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greatest dreamers ; especially if their imagination be active, and their nervous system very sensible; which last is too common an infirmity among men of learning. The sleep of the labouring man is sweet and sound; and his dreams he rarely remembers; for the faculties of his mind are not much employed, his nerves are strong, and the sphere of his imagination is narrow. As Nature does nothing in vain, is it not probable that, to the constitutions of some people, dreaming may be more necessary, as a mental recreation, than to those of others ? To meditate continually on one set of objects, is detrimental to health, and even to reason; and, when one is oppressed with low spirits, which often proceed from this very cause, the physician never fails to recommend amusements, company, travelling, sea voyages, and other expedients, for leading the mind out of its old gloomy track, refreshing it with new ideas, and forcing it to exert itself with unusual energy, and in a new direction.
Go, soft enthusiast, quit the cypress groves,
“ Men, therefore, who think more than others, may have more need than others have, of that amusement and variety which is produced by dream
ing. Certain it is that dreams are often a relief to those who are in perplexity, or who have long been ruminating upon disagreeable objects, or upon any one set of ideas which they cannot easily get rid of. Nor is it necessary in order to effect this, that a dream should, in itself, be pleasing. Scenes of difficulty, and even of danger, are, as we have seen, recommended to the patient oppressed with melancholy; and, if a dream shall only give a new impulse, even for a short time, to the minds of those persons of whom I now speak, it may do them an important service, however disagreeable in itself. Seldom, indeed, are they happy in their dreams, whose faculties are worn out with much thinking.
“ Dreams depend, in part, on the state of the air. That which has power over the passions, may reasonably be presumed to have power over the thoughts of men. For the thoughts that occur to a mind actuated by any passion, are always congenial to that passion, and tend to encourage it. Now, most people know by experience, how effectual, in producing joy and hope, are pure skies and sunshine, and that a long continuance of dark weather, brings on solicitude and melancholy. This is particularly the case with those persons whose nervous system has been weakened by a sedentary life and much thinking, and they, as I hinted formerly, are most subject to troublesome dreams. If the external air can affect the motions of so heavy a substance as mercury, in the tube of the barometer, we need not wonder that it should affect those finer liquids that circulate through the human body. And if our passions and thoughts, when we are awake, may be variously modified by the consistency, defect, or redundance of these liquids, and, by the state of the tubes through which they circulate, need
we wonder that the same thing should happen in sleep, when our ideas, disengaged from the control of reason, may be supposed to be more obsequious to material impulse? When the air is loaded with gross vapour, dreams are generally disagreeable to persons of a delicate constitution.
“If, then, our thoughts in sleep may receive form and colour from so many circumstances; from the general state of our health, from the present state of the stomach and Auids, from the temperature of the air, from the position of external objects in contact with our body, and from the tenor of our thoughts through the day ; * shall we be surprised at the variety of our dreams? and when any uncommon or disagreeable dream occurs, is it not more rational to refer it to one or other of these causes, than to terrify ourselves with a foolish conceit that it is supernatural, and betokens calamity? How often, during the day, do thoughts arise, which we cannot account for, as uncommon, perhaps, and incongruous as those which compose our dreams! Once, after riding thirty miles in a very high wind, I remember to have passed a night of dreams that were, beyond description, terrible ; insomuch, that I at last found it expedient to keep myself awake, that I might no more be tormented with them. Had I been superstitious, I should have thought that some disaster was impending. But it occurred to me, that the tempestuous weather I had encountered the preceding day might be the occasion of all those horrors ; and I have since, in some medical author, met with a remark to justify the conjecture. A very slight cause may check that insensible perspiration which is so necessary to health ; and when this happens,
* See Number 73.
we cannot expect that our dreams should be so easy as at other times. Let no one, then, be alarmed at an uncommon dream. It is probably nothing more than a symptom of a trifling bodily disorder; and, if so, it has nothing more to do with futurity, nor is one whit more supernatural than a cut finger or a pang of the toothache.
“ Concerning the opinion, which some have entertained, of our dreams being suggested by invisible beings, I shall only say, that I think it very improbable. For first, I see no reason for believing that the Deity would employ 'millions of spiritual creatures' in such an office as that of suggesting our ordinary dreams. Secondly, I cannot conceive how those creatures should be affected, in such an operation, by the external air, or by the state of our health, which are known to have great influence on our thoughts, both in sleep and when we are awake. And, thirdly, from what we know of the rapidity of our fancy when awake, we need not suppose ang foreign impulse necessary to produce the various appearances of dreaming; as the soul seems to possess in herself powers sufficient for that purpose. Madness, melancholy, and many other diseases, give an extravagance to the thoughts of waking men, equal, or even superior, to what happens in sleep. If the agency of unseen beings is not supposed to produce the first, why should we have recourse to it in order to account for the last ?
But it is urged that, in sleep, the soul is passive, and is haunted by visions, which she would gladly get rid of if she could. And it may be urged in answer, for it is no less true, that persons afflicted with anxiety and melancholy, too often find, to their sad experience, that their soul is almost equally passive when they are awake ; for that they are, even then, haunted
with the most tormenting thoughts, from which all their
powers of reason, all the exertions of their will, and all the exhortations of their friends, cannot effectually relieve them.
* To conclude: Providence certainly superintends the affairs of men; and often, we know not how often, interposes for our preservation.
It would, therefore, be presumptuous to affirm, that supernatural cautions, in regard to futurity, are never communicated in dreams. The design of these remarks is not to contradict any authentic experience, or historical fact, but only to show that dreams may proceed from a variety of causes that have nothing supernatural in them; and that, though we are not much acquainted with the nature of this wonderful mode of perception, we know enough of it to see that it is not useless or superfluous, but may, on the contrary, answer some purposes of great importance to our welfare both in soul and body.
“ I am yours, &c.,
No. 75. TUESDAY, JANUARY 25, 1780.
“ TO THE AUTHOR OF THE MIRROR.
“I REMARK, that you meddle not with the high matters of politics. For this, you must answer yourself, being that you are able to write printed papers. I am a member of eighty-five societies, all