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The Unknown Guest by Maurice Maeterlinck

Part 3 out of 4

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backward and afflicted child is an infinitely pathetic sight. He
is much more zealous and conscientious than his fellow-pupils;
and we feel that, in the darkness wherein he dwells, this work
is, next to his meals, the only spark of light and interest in
his existence. He will certainly never rival Muhamed, for
instance, who is the arithmetical prodigy, the Inaudi, of horses;
but he is a valuable and living proof that the theory of
unconscious and imperceptible signs, the only one which the
German theorists have hitherto seriously considered, is now
clearly untenable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mohammed strikes an N.

"No, do be careful!"

He strikes a T.

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

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

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

"Because I am tired."

Another time, he answered:

"Pain in my leg."

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

"Three skittles and two skittles are five skittles."

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

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

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


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

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

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

"'Cupboard! Cupboard! Cupboard!'"

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

"'Ladder, climb, cupboard!'"

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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

"What must you do to speak?"

He replied, by striking with his foot:

"Open mouth."

"Why don't you open yours?"

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

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

"Mit Munt: with mouth."

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

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

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

"What's that?" asked his master.

"Metgen: a girl?"

On the black-board:

"Why is it a girl?"

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

"And what has she not?"


They next produced the likeness of man with no moustache.

"What's this?"

"Why is it a man?"

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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



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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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


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

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

It does indeed seem that, however far we go back in history, we
everywhere find the same extraordinary phenomena, under other
names and often in a more glamorous setting. Oracles, prophecies,

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