Sleep Communications

Any one who has been thinking much for several days about a problem is

likely to wake up with the thought that he has dreamed a solution of

it, though unfortunately the solution has not remained in his memory.

It seems as if a communication has been made to him during sleep. I

have discussed dream life with many men engaged in serious work, and

practically all of them confess to such experiences. Preoccupation of

mind with a subject during the waking hours leads to at least some

occupation of mind with the same subject during sleep. This

unconscious occupation must often require rather strenuous attention,

exhausting nutrition, using up nerve force and hampering the rest that

is so important for tired human nature. [Footnote 17]

[Footnote 17: A number of poetic products of dreams are in our

literature, some of them interesting for more than their curious

origin. Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, in his latest volume of poems, "The

Comfort of the Hills," made an interesting contribution to the

psychology of dreams by publishing two poems which were composed by

him while asleep. The little poem, "Which?" has all the curious

alliterativeness and frequent rhyme that is so likely to be noted in

expressions that come during sleep, or just as we awake. The other

is more like a somnambulistic effort. What we might suggest here is

that the habit of poetizing during sleep would surely be dangerous

to any one less eminently sane than their author. We give them as

curious examples that will interest patients who complain that their

dreams are too vivid.


Come, let us be the willing fools

Of April's earliest day.

And dream we own all pleasant things

The years have reft away.

'Tis but to take the poet's wand,

A touch or here or there,

And I have lost that ancient stoop,

And you are young and fair.

Ah, no! The years that gave and took

Have left with you and me

The wisdom of the widening stream;

Trust we the larger sea.


Birth-day or Earth-day,

Which the true mirth-day?

Earth-day or birth-day,

Which the well-worth day?

For further details on this subject, see the chapter on Dreams.]

Art in Dreams.--Many a painter testifies that as he slept interesting

details have been added to his scheme for a picture. Mr. Huntington,

who was for so long president of the National Academy, once told me

that some of the arrangements of his famous picture, "Mercy's Dream"

in the Corcoran Art Gallery at Washington, had come to him during

sleep. Giovanni Dupre, the French sculptor, confessed that the ideas

for his beautiful pieta had practically all come to him in a dream.

He had been thinking for a long time how he should arrange it, without

allowing any of the ideas of sculptors whose treatment of the subject

was well known to influence him too much, and had almost felt that it

would be impossible to make anything individual. While deeply occupied

with it one day he fell asleep, and when he awoke the whole scheme was


Mathematical Dreams.--Such phenomena of unconscious cerebration are

not uncommon in the exact sciences. Some of the best examples of these

curious phenomena that we have are to be found in the history of

them. We all know the stories of mathematicians who, occupied deeply

with a problem which they have been unable to solve, have gone to bed

still thinking about it, have slept deeply and, as they thought,

dreamlessly, and yet they have waked in the morning to find by the

bedside the problem all worked out in their own penciling--all

accomplished during a somnambulistic state. Missing factors have been

found in dreams; mistakes in the working out of problems have been

clearly pointed out in dreams, so that, on awaking, the calculator

could at once correct his calculations, and even serious errors have

been thus corrected.

Agassiz's Experience.--Some examples of these experiences in other

sciences are striking. One that is likely to be impressive because it

occurred in the experience of Professor Louis Agassiz, seems worth

reporting. [Footnote 18]

[Footnote 18: "Louis Agassiz, His Life and Correspondence,"

edited by Elizabeth Cary Agassiz, Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1885.]

It is interesting both as psychological fact and as showing how,

sleeping and waking, his work was ever present with him. He had been

for two weeks striving to decipher the somewhat obscure impression

of a fossil fish on the stone slab in which it was preserved. Weary

and perplexed he put his work aside at last, and tried to dismiss it

from his mind. Shortly after, he waked one night persuaded that

while asleep he had seen his fish with all the missing features

perfectly restored. But when he tried to hold and make fast the

image it escaped him. Nevertheless he went early to the Jardin des

Plantes, thinking that on looking anew at the impression he should

see something that would put him on the track of his vision. In

vain--the blurred record was as blank as ever. The next night he saw

the fish again, but with no more satisfactory result. When he woke

it disappeared from his memory as before. Hoping that the same

experience might be repeated, on the third night he placed a pencil

and paper beside his bed before going to sleep. Accordingly toward

morning the fish reappeared in his dream, confusedly at first, but

at last with such distinctness that he had no longer any doubt as to

its zoological characters. Still half dreaming, in perfect darkness,

he traced these characters on the sheet of paper at the bedside. In

the morning he was surprised to see in his nocturnal sketch features

which he thought it impossible the fossil itself should reveal. He

hastened to the Jardin des Plantes, and, with his drawing as a

guide, succeeded in chiseling away the surface of the stone under

which the portions of the fish proved to be hidden. When wholly

exposed, it corresponded with his drawing, and his dream, and he

succeeded in classifying it with ease. He often spoke of this as a

good illustration of the well-known fact that when the body is at

rest the tired brain will do the work it refused before.

Hilprecht's Sleep Vision.--Quite as surprising a dream was that of

Prof. Hilprecht, of the University of Pennsylvania. He had been trying

for some time to decipher certain characters on ancient cylinders from

the Orient. In spite of much hard mental labor he had been utterly

unable to reach definite conclusions. In the midst of work on the

subject he dreamt one night that a priest of the olden time appeared

to him and read off the inscription that he had in vain been trying to

decipher. Immediately after waking he told his wife of his dream and

wrote down the interpretation that had thus been given. It was quite

different from anything that he himself had obtained any hint of in

his previous studies. When he got back to the inscription he found

that this interpretation would satisfy the conditions better than any

other, and there seemed no doubt that it represented the missing


Somnambulism.--These curiously vivid dreams are occasionally

associated with somnambulistic phenomena. Sometimes very definite

purposes, requiring careful adaptation of means to ends, are

accomplished in the somnambulistic state, and yet the actions are

completely forgotten. I have recently been consulted about a case in

which a young woman, on a visit to a family, had been shown some

pretty though not expensive jewels. Evidently the guest envied their

possession, for she got up during sleep and took the jewels and hid

them. There seems no reason to doubt her statement that she remembered

nothing at all about the incident. The taking was not attributed to

her. There had been previous experiences of the same kind with things

belonging to this young woman's sister. Somnambulism represents a

degree of unconscious cerebration that may have serious results.

Combinations of intellectual work with somnambulism are not

infrequent, though many of the stories that are told are exaggerated.

Some of them are authenticated. Ribot has a typical example of

intellectual accomplishment, in a somnambulistic condition, that shows

how far this may go:

A clear case of somnambulism was that of a clergyman, whom his wife

saw rise from bed in his sleep, go to a writing table, and write

rapidly for some minutes. This done he returned to bed, and slept on

until morning. On awaking, he told her that in a dream he had worked

out an argument for a sermon, of which he now retained no

recollection whatever. She led him to the writing table, and showed

him the written sheet upon which he found his argument worked out in

the most satisfactory manner.

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