Escape, and Other Essays eBook

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IX

DREAMS

There is a movement nowadays among the philosophers who study the laws of thought, to lay a strong emphasis upon the phenomena of dreams; what part of us is it that enacts with such strange zest and vividness, and yet with so mysterious a disregard of ordinary motives and conventions, the pageant of dreams?  Like many other things which befall us in daily life, dreams are so familiar a fact, that we often forget to wonder at the marvellousness of it all.  The two points about dreams which seem to me entirely inexplicable are:  firstly, that they are so much occupied with visual impressions, and secondly, that though they are all self-invented and self-produced, they yet contrive to strike upon the mind with a marvellous freshness of emotion and surprise.  Let us take these two points a little more in detail.

When one awakes from a vivid dream one generally has the impression of a scene of some kind, which has been mainly received through the medium of the eye.  I suppose that this varies with different people, but my own dreams are rather sharply divided into certain classes.  I am oftenest a silent spectator of landscapes of ineffable beauty, such as a great river, as blue as sapphire, rolling majestically down between vast sandstone cliffs, or among wooded hills, piled thick with trees rich in blossom; or I see stately buildings crowded together among woodlands, with long carved fronts of stone and airy towers.  These dreams are peculiarly uplifting and stimulating, and I wake from them with an extraordinary sense of beauty and wonder; or else I see from some window or balcony a great ceremony of some quite unintelligible kind proceeding, a procession with richly dressed persons walking or riding, or a religious pomp taking place in a dim pillared interior.  All such dreams pass by in absolute silence.  I have no idea where I am, nor what is happening, nor am I curious to know.  No voice is upraised, and there is no one at hand to converse with.

Then again there are dreams of which the substance is animated and vivid conversation.  I have long and confidential talks with people like the Pope or the Tsar of Russia.  They ask my advice, they quote my books, and I am surprised to find them so familiar and accessible.  Or I am in a strange house with an unknown party of guests, and person after person comes up to tell me all kinds of interesting facts and details.  Or else, as often happens to me, I meet people long since dead; I dream constantly, for instance, about my father.  I see him by chance at a railway station, we congratulate ourselves upon the happy accident of meeting; he takes my arm, he talks smilingly and indulgently; and the only way in which the knowledge that he is dead affects the dream is that I feel bewildered at having seen so little of him of late, and even ask him where he has been for so long that we have not met oftener.

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