Clay portrays Martin Van Buren driven from the White House by nightmares of cider barrels and Whig presidential challenger William Henry Harrison. Van Buren flees the presidential mansion in his nightshirt, dropping a purse on the steps behind him. He is pursued by the specter of a winged barrel of hard cider with the head of Harrison. Van Buren speaks in quasi-Shakespearean verse:
Oh I have had a dream so horrible,
Twould make the wiry stubble of your head
Stand stiff as cabbage stalks in frozen field!
Methought, whilst slumbering in my chair of state,
My custom always of an afternoon, a cider barrel
Rose from out the earth, and, nearly simultaneous,
A horrid engine like unto a cider press;
Within which press, by some invisible hand,
I felt myself impelled! Oh then, methought,
What pain it are to smash! and how intolerable
Our sufferings is! as I my vital juices did pour forth.
Anon a legion of foul fiends in shape
Of cider barrels, did environ me, and one,
With head resembling an old hero,
Screamed in my ears "Remember March the 4th & Harrison",
But ha! that form and voice again!
See how he beckons me! I must absquatulate!
March 4 was at that time the traditional inauguration day. For another use of the curious term "absquatulate" (also "absquabulate") see James Akin's "The Little Magician's Sleight of Hand Performance" (no. 1840-40).
In the street Van Buren encounters two startled allies, Senators John Calhoun and Thomas Hart Benton. Calhoun exclaims, also in verse:
My liege what dreadful vision has,
In the lone dreary hour of night,Thus harrowed and unstrung your royal nerves?
Benton, peering through his monocle, says: My liege this is the very coinage of your brain!
I see no cider barrel fiend nor aught
Save these few mint drops from your highness purse
No doubt escaped which I within the folds of my cravat
Will keep secured.
The "mint drops" to which Benton refers are the coins which spill from Van Buren's purse. This is a double reference to the perennial Whig charge of corruption of the Democratic administration and to Benton's bullionist championing of hard money fiscal policy.
The verse sounds Shakespearean and, given the supernatural subject matter, may allude to "MacBeth" or "Hamlet. For example, when Hamlet first meets his father's ghost in Act 1, Scene 5, the ghost says, "I could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul . . . and each particular hair to stand an end, Like quills upon the fretful porpentine."
Based on the subject, Weitenkampf dates "Matty's Dream" 1841. The Whigs were victorious in the 1840 election but, like "Notice to Quit" (no. 1840-59) the print represents confident but premature hopes on the artist's part, rather than post-election gloating. As the Library's impression shows, the print was deposited for copyright on August 26, 1840.
"Price 25 Cents" is printed in the margin of the print.