Text: Edgar Allan Poe (???), “An Opinion on Dreams” (Text-02), Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, August 1839, p. 105


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[page 105:]

AN OPINION ON DREAMS.

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VARIOUS opinions have been hazarded concerning dreams — whether they have any connection with the invisible and eternal world or not; and, it appears to me, the reason why nothing like a definite conclusion has yet been arrived at, is from the circumstance of the arguers never making any distinction between Mind and Soul; always speaking of them as one and the same. I believe man to be in himself a Trinity, viz. Mind, Body, and Soul; and thus with dreams, some induced by the mind, and some by the soul. Those connected with the mind, I think proceed partly from supernatural, and partly from natural causes; those of the soul I believe are of the immaterial world alone.

In order to support this position, it becomes necessary to show how the soul’s dream and that of the mind are distinguishable; and whether sometimes, or indeed often, they are not both at the same moment bearing their part in the nocturnal vision.

That dreams, or, as they were then generally called, visions, were a means of supernatural instruction, if we believe the bible at all, is proved by Jacob’s dream, the several visions of Ezekiel and other prophets, as also of later date, the Revelations to Saint John; and there appears no reason why this mode of divine communication should be discontinued in the present day.

We thus come to the difference between dreams of the mind and visions of the soul — making this distinction of terms, not only on account of convenience, but also, as I consider, of applicability. Upon retiring to rest after a fatiguing day of either corporeal or mental exertion, should a dream present itself either as recapitulatory of, or connected with, the past events, this I should say was produced by the immaterial mind, which, unlike the body, was still in a state of vigor and activity; and reflecting or re-enacting at night the scenes which had occupied its attention and energies during the day. But when slumbering, should a vision be induced either concerning Heaven or Hell, or any mystical and apparently prophetical forewarning of a coming event, and in connection with which the awakened visionist can trace no analogy to his thoughts or actions, this, I say, must proceed from the soul; as the mind cannot have any thing to do with that it has not been engaged upon, as we all know that the mind only expands, and is active in proportion to its various degrees of employment. Not so the soul; that of the infant is as ripe as the man’s; it is as immortal and as ready for Heaven; and I have known children have nightly visions which were as evidently superior to the general tenor of their youthful ideas as possible, and which, had they not for the time being appeared to have had their mental powers raised above their usual level, they would have been totally unable to narrate.

It is a question, in my humble opinion, whether the soul ever slumbers at all; whilst the mind evidently does, or else we could always give upon waking some relation of our thought’s employment during sleep. Besides which, it not unfrequently happens that when broad awake, a temporary absence of mind as it is called, takes place, and the person so affected cannot with all his endeavors discover upon what his meditations have been employed, or whether they have been so at all. Thus three portions of the one man seem to be most essentially different, in this way; that the body often sleeps, the mind occasionally, the soul never; and now I am expected to explain how, if the soul never sleeps, we have not always some vision to employ our waking consideration. I imagine that here in order to remember the vision of our soul, it is necessary for the connecting link between it and the body, viz. the mind, to be in full activity, although possessing its powers of memory from the eternal nature of its superior, and companion, the soul; thus rendering it no difficulty to the mind to retain the reminiscence of its own dream, as the soul never sleeps; which assertion may receive additional confirmation from the following argument; that were it only for one single moment to be unconscious of its existence, this would at once break in upon its eternal principle, as being a suspension of its own powers, and which cannot happen to eternity. It is the slumber of the mind and not the soul, therefore, which causes forgetfulness.

 


Notes:

Attribution of this unsigned item has gone back and forth between Poe and Horace Binney Wallace, both of whom contributed to Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine at this time. (Wallace wrote under the name “William Landor.”) T. O. Mabbott tentatively assigned Wallace as the author in 1953 with the sentence that the essay is “sometimes ascribed to Poe himself, but in my opinion, the work of Horace Binney Wallace” (Mabbott, Notes and Queries, December 1953, p. 543). George E. Hatvary has argued again for considering Poe the writer (George E. Hatvary, “Poe’s Possible Authorship of ‘An Opinion on Dreams’,Poe Studies, XIV, no. 2, December 1981, pp. 21-22).


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[S:0 - BGM, 1839] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Essays - An Opinion on Dreams [Text-02]