Work Done in Sleep.
RUDOLPH DE CORDOVA, IN GRAND MAGAZINE
Extraordinary as it may seem, some great intellectual feats have been accomplished by people, when plunged in sleep. Workers in the realm of imagination, such as authors of fiction, poets and musicians, are particularly referred to, though cases are known where doctors, mathematicians and inventors have been wonderfully aided by dreams.
WHILE to the great mass of mankind "Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care" is the period of rest, in which the overwrought mind recuperates and recovers its vitality, it would really seem as if the minds of some exceptional people are then most awake, for in sleep they have accomplished things which completely baffled them during their waking hours.
How this happens has still to be satisfactorily explained. So far as the practical result goes there would seem to be good grounds for believing what a famous writer has said, that, when freed from restraint, as in sleep, the imagination is capable of doingmore than when the body is awake. The body awake seems to act on the the imagination like the brake on a railway train, and the theory expressed by Hippocrates and Plato, among others, to the effect that the body sleeps and the soul dreams, for while the former needs rest the latter does not, would be to a great extenl correct. It is those who work in the realm of imagination who furnish the most striking examples of this extraordinary phenomenon, so happily described by Robert Louis Stevenson when he said with regard to himself, “The Brownies do half my work during sleep.”
Sometimes people not only do their work in their sleep but actually write it down without being aware of the fact. Such a case is told by Abercrombie of a lawyer who was much. C
perplexed over a legal opinion he had to deliver. While still worrying about it he went to bed one night. In the small hours he awoke, went to the table, got writing materials and wrote steadily and uninterruptedly for three hours, after which he returned to bed. In the morning, when he awoke, he told his wife he had had a strange dream in which he had solved the problem of the case in the most satisfactory manner, but he could not remember a word of the solution.
‘ ‘ But you were up writing hard for three hours,” said his wife.
The lawyer shook his head. “You have been dreaming, my love,” he said.
It was now the wife’s turn to be amazed. “No, it is you who are dreaming,” she said. Going to the table she took up the papers and handed them to him. He looked at them in astonishment. There was the case written out with his opinion clearly specified!
A somewhat similar case was related by the Rev. J. de Liefde, who knew a clergyman, a student at the Mennonite Seminary at Amsterdam, who frequented the mathematical lectures of Professor von Swinden, a famous teacher in the early part of the last century. The director of a bank in the city liad asked the Professor to solve a difficult problem. He tried but did not succeed, and he gave it in turn to ten of his students to see what they could make of it. The clergyman, who was among the num-
ber, tried for three nights to lind the answer but failed to do so. At last one night, utterly worn out with his endeavors, he went to bed and, as he believed, slept soundly. He woke late the next morning, very disappointed at his want of success, dressed himself, and was on the point of starting off to his Professor’s lecture when on looking for his papers on the table he saw the whole problem solved without a single blunder. He had done all the work in his sleep, and had done it so succinctly that, though, when he first tried to solve it, he had covered three slates with figures, he had now obtained the result in a single sheet of paper.
A similar instance is furnished by the case of the famous French mathematician and philosopher the Marquis de Condorcet, who distinguished himself when he was only twenty-two by publishing, his work on the integral calculus. He went to bed one night greatly perturbed by a problem which, try as he might, he was unable to solve. After a while he fell asleep, and in his sleep he had no difficulty in coming to a satisfactory conclusion on the matter and he was able to recall it when he awoke.
Probably the most remarkable instance of a man working in his sleep is that of Coleridge and “Kubla Khan.” In 1797 the poet was ill, and had retired to a lonely farmhouse between Porlock and Lynton, on the Exmoor confines of Somersetshire and Devonshire. Opium had been prescribed for him, and, after taking it, he fell asleep in his chair. Just then he was reading the following sentence, or words to this effect, in Purchas’s Pilgrimage: “Here the Khan Kubla commanded a palace to be built and a stately garden thereunto, and thus ten miles of fertile ground were enclosed with a wall.” Coleridge slept
profoundly for three hours, and during part of that time he dreamed more than two hundred lines of the poem. “The images,” he said, “rose up before me as things with a parallel production of the corresponding expression, without any sensation or consciousness of effort.” So soon as he awoke he began to write the words, which were still vivid in his memory. Unfortunately a visitor called, and Coleridge saw him. When, after an hour, he went back to his desk he found that what he thought he remembered he had completely forgotten, and though he always meant to finish the poem he never did so. To thus forget vivid dream impressions on awakening is not by any means singular, for I have myself often dreamed lines which seemed of surpassing beauty; but when, in a semi-waking state, I have attempted to write them down the result has been a jumble of unmeaning phraases, though at the time they were written they seemed to be an exact transcript of what appeared so beautiful.
One of the most extraordinary pieces of work ever done in sleep is recorded by Mr. Andrew Lang, in his famous book of dreams and ghosts, of Herr H. P. Hilprecht, the Professor of Assyriology in the University of Pennsylvania. The University had sent an expedition to Babylon to explore certain ruins, and sketches of the objects discovered had been sent back to America. Among them there were drawings of two small fragments of agate on which certain characters were inscribed. One Saturday, in the March of 1893, the Professor was studying these two fragments, which he thought were broken fingerrings, which he ascribed to a date varying between 1700 and 1140 B.C. The first characters on the third line of the inscription seemed to him to be
KU, and he guessed they might be the initial letters of Kurigalzu, a King of that name. At length he went to bed tired out, and, as he slept, a tall priest of the pre-Christian Nippur appeared to him, and took him into a room without windows. It contained a large wooden chest and on the floor there were scraps of agate and lapislazuli. The priest said : ‘ 1 The two fragments which you have published on pages 22 and 26 belong together. They are not finger-rings. King Kurigalzu, who lived about 1300 B.C., once sent to the Temple of Bel an inscribed votive cylinder of agate. The priests wyere suddenly commanded to make a pair of agate earrings for the statue of the god Nibib No agate was to be found. They accordingly cut up the cylinder into three rings, each of which retained a portion of the inscription. The two rings you have were Nibib ’s earrings. The third you will never find. Join the two you have together and you will see--*7
Professor Hilprecht awoke, jumped out of bed, and rushed off to his study. He got out the two drawings, put them together, found they joined, and in an acstasy of delight shouted u ’Tis so, Tis so!” Mrs. Hilprecht also got up, and went to the study to find what was the matter. He told her his dream, and showed her the drawings, the inscription of which, when the missing fragment was restored by analogy ran thus:
To the god Nibib, child Of the god Bel,
His lord Kurigalzu
Pontifex of the god Bel Has presented it.
In the drawing« the fragments were of different colors, so that no one
would ever guess they belonged to each other.
Later on Professor Hilprecht examined two fragments of agate at the Imperial Museum, Constantinople. They were not together, but in different cases, and when brought together and joined the two pieces fitted perfecly. When the cylinder had been cut in old Babylon, the white vein of the stone showed in one fragment and the grey surface on the other. Professor Romaine Newbold, who gave the particulars of the dream, explained that Professor Hilprecht had heard from Dr. Peters, a member of the expedition, that a room had been discovered which contained fragments of a wooden box and chips of agate and lapis-lazuli in accordance with the vision which he saw.
Mr. Howieson, in his book of foreign scenes, describes a friend of his, a German student named Engel, who was at the University with him. In the same house as Engel a medical student, Meidenvold, lodged, who was in the habit of expressing himself in mystical language. He made a practice of retiring on a certain night every week to a building, the key of which he kept carefully, and would never allow anyone to cross the threshold. In that building he remained until the following day. It was noticed that whenever he came out he looked ghastly pale and was in a state of deep dejection and at once began to write before resuming his usual studies.
One night Engel determined to clear up the mystery. Climbing up to a window he looked in and saw his comrade by the light of a lamp lying on a board in a sloping position, as if dead. Believing Meidenvold to be playing a joke of some sort, Engel watched a second nyght, and even succeeded in getting into the room.
He found his friend there, the surface of his body cold to the touch and his heart scarcely beating. At the end of three hours Meidenvold sat up, opened his eyes, and looked round. He saw that he was not alone, and told Engel that he brought about his condition by the use of nightshade, hemlock, and other drugs, and that while in that state he partook of a superhuman existence of which, after a little interval, he retained a vivid recollection. He further said he had written down the ideas which had occurred to him in this abnormal sleep in a book which he promised to show to Engel. A little while after, however, he was found dead in his study, and though it was searched for everywhere the book could never be found.
One of the most prolific workers in sleep was undoubtedly the late Dr. Anna Kingsford, who published a book called “Dreams and Dream Stories.” In introducing them to the public she wrote : ( ‘ The chronicles which I am about to present to the reader were not the result of any conscious effort of imagination. They are, as the title-page indicates, records of dreams occurring at intervals during the last few years.” They were written down the moment she woke, just as they presented themselves to her. Her peculiar gift reminded her of the German student in Bulwer Lytton’s “Pilgrims of the Rhine,” whose faculty for dreaming was so great that for him the normal conditions of sleeping and waking became reversed.
These dreams were most vivid at a time when Dr. Kingsford was a student at the Paris Faculty of Medicine. and she was occupied in preparing for examinations, visiting a hospital as a dresser, and attending lectures, while at the same time she
was busy with literary pursuits which required accurate judgment and complete self-possession. Enticing as it must have been to have taken something to stimulate her dreaming faculty, she never by any chance used drugs or narcotics. “The priceless insight and illuminations I have acquired by means of my dreams have gone far to elucidate for me many difficulties and enigmas of life and even of religion which might have otherwise remained dark to me,” she wrote.
It was a remarkable circumstance that, at home, at her residence on the banks of the Severn, in a damp, lowlying country, she never dreamed, but as soon as she went to Paris or to Switzerland her faculty for dreaming was restored. These dreams generally came towards the dawn, and sometimes after sunrise, during a second sleep. Dry air, high altitudes, and a crisp, calm, and exhilarating atmosphere were most favorable to her dream faculty.
The making of shot is said to have resulted from an idea that came in sleep to a Bristol mechanic. The man was employed cutting up strips of lead to make shot of it. He had been drinking after his work, and, when he went to bed. dreamed that it was raining, and as he watched the rain it turned into lead and the earth was covered with shot. He awoke, went up to the tower of St. Mary Redcliff, in the city, and making some molto i lead, poured it down from the top of the tower. When he went to look for the lead he found it had taken the form of shot. He made £10,000 by the practical realization of his dream.
Dr. Franklin assured Cabanis, the eminent French physician, who became a Senator under the Government of Napoleon, that over and over again he had gone to bed puzzled by the
bearing of political events, but that they became quite clear to him in his sleep. Similarly. Emanuel Maignan worked out the truth of many of his theories in his sleep. It was, indeed, no uncommon occurrence with him. for it is recorded that he was always so pleased when he had demonstrated a theory in a dream that it awoke him. Not less interesting is the other fact that it was his habit to pursue his studies in the circle of shadows, though whether this was to superinduce a sort of hypnotic condition it would be difficult to say.
One of the three great epics of the world, “The Divine Comedy” of Dante, which Carj^ the translator, declares “has not only stood the test of ages, but given a tone and color to the poetry of modern Europe, and even animated the genius of Milton and Michael Angelo,” is said to have been inspired by a dream while Dante slept. The intimate details of the poet’s life have, however, been so little revealed to us that this statement may have been based on another which was referred to by Cary in the following words:
“Dante, it has been supposed, was more immediately influenced in his choice of a subject by the Vision of Alberico. written in barbarous Latin prose about the beginning of the twelfth century. . . . Alberico, the son of noble parents, born ... in the year 1101 or soon after, when he had completed his ninth year, was seized wdth a violent fit of illness, which deprived him of his senses for the space of nine days. During the continuance of this trance he had a vision, in which he seemed to himself to be carried away by a dove, aid conducted by St. Peter, in company with two angels, through Purgatory and Hell to survey the torments of sinners, the saint giving him infor-
mation as they proceeded respecting what he saw; after which they were transported together through the seven heavens and taken up into Paradise to behold the glory of the blessed. As the account he gave of his vision was strangely altered in the reports that went abroad of it, Girardo, the abbot, employed one of the monks to take down a relation of it dictated by the mouth of Alberico himself. Senioretto, who was chosen abbot in 1127, not contented with the narrative, although it seemed to have every chance of being authentic, ordered Alberico to revise and correct it, which he accordingly 'did. . . .
His vision, with a preface by the first editor, Guido, and preceded by a letter from Alberico himself, is preserved ... in the archives of the monastery. ’ ’
In music, too, the same thing has happened, for Tartini’s famous “Devil’s Sonata” came to him while he slept. Indeed, it owes its very name to the circumstance. One night, without anything having happened to superinduce an unusual emotional condition in his mind, he went to bed and fell asleep. In his sleep he dreamed that he had made a compact with the Devil and bound himself to his service. A famous violinist himself—a profession he had taken up when he renounced Jhe law and married without the consent of his parents—he gave his violin to his Satanic Majesty and asked him to play him a solo on it. ^«vil took the instrument a”'1 ^ayed so wonderfully that Tartini lay entranced at the extraordinary beauty of the composition. When the music stopped, Tartini awoke in an ecstasy of delight, jumped out of bed and, seizing his violin, began to r>P^ delicious sounds he had just heard Try as he
would, however, he found it was impossible for him to reproduce the exact sequence of notes as he had heard them, but he managed to recover a sufficiently vivid impression of what he had heard to compose the sonata to which, on account of its original player, he gave the curious title which has always belonged to it.
In the drama the same thing has happened. Voltaire composed the first canto of the “Henriade” while he was asleep. “Ideas occurred to me,” he says, “in spite of myse’f and in which I had no part whatever. ’ ’
What schoolboy is there who does
not know the famous scene of Lochiel’s Warning, by Thomas Campbell, and who is there who is unacquainted with the famous line, “Coming events cast their shadows before”? For eight or ten days Campbell, when working on the “Warning,” had stuck after the line “ ’Tis the sunset of life gives me mystical lore,” and could find nothing to complete the couplet in a satisfactory manner. One night, still revolving the question, he went to bed, and in his sleep the line he wanted came to him. Simultaneously he awoke, and, jumping out of bed, wrote it down then and there!