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And tbe Causes Thereof



bton, Mifflin and Company

Chicago : S. A. Maxwell & Co.


tfjt Caiificc (Tjjcreof

And the Caufes Thereof







Copyright, 1886,




TNSOMNIA, the lack of "tired Nature's sweet
restorer," is rapidly becoming the chronic
terror of all men of active life who have passed
the age of thirty-five or forty years. In early
life, while yet he "wears the rose of youth
upon him," man rarely, except in sickness,
knows the want of sound, undreaming sleep.
But as early manhood is left behind and the
cares and perplexities of life weigh upon him,

. (> . ; : ;'. ; ' SH^KPB^P'S INSOMNIA,
\ ***"

making far more needful than ever the rest
which comes only through unbroken sleep, this
remedial agent cannot longer be wooed and
won. Youth would "fain encounter darkness
as a bride and hug it in his arms." To those
of riper years the " blanket of the dark " often
ushers in a season of terrors, a time of fitful
snatches of broken sleep and of tormenting
dreams; of long stretches of wakefulness; of
hours when all things perplexing and trouble-
some in one's affairs march before him in sombre
procession : in endless disorder, in labyrinths of
confusion, in countless new phases of disagree-
ableness ; and at length the morning summons
him to labor, far more racked and weary than
when he sought repose.

It has been of late years much the fashion
in the literature of this subject to attribute
sleeplessness to the rapid growth of facilities
for activities of every kind. The practical anni-
hilation of time and space by our telegraphs


and railroads, the compressing thereby of the
labors of months into hours or even minutes,
the terrific competition in all kinds of business
thereby made possible and inevitable, the intense
mental activity engendered in the mad race for
fame or wealth, where the nervous and mental
force of man is measured against steam and
lightning, these are usually credited with
having developed what is considered a modern
and even an almost distinctively American

As the maxim, " There is nothing new under
the sun," is of general application, it may be of
interest to investigate if an exception occurs in
the case of sleeplessness ; if it be true that
among our ancestors, before the days of work-
ing steam and electricity, the glorious sleep of
youth was prolonged through all one's three or
four score years.

Medical books and literature throw no light
upon this subject three hundred years ago.


We must therefore turn to Shakespeare
human nature's universal solvent for light on
this as we would on any other question of his
time. Was he troubled with insomnia, then, is
the first problem to be solved.

Dr. Holmes, our genial and many-sided poet-
laureate, who is also a philosopher, in his
"Life of Emerson," has finely worked out the
theory that no man writes other than his own
experience : that consciously or otherwise an
author describes himself in the characters he
draws; that when he loves the character he
delineates, it is in some measure his own, or
at least one of which he feels its tendencies
and possibilities belong to himself. Emerson,
too, says of Shakespeare, that all his poetry
was first experience.

When we seek to analyze what we mean
by the term Shakespeare, to endeavor to define
wherein he was distinct from all others and
easily pre-eminent, to know why to us he ever


grows wiser as we grow wise, we find that his
especial characteristic was an unequalled power
of observation and an ability accurately to
chronicle his impressions. He was the only
man ever born who lived and wrote absolutely
without bias or prejudice. Emerson says of
him that a he reported all things with impar-
tiality ; that he tells the great greatly, the
small subordinately, he is strong as Nature
is strong, who lifts the land into mountain
slopes without effort, and by the same rule as
she floats a bubble in the air, and likes as well
to do the one as the other." Says he, further:
" Give a man of talents a story to tell, and his
partiality will presently appear: he has certain
opinions which he disposes other things to
bring into prominence ; he crams this part and
starves the other part, consulting not the fitness
of the thing but his fitness and strength." But
Shakespeare has no peculiarity; all is duly


Thus it is that his dramas are the book of
human life. He was an accurate observer of
Nature : he notes the markings of the violet
and the daisy; the haunts of the honeysuckle,
the mistletoe, and the woodbine. He marks
the fealty of the marigold to its god the sun,
and even touches the freaks of fashion, con-
demning in some woman of his time an usage,
long obsolete, in accordance with which she
adorned her head with "the golden tresses of
the dead." But it was as an observer and a
delineator of man in all his moods that he was
the bright, consummate flower of humanity.
His experiences were wide and varied. He
had absorbed into himself and made his own
the pith and wisdom of his day. As the fittest
survives, each age embodies in itself all worthy
of preservation in the ages gone before. In
Shakespeare's pages we find a reflection, perfect
and absolute, of the age of Elizabeth, and
therefore of all not transient in the foregone


times, of all which is fixed and permanent in
our own. He "held the mirror up to Nature."
So "his eternal summer shall not fade,"

" He sang of the earth as it will be
When the years have passed away."

If, therefore, insomnia had prevailed in or before
his time, in his pages shall we find it duly set
forth. If he had suffered, if the "fringed cur-
tains of his eyes were all the night undrawn,"
we shall find his dreary experiences his hours
of pathetic misery, his nights of desolation
voiced by the tongues of his men and women.

Shakespeare speaks often of the time in life
when men have left behind them the dreamless
sleep of youth. Friar Laurence says :

"Care keeps his watch in every old man's eye,
And where care lodges, sleep can never lie ;
But where unbruised youth with unstuffed brain
Doth couch his limbs, there golden sleep doth


Shakespeare describes, too, with lifelike fidelity,
the causes of insomnia, which are not weariness
or physical pain, but undue mental anxiety. He
constantly contrasts the troubled sleep of those
burdened with anxieties and cares, with the
happy lot of the laborer whose physical weari-
ness insures him a tranquil night's repose.
Henry VI. says:

"And to conclude, the shepherd's homely curds,
His cold thin drink out of his leather bottle,
His wonted sleep under a fresh tree's shade,
All which secure and sweetly he enjoys,
Are far beyond a prince's delicates."

And Henry V. says :

"Tis not the balm, the sceptre and the ball,
The sword, the mace, the crown imperial,
The intertissued robe of gold and pearl,
The farced title running 'fore the king,
The throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp
That beats upon the high shore of this world,
No, not all these, thrice gorgeous ceremony,


Not all these, laid in bed majestical,
Can sleep so soundly as the wretched slave,
Who, with a body filled and vacant mind,
Gets him to rest, crammed with distressful

bread ;

Never sees horrid night, that child of hell,
But, like a lackey, from the rise to set,
Sweats in the eye of Phoebus, and all night
Sleeps in Elysium. . . .
And, but for ceremony, such a wretch,
Winding up days with toil and nights with

Hath the forehand and vantage of a king."

Prince Henry says, in "Henry IV.":

' ' O polished perturbation ! Golden care !
That keep'st the ports of slumber open wide
To many a watchful night, sleep with it now !
Yet not so sound and half so deeply sweet
As he whose brow with homely biggin bound
Snores out the watch of night."

In this same play, too, is found the familiar
and marvellous soliloquy of Henry IV. :


"How many thousand of my poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep ! O Sleep, O gentle Sleep,
Nature's soft nurse, how have I frighted thee,
That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down
And steep my senses in forgetfulness ?
Why rather, Sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,
Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee,
And hushed with buzzing night-flies to th} T


Than in the perfumed chambers of the great,
Under the canopies of costly state,
And lulled with sounds of sweetest melody?
O thou dull god, why liest thou with the vile
In loathsome beds, and leav'st the kingly couch
A watch-case, or a common 'larum-bell?
Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast
Seal up the ship-boy's ej-es, and rock his brains
In cradle of the rude, imperious surge,
And in the visitation of the winds,
Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads, and hanging them
With deafening clamor in the slippery shrouds,
That with the hurly, death itself awakes?
Canst thou, O partial Sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude,


And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then, happy low, lie down !
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."

Caesar, whom Shakespeare characterizes as "the.
foremost man of all this world," says :

4 ' Let me have men about me that are fat ;
Sleek-headed men, and such as sleep o' nights."

And again, it is not an "old man broken with
the storms of state" whom he describes when
he says :

"Thou hast no figures nor no fantasies
Which busy care draws in the brains of men ;
Therefore thou sleep'st so sound."

The poet , also in various passages expresses
his emphatic belief as to what is the brightest
blessing or the deadliest calamity which can be
laid upon our frail humanity. Rarely is a bless-
ing invoked which does not include the wish


for tranquil sleep ; and this, too, as the best
and greatest boon of all. His gracious bene-
diction may compass honors and wealth and
happiness and fame, that one's "name may
dwell forever in the mouths of men ; " but

" The earth hath bubbles as the water hath,
And these are of them,"

as compared with the royal benison, " Sleep
give thee all his rest."

The spectres of the princes and Queen Anne,
in "Richard III.," invoking every good upon
Richmond, say:

" Sleep, Richmond, sleep in peace and wake in joy."

And again:

" Thou quiet soul, sleep thou a quiet sleep."

Romeo's dearest wish to Juliet is,

" Sleep dwell upon thine eyes ; peace in thy breast."


The crowning promise of Lady Mortimer, in
"Henry IV.," is that

" She will sing the song that pleaseth thee, I I
And on thy eyelids crown the god of sleep."

Titania promises her fantastic lover,

"I '11 give thee fairies to attend on thee,
And they shall fetch thee jewels from the deep,
And sing, while thou on pressed flowers dost

Titus, welcoming again to Rome the victorious
legions, says of the heroes who have fallen :

" There greet in silence, as the dead are wont,
And sleep in peace, slain in your country's wars,"

promising them that in the land of the blest

" are no storms,
No noise, but silence and eternal sleep."

Constantly also in anathemas throughout the

plays are invoked, as the deadliest of curses,

broken rest and its usual accompaniment of



troublous dreams. Thus note the climax in
Queen Margaret's curse upon the traitorous
Gloster :

"If Heaven have any grievous plague in store
Exceeding those that I can wish upon thee,
Oh, let them keep it till thy sins be ripe,
And then hurl down their indignation
On thee, the troubler of the poor world's peace !
The worm of conscience still begnaw thy soul !
Thy friends suspect for traitors while thou liv'st,
And take deep traitors for thy dearest friends !
No sleep close up that deadly eye of thine,
Unless it be while some tormenting dream
Affrights thee with a hell of ugly devils ! "

The witch, in " Macbeth/' cataloguing the ca-
lamities in store for the ambitious Thane, says:

" Sleep shall neither night nor day
Hang upon his pent-house lid ;
He shall live a man forbid."

It is curious also to remark, in the various

lists of griefs which make life a burden and a


sorrow, how often the climax of these woes is
the lack of sleep, or the troubled dreams bearing
their train of "gorgons, hydras, and chimeras
dire," which come with broken rest. Lady
Percy says to Hotspur: %

" Why hast thou lost the fresh blood in thy cheeks, *
And given my treasures and my rights of thee
To thick-e} r ed musing and curst melancholy?
Tell me, sweet lord, what is 't that takes from

Thy stomach, pleasure, and thy golden sleep?"

Macbeth says:

u But let the frame of things disjoint, both the

worlds suffer,

Ere we will eat our meal in fear, and sleep
In the affliction of these terrible dreams
That shake us nightly; better be with the


In " Othello" is a striking picture of the sudden
change, in the direction we are considering,
which comes over a tranquil mind from the


commission of a great crime. lago says to
Othello, after he has wrought "the deed with-
out a name " :

" Not poppy nor mandragora,
Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world,
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep
Which thou own'dst yesterday."

The greatest punishment which comes to
Macbeth after the murder of Duncan is lack
of sleep. Nowhere in the language, in the
same space, can be found so many pictures of
the blessedness of repose as in the familiar
lines :

" Methought I heard a voice cry, ' Sleep no more !
Macbeth does murder sleep,' the innocent sleep ;
Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of


The death of each day's life, sore labor's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great Nature's second

Chief nourisher in life's feast."


And the principal reason which deters Hamlet
from suicide is the fear that even if he does
sleep well " after life's fitful fever is over," still,
that sleep may be full of troubled dreams.

"To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there's

the rub ;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may


When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause."

Richard III. says, avhen the catalogue of his
crimes is full, and when he "sees as in a map
the end of all " : -

" The sons of Edward sleep in Abraham's bosom,
And Anne, my queen, hath bid the world good

In addition to the fuller phrases wherein are
shown the blessedness of sleep, or the remedi-
less nature of its loss, many brief sentences
occur scattered throughout the plays, and


emphasizing the same great lesson. For
instance :

"Now o'er one half the world
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtained sleep."

"With Him above
To ratify our work, we may again
Give to our tables meat, sleep to our nights."

"You lack the season of all natures, sleep."
"My soul is heavy, and I fain would sleep."

"For never yet one hour in his bed
Have I enjoyed the golden dew of sleep."

"For some must watch and some must sleep,
So runs the world away."

" How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon that bank."

"The best of rest is sleep."

" Our little lives are rounded with a sleep."

The various passages cited above prove and
illustrate that no author has written so feel-


ingly, so appreciatingly, as Shakespeare on the
subject of sleep and its loss.

The diligent commentators on his works have
investigated laboriously the sources from which
he drew his plots and many of the very lines
of his poems. He was a great borrower; ab-
sorbing, digesting, and making his own much
of the material of his predecessors. But it is
a noteworthy fact, that none of the exquisite
lines in praise of sleep that gift which the
Psalmist says the Lord giveth to his beloved
can be traced to other source than the master.
These are jewels of his own ; transcripts from
his own mournful experience. In middle life
he remembered hopelessly the tranquil sleep of
his lost youth, as

"He that is stricken blind cannot forget
The precious treasure of his eyesight lost."

He had suffered from insomnia, and he writes
of this, not "as imagination bodies forth the


forms of things unknown" but as one who, in
words burning with indestructible life, lays open
to us the sombre record of what was experience
before it was song ; who makes us the sharers
of his griefs ; who would awaken in the simi-
larly afflicted of all time that compassionate
sympathy which goes out to those whose
burdens are almost greater than they can


/ T~ V EE meagre information we have as to the
life and habits of Shakespeare would seem
to make it an almost hopeless task now to dis-
cover the causes of his insomnia. He wrote
a marvellous body of literature, and it might
be thought this labor itself would suffice as
an explanation : that the furnace heat in which
the conceptions of Hamlet and Macbeth and
Lear were wrought in the crucible of his
brain would be fatal to repose. But his con-
temporaries speak of him as, an easy and rapid
writer ; one whose imagination is only paralleled
by the ease, the force and beauty of the phrase
in which it is embodied. We are told, too, by
Dr. H. A. Johnson, an eminent medical author-


ity, in the second volume of his treatise on the
pathology of the optic nerve, that it is not work,
even heavy and continuous, but worry over this
work, which drives away repose and shortens life.
I had observed, in collating the many passages
in Shakespeare concerning sleep, that the greater
number, and those bearing evidence of deepest
earnestness, occurred in six plays : " Richard
III.," " Macbeth," a l Henry IV.," " Hamlet,"
" 2 Henry IV.," and " Henry V." The chronology
of Shakespeare's plays seems almost hopeless,
scarcely any two writers agreeing as to the
order of the plays or the years in which they
were written. Several of the most critical au-
thorities, however, Dyce, White, Furnival, and
Halliwell-Phillipps, are agreed that two of the
plays above named were written in 1593, three
in 1602, and one in 1609. This would seem
to indicate that during these three years unu-
sual perplexities or anxieties had surrounded
our author; and on noting this, it occurred to


me that on these points the series of papers
recently discovered and called the Southampton
manuscripts, which are not yet published, might
give light. I accordingly addressed a letter to
the Director of the British Museum, where the
manuscripts are placed for safe keeping, and re-
ceived the following reply :


SIB, I am directed by the Curator to ac-
knowledge the receipt of your valued favor of
February 1, transmitting for preservation and
reference in the library of this institution

1. The manuscript of the farewell address of
Dr. Charles Oilman Smith, on his retirement to
private life from the presidency of the Chicago
Literary Club;

2. The manuscript of the inaugural address of
his successor in the office, which is a public
trust, James S. Norton, Esq. ;


3. An affidavit of Dr. W. F. Poole, that both
manuscripts are originals, and in the handwriting
of their eminent authors.

The Curator further instructs me to convey to
you the thanks of the Board of Governors for
these highly important papers, and to state to
you that they may be found on file in sub-
compartment No. 113,280 of Contemporary

I am further instructed by the Curator to in-
form you that compliance with your request
that this institution reciprocate your kindness
by loaning to you all papers from the recently
discovered Southampton Shakespeare Collection,
bearing date in the years 1593, 1602, and 1609,
is contrary to the regulations of this institution.
If you cannot visit London to examine these
interesting manuscripts, copies will be made
and transmitted you for three halfpence per
folio, payment by our rules invariably in advance.
I note that you are evidently in error upon one


point. The collection contains no letters or man-
uscripts of Shakespeare. It is composed princi-
pally of letters written to Shakespeare by va-
rious people, and which, after his death, in
some way came into the possession of the Earl
of Southampton. His death, so soon after that
of Shakespeare, doubtless caused these letters to
be lost sight of, and they were but last year
discovered in the donjon of the castle. I have
examined the letters for the years you name,
and find that copies of the same can be made
for 3 3s., exclusive of postage.
Very respectfully yours,


10th Ass't Sub- Secretary.

The money having been forwarded, I received
in due time the copies. At the first date, 1593,
Shakespeare was a young dramatist and actor
struggling for recognition, poor and almost un-
known; in 1602 he had won an assured posi-


tion among his fellows, and, with the thrift
which characterized him, had secured an interest
in the Globe Theatre, where his plays were per-
formed; in 1609 he was in the fulness of his
contemporary fame, had bought valuable prop-
erty in Stratford, and was contemplating retire-
ment to his country home.

The following are the letters from the South-
ampton collection which serve to throw light
upon the insomnia of Shakespeare. They are
given in their chronological order, and verbatim,
but not literatim, the orthography having been
modernized. The first of the letters, dated in
1593, is from a firm of lawyers, Messrs. Shal-
low & Slender, and is as follows:

INNER TEMPLE, LONDON, Feb. 15, 1593.

Mr. Moses Solomons, an honored client of
our firm, has placed with us, that payment may
be straightway enforced, a bill drawn by John


Heminge, for 10, due in two months from the
date thereof, and the payment of which was
assured by you in writing. This bill has been
for some days overdue, and Mr. Solomons is
constrained to call upon you for payment at
once. Your prompt attention to this will save
the costs and annoyance of an arrest.

The second letter is from the same parties,
and bears date four days later than the first.

INNER TEMPLE, Feb. 19, 1593.

Recurring to certain statements made by
yourself at our chambers yesterday, we have
considered the same, and have likewise the
opinion thereon of our client, Mr. Solomons.
As we do now recall them, you nominated three
principal grounds why you should not be pressed
to pay the bill drawn by Mr. Heminge. First,
that you received no value therefor, having put


your name to the bill upon the assurance that it
was a matter of form, and to oblige a friend.

To this we rejoin, that by the law of estoppel
you are precluded to deny the consideration
after the bill hath passed into the holding of a
discounter unnotified of the facts.

Second, That, as our client paid but 1 for
the bill, he should not exact 10 thereon. To
the which we reply, that, so a valuable consid-
eration was passed for the bill, the law looketh
not to its exact amount. It is also asserted by
our client that, beyond actual coin given for the
bill, he did further release to John Heminge
certain tinsel crowns, swords, and apparel ap-
purtenant to the representation of royalty, which
had before then to wit, two weeks before
been pledged to him for the sum of 8 shillings,
borrowed by the said Heminge.

Third, That it was impossible for you to pay
the bill, you having no money, and receiving no
greater income than 22 shillings per week, all


of which was necessary to the maintenance of
yourself and family. We regret^ again to call
to your notice the Statute of 16 Eliz., entitled,

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Online LibraryFranklin H. (Franklin Harvey) HeadShakespeare's insomnia and the causes thereof → online text (page 1 of 3)