I like the way that similar themes are re-worked by different caricaturists over the years, often using the same pun or a variation on a theme. Take this etching from 1783. It is apparently based upon a poem of Erasmus Darwin called ‘Botanical Garden’
“On his Night-Mare, thro the evening fog,
Flits the squab fiend o’er fen, and lake, and bog,
Seeks some love-wilder’d maid, by sleep opprest,
Alights, and grinning, sits upon her breast.”
The ever-excellent Lewis Walpole Library site describes the scene thus: ”An incubus squatting on a sleeping woman, her head and arms falling over the side of the bed at right, with a wild horse behind curtains in the background and a small table with jug and pots beside the bed at left; after the painting by Fuseli”
The following year saw Thomas Rowlandson with his take on Fuseli’s painting:
It shows Charles James Fox lying naked on the bed, with the demon sitting on his chest and with the bulging-eyed horse peering in through the window.
By 1795 the horse had disappeared to be replaced by a ghastly vision of a French revolutionary at the window, and with Pitt sititing on the chest of the unfortunate figure of John Bull.
The Lewis Walpole explanation says “John Bull lies on his back in bed, his mouth gaping; Pitt, a goblin creature, sits on his chest in profile to the right, holding above his upturned head a loaf inscribed ’13 Pence’. Pitt has a huge head, much caricatured, with starting eyeballs; his hair stands up and the bag of his queue, inscribed ‘Taxes’, flies out behind him. Through a casement window (left) looks a fantastic French republican, with bulging eyeballs and fang-like teeth, glaring at John Bull; from his neck hangs the model of a guillotine. Behind his head is a waning moon. Beside him are the words: ‘Republic War and Famine for Ever.’ Beneath the bed is a chamber-pot inscribed ‘John Bull’; beside it is a chair on which stands a candle.
A year earlier (1794) Richard Newton had set to work on the theme - we still had the mare’s head at the open window, and it looked like this:
The terrified man wakes up to see the devilish figure sitting on the chest of his sleeping wife, holding a lantern while the night mare surveys the scene from the open window.
A few years later caricaturists were still playing with the pun, and George Cruikshank came up with the Night Mayor:
The caption underneath reads:
“The Night Mayor flitting on the evening fogs, Traverses alleys, streets lanes and bogs. Seeking some Love bewildered Maid by Gin appeared. Alights and ogling sits upon her downy breast”
And the pictures on the wall shows what the naughty girl has been up to to get nightmares – there is a three-in-a-bed scene, and a naked satyr. Peeping from under her voluminous bloomers a bewigged judge gleefully announces that “The deeds shall be recorded”
And finally, still on the theme of nightmares but without any dreadful puns, we have a Victorian stab at the tradition with “The effects of a Crab Supper”:
Good old Fuseli inspired them all….