The Unknown Guest

Author: Maurice Maeterlinck


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Chicago: Maurice Maeterlinck, "22," The Unknown Guest, trans. Macaulay, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Baron, 1800-1859 in The Unknown Guest (London: Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, 1831), Original Sources, accessed March 20, 2019,

MLA: Maeterlinck, Maurice. "22." The Unknown Guest, translted by Macaulay, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Baron, 1800-1859, in The Unknown Guest, London, Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, 1831, Original Sources. 20 Mar. 2019.

Harvard: Maeterlinck, M, '22' in The Unknown Guest, trans. . cited in 1831, The Unknown Guest, Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, London. Original Sources, retrieved 20 March 2019, from