WHEN all is written, how little we know of sleep! It is a closing of the eyes, a disappearance, a wondering return. In uneasy slumber, in dreamless dead rest, in horrid nightmare, or in ecstasies of somnolent fancies, the eyes are blinded, the body abandoned, while the inner essence is we know not where. We have no other knowledge of sleep than we have of death. In delirium or coma or trance, no less than in normal sleep and in dissolution, the soul is gone. In these it returns, in that it does not come again, or so we ignorantly think.

Yet when I reflect on my death I forget that I have encountered it many times already, and find myself none the worse. I forget that I sleep. The fly has no shorter an existence than man’s. We bustle about for a few years with ludicrous importance, as bottle-flies buzz at the window-panes. They too may imagine themselves of infinite moment in this universe we share with them. But this is to take no account of the prognostics of sleep. There is something hidden, something secret, some unfathomed mystery whose presence we feel but cannot verify, some permeative thought insistently moving in our hearts, some phosphorescence that glows we know not whence through our shadowy atoms.

Sleep itself, nor half its promises nor mysteries, has been plumbed. It is the mother of superstitions and of miracles. In dreams we may search the surface powers of the freed soul. Visions in the night are not all hallucinations, voices in the night are not all mocking. There is a prophet dwells within the mind, not of the mind, but deeper throned in obscurity. The brain cannot know of this holy presence nor of its life in sleep. The brain is mortal and untrustworthy, a phonograph and a camera for audible and palpable existence. Strike it a blow in childhood so that it ceases its labor, and awake it by surgery after forty years, and it will repeat the infantile action or word it last recorded, and will take up its task on the instant, making no account of the intermediate years. They are non-existent to it. Yet to that hidden Memory those diseased years are not blank; it knows, it has recorded, though the brain has slept. And in hypnotic or psychic trance, when that wonderful Ruler is released from the prison of the body, it can speak through the atom-blent machinery of the flesh, and tell of things man himself could not know because of his paralyzed brain. This Ruler is not asleep in sleep, nor in delirium is it delirious; and in death, is it dead ? Through all the ages it has been our Sphinx which we have interrogated in vain. It joins not in our laughter, nor our tears. We have fancied it with immobile, brooding features of utmost knowledge and wisdom and sorrow. It has asked us but one question, nor from the day of Œdipus unto to-day have we answered rightly, so that we die of our ignorance. It is Osiris living in us. It is the Unknown God to whom we erect our altars; the Fire in the Tabernacle; the Presence behind the veil. Not in normal wakefulness, at least, will it answer our queries; but in sleep sometimes it will speak. And it may possibly be that at last, after all these centuries, we are learning how to question it, and in hypnotic trance and in the fearful law of suggestion, are discovering somewhat of its mystery, and how to employ it for our worldly good. Yet to its essential secret we are no closer than our forefathers were.

We may define dreams and nightmare, coma and swoon and trance, with what terms we will; search their physical reasons, and learn to guide and guard; yet we know no more of them than of electricity. We may begin to suspect that telepathy and clairvoyance and occult forces of the soul are not superstitious fancies; and we may even empirically classify and study and direct them. Yet the soul itself is no nearer our inquisition; and the more we learn of its power the more doubtful we grow of its existence.

Though we should know of its reality, though our finite minds should fathom the infinitude, of what benefit would it be ? Would it modify our beliefs or our hopes or our faiths ? Would it dictate one action to our passionate lives ? There would be no change in human nature and no reforms of the world. We are the children of our fathers, and our children will tread the prehistoric paths. Dreams are our life, whether we wake or sleep. We drowse through existence, awaking and dying and being reborn daily, ever torpescent and unamazed, and our thousand slumberous deaths we call restorative sleep; sleep, that restores our physical being, building up where we have torn down, re-creating what we have destroyed.

Black — pitch black, indeed — is the cavern of Morpheus. Faith peoples it with varied legions, and builds its chaos into myriad forms. Nightly we enter it and drain the Lethean air and forget, and daily we return with rejoicings, babbling of dreams that were not dreamed; and finally we enter for the last time, and drain somewhat more deeply the essence of ecstasy, and awake no more, and no more return to the autumn-dyed skies of the dawn. And yet we shall dream.