In order to convey a distinct idea of the subject of the following text, I shall, according to the old custom of medical authors, begin with the etymology of it.
Although we have reason to believe, as will afterwards appear, that this disease was known long before the Greek language, yet, the earliest account we have of it, is from the Greek authors, who called it Εφιαλτης, and the Romans named it Incubus, both which words partly express its effects.
In our language it is generally known by the name of the nightmare; which strange term probably arose from superstitious notions which the British had, and perhaps still have, of it. How it first obtained this odd appellation, I never could learn, nor is it material to know, since that name is sufficient to distinguish it from every other disease.
The nightmare generally seizes people sleeping on their backs, and often begins with frightful dreams, which are soon succeeded by a difficult respiration, a violent oppression on the breast, and a total privation of voluntary motion. In this agony they sigh, groan, utter indistinct sounds, and remain in the jaws of death, till, by the utmost efforts of nature, or some external assistance, they escape out of that dreadful torpid state.
As soon as they shake off that vast oppression, and are able to move the body, they are affected with a strong palpitation, great anxiety, languor, and uneasiness; which symptoms gradually abate, and are succeeded by the pleasing reflection of having escaped such imminent danger. All these symptoms I have often felt, and hope, that whoever has had, or may have, this disease, will readily know it by this description, which I have not only taken from my own feelings, but from the observations of many of my acquaintances, who were also afflicted with it, and from the records of the ancient observators.
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