Avant garde, no?

I dream that I was travelling towards, but not reaching, the Melbourne suburb of Prahran again - though I don't recall any more detail of last night's dream than that.

A while back I picked up a book called The Encycopedia of DREAMS from Basement Books in Elizabeth St - I was in there getting a birthday present for young SteveSteve (I got him a book about George Harrison and a DIY guide to the - sadly discredited - study of phrenology) and the psychedelic crap on the cover seemed to call to me.

Published in 1993 by a mob out of Queensland (Herron Publications), this book contains all the new age hippy nonsense about dreams you could possibly want... if you were living in the 20s!

Despite it being apparently only 14 or so years old, some of the things it expects you might see in dreams are bizarrely archaic.

For example, it offers no explanation for what driving a car might mean, but offers the secret meaning behind taking a ride on a street car, driving a horse-drawn carriage, or even dram drinking!

What the hell is a dram?

According to the dictionary it's either an acronym for Dynamic Random Access Memory or a unit of apothecaries' weight, equal to 60 grains, or 1/8 ounce. To drink a dram is to drink a very small amount of liquor, say, about 60 grains worth.

According to the Encyclopedia of Dreams, "to be given to dram-drinking in your dreams, omens ill-natured rivalry and contention for small possession. To think you have quit dram-drinking, or find that others have done so, shows that you will rise above present estate and rejoice in prosperity."

Thank goodness for that!!

I was beginning to wonder, at about this stage of being bemused by the archaic nature of this "new age" publication, what the freaking deal was with this book.

There's no author given and no indication of when it was originally written. I put on my detective hat.

But then I took it right off because somebody else had already done the detecting for me!

Back in Ought One, a bloke called Miroslaw Kruk (which, let's face it, is an awesome name) wrote an article for the Australian Libraries Journal called 'The superstitions in public libraries: alive and well?' in which he uses the Encyclopedia of Dreams as a case study - and points out a few really archaic entries that I had hitherto not discovered, though am happy to see remain in my edition:

The case of one of the more popular titles with superstitious content in Victorian public libraries, a dictionary of dreams, is illuminating; it has a Protean ability to appear under various titles and in different forms. 10,000 dreams interpreted: a complete guide to the meaning of your dreams was published by Lothian, without the name of the author or the date of first publication given. The book is described on the cover as 'a comprehensive and enthralling study of your dreams'. Some articles such as 'Negro' which appear in other editions, have been omitted, perhaps to avoid offending some readers and the preface has been truncated, and the reader who wants to know when the book was written and by whom has no other choice but to become a detective.

When comparing this edition with those published by other publishers, interesting observations can be made. Herron Publications Pty Ltd published it under the title The encyclopedia of dreams: a comprehensive study of dreams, again without authorship or the date of original publication, but including the offending 'Negro'.

Inquisitive readers of the encyclopedia have to analyse the text to try to find out when the book was written and they may discover that the author has a didactic, even propagandistic intent. Young women are warned not to have indecent dreams, and are threatened that to dream of committing adultery will result in a loss of affection on the part of the husband: they are advised to 'dream that you have successfully resisted any temptation. To yield is bad'; for men, choosing 'high ideals' will serve as a shield against 'lascivious dreams'. It is desirable to dream about the Bible. Dreaming about holding baby Jesus in one's arms will bring 'many peaceful days, full of wealth of knowledge, abundant with joy and content'.

In this dream world some religious and ethnic groups are considered dangerous: if you dream about gipsies, you may be sure that valuable property will be stolen from you. Jews are linked to 'untiring ambition ... longing after wealth and high position'. A woman dreaming about a Jew 'will take flattery for truth' while man dreaming about a Jewess looks for 'voluptuousness and easy comfort'. Negroes are dirty and dreaming about them may bring sickness. Asians must live in misery for 'no material fortune will follow' a dream about going to Asia.

Although the author of the encyclopedia advises readers to have 'decent' dreams he himself seems to have a strong sexual imagination. His religious fervour, racism, xenophobia and prudery indicate a late Victorian mind. References to flying machines and electricity as new inventions and recalling the Bible as the authority in the 'science of dreams' support this guess, and what is being represented by the publishers as a contemporary study of dreams seems, on closer examination to be a product of a Victorian hypocrite.

Readers lucky enough to borrow the same encyclopedia published by Prentice Hall do not have to play the detective. At last, they are told who the author is (Gustavus Hindman Miller) and a time frame is given, although very imprecise ('written many years ago'). The publication is provided with a note saying that it was a facsimile edition. Prentice Hall prudently distances itself from its own publication by saying that:

The circumstances at that time were very different from those that prevail today. Any views expressed by the author are not to be interpreted as those of the Publisher of this edition and the text should be viewed in the context of an historical document...

However, readers who do not check the information on the back of the title page will not be much wiser than those who read other editions of the same encyclopedia without any bibliographic information.

Written many years ago? I'll say. But when! Time to chuck that detective hat back on.

According to my research, Gustavus was born in 1857 and died in 1929. A footnote in the preface refers to a work which was published in 1900 - so it must have been written somewhere between... Detectiving complete.

First published in 1901 as 'What's in a Dream: a Scientific and Practical Interpretation of Dreams.'

I'm a pretty good detective. Well, not really, I just read it. You can read the book online here if you're so inclined. If I'd known I could read it for free I wouldn't have bought it for $3!


Oh, and if you're curious as to what it means to see a socialist at the soda fountain:

'To see a socialist in your dreams, your unenvied position among
friends and acquaintances is predicted. Your affairs will be
neglected for other imaginary duties.

To dream of being at a soda fountain, denotes pleasure and profit
after many exasperating experiences.

To treat others to this and other delectable iced drinks; you will be
rewarded in your efforts, though the outlook appears full of contradictions.
Inharmonious environments, and desired results will be forthcoming.'

Doesn't sound good at all!

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