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Chapter 8

A CHAPTER ON DREAMS

THE past is all of one texture - whether feigned or suffered -
whether acted out in three dimensions, or only witnessed in that
small theatre of the brain which we keep brightly lighted all night
long, after the jets are down, and darkness and sleep reign
undisturbed in the remainder of the body. There is no distinction
on the face of our experiences; one is vivid indeed, and one dull,
and one pleasant, and another agonising to remember; but which of
them is what we call true, and which a dream, there is not one hair
to prove. The past stands on a precarious footing; another straw
split in the field of metaphysic, and behold us robbed of it.
There is scarce a family that can count four generations but lays a
claim to some dormant title or some castle and estate: a claim not
prosecutable in any court of law, but flattering to the fancy and a
great alleviation of idle hours. A man's claim to his own past is
yet less valid. A paper might turn up (in proper story-book
fashion) in the secret drawer of an old ebony secretary, and
restore your family to its ancient honours, and reinstate mine in a
certain West Indian islet (not far from St. Kitt's, as beloved
tradition hummed in my young ears) which was once ours, and is now
unjustly some one else's, and for that matter (in the state of the
sugar trade) is not worth anything to anybody. I do not say that
these revolutions are likely; only no man can deny that they are
possible; and the past, on the other baud, is, lost for ever: our
old days and deeds, our old selves, too, and the very world in
which these scenes were acted, all brought down to the same faint
residuum as a last night's dream, to some incontinuous images, and
an echo in the chambers of the brain. Not an hour, not a mood, not
a glance of the eye, can we revoke; it is all gone, past conjuring.
And yet conceive us robbed of it, conceive that little thread of
memory that we trail behind us broken at the pocket's edge; and in
what naked nullity should we be left! for we only guide ourselves,
and only know ourselves, by these air-painted pictures of the past.

Upon these grounds, there are some among us who claim to have lived
longer and more richly than their neighbours; when they lay asleep
they claim they were still active; and among the treasures of
memory that all men review for their amusement, these count in no
second place the harvests of their dreams. There is one of this
kind whom I have in my eye, and whose case is perhaps unusual
enough to be described. He was from a child an ardent and
uncomfortable dreamer. When he had a touch of fever at night, and
the room swelled and shrank, and his clothes, hanging on a nail,
now loomed up instant to the bigness of a church, and now drew away
into a horror of infinite distance and infinite littleness, the
poor soul was very well aware of what must follow, and struggled
hard against the approaches of that slumber which was the beginning
of sorrows.

But his struggles were in vain; sooner or later the night-hag would
have him by the throat, and pluck him strangling and screaming,
from his sleep. His dreams were at times commonplace enough, at
times very strange, at times they were almost formless: he would
be haunted, for instance, by nothing more definite than a certain
hue of brown, which he did not mind in the least while he was
awake, but feared and loathed while he was dreaming; at times,
again, they took on every detail of circumstance, as when once he
supposed he must swallow the populous world, and awoke screaming
with the horror of the thought. The two chief troubles of his very
narrow existence - the practical and everyday trouble of school
tasks and the ultimate and airy one of hell and judgment - were
often confounded together into one appalling nightmare. He seemed
to himself to stand before the Great White Throne; he was called
on, poor little devil, to recite some form of words, on which his
destiny depended; his tongue stuck, his memory was blank, hell
gaped for him; and he would awake, clinging to the curtain-rod with
his knees to his chin.

These were extremely poor experiences, on the whole; and at that
time of life my dreamer would have very willingly parted with his
power of dreams. But presently, in the course of his growth, the
cries and physical contortions passed away, seemingly for ever; his
visions were still for the most part miserable, but they were more
constantly supported; and he would awake with no more extreme
symptom than a flying heart, a freezing scalp, cold sweats, and the
speechless midnight fear. His dreams, too, as befitted a mind
better stocked with particulars, became more circumstantial, and
had more the air and continuity of life. The look of the world
beginning to take hold on his attention, scenery came to play a
part in his sleeping as well as in his waking thoughts, so that he
would take long, uneventful journeys and see strange towns and
beautiful places as he lay in bed. And, what is more significant,
an odd taste that he had for the Georgian costume and for stories
laid in that period of English history, began to rule the features
of his dreams; so that he masqueraded there in a three-cornered hat
and was much engaged with Jacobite conspiracy between the hour for
bed and that for breakfast. About the same time, he began to read
in his dreams - tales, for the most part, and for the most part
after the manner of G. P. R. James, but so incredibly more vivid
and moving than any printed book, that he has ever since been
malcontent with literature.

And then, while he was yet a student, there came to him a dream-
adventure which he has no anxiety to repeat; he began, that is to
say, to dream in sequence and thus to lead a double life - one of
the day, one of the night - one that he had every reason to believe
was the true one, another that he had no means of proving to be
false. I should have said he studied, or was by way of studying,
at Edinburgh College, which (it may be supposed) was how I came to
know him. Well, in his dream-life, he passed a long day in the
surgical theatre, his heart in his mouth, his teeth on edge, seeing
monstrous malformations and the abhorred dexterity of surgeons. In
a heavy, rainy, foggy evening he came forth into the South Bridge,
turned up the High Street, and entered the door of a tall LAND, at
the top of which he supposed himself to lodge. All night long, in
his wet clothes, he climbed the stairs, stair after stair in
endless series, and at every second flight a flaring lamp with a
reflector. All night long, he brushed by single persons passing
downward - beggarly women of the street, great, weary, muddy
labourers, poor scarecrows of men, pale parodies of women - but all
drowsy and weary like himself, and all single, and all brushing
against him as they passed. In the end, out of a northern window,
he would see day beginning to whiten over the Firth, give up the
ascent, turn to descend, and in a breath be back again upon the
streets, in his wet clothes, in the wet, haggard dawn, trudging to
another day of monstrosities and operations. Time went quicker in
the life of dreams, some seven hours (as near as he can guess) to
one; and it went, besides, more intensely, so that the gloom of
these fancied experiences clouded the day, and he had not shaken
off their shadow ere it was time to lie down and to renew them. I
cannot tell how long it was that he endured this discipline; but it
was long enough to leave a great black blot upon his memory, long
enough to send him, trembling for his reason, to the doors of a
certain doctor; whereupon with a simple draught he was restored to
the common lot of man.

The poor gentleman has since been troubled by nothing of the sort;
indeed, his nights were for some while like other men's, now blank,
now chequered with dreams, and these sometimes charming, sometimes
appalling, but except for an occasional vividness, of no
extraordinary kind. I will just note one of these occasions, ere I
pass on to what makes my dreamer truly interesting. It seemed to
him that he was in the first floor of a rough hill-farm. The room
showed some poor efforts at gentility, a carpet on the floor, a
piano, I think, against the wall; but, for all these refinements,
there was no mistaking he was in a moorland place, among hillside
people, and set in miles of heather. He looked down from the
window upon a bare farmyard, that seemed to have been long disused.
A great, uneasy stillness lay upon the world. There was no sign of
the farm-folk or of any live stock, save for an old, brown, curly
dog of the retriever breed, who sat close in against the wall of
the house and seemed to be dozing. Something about this dog
disquieted the dreamer; it was quite a nameless feeling, for the
beast looked right enough - indeed, he was so old and dull and
dusty and broken-down, that he should rather have awakened pity;
and yet the conviction came and grew upon the dreamer that this was
no proper dog at all, but something hellish. A great many dozing
summer flies hummed about the yard; and presently the dog thrust
forth his paw, caught a fly in his open palm, carried it to his
mouth like an ape, and looking suddenly up at the dreamer in the
window, winked to him with one eye. The dream went on, it matters
not how it went; it was a good dream as dreams go; but there was
nothing in the sequel worthy of that devilish brown dog. And the
point of interest for me lies partly in that very fact: that
having found so singular an incident, my imperfect dreamer should
prove unable to carry the tale to a fit end and fall back on
indescribable noises and indiscriminate horrors. It would be
different now; he knows his business better!

For, to approach at last the point: This honest fellow had long
been in the custom of setting himself to sleep with tales, and so
had his father before him; but these were irresponsible inventions,
told for the teller's pleasure, with no eye to the crass public or
the thwart reviewer: tales where a thread might be dropped, or one
adventure quitted for another, on fancy's least suggestion. So
that the little people who manage man's internal theatre had not as
yet received a very rigorous training; and played upon their stage
like children who should have slipped into the house and found it
empty, rather than like drilled actors performing a set piece to a
huge hall of faces. But presently my dreamer began to turn his
former amusement of story-telling to (what is called) account; by
which I mean that he began to write and sell his tales. Here was
he, and here were the little people who did that part of his
business, in quite new conditions. The stories must now be trimmed
and pared and set upon all fours, they must run from a beginning to
an end and fit (after a manner) with the laws of life; the
pleasure, in one word, had become a business; and that not only for
the dreamer, but for the little people of his theatre. These
understood the change as well as he. When he lay down to prepare
himself for sleep, he no longer sought amusement, but printable and
profitable tales; and after he had dozed off in his box-seat, his
little people continued their evolutions with the same mercantile
designs. All other forms of dream deserted him but two: he still
occasionally reads the most delightful books, he still visits at
times the most delightful places; and it is perhaps worthy of note
that to these same places, and to one in particular, he returns at
intervals of months and years, finding new field-paths, visiting
new neighbours, beholding that happy valley under new effects of
noon and dawn and sunset. But all the rest of the family of
visions is quite lost to him: the common, mangled version of
yesterday's affairs, the raw-head-and-bloody-bones nightmare,
rumoured to be the child of toasted cheese - these and their like
are gone; and, for the most part, whether awake or asleep, he is
simply occupied - he or his little people - in consciously making
stories for the market. This dreamer (like many other persons) has
encountered some trifling vicissitudes of fortune. When the bank
begins to send letters and the butcher to linger at the back gate,
he sets to belabouring his brains after a story, for that is his
readiest money-winner; and, behold! at once the little people begin
to bestir themselves in the same quest, and labour all night long,
and all night long set before him truncheons of tales upon their
lighted theatre. No fear of his being frightened now; the flying
heart and the frozen scalp are things by-gone; applause, growing
applause, growing interest, growing exultation in his own
cleverness (for he takes all the credit), and at last a jubilant
leap to wakefulness, with the cry, "I have it, that'll do!" upon
his lips: with such and similar emotions he sits at these
nocturnal dramas, with such outbreaks, like Claudius in the play,
he scatters the performance in the midst. Often enough the waking
is a disappointment: he has been too deep asleep, as I explain the
thing; drowsiness has gained his little people, they have gone
stumbling and maundering through their parts; and the play, to the
awakened mind, is seen to be a tissue of absurdities. And yet how
often have these sleepless Brownies done him honest service, and
given him, as he sat idly taking his pleasure in the boxes, better
tales than he could fashion for himself.

Here is one, exactly as it came to him. It seemed he was the son
of a very rich and wicked man, the owner of broad acres and a most
damnable temper. The dreamer (and that was the son) had lived much
abroad, on purpose to avoid his parent; and when at length he
returned to England, it was to find him married again to a young
wife, who was supposed to suffer cruelly and to loathe her yoke.
Because of this marriage (as the dreamer indistinctly understood)
it was desirable for father and son to have a meeting; and yet both
being proud and both angry, neither would condescend upon a visit.
Meet they did accordingly, in a desolate, sandy country by the sea;
and there they quarrelled, and the son, stung by some intolerable
insult, struck down the father dead. No suspicion was aroused; the
dead man was found and buried, and the dreamer succeeded to the
broad estates, and found himself installed under the same roof with
his father's widow, for whom no provision had been made. These two
lived very much alone, as people may after a bereavement, sat down
to table together, shared the long evenings, and grew daily better
friends; until it seemed to him of a sudden that she was prying
about dangerous matters, that she had conceived a notion of his
guilt, that she watched him and tried him with questions. He drew
back from her company as men draw back from a precipice suddenly
discovered; and yet so strong was the attraction that he would
drift again and again into the old intimacy, and again and again be
startled back by some suggestive question or some inexplicable
meaning in her eye. So they lived at cross purposes, a life full
of broken dialogue, challenging glances, and suppressed passion;
until, one day, he saw the woman slipping from the house in a veil,
followed her to the station, followed her in the train to the
seaside country, and out over the sandhills to the very place where
the murder was done. There she began to grope among the bents, he
watching her, flat upon his face; and presently she had something
in her hand - I cannot remember what it was, but it was deadly
evidence against the dreamer - and as she held it up to look at it,
perhaps from the shock of the discovery, her foot slipped, and she
hung at some peril on the brink of the tall sand-wreaths. He had
no thought but to spring up and rescue her; and there they stood
face to face, she with that deadly matter openly in her hand - his
very presence on the spot another link of proof. It was plain she
was about to speak, but this was more than he could bear - he could
bear to be lost, but not to talk of it with his destroyer; and he
cut her short with trivial conversation. Arm in arm, they returned
together to the train, talking he knew not what, made the journey
back in the same carriage, sat down to dinner, and passed the
evening in the drawing-room as in the past. But suspense and fear
drummed in the dreamer's bosom. "She has not denounced me yet" -
so his thoughts ran - "when will she denounce me? Will it be to-
morrow?" And it was not to-morrow, nor the next day, nor the next;
and their life settled back on the old terms, only that she seemed
kinder than before, and that, as for him, the burthen of his
suspense and wonder grew daily more unbearable, so that he wasted
away like a man with a disease. Once, indeed, he broke all bounds
of decency, seized an occasion when she was abroad, ransacked her
room, and at last, hidden away among her jewels, found the damning
evidence. There he stood, holding this thing, which was his life,
in the hollow of his hand, and marvelling at her inconsequent
behaviour, that she should seek, and keep, and yet not use it; and
then the door opened, and behold herself. So, once more, they
stood, eye to eye, with the evidence between them; and once more
she raised to him a face brimming with some communication; and once
more he shied away from speech and cut her off. But before he left
the room, which he had turned upside down, he laid back his death-
warrant where he had found it; and at that, her face lighted up.
The next thing he heard, she was explaining to her maid, with some
ingenious falsehood, the disorder of her things. Flesh and blood
could bear the strain no longer; and I think it was the next
morning (though chronology is always hazy in the theatre of the
mind) that he burst from his reserve. They had been breakfasting
together in one corner of a great, parqueted, sparely-furnished
room of many windows; all the time of the meal she had tortured him
with sly allusions; and no sooner were the servants gone, and these
two protagonists alone together, than he leaped to his feet. She
too sprang up, with a pale face; with a pale face, she heard him as
he raved out his complaint: Why did she torture him so? she knew
all, she knew he was no enemy to her; why did she not denounce him
at once? what signified her whole behaviour? why did she torture
him? and yet again, why did she torture him? And when he had done,
she fell upon her knees, and with outstretched hands: "Do you not
understand?" she cried. "I love you!"

Hereupon, with a pang of wonder and mercantile delight, the dreamer
awoke. His mercantile delight was not of long endurance; for it
soon became plain that in this spirited tale there were
unmarketable elements; which is just the reason why you have it
here so briefly told. But his wonder has still kept growing; and I
think the reader's will also, if he consider it ripely. For now he
sees why I speak of the little people as of substantive inventors
and performers. To the end they had kept their secret. I will go
bail for the dreamer (having excellent grounds for valuing his
candour) that he had no guess whatever at the motive of the woman -
the hinge of the whole well-invented plot - until the instant of
that highly dramatic declaration. It was not his tale; it was the
little people's! And observe: not only was the secret kept, the
story was told with really guileful craftsmanship. The conduct of
both actors is (in the cant phrase) psychologically correct, and
the emotion aptly graduated up to the surprising climax. I am
awake now, and I know this trade; and yet I cannot better it. I am
awake, and I live by this business; and yet I could not outdo -
could not perhaps equal - that crafty artifice (as of some old,
experienced carpenter of plays, some Dennery or Sardou) by which
the same situation is twice presented and the two actors twice
brought face to face over the evidence, only once it is in her
hand, once in his - and these in their due order, the least
dramatic first. The more I think of it, the more I am moved to
press upon the world my question: Who are the Little People? They
are near connections of the dreamer's, beyond doubt; they share in
his financial worries and have an eye to the bank-book; they share
plainly in his training; they have plainly learned like him to
build the scheme of a considerate story and to arrange emotion in
progressive order; only I think they have more talent; and one
thing is beyond doubt, they can tell him a story piece by piece,
like a serial, and keep him all the while in ignorance of where
they aim. Who are they, then? and who is the dreamer?

Well, as regards the dreamer, I can answer that, for he is no less
a person than myself; - as I might have told you from the
beginning, only that the critics murmur over my consistent egotism;
- and as I am positively forced to tell you now, or I could advance
but little farther with my story. And for the Little People, what
shall I say they are but just my Brownies, God bless them! who do
one-half my work for me while I am fast asleep, and in all human
likelihood, do the rest for me as well, when I am wide awake and
fondly suppose I do it for myself. That part which is done while I
am sleeping is the Brownies' part beyond contention; but that which
is done when I am up and about is by no means necessarily mine,
since all goes to show the Brownies have a hand in it even then.
Here is a doubt that much concerns my conscience. For myself -
what I call I, my conscious ego, the denizen of the pineal gland
unless he has changed his residence since Descartes, the man with
the conscience and the variable bank-account, the man with the hat
and the boots, and the privilege of voting and not carrying his
candidate at the general elections - I am sometimes tempted to
suppose he is no story-teller at all, but a creature as matter of
fact as any cheesemonger or any cheese, and a realist bemired up to
the ears in actuality; so that, by that account, the whole of my
published fiction should be the single-handed product of some
Brownie, some Familiar, some unseen collaborator, whom I keep
locked in a back garret, while I get all the praise and he but a
share (which I cannot prevent him getting) of the pudding. I am an
excellent adviser, something like Moliere's servant; I pull back
and I cut down; and I dress the whole in the best words and
sentences that I can find and make; I hold the pen, too; and I do
the sitting at the table, which is about the worst of it; and when
all is done, I make up the manuscript and pay for the registration;
so that, on the whole, I have some claim to share, though not so
largely as I do, in the profits of our common enterprise.

I can but give an instance or so of what part is done sleeping and
what part awake, and leave the reader to share what laurels there
are, at his own nod, between myself and my collaborators; and to do
this I will first take a book that a number of persons have been
polite enough to read, the STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE.
I had long been trying to write a story on this subject, to find a
body, a vehicle, for that strong sense of man's double being which
must at times come in upon and overwhelm the mind of every thinking
creature. I had even written one, THE TRAVELLING COMPANION, which
was returned by an editor on the plea that it was a work of genius
and indecent, and which I burned the other day on the ground that
it was not a work of genius, and that JEKYLL had supplanted it.
Then came one of those financial fluctuations to which (with an
elegant modesty) I have hitherto referred in the third person. For
two days I went about racking my brains for a plot of any sort; and
on the second night I dreamed the scene at the window, and a scene
afterward split in two, in which Hyde, pursued for some crime, took
the powder and underwent the change in the presence of his
pursuers. All the rest was made awake, and consciously, although I
think I can trace in much of it the manner of my Brownies. The
meaning of the tale is therefore mine, and had long pre-existed in
my garden of Adonis, and tried one body after another in vain;
indeed, I do most of the morality, worse luck! and my Brownies have
not a rudiment of what we call a conscience. Mine, too, is the
setting, mine the characters. All that was given me was the matter
of three scenes, and the central idea of a voluntary change
becoming involuntary. Will it be thought ungenerous, after I have
been so liberally ladling out praise to my unseen collaborators, if
I here toss them over, bound hand and foot, into the arena of the
critics? For the business of the powders, which so many have
censured, is, I am relieved to say, not mine at all but the
Brownies'. Of another tale, in case the reader should have glanced
at it, I may say a word: the not very defensible story of OLALLA.
Here the court, the mother, the mother's niche, Olalla, Olalla's
chamber, the meetings on the stair, the broken window, the ugly
scene of the bite, were all given me in bulk and detail as I have
tried to write them; to this I added only the external scenery (for
in my dream I never was beyond the court), the portrait, the
characters of Felipe and the priest, the moral, such as it is, and
the last pages, such as, alas! they are. And I may even say that
in this case the moral itself was given me; for it arose
immediately on a comparison of the mother and the daughter, and
from the hideous trick of atavism in the first. Sometimes a
parabolic sense is still more undeniably present in a dream;
sometimes I cannot but suppose my Brownies have been aping Bunyan,
and yet in no case with what would possibly be called a moral in a
tract; never with the ethical narrowness; conveying hints instead
of life's larger limitations and that sort of sense which we seem
to perceive in the arabesque of time and space.

For the most part, it will be seen, my Brownies are somewhat
fantastic, like their stories hot and hot, full of passion and the
picturesque, alive with animating incident; and they have no
prejudice against the supernatural. But the other day they gave me
a surprise, entertaining me with a love-story, a little April
comedy, which I ought certainly to hand over to the author of A
CHANCE ACQUAINTANCE, for he could write it as it should be written,
and I am sure (although I mean to try) that I cannot. - But who
would have supposed that a Brownie of mine should invent a tale for
Mr. Howells?

Robert Louis Stevenson

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