No. 586. Friday, August 27, 1714. John Byrom [1]

--Quá in vita usurpant homines, cogitant, curant, vident, Quáque agunt vigilantes, agitantque, ea cuique in somno accidunt.'
Cic. de Div.

By the last Post I received the following Letter, which is built upon a Thought that is new, and very well carried on; for which Reasons I shall give it to the Publick without Alteration, Addition, or Amendment.


'It was a good Piece of Advice which Pythagoras gave to his Scholars, That every Night before they slept they should examine what they had been a doing that Day, and so discover what Actions were worthy of Pursuit to-morrow, and what little Vices were to be prevented from slipping unawares into a Habit. If I might second the Philosopher's Advice, it should be mine, That in a Morning before my Scholar rose, he should consider what he had been about that Night, and with the same Strictness, as if the Condition he has believed himself to be in, was real. Such a Scrutiny into the Actions of his Fancy must be of considerable Advantage, for this Reason, because the Circumstances which a Man imagines himself in during Sleep, are generally such as entirely favour his Inclinations good or bad, and give him imaginary Opportunities of pursuing them to the utmost; so that his Temper will lye fairly open to his View, while he considers how it is moved when free from those Constraints which the Accidents of real Life put it under. Dreams are certainly the Result of our waking Thoughts, and our daily Hopes and Fears are what give the Mind such nimble Relishes of Pleasure, and such severe Touches of Pain, in its Midnight Rambles. A Man that murders his Enemy, or deserts his Friend in a Dream, had need to guard his Temper against Revenge and Ingratitude, and take heed that he be not tempted to do a vile thing in the Pursuit of false, or the Neglect of true Honour. For my Part, I seldom receive a Benefit, but in a Night or two's Time I make most noble Returns for it; which tho' my Benefactor is not a whit the better for, yet it pleases me to think that it was from a Principle of Gratitude in me, that my Mind was susceptible of such generous Transport while I thought my self repaying the Kindness of my Friend: And I have often been ready to beg Pardon, instead of returning an Injury, after considering, that when the Offender was in my Power I had carried my Resentments much too far.

'I think it has been observed in the Course of your Papers, how much one's Happiness or Misery may depend upon the Imagination: Of which Truth those strange Workings of Fancy in Sleep are no inconsiderable Instances; so that not only the Advantage a Man has of making Discoveries of himself, but a Regard to his own Ease or Disquiet, may induce him to accept of my Advice. Such as are willing to comply with it, I shall put into a way of doing it with pleasure, by observing only one Maxim which I shall give them, viz. To go to Bed with a Mind entirely free from Passion, and a Body clear of the least Intemperance.

'They indeed who can sink into Sleep with their Thoughts less calm or innocent than they should be, do but plunge themselves into Scenes of Guilt and Misery; or they who are willing to purchase any Midnight Disquietudes for the Satisfaction of a full Meal, or a Skin full of Wine; these I have nothing to say to, as not knowing how to invite them to Reflections full of Shame and Horror: But those that will observe this Rule, I promise them they shall awake into Health and Cheerfulness, and be capable of recounting with Delight those glorious Moments wherein the Mind has been indulging it self in such Luxury of Thought, such noble Hurry of Imagination. Suppose a Man's going supperless to Bed should introduce him to the Table of some great Prince or other, where he shall be entertained with the noblest Marks of Honour and Plenty, and do so much Business after, that he shall rise with as good a Stomach to his Breakfast as if he had fasted all Night long; or suppose he should see his dearest Friends remain all Night in great Distresses, which he could instantly have disengaged them from, could he have been content to have gone to Bed without t'other Bottle: Believe me, these Effects of Fancy are no contemptible Consequences of commanding or indulging one's Appetite.

'I forbear recommending my Advice upon many other Accounts, till I hear how you and your Readers relish what I have already said, among whom if there be any that may pretend it is useless to them, because they never dream at all, there may be others, perhaps, who do little else all Day long. Were every one as sensible as I am what happens to him in his Sleep, it would be no Dispute whether we past so considerable a Portion of our Time in the Condition of Stocks and Stones, or whether the Soul were not perpetually at Work upon the Principle of Thought. However, 'tis an honest Endeavour of mine to perswade my Countrymen to reap some Advantage from so many unregarded Hours, and as such you will encourage it.

'I shall conclude with giving you a Sketch or two of my Way of proceeding.

'If I have any Business of consequence to do to-morrow, I am scarce dropt asleep to-night but I am in the midst of it, and when awake I consider the whole Procession of the Affair, and get the Advantage of the next Day's Experience before the Sun has risen upon it.

'There is scarce a great Post but what I have some Time or other been in; but my Behaviour while I was Master of a College, pleases me so well, that whenever there is a Province of that Nature vacant, I intend to step in as soon as I can.

'I have done many Things that would not pass Examination, when I have had the Art of Flying, or being invisible; for which Reason I am glad I am not possessed of those extra-ordinary Qualities.

'Lastly, Mr. SPECTATOR, I have been a great Correspondent of yours, and have read many of my Letters in your Paper which I never wrote you. If you have a Mind I should really be so, I have got a Parcel of Visions and other Miscellanies in my Noctuary, which I shall send you to enrich your Paper with on proper Occasions.

I am, &c.

John Shadow.

Oxford, Aug. 20.

[Footnote 1: John Byrom, born at Manchester, in 1691, was quarrelled with by his family for marrying a young lady without fortune, and lived by an ingenious way of teaching short-hand, till the death of an elder brother gave him the family estate. He died in 1763. In 1714 he had just been elected Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1723 he was admitted a Fellow of the Royal Society, and contributed to its Transactions a paper upon his own System of short-hand. In his later years he wrote much rhyme.]

Translation of motto:
CIC. de Div.
'The things which employ men's waking thoughts and actions recur to
their imaginations in sleep.'