ePub 版

It is not the least misfortune of great authors to have their sentiments misquoted, and misrepresented, and sometimes trumpeted forth by their admirers in such a garbled manner, as to give out a meaning precisely contrary to the writer's intention. Such has been the case with the first of the foregoing extracts, on Death.

Humane persons, with the best intentions, no doubt, have made a point of leaving out the first line, (by far the most important) and have exhibited the latter portion of the passage as a warning against cruelty to animals. “The poor beetle that we tread upon, in corporal sufferance finds a pang as great as when a giant dies.“Only think of that !” exclaims the humane young reader, in his simplicity, a pang as great as when a giant dies !” and perhaps adds, " I will take care never to tread on a beetle again!” So far, so good; but all this time we are wide of the Author's meaning.

Shakspere is reasoning against man's fear of death, and few will question the sound philosophy of his views, when he makes a great portion of that fear to consist of our previous apprehensions. The probability is, that the actual pain of death is not so very dreadful: as, in the very act of it, all bodily sensation ceases. It may be argued also, (it appears to me with truth) that the human imagination has the effect of increasing pain generally; for it is notorious that man, when his reason is affected by intoxication, or the effect of nitrous oxide gas, (a species of intoxication) or idiotcy, or (I believe) insanity, does not feel bodily pain so acutely as others do. But I am getting on a wide subject, and must return to my Author.

Shakspere, then, says :

“ The sense of death is most in apprehension :"

you alarm yourself too much, by previous fancies as to the terrors of death! Do away with these apprehensions,




and the actval bodily pain attending it is not much to be feared: for (he goes on to observe) The poor beetle that we tread upon,

In corporal sufferance (which is the least part of it) feels a pang as great As when a giant dies."

By setting right the meaning of this passage, I trust I shall not expose myself to the charge of encouraging cruelty to animals. Whether they feel less pain than man or not, we have no right to inflict any pain on them at all, however small, unnecessarily. And if I may be allowed to mention my own feelings on this subject, I may honestly say, that I would not willingly hurt a fly!





Dreams are toys ;
Yet, for this once, yea, superstitiously,
I will be squar'd by this.

Winter's Tale. Act iii. Scene 3.


Clarence. I trembling wak’d, and, for a season after, Could not believe but that I was in hell ; Such terrible impression made my dream.

King Richard III. Act i. Scene 4.


Hast. Tell him his fears are shallow, wanting instance : And for his dreams-I wonder he's so fond * To trust the mockery of unquiet slumbers.

Ibid. Act iii. Scene 2.

* Silly, foolish.


Brutus. Boy! Lucius : - Fast asleep?—It is no matter ; Enjoy the honey-heavy dew of slumber : Thou hast no figures, nor no fantasies, Which busy care draws in the brains of men; Therefore thou sleep'st so sound.

Julius Cæsar. Act ii. Scene l.



Peace, peace, Mercatio, peace :
Thou talk'st of nothing.

True, I talk of dreams;
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy;
Which is as thin of substance as the air;
And more inconstant than the wind, &c,

Romeo and Juliet. Act i. Scene 4.

There is something so extraordinary, and apparently mysterious, about the phenomena of dreams, that it is not surprising that mankind should have been disposed to award them a sort of supernatural character. Indeed, difficult as it is to account for the operations of the mind during its waking hours, it would be unreasonable to expect philosophers to explain its fancies when asleep; and certain it is that we accordingly still remain in blessed ignorance respecting dreams and all their wonders.

In Shakspere's time much importance was attached to dreams, and it must be considered one of the many marks of his towering intellect, that it enabled him, in some degree, to throw aside the veil of superstition and prejudice with which the subject was enwrapt, and arrive at the conclusion, that dreams are merely " the mockery of unquiet slumbers," " the children of an idle brain, begot of nothing but vain fantasy.How much he was in advance of his times, in this respect, is obvious from the fact, that even in our present enlightened age, a belief in the prophetic character of dreams is still widely prevalent.

It will take away much of the awe and superstition attaching to dreams to reflect, that it is really in our power, previously, to determine their general character, by the quality and quantity of food taken shortly before retiring to rest. It is said that Mrs. Ratcliff and other writers on “the horrible” have intentionally exercised this power with advantage, and that many of the terrible scenes introduced in their works are mere transcripts of dreams brought on by the effect of heavy suppers. Were I to wish to cure a person of a belief in dreams, I should like to have the regulation of his diet.

Phrenology accounts for several phenomena of dreams, on the principle that the whole brain is not asleep at once; but some particular organs remain awake after others are in repose. If the principle be true, it explains certain absurdities in dreaming, that can hardly be otherwise accounted for. And in the same manner it may be understood, how the previous exercise of particular organs of the mind may give a particular character to the dream.

Little as we know about dreaming, we do however know enough of it to show us the folly of attributing to it any prophetic power. Many extraordinary cases, I know, may be adduced to give colour to the superstition; but all may be accounted for as strange coincidences, which hap

« 上一頁繼續 »