Page images

“ Not Titian's pencil e'er could so array,
66 So fleece with clouds the pure etherial space;
« Nor could it e'er such melting forms display,
“ As loose on flowery beds all languishingly lay.
6 No, fair illusions ! artful phantoms, no!
“ My muse will not attempt your fairy land :
u She has no colours, that like your's can glow;
“ To catch your vivid scenes, too gross her hand."*

As a farther proof that the succession of our thoughts in dreaming, is influenced by our prevailing habits of association ; it may be remarked, that the scenes and occurrences which most frequently present themselves to the mind while we are afleep, are the scenes and occurrences of childhood and early youth. The facility of association is then much greater than in more advanced years; and although, during the day, the memory of the events thus afsociated, may be banished by the objects and pursuits which press upon our senses, it retains a more permanent hold of the mind than any of our subsequent acquisitions; and, like the knowledge which we pofsefs of our mother tongue, is, as it were, interwoven and incorporated with all its most essential habits. ACcordingly, in old men, whose thoughts are, in a great measure, disengaged from the world, the tranfactions of their middle age, which once seemed so important, are often obliterated; while the mind dwells, as in a dream, on the sports and the companions of their infancy.

I shall only observe farther, on this head, that in our dreams, as well as when awake, we occasionally make use of words as an instrument of thought. Such dreams, however, do not affect the mind with such emotions of pleasure and of pain, as those in which the imagination is occupied with particular objects of sense. The effect of philosophical studies, in habituating the mind to the almost constant employment of this inftrument, and of consequence, its effect in weakening the imagination, was formerly remarked. · If I am not mistaken, the influence of these circumstances may also be traced in the history of our dreams; which, in youth, commonly involve, in a much greater degree, the exercise of imagination; and affect the mind with much more powerful emotions, than when we begin to employ our maturer faculties in more general and abstract fpeculations.

* Castle of Indolence.

From these different observations, we are authorised to conclude, that the same laws of association which relgulate the train of our thoughts while we are awake, continue to operate during

fleep. I now proceed to consider, how far the circumstances which discriminate dreaming from our waking thoughts, correspond with those which might be expected to result from the suspension of the influence of the will.

1. If the influence of the will be suspended du. ring sleep, all our voluntary operations, such as recollection, reafoning, &c. must also be suspended.

That this really is the case, the extravagance and inconsistency of our dreams are sufficient proofs. We frequently confound together times and places the most remote from each other; and, in the course of the same dream, conceive the same person as existing in different parts of the world. Sometimes we imagine ourselves conversing with a dead friend, without remembering the circumstances of his death, although, perhaps, it happened but a few days be. fore, and affected us deeply All this proves clearly, that the subjects which then occupy our thoughts, are such as present themselves to the mind spontaneously; and that we have no power of employing our reason in comparing together the different parts of our dreams; or even of exerting an act of recollection, in order to ascertain how far they are confiftent and poflible.

The processes of reasoning, in which we sometimes fancy ourselves to be engaged during fleep, furnish no exception to the foregoing observation ; for al. though every such process, the first time we form it, implies volition ; and, in particular, implies a recollection of the premises, till we arrive at the conclufion ; yet when a number of truths have been often presented to us as neceffarily connected with each other, this series may afterwards pass through the mind, according to the laws of association, without any more activity on our part, than in those trains of thought which are the most loose and incoherent. Nor is this mere theory. I may venture to appeal to the consciousness of every man accustomed to dream, whether his reasonings during fleep do not seem to be carried on without any exertion of his will; and with a degree of facility, of which he was never conscious while awake. Mr. Addison, in one of his Spectators, has made this observation ; and his testimony, in the present instance, is of the greater weight, that he had no particular theory on the subject to support. “ There is not,” (says he,)“ à more

painful action of the mind than invention, yet in “ dreams, it works with that ease and activity, that “ we are not fenfible when the faculty is employed. « For instance, I believe every one, fome time or “ other, dreams that he is reading papers, books, or " letters ; in which case the invention prompts fo

readily, that the mind is impoled on, and mis“ takes its own suggestions for the composition of " another."

2. If the influence of the will during fleep be sufpended, the mind will remain as passive, while its thoughts change from one subject to another, as it does during our waking hours while different perceptible objects are presented to our senses.

* No. 487.

Of this paffive state of the mind in our dreams, it is unnecessary to multiply proofs ; as it has always been conflidered as one of the most extraordinary circumstances with which they are accompanied. If our dreams, as well as our waking thoughts, were, subject to the will, is it not natural to conclude, that, in the one case, as well as in the other, we would endeavor to banish, as much as we could, every idea which had a tendency to disturb us ; and detain those only which we found agreeable ? So far, how.) ever, is this power over our thoughts from being exercised, that we are frequently oppressed, in spite of all our efforts to the contrary, with dreams which affect us with the most painful emotions. And, indeed, it is matter of vulgar remark, that our dreams are, in every case, involuntary on our part ; and that they appear to be obtruded on us by some external cause. This fact appeared fo unaccountable to the late Mr. Baxter, that it gave rise to his very whimsical theory, in which he ascribes dreams to the immediate influence of separate fpirits on the mind.

3. If the influence of the will be suspended during fleep, the conceptions which we then form of sensible objects will be attended with a belief of their real existence, as much as the perception of the fame objects is while we are awake.

In treating of the power of Conception, I formerly observed, that our belief of the separate and independent existence of the objects of our perceptions, is the result of experience; which teaches us that these perceptions do not depend on our will. If I open my eyes, I cannot prevent myself from seeing the prospect before me. The case is different with respect to our conceptions. While they occupy the mind, to the exclusion of every thing else, I endeavored to fhew, that they are always accompanied with belief; but as we can banish them from the

mind, during our waking hours, at pleasure ; and as the momentary belief which they produce, is continually checked by the surrounding objects of our perceptions, we learn to consider them as fictions of our own creation ; and, excepting in fome accidental cases, pay no regard to them in the conduct of life. If the doctrine, however, formerly stated with respect to conception be just, and if, at the same time, it be allowed, that sleep fufpends the influence of the will over the train of our thoughts, we should naturaliy be led to expect, that the same belief which accompanies perceptions while we are awake, should accompany the conceptions which occur to us in our dreams. It is scarcely necessary for me to remark, how strikingly this conclusion coincides with ac knowledged facts.

May it not be considered as some confirmation of the foregoing doctrine, that when opium fails in producing complete sleep, it commonly produces one of the eifects of fleep, by suspending the activity of the mind, and throwing it into a reverie ; and that while we are in this state, our conceptions frequently affect us nearly in the same manner, as if the objects conceived were present to our senses ?*

Another circumstance with respect to our conceptions during sleep, deserves our notice. As the subjects which we then think upon occupy the mind exclusively ; and as the attention is not diverted by the objects of our external senses, our conceptions must be proportionably lively and steady. Every person knows how faint the conception is which we form of any thing, with our eyes open, in compari. son of what we can form with our eyes shut : and that, in proportion as we can suspend the exercise of all our other senses, the liveliness of our conception

[ocr errors]

* See the Baron de Totr's Account of the Opium-takers at Constantinople.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »