The Horla, or Modern Ghosts
by Guy de Maupassant
MAY 8. What a beautiful day! I have spent all
the morning lying in the grass in front of my house, under
the enormous plantain tree which covers it, and shades and
shelters the whole of it. I like this part of the country
and I am fond of living here because I am attached to it by
deep roots, profound and delicate roots which attach a man
to the soil on which his ancestors were born and died, which
attach him to what people think and what they eat, to the
usages as well as to the food, local expressions, the
peculiar language of the peasants, to the smell of the soil,
of the villages and of the atmosphere itself.
I love my house in which I grew up. From my
windows I can see the Seine which flows by the side of my
garden, on the other side of the road, almost through my
grounds, the great wide Seine, which goes to Rouen and
Havre, and which is covered with boats passing to and fro.
On the left, down yonder, lies Rouen, that
large town with its blue roofs, under its pointed, Gothic
towers. They are innumerable, delicate or broad, dominated
by the spire of the cathedral, and full of bells which sound
through the blue air on fine mornings, sending their sweet
and distant iron clang, to me; their metallic sound which
the breeze wafts in my direction, now stronger and now
weaker, according as the wind is stronger or lighter.
What a delicious morning it was!
About eleven o'clock, a long line of boats
drawn by a steam-tug, as big as a fly, and which scarcely
puffed while emitting its thick smoke, passed my gate.
After two English schooners, whose red flag
fluttered towards the sky, there came a magnificent
Brazilian three-master; it was perfectly white and
wonderfully clean and shining. I saluted it, I hardly know
why, except that the sight of the vessel gave me great
May 12. I have had a slight feverish attack
for the last few days, and I feel ill, or rather I feel low-
Whence do these mysterious influences come,
which change our happiness into discouragement, and our
self-confidence into diffidence? One might almost say that
the air, the invisible air, is full of unknowable Forces,
whose mysterious presence we have to endure. I wake up in
the best spirits, with an inclination to sing in my throat.
Why? I go down by the side of the water, and suddenly, after
walking a short distance, I return home, wretched, as if
some misfortune were a waiting me there. Why? Is it a cold
shiver which, passing over my skin, has upset my nerves and
given me low spirits? Is it the form of the clouds, or the
color of the sky, or the color of the surrounding objects
which is so changeable, which have troubled my thoughts as
they passed before my eyes? Who can tell? Everything that
surrounds us, everything that we see without looking at it,
everything that we touch without knowing it, everything that
we handle without feeling it, all that we meet without
clearly distinguishing it, has a rapid, surprising and
inexplicable effect upon us and upon our organs, and through
them on our ideas and on our heart itself.
How profound that mystery of the Invisible
is! We cannot fathom it with our miserable senses, with our
eyes which are unable to perceive what is either too small
or too great, too near to, or too far from us; neither the
inhabitants of a star nor of a drop of water . . .with our
ears that deceive us, for they transmit to us the vibrations
of the air in sonorous notes. They are fairies who work the
miracle of changing that movement into noise, and by that
metamorphosis give birth to music, which makes the mute
agitation of nature musical with our sense of smell which is
smaller than that of a dog . . .with our sense of taste
which can scarcely distinguish the age of a wine!
Oh! If we only had other organs which would
work other miracles in our favor, what a number of fresh
things we might discover around us!
May 16. I am ill, decidedly! I was so well
last month! I am feverish, horribly feverish, or rather I am
in a state of feverish enervation, which makes my mind
suffer as much as my body. I have without ceasing that
horrible sensation of some danger threatening me, that
apprehension of some coming misfortune or of approaching
death, that presentiment which is, no doubt, an attack of
some illness which is still unknown, which germinates in the
flesh and in the blood.
May 18. I have just come from consulting my
medical man, for I could no longer get any sleep. He found
that my pulse was high, my eyes dilated, my nerves highly
strung, but no alarming symptoms. I must have a course of
shower baths and of bromide of potassium.
May 25. No change! My state is really very
peculiar. As the evening comes on, an incomprehensible
feeling of disquietude seizes me, just as if night concealed
some terrible menace towards me. I dine quickly, and then
try to read, but I do not understand the words, and can
scarcely distinguish the letters. Then I walk up and down my
drawing-room, Oppressed by a feeling of confused and
irresistible fear, the fear of sleep and fear of my bed.
About ten o'clock I go up to my room. As soon
as I have got in I double lock, and bolt it: I am frightened
. . . of what? Up till the present time I have been
frightened of nothing . . . I open my cupboards, and look
under my bed; I listen . . . I listen . . . to what? How
strange it is that a simple feeling of discomfort, impeded
or heightened circulation, perhaps the irritation of a
nervous thread, a slight congestion, a small disturbance in
the imperfect and delicate functions of our living
machinery, can turn the most light-hearted of men into a
melancholy one, and make a coward of the bravest? Then, I go
to bed, and I wait for sleep as a man might wait for the
executioner. I wait for its coming with dread, and my heart
beats and my legs tremble, while my whole body shivers
beneath the warmth of the bedclothes, until the moment when
I suddenly fall asleep, as one would throw oneself into a
pool of stagnant water in order to drown oneself. I do not
feel as I used to do formerly, this perfidious sleep which
is close to me and, watching me, which is going to seize me
by the head, to close my eyes and annihilate me, coming over
I sleep--a long time--two or three hours
perhaps then a dream--no--a nightmare lays hold on me. I
feel that I am in bed and asleep . . . I feel it and I know
it . . . and I feel also that somebody is coming close to
me, is looking at me, touching me, is getting on to my bed,
is kneeling on my chest, is taking my neck between his hands
and squeezing it . . . squeezing it with all his might in
order to strangle me.
I struggle, bound by that terrible
powerlessness which paralyzes us in our dreams; I try to cry
out--but I cannot; I want to move--I cannot; I try, with the
most violent efforts and out of breath, to turn over and
throw off this being which is crushing and suffocating me--I
And then suddenly, I wake up, shaken and
bathed in perspiration; I light a candle and find that I am
alone, and after that crisis, which occurs every night, I at
length fall asleep and slumber tranquilly till morning.
June 2. My state has grown worse. What is the
matter with me? The bromide does me no good, and the shower
baths have no effect whatever. Sometimes, in order to tire
myself out, though I am fatigued enough already, I go for a
walk in the forest of Roumare. I used to think at first that
the fresh light and soft air, impregnated with the odor of
herbs and leaves, would instill new blood into my veins and
impart fresh energy to my heart. I turned into a broad ride
in the wood, and then I turned towards La Bouille, through a
narrow path, between two rows of exceedingly tall trees,
which placed a thick, green, almost black roof between the
sky and me.
A sudden shiver ran through me, not a cold
shiver, but a shiver of agony, and so I hastened my steps,
uneasy at being alone in the wood, frightened stupidly and
without reason, at the profound solitude. Suddenly it seemed
to me as if I were being followed, that somebody was walking
at my heels, close, quite close to me, near enough to touch
I turned round suddenly, but I was alone. I
saw nothing behind me except the straight, broad ride, empty
and bordered by high trees, horribly empty; on the other
side it also extended until it was lost in the distance, and
looked just the same, terrible.
I closed my eyes. Why? And then I began to
turn round on one heel very quickly, just like a top. I
nearly fell down, and opened my eyes; the trees were dancing
round me and the earth heaved; I was obliged to sit down.
Then, ah! I no longer remembered how I had come! What a
strange idea I What a strange, strange idea! I did not the
least know. I started off to the right, and got back into
the avenue which had led me into the middle of the forest.
June 3. I have had a terrible night. I shall
go away for a few weeks, for no doubt a journey will set me
July 2. I have come back, quite cured, and
have had a most delightful trip into the bargain. I have
been to Mount Saint-Michel, which I had not seen before.
What a sight, when one arrives as I did, at
Avranches towards the end of the day! The town stands on a
hill, and I was taken into the public garden at the
extremity of the town. I uttered a cry of astonishment. An
extraordinarily large bay lay extended before me, as far as
my eyes could reach, between two hills which were lost to
sight in the mist; and in the middle of this immense yellow
bay, under a clear, golden sky, a peculiar hill rose up,
somber and pointed in the midst of the sand. The sun had
just disappeared, and under the still flaming sky the
outline of that fantastic rock stood out, which bears on its
summit a fantastic monument.
At daybreak I went to it. The tide was low as
it had been the night before, and I saw that wonderful abbey
rise up before me as I approached it. After several hours
walking, I reached the enormous mass of rocks which supports
the little town, dominated by the great church. Having
climbed the steep and narrow street, I entered the most
wonderful Gothic building that has ever been built to God on
earth, as large as a town, full of low rooms which seem
buried beneath vaulted roofs, and lofty galleries supported
by delicate columns.
I entered this gigantic granite jewel which
is as light as a bit of lace, covered with towers, with
slender belfries to which spiral staircases ascend, and
which raise their strange heads that bristle with chimeras,
with devils, with fantastic animals, with monstrous flowers,
and which are joined together by finely carved arches, to
the blue sky by day, and to the black sky by night.
When I had reached the summit, I said to the
monk who accompanied me: "Father, how happy you must be
here!" And he replied: "It is very windy, Monsieur;" and so
we began to talk while watching the rising tide, which ran
over the sand and covered it with a steel cuirass.
And then the monk told me stories, all the
old stories belonging to the place, legends, nothing but
One of them struck me forcibly. The country
people, those belonging to the Mornet, declare that at night
one can hear talking going on in the sand, and then that one
hears two goats bleat, one with a strong, the other with a
weak voice. Incredulous people declare that it is nothing
but the cry of the sea birds, which occasionally resembles
bleatings, and occasionally human lamentations; but belated
fishermen swear that they have met an old shepherd, whose
head, which is covered by his cloak, they can never see,
wandering on the downs, between two tides, round the little
town placed so far out of the world, and who is guiding and
walking before them, a he-goat with a man's face, and a she-
goat with a woman's face, and both of them with white hair;
and talking incessantly, quarreling in a strange language,
and then suddenly ceasing to talk in order to bleat with all
"Do you believe it?" I asked the monk. "I
scarcely know," he replied, and I continued: "If there are
other beings besides ourselves on this earth, how comes it
that we have not known it for so long a time, or why have
you not seen them? How is it that I have not seen them?" He
replied: "Do we see the hundred thousandth part of what
exists? Look here; there is the wind, which is the strongest
force in nature, which knocks down men, and blows down
buildings, uproots trees, raises the sea into mountains of
water, destroys cliffs and casts great ships onto the
breakers; the wind which kills, which whistles, which sighs,
which roars,--have you ever seen it, and can you see it? It
exists for all that, however."
I was silent before this simple reasoning.
That man was a philosopher, or perhaps a fool; I could not
say which exactly, so I held my tongue. What he had said,
had often been in my own thoughts.
July 3. I have slept badly; certainly there
is some feverish influence here, for my coachman is
suffering in the same way as I am. When I went back home
yesterday, I noticed his singular paleness, and I asked him:
"What is the matter with you, Jean? The matter is that I
never get any rest, and my nights devour my days. Since your
departure, Monsieur, there has been a spell over me."
However, the other servants are all well, but
I am very frightened of having another attack, myself.
July 4. I am decidedly taken again; for my
old nightmares have returned. Last night I felt somebody
leaning on me who was sucking my life from between my lips
with his mouth. Yes, he was sucking it out of my neck, like
a leech would have done. Then he got up, satiated, and I
woke up, so beaten, crushed and annihilated that I could not
move. If this continues for a few days, I shall certainly go
July 5. Have I lost my reason? What has
happened, what I saw last night is so strange, that my head
wanders when I think of it!
As I do now every evening, I had locked my
door, and then, being thirsty, I drank half a glass of
water, and I accidentally noticed that the water-bottle was
full up to the cut-glass stopper.
Then I went to bed and fell into one of my
terrible sleeps, from which I was aroused in about two hours
by a still more terrible shock.
Picture to yourself a sleeping man who is
being murdered and who wakes up with a knife in his chest,
and who is rattling in his throat, covered with blood, and
who can no longer breathe and is going to die and does not
understand anything at all about it--there it is.
Having recovered my senses, I was thirsty
again, so I lit a candle and went to the table on which my
water-bottle was. I lifted it up and tilted it over my
glass, but nothing came out. It was empty! It was completely
empty! At first I could not understand it at all, and then
suddenly I was seized by such a terrible feeling that I had
to sit down, or rather I fell into a chair! Then I sprang up
with a bound to look about me, and then I sat down again,
overcome by astonishment and fear, in front of the
transparent crystal bottle! I looked at it with fixed eyes,
trying to conjecture, and my hands trembled! Somebody had
drunk the water, but who? I? I without any doubt. It could
surely only be I? In that case I was a somnambulist. I
lived, without knowing it, that double mysterious life which
makes us doubt whether there are not two beings in us, or
whether a strange, unknowable and invisible being does not
at such moments, when our soul is in a state of torpor,
animate our captive body which obeys this other being, as it
does us ourselves, and more than it does ourselves.
Oh! Who will understand my horrible agony?
Who will understand the emotion of a man who is sound in
mind, wide awake, full of sound sense, and who looks in
horror at the remains of a little water that has disappeared
while he was asleep, through the glass of a water-bottle!
And I remained there until it was daylight, without
venturing to go to bed again.
July 6. I am going mad. Again all the
contents of my water-bottle have been drunk during the
night; or rather, I have drunk it! But is it I? Is it I? Who
could it be? Who?
Oh! God! Am I going mad? Who will save me?
July 10. I have just been through some
surprising ordeals. Decidedly I am mad! And yet! . . .
On July 6, before going to bed, I put some
wine, milk, water, bread and strawberries on my table.
Somebody drank--I drank--all the water and a little of the
milk, but neither the wine, bread nor the strawberries were
On the seventh of July I renewed the same
experiment, with the same results, and on July 8, I left out
the water and the milk and nothing was touched.
Lastly, on July 9 I put only water and milk
on my table, taking care to wrap up the bottles in white
muslin and to tie down the stoppers. Then I rubbed my lips,
my beard and my hands with pencil lead, and went to bed.
Irresistible sleep seized me, which was soon
followed by a terrible awakening. I had not moved, and my
sheets were not marked. I rushed to the table. The muslin
round the bottles remained intact; I undid the string,
trembling with fear. All the water had been drunk, and so
had the milk! Ah! Great
God! . . .
I must start for Paris immediately.
July 12. Paris. I must have lost my head
during the last few days! I must be the plaything of my
enervated imagination, unless I am really a somnambulist, or
that I have been brought under the power of one of those
influences which have been proved to exist, but which have
hitherto been inexplicable, which are called suggestions. In
any case, my mental state bordered on madness, and
twenty-four hours of Paris sufficed to restore me to my
Yesterday after doing some business and
paying some visits which instilled fresh and invigorating
mental air into me, I wound up my evening at the
Théâtre-Français. A play by
Alexandre Dumas the Younger was being acted, and his active
and powerful mind completed my cure. Certainly solitude is
dangerous for active minds. We require men who can think and
can talk, around us. When we are alone for a long time, we
people space with phantoms.
I returned along the boulevards to my hotel
in excellent spirits. Amid the jostling of the crowd I
thought, not without irony, of my terrors and surmises of
the previous week, because I believed, yes, I believed, that
an invisible being lived beneath my roof. How weak our head
is, and how quickly it is terrified and goes astray, as soon
as we are struck by a small, incomprehensible fact.
Instead of concluding with these simple
words: "I do not understand because the cause escapes me,"
we immediately imagine terrible mysteries and supernatural
July 14. Fête of the Republic. I
walked through the streets, and the crackers and flags
amused me like a child. Still it is very foolish to be merry
on a fixed date, by a Government decree. The populace, an
imbecile flock of sheep, now steadily patient, and now in
ferocious revolt. Say to it: "Amuse yourself," and it amuses
itself. Say to it: "Go and fight with your neighbor," and it
goes and fights. Say to it: "Vote for the Emperor," and it
votes for the Emperor, and then say to it: "Vote for the
Republic," and it votes for the Republic.
Those who direct it are also stupid; but
instead of obeying men, they obey principles, which can only
be stupid, sterile and false, for the very reason that they
are principles, that is to say, ideas which are considered
as certain and unchangeable, in ' this world where one is
certain of nothing, since light is an illusion and noise is
July 16. I saw some things yesterday that
troubled me very much.
I was dining with my cousin Madame
Sablé, whose husband is colonel of the 76th Chasseurs
at Limoges. There were two young women there, one of whom
had married a medical man, Dr. Parent, who devotes himself a
great deal to nervous diseases and the extraordinary
manifestations to which at this moment experiments in
hypnotism and suggestion give rise. He related to us at some
length the remarkable results obtained by English scientists
and the doctors of the medical school at Nancy, and the
facts which he adduced, appeared to me so strange, that I
declared that I was altogether incredulous.
"We are," he declared, "on the point of
discovering one of the most important secrets of nature, I
mean to say, one of its most important secrets on this
earth, for there are certainly some which are of a different
kind of importance up in the stars, yonder. Ever since man
has thought, since he has been able to express and write
down his thoughts, he has felt himself close to a mystery
which is impenetrable to his coarse and imperfect senses,
and he endeavors to supplement the want of power of his
organs, by the efforts of his intellect. As long as that
intellect still remained in its elementary stage, this
intercourse with invisible spirits, assumed forms which were
commonplace though terrifying. Thence sprang the popular
belief in the supernatural, the legends of wandering
spirits, of fairies, of gnomes, ghosts, I might even say the
legend of God, for our conceptions of the workman-creator,
from whatever religion they may have come down to us, are
certainly the most mediocre, the stupidest and the most
unacceptable inventions that ever sprang from the frightened
brain of any human creatures. Nothing is truer than what
Voltaire says: "God made man in His own image, but man has
certainly paid Him back again."
"But for rather more than a century, men seem
to have had a presentiment of something new. Mesmer and some
others have put us on an unexpected track, and especially
within the last two or three years, we have arrived at
really surprising results."
My cousin, who is also very incredulous,
smiled, and Doctor Parent said to her: "Would you like me to
try and send you to sleep, Madame?" "Yes, certainly."
She sat down in an easy-chair, and he began
to look at her fixedly, so as to fascinate her. I suddenly
felt myself somewhat uncomfortable, with a beating heart and
a choking feeling in my throat. I saw that Madame
Sablé's eyes were growing heavy, her mouth twitched
and her bosom heaved, and at the end of ten minutes she was
"Stand behind her," the doctor said to me,
and so I took a seat behind her. He put a visiting-card into
her hands, and said to her: "This is a looking-glass; what
do you see in it?" And she replied: "I see my cousin." "What
is he doing?" "He is twisting his moustache." "And now?" "He
is taking a photograph out of his pocket." "Whose photograph
is it?" "His own."
That was true, and that photograph had been
given me that same evening at the hotel.
"What is his attitude in this portrait?" "He
is standing up with his hat in his hand."
So she saw on that card, on that piece of
white pasteboard, as if she had seen it in a looking-glass.
The young women were frightened, and
exclaimed: "That is quite enough! Quite, quite enough!"
But the doctor said to her authoritatively:
"You will get up at eight o'clock to-morrow morning; then
you will go and call on your cousin at his hotel and ask him
to lend you five thousands francs which your husband demands
of you, and which he will ask for when he sets out on his
Then he woke her up.
On returning to my hotel, I thought over this
curious séance and I was assailed by doubts,
not as to my cousin's absolute and undoubted good faith, for
I had known her as well as if she had been my own sister
ever since she was a child, but as to a possible trick on
the doctor's part. Had not he, perhaps, kept a glass hidden
in his hand, which he showed to the young woman in her
sleep, at the same time as he did the card? Professional
conjurors do things which are just as singular.
So I went home and to bed, and this morning,
at about half past eight, I was awakened by my footman, who
said to me: "Madame Sablé has asked to see you
immediately, Monsieur," so I dressed hastily and went to
She sat down in some agitation, with her eyes
on the floor, and without raising her veil she said to me:
"My dear cousin, I am going to ask a great favor of you."
"What is it, cousin?" "I do not like to tell you, and yet I
must. I am in absolute want of five thousand francs." "What,
you?" "Yes, I, or rather my husband, who has asked me to
procure the money for him."
I was so stupefied that I stammered out my
answers. I asked myself whether she had not really been
making fun of me with Doctor Parent, if it were not merely a
very well-acted farce which had been got up beforehand. On
looking at her attentively, however, my doubts disappeared.
She was trembling with grief, so painful was this step to
her, and I was sure that her throat was full of sobs.
I knew that she was very rich and so I
continued: "What! Has not your husband five thousand francs
at his disposal! Come, think. Are you sure that he
commissioned you to ask me for them?"
She hesitated for a few seconds, as if she
were making a great effort to search her memory, and then
she replied: "Yes . . . yes, I am quite sure of it."
"He has written to you?"
She hesitated again and reflected, and I
guessed the torture of her thoughts. She did not know. She
only knew that she was to borrow five thousand francs of me
for her husband. So she told a lie. "Yes, he has written to
me." "When pray? You did not mention it to me yesterday." "I
received his letter this morning." "Can you show it me?"
"No; no . . . no . . . it contained private matters . . .
things too personal to ourselves . . . I burnt it." "So your
husband runs into debt?"
She hesitated again, and then murmured: "I do
Thereupon I said bluntly: "I have not five
thousand francs at my disposal at this moment, my dear
She uttered a kind of a cry as if she were in
pain and said: "Oh! oh! I beseech you, I beseech you to get
them for me . . ."
She got excited and clasped her hands as if
she were praying to me! I heard her voice change its tone;
she wept and stammered, harassed and dominated by the
irresistible order that she had received.
"Oh! oh! I beg you to . . . if you knew what
I am suffering. . . . I want them to-day."
I had pity on her: "You shall have them by
and by, swear to you." "Oh! thank you! thank you! How kind
I continued: "Do you remember what took place
at your house last night?" "Yes." "Do you remember that
Doctor Parent sent you to sleep?" "Yes." "Oh! Very well
then; he ordered you to come to me this morning to borrow
five thousand francs, and at this moment you are obeying
She considered for a few moments, and then
replied: "But as it is my husband who wants them . . . "
For a whole hour I tried to convince her, but
could not succeed, and when she had gone I went to the
doctor. He was just going out, and he listened to me with a
smile, and said: "Do you believe now?" "Yes, I cannot help
it." "Let us go to your cousin's."
She was already dozing on a couch, overcome
with fatigue. The doctor felt her pulse, looked at her for
some time with one hand raised towards her eyes which she
closed by degrees under the irresistible power of this
magnetic influence, and when she was asleep, he said:
"Your husband does not require the five
thousand francs any longer! You must, therefore, forget that
you asked your cousin to lend them to you, and, if he speaks
to you about it, you will not understand him."
Then he woke her up, and I took out a
pocketbook and said: "Here is what you asked me for this
morning, my dear cousin." But she was so surprised, that I
did not venture to persist; nevertheless, I tried to recall
the circumstance to her, but she denied it vigorously,
thought that I was making fun of her, and in the end, very
nearly lost her temper.
There! I have just come back, and I have not
been able to eat any lunch, for this experiment has
altogether upset me.
July 19. Many people to whom I have told the
adventure, have laughed at me. I no longer know what to
think. The wise man says: Perhaps?
July 21. I dined at Bougival, and then I
spent the evening at a boatmen's ball. Decidedly everything
depends on place and surroundings. It would be the height of
folly to believe in the supernatural on the île de
la Grenouillière (1) . . . but on the top
of Mont Saint-Michel? . . . and in India? We are terribly
under the influence of our surroundings. I shall return home
July 30. I came back to my own house
yesterday. Everything is going on well.
August 2. Nothing new. It is splendid
weather, and I spent my days in watching the Seine flow
August 4. Quarrels among my servants. They
declare that the glasses are broken in the cupboards at
night. The footman accuses the cook, who accuses the needle
woman, who accuses the other two. Who is the culprit? A
clever person, to be able to tell.
August 6. This time, I am not mad. I have
seen . . . I have seen . . . I have seen! . . . I can doubt
no longer . . . I have seen it!
I was walking at two o'clock among my rose
trees, in the full sunlight . . . in the walk bordered by
autumn roses which are beginning to fall. As I stopped to
look at a Géant de Bataille, which had three
splendid blooms, I distinctly saw the stalk of one of the
roses bend, close to me, as if an invisible hand had bent
it, and then break, as if that hand had picked it! Then the
flower raised itself, following the curve which a hand would
have described in carrying it towards a mouth, and it
remained suspended in the transparent air, all alone and
motionless, a terrible red spot, three yards from my eyes.
In desperation I rushed at it to take it! I found nothing;
it had disappeared. Then I was seized with furious rage
against myself, for it is not allowable for a reasonable and
serious man to have such hallucinations.
But was it a hallucination? I turned round to
look for the stalk, and I found it immediately under the
bush, freshly broken, between two other roses which remained
on the branch, and I returned home then, with a much
disturbed mind; for I am certain now, as certain as I am of
the alternation of day and night, that there exists close to
me an invisible being that lives on milk and on water, which
can touch objects, take them and change their places; which
is, consequently, endowed with a material nature, although
it is imperceptible to our senses, and which lives as I do,
under my roof. . . .
August 7. I slept tranquilly. He drank the
water out of my decanter, but did not disturb my sleep.
I ask myself whether I am mad. As I was
walking just now in the sun by the river side, doubts as to
my own sanity arose in me; not vague doubts such as I have
had hitherto, but precise and absolute doubts. I have seen
mad people, and I have known some who have been quite
intelligent, lucid, even clear-sighted in every concern of
life, except on one point. They spoke clearly, readily,
profoundly on everything, when suddenly their thoughts
struck upon the breakers of their madness and broke to
pieces there, and were dispersed and foundered in that
furious and terrible sea, full of bounding waves, fogs and
squalls, which is called madness.
I certainly should think that I was mad,
absolutely mad, if I were not conscious, did not perfectly
know my state, if I did not fathom it by analyzing it with
the most complete lucidity. I should, in fact, be a
reasonable man who was laboring under a hallucination. Some
unknown disturbance must have been excited in my brain, one
of those disturbances which physiologists of the present day
try to note and to fix precisely, and that disturbance must
have caused a profound gulf in my mind and in the order and
logic of my ideas. Similar phenomena occur in the dreams
which lead us through the most unlikely phantasmagoria,
without causing us any surprise, because our verifying
apparatus and our sense of control has gone to sleep, while
our imaginative faculty wakes and works. Is it not possible
that one of the imperceptible keys of the cerebral finger-
board has been paralyzed in me? Some men lose the
recollection of proper names, or of verbs or of numbers or
merely of dates, in consequence of an accident. The
localization of all the particles of thought has been proved
nowadays; what then would there be surprising in the fact
that my faculty of controlling the unreality of certain
hallucinations should be destroyed for the time being!
I thought of all this as I walked by the side
of the water. The sun was shining brightly on the river and
made earth delightful, while it filled my looks with love
for life, for the swallows, whose agility is always
delightful in my eyes, for the plants by the riverside,
whose rustling is a pleasure to my ears.
By degrees, however, an inexplicable feeling of discomfort
seized me. It seemed to me as if some unknown force were
numbing and stopping me, were preventing me from going
further and were calling me back. I felt that painful wish
to return which oppresses you when you have left a beloved
invalid at home, and when you are seized by a presentiment
that he is worse.
I, therefore, returned in spite of myself,
feeling certain that I should find some bad news awaiting
me, a letter or a telegram. There was nothing however and I
was more surprised and uneasy than if I had had another
August 8. I spent a terrible evening,
yesterday. He does not show himself any more, but I feel
that he is near me, watching me, looking at me, penetrating
me, dominating me and more redoubtable when he hides himself
thus, than if he were to manifest his constant and
invisible presence by supernatural phenomena. However, I
August 9. Nothing, but I am afraid.
August 10. Nothing; what will happen
August 11. Still nothing; I cannot stop at
home with this fear hanging over me and these thoughts in my
mind; I shall go away.
August 12. Ten o'clock at night. All day long
I have been trying to get away, and have not been able. I
wished to accomplish this simple and easy act of liberty--go
out--get into my carriage in order to go to Rouen--and
What is the reason? I have not been able to do it.
August 13. When one is attacked by certain
maladies, all the springs of our physical being appear to be
broken, all our energies destroyed, all our muscles relaxed,
our bones to have become as soft as our flesh, and our blood
as liquid as water. I am experiencing that condition in my
moral being in a strange and distressing manner. I have no
longer any strength, any courage, any self-control, nor even
any power to set my own will in motion. I have no power left
to will anything, but some one does it for me and I
August 14. I am lost! Somebody possesses my
soul and governs it! Somebody orders all my acts, all my
movements, all my thoughts. I am no longer anything in
myself, nothing except an enslaved and terrified spectator
of all the things which I do. I wish to go out; I cannot. He
does not wish to, and so I remain, trembling and distracted
in the armchair in which he keeps me sitting. I merely wish
to get up and to rouse myself, so as to think that I am
still master of myself: I cannot! I am riveted to my chair,
and my chair adheres to the ground in such a manner that no
force could move us.
Then suddenly, I must, I must go to the
bottom of my garden to pick some strawberries and eat them,
and I go there. I pick the strawberries and I eat them! Oh!
my God! my God! Is there a God? If there be one, deliver me!
save me! succor me! Pardon! Pity! Mercy! Save me! Oh! what
sufferings! what torture! what horror!
August 15. Certainly this is the way in which
my poor cousin was possessed and swayed, when she came to
borrow five thousand francs of me. She was under the power
of a strange will which had entered into her, like another
soul, like another parasitic and ruling soul.
Is the world coming to an end?
But who is he, this invisible being that
rules me. This unknowable being, this rover of a
Invisible beings exist, then I How is it then
that since the beginning of the world they have never
manifested themselves in such a manner precisely as they do
to me? I have never read anything which resembles what goes
on in my house. Oh I If I could only leave it, if I could
only go away and flee, so as never to return. I should be
saved, but I cannot.
August 16. I managed to escape to-day for two
hours, like a prisoner who finds the door of his dungeon,
accidentally open. I suddenly felt that I was free and that
he was far away, and so I gave orders to put the horses in
as quickly as possible, and I drove to Rouen. Oh! How
delightful to be able to say to a man who obeyed you: "Go to
I made him pull up before the library, and I
begged them to lend me Dr. Herrmann Herestauss's treatise on
the unknown inhabitants of the ancient and modern
Then, as I was getting into my carriage, I
intended to say: "To the railway station!" but instead of
this I shouted,--I did not say, but I shouted--in such a
loud voice that all the passers-by turned round: "Home!" and
I fell back onto the cushion of my carriage, overcome by
mental agony. He had found me out and regained possession of
August 17. Oh I What a night! what a night I
And yet it seems to me that I ought to rejoice. I read until
one o'clock in the morning! Herestauss, Doctor of Philosophy
and Theogony, wrote the history and the manifestations of
all those invisible beings which hover around man, or of
whom he dreams. He describes their origin, their domains,
their power; but none of them resembles the one which haunts
me. One might say that man, ever since he has thought, has
had a foreboding of, and feared a new being, stronger than
himself, his successor in this world, and that, feeling him
near, and not being able to foretell the nature of that
master, he has, in his terror, created the whole race of
hidden beings, of vague phantoms born of fear.
Having, therefore, read until one o'clock in
the morning, I went and sat down at the open window, in
order to cool my forehead and my thoughts, in the calm night
air. It was very pleasant and warm! How I should have
enjoyed such a night formerly!
There was no moon, but the stars darted out
their rays in the dark heavens. Who inhabits those worlds?
What forms, what living beings, what animals are there
yonder? What do those who are thinkers in those distant
worlds, know more than we do? What can they do more than we
can? What do they see which we do not know? Will not one of
them, some day or other, traversing space, appear on our
earth to conquer it, just as the Norsemen formerly crossed
the sea in order to subjugate nations more feeble than
We are so weak, so unarmed, so ignorant, so
small, we who live on this particle of mud which turns round
in a drop of water.
I fell asleep, dreaming thus in the cool
night air, and then, having slept for about three quarters
of an hour, I opened my eyes without moving, awakened by I
know not what confused and strange sensation.--At first I
saw nothing, and then suddenly it appeared to me as if a
page of a book which had remained open on my table, turned
over of its own accord. Not a breath of air had come in at
my window, and I was surprised and waited. In about four
minutes, I saw, I saw, yes I saw with my own eyes another
page lift itself up and fall down on the others, as if a
finger had turned it over. My armchair was empty, appeared
empty, but I knew that he was there, he, and sitting in my
place, and that he was reading. With a furious bound, the
bound of an enraged wild beast that wishes to disembowel its
tamer, I crossed my room to seize him, to strangle him, to
kill him! . . . But before
I could reach it, my chair fell over as if somebody had ran
away from me . . . my table rocked, my lamp fell and went
out, and my window closed as if some thief had been
surprised and had fled out into the night, shutting it
So he had run away: he had been afraid: he,
afraid of me!
So . . . so . . . to-morrow . . . or later .
. . some day or other . . . I should be able to hold him in
my clutches and crush him against the ground! Do not dogs
occasionally bite and strangle their masters?
August 18. I have been thinking the whole day
long. Oh! yes, I will obey him, follow his impulses, fulfill
all his wishes, show myself humble, submissive, a coward. He
is the stronger; but an hour will come. . .
August 19. I know. . . . I know . . . I know
all! I have just read the following in the Revue du
Monde Scientifique: "A curious piece of news comes to
us from Rio de Janeiro. Madness, an epidemic of madness,
which may be compared to that contagious madness which
attacked the people of Europe in the Middle Ages, is at this
moment raging in the Province of San-Paulo. The frightened
inhabitants are leaving their houses, deserting their
villages, abandoning their land, saying that they are
pursued, possessed, governed like human cattle by invisible,
though tangible beings, a species of vampire, which feed on
their life while they are asleep, and who, besides, drink
water and milk without appearing to touch any other
"Professor Don Pedro Henriques, accompanied
by several medical savants, has gone to the Province of
San-Paulo, in order to study the origin and the
manifestations of this surprising madness on the spot, and
to propose such measures to the Emperor as may appear to him
to be most fitted to restore the mad population to reason."
Ah! Ah! I remember now that fine Brazilian
three-master which passed in front of my windows as it was
going up the Seine, on the 8th of last May! I thought it
looked so pretty, so white and bright! That Being was on
board of her, coming from there, where its race sprang from.
And it saw me! It saw my house which was also white, and he
sprang from the ship onto the land. Oh! Good heavens!
Now I know, I can divine. The reign of man is
over, and he has come. He whom disquieted priests exorcised,
whom sorcerers evoked on dark nights, without yet seeing him
appear, to whom the presentiments of the transient masters
of the world lent all the monstrous or graceful forms of
gnomes, spirits, genii, fairies and familiar spirits. After
the coarse conceptions of primitive fear, more clear-sighted
men foresaw it more clearly. Mesmer divined him, and ten
years ago physicians accurately discovered the nature of his
power, even before he exercised it himself. They played with
that weapon of their new Lord, the sway of a mysterious will
over the human soul, which had become enslaved. They called
it magnetism, hypnotism, suggestion . . . . . . what do I
know? I have seen them amusing themselves like impudent
children with this horrible power! Woe to us! Woe to man! He
has come, the . . . the . . . what does he call himself . .
. the . . . I fancy that he is shouting out his name to me
and I do not hear him . . . the . . . yes . . . he is
shouting it out . . . I am listening . . . I cannot . . .
repeat . . . it . . . Horla . . . I have heard . . . the
Horla, . . . it is he . . . the Horla . . . he has come!
Ah! the vulture has eaten the pigeon, the
wolf has eaten the lamb; the lion has devoured the buffalo
with sharp horns; man has killed the lion with an arrow,
with a sword, with gunpowder; but the Horla will make of man
what we have made of the horse and of the ox: his chattel,
his slave and his food, by the mere power of his will. Woe
But, nevertheless, the animal sometimes
revolts and kills the man who has subjugated it . . . . I
should also like . . . but I must know him, touch him, see
him! Learned men say that beasts' eyes, as they differ from
ours, do not distinguish like ours do . . . And my eye
cannot distinguish this newcomer who is oppressing me.
Why? Oh! Now I remember the words of the monk
at Mont Saint-Michel: "Can we see the
hundred-thousandth part of what exists? Look here;
there is the wind which is the strongest force in nature,
which knocks men, and blows down buildings, uproots trees,
raises the sea into mountains of water, destroys cliffs and
casts great ships onto the breakers; the wind which kills,
which whistles, which sighs, which roars,--have you ever
seen it, and can you see it? It exists for all that,
And I went on thinking: my eyes are so weak,
so imperfect, that they do not even distinguish hard bodies,
if they are as transparent as glass! . . . If a glass
without tinfoil behind it were to bar my way, I should run
into it, just like a bird which has flown into a room breaks
its head against the windowpanes. A thousand things,
moreover, deceive him and lead him astray. How should it
then be surprising that he cannot perceive a fresh body
which is traversed by the light.
A new being! Why not? It was assuredly bound
to come! Why should we be the last? We do not distinguish
it, like all the others created before us? The reason is,
that its nature is more 'perfect, its body finer and more
finished than ours, that ours is so weak, so awkwardly
conceived, encumbered with organs that are always tired,
always on the strain like locks that are too complicated,
which lives like a plant and like a beast, nourishing itself
with difficulty on air, herbs and flesh, an animal machine,
which is a prey to maladies, to malformations, to decay;
broken-winded, badly regulated, simple and eccentric,
ingeniously badly made, a coarse and a delicate work, the
outline of a being which might become intelligent and grand.
We are only a few, so few in this world, from
the oyster up to man. Why should there not be one more, when
once that period is accomplished which separates the
successive apparitions from all the different species?
Why not one more? Why not, also, other trees
with immense, splendid flowers, perfuming whole regions? Why
not other elements besides fire, air, earth and water? There
are four, only four, those nursing fathers of various
beings! What a pity! Why are they not forty, four hundred,
four thousand! How poor everything is, how mean and
given, dryly invented, clumsily made! Ah! the elephant and
the hippopotamus, what grace! And the camel, what elegance!
But, the butterfly you will say, a flying
flower! I dream of one that should be as large as a hundred
worlds, with wings whose shape, beauty, colors and motion I
cannot even express. But I see it . . . it flutters from
star to star, refreshing them and perfuming them with the
light and harmonious breath of its flight! . . . And the
people up there look at it as it passes in an ecstacy of
delight! . . .
What is the matter with me? It is he, the
Horla, who haunts me, and who makes me think of these
foolish things! He is within me, he is becoming my soul; I
shall kill him!
August 19. I shall kill him. I have seen him!
Yesterday I sat down at my table and pretended to write very
assiduously. I knew quite well that he would come prowling
round me, quite close to me, so close that I might perhaps
be able to touch him, to seize him. And then! . . . then I
should have the strength of desperation; I should have my
hands, my knees, my chest, my forehead, my teeth to strangle
him, to crush him, to bite him, to tear him to pieces. And I
watched for him with all my overexcited organs.
I had lighted my two lamps and the eight wax
candles on my mantelpiece, as if, by this light, I could
have discovered him.
My bed, my old oak bed with its columns was
opposite to me; on my right was the fireplace; on my left
the door, which was carefully closed, after I had left it
open for some time, in order to attract him; behind me was a
very high wardrobe with a looking-glass in it, which served
me to dress by every day, and in which I was in the habit of
looking at myself from head to foot every time I passed it.
So I pretended to be writing in order to
deceive him, for he also was watching me, and suddenly I
felt, I was certain that he was reading over my shoulder,
that he was there, almost touching my ear.
I got up so quickly, with my hands extended,
that I almost fell. Eh! well? . . . It was as bright as at
midday, but I did not see myself in the glass! . . . It was
empty,.clear, profound, full of light! But my figure was not
reflected in it . . . and I, I was opposite to it! I saw the
large, clear glass from top to bottom, and I looked at it
eyes; and I did not dare to advance; I did not venture to
make a movement, nevertheless feeling perfectly that he was
there, but that he would escape me again, he whose
imperceptible body had absorbed my reflection.
How frightened I was! And then suddenly I
began to see myself through a mist in the depths of the
looking-glass, in a mist as it were through a sheet of
water; and it seemed to me as if this water were flowing
slowly from left to right, and making my figure clearer
every moment. It was like the end of an eclipse. Whatever it
was that hid me, did not appear to possess any clearly
defined outlines, but a sort of opaque transparency, which
gradually grew clearer.
At last I was able to distinguish myself
completely, as I do every day when I look at myself.
I had seen it! And the horror of it remained
with me, and makes me shudder even now.
August 20. How could I kill it, as I could
not get hold of it? Poison? But it would see me mix it with
the water; and then, would our poisons have any effect on
its impalpable body? No . . . no . . . no doubt about the
matter . . . Then? . . . then? . . .
August 21. I sent for a blacksmith from
Rouen, and ordered iron shutters of him for my room, such as
some private hotels in Paris have on the ground floor, for
fear of thieves, and he is going to make me a similar door
as well. I have made myself out as a coward, but I do not
care about that I . . .
September 10. Rouen, Hotel Continental. It is
done; . . . it is done. . . . But is he dead? My mind is
thoroughly upset by what I have seen.
Well, then, yesterday, the locksmith having
put on the iron shutters and door, I left everything open
until midnight, although it was getting cold.
Suddenly I felt that he was there, and joy,
mad joy took possession of me. I got up softly, and I walked
to the right and left for sometime, so that he might not
guess anything; then I took off my boots and put on my
slippers carelessly; then I fastened the iron shutters and
going back to the door quickly I double-locked it with a
padlock, putting the key into my pocket.
Suddenly I noticed that he was moving
restlessly round me, that in his turn he was frightened and
was ordering me to let him out. I nearly yielded, though I
did not yet, but putting my back to the door, I half opened,
just enough to allow me to go out backwards, and as I am
very tall, my head touched the lintel. I was sure that he
had not been able to escape, and I shut him up quite alone,
quite alone. What happiness! I had him fast. Then I ran
downstairs; in the drawing-room, which was under my
bed-room, I took the two lamps and I poured all the oil onto
the carpet, the furniture, everywhere; then I set the fire
to it and made my escape, after having carefully
double-locked the door.
I went and hid myself at the bottom of the
garden, in a clump of laurel bushes. How long it was! how
long it was! Everything was dark, silent, motionless, not a
breath of air and not a star, but heavy banks of clouds
which one could not see, but which weighed, oh! so heavily
on my soul.
I looked at my house and waited. How long it
was! I already began to think that the fire had gone out of
its own accord, or that he had extinguished it, when one of
the lower windows gave way under the violence of the flames,
and a long, soft, caressing sheet of red flame mounted up
the white wall, and kissed it as high as the roof. The light
fell onto the trees, the branches, and the leaves, and a
shiver of fear pervaded them also! The birds awoke; a dog
began to howl, and it seemed to me as if the day were
breaking! Almost immediately two other windows flew into
fragments, and I saw that the whole of the lower part of my
house was nothing but a terrible furnace. But a cry, a
horrible, shrill, heart-rending cry, a woman's cry, sounded
through the night, and two garret windows were opened! I had
forgotten the servants! I saw the terror-struck faces, and
their frantically waving arms! . . .
Then, overwhelmed with horror, I set off to
run to the village, shouting: "Help! help! fire! fire! I met
some people who were already coming onto the scene, and I
went back with them to see!
By this time the house was nothing but a
horrible and a magnificent funeral pile, a monstrous funeral
pile which lit up the whole country, a funeral pile where
men were burning, and where he was burning also, He, He, my
prisoner, that new Being, the new master, the Horla!
Suddenly the whole roof fell in between the walls, and a
volcano of flames darted up to the sky. Through all the
windows which opened onto that furnace, I saw the flames
darting, and I thought that he was there, in that kiln,
Dead? perhaps? . . . His body? Was not his
body, which was transparent, indestructible by such means as
would kill ours?
If he was not dead? . . . Perhaps time alone
has power over that Invisible and Redoubtable Being. Why
this transparent, unrecognizable body, this body belonging
to a spirit, if it also had to fear ills, infirmities and
Premature destruction? All human terror
springs from that! After man the Horla. After him who can
die every day, at any hour, at any moment, by any accident,
he came who was only to die at his own proper hour and
minute, because he had touched the limits of his existence!
No . . . no . . . without any doubt . . . he
is not dead. . . . Then . . . then . . . I suppose I must
kill myself! . . .