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A Prophetic Dream

Dreamed 1921/4/24 by William Archer


A fragment of dream-dialogue which I write down, not because it is of any particular interest, but because I happen to remember it very clearly. It came at the end of a long straggling dream which wandered from England to America and back, but was all more or less concerned with some play that I had written. At one time I was going to a rehearsal of this play somewhere in the Temple, but found that I had forgotten at what address it was to be, and wandered from one address to another until I was very late. At last, apparently, I found the rooms, and there was a lady there whom I took to be an actress: but the other people present were lawyers, not actors. I don't think any rehearsal took place, and the next thing I knew was that I was driving from New York to a lunatic asylum, somewhere up the Hudson, where this actress was wrongfully confined. Then came the dialogue.

I was back in England and called upon an agent (presumably Mr Curtis Brown), though he did not look like C. B. After a few words which I forget, the agent said, "You know I have a great respect for your opinion now that you are rich".

I laughed and replied, "Oh, not rich--if I'm to be rich I must trust to Beatrice Joanna" [Archer's new play]. This I said to stimulate him to exertions with regard to B. J. which I thought was in his care.

He laid a manuscript on the table, presumably that of B. J., and as he did so said, "Miln of Chicago--the husband of Mrs Miln--has been expressing an interest in it. They are setting a trap for Frohman".

I said, "Surely Frohman is not the man to walk into a trap?" and he replied, "I am not so sure".

Here I woke up.



On July 18, 1921, Mr Curtis Brown wrote to me that it was proposed by Messrs Hodder and Stoughton that Mrs Louise Jordan Miln should make a 'novelization' of The Green Goddess [a successful play of Archer's] . I think the matter has been arranged; but that is nothing to the purpose.

I had utterly forgotten the dream noted above; Curtis Brown's letter did not recall it to me; I should know nothing of it now, but for the chance that led me to take up my dream note-book. The thing is probably a mere coincidence, but it is certainly odd. I am absolutely certain that there was nothing in my consciousness or sub-consciousness to lead me to anticipate in any way that Mrs Miln would want to 'novelize' the play.

It is curious that the idea of these Milns should have occurred at all in my dream: they were the merest names to me, and names I had not thought of for years. The husband may be dead for aught I know. If I had been asked whether the wife was alive, I should probably have said that I thought so, because I seem to have seen her name from time to time in the publishers' advertisements.

I ought perhaps to say that in my dream, or at any rate when I came to write it down, I supposed the MS. which Curtis Brown produced to be, not The Green Goddess, but Beatrice Joanna. But this was only because I had (in the dream) been talking about Beatrice Joanna immediately before. Curtis Brown, in the dream, said nothing to identify the MS. with Beatrice Joanna. As a matter of fact I had taken that play out of his hands.

--William Archer


The dream is humdrum but its implications aren't. There are three predictive hits here: that his play would be novelized at all, that Curtis Brown would be the agent, and that Mrs Miln would write it. Certainly Brown was one of a limited pool of agents appropriate for such a deal; but of all the writers Archer knew barely or not at all, to have dreamed up a deal with Mrs Miln is impressive, especially since he did not anticipate any novelization offer.

For those willing to cede the possible existence of telepathy but not prophecy (which might imply determinism or create temporal paradoxes) remember that the dream could be merely telepathic. Mrs Miln could well have put out feelers to Hodder & Stoughton as early as April. We all know that sensation when someone's watching you or discussing you behind your back. Archer may simply sense such things when he's asleep--and the whispers are Transatlantic.

This excerpt is from William Archer's On Dreams, 1935. In a turgid field, it's admirably clear (he was a critic and playwright; his whole life hinged on the precise expression of what others left unspoken), and skeptical of grand dream-theories. I agree with Prof. Gilbert Murray's preface: "William Archer was one of the extremely few people who could be trusted to give an exact account of any experience he met with--even of his dreams." Headings (The Dream, Notes, Twelve Weeks Later) are mine, but despite his comment that "the thing is probably a mere coincidence", A Prophetic Dream is his title.

--Chris Wayan

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