The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang

The Book of Dreams and Ghosts by Andrew Lang

CHAPTER I

Arbuthnot on Political Lying.  Begin with “Great Swingeing Falsehoods”.  The Opposite Method to be used in telling Ghost Stones.  Begin with the more Familiar and Credible.  Sleep.  Dreams.  Ghosts are identical with Waking Dreams.  Possibility of being Asleep when we think we are Awake.  Dreams shared by several People.  Story of the Dog Fanti.  The Swithinbank Dream.  Common Features of Ghosts and Dreams.  Mark Twain’s Story.  Theory of Common-sense.  Not Logical.  Fulfilled Dreams.  The Pig in the Palace.  The Mignonette.  Dreams of Reawakened Memory.  The Lost Cheque.  The Ducks’ Eggs.  The Lost Key.  Drama in Dreams.  The Lost Securities.  The Portuguese Gold-piece.  St. Augustine’s Story.  The Two Curmas.  Knowledge acquired in Dreams.  The Assyrian Priest.  The Déjà Vu.  “I have been here before.”  Sir Walter’s Experience.  Explanations.  The Knot in the Shutter.  Transition to Stranger Dreams.

Arbuthnot, in his humorous work on Political Lying, commends the Whigs for occasionally trying the people with “great swingeing falsehoods”.  When these are once got down by the populace, anything may follow without difficulty.  Excellently as this practice has worked in politics (compare the warming-pan lie of 1688), in the telling of ghost stories a different plan has its merits.  Beginning with the common-place and familiar, and therefore credible, with the thin end of the wedge, in fact, a wise narrator will advance to the rather unusual, the extremely rare, the undeniably startling, and so arrive at statements which, without this discreet and gradual initiation, a hasty reader might, justly or unjustly, dismiss as “great swingeing falsehoods”.

The nature of things and of men has fortunately made this method at once easy, obvious, and scientific.  Even in the rather fantastic realm of ghosts, the stories fall into regular groups, advancing in difficulty, like exercises in music or in a foreign language.  We therefore start from the easiest Exercises in Belief, or even from those which present no difficulty at all.  The defect of the method is that easy stories are dull reading.  But the student can “skip”.  We begin with common every-night dreams.

Sleeping is as natural as waking; dreams are nearly as frequent as every-day sensations, thoughts, and emotions.  But dreams, being familiar, are credible; it is admitted that people do dream; we reach the less credible as we advance to the less familiar.  For, if we think for a moment, the alleged events of ghostdom—apparitions of all sorts—are precisely identical with the every-night phenomena of dreaming, except for the avowed element of sleep in dreams.

In dreams, time and space are annihilated, and two severed lovers may be made happy.  In dreams, amidst a grotesque confusion of things remembered and things forgot, we see the events of the past (I have been at Culloden fight and at the siege of Troy); we are present in places remote; we behold the absent; we converse with the dead, and we may even (let us say by chance coincidence) forecast the future.  All these things, except the last, are familiar to everybody who dreams.  It is also certain that similar, but yet more vivid, false experiences may be produced, at the word of the hypnotiser, in persons under the hypnotic sleep.  A hypnotised man will take water for wine, and get drunk on it.

Now, the ghostly is nothing but the experience, when men are awake, or apparently awake, of the every-night phenomena of dreaming.  The vision of the absent seen by a waking, or apparently waking, man is called “a wraith”; the waking, or apparently waking, vision of the dead is called “a ghost”.  Yet, as St. Augustine says, the absent man, or the dead man, may know no more of the vision, and may have no more to do with causing it, than have the absent or the dead whom we are perfectly accustomed to see in our dreams.  Moreover, the comparatively rare cases in which two or more waking people are alleged to have seen the same “ghost,” simultaneously or in succession, have their parallel in sleep, where two or more persons simultaneously dream the same dream.  Of this curious fact let us give one example: the names only are altered.

THE DOG FANTI

Mrs. Ogilvie of Drumquaigh had a poodle named Fanti.  Her family, or at least those who lived with her, were her son, the laird, and three daughters.  Of these the two younger, at a certain recent date, were paying a short visit to a neighbouring country house.  Mrs. Ogilvie was accustomed to breakfast in her bedroom, not being in the best of health.  One morning Miss Ogilvie came down to breakfast and said to her brother, “I had an odd dream; I dreamed Fanti went mad”.

“Well, that is odd,” said her brother.  “So did I.  We had better not tell mother; it might make her nervous.”

Miss Ogilvie went up after breakfast to see the elder lady, who said, “Do turn out Fanti; I dreamed last night that he went mad and bit”.

In the afternoon the two younger sisters came home.

“How did you enjoy yourselves?” one of the others asked.

“We didn’t sleep well.  I was dreaming that Fanti went mad when Mary wakened me, and said she had dreamed Fanti went mad, and turned into a cat, and we threw him into the fire.”

Thus, as several people may see the same ghost at once, several people may dream the same dream at once.  As a matter of fact, Fanti lived, sane and harmless, “all the length of all his years”. {4}

Now, this anecdote is credible, certainly is credible by people who know the dreaming family.  It is nothing more than a curiosity of coincidences; and, as Fanti remained a sober, peaceful hound, in face of five dreamers, the absence of fulfilment increases the readiness of belief.  But compare the case of the Swithinbanks.  Mr. Swithinbank, on 20th May, 1883, signed for publication a statement to this effect:—

During the Peninsular war his father and his two brothers were quartered at Dover.  Their family were at Bradford.  The brothers slept in various quarters of Dover camp.  One morning they met after parade.  “O William, I have had a queer dream,” said Mr. Swithinbank’s father.  “So have I,” replied the brother, when, to the astonishment of both, the other brother, John, said, “I have had a queer dream as well.  I dreamt that mother was dead.”   “So did I,” said each of the other brothers.  And the mother had died on the night of this dreaming.  Mrs. Hudson, daughter of one of the brothers, heard the story from all three. {5a}

The distribution of the fulfilled is less than that of the unfulfilled dream by three to five.  It has the extra coincidence of the death.  But as it is very common to dream of deaths, some such dreams must occasionally hit the target.

Other examples might be given of shared dreams: {5b} they are only mentioned here to prove that all the waking experiences of things ghostly, such as visions of the absent and of the dead, and of the non-existent, are familiar, and may even be common simultaneously to several persons, in sleep.  That men may sleep without being aware of it, even while walking abroad; that we may drift, while we think ourselves awake, into a semi-somnolent state for a period of time perhaps almost imperceptible is certain enough.  Now, the peculiarity of sleep is to expand or contract time, as we may choose to put the case.  Alfred Maury, the well-known writer on Greek religion, dreamed a long, vivid dream of the Reign of Terror, of his own trial before a Revolutionary Tribunal, and of his execution, in the moment of time during which he was awakened by the accidental fall of a rod in the canopy of his bed, which touched him on the neck.  Thus even a prolonged interview with a ghost may conceivably be, in real time, a less than momentary dream occupying an imperceptible tenth of a second of somnolence, the sleeper not realising that he has been asleep.

Mark Twain, who is seriously interested in these subjects, has published an experience illustrative of such possibilities.  He tells his tale at considerable length, but it amounts to this:—

MARK TWAIN’S STORY

Mark was smoking his cigar outside the door of his house when he saw a man, a stranger, approaching him.  Suddenly he ceased to be visible!  Mark, who had long desired to see a ghost, rushed into his house to record the phenomenon.  There, seated on a chair in the hall, was the very man, who had come on some business.  As Mark’s negro footman acts, when the bell is rung, on the principle, “Perhaps they won’t persevere,” his master is wholly unable to account for the disappearance of the visitor, whom he never saw passing him or waiting at his door—except on the theory of an unconscious nap.  Now, a disappearance is quite as mystical as an appearance, and much less common.

This theory, that apparitions come in an infinitesimal moment of sleep, while a man is conscious of his surroundings and believes himself to be awake was the current explanation of ghosts in the eighteenth century.  Any educated man who “saw a ghost” or “had a hallucination” called it a “dream,” as Lord Brougham and Lord Lyttelton did.  But, if the death of the person seen coincided with his appearance to them, they illogically argued that, out of the innumerable multitude of dreams, some must coincide, accidentally, with facts.  They strove to forget that though dreams in sleep are universal and countless, “dreams” in waking hours are extremely rare—unique, for instance, in Lord Brougham’s own experience.  Therefore, the odds against chance coincidence are very great.

Dreams only form subjects of good dream-stories when the vision coincides with and adequately represents an unknown event in the past, the present, or the future.  We dream, however vividly, of the murder of Rizzio.  Nobody is surprised at that, the incident being familiar to most people, in history and art.  But, if we dreamed of being present at an unchronicled scene in Queen Mary’s life, and if, after the dream was recorded, a document proving its accuracy should be for the first time recovered, then there is matter for a good dream-story. {8}  Again, we dream of an event not to be naturally guessed or known by us, and our dream (which should be recorded before tidings of the fact arrive) tallies with the news of the event when it comes.  Or, finally, we dream of an event (recording the dream), and that event occurs in the future.  In all these cases the actual occurrence of the unknown event is the only addition to the dream’s usual power of crumpling up time and space.

As a rule such dreams are only mentioned after the event, and so are not worth noticing.  Very often the dream is forgotten by the dreamer till he hears of or sees the event.  He is then either reminded of his dream by association of ideas or he has never dreamed at all, and his belief that he has dreamed is only a form of false memory, of the common sensation of “having been here before,” which he attributes to an awakened memory of a real dream.  Still more often the dream is unconsciously cooked by the narrator into harmony with facts.

As a rule fulfilled dreams deal with the most trivial affairs, and such as, being usual, may readily occur by chance coincidence.  Indeed it is impossible to set limits to such coincidence, for it would indeed be extraordinary if extraordinary coincidences never occurred.

To take examples:—

THE PIG IN THE DINING-ROOM

Mrs. Atlay, wife of a late Bishop of Hereford, dreamed one night that there was a pig in the dining-room of the palace.  She came downstairs, and in the hall told her governess and children of the dream, before family prayers.  When these were over, nobody who was told the story having left the hall in the interval, she went into the dining-room and there was the pig.  It was proved to have escaped from the sty after Mrs. Atlay got up.  Here the dream is of the common grotesque type; millions of such things are dreamed.  The event, the pig in the palace, is unusual, and the coincidence of pig and dream is still more so.  But unusual events must occur, and each has millions of dreams as targets to aim at, so to speak.  It would be surprising if no such target were ever hit.

Here is another case—curious because the dream was forgotten till the corresponding event occurred, but there was a slight discrepancy between event and dream.

THE MIGNONETTE

Mrs. Herbert returned with her husband from London to their country home on the Border.  They arrived rather late in the day, prepared to visit the garden, and decided to put off the visit till the morrow.  At night Mrs. Herbert dreamed that they went into the garden, down a long walk to a mignonette bed near the vinery.  The mignonette was black with innumerable bees, and Wilburd, the gardener, came up and advised Mr. and Mrs. Herbert not to go nearer.  Next morning the pair went to the garden.  The air round the mignonette was dark with wasps.  Mrs. Herbert now first remembered and told her dream, adding, “but in the dream they were bees”.  Wilburd now came up and advised them not to go nearer, as a wasps’ nest had been injured and the wasps were on the warpath.

Here accidental coincidence is probable enough. {10}  There is another class of dreams very useful, and apparently not so very uncommon, that are veracious and communicate correct information, which the dreamer did not know that he knew and was very anxious to know.  These are rare enough to be rather difficult to believe.  Thus:—

THE LOST CHEQUE

Mr. A., a barrister, sat up one night to write letters, and about half-past twelve went out to put them in the post.  On undressing he missed a cheque for a large sum, which he had received during the day.  He hunted everywhere in vain, went to bed, slept, and dreamed that he saw the cheque curled round an area railing not far from his own door.  He woke, got up, dressed, walked down the street and found his cheque in the place he had dreamed of.  In his opinion he had noticed it fall from his pocket as he walked to the letter-box, without consciously remarking it, and his deeper memory awoke in slumber. {11a}

THE DUCKS’ EGGS

A little girl of the author’s family kept ducks and was anxious to sell the eggs to her mother.  But the eggs could not be found by eager search.  On going to bed she said, “Perhaps I shall dream of them”.  Next morning she exclaimed, “I did dream of them, they are in a place between grey rock, broom, and mallow; that must be ‘The Poney’s Field’!”  And there the eggs were found. {11b}

THE LOST KEY

Lady X., after walking in a wood near her house in Ireland, found that she had lost an important key.  She dreamed that it was lying at the root of a certain tree, where she found it next day, and her theory is the same as that of Mr. A., the owner of the lost cheque. {11c}

As a rule dreams throw everything into a dramatic form.  Some one knocks at our door, and the dream bases a little drama on the noise; it constructs an explanatory myth, a myth to account for the noise, which is acted out in the theatre of the brain.

To take an instance, a disappointing one:—

THE LOST SECURITIES

A lady dreamed that she was sitting at a window, watching the end of an autumn sunset.  There came a knock at the front door and a gentleman and lady were ushered in.  The gentleman wore an old-fashioned snuff-coloured suit, of the beginning of the century; he was, in fact, an aged uncle, who, during the Napoleonic wars, had been one of the English détenus in France.  The lady was very beautiful and wore something like a black Spanish mantilla.  The pair carried with them a curiously wrought steel box.  Before conversation was begun, the maid (still in the dream) brought in the lady’s chocolate and the figures vanished.  When the maid withdrew, the figures reappeared standing by the table.  The box was now open, and the old gentleman drew forth some yellow papers, written on in faded ink.  These, he said, were lists of securities, which had been in his possession, when he went abroad in 18–, and in France became engaged to his beautiful companion.

“The securities,” he said, “are now in the strong box of Messrs. —;” another rap at the door, and the actual maid entered with real hot water.  It was time to get up.  The whole dream had its origin in the first rap, heard by the dreamer and dramatised into the arrival of visitors.  Probably it did not last for more than two or three seconds of real time.  The maid’s second knock just prevented the revelation of the name of “Messrs. —,” who, like the lady in the mantilla, were probably non-existent people. {13}

Thus dream dramatises on the impulse of some faint, hardly perceived real sensation.  And thus either mere empty fancies (as in the case of the lost securities) or actual knowledge which we may have once possessed but have totally forgotten, or conclusions which have passed through our brains as unheeded guesses, may in a dream be, as it were, “revealed” through the lips of a character in the brain’s theatre—that character may, in fact, be alive, or dead, or merely fantastical.  A very good case is given with this explanation (lost knowledge revived in a dramatic dream about a dead man) by Sir Walter Scott in a note to The Antiquary.  Familiar as the story is it may be offered here, for a reason which will presently be obvious.

THE ARREARS OF TEIND

“Mr. Rutherford, of Bowland, a gentleman of landed property in the Vale of Gala, was prosecuted for a very considerable sum, the accumulated arrears of teind (or tithe) for which he was said to be indebted to a noble family, the titulars (lay impropriators of the tithes).  Mr. Rutherford was strongly impressed with the belief that his father had, by a form of process peculiar to the law of Scotland, purchased these teinds from the titular, and, therefore, that the present prosecution was groundless.  But, after an industrious search among his father’s papers, an investigation among the public records and a careful inquiry among all persons who had transacted law business for his father, no evidence could be recovered to support his defence.  The period was now near at hand, when he conceived the loss of his law-suit to be inevitable; and he had formed the determination to ride to Edinburgh next day and make the best bargain he could in the way of compromise.  He went to bed with this resolution, and, with all the circumstances of the case floating upon his mind, had a dream to the following purpose.  His father, who had been many years dead, appeared to him, he thought, and asked him why he was disturbed in his mind.  In dreams men are not surprised at such apparitions.  Mr. Rutherford thought that he informed his father of the cause of his distress, adding that the payment of a considerable sum of money was the more unpleasant to him because he had a strong consciousness that it was not due, though he was unable to recover any evidence in support of his belief.  ‘You are right, my son,’ replied the paternal shade.  ‘I did acquire right to these teinds for payment of which you are now prosecuted.  The papers relating to the transaction are in the hands of Mr. —, a writer (or attorney), who is now retired from professional business and resides at Inveresk, near Edinburgh.  He was a person whom I employed on that occasion for a particular reason, but who never on any other occasion transacted business on my account.  It is very possible,’ pursued the vision, ‘that Mr. — may have forgotten a matter which is now of a very old date; but you may call it to his recollection by this token, that when I came to pay his account there was difficulty in getting change for a Portugal piece of gold and we were forced to drink out the balance at a tavern.’

“Mr. Rutherford awoke in the morning with all the words of the vision imprinted on his mind, and thought it worth while to walk across the country to Inveresk instead of going straight to Edinburgh.  When he came there he waited on the gentleman mentioned in the dream—a very old man.  Without saying anything of the vision he inquired whether he ever remembered having conducted such a matter for his deceased father.  The old gentleman could not at first bring the circumstance to his recollection, but on mention of the Portugal piece of gold the whole returned upon his memory.  He made an immediate search for the papers and recovered them, so that Mr. Rutherford carried to Edinburgh the documents necessary to gain the cause which he was on the verge of losing.”

The story is reproduced because it is clearly one of the tales which come round in cycles, either because events repeat themselves or because people will unconsciously localise old legends in new places and assign old occurrences or fables to new persons.  Thus every one has heard how Lord Westbury called a certain man in the Herald’s office “a foolish old fellow who did not even know his own foolish old business”.  Lord Westbury may very well have said this, but long before his time the remark was attributed to the famous Lord Chesterfield.  Lord Westbury may have quoted it from Chesterfield or hit on it by accident, or the old story may have been assigned to him.  In the same way Mr. Rutherford may have had his dream or the following tale of St. Augustine’s (also cited by Scott) may have been attributed to him, with the picturesque addition about the piece of Portuguese gold.  Except for the piece of Portuguese gold St. Augustine practically tells the anecdote in his De Cura pro Mortuis Habenda, adding the acute reflection which follows. {16}

“Of a surety, when we were at Milan, we heard tell of a certain person of whom was demanded payment of a debt, with production of his deceased father’s acknowledgment, which debt, unknown to the son, the father had paid, whereupon the man began to be very sorrowful, and to marvel that his father while dying did not tell him what he owed when he also made his will.  Then in this exceeding anxiousness of his, his said father appeared to him in a dream, and made known to him where was the counter acknowledgment by which that acknowledgment was cancelled.  Which when the young man had found and showed, he not only rebutted the wrongful claim of a false debt, but also got back his father’s note of hand, which the father had not got back when the money was paid.

“Here then the soul of a man is supposed to have had care for his son, and to have come to him in his sleep, that, teaching him what he did not know, he might relieve him of a great trouble.  But about the very same time as we heard this, it chanced at Carthage that the rhetorician Eulogius, who had been my disciple in that art, being (as he himself, after our return to Africa, told us the story) in course of lecturing to his disciples on Cicero’s rhetorical books, as he looked over the portion of reading which he was to deliver on the following day, fell upon a certain passage, and not being able to understand it, was scarce able to sleep for the trouble of his mind: in which night, as he dreamed, I expounded to him that which he did not understand; nay, not I, but my likeness, while I was unconscious of the thing and far away beyond sea, it might be doing, or it might be dreaming, some other thing, and not in the least caring for his cares.  In what way these things come about I know not; but in what way soever they come, why do we not believe it comes in the same way for a person in a dream to see a dead man, as it comes that he sees a living man? both, no doubt, neither knowing nor caring who dreams of their images, or where or when.

“Like dreams, moreover, are some visions of persons awake, who have had their senses troubled, such as phrenetic persons, or those who are mad in any way, for they, too, talk to themselves just as though they were speaking to people verily present, and as well with absent men as with present, whose images they perceive whether persons living or dead.  But just as they who live are unconscious that they are seen of them and talk with them (for indeed they are not really themselves present, or themselves make speeches, but through troubled senses these persons are wrought upon by such like imaginary visions), just so they also who have departed this life, to persons thus affected appear as present while they be absent, and are themselves utterly unconscious whether any man sees them in regard of their image.” {18}

St. Augustine adds a similar story of a trance.

THE TWO CURMAS

A rustic named Curma, of Tullium, near Hippo, Augustine’s town, fell into a catalepsy.  On reviving he said: “Run to the house of Curma the smith and see what is going on”.  Curma the smith was found to have died just when the other Curma awoke.  “I knew it,” said the invalid, “for I heard it said in that place whence I have returned that not I, Curma of the Curia, but Curma the smith, was wanted.”  But Curma of the Curia saw living as well as dead people, among others Augustine, who, in his vision, baptised him at Hippo.  Curma then, in the vision, went to Paradise, where he was told to go and be baptised.  He said it had been done already, and was answered, “Go and be truly baptised, for thatthou didst but see in vision”.  So Augustine christened him, and later, hearing of the trance, asked him about it, when he repeated the tale already familiar to his neighbours.  Augustine thinks it a mere dream, and apparently regards the death of Curma the smith as a casual coincidence.  Un esprit fort, le Saint Augustin!

“If the dead could come in dreams,” he says, “my pious mother would no night fail to visit me.  Far be the thought that she should, by a happier life, have been made so cruel that, when aught vexes my heart, she should not even console in a dream the son whom she loved with an only love.”

Not only things once probably known, yet forgotten, but knowledge never consciously thought out, may be revealed in a dramatic dream, apparently through the lips of the dead or the never existent.  The books of psychology are rich in examples of problems worked out, or music or poetry composed in sleep.  The following is a more recent and very striking example:—

THE ASSYRIAN PRIEST

Herr H. V. Hilprecht is Professor of Assyriology in the University of Pennsylvania.  That university had despatched an expedition to explore the ruins of Babylon, and sketches of the objects discovered had been sent home.  Among these were drawings of two small fragments of agate, inscribed with characters.  One Saturday night in March, 1893, Professor Hilprecht had wearied himself with puzzling over these two fragments, which were supposed to be broken pieces of finger-rings.  He was inclined, from the nature of the characters, to date them about 1700-1140 B.C.; and as the first character of the third line of the first fragment seemed to read KU, he guessed that it might stand for Kurigalzu, a king of that name.

About midnight the professor went, weary and perplexed, to bed.

“Then I dreamed the following remarkable dream.  A tall thin priest of the old pre-Christian Nippur, about forty years of age, and clad in a simple abba, led me to the treasure-chamber of the temple, on its south-east side.  He went with me into a small low-ceiled room without windows, in which there was a large wooden chest, while scraps of agate and lapis lazuli lay scattered on the floor.  Here he addressed me as follows:—

“‘The two fragments, which you have published separately upon pages 22 and 26, belong together’” (this amazing Assyrian priest spoke American!). {20}  “‘They are not finger-rings, and their history is as follows:—

“‘King Kurigalzu (about 1300 B.C.) once sent to the temple of Bel, among other articles of agate and lapis lazuli, an inscribed votive cylinder of agate.  Then the priests suddenly received the command to make for the statue of the god Nibib a pair of ear-rings of agate.  We were in great dismay, since there was no agate as raw material at hand.  In order to execute the command there was nothing for us to do but cut the votive cylinder in three parts, thus making three rings, each of which contained a portion of the original inscription.  The first two rings served as ear-rings for the statue of the god; the two fragments which have given you so much trouble are parts of them.  If you will put the two together, you will have confirmation of my words.  But the third ring you have not found yet, and you never will find it.’”

The professor awoke, bounded out of bed, as Mrs. Hilprecht testifies, and was heard crying from his study, “It is so, it is so!”  Mrs. Hilprecht followed her lord, “and satisfied myself in the midnight hour as to the outcome of his most interesting dream”.

The professor, however, says that he awoke, told his wife the dream, and verified it next day.  Both statements are correct.  There were two sets of drawings, one in the study (used that night) one used next day in the University Library.

The inscription ran thus, the missing fragment being restored, “by analogy from many similar inscriptions”:—

TO THE GOD NIBIB, CHILD
OF THE GOD BEL,
HIS LORD
KURIGALZU,
PONTIFEX OF THE GOD BEL
HAS PRESENTED IT.

But, in the drawings, the fragments were of different colours, so that a student working on the drawings would not guess them to be parts of one cylinder.  Professor Hilprecht, however, examined the two actual fragments in the Imperial Museum at Constantinople.  They lay in two distinct cases, but, when put together, fitted.  When cut asunder of old, in Babylon, the white vein of the stone showed on one fragment, the grey surface on the other.

Professor Romaine Newbold, who publishes this dream, explains that the professor had unconsciously reasoned out his facts, the difference of colour in the two pieces of agate disappearing in the dream.  The professor had heard from Dr. Peters of the expedition, that a room had been discovered with fragments of a wooden box and chips of agate and lapis lazuli.  The sleeping mind “combined its information,” reasoned rightly from it, and threw its own conclusions into a dramatic form, receiving the information from the lips of a priest of Nippur.

Probably we do a good deal of reasoning in sleep.  Professor Hilprecht, in 1882-83, was working at a translation of an inscription wherein came NabûKudûrruusur, rendered by Professor Delitzsch “Nebo protect my mortar-board”.  Professor Hilprecht accepted this, but woke one morning with his mind full of the thought that the words should be rendered “Nebo protect my boundary,” which “sounds a deal likelier,” and is now accepted.  I myself, when working at the MSS. of the exiled Stuarts, was puzzled by the scorched appearance of the paper on which Prince Charlie’s and the king’s letters were often written and by the peculiarities of the ink.  I woke one morning with a sudden flash of common-sense.  Sympathetic ink had been used, and the papers had been toasted or treated with acids.  This I had probably reasoned out in sleep, and, had I dreamed, my mind might have dramatised the idea.  Old Mr. Edgar, the king’s secretary, might have appeared and given me the explanation.  Maury publishes tales in which a forgotten fact was revealed to him in a dream from the lips of a dream-character (Le Sommeil et les Rêves, pp. 142-143.  The curious may also consult, on all these things, The Philosophy of Mysticism, by Karl du Prel, translated by Mr. Massey.  The Assyrian Priest is in ProceedingsS.P.R., vol. xii., p. 14).

On the same plane as the dreams which we have been examining is the waking sensation of the déjà vu.

“I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell.”

Most of us know this feeling, all the circumstances in which we find ourselves have already occurred, we have a prophecy of what will happen next “on the tip of our tongues” (like a half-remembered name), and then the impression vanishes.  Scott complains of suffering through a whole dinner-party from this sensation, but he had written “copy” for fifty printed pages on that day, and his brain was breaking down.  Of course psychology has explanations.  The scene may have really occurred before, or may be the result of a malady of perception, or one hemisphere of the brain not working in absolute simultaneousness with the other may produce a double impression, the first being followed by the second, so that we really have had two successive impressions, of which one seems much more remote in time than it really was.  Or we may have dreamed something like the scene and forgotten the dream, or we may actually, in some not understood manner, have had a “prevision” of what is now actual, as when Shelley almost fainted on coming to a place near Oxford which he had beheld in a dream.

Of course, if this “prevision” could be verified in detail, we should come very near to dreams of the future fulfilled.  Such a thing—verification of a detail—led to the conversion of William Hone, the free-thinker and Radical of the early century, who consequently became a Christian and a pessimistic, clear-sighted Tory.  This tale of the déjà vu, therefore, leads up to the marvellous narratives of dreams simultaneous with, or prophetic of, events not capable of being guessed or inferred, or of events lost in the historical past, but, later, recovered from documents.

Of Hone’s affair there are two versions.  Both may be given, as they are short.  If they illustrate the déjà vu, they also illustrate the fond discrepancies of all such narratives. {24}

THE KNOT IN THE SHUTTER

“It is said that a dream produced a powerful effect on Hone’s mind.  He dreamt that he was introduced into a room where he was an entire stranger, and saw himself seated at a table, and on going towards the window his attention was somehow or other attracted to the window-shutter, and particularly to a knot in the wood, which was of singular appearance; and on waking the whole scene, and especially the knot in the shutter, left a most vivid impression on his mind.  Some time afterwards, on going, I think, into the country, he was at some house shown into a chamber where he had never been before, and which instantly struck him as being the identical chamber of his dream.  He turned directly to the window, where the same knot in the shutter caught his eye.  This incident, to his investigating spirit, induced a train of reflection which overthrew his cherished theories of materialism, and resulted in conviction that there were spiritual agencies as susceptible of proof as any facts of physical science; and this appears to have been one of the links in that mysterious chain of events by which, according to the inscrutable purposes of the Divine will, man is sometimes compelled to bow to an unseen and divine power, and ultimately to believe and live.”

“Another of the Christian friends from whom, in his later years, William Hone received so much kindness, has also furnished recollections of him.

“ . . . Two or three anecdotes which he related are all I can contribute towards a piece of mental history which, if preserved, would have been highly interesting.  The first in point of time as to his taste of mind, was a circumstance which shook his confidence in materialism, though it did not lead to his conversion.  It was one of those mental phenomena which he saw to be inexplicable by the doctrines he then held.

“It was as follows: He was called in the course of business into a part of London quite new to him, and as he walked along the street he noticed to himself that he had never been there; but on being shown into a room in a house where he had to wait some time, he immediately fancied that it was all familiar, that he had seen it before, ‘and if so,’ said he to himself, ‘there is a very peculiar knot in this shutter’.  He opened the shutter and found the knot.  ‘Now then,’ thought he, ‘here is something I cannot explain on my principles!’”

Indeed the occurrence is not very explicable on any principles, as a detail not visible without search was sought and verified, and that by a habitual mocker at anything out of the common way.  For example, Hone published a comic explanation, correct or not, of the famous Stockwell mystery.

Supposing Hone’s story to be true, it naturally conducts us to yet more unfamiliar, and therefore less credible dreams, in which the unknown past, present, or future is correctly revealed.

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Categories: English Literature

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