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No. 22. TUESDAY, MAY 22.
Nec tu sperne püs venientia somnia portis ;
Cum pia venerunt somnia, pondus habent. When serious dreams the door of fancy gain, Think not these serious dreams were sent in vain.
TO THE REV. SIMON OLIVE-BRANCH. SIR, " ALL those who have marched before
you with the greatest dignity in the speculative office of reforming the town, have been so remarkable for the faculty of dreaming, that it is now indispensably requisite for a periodical writer to devote his slumbers, as well as his waking meditations, to the entertainment of his readers. Nor is it without reason that this faculty is held in so great esteem: for, if dreams have any thing of inspiration in them, those whom they most frequently visit must be allowed to be fittest for the task of instruction. Nor can advice ever come more modestly disguised, than when cloaked under the emblematical covering of this mystical morality.
“ It was with real satisfaction, therefore, that I perceived in your second paper such unquestionable marks of your being possessed of this valuable faculty, which I look upon as a genuine voucher of your true descent from the dreamers of former times, and a proof that you are not unworthy to sit in the Spectator's chair. For I consider the most respectable part of the periodical writers to be all of one literary family; and that, like the Incas of Peru
among their countrymen, they hand down one to the other a kind of appropriate hereditary talents which distinguish them among the community of authors.
“ The Spectator, who was the founder of this family, as well as some of the worthiest of his posterity, not only could dream when they pleased, but could also choose the subject of their dream. Being thus provided with a domestic oracle, the philosopher had no difficulty to fear. When a knotty case occurred, he had nothing more to do than to compose himself to sleep as quickly as he could. The busy embryon thought soon expanded in his brain ; and, when he awoke, out sprung the armed goddess.
“As I take it for granted that you are possessed of this discretionary dreaming power, I hope you will not refuse to sleep a little now and then on my affairs, if I should have occasion for your assistance; and, as it is more than probable that I may sometimes dream a little myself, I shall take a pleasure in submitting my visions to your eye, that you may either communicate them to the public, or use them as rough materials to be wrought up and adorned in your own slumbers.
“ It may be worth observing, that there are two distinct kinds of dreams: the one, of a plain and household nature, such as ordinary persons experience; the other, more refined and spiritualized, and peculiar to periodical writers: the one, foggy and frothy, and bred of indigestion and vapour; the other, pure and ethereal, the essence of fancy, and the spirit of contemplation. The one, in short, is involuntary and constitutional; the other is dependent on the will, and subordinate to the judgement.
“Voluntary dreams were little known among the ancients; and I think the first person who succeeded in this way, in our own country, was the celebrated John Bunyan, who has carried the art to a great degree of perfection. He chose the field of allegory, as best calculated to exercise his superior talents for invention and imagery; and it is but justice to this famous dreamer to allow, that the perspicuity and simplicity of his language, and the entertaining flow of his narrative, render his allegorical writings fitter perhaps than any others to captivate youthful imaginations. His merit will more appear, when we consider that he was perfectly original; and that Spencer himself, with the Italian poets for a model, and with all the advantages of the most melodious poetry, has but few readers who persevere to the end, and still fewer who follow him with clear ideas and connected impressions. His delineations are perhaps too picturesque : they are admirable when taken individually; but it is so difficult to keep sight of the connection, that they derive no lustre from their union. Honest Bunyan, on the other hand, seeks no refinement, but follows naa ture even in fiction; and when we have accompanied his Pilgrim to the end of his journey, we can clearly recollect every step of his progress.
“ The dreams of this author are all serious; as Quevedo's, on the contrary, are humorous and satirical. Addison, who touched with the happiest art every chord of polite learning, has occasionally employed a dream to convey his instructions, whether his subject were gay, severe, or solemn. The paper of the Spectator, entitled the Vision of Mirza, has a grandeur and solemnity of imagery, with an elegance and melody of language, that stand unrivalled in English literature. The subject of human
life has likewise been cast into a dream by the author of the Rambler, whose strong and penetrating mind enabled him to excel in every species of writing; but any one who will take the trouble to compare the two papers together, will not hesitate long to give the preference to Addison. His conceptions seem to flow without labour or effort ; and even in point of solemnity, which is the style most natural to the author of the Rambler, the Spectator has, in this instance, snatched a glorious victory in the heart of his empire.
“ This species of writing seems best adapted to subjects of a grave kind, because there is something naturally serious in a dream. When a man is thrown into a state in which he is barely conscious of his existence, the workings of his fancy, however absurd, have something awful in their character. Hence in all ages they have been considered as sacred; and though the greater part of the fleeting creations of fancy are instantly forgotten, there are few of us who have not at some time or other been visited with dreams which have made a durable impression.
“ The ancients paid the greatest attention to their dreams, and assigned a very distinguished rank in the state to the persons who were appointed to interpret them. They believed that the will of the gods was often to be collected from these nightly communications; but as they turned out to be more frequently false than true, they believed that but a small part were sent by the gods, and that the vana insomnia, the illusive visions, were continually fluttering about the earth in multitudes, ready to insipuate themselves into drowsy brains.
Virgil relates, in the sixth book of the Æneid, that these idle dreams were the fruit of a huge elm
tree, which grew in the entrance of the infernal regions.
In medio, ramos annosaque brachia pandit
ÆN. 282. Full in the midst of this infernal road An elm displays her dusky arms abroad : The god of sleep there hides his heavy head; And empty dreams on ev'ry leaf are spread. “ And it is somewhat remarkable that he describes this tree to be situated amidst the Furies, Centaurs, Gorgons, Harpies, Diseases, Cares, Pain, Famine, Poverty, and all the horrid crew which inhabit that tremendous abode; alluding, no doubt, to the influence which the passions represented by these allegorical beings are known to possess in producing dreams. The same author afterwards copies Homer in describing the
avenues by which dreams pass from the Elysian Fields to the upper world. There are two gates, he says; the one of ivory, through which false dreams find their way; the other of horn, which admits only the true. These were the regu. lar channels of communication ; but it sometimes happened, on extraordinary occasions, that a dream was sent down from the throne of Jupiter himself, as in the case of Agamemnon, when he was persuaded by a vision to give battle to the Trojans without the assistance of Achilles.
“ The manes, or the ghosts of the dead, were believed to send pleasant dreams, with salutary admonitions respecting futurity, to their former friends on earth, and frightful and ghastly apparitions to those who had offended or injured them. Hence it became a principal part of domestic worship to appease the manes :