Posted by September Blue Friday, 14 December 2007

(Once a Week, Nov.8, 1862)

Dreams are the accompaniment of both idleness and work. They "come through the multitude of business," and occupy the lazy brain; they are associated with the sluggard and the enthusiast; they are honoured as challens of supernatural advice, and blamed as the offspring of sheer sensuality. We dream with our eyes open as well as shut - by day as well as by night. But the phenomena of dreams have defied scientific experiments and metaphysical inquiries. Now and then it seems as if some law were discovered, but the experimenter is soon baulked. You fancy you can account for a dream, but you can't make one. It may sometimes be analysed, but I believe has never been composed. You do not know how it will turn out. Impress your mind strongly with this and that set of ideas, and lo, the whole slips out of the place where you put it, and another occupies your sleeping thoughts. You can't cook a dream. The skilful speaker can count, with tolerable certainty, upon producing an impression something like that which he wishes upon the waking mind; but, when we sleep, we move out of the reach of his persuasive machinery. But although we cannot construct a dream, or order it beforehand, it may sometimes be directed while in progress with ludicrous effect. Many accounts are published of the way in which the thoughts of a dreamer, once fairly committed to the dream may be effected. He is played with helplessly. An encyclopaedia will give anecdotes and references to books about dreaming, in which most absurd results have been obtained by dictating to the sleeper. A man has been made to dive from his bed under the persuasion that he was in the water, and being pursued by a shark. With far the most of us - indeed, with very few exceptions, - the land of dreams is a strange independent land, and our sleeping life unaccountably cut off from the real world.

Words may waken, but they seldom influence us. We hear, and do not understand; there is a break between the minds of the speaker and the sleeper; the sounds are not interpreted by the brain. This is the more curious, as many persons talk in their sleep; the tongue obeys the thought, although the ear wll not convey it, except, as I have said, in very rare instances. Perhaps the most curious thing connected with dreams is that experience does not correct them. People who, when their eyes are open, go about quietly on the face of the earth ordering their carriages, paying their cab-fare, or trudging in the dust, fly in their dreams. Some people lead not only a distinct but a continued life in their dreams. They take the thread up, for several consecutive nights, with a consciousness that they are dreaming. Most dreams, however, are distinct. They may be repeated, but are without connection.


I will not, however, dwell over our sleeping dreams; but I must say, by the way, that I pity the man who does not know when he is "dropping off." The consciousness of standing on the threshold of sleep when you are at liberty to indulge in it, is delicious. You are awake and not awake. The dream god has his hand upon you, though he has not yet led you away. You feel his magic presence, and the gentle dissolution of your waking thoughts under his touch. To you it is a private setting of the day. The sun goes his own road and at his own time, but you sink into a twilight of your own. You do not really "fall" off, nor is it a steady descending slide into the night; the border land is broken, and you don't reach the level plain of sleep without some retrospective glimpses of the weary track along which you have passed. I pity the man who tumbles into his bed and sprawls away into a dream before the bed-curtains have done swinging at the shock of his plunge. No, it is far better to wait a minute at the palace-gate and let the proper ministers close your eyes and carry you in with irresistible but kindly touch.

A man who bursts into the mysterious land, like a mad bull through a hedge, with a snore for a bellow, deserves to have a nightmare let loose at him, and be ridden out of the palace of dreams with a shriek.