Sunday, 12th July, 2009


from ‘The World of Dreams’

And is thy soul so wrapt in sleep?
Thy senses, thy affections, fled?
No play of fancy thine, to keep
Oblivion from that grave, thy bed?
Then art thou but the breathing dead:
I envy, but I pity too:
The bravest may my terrors dread,
The happiest fain my joys pursue.

Soon as the real World I lose,
Quick Fancy takes her wonted way,
Or Baxter’s sprites my soul abuse –
For how it is I cannot say,
Nor to what powers a passive prey,
I feel such bliss, I fear such pain;
But all is gloom, or all is gay,
Soon as th’ ideal World I gain.

Come, then, I woo thee, sacred Sleep!
Vain troubles of the world, farewell!
Spirits of Ill! your distance keep –
And in your own dominions dwell,
Ye, the sad emigrants from hell!
Watch, dear seraphic beings, round,
And these black Enemies repel;
Safe be my soul, my slumbers sound!

In vain I pray! It is my sin
That thus admits the shadowy throng.
Oh! now they break tumultuous in –
Angels of darkness fierce and strong.
Oh! I am borne of fate along;
My soul, subdued, admits the foe,
Perceives and yet endures the wrong,
Resists, and yet prepares to go.

Where am I now? and what to meet?
Where I have been entrapt before:
The wicked city’s vilest street,–
I know what I must now explore.
The dark-brow’d throng more near and more,
With murderous looks are on me thrust,
And lo! they ope the accursed door,
And I must go – I know I must!

That female fiend! – Why is she there?
Alas! I know her. – Oh, begone!
Why is that tainted bosom bare,
Why fix’d on me that eye of stone?
Why have they left us thus alone?
I saw the deed – why then appear?
Thou art not form’d of blood and bone!
Come not, dread being, come not near!

So! all is quiet, calm, serene;
I walk a noble mansion round –
From room to room, from scene to scene,
I breathless pass, in gloom profound:
No human shape, no mortal sound –
I feel an awe, I own a dread,
And still proceed! – nor stop nor bound –
And all is silent, all is dead.

Now I’m hurried, borne along,
All is business! all alive!
Heavens! how mighty is the throng,
Voices humming like a hive!
Through the swelling crowd I strive,
Bustling forth my way to trace:
Never fated to arrive
At the still-expected place.

George Crabbe, ‘The World of Dreams’ in The Complete Poetical Works, ed. by Norma Dalrymple-Champneys and Arthur Pollard, 3 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 1988) III, pp.246-255.

Saturday, 11th July, 2009


The Pains of Sleep

Ere on my bed my limbs I lay,
It hath not been my use to pray
With moving lips or bended knees;
But silently, by slow degrees,
My spirit I to Love compose,
In humble trust mine eye-lids close,
With reverential resignation,
No wish conceived, no thought exprest,
Only a sense of supplication;
A sense o’er all my soul imprest
That I am weak, yet not unblest,
Since in me, round me, every where
Eternal Strength and Wisdom are.

But yester-night I prayed aloud
In anguish and in agony,
Up-starting from the fiendish crowd
Of shapes and thoughts that tortured me:
A lurid light, a trampling throng,
Sense of intolerable wrong,
And whom I scorned, those only strong!
Thirst of revenge, the powerless will
Still baffled, and yet burning still!
Desire with loathing strangely mixed
On wild or hateful objects fixed.
Fantastic passions! maddening brawl!
And shame and terror over all!
Deeds to be hid which were not hid,
Which all confused I could not know
Whether I suffered, or I did:
For all seemed guilt, remorse or woe,
My own or others still the same
Life-stifling fear, soul-stifling shame.

So two nights passed: the night’s dismay
Saddened and stunned the coming day.
Sleep, the wide blessing, seemed to me
Distemper’s worst calamity.
The third night, when my own loud scream
Had waked me from the fiendish dream,
O’ercome with sufferings strange and wild,
I wept as I had been a child;
And having thus by tears subdued
My anguish to a milder mood,
Such punishments, I said, were due
To natures deepliest stained with sin,—
For aye entempesting anew
The unfathomable hell within,
The horror of their deeds to view,
To know and loathe, yet wish and do!
Such griefs with such men well agree,
But wherefore, wherefore fall on me?
To be beloved is all I need,
And whom I love, I love indeed.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Christabel; Kubla Khan: A Vision; The Pains of Sleep, (London: John Murray, 1816) pp.61-4.

Friday, 10th July, 2009


“In this agreeable interval, my wife had the most lucky dreams in the world, which she took care to tell us every morning with great solemnity and exactness. It was one night a coffin and cross bones; the sign of an approaching wedding: at another time she imagined her daughter’s pockets filled with farthings; a certain sign of their being one day stuffed with gold. The girls had their omens too: they felt strange kisses on their lips; they saw rings in the candle; purses bounced from the fire; and true love-knots lurked at the bottom of every teacup.”

Oliver Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield, 2 vols (Cork: Eugene Swiney, 1766), I, p.84.

Thursday, 9th July, 2009


“I returned late last night, and my reflections were as cheerful as such company could make them, and not, I am afraid, of the most humiliating kind; yet, for the first time these many nights, I was incommoded by dreams, such as would cure vanity for a time in any mind where they could gain admission. Some of Baxter’s mortifying spirits whispered very singular combinations. None, indeed, that actually did happen in the very worst of times, but still with a formidable resemblance. It is doubtless very proper to have the mind thus brought to a sense of its real and very possible alliances, and the evils it has encountered, or might have had; but why these images should be given at a time when the thoughts, the waking thoughts, were of so opposite a nature, I cannot account. So it was. Awake, I had been with the high, the apparently happy: we were very cheerful. Asleep, all was misery and degradation, not my own only, but of those who had been. — That horrible image of servility and baseness — that mercenary and commercial manner! It is the work of imagination, I suppose; but it is very strange. I must leave it.”

George Crabbe, journal entry of 21st July 1817, in Selected Letters and Journals of George Crabbe, ed. by Thomas C. Faulkner, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), p. 221.

Wednesday, 8th July, 2009


“Only to see the dead, without any other accident or speech, is to be in the same estate and affection wherein the aforesaid dead persons were towards us: for if they were our benefactors, the dream signifies good and joy to us, and so on the contrary. It is exceeding bad when the dead seem to carry away and take from us apparel, goods, monies, or victuals, for it is death to the dreamer, or some of his parents or friends. If the dead give us victuals, money or apparel, that is a good dream, but to such as they who give none, it is another case. I knew a man which dreamed that his wife being dead, made all the beds in his house, and the next day after, many of his greatest friends fell sick.”

Daldianus Artemidorus, The Interpretation of Dreams, trans. by Robert Wood (London: J. Bew, 1786), p.70.

Tuesday, 7th July, 2009


The purpose of this blog, when it first occurred to me that it should come into being, was to be a repository for things that I come across while working that interest me and seem crucial in the formation of other ideas. It was also to serve as a backdrop to various different projects, as a place to reflect on them.

So far, it has concentrated exclusively in the former, and specifically in texts relating to the discussion of dreaming in the eighteenth century. However, I’m still going to try and reflect from time to time, and to make clear the distinction; these posts shall appear in a mossy green text.

The concern with dreaming is largely what I’ve been working on at the moment, and it’s a wide and fascinating discussion, which gives a sense of the background upon which Crabbe was writing, thinking, and indeed dreaming.

One of the greatest discoveries during this work has been Lucia Dacome, who has written intelligently and passionately on the subject. It has been instructive to read her, especially in the points she makes on the close parallels between views on dreaming, madness and religious enthusiasm held at this time. That she makes the firm connection between madness and dreaming, is the point that I was fumbling towards, but this all fits with Crabbe’s unease with enthusiasm, too – there is a murmur of that in ‘Eustace Grey’, a poem which deals primarily with madness and waking apparitions, but I still need to examine it more closely to work through that zealous vein.

Dacome’s writing has also been quite encouraging in verifying what I hoped was right. Down to finding that I’d selected the same passages from Locke to concentrate on as her, it’s nice to feel like you’ve been pointing in the right direction.

What’s interesting at the moment is how little the thinking on this subject seemed to have moved on during the C18. The majority of the discussion occurs in the 1730s, but by the 1820s, Crabbe and Coleridge were both still turning to Andrew Baxter’s Enquiry into the Nature of the Human Soul (1737) as a means of explaining their troubled dreams. It’s partly that Baxter’s views seem crudely superstitious against a lot of Crabbe’s other thinking which makes it so surprising, but it’s also the progression of time, that in a hundred years, we expect the thinking on psychology to have developed more. Yet our own views on the subject are probably only subtle progressions on Freud’s. I quite like the thought that in a couple of hundred years someone would look back on our own conceptions of the world and the mind – which we firmly believe (and have to believe) now to be more-or-less correct, only lacking the bits we’re yet to find out – and think how quaintly naïve, how fundamentally superstitious, the 21st century thinker was.

Monday, 6th July, 2009


“[…] a melancholy or half-mad person is somewhat in the same condition with him who, not being thoroughly awake, is doubtful whether his dream be not true or something real. The difference between dreaming and madness, (which is nothing material in the present case) seems to be only this; that the bodily organs (where-ever it is that the soul hath its chief residence) of mad-men are shattered, or put out of their natural frame and order: in dreamers, there is a stupor which possesseth them. But the effects are the same: as appears from mad-folks fancying themselves to be other beings than they are; from their not knowing themselves to be mad, and when recovered of their madness, their considering it, as a man awake does his past dreams.”

Zachary Mayne, Two Dissertations Concerning Sense, and the Imagination: With an Essay on Consciousness, (London: J. Tonson, 1728), p.188.

Sunday, 5th July, 2009


“ ’Tis this Ignorance of Causes, &c. subjects us to mistake the Phantasms and Images of our own Brains (which have no existence any where else) for real Beings, and subsisting without us, as in Dreams where we see Persons and Things, feel Pain and Pleasure, form Designs, hear and make Discourses, and sometimes the Objects are represented so Lively to our Fancies, and the Impressions so Strong, that it would be hard to distinguish them from Realities, if we did not find ourselves in Bed.

But if a Melancholy Man sitting by himself in a doleful Mood, with his Brains brooding upon Visions and Revelations, should carelessly nod himself half asleep, and his Imagination having received a vigorous representation of an Angel delivering a Message to him, should Wake in a Surprize, without having observed his own sleeping (as often happens) I cannot see how he should distinguish it from a Divine Vision.

There have been surprising Instances of this kind in extatick Fits and Trances, which are but Sounder Sleeps, that cause more lively and intense Dreams: some in these Deliriums have fancied their Souls to have been transported to Heaven or Hell, to have had personal Communication with God and the Holy Trinity, have given descriptions of the Angels and their Habitations, and brought back Messages, Prophesies and Instructions to Mankind, which Phœnomenas however strange at first sight, are easily to be accounted for by natural causes, for the ideas and operations of our Minds being evidently produced, by the agitations and motions of the internal parts of our own Bodies, and impressions heretofore made on them, as well as the actions of Objects without us […]. It must necessarily happen when the Organs of Sense (which are the Avenues and Doors to let in external Objects) are shut and locked up by Sleep, Distempers, or strong Prejudices, that the imaginations produced from inward Causes must reign without any Rival, for the Images within us striking strongly upon, and affecting the Brain, Spirits, or Organ, where the imaginative Faculty resides, and all Objects from without, being wholly, or in a great measure shut out and excluded, so as to give no information or assistance, we must unavoidably submit to an evidence which meets with no contradiction, and take things to be as they appear.”

John Trenchard, The Natural History of Superstition, (London: A. Baldwin, 1709) pp.11-13.

Saturday, 4th July, 2009


“This perpetual flow of the trains of ideas, which constitute our dreams, and which are caused by painful or pleasurable sensation, might at first view be conceived to be an useless expenditure of sensorial power. But it has been shewn, that those motions, which are perpetually excited, as those of the arterial system by the stimulus of the blood, are attended by a great accumulation of sensorial power, after they have been for a time suspended; as the hot-fit of fever is the consequence of the cold one. Now as these trains of ideas caused by sensation are perpetually excited during our waking hours, if they were to be suspended in sleep like the voluntary motions, (which are exerted only by intervals during our waking hours,) an accumulation of sensorial power would follow; and on our awaking a delirium would supervene, since these ideas caused by sensation would be produced with such energy, that we should mistake the trains of imagination for ideas excited by irritation; as perpetually happens to people debilitated by fevers on their first awaking; for in these fevers with debility the general quantity of irritation being diminished, that of sensation is increased. In like manner if the actions of the stomach, intestines, and various glands, which are perhaps in part at least caused by or catenated with agreeable sensation, and which perpetually exist during our waking hours, were like the voluntary motions suspended in our sleep; the great accumulation of sensorial power, which would necessarily follow, would be liable to excite inflammation in them.

When by our continued posture in sleep, some uneasy sensations are produced, we either gradually awake by the exertion of volition, or the muscles connected by habit with such sensations alter the position of the body; but where the sleep is uncommonly profound, and those uneasy sensations great, the disease called the incubus, or nightmare, is produced. Here the desire of moving the body is painfully exerted, [but] the power of moving it, or volition, is incapable of action, till we awake. Many less disagreeable struggles in our dreams, as when we wish in vain to fly from terrifying objects, constitute a slighter degree of this disease. In awaking from the nightmare I have more than once observed, that there was no disorder in my pulse; nore do I believe the respiration is laborious, as some have affirmed. It occurs to people whose sleep is too profound, and some disagreeable sensation exists, which at other times would have awakened them, and have thence prevented the disease of nightmare; as after great fatigue or hunger with too large a supper and wine, which occasion our sleep to be uncommonly profound.


This vivacity of our nerves of sense during the time of sleep is evinced by a circumstance, which almost every one must at some time or other have experienced; that is, if we sleep in the daylight, and endeavour to see some object in our dream, the light is exceedingly painful to our eyes; and after repeated struggles we lament in our sleep, that we cannot see it. In this case I apprehend the eyelid is in some degree opened by the vehemence of our sensations; and, the iris being dilated, the optic nerve shews as great or greater sensibility than in our waking hours.

When we are forcibly waked at midnight from profound sleep, our eyes are much dazzled with the light of the candle for a minute or two, after there has been sufficient time allowed for the contraction of the iris; which is owing to the accumulation of sensorial power in the organ of vision during its state of less activity. But when we have dreamt much of visible objects, this accumulation of sensorial power in the organ of vision is lessened or prevented, and we awake in the morning without being dazzled with the light, after the iris has had time to contract itself. This is a matter of great curiosity, and may be thus tried by anyone in the daylight. Close your eyes, and cover them with your hat; think for a minute of a tune, which you are accustomed to, and endeavour to sing it with as little activity of mind as possible. Suddenly uncover and open your eyes, and in one second of time the iris will contract itself, but you will perceive the day more luminous for several seconds, owing to the accumulation of sensorial power in the optic nerve.

Then again close and cover your eyes, and think intensely on a cube of ivory two inches in diameter, attending first to the north and south sides of it, and then to the other four sides of it; then get a clear image in your mind’s eye of all the sides of the same cube coloured red; and then of it coloured green; and then of it coloured blue; lastly, open your eyes as in the former experiment, and after the first second of time allowed for the contraction of the iris, you will not perceive any increase of the light of the day, or dazzling; because now there is no accumulation of sensorial power in the optic nerve; that having been expanded by its action in thinking over visible objects.”

Erasmus Darwin, Zoonomia; or, The Laws of Organic Life, 2nd edn, 2 vols (London: J. Johnson, 1796), I, pp. 204-7.

Friday, 3rd July, 2009


“I am prolix, and I fear tedious, in treating of the sensory; but it is a point of some consequence, and this ingenious Author’s scheme principally turns on the supposition of its being shut up during sleep, from the soul’s inspection; whereby he divests it of memory, and thence infers it of memory, and thence infers the necessity of receiving all the materials of our dreams from foreign agents. I am induced to conjecture, that he found himself a little pressed by Mr. Locke’s arguments against the soul’s perpetual thinking, but that it sometimes nods with the body, which has an aspect of making them too nearly related; and perfectly to get over this difficulty (which he has otherwise, with much success attempted) he deemed it proper to detach the soul from having the least dependence on the body as to dreams, by drawing a veil over the sensory in sleep; whereby too, the irrationality charged on our sleeping thoughts cannot be attributed to our wanting the assistance of the body, as tho’ we owed the perfection of thinking thereto; but must be occasioned by spirits, who obtrude on us what we then think about. But I cannot help apprehending, that tho’ his Hypothosis makes the soul sometimes active, whilst the body sleeps, and its thoughts at that time independent on the body; yet it renders the view of the sensory so necessary to thinking, that, should the soul, deprived of its aid, be at the same time unoccupied by spirits, it might, nay must, as soundly nod, as by the other supposition.”

Thomas Branch, Thoughts on Dreaming, (London: R. Dodsley, 1738) pp. 25-6.

%d bloggers like this: