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He Has Repented

Dreamed before 1894 by Frederick Greenwood

Source: Imagination in Dreams by Frederick Greenwood (1894)


...I dream of being insulted in the garden of an hotel. The man who insults me, in a sudden fit of passion which I do not understand, is wildly abusive; but after a little while, and with the gesture of a man in too violent a heat to trust himself further, he rushes off abruptly.

Soon afterwards, and while I am still lingering in the garden, one of the hotel servants comes to me, and I understand him to say, "He has repented." Repented! It strikes me (in my dream be it understood) as a very unusual word for a waiter to employ in such a connection; but that remark gives way to a feeling of satisfaction that my abuser had become sorry for his rudeness so soon. More particularly I wish to know whether he is sufficiently ashamed to send an apology.

So I say, "Repented, has he? What did he say?"

"No, no," is the answer; 'he hasn't paid it!' meaning the bill for his entertainment, as I immediately understand.


If the only point for observation here were the conversation with the waiter, the dream would supply plentiful matter for thought. For it seems that what I myself put into the man's mouth I myself mistake for something different, the two phrases being easily mistaken the one for the other if indistinctly heard. "He has repented." "He hasn't paid it." No invention could contrive a couple of sentences more likely to pass for each other when addressed to the ear; and since my thoughts were running on the outrage to myself, I was of course prepared to make precisely this mistake. Nothing could be more natural.

That is to say, nothing could be more natural if it were a passage in real life, with two individualities to work it out according to their own independent lights and purposes. But then it was not. The whole scene was designed and pieced together by one imagination: the strange thing being that the waiter's sayings were the invention of the same mind which at the same moment successfully invented a lapse of hearing in order to misunderstand what the waiter was to say. Would jumping from one's own shadow be more difficult than such a feat, performed by the waking faculties? Or lifting oneself in a basket from the ground? The task is impossible to the point of absurdity; yet in my dream it was done, and done as if in ordinary course.

But this mystery is only part of a harmoniously-mysterious whole: what dramatists call 'the curtain' to a well-articulated little play. There is no distinguishing the dream at any point from the composition of a story in the mind of a novelist. But it is composed (in all likelihood within the space of forty seconds or thereabout) without thought, without reflection, without contrivance, or with none detectable by the contriving mind.

It is only a part of the mystery that I, the author of the story, put into the waiter's mouth the words which I mistake for something quite different till I explain myself through him. It seems, too, that I have knowledge of an unpaid bill which yet I know nothing about till I inform myself by the mouth of my own creature. Till then the violence of the gentleman in the garden (my own contrivance) remains incomprehensible to me; but now, now it is explained with the sudden éclat of an answer to a puzzling riddle.

The gentleman's wrath was a comedy! I laugh as it bursts upon me--the author of the comedy--that he had got up a 'row' in order to escape in the bustle without paying his bill. A complete little story unsuggested by anything that had actually happened, and so coherent and orderly that it could not have been better designed had it been worked out by an anecdote-inventor at a dinner-table. And though it is a dramatic conception of my own mind, I am taken into it as an unwitting puppet of the piece; in which capacity I follow the development of the story in ignorance of what will come next, and wondering what it is all about.

There would be little to say of an experience like this, perhaps, were it singular. But judging from my own very limited inquiry, it is by no means an uncommon sort of dream.

--Frederick Greenwood--


Greenwood was a dream theorist who essentially postulated the unconscious before Freud. Dreams like this one lead him to see the dreaming mind as dual: a writer-director of dream-dramas, and an audience, more or less the day-self. But he didn't name his alter ego or tout it as the explanation for phenomena other than dreams. Greenwood seems a slow, cautious, open-minded Darwin, wanting more data, while Freud plays the impetuous Wallace--except Freud never to my knowledge credited Greenwood, as Wallace credited Darwin.

Perhaps he was right not to. Imagination in Dreams is just what Greenwood lacked. He fails to imagine the implications of a second mind that can play such tricks on the conscious (why should it shut down when you're awake?) And he never imagines alternate explanations for the anecdote it's cooked up for him. Such as:

  1. His dreaming mind isn't telling him an amusing story but is trying to bring itself to his attention, to force him to recognize the unconscious. To aid his dream-research!
  2. Greenwood assumes both waiter and cheat are parts of him. Reasonable, of course, but many cultures aren't so sure that all dreams are one mind chattering to itself. And Greenwood not only collected dreams suggestive of ESP, he himself had a vivid one. Yet unlike Freud or Jung, both of whom at least considered the implications of ESP on dreams and on therapy, Greenwood fails to consider that his dream characters might be others:
Greenwood has every right to his hypothesis that dream-people are purely internal dramas; yet his conclusion that the dreaming mind splits and plays peekaboo to amuse itself depends on assumptions just as untested as the wild ones I just listed--and, worse, unquestioned.

--Chris Wayan

LISTS AND LINKS: dream humor - mistakes - puns and wordplay - money - business - crime - alter egos - dream research - dreams on work in general - Freud - more dreams of weird hotels: Balolokong and Hotel Odyssey - a predictive dream by Greenwood: Her Hand on the Mantel

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