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speare is a stumbling-block to the whole tribe of
Who would not rather read one of his plays, where there is not a single rule of the stage observed, than any production of a modern critic, where there is not one of them violated ! Shakspeare was ir deed born with all the seeds of poetry, and may be compared to the stone in Byrrhus's ring, which, as Pliny tells us, had the figure of Apollo and the nine muses in the veins of it, produced by the spontaneous hand of nature, without any help from art.
No. 593. MONDAY, SEPT. 13, 1714.
Quale per incertam lunam sub luce maligna
VIRG. Æn. vi. 92.
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 trayeller 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 dot instead of a town, or a cypher instead of a city; and it must be a long day's journey to travel through two or three inches. Fancy in dreams gives us much such another landscape of life as that does of countries : and, though 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 ecstasy in our fancied bliss, and something so dismal and shocking in our fancied misery, that, though 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 dreamed 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 day-time 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. Nei. ther do I much cloubt 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 ve lie 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 are our dreams in our power, that they are generally conformable to our waking thoughts, so that it is not impossible to convey ourselves to a concert of music, 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 considered Marcia's Prayer, and
• Marc. () ye immortal powers, that guard the just,
Luc. Sweet are the slumbers of the virtuous man!
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 public with an account of the dreams that lie under them.
No. 594. WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 15, 1714.
-Absentem qui rodit amicum;
Hor. 1. Sat. iv. 81.
Tells tales and brings his friends in disesteem;
Were all the vexations of life put together, we should find that a great part of them proceed from those calumnies and reproaches which we spread abroad concerning one another.
There is scarce a man living who is not, in some degree, guilty of this offence; though at the same time, however we treat one another, it must be confessed that we all consent in speaking ill of the persons who are notorious for this practice. It generally takes its rise cither from an
ill-will to mankind, a private inclination to make ourselves esteemed, an ostentation of wit, a vanity of being thought in the secrets of the world, or from a desire of gratifying any of those dispositions of mind in those persons with whom we converse.
The publisher of scandal is more or less odious to mankind, and criminal in himself, as he is influenced by any one or more of the foregoing motives. But, whatever may be the occasion of spreading these false reports, he ought to consider that the effect of them is equally prejudicial and pernicious to the person at whom they are aimed. The injury is the same, though the principle from which it proceeds may be different.
As every one looks upon himself with too much indulgence when he passes a judgment on his own thoughts or actions, and as very few would be thought guilty of this abominable proceeding, which is so universally practised, and at the same time so universally blamed, I shall lay down three rules, by which I would have a man examine and search into his own heart before he stands acquitted to himself of that evil disposition of mind which I am here mentioning.
First of all, let him consider whether he does not take delight in hearing the faults of others.
Secondly, whether he is not too apt to believe such little blackening accounts, and more inclined to be credulous on the uncharitable than on the good-natured side.
Thirdly, whether he is not ready to spread and propagate such reports as tend to the disreputation of another.
These are the several steps by which this vice proceeds and grows up into slander and defama, tion.