Here to return to
THE WAR AND THE PROPHETS
AT the end an essay occuring in The Unknown Guest and entitled, The Knowledge of the Future, in which I examined a certain number of phenomena relating to the anticipatory perception of events, such as presentments, premonitions, precognitions, predictions, etc., I concluded in nearly the following terms:
“To sum up, if it is difficult for us to conceive that the future pre-exists, perhaps it is just as difficult for us to understand that it does not exist; moreover, many facts tend to prove that it is as real and definite and has, both in time and eternity, the same permanence and the same vividness as the past. Now, from the moment that it pre-exists, it is not surprising that we should be able to know it; it is even astonishing, granted that it overhangs us from every side, that we should not discover it oftener and more easily.”
Above all it is astonishing and almost inconceivable that this universal war, the most stupendous catastrophe that has overwhelmed humanity since the origin of things, should not, while it was approaching, bearing in its womb innumerable woes which were about to affect almost every one of us, have thrown upon us more plainly, from the recesses of those days in which it was making ready, its menacing shadow. One would think that it ought to have overcast the whole horizon of the future, even as it will overcast the whole horizon of the past. A secret of such weight, suspended in time, ought surely to have weighed upon all our lives; and presentiments or revelations should have arisen on every hand. There was none of these. We lived and moved without uneasiness beneath the disaster which, from year to year, from day to day, from hour to hour, was descending upon the world; and we perceived it only when it touched our heads. True, it was more or less foreseen by our reason; but our reason hardly believed in it; and besides I am not for the moment speaking of the inductions of the understanding, which are always uncertain and which are resigned beforehand to the capricious contradictions which they are daily accustomed to receive from facts.
But I repeat, beside or above these inductions of our everyday logic, in the less familiar domain of supernatural intuitions, of divination, prediction or prophecy properly so-called, we find that there was practically nothing to warn us of the vast peril. This does not mean that there was any lack of predictions or prophecies collected after the event; these number, it appears, no fewer than eighty-three; but none of them, excepting those of Léon Sonrel and the Rector of Ars, which we will examine in a moment, is worthy of serious discussion. I shall therefore mention, by way of a reminder, only the most widely known; and, first of all, the famous prophecy of Mayence or Strasburg, which is supposed to have been discovered by a certain Jecker in an ancient convent founded near Mayence by St. Hildegarde, of which the original text could not be found and of which no one until lately had ever heard. Then there is another prophecy of Mayence or Flensberg, published in the Neue Metaphysische Rundschau of Berlin in February 1912, in which the end of the German Empire is announced for the year 1913. Next, we have various predictions uttered by Mme. de Thèbes, by Dom Bosco, by Blessed Andrew Bobola, by Korzenicki the Polish monk, by Tolstoy, by Brother Hermann and so on, which are even less interesting; and, lastly, the prophecy of “Brother Johannes,” published by M. Joséphin Peladan in the Figaro of 16 September 1914, which contains no evidence of genuineness and must therefore be regarded merely as an ingenious literary conceit.
All these, on examination, leave but a worthless residuum; but the prophecies of the Rector of Ars and Léon Sonrel are more curious and worthy of a moment’s attention.
Father Jean-Baptiste Vianney, Rector of Ars, was, as everybody knows, a very saintly priest, who appears to have been endowed with extraordinary mediumistic faculties. The prophecy in question was made public in 1862, three years after the miracle-worker’s death, and was confirmed by a letter which Mgr. Perriet addressed to the Very Rev. Dom Gréa on the 24th of February 1908. Moreover it was printed, as far back as 1872, in a collection entitled, Voix prophétiques, ou signes, apparitions et prédictions modernes. It therefore has an incontestable date. I pass over the part relating to the war of 1870, which does not offer the same safeguards; but I give that which concerns the present war, quoting from the 1872 text:
“The enemies will not go altogether; they will return again and destroy everything upon their passage; we shall not resist them, but will allow them to advance; and, after that, we shall cut off their provisions and make them suffer great losses. They will retreat towards their country; we shall follow them and there will be hardly any who return home. Then we shall take back all that they took from us and much more.”
As for the date of the event, it is stated definitely and rather strikingly in these words:
“They will want to canonise me, but there will not be time.”
Now the preliminaries to the canonisation of the Rector of Ars were begun in July 1914, but were abandoned because of the war.
I now come to the Sonrel prediction. I will summarise it as briefly as possible from the admirable article which M. de Vesme devoted to it in the Annales des Sciences Psychiques. 1
On the 3rd of June 1914 — observe the date — Professor Charles Richet handed M. de Vesme, from Dr. Amédée Tardieu, a manuscript of which the following is the substance: on the 23rd or 24th of July 1869, Dr. Tardieu was strolling in the gardens of the Luxembourg with his friend Léon Sonrel, a former pupil of the Higher Normal School and teacher of natural philosophy at the Paris Observatory, when the latter had a kind of vision in the course of which he predicted various precise and actual episodes of the war of 1870, such as the collection on behalf of the wounded at the moment of departure and the amount of the sum collected in the soldiers’ képis; incidents of the journey to the frontier; the battle of Sedan, the rout of the French, the civil war, the siege of Paris, his own death, the birth of a posthumous child, the doctor’s political career and so on: predictions all of which were verified, as is attested by numerous witnesses who are worthy of the fullest credence. But I will pass over this part of the story and consider only that portion which refers to the present war:
“I have been waiting for two years,” to quote the text of Dr. Tardieu’s manuscript of the 3rd of June, “I have been waiting for two years for the sequel of the prediction which you are about to read. I omit everything that concerns my friend Léon’s family and my own private affairs. Yet there is in my life at this moment a personal matter, which, as always happens, agrees too closely with general occurrences for me to be able to doubt what follows:
“ ‘O my God! My country is lost: France is dead! . . . What a disaster! . . . Ah, see, she is saved! She extends to the Rhine! O France, O my beloved country, you are triumphant; you are the queen of nations! . . . Your genius shines forth over the world. ... All the earth wonders at you. . . .’ “
These are the words contained in the document written at the Mont-Dore on the 3rd and handed to M. de Vesme on the 13th of June, 1914, at a moment when no one was thinking of the terrible war which to-day is ravaging half the world.
When questioned, after the declaration of war, by M. de Vesme on the subject of the prophetic phrase, “I have been waiting for two years for the sequel of the prediction which you are about to read,” Dr. Tardieu replied, on the 12th of August:
“I had been waiting for two years; and I will tell you why. My friend Léon did not name the year, but the more general events are described simultaneously with the events of my own life. Now the events which concern me privately and which were doubtful two years ago became certain in April or May last. My friends know that since May last I have been announcing war as due before September, basing my prediction on coincidences with events in my private life of which I do not speak.”
These, up to the present, are the only prophecies known to us that deserve any particular attention. The prediction in both is timid and laconic; but, in those regions where the least gleam of light assumes extraordinary importance, it is not to be neglected. I admit, for the rest, that there has so far been no time to carry out a serious enquiry on this point, but I should be greatly surprised if any such enquiry gave positive results and if it did not allow us to state that the gigantic event, as a whole, as a general event, was neither foreseen nor divined. On the other hand, we shall probably learn, when the enquiry is completed, that hundreds of deaths, accidents, wounds and cases of individual ruin and misfortune included in the great disaster were predicted by clairvoyants, by mediums, by dreams and by every other manner of premonition with a definiteness sufficient to eliminate any kind of doubt. I have said elsewhere what I think of individual predictions of this kind, which seem to be no more than the reading of the presentiments which we carry within us, presentiments which themselves, in the majority of cases, are but the perception, by the as yet imperfectly known senses of our subconsciousness, of events in course of formation or in process of realisation which escape the attention of our understanding. However, it would still remain to be explained how a wholly accidental death or wound could be perceived by these subliminal senses as an event in course of formation. In any case, it would once more be confirmed, after this great test, that the knowledge of the future, so soon as it ceases to refer to a strictly personal fact and one, moreover, not at all remote, is always illusory, or rather impossible.
1 August, September
and October 1915.