Dreams and History: The Interpretation of Dreams from Ancient Greece to Modern Psychoanalysis

By Daniel Pick; Lyndal Roper | Go to book overview

Chapter 11

'A nice type of the English scientist': Tansley and Freud

Laura Cameron and John Forrester

I dreamed that I was in a sub-tropical country, separated from my friends, standing alone in a small shack or shed which was open on one side so that I looked out on a wide open space surrounded by bush or scrub. In the edge of the bush I could see a number of savages armed with spears and the long pointed shields used by some South African native tribes. They occupied the whole extent of the bush-edge abutting on the open space, but they showed no sign of active hostility. I myself had a loaded rifle, but realized that I was quite unable to escape in face of the number of armed savages who blocked the way.

Then my wife appeared in the open space, dressed entirely in white, and advanced towards me quite unhindered by the savages, of whom she seemed unaware. Before she reached me the dream, which up to then had been singularly clear and vivid, became confused, and though there was some suggestion that I fired the rifle, but with no knowledge of who or what I fired at, I awoke.

Sir Arthur Tansley, FRS, The Dream

Arthur Tansley had this dream some time during the First World War, when he was working at the Ministry of Munitions in London. 1 It was, he later made very clear, one of the major turning points in his life. From this dream came his interest in psychoanalysis.

On 6 April 1922, Sigmund Freud wrote to Ernest Jones in London: 'Tansley has started analysis last Saturday. I find a charming man in him, a nice type of the English scientist. It might be a gain to win him over to our science at the loss of botany'. 2 Such information was the staple of the correspondence between Jones and Freud that comprised some 671 letters over a thirty-year period to Freud's death. Implicit in such exchanges was the sustaining of the joint project that kept these two men, never soul mates, bound together - the fate and future of psychoanalysis - as a theory, a therapy and an institutional movement.

By following the trail revealed by this little snippet about an analysis begun in Vienna in the spring of 1922, we will discover that the early history

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