“The Monarch of Dreams,” Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1886 — Francis Ayrault and his five year old sister, Hart, arrive in the country to take possession of an old farmhouse. Their family home is to become the site of a new railway station, and Ayrault is in need of rest and relaxation after a serious of tragedies which have left Hart his only relative. Hart is exuberant and loving, and she takes to the new home, with its animals and mysteries; daily, she lavishes affection on her older brother and, for a time, the two are happy. But Ayrault has obsessed with the idea of mastering his dreams. Eventually, he’s able to make himself the “monarch” of his dreams, such that he finds them populated by his followers, his wealth, his art, and so on.
But the dreams soon take an ominous turn. For reasons he doesn’t understand, all of his followers take on his appearance; sometimes Liliputian in size, sometimes gigantic, they begin to torment and crowd him during his sleep. To his horror, he discovers that Hart is dreaming of him and his nightmarish followers and that this may be responsible for a sudden illness which is ruining her health. He sends her away on a trip and attempts to become more involved in life, even promises to lead a group of Civil War recruits into battle. But on the night the train comes for the recruits, he’s locked in a dream from which he can’t rouse himself; meanwhile, “the lost opportunity of his life” is bourne away bythe train.
Comments: See H. Bruce Franklin’s commentary on this story and the author in Future Perfect: American Science Fiction of the Nineteenth Century. In this story, “Higginson’s protagonist is the logical extreme of the morbid, isolated, obsessed, over-reaching, lonely genius so important to Hawthorne and much of the science fiction that was to follow. This protagonist is the ultimate reduction of the scientist, now manipulating not other people and external objects but merely his own mind, losing himself in the mazes and magic mirrors of the ego…Accepting the fatal bourgeois illusion that science is entirely a process of objectification, he finds himself trapped in the paradoxes of scientific solipsism…”
Author: “Thomas Wentworth Higginson (December 22, 1823 – May 9, 1911) was an American Unitarian minister, author, abolitionist, and soldier.” (Wikipedia) Franklin notes that Higginson was an “extraordinary figure in nineteenth-century American literature and history” and discusses at length Higginson’s involvement in the abolitionist movement, his promotion of Negro Spirituals, his discovery of Emily Dickinson’s poetry and advice to Dickinson not to publish during her lifetime, and his influence as a champion of women’s rights. Higginson also “successfully organized and led the first regiment of Negro soldiers”; the success of this unit led to the decision to “free all those slaves who were held in counties and states defying the Union so that they could be recruited into the United States military services.”