Thomas Paine Essay On Dream
[NOTE: This was the last work that Paine ever gave to the
press. It appeared in New York in 1807 with the following
title: "An Examination of the Passages in the New Testament,
quoted from the Old and called Prophecies concerning Jesus
Christ. To which is prefixed an Essay on Dream, showing by
what operation of the mind a Dream is produced in sleep, and
applying the same to the account of Dreams in the New
With an Appendix containing my private thoughts of a Future State. And Remarks on the Contradictory Doctrine in the Books of Matthew and Mark. By Thomas Paine, New York: Printed for the Author." pp. 68.
This work is made up from the unpublished Part III, of the
"Age of Reason," and the answer to the Bishop of Landaff. In
the Introductory chapter, on Dream, he would seem to have
partly utilized an earlier essay, and this is the only part of
the work previously printed.
Nearly all of it was printed in Paris, in English, soon after Paine's departure for America. This little pamphlet, of which the only copy I have seen or heard of is in the Bodleian Library, has never been mentioned by any of Paine's editors, and perhaps he himself was not aware of its having been printed.
Its title is: "Extract from the M.S. Third Part of Thomas Paine's Age of Reason. Chapter the Second: Article, Dream. Paris: Printed for M. Chateau, 1803." It is possible that it was printed for private circulation. I have compared this Paris pamphlet closely with an original copy of Paine's own edition, (New York, 1807) with results indicated in footnotes to the Essay,
Dr. Clair J. Grece, of Redhill, has shown me a copy of the "Examination" which Paine presented to his (Dr. Grece's) uncle, Daniel Constable, in New York, July 21, 1807, with the prediction, "It is too much for the priests, and they will not touch it." It is rudely stitched in brown paper cover, and without the Preface and the Essay on Dream. It would appear from a note, which I quote at the beginning of the "Examination," by an early American editor that Paine detached that part as the only fragment he wished to be circulated.
This pamphlet, with some omissions, was published in London, 1811, as Part III. of the "Age of Reason," by Daniel Isaacs Eaton, for which he was sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment, and to stand in the pillory for one hour in each month. This punishment drew from Shelley his celebrated letter to Lord Ellenborough, who had given a scandalously prejudiced charge to the jury. -- Editor.]
To the Ministers and Preachers of all Denominations of Religion.
IT is the duty of every man, as far as his ability extends, to detect and expose delusion and error. But nature has not given to everyone a talent for the purpose; and among those to whom such a talent is given, there is often a want of disposition or of courage to do it.
The world, or more properly speaking, that small part of it called christendom, or the christian world, has been amused for more than a thousand years with accounts of Prophecies in the Old- Testament about the coming of the person called Jesus Christ, and thousands of sermons have been preached, and volumes written, to make man believe it.
In the following treatise I have examined all the passages in
the New-Testament, quoted from the Old, and called prophecies
concerning Jesus Christ, and I find no such thing as a prophecy of
any such person, and I deny there are any.
The passages all relate to circumstances the Jewish nation was in at the time they were written or spoken, and not to anything that was or was not to happen in the world several hundred years afterwards; and I have shown what the circumstances were to which the passages apply or refer.
I have given chapter and verse for every thing I have said, and have not gone out of the books of the Old and New Testament for evidence that the passages are not prophecies of the person called Jesus Christ.
The prejudice of unfounded belief, often degenerates into the
prejudice of custom, and becomes at last rank hypocrisy. When men,
from custom or fashion or any worldly motive, profess or pretend to
believe what they do not believe, nor can give any reason for
believing, they unship the helm of their morality, and being no
longer honest to their own minds they feel no moral difficulty in
being unjust to others.
It is from the influence of this vice, hypocrisy, that we see so many church-and-meeting-going professors and pretenders to religion so full of trick and deceit in their dealings, and so loose in the performance of their engagements that they are not to be trusted further than the laws of the country will bind them. Morality has no hold on their minds, no restraint on their actions.
One set of preachers make salvation to consist in believing. They tell their congregations that if they believe in Christ their sins shall be forgiven. This, in the first place, is an encouragement to sin, in a similar manner as when a prodigal young fellow is told his father will pay all his debts, he runs into debt the faster, and becomes the more extravagant. Daddy, says he, pays all, and on he goes: just so in the other case, Christ pays all, and on goes the sinner.
In the next place, the doctrine these men preach is not true.
The New Testament rests itself for credibility and testimony on
what are called prophecies in the Old-Testament of the person
called Jesus Christ; and if there are no such things as prophecies
of any such person in the Old-Testament, the New-Testament is a
forgery of the Councils of Nice and Laodicea, and the faith founded
thereon delusion and falsehood.
[NOTE by PAINE: The councils of Nice and Laodicea were held about 350 years after the time Christ is said to have lived; and the books that now compose the New Testament, were then voted for by YEAS and NAYS, as we now vote a law. A great many that were offered had a majority of nays, and were rejected. This is the way the New-Testament came into being. -- Author.]
Another set of preachers tell their congregations that God predestinated and selected, from all eternity, a certain number to be saved, and a certain number to be damned eternally. If this were true, the 'day of Judgment' IS PAST: their preaching is in vain, and they had better work at some useful calling for their livelihood.
This doctrine, also, like the former, hath a direct tendency to demoralize mankind. Can a bad man be reformed by telling him, that if he is one of those who was decreed to be damned before he was born his reformation will do him no good; and if he was decreed to be saved, he will be saved whether he believes it or not? For this is the result of the doctrine. Such preaching and such preachers do injury to the moral world. They had better be at the plough.
As in my political works my motive and object have been to give man an elevated sense of his own character, and free him from the slavish and superstitious absurdity of monarchy and hereditary government, so in my publications on religious subjects my endeavors have been directed to bring man to a right use of the reason that God has given him, to impress on him the great principles of divine morality, justice, mercy, and a benevolent disposition to all men, and to all creatures, and to inspire in him a spirit of trust, confidence, and consolation in his creator, unshackled by the fables of books pretending to be 'the word of God.'
As a great deal is said in the New Testament about dreams, it is first necessary to explain the nature of Dream, and to shew by what operation of the mind a dream is produced during sleep. When this is understood we shall be the better enabled to judge whether any reliance can be placed upon them; and consequently, whether the several matters in the New Testament related of dreams deserve the credit which the writers of that book and priests and commentators ascribe to them.
In order to understand the nature of Dream, or of that which passes in ideal vision during a state of sleep, it is first necessary to understand the composition and decomposition of the human mind.
The three great faculties of the mind are IMAGINATION, JUDGMENT, and MEMORY. Every action of the mind comes under one or the other of these faculties. [NOTE: This sentence is not in Paris edition. -- Editor.] In a state of wakefulness, as in the day-time, these three faculties are all active; but that is seldom the case in sleep, and never perfectly: and this is the cause that our dreams are not so regular and rational as our waking thoughts.
The seat of that collection of powers or faculties that constitute what is called the mind, is in the brain. There is not, and cannot be, any visible demonstration of this anatomically, but accidents happening to living persons shew it to be so. An injury done to the brain by a fracture of the skull, will sometimes change a wise man into a childish idiot, -- a being without a mind. But so careful has nature been of that Sanctum Sanctorum of man, the brain, that of all the external accidents to which humanity is subject, this occurs the most seldom. But we often see it happening by long and habitual intemperance.
Whether those three faculties occupy distinct apartments of
the brain, is known only to that ALMIGHTY POWER that formed and
organized it. We can see the external effects of muscular motion in
all the members of the body, though its premium mobile, or first
moving cause, is unknown to man. Our external motions are sometimes
the effect of intention, sometimes not.
If we are sitting and intend to rise, or standing and intend to sit or to walk, the limbs obey that intention as if they heard the order given. But we make a thousand motions every day, and that as well waking as sleeping, that have no prior intention to direct them. Each member acts as if it had a will or mind of its own. Man governs the whole when he pleases to govern, but in the interim the several parts, like little suburbs, govern themselves without consulting the sovereign.
And all these motions, whatever be the generating cause, are external and visible. But with respect to the brain, no ocular observation can be made upon it. All is mystery; all is darkness in that womb of thought.
Whether the brain is a mass of matter in continual rest whether it has a vibrating pulsative motion, or a heaving and falling motion like matter in fermentation; whether different parts of the brain have different motions according to the faculty that is employed, be it the imagination, the judgment, or the memory, man knows nothing of. He knows not the cause of his own wit. His own brain conceals it from him.
Comparing invisible by visible things, as metaphysical can sometimes be compared to physical things, the operations of these distinct and several faculties have some resemblance to a watch. The main spring which puts all in motion corresponds to the imagination; the pendulum which corrects and regulates that motion, corresponds to the judgment; and the hand and dial, like the memory, record the operation.
Now in proportion as these several faculties sleep, slumber, or keep awake, during the continuance of a dream, in that proportion the dream will be reasonable or frantic, remembered or forgotten.
If there is any faculty in mental man that never sleeps, it is that volatile thing the imagination. The case is different with the judgment and memory. The sedate and sober constitution of the judgment easily disposes it to rest; and as to the memory, it records in silence and is active only when it is called upon.
That the judgment soon goes to sleep may be perceived by our
sometimes beginning to dream before we are fully asleep ourselves.
Some random thought runs in the mind, and we start, as it were,
into recollection that we are dreaming between sleeping and waking.
[If a pendulum of a watch by any accident becomes displaced, that
it can no longer control and regulate the elastic force of the
spring, the works are instantly thrown into confusion, and continue
so as long as the spring continues to have force.
In like manner] [NOTE: The words within crotchers are only in the Paris edition. In the New York edition (1807) the next word "If" begins a new paragraph. -- Editor.] if the judgment sleeps whilst the imagination keeps awake, the dream will be a riotous assemblage of misshapen images and ranting ideas, and the more active the imagination is the wilder the dream will be. The most inconsistent and the most impossible things will appear right; because that faculty whose province it is to keep order is in a state of absence. The master of the school is gone out and the boys are in an uproar.
If the memory sleeps, we shall have no other knowledge of the dream than that we have dreamt, without knowing what it was about. In this case it is sensation rather than recollection that acts. The dream has given us some sense of pain or trouble, and we feel it as a hurt, rather than remember it as vision.
If the memory slumbers we shall have a faint remembrance of the dream, and after a few minutes it will some-times happen that the principal passages of the dream will occur to us more fully. The cause of this is that the memory will sometimes continue slumbering or sleeping after we are awake ourselves, and that so fully, that it may and sometimes does happen, that we do not immediately recollect where we are, nor what we have been about, or have to do. But when the memory starts into wakefulness it brings the knowledge of these things back upon us like a flood of light, and sometimes the dream with it.
But the most curious circumstance of the mind in a state of dream, is the power it has to become the agent of every person, character and thing of which it dreams. It carries on conversation with several, asks questions, hears answers, gives and receives information, and it acts all these parts itself.
Yet however various and eccentric the imagination may be in the creating of images and ideas, it cannot supply the place of memory with respect to things that are forgotten when we are awake. For example, if we have forgotten the name of a person, and dream of seeing him and asking him his name, he cannot tell it; for it is ourselves asking ourselves the question.
But though the imagination cannot supply the place of real
memory, it has the wild faculty of counterfeiting memory. It dreams
of persons it never knew, and talks to them as if it remembered
them as old acquaintance. It relates circumstances that never
happened, and tells them as if they had happened. It goes to places
that never existed, and knows where all the streets and houses are,
as if we had been there before. The scenes it creates are often as
It will sometimes act a dream within a dream, and, in the delusion of dreaming, tell a dream it never dreamed, and tell it as if it was from memory. It may also be remarked, that the imagination in a dream has no idea of time, as tune. It counts only by circumstances; and if a succession of circumstances pass in a dream that would require a great length of time to accomplish them, it will appear to the dreamer that a length of time equal thereto has passed also.
As this is the state of the mind in a dream, it may rationally be said that every person is mad once in twenty-four hours, for were he to act in the day as he dreams in the night, he would be confined for a lunatic. In a state of wakefulness, those three faculties being all active, and acting in unison, constitute the rational man. In dream it is otherwise, and, therefore, that state which is called insanity appears to be no other than a dismission of those faculties, and a cessation of the judgment during wakefulness, that we so often experience during sleep; and idiocity, into which some persons have fallen, is that cessation of all the faculties of which we can be sensible when we happen to wake before our memory.
In this view of the mind, how absurd it is to place reliance upon dreams, and how much more absurd to make them a foundation for religion; yet the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, begotten by the Holy Ghost, a being never heard of before, stands on the foolish story of an old man's dream. "And behold the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not thou to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost." -- Matt. 1. 20.
After this we have the childish stories of three or four other
dreams: about Joseph going into Egypt; about his coming back again;
about this, and about that, and this story of dreams has thrown
Europe into a dream for more than a thousand years.
All the efforts that nature, reason, and conscience have made to awaken man from it, have been ascribed by priestcraft and superstition to the working of the devil, and had it not been for the American Revolution, which, by establishing the universal right of conscience, [NOTE: The words "right of" are not in the Paris edition. -- Editor.] first opened the way to free discussion, and for the French Revolution that followed, this Religion of Dreams had continued to be preached, and that after it had ceased to be believed. Those who preached it and did not believe it, still believed the delusion necessary. They were not bold enough to be honest, nor honest enough to be bold.
[NOTE: The remainder of this essay, down to the last two
paragraphs, though contained in the Paris pamphlet, was struck
out of the essay by Paine when he published it in America; it
was restored by an American editor who got hold of the
original manuscript, with the exception of two sentences which
he supposed caused the author to reserve the nine paragraphs
It is probable, however, that this part was omitted as an interruption of the essay on Dream. The present Editor therefore concludes to insert the passage, without any omission, in this footnote:]
"Every new religion, like a new play, requires a new apparatus
of dresses and machinery, to fit the new characters it creates. The
story of Christ in the New Testament brings a new being upon the
stage, which it calls the Holy Ghost; and the story of Abraham, the
father of the Jews, in the Old Testament, gives existence to a new
order of beings it calls Angels.
There was no Holy Ghost before the time of Christ, nor Angels before the time of Abraham. We hear nothing of these winged gentlemen, till more than two thousand years, according to the Bible chronology, from the time they say the heavens, the earth, and all therein were made. After this, they hop about as thick as birds in a grove.
The first we hear of, pays his addresses to Hagar in the wilderness; then three of them visit Sarah; another wrestles a fall with Jacob; and these birds of passage having found their way to earth and back, are continually coming and going. They eat and drink, and up again to heaven. What they do with the food they carry away in their bellies, the Bible does not tell us.
Perhaps they do as the birds do, discharge it as they fly; for neither the scripture nor the church hath told us there are necessary houses for them in heaven. One would think that a system loaded with such gross and vulgar absurdities as scripture religion is could never have obtained credit; yet we have seen what priestcraft and fanaticism could do, and credulity believe.
From Angels in the Old Testament we get to prophets, to witches, to seers of visions, and dreamers of dreams; and sometimes we are told, as in 1 Sam. ix. 15, that God whispers in the ear. At other times we are not told how the impulse was given, or whether sleeping or waking. In 2 Sam. xxiv. 1, it is said, "And again the anger of the lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go number Israel and Judah." And in 1 Chron. xxi. I, when the same story is again related, it is said, "And Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel."
Whether this was done sleeping or waking, we are not told, but it seems that David, whom they call "a man after God's own heart," did not know by what spirit he was moved; and as to the men called inspired penmen, they agree so well about the matter, that in one book they say that it was God, and in the other that it was the Devil.
Yet this is trash that the church imposes upon the world as the WORD OF GOD; this is the collection of lies and contradictions called the HOLY BIBLE! this is the rubbish called REVEALED RELIGION!
The idea that writers of the Old Testament had of a God was
boisterous, contemptible, and vulgar. They make him the Mars of the
Jews, the fighting God of Israel, the conjuring God of their
Priests and Prophets. They tell us as many fables of him as the
Greeks told of Hercules. They pit him against Pharaoh, as it were
to box with him, and Moses carries the challenge.
They make their God to say insultingly, "I will get me honor upon Pharaoh and upon all his Host, upon his chariots and upon his Horsemen." And that he may keep his word, they make him set a trap in the Red Sea, in the dead of the night, for Pharaoh, his host, and his horses, and drown them as a rat-catcher would do so many rats. Great honor indeed! the story of Jack the giant-killer is better told!
They match him against the Egyptian magicians to conjure with them, and after hard conjuring on both sides (for where there is no great contest there is no great honor) they bring him off victorious. The first three essays are a dead match: each party turns his rod into a serpent, the rivers into blood, and creates frogs: but upon the fourth, the God of the Israelites obtains the laurel, he covers them all over with lice! The Egyptian magicians cannot do the same, and this lousy triumph proclaims the victory!
They make their God to rain fire and brimstone upon Sodom and Gomorrah and belch fire and smoke upon mount Sinai, as if he was the Pluto of the lower regions. They make him salt up Lot's wife like pickled pork; they make him pass like Shakespeare's Queen Mab into the brain of their priests, prophets, and prophetesses, and tickle them into dreams, [NOTE: "Tickling a parson's nose as 'a lies asleep, Then dreams he of another benefice." (Rom. and Jul.) -- Editor.] and after making him play all kinds of tricks they confound him with Satan, and leave us at a loss to know what God they meant!
This is the descriptive God of the Old Testament; and as to the New, though the authors of it have varied the scene, they have continued the vulgarity.
Is man ever to be the dupe of priestcraft, the slave of
superstition? Is he never to have just ideas of his Creator? It is
better not to believe there is a God, than to believe of him
falsely. When we behold the mighty universe that surrounds us, and
dart our contemplation into the eternity of space, filled with
innumerable orbs revolving in eternal harmony, how paltry must the
tales of the Old and New Testaments, profanely called the word of
God, appear to thoughtful man!
The stupendous wisdom and unerring order that reign and govern throughout this wondrous whole, and call us to reflection, 'put to shame the Bible!' The God of eternity and of all that is real, is not the God of passing dreams and shadows of man's imagination. The God of truth is not the God of fable; the belief of a God begotten and a God crucified, is a God blasphemed. It is making a profane use of reason. -- Author.]
I shall conclude this Essay on Dream with the first two verses of Ecclesiastics xxxiv. one of the books of the Apocrypha. "The hopes of a man void of understanding are vain and false; and dreams lift up fools. Whoso regardeth dreams is like him that catcheth at a shadow, and followeth after the wind."
I now proceed to an examination of the passages in the Bible, called prophecies of the coming of Christ, and to show there are no prophecies of any such person; that the passages clandestinely styled prophecies are not prophecies; and that they refer to circumstances the Jewish nation was in at the time they were written or spoken, and not to any distance of future time or person.
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