1878~1883: Dr. Budge’s Providential Dream

At the turn of the 20th Century, Dr. E.A. Wallis Budge [1837-1934] was the head of the Egyptian antiquities department at the British Musuem, a position he eventually held for over thirty years, and he was the well-known author of many authoritative books on the history of the ancient Egyptians. But according to Budge's friend, the famous author Henry Rider Haggard, sometime between 1878~1883, when Budge was still just a student at the University of Cambridge in England, he had a very unusual experience. This story, as Haggard wrote it, was published after the author's death.

        As Haggard tells the tale, Budge was offered an Exhibition to be in charge of by Dr. John Peile [1838-1910] of Christ's College (located in Cambridge, England) and, being that Budge needed the payment that would come with said responsibility, he was keen to get the Exhibition. There was one requirement that Dr. Peile insisted on first, however, and that was that Budge needed to pass an examination to test his skill with the Assyrian language. In all, there would be four papers in the test, and the test was arranged to be run by Rev. Archibald Henry Sayce [1846-1933],  Professor of Assyriology at the University of Oxford, who set the days for the examination.

        The night before one of these examinations, Budge had a dream in which he was seated in a room he had never seen before, a bit like a shed with a skylight in the roof. Professor Sayce entered the room with a long envelope in his hand; from this he removed a batch of green papers, and gave one of these to Budge to work on. Sayce then left the room, locking the door with Budge inside. Budge looked at the paper he had been given and saw it contained questions and extracts from Assyrian and Akkadian texts for translation. The questions were easy enough but, though Budge knew he'd seen the texts before, he could not translate them... and the fear of failing the exam proved so great that he awoke in a fright.

        Budge soon fell asleep again, only to experience the same dream two more times. He awoke in a greater state of panic than before, around 2am, and was too restless to sleep again. He went downstairs, lit a fire, and, browsing through the second volume of Sir Henry Rawlinson's great work on the Assyrian language, he managed to find the texts that looked so familiar in his dream. Restless, he worked at translating them until breakfast time, by which time he had managed to passably translate the four texts.

        By nine, Budge was at the college for his examination, where he was informed that the main hall was full up with a classical examination, so he would have to take his exam in a side room near the kitchens. Prof. Sayce led Budge to the room, which proved to be the same room that Budge had seen in his dream the night before. Once there Sayce produced a long envelope from his pocket, and pulled several green papers from it, while explaining to Budge that the green paper was typically what Sayce used for writing cuniform, due to his delicate eyesight. Sayce then told Budge that he had until noon to finish the examination, and then left the room, locking the door with Budge inside... just as he had in the dream. When Budge sat down at the table and looked over the exam papers, he saw that it contained the same questions and texts as he had seen the night before in his dream; the same texts he had just spent several hours translating. Needless to say, Budge was finished when Sayce returned; and the remaining three examinations were all far easier for Budge to pass. Due to his fantastic dream, Budge got the Exhibition that he needed.

        Haggard ends his account of this incident by stating that Dr. Budge told him that the doctor's mother and mother's mother had both been visited by dreams that provided advice or help when they were in difficult times, which they considered to be a form of Divine Providence; but Budge himself thought it sounded strange that Divine powers would be worried about him passing a test, though he had no other explantion for his lucky dream.

History and Questions

        This event is questionable, for reasons that are complicated. Let's start with the fact that it was written by Henry Rider Haggard [1856-1925], a famous novelist at the time, as part of his memoirs -- Days of My Life -- and was published one year after his death... though he had finished writing his memoirs in 1912, as the preface of the book explains. He had instructed the text be kept secret until he died, and so it was not until 1926 that it was both published as a book, and serialized in The Strand Magazine of London.

        The preface of the book, written by the volume's editor C. J. Longman, also makes clear that the content of the book had been shown to a number of people for their approval of its content, as well as the possibility of their adding personal experiences about Haggard to the final book. One of the people who saw the text before it was published was Dr. E.A. Wallis Budge, who was still alive. So, by inference, the text about Budge's strange dream was looked at and approved by Dr. Budge before publication. And yet...

        There is no further reference to the story of the dream to be found, even in Dr. Budge's memoirs of his own life. He never states the story himself, but also never denies it. So Budge's behavior is interesting, as it is hard to say if he allowed the story to be published because it was true, or because he didn't want to interfere with a dead friend's last book.

        I'll throw one last problem into the mix... Professor Sayce of Oxford, who theoretically performed the examination, held the chair of Assyriology at Oxford from 1891 to 1919; so he wasn't working at Oxford when Budge was a student at Cambridge, showing that at least one detail is wrong in the story as presented.

        And so, to quote Haggard's own summary of the matter: "Let the reader make of it what he can, for it is beyond my powers of interpretation."

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