A Dream

It seemed to me that I was floating far above the earth, toward a transfigured old man whose appearance filled me with something higher than mere respect. Whenever I opened my eyes toward him, I was penetrated by an irresistible feeling of reverence and trust, and I was about to prostrate myself before him, when a voice of indescribable softness addressed me. “You love to investigate nature,” he said, “here is something that will interest you.” As he said this, he handed me a bluish-green sphere, somewhat gray in places, which he held between his index finger and thumb. It seemed to me about an inch in diameter. “Take this mineral,” he continued, “test it, and tell me what you have found. Behind you is everything that you need for such investigations, as complete as possible; I shall go off, and return when you are through.”

Looking around, I observed a fine room with instruments of every kind, which seemed less strange to me in the dream than afterward when I awoke. I felt as if I had been there often, and I found what I needed as readily as if I had prepared everything in advance myself. I inspected, felt, and smelled the sphere several times; I shook it and listened to it as if it were an eaglestone; I brought it to my tongue; with a clean cloth, I wiped off the dust and a kind of barely perceptible coating; I heated it and rubbed it on my sleeve for its electricity; I tested it on steel, on glass, and on magnets, and determined its specific weight, which was, if I remember right, between four and five. From all these tests I could see that the material was worth rather little, and I remember, too, that as a child I had bought spheres of the same kind, or at least not very different, at a price of three for a penny at the Frankfurt fair.

I turned now to the chemical tests and determined the components of the whole in percentages. Here again I found nothing special. There was some clay, approximately the same amount of lime, but much more silica, and finally some iron and salt and an unknown substance, which had many characteristics of known substances but nothing peculiar to itself. I was sorry that I did not know the name of the old man. I would have liked to name the substance after him on the label in order to pay him a compliment. I must have been very exact in my investigation, for when I added up all that I had found, it came to exactly a hundred. I had no sooner made the last stroke in my calculations than the old man stepped into the room. He took the paper and read it with a gentle, almost imperceptible, smile, and turning to me with a glance of celestial benevolence mingled with seriousness, he asked: “Do you know, O mortal, what it was that …

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