I once read an article outlining Mark Twain's interest in dreams on the site of Robert Moss (creator of "Active Dreaming"). Twain believed in something called "Mental Telegraphy".
Twain claimed that dream thought is swifter and more concise than waking thought. A story of his said that "Rax Oha Tal" in dream language meant "When you receive this it will remind you that I long to see your face and touch your hand, for the comfort of it and the peace." Given Twain's fame, I find it interesting that there aren't a lot of references to this phrase on the web!!
But it is is no longer available, so I used the internet archive to retrieve its contents and put them here. The Copyright belongs to Robert Moss, 2006
Mark Twain (aka Samuel L. Clemens, 1835-1910) was a marvelously multifarious man: humorist and sage and entertainer the Bob Hope and Johnny Carson of his day - a prolific author, profound scholar of history and the human condition, an adventurer who was forever traveling beyond the maps, in one world or another.
He was also an American master of the Three Only Things - dreams, coincidence and imagination that we routinely dismiss or discount but can be of immense value in our lives. They supplied him with creative juice, personal portals into the multidimensional universe, and the power to bounce back from personal tragedy and financial disaster and gave us some of his best and most challenging work.
Mark Twain learns the dream world is a real world
In our dreams I know it! we do make the journeys we seem to make, we do see the things we seem to see.
Mark Twain, My Platonic Sweetheart
Twain sometimes said disparaging things about dreams, the kind of things you might say over cigars at the club. The depth of his dreaming practice comes through in a story he titled "My Platonic Sweetheart" in which his narrator clearly speaking for Twain himself recounts his dream meetings with a woman he knows to be an immortal beloved in may different times and places.
The story was written in 1898, and published poshumously in 1912. Here, as in other writings, Twain wants us to know that the dream world is a real world, and that it debatable whether it is less real or more real than the world of ordinary experience.
To learn about this, he instructs, we must "drill" our dream memories. "Few drill the dream-memory, and no memory can be kept strong without them." The drill involves writing down dreams when they are fresh, then studying them and revisiting them and trying to figure out "what the source of dreams is, and which of the two or three separate persons inhabiting us is their architect."
Like certain great dreamers of other cultures the Persian Suhrawardi jumps to mind, as well as Jung Twain came to grasp that different dreams may be experiences or creations of different aspects and levels of the Self, and that knowing this can lead to self-understanding and healing.
As a practical dreamer, he knew the importance of recurring dreams, rightly observing that "oftener than not the recurrent dream has come on business."
His personal experiences convinced him that we are time travelers in dreams, able to interact with personalities from different times, and that dreaming is a great preparation for dying, because "when we die we shall slough off this cheap intellect, perhaps, and go abroad into Dreamland clothed in our real selves."
Mark Twain learns that coincidence is no accident
I once made a great discovery: the discovery that certain sorts of things which, from the beginning of the world, had always been regarded as merely 'curious coincidences' that is to say, accidents were no more accidental than is the sending and receiving of a telegram an accident.
Mark Twain, Mental Telegraphy
Twain was a lifelong student of coincidence. In 1878, he gathered some of experiences and experiments in a most interesting article he titled Mental Telegraphy. He waited 13 years to publish it, fearing ridicule or incredulity. When public interest and scientific research (notably the investigations of the young Society for Psychical Research in England) began to catch up with his own findings, he came out with the article in Harper's Magazine.
One of his favorite examples of the interplay of psyche and physics that generates coincidence is the phenomenon of "crossed letters." You know the kind of thing: you write to someone (or just think about them) - maybe someone you have not been in contact with for months - and then you get a letter or a call from them the same day, or very soon after.
Twain noticed that again and again, when he wrote to someone, he would get a letter from that person that was mailed at or around the same time. He concluded that this was very often the effect of distant communication between minds keyed to similar wavelengths. His most amazing example is The Great Bonanza book.
One afternoon, Twain was seized with the passionate conviction that a great book could be written about the silver bonanza in Nevada. He felt his old newspaper colleague Wright would be the man to do it, but Twain was so possessed by the idea that he immediately roughed out an outline and sample chapters to get his old friend started. He was preparing to mail all this material to Wright when he received a package in the mail. Before opening the package, Twain told the people with him that he was going to deliver a "prophecy"; he declared that the package contained a letter from his old friend Wright, with his drafts for a book on the Great Bonanza. And so it did.
This incident convinced Twain not only that mental telegraphy is real, but that it can be strong enough to transport the complete content of a book across 3,000 miles. Fortunately, Twain and Wright were good friends and Twain had already determined that the Great Bonanza book was to be done by Wright; otherwise, the mental transfer (from Wright to Twain) could have resulted in two books and charges of plagiarism.
Minds resonate with each other, and in doing this transfer ideas and messages, back and forth. Twain was very interested in determining whether we can pluck the strings as well as wait for them to vibrate.
A case in point - from Twain's chronicle - involved an American on the Grand Tour in Europe who was desperate since he had received no news from his son, back in San Francisco, in many months, despite sending many letters. Twain urged him to send a cable, which might sound like merest common sense. Here's the uncommon sense: Twain further told the worried father that it did not matter where he sent the cable. "Send it to Peking, if you like." All that mattered was that he should send a cable, and thereby send out a signal to the universe. . If he did that, Twain promised, he would have news from his son right away. The father sent the cable and the next day received a letter from his son explaining that he had left San Francisco months before on a slow boat and was now acting on his first opportunity to post a letter. The cable did not prompt the letter, which was mailed long before; but the two communications coincided, just as Twain had promised.
Twain developed what he pleases to call a "superstition" about this. He decided that if he wanted to hear from someone he would write that person a letter and the tear that letter up. Infallibly, he claimed, he would then receive a letter from the person to whom he had written. If this was superstition, it was fresh-minted superstition and of a most practical kind; it worked.
"You cant depend on your judgment when your imagination is out of focus."
Notebook of Mark Twain - 1898
Twain's creative imagination was almost boundless. His imaginal journeys into the nano-worlds a world inside a stone, or a society of microbes inside a human cell are not only great fun, but anticipate later discoveries in nano-science and microbiology, and may inspire us to use our imaginations to make similar voyages for discovery and healing.
He wrote that his most vivid imagery came from dreams.
His efforts to imagine and depict worlds inside the very small, though not widely known today, make very exciting reading in the age of nano-technology, when superstring theory suggests there may be six (or seven) dimensions of the physical universe hidden within the particles of an atom, and quantum physics speculates that if we can enter that space we can choose events that will manifest from the soup of possibilities.
In The Great Dark, Twain's nano-world is inside a drop of water on a glass slide under a microscope. The traveler gets inside it with an appropriate ship and crew with the help of the Superintendent of Dreams, who appears at his side when he is musing on the sofa.
In Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes, Twain goes smaller, and handles the transition from human scale to micro-scale very briskly and effectively: "The magician's experiment miscarried...and the result was that he transformed me into a cholera-germ when he was trying to turn me into a bird."
Twains manuscript indicates that he first intended to identify his shrinking man in the human world by his own name. In other words, the foundation of the story is the authors visionary experience. When Twain crossed out his own name and substituted the name of his most popular character, Huck, he laid the thinnest conceivable veil over what we can read as visionary autobiography, enhanced by the writers vivid imagination.
As a germ, Huck is inside a universe where everything is alive and conscious. "Nothing is ever at rest...There are no vegetables; all things are ANIMAL; each electron is an animal, each molecule is an animal, and each has an appointed duty to perform and a soul to be saved."
A week of human time is a thousand microbe years, more or less. The man-become-germ makes his adjustments including his aesthetics learns the local languages and mixes comfortably in microbe society. This is a universe with commerce and political intrigues and fashions and games and science all of which gives Twain a glorious opportunity to spoof the foibles of his own society, while taking us somewhere deeper.
Twain shocks us by representing the germs of illness as the nobility among the microbes. The cancer cells are the very "brightest" among them; the consumption agent the most poetic. Each "noble" family has a crest that resembles the way each germ looks to a human eye under a microscope.
Sometimes our hero dreams he is back in the human world, and wakes with the inevitable question, Which is the dream?
A moment of epiphany comes when Huck decides to confide in a circle of microbe intellectuals that he comes from another world, a planet beyond the body of the drunken tramp they are all living in. They simply cannot comprehend him. They can't understand, to begin with, that they are inside the body of a larger being, and that their behavior could affect that body's health for good or ill. So how can they grasp the idea that there are similar worlds, walking and eating on a planet inconceivably vast? So of course the best brains of the microbe world dismiss Huck as delusional, or (at best) applaud him for his vivid and complex imagination.
Which leads our narrator to comment:
It isn't safe to sit in judgment upon another person's illusion when you are not on the inside. While you are thinking it is a dream, he may be knowing it is a planet.
Twain proceeds to show us microbe scientists studying the nano-microbes who live inside their bodies. He pushes the point hard but brilliantly that in relation to the larger universe, we humans reading him may be of the order of microbes too, and yet may be able to affect the state of everything.
I discovered Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes at the end of December, 2005. Leafing through an old journal shortly afterwards, I was excited to discover that I had apparently received Mark Twain's invitation to explore the worlds within the very small nearly four years earlier. Here's the dream, just as I recorded it in my journal:
I am training people to journey into very small objects, especially stones. Some of these are Worldstones; you find a whole world within them. Some contain universes generated by books. I enjoy my adventures inside a stone that contains the world of Huck Finn.
Thats the mark of a world-class dreamer: that he can extend an invitation to join him in a tramp through the Dreamlands in a dream.
Mark Twain worked with dreams, coincidence and imagination through the best years of his immensely creative and productive life, and lived deeper and deeper in their play as he matured. He also understood the importance of nurturing and following a life dream:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
NoteMental Telegraphy and My Platonic Sweetheart are reprinted in Mark Twain, Tales of Wonder edited by David Ketterer, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003. The Great Dark and Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes are reprinted in John S. Tuckey (ed), The Devil's Race-Track: Mark Twain's Great Dark Writings. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984) where the identification of the narrator in the microbe story is discussed.
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The accounts written here are as true as I can manage. While the
words are my own, they are not independent creative works of fiction
—in any intentional way. Thus I do not consider the material to
be protected by anything, other than that you'd have to be
crazy to want to try and use it for genuine purposes (much less
disingenuous ones!) But who's to say?