Maeterlinck, Maurice (1862–1949)
Famous Belgian writer and poet and winner of the Nobel
Prize in literature in 1911. He was born in Ghent, Belgium, on
August 29, 1862, and educated at the Collège Sainte-Barbe and
the University of Ghent. For a time he lived in Paris, where he
became associated with the symbolist school of French poetry.
His first publication was Serres Chaudes, a volume of poems, in
1889. His play La Princesse Maleine, which appeared the following
year, was praised by novelist Octave Mirbeau. Although
Maeterlinck had already qualified for the legal profession, he
decided to follow a literary life.
From the very beginning of his great literary career, he was
attracted by the problems of the inner life. His early plays were
dominated by the grim specter of death as the destroyer of life.
In his later works, his interest in psychic phenomena developed,
and the fearful mystery gave place to wondrous fascination.
The Unknown Guest, Our Eternity and The Wrack of the Storm
disclosed a familiarity with all the prevailing ideas on the paranormal,
and he showed no doubt whatever as to the genuineness
of phenomena. He wrote
‘‘The question of fraud and imposture are naturally the first
that suggest themselves when we begin the study of these phenomena.
But the slightest acquaintance with the life, habits and
proceedings of the three or four leading mediums is enough to
remove even the faintest shadow of suspicion. Of all the explanations
conceivable, the one which attributes everything to imposture
and trickery is unquestionably the most extraordinary
and the least probable. . . . From the moment that one enters
upon this study, all suspicions are dispelled without leaving a
trace behind them; and we are soon convinced that the key to
the riddle is not to be found in imposture. . . . Less than fifty
years ago most of the hypnotic phenomena which are now scientifically
classified were likewise looked upon as fraudulent. It
seems that man is loathe to admit that there lie within him
many more things than he imagined.’’
Maeterlinck considered survival proved but was uncertain
as to the possibility of communication with the dead. Between
the telepathic and spirit hypotheses, he could not make a
choice in favor of the latter. He admitted that
‘‘the survival of the spirit is no more improbable than the
prodigious faculties which we are obliged to attribute to the medium
if we deny them to the dead; but the existence of the medium,
contrary to that of the spirit, is unquestionable, and
therefore it is for the spirit, or for those who make use of its
name, first to prove that it exists.’’
He added that in his view there were five imaginable solutions
of the great problem the religious solution, annihilation,
survival with our consciousness of today, survival without any
sort of consciousness, and survival with a modified consciousness.
The religious solution he ruled out definitely, because it occupied
‘‘a citadel without doors or windows into which human
reason does not penetrate.’’ Annihilation he considered unthinkable
and impossible ‘‘We are the prisoners of an infinity
without outlet, wherein nothing perishes, wherein everything
is dispersed but nothing lost.’’ Survival without consciousness
of today is inconceivable, as the change of death and the casting
aside of the body must bring about an enlarged understanding
and an expansion of the intellectual horizon. Survival without
any consciousness amounted to the same thing as annihilation.
The only solution that appealed to him was survival with a
modified consciousness. He argued that since we have been
able to acquire our present consciousness, why should it be impossible
for us to acquire another in which our present consciousness
is a mere speck, a negligible quantity ‘‘Let us accusMacro-PK
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tom ourselves to regard death as a form of life which we do not
as yet understand; let us learn to look upon it with the same eye
that looks upon birth; and soon our minds will be accompanied
to the steps of the tomb with the same glad expectation that
greets a birth.’’
Maeterlinck died May 6, 1949.
Sources
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.
Ebon, Martin. They Knew the Unknown. New York New
American Library, 1971.
Maeterlinck, Maurice. The Great Secret. New Hyde Park,
N.Y. University Books, 1969.
———. The Unknown Guest. New Hyde Park, N.Y. University
Books, 1975