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SENTENCED TO CHEESE

Dreamed early 1850s? (before '56) by a Birmingham physician

THE STIMULUS

On occasion, during my residence at Birmingham, I had to attend many patients at Coventry, and for accommodation I visited that place one day every week. My temporary residence was at a druggist's shop in the market-place. Having on one occasion, now to be mentioned, a more than usual number of engagements, I was obliged to remain overnight, and a bed was procured for me at the residence of a cheesemonger in the same locality.

The house was very old, the rooms very low, and the street very narrow. It was summer-time, and during the day the cheesemonger had upacked a box or barrel of strong old American cheese: the very street was impregnated with their odour. At night, jaded with my professional labours, I went to my dormitory, which seemed filled with a strong cheesy atmosphere, which affected my stomach greatly, and quite disturbed the biliary secretions. I tried to produce a more agreeable atmosphere to my olfactory sense by smoking cigars, but did not succeed.

At length, worn out by fatigue, I tried to sleep, and should have succeeded, but for a time another source of annoyance prevented my doing so; for in an old wall behind my head, against which my ancient bedstead stood, there were numerous rats gnawing away in real earnest. The crunching they made was, indeed, terrific; and I resisted the drowsy god from a dread that these voracious animals would make a forcible entrance, and might take personal liberties with my flesh! But at length 'tired nature' ultimately so overpowered me that I slept in a sort of fever.I was still breathing the cheesy atmosphere; and this, associated with the marauding rats, so powerfully affected my imagination, that a most horrid dream was the consequence.

THE DREAM

I fancied myself in some barbarous country, where, being charged with a political offence, I was doomed to be incarcerated in a large cheese. And although this curious prison-house seemed most oppressive, it formed but part of my sufferings: for scarcely had I become reconciled to my miserable fate than, to my horror, an army of rats attacked the monster cheese, and soon they seemed to have effected an entrance, and began to fix themselves in numbers upon my naked body. The agony I endured was increased by the seeming impossibility to drive them away, and, fortunately for my sanity, I awoke; but with a hot head and throbbing temples, and a sense of nausea from the odour of the cheese.

--From Journal of Psychological Medicine, v. IX, July 1856. On the Physiological and Psychological Phenomena of Dreams and Apparitions; quoted in The Literature and Curiosities of Dreams (1865, v.2, ed. Frank Seafield).



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