Lincoln Dreamt He Died: The Midnight Visions of Remarkable Americans from Colonial Times to Freud
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Before Sigmund Freud made dreams the cornerstone of understanding an individual's inner life, Americans shared their dreams unabashedly with one another through letters, diaries, and casual conversation. In this innovative book, highly regarded historian Andrew Burstein goes back for the first time to discover what we can learn about the lives and emotions of Americans, from colonial times to the beginning of the modern age. Through a thorough study of dreams recorded by iconic figures such as John and Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln, as well as everyday men and women, we glimpse the emotions of earlier generations and understand how those feelings shaped their lives and careers, thus gaining a fuller, multi-dimensional sense of our own past. No one has ever looked at the building blocks of the American identity in this way, and Burstein reveals important clues and landmarks that show the origins of the ideas and values that remain central to who we are today.
dream last night, I must tell you,” Louisa May Alcott, the celebrated author of Little Women (1868), wrote to her sister Anna in the summer of 1870, from Lake Geneva in Switzerland. “I thought I was returning to Concord after my trip, and was alone.” She had negotiated a corner in her dream and found herself in a place she no longer recognized. “Our house was gone, and in its place stood a great gray stone castle, with towers and arches and lawns and bridges, very fine and antique. Somehow I got
remuneration. The twentieth-century philosopher Paul Ricoeur explained the reflexive geography of memory in history, identifying humans as adventure-bound animals whose nostalgic impulse points the way home. Everyone is always looking to put things in their proper “place.” The emptiness or uneasiness that we encounter in emotional life is the haunting feeling that we are somehow adrift. Ricoeur says we should not overlook the role of habitation at the bottom of our anxious thoughts, just as we
not only promised knowledge; it hinted at outright happiness. Problem: “How any person may dream of his or her Sweetheart.” Solution: “Write the name and age of the person in full length with red ink, on a half-sheet of paper, cut in the form of a heart . . . and place the paper in your left-hand-glove under your pillow. By this means you will most likely dream of the person, and by the circumstances of the dream, may give a shrewd guess, as to the honour and fidelity of the party, and of their
jubilee as a nation.54 As we consider whether, unlike his other dreams, Rush had simply manufactured this one as a friendly conspiracy, we should note that, by 1809, he was already much in the habit of telling Adams his dreams. It also explains why, in his response to the reconciliation dream, Adams exclaimed: “A Dream again! I wish you would dream all day and all Night. . . .” The New Englander was positively entertained by Rush’s uninhibited style. Nor did Rush cease relating dreams
these powerfully affecting. Dreams that are preoccupied with death, physical injury, and rejection appear so much more frequently than any other species of dream in personal writings in the period before 1800 that they tend to eclipse such subjects as filial and companionate love, which fill out the American dreamscape in the nineteenth century. It is worth pausing briefly to meditate on the book’s opening query: Were they like us? Are we like them? Conducting research at hospices, two