1865: Dream

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May 3, 1869

Rev. and Dear Sir,

After many delays I send you a short account of the dream which excited your interest last summer.

In the fall of 1865, I think it was in the month of November, while I was studying law in the city of New York, I retired to my room about midnight of a cold and blustering evening. I remember distinctly hearing the clock strike twelve as I lay in bed watching the smouldering fire until drowsiness crept upon me and I slept. I had hardly lost consciousness when I seemed to hear loud and confused noises and felt a choking sensation at my throat, as if it were grasped by a strong hand. I awoke (as it seemed) and found myself lying on my back on the cobble-stones of a narrow street, writhing in the grip of a low-browed thick-set man with unkempt hair and grizzled beard, who with one hand at my throat and holding my wrist with the other threw his weight upon me and held me down. From the first I knew that his desire was to kill me, and my struggles were for life. I recall distinctly the sense of horror at first and then that of furious determination which took possession of me. I did not make a sound but with a sudden effort threw him half off me, clutched him frantically by the hair and in my agony bit furiously at his throat. Over and over we rolled upon the stones. My strength began to give way before the fury of my struggles. I saw that my antagonist felt it and smiled a ghastly smile of triumph. Presently I saw him reach forth his hand and grasp a bright hatchet. Even in this extremity I noticed that the hatchet was new and apparently unused, with glittering head and white polished handle. I made one more tremendous fight for life, for a second I held my enemy powerless and saw with such a thrill of delight as I cannot forget the horror-stricken faces of friends within a rod of us rushing to my rescue. As the foremost of them sprang upon the back of my antagonist he wrenched his wrist away from me. I saw the hatchet flash above my head and felt instantly a dull blow on the forehead. I fell back on the ground, a numbness spread from my head over my body, a warm liquid flowed down upon my face and into my mouth, and I remember the taste was of blood and my “limbs were loosed.”

Then I thought I was suspended in the air a few feet above my body, I could see myself as if in a glass, lying on the back, the hatchet sticking in the head, and the ghastliness of death gradually spreading over the face. I noticed especially that the wound made by the hatchet was in the center of the forehead at right angles to and divided equally by the line of the hair. I heard the weeping of friends, at first loud, then growing fainter, fading away into silence. A delightful sensation of sweet repose without a feeling of fatigue—precisely like that which I experienced years ago at Cape May when beginning to drown—crept over me. I heard exquisite music, the air was full of rare perfumes, I sat upon a bed of downy softness, when, with a start, I awoke.

The fire still smouldered in the grate, my watch told me I had not been more than half an hour asleep.

Early the next morning I joined an intimate friend with whom I spent much of my time; to accompany him as was my daily custom, to the Law School. We talked for a moment of various topics, when suddenly he interrupted me with the remark that he had dreamed strangely of me the night before.

“Tell me,” I asked, ” what was it?” “I fell asleep,” he said, “about twelve and immediately dreamed that I was passing through a narrow street when I heard noises and cries of murder. Hurrying in the direction of the noise, I saw you lying on your back, fighting a rough laboring man, who held you down. I rushed -forward, but as I reached you he struck you on the head with a hatchet and killed you instantly. Many of our friends were there and we cried bitterly. In a moment I awoke and so vivid had been my dream that my cheeks were wet with tears.”

“What sort of man was he?” I asked. “A thick-set man, in a flannel shirt and rough trousers; his hair was uncombed and his beard was grizzly and of a few days growth.”

Within a week I was in Burlington, New Jersey. I called at a friend’s house. “My husband,” said his wife to me, “had such a horrid dream about you the other night. He dreamed that a man killed you in a street fight. He ran to help you but before he reached the spot your enemy had killed you with a great club.”

“Oh, no,” cried the husband across the room, “he killed you with a hatchet. ”

These are the circumstances as I recall them. I remembered the remark of old Artaphernes that dreams are often the result of a train of thought started by conversation or reading or the incidents of the working time; but I could recall nothing, nor could either of my friends cite any circumstance that ever they had read, had ever heard by tale or history, in which they could trace the origin of this remarkable dream.

I am, my dear Sir, very truly yours.

Henry Armitt Brown

P.S. I may add that these friends of mine were personally unknown to each other. The first one in New York dreamed that he was the foremost who reached the scene, the other that he was one of the number who followed ; both of which points coincided exactly with my own dream.

Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research Vol. XV, No. 8 (August, 1921)

Henry Armitt Brown  was born in Philadelphia in 1844, entered Yale University in 1861, and attended Columbia Law School. He practiced law in Philadelphia and became well-know as a gifted orator, largely giving speeches on the centennials of events from the American Revolution. He also wrote for many periodicals. He died in 1878 at the age of 34.

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