Sunday, June 5, 2016
The Mystery of Dreams by M. Schele De Vere 1873
The Mystery of Dreams by M. Schele De Vere 1873
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"To sleep—perchance to dream."—Hamlet.
Of the two parts of our being, one, spiritual and heaven-born, is always active, the other, the bodily, earth-born part, requires frequent and regular rest in sleep. During this time of repose, however, the mind also ceases apparently its operations, merely, however, because it has no longer servants at its command, who are willing and able to give expression to its activity. When the senses are asleep the mind is deprived of the usual means of communication with the outer world; but this does not necessarily condemn it to inaction. On the contrary, it has often been maintained that the mind is most active and capable of the highest achievements when released from its usual bondage to the senses. Already Æschylus in his "Eumenides" says:
The mind of sleepers acts more cunningly;
The glare of day conceals the fate of men.
It seems, however, as if the intermediate state between the full activity of wakeful life and the complete repose of the senses in sound sleep, is most favorable to the development of such magic phenomena as occur in dreams. The fact that the susceptibility of the mind is at that time peculiarly great is intimately connected with the statement recorded in Holy Writ, that God frequently revealed His will to men in dreams. If we admit the antiquity of the book of Job, we see there the earliest known announcement of this connection. "In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; then He openeth the ears of men and sealeth their instruction" (xxxiii. 15). Next we are told that "God came to Abimelech in a dream by night" (Gen. xx. 3), and from that time we hear of similar revelations made by night in dreams throughout the whole history of the chosen people. Frequently, however, the dreams are called visions. Thus Balaam prophesied: "He hath said, which heard the words of God and knew the knowledge of the Most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open." Daniel had his secret "revealed in a night vision," but such favor was denied to Saul, for "the Lord answered him not, neither by dream nor by Urim, nor by prophets." To Solomon, on the contrary, "the Lord appeared in a dream by night" many times; Joel was promised that "old men should dream dreams and young men shall see visions," a pledge quoted by St. Peter as having been amply fulfilled in his day (Acts ii. 17). For dreams did not lose their importance at the coming of Christ. To his reputed father "the Angel of the Lord appeared in a dream," bidding him to take Mary to his wife; again he was warned in a dream "not to return to Herod," and the Lord spake "to Paul in the night by a vision" more than once, as he was by a dream also sent to Macedonia.
What in these and similar cases is accepted as divine inspiration, is in secular history generally looked upon as mysterious, magic revelation; but the phenomena remain the same in all instances, and those appearing in dreams are identical with the symptoms exhibited in revelations occurring during the day, when the favored recipient is wide awake. Clairvoyance by night differs in no way from clairvoyance during the day; a state of ecstasy, a trance, is necessary in either case. That prophetic dreams generally remain unknown—outside of Holy Writ—must be ascribed to the fact that they leave no recollection behind, unless they are continued into a state of half-sleep, from which a sudden awakening takes place; and soon then they are invariably clothed in some allegoric form, and become liable to be erroneously or, at least, imperfectly interpreted. Thus dreams, like trances, often prefigure death under the form of a journey, and represent the dying man as an uprooted tree, a withered flower, or a drowning swimmer. The early Christians, foreseeing martyrdom, very frequently received in dreams an intimation of their impending fate under such symbolic forms, and, what was quite peculiar to their visions was that they often extended to the pagan jailors and keepers, whose minds had been excited by witnessing the sufferings and the constancy of their victims, and who, in many cases, became, in consequence of these dreams, converts to the new faith. The facility, however, with which such symbols can be misunderstood, has been as fatal to dreams in the estimation of most men, as the inaccurate manner in which the real revelation is often presented to the still half-sleeping mind. Hence the popular belief that dreams "go by contraries," as vulgar slang expresses it. This faith is based upon the well-established fact that a genuine dream, in the act of impressing itself upon memory, often suffers not only mutilation but actual reversion. Thus Rogers saw, in a dream, Hikey, a small, weak man, murder a powerful giant, Caulfield—in the actual encounter, which he had really foreseen, the latter killed his puny antagonist. It is, therefore, as dangerous to "believe in dreams," as to deny their value altogether and to ascribe all realizations of dreams, with, Macnish, to mere accident. ("Sleep," p. 81.) Men of cool judgment and clear mind have at all times been found on the side of believers, and even our great Franklin, with his eminently practical mind and well-known aversion to every kind of superstition, firmly trusted in views which he believed to have come to him in dreams.
Antiquity believed in dreams, not only as means by which the Gods revealed their will, but as special favors accorded to fortunate men. Thus we are told that once two men were traveling together from Arcadia to Megara; when they reached the city, one of the two remained at an inn, while the other went to stay with a a friend. Both, wearied by the journey, retired to rest; but the traveler who was at a private house dreamt in the night that his friend urged him to come to his assistance, as the innkeeper was about to murder him. Terrified by the vivid dream, he jumped up; but, upon reflection, he concluded that the whole was but an idle fancy, and lay down again. Thereupon the dream was repeated; but this time his friend added, that it was too late to come to his aid now, as he had been murdered, and his body would in the morning be carried out of the city, concealed under a load of manure. This second dream made such an impression upon the Arcadian that he went at an early hour to the city gate, and to his amazement soon saw a wagon loaded with manure approaching the place where he stood. He stopped the driver and asked him what he had hidden in his wagon? The man fled, trembling; the body of the murdered friend was found, and the treacherous innkeeper paid with his life for his crime. (Cicero, De divin.)
One of the oldest of well-authenticated dreams in Christian times, revealed to St. Basil the death of Julian the Apostate. It seemed to him in his sleep that he saw the martyr Mercurius receive from God the order to kill the tyrant, and after a short time return and say: "O Lord, Julian is killed as Thou hast commanded!" The saint was so firmly convinced of having received a direct revelation from heaven, that he immediately made the news known to the people, and thus gained new honor when the official information at last arrived. (Vita S. Basil., etc., p. 692.) Here, also, the deep-seated hatred of the Christian priest against the Emperor, who dared to renew the worship of the ancient gods of the Pagans, no doubt suggested the vivid dream, while, on the other hand, the transmission of the actual revelation was so imperfect as to change the real occurrence—Julian's death by a Persian lance—according to the familiar way of thinking of St. Basil, into his execution at divine command by a holy martyr. There is no lack of renowned men of all ages who have had their remarkable dreams, and who have, fortunately for future investigation, recorded them carefully. Thus Melanchthon tells us that he was at a convent with a certain Dr. Jonas, when letters reached him requesting him to convey to his friend the sad news of his daughter's sudden death. The great reformer was at a loss how to discharge the painful duty, and driven by an instinctive impulse, asked Dr. Jonas whether he had ever had any remarkable dreams. The latter replied that he had dreamt, during the preceding night, of his return home, and of the joyful welcome he had met from all his family, except his oldest daughter, who had not appeared. Thereupon Melanchthon told him that his dream had been true, and that he would never see his daughter again, as she had been summoned to her eternal home. Petrarch had a dream which was evidently also the reflex of his thoughts in the day-time, but accompanied by a direct revelation. He had been, for some days, very anxious about the health of his patron, a Colonna, who was Bishop of Lombez, and one night saw himself in a dream walking by his friend's side, but unable to keep pace with him; the bishop walked faster and faster, bidding him stay behind, and when the poet insisted upon following him, he suddenly assumed a death-like appearance, and said, "No, I will not have you go with me now!" During the same night in which Petrarch had this dream in Parma, the bishop died at his palace in Lombez. The well-known Thomas Wotton, also, dreamt a short time before his death, while residing in Kent, that he saw five persons commit a robbery at Oxford. On the following day he added a postscript to a letter which he had written to his son Henry, then a student at that university, in which he mentioned his dream, and asked if such a robbery had really taken place. The letter reached the young man on the morning after the crime had been committed, when town and university were alike in a state of intense excitement. He made the letter immediately known to the authorities, who found in the account of the dream so accurate a description of the robbers, that they were enabled at once to ascertain who were the guilty persons, and to have them arrested before they could escape. (Beaumont, p. 223.) The great German poet Gustav Schwab received the first intimation of the French Revolution in 1848 through a remarkable dream which his daughter had in the night preceding the 24th of February. She had been attacked by a malignant fever, and was very restless and nervously excited; during that night she saw, in her feverish dreams, the streets of Paris filled with excited crowds, and was forced to witness the most fearful scenes. When her father came to her bedside next morning, she gave him a minute description of the building of barricades, the bloody encounters between the troops and the citizens, and of a number of sad tragedies which she had seen enacted in the narrow and dark streets of the great city. The father, though deeply impressed by the vivid character of the dream, ascribed it to a reminiscence of the scenes enacted during the Revolution of 1789, and dismissed the subject, although his child insisted upon the thoroughly modern character of the buildings, and the costumes and manners of all she had seen. Great was, therefore, the amazement of the poet and of all who had heard of the dream, when, several days afterwards, the first news reached them of the expulsion of the Orleans family, and much greater still when the papers brought, one by one, descriptions of the scenes which the feverish dream had enabled the girl to see in minute detail, and yet with unerring accuracy. It is true that the poet, in whose biography the dream with all the attending circumstances is mentioned at full length, had for years anticipated such a revolution, and often, with a poet's graphic power, conjured up the scenes that were likely to happen whenever the day of the tempest should arrive. Thus his daughter's mind had, no doubt, long been filled with images of this kind, and was in a state peculiarly susceptible for impressions connected with the subject. There remains, however, the magic phenomenon that she saw, not a poet's fiction, but actual occurrences with all their details, and saw them in the very night during which they happened. In the papers of Sir Robert Peel was found a note concerning his journey from Antibes to Nice, in 1854. He was on board the steamer Erculano, which, on the 25th of April, so violently collided with another steamer, the Sicilia, that it sank immediately, and two-thirds of the passengers perished. Among those who were rescued were the great English statesman and the maid of two ladies, the wife and the daughter of a counselor of a French court of justice at Dijon. The young girl had had a presentiment of impending evil, but her wish to postpone the journey had been overruled. The father, also, though knowing nothing of the precise whereabouts of his beloved ones, had been much troubled in mind about their safety, and in the very night in which the accident happened, saw the whole occurrence in a harassing dream. He distinctly beheld the vessel disappear in the waves, and a number of victims, among whom were his wife and his child, struggling for life, till they finally perished. He awoke in a state of great anguish, summoned his servants to keep him company, and told them what he had dreamt. A few hours later the telegraph informed him of the accident, and of his own grievous affliction. (Journ. de l'âme, Févr. 1857, p. 253.)
While in these dreams events were made known which happened at the same time, in other dreams the future itself is revealed. Cicero, in his work on Divination (I. 27, and II. 66), and Valerius Maximus have preserved a number of such dream-visions, which were famous already in the days of antiquity; a dream concerning the tyrant Dionysius was especially well known.
It seems that a woman, called Himera, found herself in a dream among the gods on Olympus, and there saw chained to the throne of Jupiter a large man with red hair and spotted countenance. When she asked the divine messenger who had carried her to those regions, who that man was, he told her it was the scourge of Italy and Sicily, a man who, when unchained, would destroy many cities. She related her dream on the following morning to her friends, but found no explanation, till several years afterwards, when Dionysius ascended the throne. She happened to be in the crowd which had assembled to witness the triumph of the new monarch, and when she saw the tyrant, she uttered a loud cry, for she had recognized in him the man in chains under Jupiter's throne. The cry attracted attention; she was brought before Dionysius, forced to relate her dream, and sent to be executed. Equally well known was the remarkable dream which Socrates had a short time before his death. His sentence had already been passed, but the day for its execution was not yet made known, when Crito, one of his friends, came to him and informed him that it would probably be ordered for the next morning. The great philosopher replied with his usual calmness: "If such is the will of the gods, be it so; but I do not think it will be to-morrow. I had, just before you entered, a sweet dream. A woman of transcending beauty, and dressed in a long white robe, appeared to me, called me by name, and said, 'In three days you will return to your beloved Phthia' (Socrates' native place)." He did not die till the third day.
Alexander the Great came more than once, during his remarkable career, in peculiar contact with prophetic dreams. He was thus informed of the coming of Cassander long before he ever saw him, and even of the influence which the still unknown friend would have on his fate. When the latter at last appeared at court, Alexander looked at him long and anxiously, and recognized in him the man he had so often seen in his dreams. It so happened, however, that before his suspicions assumed a positive form, a Greek distich was mentioned to him, written to prove the utter worthlessness of all dreams, and the effect of these lines, combined with the discovery that Cassander was the son of his beloved Antipater, induced him to lay aside all apprehensions. Nevertheless, his friend subsequently poisoned him in cold blood. Not less famous was the dream which warned Caius Gracchus of his own sad fate. He saw in his sleep the shadow of his brother Tiberius, and heard him announce in a clear voice, that Caius also would share his tragic end, and be murdered like himself in the Capitol. The great Roman frequently related this dream, and the historian Cœlius records that he heard it repeated during Gracchus' life-time. It is well known that the latter afterwards became a tribune, and was killed while he held that office, in the same manner as his brother. Cicero also had his warning dream. He was escaping from his enemies, who had driven him out of Rome, and seeking safety in his Antium villa. Here he dreamt, one night, that, as he was wandering through a waste, deserted country, the Consul Marius met him, accompanied by the usual retinue, and adorned with all the insignia of his rank, and asked him why he was so melancholy, and why he had fled from Rome. When he had answered the question, Marius took him by his right hand, and summoning his chief officer to his side, ordered him to carry the great orator to the temple of Jupiter, built by Marius himself, while he assured Cicero he would there meet with new hopes. It was afterwards ascertained that at the very hour of the dream, the Senate had been discussing in the temple of Jupiter the speedy return of Cicero. It would have been well for the great Cæsar, also, if he had deigned to listen to the warning voice of dreams, for in the night before his murder, his wife, Calphurnia, saw him, in a dream, fall wounded and copiously bleeding into her arms, and there end his life. She told him of her dream, and on her knees besought him not to go out on that day; but Cæsar, fearing he might be suspected of giving undue weight to a woman's dreams, made light of her fears, went to the Senate, and met his tragic fate. Among later Romans the Emperor Theodosius was most strikingly favored by dreams, if we may rely upon the statement of Ammianus Marcellinus (I. 29). Two courtiers, anxious to ascertain who should succeed the Emperor Valens on the throne, employed a kind of magic instrument, resembling the modern psychograph, and succeeded in deciphering the letters Theod. Their discovery became known to the jealous emperor, who ordered not only Theodorus, his second secretary of state, to be executed, but with him a large number of eminent personages whose names began with the ominous five letters. For some unknown reasons, Theodosius, then in Spain, escaped his suspicions, and yet it was he, who, when Valens fell in the war against the Goths, was summoned home by the next emperor, Gratianus, to save the empire and assume the supreme command of the army. When the successful general returned to Byzantium to make his report to the emperor, he had himself a dream in which he saw the great Patriarch of Antioch, Meletius, invest him with the purple, and place the imperial crown upon his head. Gratianus, struck by the brilliancy of the victory obtained at the moment of supreme danger, made Theodosius Emperor of the East, and returned to Rome. During the following year (380) a great council was held in Constantinople, and here, amid a crowd of assembled dignitaries of the church, Theodosius instantly recognized the Bishop of Antioch, whom he had never seen except in his dream.
It is not generally known that the prediction of future greatness which Shakespeare causes the three witches to convey to Macbeth, rests on an historic basis. The announcement came to him, however, probably not at an actual meeting, but by means of a prophetic dream, which presented to the ambitious chieftain the appearance of an encounter with unearthly agents. This presumption is strengthened by the first notice of the mysterious event, which occurs, it is believed, in "Wyntownis Cronykil," where Macbeth is reported to have had a vivid dream of three weird women, who foretold him his fate. Boethius derived his information from this source, and for unknown reasons added not only Banquo as a witness of the scene, but described it, also, first of all chroniclers, as an actual meeting in a forest.
The report that the discovery of the famous Venus of Milo was due to a dream, is not improbable, but is as yet without sufficient authentication. The French Consul, Brest, who was a resident of Milo, dreamed, it is stated, two nights in succession, that he had caused diggings to be made at a certain place in the island and that his efforts had been rewarded by the discovery of a beautiful statue. He paid no attention to the dream; but it was repeated a third time, and now so distinctly that he not only saw clearly all the surroundings, but, also, the traces of a recent fire on the spot that had been pointed out to him before. When he went on the following day to the place, he instantly recognized the traces of fire, began his researches, and discovered not only the Venus, now the glory of the Louvre, but, also, several other most valuable statues. The well-known dream concerning Major André is open to the same objections, although it is quoted in good faith by Mrs. Crowe (i., p. 59). We are told that the Rev. Mr. Cunningham, the poet, saw in a dream a man who was captured by armed soldiers and hanged on a tree. To his utter consternation, he recognized on the following day, in Major André, who was then for the first time presented to him, the person he had seen in his dream. The latter was then just on the point of embarking for America, where he met with his sad fate.
A large number of dreams which are looked upon as prophetic, are nothing more than the result of impressions made on the mind during sleep by some bodily sensation. A swelling or an inflammation, for instance, is frequently announced beforehand by pain in the affected part of the body; the mind receives through the nerves an impression of this pain and clothes it, during sleep and in a dream, into some familiar garb, the biting of a serpent, the sting of an insect, or, even, the stab of a dagger. An occasional coincidence serves to lend prestige to such simple and perfectly natural dreams. Thus Stilling ("Jenseits," p. 284) records the well-known story of a young man in Padua, who dreamed one night that he was bitten by one of the marble lions which stand before the church of St. Justina. Passing by the place, on the following day, with some companions, he recalled the dream, and putting his hand into the mouth of one of the lions, he said, defiantly: "Look at the fierce lion that bit me last night." But at the same moment he uttered a piercing cry and drew back his hand in great terror: a scorpion, hid in the lion's mouth, had stung him, and the poor youth died of the venom. The German poet Conrad Gessner dreamed, in a similar manner, that a snake bit him in his left breast; the matter was completely forgotten, when five days later a slight rising appeared on the spot, which speedily developed itself into a fatal ulcer, and caused his death in a short time.
Far more interesting, and occasionally productive of good results, are dreams which might be called retrospective, inasmuch as they reveal events of the past, which stand in some connection with present or impending necessities. Many of these, no doubt, arise simply from the recovery of forgotten facts in our memory; others, however, cannot be thus explained. Justinus tells us of Dido's dream, in which she saw her departed husband, Sichæus, who pointed out to her his concealed treasures and advised her to seek safety in flight. St. Augustine also has an account of a father who after death appeared to his son and showed him a receipted account, the loss of which had caused his heir much anxiety. (De cura pro mortuis, ch. xi.) After Dante's death the thirteenth canto of his Paradise could nowhere be found, and the apparent loss filled all Italy with grief and sorrow. His son, Pietro Alighieri, however, saw a long time afterwards, in a dream, his father, who came to his bedside and told him that the missing papers were concealed under a certain plank near the window at which he had been in the habit of writing. It was only when all other researches had proved vain, that, attention was paid to the dream; but when the plank was examined the canto was found in the precise place which the dream had indicated.
A similar dream of quite recent occurrence was accidentally more thoroughly authenticated than is generally the case with such events. The beautiful wife of Baron Alphonse de Rothschild of Paris had lost a valuable ring while hunting in the woods near her castle of Ferrières. It so happened that early associations made the jewel specially dear to her, and she felt the loss grievously; a reward of fifteen hundred francs was, therefore, offered at once for its recovery. The night after the hunt, the daughter of one of the keepers saw in a dream an unknown man of imposing appearance, who told her to go at daybreak to a certain crossroad in the forest, where she would find the ring at the foot of a beech-tree, close to the highway. She awakes, dresses herself at once, and goes to the place of which she has dreamed; after half an hour's walk she reaches the crossroads and almost at the same moment sees something glittering and shining like a firefly, picks it up, and behold! it is the ring. The girl had not even seen the hunt, nor did she know anything of the loss of the jewel; the whole occurrence, and the place where it was lost, all were pointed out to her in her dream. (Le Monde Illustré, Dec. 15, 1860).
It has already been mentioned that the question has often been mooted whether the mind was really quite at rest during sleep, or still operative in dreams. Some authors deny its activity altogether; others admit a partial activity. The philosopher Kant went so far as to maintain that perceptions had during sleep were clearer and fuller than those of the day, because of the perfect rest of the other senses. Recollection, alone, he added, was missing, because the mind acted in sleep without the coöperation of the body.
There are, however, certain facts which seem to prove that the mind does, at least, not altogether cease its activity while the body is asleep. How else could we explain the power many persons undoubtedly possess to awake at a fixed hour, and the success with which, more than once, great mental efforts have been made during profound sleep? Of the latter, Tartini's famous sonata is a striking instance. He had endeavored in vain to finish this great work; inspiration would not come, and he had abandoned the task in despair. During the night he had a dream in which he once more tried his best, but in vain; at the moment of despair, however, the Devil appeared to him and promised to finish the work in return for his soul. The composer, nothing loath, surrenders his soul and hears his magnificent work gloriously completed on the violin. He wakes up in perfect delight, goes to his desk, and at once writes down his "Devil's Sonata." Even children are known occasionally to be able to give intelligent answers while fast asleep; the questions, however, must be in accordance with the current of their thoughts, otherwise they are apt to be aroused. A case is quoted by Reil of two soldiers who used, at times, to keep up an uninterrupted conversation during a whole night, while they were to all appearances fast asleep. A lady, also, was unable to refuse answers to questions put to her at night, and had at last to lock herself in carefully whenever she went to sleep.
Hence it is that some of the most profound thinkers who have discussed the subject of dreams, like Descartes and Leibnitz, Jouffroy and Dugald Stewart, Richard and Carus, with a number of others, assert the uninterrupted wakefulness of the mind. Some authors believe that the spiritual part of man needs no sleep, but delights in the comfort of feeling that the body is in perfect repose, and of forgetting, by these means, for a time the troubles of daily life, and the responsibilities of our earthly existence. They base this view upon the fact, that, as far as we can judge, the mind is, during sleep, independent of the body and the outer world. Thinking is quite possible during sleep without dreaming, and certain bodily sensations, even, are correctly perceived, as when we turn over in our sleep, because lying on one side produces pain or uneasiness. We not only talk while we are asleep, but laugh or weep, sigh or groan. A slight noise, a whispered word, affect the course of our thoughts, and produce new images in our dreams, as certain affections and even the pressure upon certain organs are sure to produce invariably the same dreams. Space and time disappear, however, and naturally, because we can measure them only by the aid of our senses, and these are, for the time, inactive. Hence Dugald Stewart ascribes the manner in which a moment's dream often comprises a year, or a whole lifetime, to the fact that, when we are asleep, the images created by our imagination appear to be realities, while those which we form when we are awake are known to us to be mere fictions, and hence not subject to the laws of time.
It will not surprise us, therefore, to find that this activity of the mind, deprived of the usual means of making itself known to others by gesture, sound, or action, seeks frequently a symbolical utterance, and this is the grain of truth here also hid under the vast amount of rubbish, known as the interpretation of dreams. Troubles and difficulties may thus appear as storms; sorrow and grief as tears; troubled waters may represent pain, and smooth ice impending danger; a dry river-bed an approaching famine, and pretty flowers great joy to come, provided, always, we are disposed to admit a higher class of prophetic dreams. Such a view is supported by high authority, for since the days of Aristotle, great writers, divines as well as philosophers, have endeavored to classify dreams according to their nature and importance. The great reformer, Melanchthon, in his work on the soul, divided them into common dreams, void of importance; prophetic dreams, arising from the individual gifts of the sleeper; divine dreams, inspired by God either directly or through the agency of angels, and finally, demoniac dreams, such as the witches' sabbath. One great difficulty attending all such classification arises, however, from the well-known fact, already alluded to, that external sensations are by far the most frequent causes of dreams. Even these have been systematically arranged by some writers, most successfully, perhaps, in the work of Maine de Biran, but he overlooks again the numerous cases in which external noises and similar accidents produce a whole train of thoughts. Thus Pope dreamed of a Spaniard who impudently entered his library, ransacked the books on the shelves, and turned a deaf ear to all his remonstrances. The impression was so forcible that he questioned all his servants, and investigated the matter thoroughly, till he was finally forced to acknowledge that the whole transaction was a dream caused by the fall of a book in his library, which he heard in his sleep. A still more remarkable case occurred once in a hotel in Dantzic, where not one person only, but all the guests, without exception, dreamed of the sudden arrival of a number of travelers, who disturbed the whole house, and took possession of their rooms with unusual clatter and noise. Not one had arrived, but during the night a violent storm had arisen, causing doors to slam and window-shutters to flap against the house, noises which had aroused in more than fifty people precisely the same impressions.
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