Thursday 22 May 2014


I've been curious about this book for ages, because I follow Fern Riddell on twitter, and hints about its genesis have been scattered through her twitter feed, not least the remarkable discovery of an advertisement for a 'Femme de Voyage or Artificial Fanny' - the original blow-up sex toy. The Femme de Voyage may or may not have existed (as Riddell readily acknowledges in her blog post, it may be the work of a contemporary or latter-day satirist / hoaxer) but the Victorians' interest in sex - and having good sex - was very real, which brings us to The Victorian Guide to Sex.

The book is not a big academic tome on Victorian sexuality - although backed-up by rigorous research - but playfully presented as a genuine Victorian sex/relationships manual. Such books existed ... I have a copy of Augustus Gardner's The Conjugal Relationship as to Health (1894) on my shelf (doesn't every one?), one of the more finger-wagging examples of the breed, not least on 'personal pollution' amongst women, i.e. masturbation ... 'much of the worthlessness, lassitude and physical and mental feebleness attributable to the modern woman are to be ascribed to these habits'. Gardner, however, is/was just one voice (and not necessarily a great read) whereas Riddell brings together her compendious knowledge of 19C sex/relationship books, to present a synthesised fictional manual for the young (or young-at-heart) Victorian.

This could go awry but it's a nice pastiche and the result is very interesting and worthwhile - and something you wouldn't get from, say, just picking up an old copy of Gardner or one of his contemporaries. Rather, the modern reader obtains a fascinating and comprehensive insight into the advice our ancestors could obtain on sexual matters. This includes not only more familiar topics (e.g. masturbation - very much against) but the Victorian conception of healthy sexuality - i.e. within a conjugal relationship and, surprise surprise, involving mutual pleasure (albeit perhaps heavily geared towards conception). Riddell says she wants us to move away from the modern idea of Victorians as either moustache-twirling perverts or repressed piano-leg coverers, and she does a great job of presenting a much more balanced view.

There are, of course, much bigger, more detailed books on Victorian sex, not least from the golden age of Victorian Studies, such as Steven Marcus's The Other Victorians, or Ronald Pearsall's The Worm in the Bud (checking my copy of the latter, I find it's a 1993 edition, withdrawn from Croydon public libraries - Croydon's loss is my gain). Riddell's focus on the sex/relationship manual, however, provides a slightly different way into the subject - and basically this is a fun primer, not so much for hard-core (cough) Victorianist researchers, as those with a general interest or curiosity in the subject. The only negative, perhaps, is that the pastiche format means there's an absence of citations (although a list of principal sources at the back).

I'm also still a bit sceptical that Vigor's Horse Action Saddle was anything other than an exercise machine - but don't let that hold you back ... I agree that the hand-turned mechanical spurting dildo couldn't really double as anything else.

There's a sentence I won't be writing again in a hurry.

Monday 19 May 2014

Dead Carcasses of Dogs and Cats

At last, out they set; and with them a Torrent of Mob bursts through the Gate. Amongst the lower Rank, and working People, the idlest, and such as are most fond of making Holidays, with Prentices and Journeymen to the meanest Trades, are the most honourable Part of these floating Multitudes. All the rest are worse. The Days being known beforehand, they are a Summons to all Thieves and Pickpockets, of both Sexes, to meet. Great Mobs are a Safeguard to another another, which makes these Days Jubilee, on which old Offenders, and all which dare not shew their Heads on any other, venture out of their Holes; and they resemble free Marts, where there is an Amenity for all Outlaws. All the Way, from Newgate to Tyburn, is one continued Fair, for Whores and Rogues of the meaner Sort. Here the most abandon'd Rakehells may light on Women as shameless; Here Trollops, all in Rags, may pick up Sweethearts of the same Politeness. And there are none so lewd, so vile, or so indigent, of either Sex, but at the time and Place aforesaid, they may find a Paramour. Where the Crowd is the least, which, among the Inhabitants, is no where very thin, the Mob is the rudest; and here, jostling one another, and kicking Dirt about, are the most innocent Pasttimes. Now you see a Man, without Provocation, push his Companion in the Kennel; and two Minutes after, the Sufferer trip up the other's Heel's and the first Aggressor lies rolling in the more solid Mire; And he is the prettiest Fellow among them, who is the least shock'd at Nastiness, and the most boisterous in his Sports. No modern Rabble can long subsist without their darling Cordial, the grand Preservative of Sloth, Jeneva, that infallible Antidote against Care and frugal Reflection; which, being repeated, removes all Pain of sober Thought, and in a little Time cures the tormenting Sense of the most pressing Necessities. The Traders, who vend it among the Mob on these Occasions, are commonly the worst of both Sexes, but most of them weather-beaten Fellows, that have mispent their Youth. Here stands an old Sloven, in a Wig actually putrify'd, squeez'd up in a Corner, and recommends a Dram of it to the Goers-by. There another, in Rags, with several Bottles in a Basket, flits about with it, where the Throng is the thinnest, and tears his Throat with crying his Commodity; and further off, you may see the Head of a third, who has ventur'd in the Middle of the Current, and minds his Business, as he is fluctuating in the irregular Stream; Whilst higher up, an old decrepit Woman sits dreaming with it on a [illegible]; and over against her, in a Soldier's Coat, her termagant Daughter sells the Sots-Comfort with great Dispatch. The intelligible Sounds that are heard among them are Oaths and bile Expressions with Wishes of Damnation at every other Word, pronounced promiscuously against themselves, or those these speak to, without the least Alteration in the Meaning.
     As these undisciplined Armies have no particular Enemies to encounter, but Cleanliness and good Manners, so nothing is more entertaining to them, than the dead Carcasses of Dogs and Cats, or, for want of them, Rags, and all Trompery that is capable of imbibing Dirt. These, well trampled in Filth, and, if possible, of the worst Sort, are, by the Ringleaders, flung as high and as far as a strong Arm can carry them, and commonly directed where the Throng is the thickest; Whilst these ill-boding Meteors are shooting thro' the Air, the Joy and Satisfaction of the Beholders is visible in every Countenance and Gesture; and more audibly express'd by the great Shouts that accompany them in their Course; and, as the Projectiles come nearer the Earth, are turn'd into loud Laughter, which is more or less violent in Proportion to the Mischief promis'd by the Fall. And to see a good Suit of Cloaths spoiled by this piece of Gallantry, is the tip-top of their Diversion, which they seldom go home without enjoying: For tho' no People in their Senses would venture among them on Foot, in any tolerable Dress, yet there are young Rakes of Fortune, who care not what they lavish or destroy. Of these the maddest Sort will often, after a Night's Debauch, mix with Crowds, and thrust themselves in the Midst of the most abominable Rabble, where they seldom fail of meeting with such Adventures.
     Tho' before setting out, the Prisoners took care to swallow what they could, to be drunk, and stifle their Fear; yet the Courage that strong Liquours can give, wears off, and the Way they have to go  being considerable, they are in Danger of recovering, and, without repeating the Dose, Sobriety would often overtake them: For this Reason they must drink as they go; and the Cart stops for that Purpose three or four, and sometimes half a dozen Times, or more, before they come to their Journey's End. These Halts always encrease the Numbers about the Criminals; and more prodigiously, when they are very notorious Rogues. The whole March, with every incident of it, seems to be contribved on Purpose, to take off and divert the Thoughts of the Condemned from the only Thing that should employ them. Thousands are pressing to mind the Looks of them. Their quondam Companions, more eager than others, break through all Obstacles to take Leave: And here you may see young Villains, that are proud of being so, (if they knew any of the Malefactors) tears the Cloaths off their Backs, by squeezing and creeping thro' the Legs of Men and Horses, to shake Hands with him, and not to lose, before so much Company, the Reputation there is in having had such a valuable Acquaintance. It is incredible what a Scene of Confusion all this often makes, which yet grows worse near the Gallows; and the violent Efforts of the most sturdy and resolute of the Mob on one Side, and the potent Endeavours of rugged Gaolers, and others, to beat them off, on the other; the terrible Blows that are struck, the Heads that are broke, the Pieces of swingeing Sticks, and Blood, that fly about, the Men that are knock'd down and trampled upon, are beyond Imagination; whilst the Dissonance of Voices, and the Variety of Outcries, for different Reasons, that are heard there, together with the Sound of more distant Noises, make up a Discord not to be parallel'd. If we consider, besides all this, the mean Equipages of the Sheriffs Officers, and the scrubby Horses that compose the Cavalcade, the Irregularity of the March, and the Want of Order among all the Attendants, we shall be forced to confess, that these Processions are very void of that decent Solemnity that would be required to make them awful. At the very Place of Execution, the most remarkable Scene is a vast Multitude on Foot, intermixed with many Horsemen and Hackney-Coaches, all very dirty, or else cover'd with Dust, that are either abusing one another, or else staring at the Prisoners, among whom there is commonly very little Devotion; and in that, which is practis'd and dispatch'd there, of Course, there is as little good Sense as there is Melody. It is possible that a Man of extraordinary Holiness, by anticipating the Joys of Heaven, might embrace a violent Death in such Raptures, as would dispose him to the singing of Psalms: But to require this Exercise, or expect it promiscuously of every Wretch that comes to be hang'd, is as wild and extravagant as the Performance of it is commonly frightful and impertinent: Besides this, there is always at that Place, such a mixture of Oddnesses and Hurry, that from what passes, the best dispos'd Spectator seldom can pick out any thing that is edifying or moving.
Here I must observe, that the Possibility of Pardons and Reprieves, that often come very late, and which, with or without Grounds, most Criminals continue to hope for, 'till they are hang'd, is another great Clog, that keeps attach'd to the World those that are less abandon'd, and more relenting than the Generality of them; and who, without that Hindrance, would, in all Probability, prepare themselves for certain Death, which overtakes many whilst they are still doubting of it. The Ordinary and Executioner, having performed their different Duties, with small Ceremony, and equal Concern, seem to be tired, and glad it is over.
    The Tragedy being ended, the next Entertainment is a Squabble between the Surgeons and the Mob, about the dead Bodies of the Malefactors that are not to be hanged in Chains. They have suffer'd the Law, (cries the Rabble,) and shall have no other Barbarities put upon them: We know what you are, and will not leave them before we see them buried. If the others are numerous, and resolute enough to persist in their Enterprize, a Fray ensues: From whence I shall take an Opportunity of saving something upon the Occasion of it. I have no Design that savours of Cruelty, or even Indecency, towards a human Body; but shall endeavour to demonstrate, that the superstitious Reverence of the Vulgar for a Corpse, even of a Malefactor, and the strong Aversion they have against dissecting them, are prejudicial to the Publick: For as Health and sound Limbs are the most desirable of all Temporal Blessings, so we ought to encourage the Improvement of Physick and Surgery, wherever it is in our Power. The Knowledge of Anatomy is inseparable from the Studies of either; and it is al|most impossible for a Man to understand the Inside of our Bodies, without having seen several of them skilfully dissected. Kings and Princes are open'd, and have their Hearts and Bowels taken out, and embalm'd. It is not then Ignominious, much less offensive to the dead Body, which may be interred with as much Decency, after Dissection, as if it never had been touch'd. But suppose that many of our common Thieves were not to be buried at all, and some of them made Skeletons; and that several Parts of others, variously prepared, should be preserved for the Instruction of Students? What if it was a Disgrace to the surviving Relations of those, who had Lectures read upon their Bodies, and were made use of for Anatomical Preparations? The Dishonour would seldom reach beyond the Scum of the People; and to be dissected, can never be a greater Scandal than being hanged. The University of Leyden in Holland have a Power given them by the Legislature to demand, for this Purpose, the Bodies of ordinary Rogues executed within that Province; but, with us, it is the general Complaint of all Professors of Anatomy, that they can get none to dissect: Where then shall we find a readier Supply; and what Degree of People are fitter for it than those I have named? When Persons of no Possessions of their own, that have slipp'd no Opportunity of wronging whomever they could, die without Restitution, indebted to the Publick, ought not the injur'd Publick to have a Title to, and the Disposal of, what the others have left? And is any Thing more reasonable, than that they should enjoy that Right, especially when they only make use of it for commendable Purposes? What is done for the common Good, every Member of the Society may, at one time or other, receive an Advantage from; and therefore quarrelsome People, that love fighting, act very preposterously and inconsistent with their Interest, when they venture to have their Bones broke, for endeavouring to deprive Surgeons of the Means to understand the Structure of them.

British Journal, 13 March 1725

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Holborn to Aldersgate

A nice post on my travel blog ... click on the image to find it ...

Friday 9 May 2014

Saucy Songs


THEY were something beyond, the fervent and font
First stage of affection's mood;
Each other they knew something well, it is true -
For months the dear he'd woo'd!
And she wasn't amazed, nor terribly dazed -
When it got to something more -
'Twas as she supposed - when he proposed -
"It had happened," she said, "before!"

And they'd go out walks, have delicious talks -
In the rural pastures green -
And in his ear, she'd whisper "dear!"
"A mug I've sometimes been.
"But I've been hit - so I've learnt a bit -
"Stow the sentimental jaw!
"Your hand, I pray - it may chance to stray-
"It had happened," she said, "before."

But in love, a man does all he can -
His object to soon achieve;
Since the first faux pas of man's good old Pa -
With dainty Mistress Eve!
But she said, "Oh no! thus far you'll go -
"No further - I'll stick to the Law -
"If you forget, the ring - no bet
"It had happened," she said, "before."

And man, being weak, and 'fraid to speak -
To the church she led the lad -
But all too son - in the honeymoon -
He learnt that he'd been had!
When his brother said - "Well! now you're wed -
The fact you don't deplore?"
He answered still, "My fun was nil" -
"It had happened," he said, "before!"

'Saucy Songs', Illustrated Police News, 8 July 1899