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"I want a Shilling"

Dreamed c.1920 by Anonymous #4, a correspondent of Havelock Ellis

I had murdered a woman from some moral or political motive--I forget what--and had come in great agony to my husband with her shoes and watch-chain. He promised to help me, and while I was wondering what could be done for the benefit of the woman's family, some one came in and announced that a lecture was about to be given on the beauty of nakedness.

I then went, with several prim and respectable ladies of my acquaintance [the names were given], into a crowded hall. The lecturer who--so far as appearance is concerned--was a well-known Member of Parliament, then entered and gave a most eloquent address on Whitman, nakedness, ugly figures, etc. He especially emphasised the fact that the reason people are shocked at nakedness is that they usually only see unbeautiful bodies which repel them because they are unlike their ideals.

Then he put out his hand, and a naked woman entered the room. Her loveliness was extreme; her form was perfectly rounded, but without suggestion of voluptuousness, though she was not an animated statue, but had all the characters of humanity; she walked with undulating thighs, head slightly drooping, and hair falling down and framing a face that expressed wonderful spiritual beauty and innocence. The lecturer led her round, saying, "This is beauty; now, if you can look at this and be ashamed--" and he waved his arm.

She went away, and a beautiful Apollo-like youth, slender but athletic, entered the room, also completely naked. He walked round the room alone, with an air of majestic virility. I applauded, clapping my hands, but a shiver went through the ladies present; their skin became like goose-flesh, and their lips quivered with horror as though they were about to be outraged.

The youth went out, and the lecturer continued. At the climax of his oratory, the Apollo-like youth entered, dressed as a common soldier, with no appearance of beauty, and in a rough tone said : "'Ere! I want a shilling for this job." (And I sighed to myself: "It is always so.") No one had a shilling, and the lecturer proceeded to explain to the man that what he had done was for the sake of art and beauty, and for the moral good of the world. "What do I care for that?" he returned, "I want a drink."

Then a lady among the audience produced a collar, wrote on it a testimonial expressing the gratitude of those present for the man's services on this occasion, and handed it to me to present to him.

"Damn it," he said, "this is only worth twopence halfpenny; I want my shilling!" Then I awoke.


The idea of murder with which this dream began seems to suggest that it may have had its origin in some slight visceral disturbance of which the subject was unconscious, but nothing had occurred to suggest the details of the episode. The interesting feature about it is the presence throughout of moral notions and sentiments substantially true to the dreamer's waking ideas.

--Havelock Ellis--


Does Ellis really think a bellyache made this woman dream she was an assassin? Let's not even go there!

Instead, let's admire this dream for being the first precise valuation of Art, Beauty, and the Moral Good of the World. It's not worth the price of a drink, but it is worth two and a half British pence! With inflation since 1922, that could be as much as a whole dollar. Wow. I knew my ideals were worth something.

It was decades before English inspiration struck so deep again--when Douglas Adams revealed to us that the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything was forty-two.

This account is from The Dream World (Havelock Ellis, 1922). His comments imply he personally knew the dreamer, who wanted anonymity. Passage untitled in Ellis; "I want a Shilling" is just my title of convenience.

--Chris Wayan

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