My dreaming Correspondent, Mr. Shadow, has sent me a second Letter, with several curious Observations on Dreams in general, and the Method to render Sleep improving: An Extract of his Letter will not, I presume, be disagreeable to my Readers.
'Since we have so little Time to spare, that none of it may be lost, I see no Reason why we should neglect to examine those imaginary Scenes we are presented with in Sleep, only because they have less Reality in them than our waking Meditations. A Traveller would bring his Judgment in Question who should despise the Directions of his Map for want of real Roads in it, because here stands a Dott instead of a Town, or a Cypher instead of a City, and it must be a long Day's Journey to travel thro' two or three Inches. Fancy in Dreams gives us much such another Landskip of Life as that does of Countries, and tho' its Appearances may seem strangely jumbled together, we may often observe such Traces and Footsteps of noble Thoughts, as, if carefully pursued, might lead us into a proper Path of Action. There is so much Rapture and Extasie in our fancied Bliss, and something so dismal and shocking in our fancied Misery, that tho' the Inactivity of the Body has given Occasion for calling Sleep the Image of Death, the Briskness of the Fancy affords us a strong Intimation of something within us that can never die.
'I have wondered, that Alexander the Great, who came into the World sufficiently dreamt of by his Parents, and had himself a tolerable Knack at dreaming, should often say, that
'Sleep was one thing which made him sensible he was Mortal.'
I who have not such Fields of Action in the Daytime to divert my Attention from this Matter, plainly perceive, that in those Operations of the Mind, while the Body is at rest, there is a certain Vastness of Conception very suitable to the Capacity, and demonstrative of the Force of that Divine Part in our Composition which will last for ever. Neither do I much doubt but had we a true Account of the Wonders the Hero last mentioned performed in his Sleep, his conquering this little Globe would hardly be worth mentioning. I may affirm, without Vanity, that when I compare several Actions in Quintus Curtius with some others in my own Noctuary, I appear the greater Hero of the two.
I shall close this Subject with observing, that while we are awake we are at Liberty to fix our Thoughts on what we please, but in Sleep we have not the Command of them. The Ideas which strike the Fancy, arise in us without our Choice, either from the Occurrences of the Day past, the Temper we lye down in, or it may be the Direction of some superior Being.
It is certain the Imagination may be so differently affected in Sleep, that our Actions of the Day might be either rewarded or punished with a little Age of Happiness or Misery. St. Austin was of Opinion, that if in Paradise there was the same Vicissitude of sleeping and waking as in the present World, the Dreams of its Inhabitants would be very happy.
And so far at present our Dreams are in our Power, that they are generally conformable to our waking Thoughts, so that it is not impossible to convey our selves to a Consort of Musick, the Conversation of Distant Friends, or any other Entertainment which has been before lodged in the Mind.
My Readers, by applying these Hints will find the Necessity of making a good Day of it, if they heartily wish themselves a good Night.
I have often consider'd Marcia's Prayer, and Lucius's Account of Cato, in this Light.
O ye immortal Powers, that guard the Just,
Watch round his Couch, and soften his Repose,
Banish his Sorrows, and becalm his Soul
With easie Dreams; remember all his Virtues;
And shew Mankind that Goodness is your Care.
Sweet are the Slumbers of the virtuous Man!
O Marcia, I have seen thy Godlike Father:
Some Pow'r invisible supports his Soul,
And bears it up in all its wonted Greatness.
A kind refreshing Sleep is fall'n upon him:
I saw him stretcht at Ease, his Fancy lost
In pleasing Dreams; as I drew near his Couch,
He smil'd, and cry'd, Cásar, thou canst not hurt me.
Mr. Shadow acquaints me in a Postscript, that he has no manner of Title to the Vision which succeeded his first Letter; but adds, that as the Gentleman who wrote it Dreams very sensibly, he shall be glad to meet him some Night or other, under the great Elm Tree, by which Virgil has given us a fine Metaphorical Image of Sleep, in order to turn over a few of the Leaves together, and oblige the Publick with an Account of the Dreams that lie under them.Translation of motto: