Harvard Law School Makes Online Zero-L Course Free for All U.S. Law Schools Due to Coronavirus


For Kennedy School Fellows, Epstein-Linked Donors Present a Moral Dilemma


Tenants Grapple with High Rents and Local Turnover at Asana-Owned Properties


In April, Theft Surged as Cambridge Residents Stayed at Home


The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

On Dreams.



"Here we are all by day; by night we are hurled

By dreams each one into a sev'rall world."

HERRICK.We know more about almost everything in the universe than we do about the nature of dreams. And yet the reverse of this ought certainly to be true. Experientia docet, says the old proverb; but dreams, which have been the common experience of all, ever since the race began its existence, are as incomprehensible today as though they were phenomena vouchsafed to man but once in a century.

I have always been very eager to know what was the first dream of man. But there is, certainly, no good reason for doubting that to Adam in his lonely bliss in the garden, there came his first sad experience of life, as he lay asleep under the trees on a moonlight night before the creation of Eve, and that as the rib was taken from his side he groaned heavily and dreamed that the pleurisy was tormenting him. I must believe that believe that this was the original of all dreams. Since that dream, indeed, millions of sons of Adam have dreamed fancies that would create scores of Arabian Nights; have been the heroes nightly of thrilling adventures, which. were they written out, would cover the earth with a carpet of crocus-colored literature; have invented in dreamland enough mechanical appliances to increase the poverty of civilized lands to an extraordinary degree: have delivered in sleep more eloquently persuasive harangues than Demosthenes or Cicero ever imagined possible; in short, have done in dreams everything that man has done or that man will do. And yet we are almost as ignorant as to why a dream is a dream as was Adam after his first strange nightmare. May we not say more ignorant, for Adam was not long troubled as to the interpretation of his dream? Did he not find at his side, when he awoke on the following morning, that bonniest flower that any morn had brought forth, sweet, blushing Eve? Our inquiry still is, "What is a dream?" And in the present state of our knowledge, we have to reply, "Why, a dream? Strange you should ask such a question! You have had dreams. A dream is,- why, is-as much as one should say, a dream."

There seems to be a peculiar connection between our dreams and our own past experiences. One can tell a great deal about the character of a person if he knows the nature of his dreams. Dreams seem in some way to be measures of men's mental capacities. They are the sincerest things about us. They reveal the idiosyncrasies of our natures, whether we like it or no. If we will not stop during our waking hours for a season of introspection and of self-interrogation, we nevertheless must submit to having all this done for us in our sleep. Yet, it must be confessed, dreams greatly magnify our good and bad qualities. For our visions are usually too wonderful, or too grand, or too horrible, or too noble, or too poetical, for us ever to think of conceiving anything like them when we are not asleep. Yet they are all made from material that we have previously accumulated. So that we may turly say, with pardonable inversion of a famous line,

"Dreams are such stuff as we are made of."

Think what would happen if we could fancy during our waking hours the visions that flit through our minds when asleep! Why, we should all be poets. Charles Lamb was mortified by the "poverty" of his dreams, and envied Coleridge, who at his will, could conjure up airy domes and pleasure houses for Kubla Khan and Abyssinian maids, to solace his night solitudes, while he, Lamb, could not muster a fiddle. And so he concludes that there was nothing inspired in his own poetry. I must confess to having felt the same mortification. There is my friend C., who has wonderful visions in his sleep; and when in a tone of conscious superiority, he tells me of them, I become so jealous as almost to grow to hate him. Why, a short time ago he dreamed of the end of the world; and the rocks were cleft, as he stood before the old University library at Cambridge. Suddenly the earth yawned, and there bustled out of the chasm, with a roar from a long silver trumpet, and the tintinnabulous sound of bells, the archangel, clad in white robes of dazzling brilliancy. From Thayer and Matthews and Hollis and Weld and Stoughton and Holworthy and Grays, rushed the frightened students. They stopped not to admire the classic features of the gleaming angel, but on they sped,

"thro' the jaws of death,"

as though

"back from the mouth of Hell,"

to the hills. But C., ah C.! He heard the summons of the blast, and cooly sauntering into the library, took from the mathematical alcove an armful of books, and loaded down with treatises on calculus, determinants, quarternions, arbitrary functions and the theory of the potential, a very Archimedes, with formulas enough to reconstruct a universe,- stalked fearlessly in the wake of the white robed angel! He remembers no more; but this bare glimpse of the products of his busy brain will serve to show something of the possibilities that lurk within it. The very evening of the day on which this dream was told to me, I slept, and could conjure up no more stirring puppets with which to amuse myself, than two or three Quakers with their broad-brimmed hats, and not even one that wore a bonnet; and there I lay, while they thou'd and thee'd, until I was so tired of their chatter that I turned over and woke up.

We have hinted that dreams may be valuable to the literary guild. Some great Frenchman used to solve his mathematical problems in his sleep. Tartini wrote the Devil's Sonata in the presence of his majesty, who appeared before him, as he slept. This must have been very soon after that feast in the lower world, reported by Lamb, where

"to dancing they went,

To music that did produce a

Most dissonant sound, while a hellish glee

Was sung in parts by the Furies Three;

And the Devil took out Medusa."

I remember once reading, during the evening, an essay of several pages length, and, on going to bed, repeating it word for word, from beginning to end. De Quincey immortalized himself by his wonderful visions. There is that remarkable work of Cicero's on the vision of Scipio, a work that I have often thought must have suggested to Richter the idea embodied in his well-known Dream of The Universe. Bunyan is continually saying, "Now I saw in my dream." And thus a thousand and one instances might be cited, in which, merely as a flight of the imagination, or to serve a more practical Deus-ex-machina end, dreams have been used by authors. Before such an array of wonderful dreams, we cannot but admit that dreams are among the strangest things in a strange universe. We begin to feel as humble as old Socrates, who said that he knew only that he knew nothing. It is from this very fact of our growing humility that I draw the conclusion that we are in advance of the past ages in our learning in regard to dreams. Joseph Glanville published in 1665 his book "Scepsis Scientifica," in which he very successfully shows that "Confest ignorance is the way to science." If, then, the vanity of dogmatising is not overrated, we are in a fair way, I think, of becoming very much more learned on this subject of dreams. May we not hope that, in the near future, dream lore will no longer be superstition in regard to dreams; that before many years have passed we shall know so much about dreams that we may make them to order; and that the dream book will have vanished, except from the work basket of some aged country maiden of seventy years or more, or from the casket of some boarding school miss, where it will lie amid complexion powders, scented stationery and love-letters?

This was an admirable period, and an admirable place for me to lay aside my pen. But my conscience, or a dxmon, or a vision, or something bids me write on. For to tell the truth, ever since I wrote the first paragraph of this desultory essay, I have been seeking to find a place to insert a portion of a dream I had a few nights ago. It may be wearisome, but I am bent on making it public. "The prophet that bath a dream let him tell it," says Jeremiah. You, my kind but tired reader, I advise to stop at the end of this sentence. For I warn you,- there are no angels, or robbers, or Frenchmen's calculus problems, or earthquakes to recommend my dream to you. It is a very commonplace bit of allegory. For you who are listening I begin:

-I seemed to my self to be wakened from a deep sleep. A being not of this world stood by my bedside. "Come," he said, "I am to show you all classes and conditions of men tonight." I followed him and he kept his word; but the knowledge of only one class remains fixed indelibly upon my memory, and this alone I can describe. We were in the vicinity of a great university. We entered an old-fashioned hedge-surrounded house and found ourselves in an apparently well-stocked library. A large open fire-place yawned at its opposite end. A few dull embers flickered dimly there, sending out barely light enough to reveal the features of the room, and making the corners and recesses all the more fit abodes for the uncanny beings that haunt such places in the dead of night. Hundreds of volumes were ranged up the sides of the walls. Ancient tapestries from Venice and Florence draped gracefully in the corners. Marbles and vases, gems and intaglios, represented the civilization of Greece and Rome. Knickknacks and curiosities from foreign lands lay scattered with studied carelessness among the books. The library was all that a man of letters could desire. I rubbed my eyes that I might be sure that I was not asleep. "O, that this were mine!" I whispered to myself. My companion heard. "And so are these your highest dreams of life?" he asked. "Listen, my friend," he continued. "He who dwells here is one of a class of men who regard themselves as forming the highest society in the land. But this man cares more for that old Aldine or that rare Plotinus yonder, than he cares for the outside world or for his own soul. The world is centered in his library. A few intimates there are to whom he lays bare his feelings, and of most authors he is desirous of winning the respect; but the great mass of men, 'the unknown public,' who have not his fame or wealth, he loathes and spurns from his side. He remembers having heard of a book known as the Bible, once when he was a boy, and he has an edition of this work in his library; it is preserved on account of its antiquity. He has never heard of the Christ, or, at least, he regards him as below his notice. He is a Hedonist. His aim is to live at all odds a happy life. If he sees misery in any form he becomes queasy, and he therefore regards it his duty to shun all poverty and to refuse to render any aid to the poor. The hedge around his house he has grown that he may not see Poverty as it passes by. Society he hates; ordinary men, men of the forum, are beneath his notice. Their institutions are follies to him. He is wise enough, in his own conceit, to rule the Parliament of Man; but never casts a vote at a civil election. What is politics to him? The play of infants!"

"His children are growing up to be more supercilious than their father. They are still more cold and haughty. They smile at the people as they pass by to the church and say 'How foolish! We are the only wise ones of the earth.' They have no regard for any but the few that are like them, and they are few indeed."

"But how is it," I asked, "that such men, men who have no connection with the world, can write for the amusement of ordinary men?"

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.