Dream Book; Or, Dreams About Books.

Only once have I gone to a semi-formal slide show of somebody’s holiday snaps and it was one of the worst hours of my life. I knew what to expect, of course, from sitcoms and satire but nothing can really prepare you for the stultifying, monumental, apocalyptic selfishness of it all.

The Royal Dream Book, 1859. No named publisher. Just 13cm by 8cm, this little beauty was designed to attract young ladies with bright red cloth binding, gilt edges and neat size. The 'Royal' in the title means only 'best'.


There you are, gracing your half-friends with your presence, surrounded by people you’ve never met and hope to never meet again, looking at artless photographs of the two of them and listening to stuff like: ” …and this is me at the front of the boat with the island in the background – or is that the mainland? – and look! there’s the man from Birmingham with the shorts! and I couldn’t find my sunglasses…”

And as it turns out you’re expected to provide a soundtrack of approving ahs and ooohs as payment for the privilege. I was all for blowing cover and jeering at it all, unravelling the care and making the thousands they’d invested in the experience valueless but my girlfriend at the time would have chucked me – we were at her sister’s – so I just sank my teeth into the holiday wine and asked polite questions about any snap featuring big sis in a bikini. The sight of her ten feet tall was something to behold and the more I asked the longer she hung about on the wall. It made a bad evening barely bearable. 

And that was that. It never happened to me again as I don’t often meet those sort of people. What sort? The wrong sort, obviously. But years later I discovered something even worse. Other people’s holiday snaps are personal, embarrasing, cringingly self centered but other poeple’s dreams… How could anything be more private? Why share them? I don’t want to know. I don’t want an invitation to that private landscape where your ego and id fight it out in fancy dress using cyphers for weapons and codes for conversation. I’d rather hear bowel talk, hospital dialogue, wet-eyed confessionals than listen to stuff like: “…and then I was on this boat, right, with some kind of island in the background, or land anyway, and there was this man from Birmingham there wearing these shorts and I couldn’t find my sunglasses…”

The central image is less than five centimeters across and shows the young lady dreaming of a suitor.


Dreams are so private the stories are kept from the tellers, forgotten as soon as told and wrapped in misremembered subplots. It was all very different before Freud woke up the world. When this book was first published in 1859 every flickering image had a solid, immutable meaning. Then as now, books like this were aimed squarely at the gullible female, as the beautiful gilt image on the front board shows. The frontispiece inside shows the scene in more detail and it is signed ‘Lizars’, the great Edinburgh engraver who produced all the plates for the Naturalist’s Library. The wealthy girl is asleep and in her mind’s eye she sees herself with a man, urging her forward to marriage, symbolized by the wreath. Every girl’s dream, of course – but what sort of man would it be?

This book has the answer and it all depends on your other dreams. Ducks are good – ‘ It indicates that you will be very fortunate in the choice of a lover…’ but peaches are terrible, denoting deceit in love. Dreaming of stinking mackerel means you will never marry your present sweetheart but if you dream of being in bed it signifies a hasty marriage, ‘probably before the end of next month’, which must have been a worry to younger readers. 

Another one for the ladies. This was first published in 1901 - the year after Freud's rather heavier take on the matter, 'The Interpretation of Dreams'. This reprint dates from 1929.


Happily for us, dreaming of books is also good news. If the dreamer ‘ is in the family way it betokes the birth of a son who will rise to great eminence by his learning.’ See where all those books get you to? I was particularly interested in this entry because in his introduction to bookseller David Low’s autobiography With All Faults Grahame Greene admits to dreaming about books. An enthusiastic collector of early detective fiction, he claims that he used to dream of them in nice condition but that recently he dreamt only of poor, shabby copies. What does it all mean?

Now I’m not one to burden you with my private life but guess what I dreamt about last night?

And they were in superb condition, thanks.

There are no copies of the first book on line anywhere and none on COPAC either.

The  yellow Pearson’s book was written by Professor P R S Foli and there are a few copies  here. That one in the wrapper isn’t the same book but looks pretty good for the money, despite the loss to the wrapper – it’s 80 years old after all.

3 Responses to “Dream Book; Or, Dreams About Books.”

  1. HI, How can you tell if you have a first edition. I have what looks like an old edition of the Pearsons dream book, which is not yellow, but brown in colour, with old adverts at the front and back. How can i tell how old it is ?, as the dates in the front say ” 1901, then reprinted 1902 up to 1921. can anyone help me, Thanks. Martin.

    • betweenthelines says:

      Yours sounds like the 1921 impression. The one here is 1929. The first edition was 1901, as stated inside. hope this helps.

  2. Janet Smythe says:

    I have a copy of Pearson’s Dream Book and am wondering when it may have been published. I cannot find a date. It is hardcover (cloth covered) 7 1/2″ x 5″. The color of the cover is the opposite of your 1929 version (mine is red with yellow flowers). It has advertisements for other books in the front and back. Thank you for your help.

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