Saturday, December 01, 2007

A General History of Whoring, 1697


I have been reading, with gratified astonishment, the anonymous publication of 1697, God's judgments against whoring. being an essay towards a general history of it, from the creation of the world to the reign of Augustulus (which according to common computation is 5190 years) and from thence down to the present year 1697: being a collection of the most remarkable instances of uncleanness that are to be found in sacred or prophane history during that time, with observations thereon.

I pointed out this simultaneously learned and ill-judged book to my colleague Blair Worden (who really knows about this period) and he noticed straight away that the printer, Richard Baldwin, was a regular printer of radical tracts. It was all intended very seriously by a late 17th century writer immensely antagonized by what he calls “Advocates of Lechery”. He writes against libertinage, and foresees trouble – if anyone rebuked to their face theBeaux and Debauchees of this present Age, he would run a hazard of being whipp'd through the Lungs, with a Damn him for a canting foul-mouth'd Coxcomb”.

Apart from that of being run through by an indignant rakehell, the author did see the inherent problem in his project: “the Design of the following Essay is not to minister Fuel to those Impure Flames which have consum'd so many particular Persons, Families, and Nations, but is intended as a Caveat and Warning to all those who are guilty of that reigning Sin of Uncleanness” (he begins). But he then embarks on a work which tactlessly gathers together every discreditable Bible episode, and supplies chapter and verse on every classical depravity. So, if you wanted a detailed summary of what Tiberius got up to at Capraea, here it all is. What emerges is a version of Sir Walter Ralegh’s History of the World (which has the same type of historical scope and sources), but focused almost entirely on fornication, history’s “remarkable instances of uncleanness”. Our pious-minded author, oblivious to his effect, runs first through Bible history, then the Jewish Historians, and on into the classical historians, pursuing his learned theme with unremitting enthusiasm (and giving the impression that humanity in general has also pursued the practical matter with unremitting enthusiasm too).

The introductory list of contents is fabulous: here are some extracts from D, F and W:

  • Damocles leaps into scalding Oyl to avoid Sodomy. 211
  • David's Amours with Maacha, and the Opinions of the Rabbins concerning it. 68
  • David's Adultery and Punishment, and Remarks on it. 64, 65
  • David's Concubines, their uncleanness and punishment. 75
  • Darius's Incest and Punishment. 148, 225

  • Firmus drank two Buckets of Wine at once. 273
  • Fishes, the luxury and niceness of the Romans in them, mourn'd for when dead, deck'd with Jewels, Octavius's Expence about 'em. 282, 283.
  • Fore-skin, why circumcis'd. 13
  • Fornication, why so called. 307
  • ---Schoolmens Opinion of it. 315
  • Fowl, the niceness and luxury of the Romans about 'em. 283
  • Furniture of Houses excessive. 292, 294
  • War occasion'd at Sparta by the Lust of Chelidonis. 200
  • Wenches naked wait at Table. 277
  • Whores and Whoremongers, their Character by Solomon. 87

· Whoredom the cause of Apostacy, and of the Deluge. 6, 7

  • ---the Judgments denounc'd against it in the New Testament. 122, &c.
  • ---its Original. 1, 2, 3
  • Wild Beasts, vast numbers of 'em in the Theatres. 287
  • Women that kill'd themselves to avoid being defil'd. 304
  • Woman taken in Adultery, the reason of our Saviour's acquitting her; what he wrote upon the Ground at that time. 109

Immensely hot under the collar though he is about adultery, ‘digamy’, polygamy, concubinage, and the ‘keeping of misses’, as you see, the author still has spare indignation about the other depravities his fornicators have indulged.

Generally, the author can keep more or less on track, as bad things happen to most of the adulterers in the Bible. However, there are episodes where due condemnation is not to be found. And there is a certain, scarcely deniable raciness to the commentary … for instance, when he gets to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. The author speculates about what drove the inhabitants to demand intercourse with the angels visiting Lot:

“This is the first Instance we meet with of Lusts arriving to such a prodigious height, as to seek after Unnatural Objects, and it would seem their Incontinence was so fierce, that they furiously sought after every opportunity, to gratifie their brutish desires, especially upon Strangers; for they had so mutually polluted one another, that it's probable their villainous pleasures that way, had lost much of their relish.

From there, he plunges on with the continued story of Lot, and how his daughters came to seduce him. No immediate thunderbolt ensues: the author points this out himself, which is to his credit. But I was struck by his ingenious speculations on the way the behaviour of Lot’s daughters might be attributable to the adverse environmental factors of their upbringing. He has a point, but an oddly worldly one:

“The next Instance we meet with, is that of Lot's Incest with his own Daughters, or rather their Incest with him. This passage has many strange Circumstances that deserve our observation. It is not improbable that the lewd Conversation of the Sodomites had before-hand infected the minds of those Damsels, for it's a hard matter to touch pitch and not to be defiled; Divines are of different opinions concerning those Women, some believing that they had actually been married, and others, that they were only betrothed, but which soever of 'em it was, it's certain they had lost their Males; and perhaps their Fathers offer to prostitute them to save his Guests, and their having been ear witnesses at least to those unnatural villanies practis'd by the Sodomites, might possess them with extenuating thoughts of the wickedness they had in design: Yet it appears by their abominable Intrigue to Intoxicate their Father, that they durst not propound any such thing to him when he was Sober, their wickedness appears to be so much the greater, that they had but just escap'd from that storm of divine Wrath which over took the Sodomites for their Vile Lusts; That they had but a very little before seen their Mother turn'd into a Monument of God's displeasure, for having a hankering mind after that impure City, and her wicked Relations in it; That they had no doubt been often times witnesses to the vexation of their Fathers Righteous Soul at the lustful practises of the Sodomites, and yet all this was not able to restrain them from pursuing their unclean design, and commiting one sin to obtain the Commission of another. Their pretence that there was no Man left to come in unto them after the manner of all the Earth, and that therefore they were under necessity a of raising up Seed to their Father, appears to have been an ill founded suggestion of the Devil, to hide their sin from their Eyes, for they could not but know that they had left men behind them in Zoar, they might have seen from the hill, that the whole Country was not ruined, and those divine Judgments had only swallowed up the Cities of the Plain; or they might speedily have been better inform'd by their Father. Their wickedness is also aggravated by this, that as they were Sisters by Nature, they were Sisters in Iniquity, and they had no regard to their own, nor their Father's good Name, nor the scandal which by this lewd practice they gave to the Enemies of true Religion. The Scripture is silent as to any Judgments inflicted either upon their Father or themselves, but informs us plainly that the issue which they had by this Unlawfull Congress, were accursed, and their posterity like other spurious brood were mortal Enemies to the people of God, and perpetually excommunicated from the Church by Divine Command, Deut. 23. 3. And thus Lot had an eternal blemish fixt upon his Chastity, which did formerly so much distinguish him from the other Inhabitants of Sodom, and was punished by being the Author of Debauching his Daughters himself, whom he so rashly offered to be Debauched by others; so that we see raging Lust leaps over all the bounds of Law and Nature, and if not curb'd in time may rise to a surprizing and prodigious height, and bring down stupendous Judgments upon People and Persons.

In this next passage, he considers one of the odder biblical prohibitions and punishments, which he finds strongly indicates just what an overriding priority with God chastity must be:

“Chastity was so strictly enjoyned unto this select people of God, that they were not only forbid to suffer any of their Daughters to be Whores, or any of their Sons to be Whore-Masters, as some think the word which in our Translation Deut 23. 17. is Sodomites, ought to be rendered, but all manner of immodesty was strictly forbid; and therefore if any Woman seeing her Husband and another Man a Quarrelling, should be so impudent in her Fury or Passion as to take the other Man by the Secret Parts to oblige him to forbear Quarrelling with her Husband, her hand was to be cut off without any pity, tho' every Man knows that a Pressure or Gripe in those parts would quickly Force her Husband's Antagonist to quit the Fray.---And by much more reason would those Judges have Condemned Women who put their hands to those parts upon a Lustful Account.

Unsurprisingly, he interprets circumcision as “a mark of God's displeasure at Incontinence upon the Instrument of Generation. The author nowhere escapes the charge of knowing rather too much about the subject he is denouncing. Here, the zoophiles of his universal history of sexual misdemeanor run on into what looks dangerously like a learned joke:

“The Egyptians and Canaanites are also charged with Bestiality, their Men and Women having committed Confusion with Beasts, and thus Pasiphae is accused of having accompanied with a Bull, Polyphantes with a Bear, Semiramis with an Horse, and the Women of Mendis in Egypt with Goats.---Nay if we may believe the Fables of the Jews, the false Prophet Balaam, who was slain amongst the Midianites, was guilty of Bestiality with his Ass, which they foolishly collect from those Words of the Beast, viz. Am not I thine Ass which thou hast ridden upon?

Once into the madder Roman emperors, the author can really enjoy himself (in whatever way it was that he was enjoying himself). But rather than any out-and-out naughty passage, I extract finally his version of the famous passage in North’s Plutarch describing Cleopatra at Cydnus. I cannot see here that he had so far weakened as to read a profane text like Antony and Cleopatra: it his independent rewrite. But anyone wanting to set a literary-critical exercise could print together North, Shakespeare, and this remarkable ‘Anon’:

Dalleus, who carried the Message to her, had no sooner seen her admirable Beauty, but he told her, It was impossible that so beautiful a Creature could receive any ill treatment at the Hands of Antony, and therefore advis'd her to make towards him in splendid Equipage. Accordingly she embarks in the River Cydnus, the Head of her Barge did shine with inlaid Gold, the Sails were of Purple Silk, the Oars of Silver, which beat Time to the Flutes and Hautbois, she her self lay all-along under a Canopy of Cloth of Gold curiously embroider'd, dress'd as Venus is ordinarily represented, and beautiful young Boys stood on each side like Cupids, to fann her; her Maids were dress'd like Sea-Nymphs and Graces, some steering the Rudder, some working at the Ropes; the Perfumes diffus'd themselves from the Vessel to the Shore, which was all cover'd with Multitudes, the People running out of the City to see this strange Sight, left Antony alone upon the Tribunal, and a Rumor was spread abroad, That Venus was come to feast with Bacchus, for the common Good of Asia. As soon as she arriv'd, Antony sent to invite her to Supper, but she thought it more decent that Antony should come to her, who made no great Difficulty to do it; he found the Preparations very magnificent, but nothing was so admirable as the great number of Lights, which were all of a sudden let down in such a multitude of Branches, and so ingeniously dispos'd, some in Squares and some in Circles, that Fame cannot speak of a greater piece of Curiosity.”

It is among the 12,500 texts which the text creation project over on EEBO has made a full text of, so it is very readily accessible. (How I wish they’d get round to doing Paul Fairfax’s English Faustbook!)

6 comments:

Sharon said...

If I'm not very much mistaken, 1697 also puts it slap bang in the middle of the Reformation of Manners campaigns, and one of their main targets was prostitutes...

mercurius said...

As ever, an amazing post. I have just spent a wonderful half an hour having my innocence corrupted by browsing through!

DrRoy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DrRoy said...

Yes, indeed (Sharon), and the year before Jeremy Collier's 'Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage' as well: these moralists were winning. (But as Mercurius testifies, the effect they had was not always the one they aimed at!)

DrRoy said...

Mercurius: thank you. It is most heartening when the rather recondite discoveries I write up here catch someone's attention. (Sorry to hear about your innocence, though.)

Laban said...

Ezekiel 23 is a lament for Samaria and Jerusalem, who have turned away from God. The prophet expresses this poetically as a parable of two bad girls :

19 Yet she multiplied her whoredoms, in calling to remembrance the days of her youth, wherein she had played the harlot in the land of Egypt.

20 For she doted upon their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses.

'Flesh' is a slightly euphemistic translation for the male organ, comparing it to that of a donkey, and 'issue' means that which emerges from said organ.

I'm somewhat surprised the Egyptian Tourist Board don't use the verse to attract female visitors. It might also have been appropriate at a certain Royal funeral.