be permitted to hope that,
if we follow them and study them attentively, they will one day
open to us the hidden paths that join that which is no more to
that which is not yet.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

"She'll never need it."

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

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

"Turn the mattress."

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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


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

"Turn the mattress."

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

"A glass with little flowers," he replies.

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

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

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

"What's this?"

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

Sometimes his repartees are not lacking in humour.

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

And Master Rolf gravely answered:

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

"Weidenhof! Weidenhof! Weidenhof!"

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

"Does it give an exact root?"

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


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

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

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


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

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

Berto hardly ever makes a mistake. When he does not understand
the question, he waits for it to be written with the finger on
his side; and the careful way in which he works it out like some

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest