JF Ptak Science Books Post 2650
In my career of looking-at-things it is becoming an easier job to recognize something that is out of place, or uncommon, or wrong--far more so I think than the opposite, because the "expected" happens to be expected, and so fits right into place, somewhere. So it came to be that this cartoon featuring the depiction of an anthropomorphic nightmare stood out so clearly and oddly. It is the work of James Francis Sullivan (and published in 1878 in a volume of his darkly humorous single-page six-ten panel cartoons ungainly titled The British Working Man by one who does Not Believe in Him, and other Sketches) and in my experience is a very early depiction of the nightmare itself as a corporeal thing. There have been untold numbers of depictions of the contents of nightmares in literature and art and such, but I'm having a hard time of picturing another source that would stand as a dictionary illustration of what a nightmare looks like devoid of its content.
I checked in with the Oxford English Dictionary and found to my surprise that the nightmare started out at some point in English to be a "female spirit or monster"--it was not surprising to see the definitions stretching back to Chaucer and earlier1. Next stop was the cataloging and reference tool WorldCat, where I searched for the appearance of "nightmare" in the title of a book and found nothing (seemingly) published so until John Bond's An essay on the incubus, or nightmare, in 1753. This is just a casual search, and nothing very scientific, but at least at this level there isn't much to see, perhaps six titles only until 1800, after which the use of the word grows. In contrast, titles appearing using the word "dream" are a solid+ order of magnitude beyond "nightmare'.
Nightmares and dreams abound everywhere but in the titles of books, and sometimes actually lead to a chain of events in the waking world. Ramanujan famously dreamed mathematical dreams (in addition to hearing solutions to massively complex problems from "angels" in a waking state); R.L. Stevenson dreamed the premise for Mr. Hyde; Socrates used the medium (dreampt or not); Mary Wollstoncraft nightmare lead to her big nightmare book, and so on, on and on, into the dream/nightmare-filled night. In my memory of such stories, though, the nightmare or dream never seems to have its own face, and that nothing exists beyond the contents of the thing beyond itself--this is what makes the nightmare-catcher story by Sullivan so unusual to me.
I don't have anywhere to go with this, presently, beyond simply reporting it.
In any event, the cartoon goes as follows: a travelling showman (already evidently entertaining people with a "talking turnip" and a "celebrated knowing badger") resolved to capture a nightmare for his show. In that he mocks up a sleeping version of himself in his bed, and waits upon the nightmare, and when the nightmare makes his appearance the showman captures him with a broken drum. The nightmare is then put on display in the travelling show (also playing the "orgin" and firing a gun) for all to see for the cost of one penny.
This all happens on Christmas Eve--I can think of better stories than this to share on that or any night.
1. "Nightmare" from the OED:
a. A female spirit or monster supposed to settle on and produce a feeling of suffocation in a sleeping person or animal. Also fig. Now rare.
c1410 (▸c1390) Chaucer Miller's Tale (Cambr. Dd.4.24) (1902) 3485 Blisse this hous fri euery euyl wyght ffor the nyghtesmare [c1390 Hengwrt nyghtesuerye] the whȝt Pater noster.
1440 Promptorium Parvulorum (Harl. 221) 356 Nyghte mare [v.r. Nyhtmare], Epialtes.
1530 J. Palsgrave Lesclarcissement 248/1 Nightmare, goublin.
1608 E. Topsell Hist. Serpents 173 The spirits of the night, called Incubi and Succubi, or else Night-mares.
1696 J. Aubrey Misc. (1721) 147 It is to prevent the Night-Mare (viz.) the Hag, from riding their Horses.
1770 T. Chatterton Compl. Wks. (1971) I. 211 The dethe-owle loude dothe synge, To the nyghte-mares as heie goe.
1804 J. Collins Previous Apostrophe in Scripscrapologia p. x, Let thy Pegasus then, spurn the Nightmare of Sloth, Nor by Day let her hag-ride thy Pen.
1822 Shelley Prince Athanase in Posthumous Poems (1824) 110 Like an eyeless night-mare grief did sit Upon his being.
1851 N. Hawthorne House of Seven Gables xvi. 270 So heavy and lumpish that we can liken him to nothing better than a defunct nightmare, which had perished..and left its flabby corpse on the breast of the tormented one.
1886 R. L. Stevenson Kidnapped x. 92 There was that tightness on my chest that I could hardly breathe; the thought of the two men I had shot sat upon me like a nightmare.