Dreams by Albany Poyntz

In modern times, dreams have become a gratuitous affair; but in the time of lotteries they possessed the greatest value with the votaries of Blind Fortune. At the French offices, a register was kept of lucky numbers, whose prizes were the result of dreams. Not a day passed but the office keepers were applied to for numbers, the combination of which was foretold by dreams.

However great the weakness of those who put undue faith in such omens, it must be admitted that the wanderings of the mind during sleep have been productive of marvellous results. But just as the slightest opinions of Montaigne are the result of the minutest self-study, a person desirous to ascertain the real importance of a dream ought to consider what was the state of health, disposition, mind and feeling of the dreamers. Many dreams constitute a mere continuation of the occupations of the day. Others arise from our habitual strain of mind. During illness or fever, the mind, and consequently the dreams by which it is perplexed, assume an exalted and unnatural tone.

Authors have been known to compose during their sleep. Voltaire declares that he composed his verses to Monsieur Touron while asleep; and on returning from a ball, what young dancer does not fancy during the night, that the violins of the orchestra are still ringing in his ears? Hippocrates was so persuaded of the analogy of dreams with our physical condition, that he points out specifics against evil dreaming. If the stars turn pale in your dreams, you are to run in a circle; if the moon, you must run in a straight line; if the sun, you must run both in a straight line and a circle to avoid a repetition of the evil omen.

By these prescriptions, he prevailed upon the lazy Athenians to assist their bad digestion by the effect of exercise, so as to procure a calm and gentle sleep.

Pliny, the younger, mentions the following fact: “One of my slaves, who was sleeping with his companions in the place usually allotted to them, dreamed that two men, dressed in white, entered through the window, and having shaven their heads, departed by the way they came. The following morning he was found shaved, and his hair scattered on the ground.” This was probably some waggish trick practised on him by his companions when in a state of intoxication.

Valerius Maximus, on the authority of Cicero, relates a remarkable dream:

“Two fellow-travellers arrived at Megara; the one putting up at an hotel, the other at the house of a friend. Scarcely had the former fallen asleep, when he saw his companion imploring him to come to his aid, as his host was attempting to murder him. The impression was so strong as to wake him; when, finding it a delusion, he went to sleep again. Once more, his friend appeared, announcing the accomplishment of the crime, and that his assassin had concealed his body under the dunghill, to which he begged his companion to repair betimes, before they had time to remove it out of the city. Overawed by so awful a vision, the friend rose forthwith, and proceeding to the scene of the murder, found a carter and his cart about to quit the court. On insisting to examine the load, the carter fled; when the body was extricated from the dung, the whole affair discovered, and the host condemned to death.”

This Greek story is related on the authority of Cicero, who was never at Megara, and consequently knew the fact by hearsay. Had Cicero asserted that he witnessed the affair, the story would have been difficult to believe; as it is, posterity is absolved from the smallest credence.

There lived at Marseilles, a bigoted woman, who passed her days at church, and dreamt every night that she was transformed into a lamp: a dream she chose to verify; for, on the day of her death, a silver lamp was suspended, at her cost, in the choir of the church in which she was wont to follow her devotions.

Dreams are the peculiar province of the poet. Æneas, to justify his abandonment of Dido, cites the commands of his father, who appears to him every night. What more beautiful, except perhaps the dream of Athalia, than the dream of Æneas, in which Hector presents himself to the son of Anchises, pale and ghastly, as after he had become a victim to the vengeance of Achilles? In the Greek plays, and the French tragedies imitated from the Greek, dreams form a prominent feature. The family of Atrides were great dreamers:—Atreus, Agamemnon, Orestes, and Egisthus, the son of Atreus, had all remarkable dreams.

In Lemercier’s tragedy of “Agamemnon,” Egisthus relates that which is evidently the result of a dream;—but he will not admit it to be a dream, declaring that he “did not sleep.”

The impressions of dreams are often so vivid that we confound in our memory real facts with the visions of sleep. Hence, no doubt, the popular expression of “You must have dreamt that!”

The existence of dreams must be coeval with the human race. By the ancients, the Gods were thought to preside over them. The dreams of Pharaoh made the fortune of Joseph; and Artemidorus acquired a great reputation under the Antonines, by interpreting dreams. According to him, to dream of being weighed down by a mountain, portended proscription; and to dream of death, meant marriage. To dream that you are deprived of sight, intimates that you are about to lose one of your children. Artemidorus interpreted dreams in the same manner as the celebrated Mademoiselle Lenormand, or as Mrs. Williams, so well-known in London at the commencement of the present century.