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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, travel. ling, 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,
Your sad complaint. Go, seek the cheerful haunts
Lay schemes for wealth, or power, or fame, the wish
Men, therefore, who think more than others, may have more need than others have, of that amusement and variety which is produced by dreaming. 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 the 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 fluids, from the temperature of
the air, from the position of external objecs in contact with our body, and from the tenour 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 con ceit, 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, 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 tooth-ach.
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 crea
* See number 73.
❝tures" 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 any 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 shew 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 YAMAGA I am, yours, &c.
No. LXXV. TUESDAY, JANUARY 25.
TO THE AUTHOR OF THE MIRROR.
I REMARK, that you meddle not with the high matters of politics. For this, you must answer to yourself, being that you are able to write printed papers. I am a member of eighty-five societies, all zealous for the liberty of the press, in consistency, with, and in conformity to, our establishment; and so I think that you are at liberty to write of those things only whereof you have understanding; and if so be that, by reason of your silence, you abuse, or, as one may say, vilipend the liberty of the press, judge you yourself; as for me, I say nothing.
But, although you give us no news yourself, perhaps you have something to say with the gentlemen who make the news; and if so, I hope that you will recommend it to them so to write, as that they may be understood of men who are not booklearned.
They, being book-learned gentlemen, write in divers tongues, whereby we poor simple men, are at a loss, and Europe may be overthrown by compacts and associations, or ever we can understand the danger.