Harriette Wilson (1786-1846)
From Literary Anecdotes (1800-1829)

Her manuscript found its way into the hands of one J. J. Stockdale, of No. 24 Opera Colonnade. Julia Johnstone . . , calls Stockdale 'a hackneyed vendor of obscenity', and the nature of his shop's contents may be guessed from the titles of several other of his publications: The Beauty, Marriage Ceremonies and Intercourse of the Sexes, in all Nations; The New Art of Love, and Dr. Robertson's Anatomy of Physiology. If he also sold an ill-printed Boccaccio, an abbreviated Voltaire (with all the philosophy left out) and the Works of Aristotle with coloured plates, it would not be surprising. The immortal novels of Paul de Kock had unfortunately not yet been written.

Thomas Little, who edited most of the works at 24 Opera Colonnade, was probably Stockdale himself. He had the impudence in his postscript to Harriette's volumes to claim that

'this publication cannot fail to produce the greatest moral effect on the present and future generation. [For] if
Vice is a monster, of such hideous mien
That, to be hated, needs but to be seen,
when has Vice ever been so unsparingly exposed?'

Unfortunately the authoress was quite unable to rise to the heights of such Apocalyptic fervour, and made no secret throughout her narrative of having, on the whole, enjoyed herself very much. It is pleasant to think that the lapse of a hundred years has elevated the book to the level of an historical document, and made such humbug for ever unnecessary.

The work appeared in 1825, and was instantly a success. Harriette had hoped for twenty editions. Stockdale sold thirty within the year; and a French version in six volumes carried the notoriety of the authoress to her new place of residence. The happy publisher was compelled to erect a barricade in front of his premises to prevent the public from storming the shop. He was, however, not without his troubles. Frederick Lamb called to threaten prosecution, and two of Harriette's victims did prosecute, and involved Stockdale in considerable expense. But as he and the authoress between them fingered, as Julia puts it, £10,000 of the public money, they had little reason to complain.

The fashionable world was in great agitation, especially as further instalments of the damaging record were threatened. Meetings were held at White's, Brooks's, and the United Service Clubs in order to decide what could be done. It is probable that the action brought by Blore, the stone-mason of Piccadilly, was financed from these aristocratic institutions, as a kind of ballon d'essai. Harriette had held the unfortunate Blore up to ridicule for the boorishness of his alleged advances, and the stone-mason, now married and the father of a family, claimed damages. In spite of the eloquence of Stockdale he won his case, and was awarded £300. Another plaintiff, one Hugh Evans Fisher, received even more; but although both actions were successful, Harriette's former wealthy admirers decided that it would be safer to go no further. They seem to have bought her silence, and Harriette troubled them no more.

From Harriette Wilson's Memoirs of Herself and Others.
from the Preface by James Laver (1929), pp. xi-xii .

« NEXT » « Anecdotes 1800-1829 » « All Anecdotes » « Humour » « Library »