The Unknown Guest

Author: Maurice Maeterlinck


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

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


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Chicago: Maurice Maeterlinck, "2," The Unknown Guest, trans. Macaulay, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Baron, 1800-1859 in The Unknown Guest (London: Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, 1831), Original Sources, accessed July 17, 2024,

MLA: Maeterlinck, Maurice. "2." The Unknown Guest, translted by Macaulay, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Baron, 1800-1859, in The Unknown Guest, London, Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, 1831, Original Sources. 17 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Maeterlinck, M, '2' in The Unknown Guest, trans. . cited in 1831, The Unknown Guest, Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, London. Original Sources, retrieved 17 July 2024, from