The Unknown Guest by Maurice Maeterlinck

Scanned by Dianne Bean of Phoenix, Arizona. THE UNKNOWN GUEST BY MAURICE MAETERLINCK Translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos INTRODUCTION 1 My Essay on Death led me to make a conscientious enquiry into the present position of the great mystery, an enquiry which I have endeavoured to render as complete as possible. I had hoped
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Scanned by Dianne Bean of Phoenix, Arizona.



Translated by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos



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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That is the man whom I saw.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

I shall perhaps be asked:

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

“Not at all; he is not thinking of it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

“But what is the matter with you?” she asks. “I simply must go out.”

“No, madame, you shall not: I speak in the interest of your health.”

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

“‘I called you to tell you that Mme. Nitchinof will leave the school on the 17th.’

“The carriage then drove on.”

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

After the writing comes a humorous drawing representing a bird walking.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“‘Oh, Cooper, how is the earl?’

“The duchess said, ‘What earl?’ and, on my answering, ‘Lord L–,’ she replied:

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

“I then said:

“‘I am attending Lord L– at present; there is very little the matter with him; he is not going to die; he will be all right very soon.’

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

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

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


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

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

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

“Well then, I shall have it!”

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

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

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

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


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