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.
“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.’