Context: As physician, philosopher, and amateur theologian, Browne produced a number of literary works on a variety of subjects. This short essay concerning seventeenth century dream psychology survived, with a number of Browne's other works, in manuscript until the nineteenth century. Dreams, says Browne, are in part the result of the day's thoughts and actions; virtuous men have pleasant and peaceful sleep while vicious men are troubled and tormented by their dreams. What we dream is influenced not only by our character, however, but may also be determined by the foods we eat. The images appearing in dreams, he continues, are often symbolic and require subtle interpretation; this theory he illustrates by citation of classical examples. Some dreams contain useful intellience, but others may delude and mislead us if we do not interpret them with care. Since we spend one-third of our lives asleep, we should give due attention to the dreams that come to us during that period:
Half our days we pass in the shadow of the earth, and the brother of death exacteth a third part of our lives. A good part of our sleeps is pieced out with visions, and phantastical objects wherin we are confessedly deceived. The day supplyeth us with truths, the night with fictions and falsehoods, which uncomfortably divide the natural account of our beings. And therefore having passed the day in sober labours and rational enquiries of truth, we are fain to betake ourselves unto such a state of being, wherin the soberest heads have acted all the monstrosities of melancholy, and which unto open eyes are no better than folly and madness.