Nothing like rude bits with a dollop of old-fashioned sauce
Some of the British Library’s naughtiest books are finally available for the public to read
They were written in the 18th century but until the 1960s, if you wanted to read some of the British Library’s naughtiest books, you had to apply for permission to examine them in the library’s “Private Case”.
In the 1960s, as London was swinging and sexual mores became more liberal, researchers could access the erotica collection in the library’s rare books collection.
Now, thanks to the efforts of Gale publishers, the collection of formerly obscene titles too naughty for the shelves will be made available as part of the Archives of Sexuality and Gender academic research centre to library subscribers, higher education institutions, and for free at the library’s reading rooms in London and Yorkshire.
Now that they’re free to see, what’s in these oh so naughty pieces of 17th century porn writing? Highlights include the dastardly Merryland books, written by different authors all describing women as land “ripe for ploughing”.
A New Description of Merryland, written by one Roger Pheuquewell (get it?), describes the sexual exploits of its author, a man well endowed with an instrument “of a large radius … inferior to none”.
In it, the author goes on about how a woman’s “Soyl is very strange, so that if a man do but take a piece of it in his hand, twill cause (as it were) an immediate Delirium and make a man fall flat upon his face upon the ground, where if he have not a care, he may chance to lose a limb, swallowed up in a whirl pit”. Phew! Be still my throbbing instrument!
The collection also includes an 18th-century list of sex workers in Covent Garden, describing them in fiendishly indecipherable code: “Miss Fr-m from Berwick Street – about nineteen, of a fair complexion, with blue eyes,” whose “parts below – are very conveniently adapted to any size.” There are also copies of John Cleland’s Fanny Hill, considered the first porn novel in the English language, and original copies of the works of the Marquis de Sade.
The library’s curator of collections, Maddy Smith, told the Guardian: “All of these works are pretty much written by men, for men. It’s to be expected, but looking back, that’s what is shocking, how male-dominated it is, the lack of female agency.”
No surprises there and, while the collection provides a tantalising glimpse into the expression of human sexuality over the past three centuries, it also shows how little things have changed.