Monday, December 5, 2011

Mackenzie on Dreams

‘December 5 [1825]…Dined at the Royal Society Club, where, as usual, was a pleasant meeting of from twenty to twenty-five. It is a very good institution; we pay two guineas only for six dinners in the year, present or absent. Dine at five, or rather half-past five, at the Royal Hotel, where we have an excellent dinner, with soups, fish, etc., and all in good order; port and sherry till half-past seven, then coffee, and we go to the Society. This has great influence in keeping up the attendance, it being found that this preface of a good dinner, to be paid for whether you partake or not, brings out many a philosopher who might not otherwise have attended the Society. Harry Mackenzie, now in his eighty-second or third year, read part of an Essay on Dreams…’

Pulling from Scott’s journal today (December 5th), Walter Scott said of Author Henry MacKenzie’s “The Man of the World, that it was "constantly obedient to his moral sense".  One gets a sense of Mackenzie’s moral thinking in a letter he wrote to The Mirror on the topic of dreams:

‘N74- Saturday, January 22. 1780.
To the Author of the Mirror. 
IN my last, I hinted that dreams may be useful as physical admonitions. What if I should go a step further, and say, that they may be serviceable as means of our moral improvement? I will not affirm, however, as some have done, that, by them, we may make a more accurate discovery of our temper and ruling passions, than by observing what passes in our minds when awake: For, in sleep, we are very incompetent judges of ourselves, and of every thing else; and one will dream of committing crimes with little remorse, which, if awake, one could not think of without horror. But, as many of our passions are inflamed ;or allayed by the temperature of the body, this, I think, may be said with truth, that, by attending to what passes in sleep, we may sometimes discern what passions are predominant, and, consequently, receive some useful cautions for the regulation of them. A man dreams, for example, that he is in a violent anger, and that he strikes a blow, which knocks a person down, and kills him. He awakes in horror at the thought of what he has done, and of the punishment he thinks he has reason to apprehend; and while, after a moment's recollection, he rejoices to find that it is but a. dream, he will also be inclinable to form resolutions against violent anger, lest it should one time or other hurry him on to a real perpetration of a like nature. If we ever derive this advantage from a dream, we cannot pronounce it useless. And this, or a similar advantage, may sometimes be derived from dreaming. For why may we not in this way reap improvement from a fiction of our own fancy, as well as from a novel, or a fable of Æsop?...’

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