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The Key to his Life

Dreamed around 1745 by a traitor's wife
From John Wesley's Journals, 19 April 1784; quoted in The Oxford Book of Dreams (ed. Stephen Brook), 1983

I went to Ambleside; where... the congregation was waiting... Among them were a gentleman and his wife, who gave me a remarkable relation. She said she had often heard her mother relate what an intimate acquaintance had told her, that her husband was concerned in the Rebellion of 1745. He was tried at Carlisle, and found guilty. The evening before he was to die, sitting and musing in her chair, she fell fast asleep.

She dreamed one came to her and said, "Go to such a part of the wall, and among the loose stones you will find a key, which you must carry to your husband."

She waked; but, thinking it a common dream, paid no attention to it. Presently she fell asleep again, and dreamed the very same dream.

She started up, put on her cloak and hat, and went to that part of the wall, and among the loose stones found a key. Having, with some difficulty, procured admission into the hall, she gave this to her husband. It opened the door of his cell, as well as the lock of the prison door. So at midnight he escaped for life.


It's a great story, sadly weakened by the anonymity of the dreamer and all those intermediaries: Wesley, the Ambleside wife and her mother. But we shouldn't dismiss even fourth-hand records from a time when so few were literate. Give Wesley credit for reporting it at all, much though we might wish he'd named names and fact-checked.

But today it might be possible either to disprove the story or to pin down the identity of the dreamer and her husband; there can't have been that many death-row escapees at Carlisle around 1745.

But even without corroboration, I'm willing to suspend disbelief--since I've had this sort of dream myself. Naturally readers who haven't will be more skeptical. What's undeniable is that accounts like this (verifiable or not) are neither New Age nor new.

--Chris Wayan

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