To Hell by James
There is no phenomenon in nature less understood, and about which
greater nonsense is written than dreaming. It is a strange thing. For
my part I do not understand it, nor have I any desire to do so; and I
firmly believe that no philosopher that ever wrote knows a particle
more about it than I do, however elaborate and subtle the theories he
may advance concerning it. He knows nor even what sleep is, nor can
he define its nature, so as to enable any common mind to comprehend
him; and how then, can he define that ethereal part of it, wherein
the soul holds intercourse with the external world?--how, in that
stare of abstraction, some ideas force themselves upon us, in spite
of all our efforts to get rid of them; while others, which we have
resolved to bear about with us by night as well as by day, refuse us
their fellowship, even at periods when we most require their aid?
No, no; the philosopher knows nothing about either; and if he says
he does; I entreat you not to believe him. He does not know what mind
is; even his own mind, to which one would think he has the most
direct access: far less can he estimate the operations and powers of
that of any other intelligent being. He does not even know, with all
his subtlety, whether it be a power distinct from his body, or
essentially the same, and only incidentally and temporarily endowed
with different qualities. He sets himself to discover at what period
of his existence the union was established. He is baffled; for
Consciousness refuses the intelligence, declaring, that she cannot
carry him far enough back to ascertain it. He tries to discover the
precise moment when it is dissolved, but on this Consciousness is
altogether silent; and all is darkness and mystery: for the origin,
the manner of continuance, and the time and mode of breaking up of
the union between soul and body, are in reality undiscoverable by our
natural faculties--are not patent, beyond the possibility of mistake:
but whosoever can read his Bible, and solve a dream, can do either,
without being subjected to any material error.
It is on this ground that I like to contemplate, not the theory of
dreams, but the dreams themselves; because they prove to the
unlettered man, in a very forcible manner, a distinct existence of
the soul, and its lively and rapid intelligence with external nature,
as well as with a world of spirits with which it has no acquaintance,
when the body is lying dormant, and the same to the soul as if
sleeping in death.
I account nothing of any dream that relates to the actions of the
day; the person is not sound asleep who dreams about these things;
there is no division between matter and mind, but they are mingled
together in a sort of chaos--what a farmer would call
compost--fermenting and disturbing one another. I find that in all
dreams of that kind, men of every profession have dreams peculiar to
their own occupations; and, in the country, at least, their import is
generally understood. Every man's body is a barometer. A thing made
up of the elements must be affected by their various changes and
convulsions; and so the body assuredly is. When I was a shepherd, and
all the comforts of my life depended so much on good or bad weather,
the first thing I did every morning was strictly to overhaul the
dreams of the night; and I found that I could calculate better from
them than from the appearance and changes of the sky. I know a keen
sportsman who pretends that his dreams never deceive him. If the
dream is of angling, or pursuing salmon in deep waters, he is sure of
rain; but if fishing on dry ground, or in waters so low that the fish
cannot get from him, it forebodes drought; hunting or shooting hares
is snow, and moorfowl wind, But the most extraordinary professional
dream on record is, without all doubt, that well-known one of George
Dobson, coach-driver in Edinburgh, which I shall here relate; for
though it did nor happen in the shepherd's cot, it has often been
George was part proprietor and driver of a hackneycoach in
Edinburgh, when such vehicles were scarce; and one day a gentleman,
whom he knew, came to him and said: 'George, you must drive me and my
son here out to---, a certain place that he named, somewhere in the
vicinity of Edinburgh.
'Sir,' said George, 'I never heard tell of such a place, and I
cannot drive you to it unless you give me very particular
'It is false,' returned the gentleman; 'there is no man in
Scotland who knows the road to that place better than you do. You
have never driven on any other road all your life; and I insist on
you taking us.'
'Very well, sir,' said George, 'I'll drive you to hell, if you
have a mind; only you are to direct me on the road.'
'Mount and drive on, then,' said the other; 'and no fear of the
George did so, and never in his life did he see his horses go at
such a noble rate; they snorted, they pranced, and they flew on; and
as the whole road appeared to lie down-hill, he deemed that he should
soon come to his journey's end. Still he drove on at the same rate,
far, far down---hill--and so fine an open road he never
travelled--till by degrees it grew so dark that he could not see to
drive any farther. He called to the gentleman, inquiring what he
should do; who answered that this was the place they were bound to,
so he might draw up, dismiss them, and return. He did so, alighted
from the dickie, wondered at his foaming horses, and forthwith opened
the coach-door, held the rim of his hat with the one hand and with
the other demanded his fare.
'You have driven us in fine style, George,' said the elder
gentleman, 'and deserve to be remembered; but it is needless for us
to settle just now, as you must meet us here again tomorrow precisely
at twelve o'clock.'
'Very well, sir,' said George; 'there is likewise an old account,
you know, and some toll-money;' which indeed there was.
'It shall be all settled tomorrow, George, and moreover, I fear
there will be some toll-money today.'
'I perceived no tolls today, your honour,' said George.
'But I perceived one, and not very far back neither, which I
suspect you will have difficulty in repassing without a regular
ticket. What a pity I have no change on me!'
'I never saw it otherwise with your honour,' said George,
jocularly; 'what a pity it is you should always suffer yourself to
run short of change!'
'I will give you that which is as good, George,' said the
gentleman; and he gave him a ticket written with red ink, which the
honest coachman could not read. He, however, put it into his sleeve,
and inquired of his employer where that same toll was which he had
not observed, and how it was that they did not ask from him as he
came through? The gentleman replied, by informing George that there
was no road out of that domain, and that whoever entered it must
either remain in it, or return by the same path; so they never asked
any toll till the person's return, when they were at times highly
capricious; but that the ticket he had given him would answer his
turn. And he then asked George if he did not perceive a gate, with a
number of men in black standing about it.
'Oho! Is yon the spot?' says George; 'then, I assure your honour,
yon is no toll-gate, but a private entrance into a great man's
mansion; for do not I know two or three of the persons yonder to be
gentlemen of the law, whom I have driven often and often? and as good
fellows they are too as any I know--men who never let themselves run
short of change! Good day--Twelve o'clock tomorrow?'
'Yes, twelve o'clock noon, precisely;' and with that, George's
employer vanished in the gloom, and left him to wind his way out of
that dreary labyrinth the best way he could. He found it no easy
matter, for his lamps were not lighted, and he could not see a yard
before him--he could nor even perceive his horses' ears; and what was
worse, there was a rushing sound, like that of a town on fire, all
around him, that stunned his senses, so that he could not tell
whether his horses were moving or standing still. George was in the
greatest distress imaginable, and was glad when he perceived the gate
before him, with his two identical friends, men of the law, still
standing. George drove boldly up, accosted them by their names, and
asked what they were doing there; they made him no answer, but
pointed to the gate and the keeper. George was terrified to look at
this latter personage, who now came up and seized his horses by the
reins, refusing to let him pass. In order to introduce himself, in
some degree, to this austere toll-man, George asked him, in a jocular
manner, how he came to employ his two eminent friends as assistant
'Because they are among the last comers,' replied the ruffian,
churlishly. 'You will be an assistant here tomorrow.'
'The devil I will, sir.'
'Yes, the devil you will, sir.'
'I'll be d--d if I do then--that I will!'
'Yes, you'll be d--d if you do--that you will.'
'Let my horses go in the meantime, then, sir, that I may proceed
on my journey.
'Nay!--Dare you say nay to me, sir? My name is George Dobson of
the Pleasance, Edinburgh, coach-driver, and coach-proprietor too; and
no man shall say nay to me, as long as I can pay my way. I have his
Majesty's licence, and I'll go and come as I choose--and that I will.
Let go my horses there, and tell me what is your demand.'
'Well, then, I'll let your horses go,' said the keeper: 'But I'll
keep yourself for a pledge.' And with that he let go the horses, and
seized honest George by the throat, who struggled in vain to
disengage himself, and swore, and threatened, according to his own
confession, most bloodily.
His horses flew off like the wind so swiftly, that the coach
seemed flying in the air and scarcely bounding on the earth once in a
quarter of a mile. George was in furious wrath, for he saw that his
grand coach and harness would all be broken to pieces, and his
gallant pair of horses maimed or destroyed; and how was his family's
bread now to be won!--He struggled, threatened, and prayed in
vain;--the intolerable toll--man was deaf to all remonstrances. He
once more appealed to his two genteel acquaintances of the law,
reminding them how he had of late driven them to Roslin on a Sunday,
along with two ladies, who he supposed, were their sisters, from
their familiarity, when not another coachman in town would engage
with them. But the gentlemen, very ungenerously, only shook their
heads, and pointed to the gate. George's circumstances now became
desperate, and again he asked the hideous toll-man what right he had
to detain him, and what were his charges.
'What right have I to detain you, sir, say you? Who are you that
make such a demand here? Do you know where you are, sir?'.'No, faith,
I do not,' returned George; 'I wish I did. But I shall know, and make
you repent your insolence too. My name, I told you, is George Dobson,
licensed coach-hirer in Pleasance, Edinburgh; and to get full redress
of you for this unlawful interruption, I only desire to know where I
'Then, sir, if it can give you so much satisfaction to know where
you are,' said the keeper, with a malicious grin, 'you shall know,
and you may take instruments by the hands of your two friends there
instituting a legal prosecution. Your redress, you may be assured,
will be most ample, when I inform you that you are in HELL! and out
at this gate you pass no more.
This was rather a damper to George, and he began to perceive that
nothing would be gained in such a place by the strong hand, so he
addressed the inexorable toll-man, whom he now dreaded more than
ever, in the following terms: 'But I must go home at all events, you
know, sir, to unyoke my two horses, and put them up, and to inform
Chirsty Halliday my wife, of my engagement. And, bless me! I never
recollected till this moment, that I am engaged to be back here
tomorrow at twelve o'clock, and see, here is a free ticket for my
passage this way.
The keeper took the ticket with one hand, but still held George
with the other. 'Oho! were you in with our honourable friend, Mr
R---of L--y?' said he. 'He has been on our books for a long
while;--however, this will do, only you must put your name to it
likewise; and the engagement is this--You, by this instrument, engage
your soul, that you will return here by tomorrow at noon.'
'Catch me there, billy!' says George. 'I'll engage no such thing,
depend on it;--that I will not.'
'Then remain where you are,' said the keeper, 'for there is no
other alternative. We like best for people to come here in their own
way--in the way of their business;' and with that he flung George
backwards, heels-over-head down hill, and closed the gate.
George finding all remonstrance vain, and being desirous once more
to see the open day, and breathe the fresh air, and likewise to see
Chirsty Halliday, his wife, and set his house and stable in some
order, came up again, and in utter desperation signed the bond, and
was suffered to depart. He then bounded away on the track of his
horses with more than ordinary swiftness, in hopes to overtake them;
and always now and then uttered a loud Wo! in hopes they might hear
and obey, though he could not come in sight of them. But George's
grief was but beginning; for at a well-known and dangerous spot,
where there was a ran-yard on the one hand, and a quarry on the
other, he came to his gallant steeds overturned, the coach smashed to
pieces, Dawtie with two of her legs broken, and Duncan dead. This was
more than the worthy coachman could bear, and many degrees worse than
being in hell. There, his pride and manly spirit bore him up against
the worst of treatment; but here his heart entirely failed him, and
he laid himself down, with his face on his two hands, and wept
bitterly, bewailing, in the most deplorable terms, his two gallant
horses, Dawtie and Duncan.
While lying in this inconsolable state, some one took hold of his
shoulder, and shook it; and a well-known voice said to him, 'Geordie!
what is the matter wi' ye, Geordie?' George was provoked beyond
measure at the insolence of the question, for he knew the voice to be
that of Chirsty Halliday, his wife. 'I think you needna ask that,
seeing what you see,' said George. 'O, my poor Dawtie, where are a'
your jinkings and prancings now, your moopings and your wincings?
I'll ne'er be a proud man again--bereaved o' my bonny pair!'
'Get up, George; get up, and bestir yourself,' said Chirsty
Halliday, his wife. 'You are wanted directly to bring the Lord
President to the Parliament House. It is a great storm, and he must
be there by nine o clock--Get up--rouse yourself, and make ready--his
servant is waiting for you.
'Woman, you are demented!' cried George. 'How can I go and bring
in the Lord President, when my coach is broken in pieces, my poor
Dawtie lying with twa of her legs broken, and Duncan dead? And,
moreover, I have a previous engagement, for I am obliged to be in
hell before twelve o clock.'
Chirsty Halliday now laughed outright, and continued long in a fit
of laughter; but George never moved his head from the pillow, but lay
and groaned--for, in fact, he was all this while lying snug in his
bed; while the tempest without was roaring with great violence, and
which circumstance may perhaps account for the rushing and deafening
sound which astounded him so much in hell. But so deeply was he
impressed with the idea of the reality of his dream, that he would do
nothing but lie and moan, persisting and believing in the truth of
all he had seen. His wife now went and informed her neighbours of her
husband's plight, and of his singular engagement with Mr R---of L--y
at twelve o'clock. She persuaded one friend to harness the horses,
and go for the Lord President; but all the rest laughed immoderately
at poor coachy's predicament. It was, however, no laughing matter to
him; he never raised his head, and his wife becoming uneasy about the
frenzied state of his mind, made him repeat every circumstance of his
adventure to her (for he would never believe or admit that it was a
dream), which he did in the terms above narrated; and she perceived
or dreaded that he was becoming somewhat feverish.
She went out, and told Dr Wood of her husband's malady, and of his
solemn engagement to be in hell at twelve o'clock.
'He maunna keep it, deane. He maunna keep that engagement at no
rate,' said Dr Wood. 'Set back the clock an hour or twa, to drive him
past the time, and I'll ca' in the course of my rounds.
Are ye sure he hasna been drinking hard?' She assured him he had
not. 'Weel, weel, ye maun tell him that he maunna keep that
engagement at no rate. Set back the clock, and I'll come and see him.
It is a frenzy that maunna be trifled with. Ye mauna laugh at it,
deane--maunna laugh at it.
Maybe a nervish fever, wha kens.'
The Doctor and Chirsty left the house together, and as their road
lay the same way for a space, she fell a telling him of the two young
lawyers whom George saw standing at the gate of hell, and whom the
porter had described as two of the last comers. When the Doctor heard
this, he stayed his hurried, stooping pace in one moment, turned full
round on the woman, and fixing his eyes on her, that gleamed with a
deep unstable lustre, he said, 'What's that ye were saying, deane?
What's that ye were saying? Repeat it again to me, every word.' She
did so. On which the Doctor held up his hands, as if palsied with
astonishment, and uttered some fervent ejaculations. 'I'll go with
you straight,' said he, 'Before I visit another patient. This is
wonderfu'! it is terrible! The young gentlemen are both at rest--both
lying corpses at this time!
Fine young men--I attended them both--died of the same
exterminating disease--Oh, this is wonderful; this is wonderful!'
The Doctor kept Chirsty half running all the way down the High
Street and St Mary's Wynd, at such a pace did he walk, never lifting
his eyes from the pavement, but always exclaiming now and then, 'It
is wonderfu' most wonderfu'!' At length, prompted by woman's natural
curiosity, Chirsty inquired at the Doctor if he knew any thing of
their friend Mr R---of L--y. But he shook his head, and replied, 'Na,
na, deane--ken naething about him. He and his son are baith in
London--ken naething about him; but the tither is awfu'--it is
When Dr Wood reached his patient he found him very low, but only a
little feverish; so he made all haste to wash his head with vinegar
and cold water, and then he covered the crown with a treacle plaster,
and made the same application to the soles of his feet, awaiting the
George revived a little, when the Doctor tried to cheer him up by
joking him about his dream; but on mention of that he groaned, and
shook his head. 'So you are convinced, dearie, that it is nae dream?'
said the Doctor.
'Dear sir, how could it be a dream?' said the patient. 'I was
there in person, with Mr R---and his son; and see, here are the marks
of the porter's fingers on my throat.' Dr Wood looked, and distinctly
saw two or three red spots on one side of his throat, which
confounded him not a little.
'I assure you, sir,' continued George, 'it was no dream, which I
know to my sad experience. I have lost my coach and horses--and what
more have I?--signed the bond with my own hand, and in person entered
into the most solemn and terrible engagement.
But ye're no to keep it, I tell ye,' said Dr Wood; 'ye're no to
keep it at no rate. It is a sin to enter into a compact wi' the deil,
but it is a far greater ane to keep it. Sae let Mr R---and his son
bide where they are yonder, for ye sanna stir a foot to bring them
out the day.'
'Oh, oh, Doctor!' groaned the poor fellow, 'this is not a thing to
be made a jest o'! I feel that it is an engagement that I cannot
break. Go I must, and that very shortly. Yes, yes, go I must, and go
I will, although I should borrow David Barclay's pair.' With that he
turned his face towards the wall, groaned deeply, and fell into a
lethargy, while Dr Wood caused them to let him alone, thinking if he
would sleep out the appointed time, which was at hand, he would be
safe; but all the time he kept feeling his pulse and by degrees
showed symptoms of uneasiness. His wife ran for a clergyman of famed
abilities, to pray and converse with her husband, in hopes by that
means to bring him to his senses; but after his arrival, George never
spoke more, save calling to his horses, as if encouraging them to run
with great speed; and thus in imagination driving at full career to
keep his appointment, he went off in a paroxysm, after a terrible
struggle, precisely within a few minutes of twelve o'clock.
A circumstance not known at the time of George's death made this
singular professional dream the more remarkable and unique in all its
parts. It was a terrible storm on the night of the dream, as has been
already mentioned, and during the time of the hurricane, a London
smack went down off Wearmouth about three in the morning. Among the
sufferers were the Hon. Mr R---of L--y, and his son! George could not
know aught of this at break of day, for it was nor known in Scotland
till the day of his interment; and as little knew he of the deaths of
the two young lawyers, who both died of the small-pox the evening