Thursday, September 11, 2008

Books in a 17th century pornographic 'library'

Alas, I have digressed today from reading Petrarchist poetry to seventeenth century smut, in the anonymous novella, The Practical part of love. Extracted out of the extravagant and lascivious life of a fair but subtle female. (1660). The main narrative, after the author’s prologue, is entitled ‘The History of the exorbitant and Lascivious Life of Lucia and her daughter Hellena’.

This is wretched and tawdry stuff indeed, hack writing that only rarely shows any kind of engagement between writer and subject. The prologue itself has some flourishes defending the human sex drive:

“Our affections once touched by Loves Loadstone, puts the Axle-tree of our Microcosme, into a trembling motion, and never is quiet till it stands opposite to that point, where that Gulf is that Sir Francis Drake shot when he was first married. The Worlds Creator ordain’d that there should be pleasure in copulation, to the end that men might delight in procreation.”

The narrative, though, switches from ‘men’ delighting in procreation to the insatiable woman pornography seems to require. But the tale is humdrum throughout. First Lucia, and then her daughter Hellena, have an appetite for lots of sex. The would-be pornographer barely approves, and can hardly suppress his own desire for moral reprisal.

In one of his more committed pieces of writing, he gets to imagining the library at the ‘love’s academy’ the exquisite and hot blooded Hellena attends:

“This Gallery is the introductorium to the Library. Opposite to the door stands always open on a Desk Aretins postures in Folio done to the life; and just by it lies chaind Embammata amoris; by this in a Manuscript, fairly written with a Frontispeece stands a Pece called Venus undrest, likewise the Life of Mother Cunny, never yet printed, in Folio. The Anatomy of Cuckoldry, Luteners lane decipher’d, cum mille aliis. On the right hand stood Francions bawdy History, Folio, bound in Turky lether, Jovial drollery, marbled Venus and Adonis, Lusty Drollery, Venus her Cabinet unlockt, Ovids Art of Loving, Natures chief Rarities, The crafty whore reprinted in Folio, with the English bawd, and errant rogue, together with a catalogue of all the Whores in this Citty, containing thirty sheets of paper. There were likewise all sorts of books of Midwifery, as Culpepper’s Midwife, the compleat Midwife, the birth of Mankind, Child-birth, &c”

Pornography and fine books have always gone round together: but what a limited collection this is: Aretine, Ovid, and then he’s scratching around. The Emblemata Amoris I’ve seen is just not erotic: it’s here because it sounds as though it might be. Poor old Venus and Adonis gets dragged in again. Other items seem to qualify this list for ‘The Invisible Library’ (link below), the online catalogues of imaginary books mentioned in other books: so ‘Mother Cunny’ seems to have been the alias of a brothel keeper (she appears in the title The ladies champion confounding the author of The wandring whore, by Eugenius Theodidactus … Approved of by Megg. Spenser Damrose Page Priss. Fetheringham Su. Leming Betty Lawrence Mother Cunny, 1660). My writer imagines a biography of this lady. ‘Luteners Lane’ is similarly a feature of the London underworld re-imagined as a book. Prostitutes working off that street feature in Poor Robins Character of France:

“the first time I came to London, being but a young Novice, scarcely writing Man, passing through Luteners-lane, a Gentlewoman standing at the door accosted me with these words, How do you Sir, I am heartily glad to see you well, how have you done a long time? … (Sir said she) pray come in and let us discourse together: but notwithstanding her bold invitation away I went, and coming to my Lodging, relating the story, Sir, said one to me, you must have a care of such Creatures, for notwithstanding their brave Garbe, they are no other then common Strumpets.”

Returning to identifiable texts, ‘Francion’ must mean the original of The most delightfull and pleasant history of Francion wherein all the vices that usually attend youth are plainly laid open by Monsieur De Moulines Sier De Parc. ; done into English by a person of honour (1661). ‘Lusty Drollery’ is most likely the collection Sportive wit the muses merriment, a new spring of lusty drollery, joviall fancies, and a la mode lamponnes, 1656. ‘The Crafty Whore’ survives: The crafty whore or, the mistery and iniquity of bawdy houses laid open, in a dialogue between two subtle bawds, wherein, as in a mirrour, our city-curtesans may see their soul-destroying art, and crafty devices, whereby they insnare and beguile youth, pourtraied to the life, by the pensell of one of their late, (but now penitent) captives, for the benefit of all, but especially the younger sort. Whereunto is added dehortations from lust drawn from the sad and lamentable consequences it produceth, 1658.

Accessions in the ‘Library’ then have to be swelled (as the author’s imagination fails him) by books of midwifery (and indeed the writer makes pregnancy feature as the almost inevitable result of any sexual congress, though Hellena does have recourse to hopping up and down post coitally, and employs a douche).

Anyway, here’s her mother Lucia getting the biological payback for all that carnal intercourse with her first lover:

“Her nine moneths being expired, she was brought to bed of a goodly Daughter, who had all the symptoms in her of the approaching Spring of a most transcendent Beautie. Lucias comfort and hopes was solely in this pretty sweet babe, for Lovit had now taken his leave of her.

So shalt thou be despis'd, faire Maid,
When by the sated lover tasted;
What first he did with teares invade,
Shall afterwards with scorne be wasted;
When all thy Virgin-springs grow dry,
When no streames shall be left, but in thine eye.”

I half recognized the stanza: it’s from Thomas Carew’s ‘Good counsell to a young Maid’:

When you the Sun-burnt Pilgrim see
fainting with thirst, hast to the springs;
Marke how at first with bended knee
He courts the crystall Nimphs, and flings
His body to the earth, where He
Prostrate adores the flowing Deitie.

But when his sweaty face is drencht
In her coole waves, when from her sweet
Bosome, his burning thirst is quencht;
Then marke how with disdainfull feet
He kicks her banks, and from the place
That thus refresht him, moves with sullen pace.

So shalt thou be despis'd, faire Maid,
When by the sated lover tasted;
What first he did with teares invade,
Shall afterwards with scorne be wasted;
When all thy Virgin-springs grow dry,
When no streames shall be left, but in thine eye.

No comments: