IN imagination, the Victorian era appears to me in the guise displayed in the paintings of Frith: a world of top-hatted men and parasoled women moving like dolls beneath the traceries of the new cast-iron architecture. But it is a world like Grand Central Station. Ornate at ground level, the dirt and fumes are tucked out of sight in caverns below. Somewhere beneath the level on which paterfamilias moves with assured dignity, followed by his brood, is a second and more sombre plane, peopled by a race whose duty is to emerge occasionally to provide variegated crowds, such as those which fill "Derby Day". Only by applying the microscope of Dickens does one discover that each of the units in these crowds is a living individual, each with its own hopes, its own sensibility, its own armour of attitude and its own despair.
With this picture, as vivid and unreal as a magic-lantern slide, goes a stereotype of Victorian rectitude, harshness and prudery in the civilized overworld, and of carnivorous exploitation, serpentine deception and bovine suffering in the shades beneath.
The reality, of course, is far more complicated. I cannot hope, in a single chapter, to bring out more than a few points. To begin with, the period with which we are concerned is not the England of the Great Exhibition and the rising population pressures, but something a good deal earlier. The patrist reaction started about 1760; by 1860 the swing-back was already under way. Furthermore it was a reaction led, not by the orthodox Church, but by the Wesleyans who were outside it, and the orthodox Church frequently protested against the extremes which they advocated. Clearly an increasing number of persons was becoming sympathetic to these reformist ideas, for the Wesleyans worked largely through reform societies; but it is also true that they succeeded in imposing their views on people to a considerable extent, for we find frequent protests, constant complaint that the young ignore the rules of behaviour, and even adults who do not hesitate to ignore the taboos, up to a point. As early as 1814 a writer complains,
"I observe with grief and astonishment that marriage has dwindled into a state of temporary convenience to be continued or dissolved at pleasure." (50)
What is perhaps not realized is the severity of the Evangelical ideal, and its extensive "kill-joy" character. The three great objects to which the reform societies devoted themselves were, officially, the improvement of Sunday observance, the abolition of prostitution and the reduction of blasphemy. But since the term prostitution was enlarged in practice to cover all extra-marital sexual experience, and the term blasphemy, most kinds of statements which patrists found objectionable, and since to regulate Sunday enjoyment, in a period when men worked upwards of twelve hours a day, six days a week, was equivalent to regulating all enjoyment, the programme was all embracing. George Burden's Sermon on Lawful Amusements ( 1804) laid down that Christians must refrain from all amusement on Sunday, including travelling and paying visits. Hannah More added that a stroll in the public gardens on Sunday evening or attendance at a sacred concert were to be condemned, and that to tell the maid to say one was not in, when one was, was a sin.
In fact, one of the astonishing features of this Evangelical morality was the lack of proportion it displayed. It condemned such classic offences as adultery and prostitution, to be sure, but it regarded a host of minor pleasures as scarcely less reprehensible. The "Evangelical Barometer" reproduced by Quinlan places all the principal virtues and sins of the day in fifteen grades, seven above zero and seven below. In the fourth grade below zero we find drunkenness paired with theatre-going; in the fifth, novel reading equated with neglect of private prayer. In the sixth grade, reserved for the most heinous sins short of total perdition, we find adultery grouped with parties of pleasure on the Lord's day. Nor was this lack of proportion wholly confined to the Evangelicals; the grotesque extremes to which it was carried are illustrated by the fact that in I798 the Bishop of Durham solemnly assured the House of Lords that the French, having despaired of conquering England by force of arms, had conceived the deliberate and subtle plan of undermining her morals, and for this purpose had sent over a number of ballet dancers.
The Evangelical campaign, though undoubtedly based on sexual anxieties, as I shall seek to show, took the form not merely of a campaign against sexual indulgence, nor even of a campaign against all forms of pleasure; it had the character, rather, of an attack on all spontaneity of impulse. And to a considerable extent, people accepted the new standard. Places of resort, such as Vauxhall Gardens, the Apollo Gardens and the Temple of Flora closed for lack of support. Theatres were deserted. Men gave up archery, wrestling and football for such restrained and solitary activities as breeding pigeons. No one played practical jokes any more. Christian names went out of use except between members of the same family. But perhaps the flavour of this fear of spontaneity can be conveyed even better by saying that Dr. Johnson's famous 3 a.m. excursion with Langton and Beauclerk ("What, is it you, you dogs!" he said when suddenly aroused, "I'll have a frisk with you") was regarded as a most improper and undignified incident. Gravity of demeanour was as essential for children as for adults. Robinson Crusoe was regarded as quite unsuitable reading for children — since, as Maria Edgeworth said, it might have the dangerous effect of inspiring young readers with a taste for adventure. How to inspire a suitably solemn attitude in the young is demonstrated in "The Fairchild Family" (1818), in which on three occasions the children are taken to see the dead or dying, so as to provide an occasion for suitable reflections upon corruption and mortality.
But if this general condemnation of pleasure reminds us of the Puritans, there were also aspects of Evangelical morality which seem almost medieval. I am thinking particularly of the tendency to see in every misfortune the direct manifestation of divine displeasure and even the inevitable consequence of departing from the law. Not only was the death of individuals interpreted as God's punishment for their evil deeds, but political and economic ills were attributed not to defects of government or to poor harvests, but to the immorality of men's behaviour.
"To the decline of religion and morality our national difficulties must both directly and indirectly, be chiefly ascribed", said Wilberforce in his Practical View (1797).
Bowdler, similarly, blamed corruption in private life in his "Reform or Ruin". The Evangelicals were latter-day prophets, telling of the Lord's forthcoming vengeance upon his stiff-necked people.
Like Calvin, the Evangelicals insisted upon a completely literal and fundamentalist interpretation of Holy Writ, a fundamentalism which was to bring them into headfirst collision with the scientists, when the ideas of evolution and fossil geology were put forward, and into still more acute embarrassment when the higher criticism of Biblical texts was developed. Naturally, the idea of original sin also reappeared. Hannah More praised the dictum that children should be taught that they are "naturally depraved creatures" and parents willingly followed the suggestion. But nothing illustrates the common psychological origins of medieval and Victorian patrism more vividly than the bitter battles which were fought to prevent the use of anaesthetics in childbirth. The patrist's resentment of women finds a convenient rationalization in the proposition that the pains of childbirth are God's punishment for the sin of Eve. Simpson's use of chloroform, in 1847, to relieve these pains forced that resentment into the open. Since it is so easy to delude ourselves that these beliefs belong to the remote and almost barbaric past, and to pretend that opposition to new techniques was a product of medieval superstition and ignorance, which could never occur in an age of science among educated persons, it is worth recalling the facts in more detail.(118)
The Church at once protested on the grounds that to relieve the pains of childbirth was in defiance of religion, since the Bible had said that woman should bring forth her young in sorrow. Just as blatantly as in the Middle Ages, some pro-ponents resorted to lies and misrepresentation: thus one tract gave a highly coloured description of a birth taking place in the midst of an undignified orgy of chloroform intoxication and contrasted it with the "natural dignity" of a birth without anaesthetics. Simpson counterattacked on the Church's own ground, pointing out that God had thrown Adam into a deep sleep when extracting Eve from his side, and was thus the first anaesthetist. He reminded people that the Church had opposed the introduction of winnowing machines on the grounds that
"winds were raised by God alone, and it was irreligious in man to attempt to raise wind . . . by efforts of his own";
that it had opposed proposals to build a Panama canal on the grounds that man should not attempt to improve what the Creator had ordained — in this case a boundary between the Pacific and the Atlantic; and that it had objected to the use of forks, declaring it to be "an insult to Providence not to touch our meat with our fingers". Such arguments, he pointed out, could be applied equally to anything which man had contrived — the wearing of hats, or the use of public transport.
Fortunately, England was at this time governed by a queen, not a king: Victoria, who had experienced the pains of six deliveries without anaesthetic, in 1853 decided to try chloroform, and this broke the back of the resistance.
It was also characteristic that the new movement of reform should lay stress on circumscribing the movements of women and on subordinating them to the male. As was soon made clear in such books as "The Duties of the Female Sex"(1805), women's status was returned to medieval level: submission, modesty and hard work were her lot, with visiting the poor for relaxation. Mary Wollstonecraft's Rights of Women, appearing in the midst of such a trend, aroused a scandal: even so worldly a figure as Walpole referred to her as a "hyena in skirts". The Ladies Magazine published a case-study of four girls who had, it asserted, been perverted by reading this work: one of them not only rode to hounds but even groomed her own horse, while another — oh, horror! — introduced into her conversation quotations from the classics.
But the Victorian attitude to women was different in some important respects from the medieval. Where the medievals had regarded woman as the source of sin, the Victorians regarded her as pure and sexless. There was, at the same time, a difference in their attitude to sex itself. The Victorians, if mistakenly, regarded themselves as more civilized than the men of the preceding century: it was with only a trace of irony that a writer in the "Gentleman's Magazine" could say:
"We are every day becoming more delicate, and, without doubt, at the same time more virtuous; and shall, I am confident, become the most refined and polite people in the world."
That was in 1791; and fifty years later the conviction of moral superiority was even stronger. But the sexual act was not refined, it was not even dignified. Animals must rut, but man — noble, grave, rational should be able to procreate without descending to such uncivilized contortions. In short, the Victorian saw sex not so much as something sinful, but as something bestial, something disgusting. Besides which, conceiving himself as rational, he distrusted an activity which was so evidently not under rational control.
But to say that the Victorian thought sex bestial does not explain why he should pretend that women were incapable of sexual feeling. As we have seen, the father identifier feels a conflict in respect of his mother — he feels that she has betrayed him sexually by her relationship with his father. The medieval patrist met this by decomposition: he presupposed a completely pure ideal mother, who had never had sexual relations (the fact that Mary had other children besides Jesus was conveniently forgotten) and urged all women to a like purity. But while he urged women to purity, he felt women were inherently wicked. He wanted them to be virgins but believed them to be courtesans. The Victorian patrist felt the same conflict, but was no longer disposed to solve it by postulating a divine Virgin: he was therefore compelled to divide the female sex into two categories: "good" women who had no taste for sex, and "bad" women who had. No more telling remark can be found than W. Acton's assertion — and remember it was not a hyperbole but a cold statement of supposed fact, made in a scientific work, "The Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs" — that it was a "vile aspersion" to say that women were capable of sexual feeling.
The reformers did not, as a rule, succeed in getting Parliament to provide legal sanctions against the matters which they criticized, frequently because of their extremist character. Thus in 1800 and again in 1856 and 1857, attempts were made to have Parliament impose the death penalty for adultery, but the motions were defeated. The reformers did, however, succeed in securing the passage of an Act banning marriage with a deceased wife's sister — a measure which was not repealed until 1907. No doubt they would have attempted to revive use of the ecclesiastical courts, but ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the laity had been finally destroyed in 1788 when an Act was passed preventing ecclesiastical action against incontinence. Nevertheless, on two occasions attempts were made to act against adultery by "presentment". The authorities, however, showed themselves reluctant to challenge the civil power, and both cases were dropped. Probably the last occasion on which the ecclesiastical courts attempted to impose the traditional penance of appearing in church in a white sheet was in 1833, when a court imposed it on a woman who had offended against the Deceased Wife's Sister Act: but a medical certificate that this would endanger the woman's health was submitted, and the matter was allowed to drop.
On the other hand, the private societies for the suppression of vice multiplied and brought numerous prosecutions. As early as 1757 a Society for the Reformation of Manners was founded with Wesleyan support. Five years later it was driven into bankruptcy when convicted of employing false testimony (echoes of medieval mendacity!) but in that five years it had brought more than 10,000 prosecutions. In 1789 the Proclamation Society was founded to give effect to the royal Proclamation against Vice: in 1803 it set up a Society for the Suppression of Vice. Other reformist societies included the Association for Securing a Better Observance of Sunday, the Society for the Prevention of Female Prostitution, and the Religious Tract Society, which by 1844 was distributing the prodigious number of 15 million tracts a year.
The declared object of the Proclamation Society (which numbered on its board a duke, both archbishops and seventeen bishops) was to suppress "licentious publications", but, as usual, the attempt was made to suppress all free speech on matters which the patrists found unacceptable.(215) Its offspring, the Society for the Suppression of Vice, was used to prosecute "The Republican", a paper defending free speech and a free press. Tom Paine was obliged to flee the country on the publication of his "Rights of Man" (and had in turn to flee from France to America, where his "Age of Reason" was no better received). The Society, however, prosecuted and succeeded in having imprisoned a bookseller who had continued to sell his works. In 1820 a so-called Constitutional Association was formed to prosecute "seditious works". Among the works it thought seditious, and against which it successfully brought prosecutions, were Palmer's "Principles of Nature" and Shelley's "Oedipus Tyrannus" and "Queen Mab". Murray, Byron's publisher, was so afraid of its activities that he hesitated to print the first two cantos of Don Juan. (194) But this gang of intolerant patrists — it included the Duke of Wellington, six bishops and twenty peers — went so much further than public opinion would allow even in that age of reaction, that after only three years it had to suspend operations. The State, too, began to act against free speech, raising the tax on newspapers to 4d., at which figure it remained until 1855. The political character of the tax was made abundantly clear by its extension in 1819 to political magazines.
With the attack on fact went an attack on fiction. The theatre had long been an object of puritan hatred; naturally the attacks were resumed and it was declared that to visit the theatre was not merely unsuitable but absolutely unlawful for a Christian. John Styles, a Methodist minister, earned himself a sort of fame by declaring that it was "a luckless hour" when Shakespeare became a writer for the stage. The development of printing, however, had provided the patrists with another object of detestation in the novel. In 1793 the "Evangelical Magazine" roundly declared that
"All novels, generally speaking, are instruments of abomination and ruin."
Joshua Collins said that parents would be wise to establish "an immutable law" forbidding their charges to read novels.
"It is much to be questioned", he said, "whether any sort of fictional representation ought to be put into the hands of youth."
In any case to compose fiction was to assert what was not true and was thus a form of lying.
The patrist character of the reform movement could be further demonstrated — for instance, Wesley, like Knox and Calvin, was a confirmed believer in witchcraft — but it is just as important, and perhaps more interesting, to emphasize some of the ways in which the period differed from previous patrist periods. There were two, in particular, and psychologically they were closely connected. The first was the tremendous preoccupation with symbolic, and especially verbal, representation of matters which had sexual connotations. In the Middle Ages, the Church had preached the strongest condemnation of sex, but it had never hesitated to call a spade a spade. Neither had it objected to representations in art of the sex organs and even of the sexual act, in both normal and perverted forms, as Witkowski has demonstrated in his "L'Art Chretien: ses Licenses". It is, of course, quite inconceivable that the Victorians could have placed any such representations in their churches. This we might easily accept; what is stranger is that the taboo was extended further and further, so that actions and objects only remotely connected with sex could not be named, but must be referred to periphrastically. In time even the periphrases became objectionable and had to be replaced by expressions even more circuitous. Thus not only standard nouns, used repeatedly by the Bible, such as "whore" and "fornication" became taboo, but references to childbirth became indelicate: the word "accouchement" began to replace "delivery" and "pregnant" the more native "with child". But in time even "pregnant" — which in those days had a half-metaphorical connotation which it has almost lost today — became objectionable and led to the more ambiguous "in an interesting condition".
These taboos were strengthened by the general desire to ignore the animal aspects of existence, so that "perspire" and finally "glow" replaced the cruder "sweat", and some considered even the word "body" undelicate. (50) This, strictly, is prudery — for the word prude means one who pretends to an ignorance he or she does not possess. Steele defines it as "a female hypocrite". Lydia Languish was acting like a prude when she concealed her reading matter.
"Quick, Lucy dear. Hide the books. Throw "Tanzai" under my toilet. Put "Adultere Innocent" behind "Human Duties". Push Ovid under the pillow and "Bijoux Indiscrets" into your pocket."
This remarkable trend, without parallel in history, was inter-linked with another: the development of an extreme sensitivity on the subject of the excretory functions, and the extension of the verbal taboos to cover this subject also. I have already noted the existence of these anal preoccupations among the early Puritans, and have hinted at their connection with money-getting, homosexuality and sadism. But the early Puritans had no hesitation in referring to such matters, as neither had the medievals. At the end of the seventeenth century, Defoe, writing a moralizing tract attacking the theatre, felt nothing inappropriate in writing
A lay-stall this, Apollo spoke the word
And straight arose a playhouse from a t***
In the eighteenth century, a lady could stop her coach and relieve nature without worrying about her coachman or groom, (3) and Smollett gets one of his funniest scenes from the administration by a country squire to an elderly guest of a powerful laxative. As late as 1790, The Times could print the word "piss" — a thing which would have been unthinkable in 1825.(47)
The combination of these various fears — of sex, of excretion and of the body — caused the Victorians to carry prudery to fantastic extremes. Women, 'ex definitione' sexless, hardly existed below the waist; or, if they did, they were not bifurcated. When advertisements of underclothing first began to appear in Victorian papers, the bifurcated garments were always shown folded, so that the bifurcation would not be remarked. Any complaint between the neck and the knees was referred to as "liver", and when it was necessary for a doctor to examine a female patient, he was sometimes handed a doll upon which the location of the affected part might be pointed out — a delicacy recalling that of the virgin Gorgonia, who preferred to die in anguish rather than expose her nakedness to the physician.
So delicate did the sensibilities of the Victorians become, so easily were their thoughts turned to sexual matters, that the most innocent actions were taboo in case they might lead to lurid imaginings. It became indelicate to offer a lady a leg of chicken — hence the still surviving tradition that she is offered the breast; but even this was called the "bosom" in the nineteenth century. This — at least as applied to chickens — was an American refinement, as was the fitting of piano legs with crinolines — though not, it seems, chair-legs, which presumably were too thin to inspire lascivious thoughts. To conceal the piano leg is, of course, to sexualize it — no mean feat, as Glover has pointed out.(8) In the same way, Victorian clothing, at first genuinely modest, soon became employed as a stimulus to sex. The fact is, the Victorian era, so far from being aloof from sex, was obsessed with it; as all periods of repression must be. The extremes to which that obsession went, I shall shortly indicate, but I cannot leave the subject of verbal taboos without some reference to those richly comic figures, Bowdler and Plumptre.
While reformers condemned the theatre as inherently wicked, Bowdler and Plumptre defended it. It was a great art-form which only needed purging of the grossness of a more barbarous period in order to emerge in its true lustre. It was not in a spirit of fanatical intolerance that they amended Shakespeare and revised Robinson Crusoe; it was with the loving care of a jeweller polishing and cutting a jewel. Bowdler has become the type of Victorian expurgator, though he was actually neither a Victorian nor the most extreme of editors. Plumptre went much further. Where Bowdler confined himself to deletion, Plumptre did not hesitate to rewrite. It was not merely sexual irregularity which aroused his sensibilities: he deleted even references to romantic love. Since he ruthlessly excised all murders and indeed all reprehensible characters, he successfully removed the element of conflict upon which the drama depends. He was particularly exercised by any reference to pagan deities — such as the oath "By Jove" — on the other hand he felt a superstitious awe of earthquakes, and cut out Goldsmith's feeble jokes about them on the score of impiety.
To give some idea of the grotesque extremes to which this ardent theatre-lover went, it is perhaps worth considering the immortal song from Cymbeline, "Hark, hark, the lark at heaven's gate sings, And Phoebus 'gins arise." Here the reference to Phoebus is clearly inadmissible, and this also excludes his steeds, which are mentioned in the next line. The conclusion "Arise, arise, I say, sweet maid, arise", is also objectionable, since the singer is a man and his motive is probably reprehensible. Much better make the whole poem an eulogy of the benefits of early rising, and end "For shame, thou sluggard, rise!"
It was a reflection of this phenomenal verbal sensitiveness that the Victorian developed, what had never been known before, a system of laws devoted to the suppression of obscenity, and it was a reflection of their obsession with sex that they produced a pornography of unprecedented richness in spite, or perhaps because, of them. The eighteenth century had paid little heed to obscenity, though it had been ruled in 1729 that an obscene libel constituted a common-law misdemeanour. It became an offence to expose obscene books and prints in public in 1824; in 1857 an Act was passed dealing directly with obscene publications and giving the police power to seize and destroy stocks of such publications upon the laying of an information at a police court. The bill was enacted only after intense opposition in both Houses, and on the assurance of the Lord Chief Justice that it was to apply only to works
"written with the single purpose of corrupting the morals of youth and of a nature calculated to shock the feeling of decency in any well regulated mind".
The circulation of literary works (he said, looking at a copy of "La Dame aux Camellias" in his hand) could only be stopped by public opinion. But eleven years later a ruling by Lord Chief Justice Cockburn nullified this assurance, by redefining the word obscenity, and made it possible to ban literary works and even scientific studies. Before long, it was applied in the new sense, and the seventy year-old Vizetelly was imprisoned for selling a translation of Zola's "La Terre". Subsequently, works as important as Ulysses, Lady Chatterley's Lover and Havelock Ellis's Psychology of Sex, were the subject of prosecutions. The Act remains on the statute book, and continues to be applied. Meanwhile, the Customs Consolidation Act had empowered the customs to seize not only books and pictures but manuscripts, should they think them obscene, without reference to a magistrate and without any right to appeal on the part of the owner. Some of Lawrence's poems were lost in this way.(47)
In these circumstances, it is scarcely surprising that the period produced the greatest pornographer since the days of Rome in the person of Edward Sellon, and possibly the most lascivious book ever written in The Romance of Lust. The great cataloguer of erotica who wrote under the name of Pisanus Fraxi has drawn attention to the pitiful literary standard of Victorian pornography and has contrasted it with the superior achievements of the eighteenth century. Books such as Cleland's "Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure" and King's "The Toast" are frankly sexual in character, but they have a human warmth: the characters convince by their naturalness, and the activities in which they engage, though unashamedly sensual, are not obsessive. Very different is the pornography of the Victorians, which is shot through and through with sadomasochism and which is quite unredeemed by an air of the protagonists even getting any enjoyment from their desperate attempts to stimulate lust. All spontaneity is gone.
Fraxi's contrast is a little unfair, however, for he has chosen to represent the eighteenth century by one or two outstanding books. Seventeenth, and eighteenth-century pornography sometimes sank pretty low. Beverland's "De Stolatae Virginitatis jure lucubratio academica" with its fetishisms, and the various flagellatory works of the eighteenth century are sufficiently unpleasant; the "Satyra Sotadica de Arcanis amoris et veneris" is reputedly even worse. The fact is, the institution of a system of censorship while it fails to eliminate pornography, effectively eliminates the serious literary work which attempts to approach sexual subjects realistically.
Meanwhile, there was always a supply of legalized pornography in the law courts. In the early nineteenth century in order to obtain a separation it was first necessary to prove that "criminal conversation" had taken place between one's wife and another man. These "crim. con. " cases were a steady source of prurient details, and the salaciousness of some of the judges who supervised them was notorious.(13)
Victorian insistence upon the appearance of respectability without the reality has gained England a name for hypocrisy. In no field was this more marked than that of prostitution. It has been said that Victorian morality was based upon a vast system of prostitution: it has been noted that the Victorians were careful to create a supply of prostitutes by making it impossible for those who once had erred ever to recover their respectability. Lecky, indeed, in a much criticized passage, repeated Augustine's argument that, unless there were prostitution, the sanctity of the family could not be maintained. Better to have prostitutes than unfaithful wives and peccant daughters. And it is a significant fact that, throughout the period which we are now considering, procuring was not an indictable offence. The prostitute, the wretched victim of the system, could be punished, but not the procurer, the pander or the pimp. As late as 1881, after investigations had exposed the scale on which girls were enticed for prostitution (more than forty years before, a similar report had been ignored completely), a Criminal Law Amendment Bill was drafted to make the trade illegal: but each time it was presented in the Commons it was blocked or talked out. The running of brothels was big business.
Reform came in 1885, but only when a journalist, W. T. Stead, in order to demonstrate the scandalousness of the situation, bought a thirteen year-old girl for £10, kept her in a brothel and conveyed her out of London, afterwards describing his deed in a series of sensational articles. He was prosecuted and imprisoned for this "offence" by a literal-minded police and magistracy, but the resulting scandal caused the long-blocked bill to be rushed through in five days.(131)
But Victorian motives for maintaining a system of prostitution went deeper than the desire to protect the family and the urge for monetary gain. The Victorians needed prostitutes as objects on to whom to Project all the negative part of their feelings for women. Prostitutes were to the Victorians what witches were to the medievals. It was for this reason that the Victorians allowed themselves to play so frequently with the fantasy of redeeming the prostitute, while actually making redemption as difficult as possible. The theme of the dying prostitute was particularly attractive, and was embodied in such works as "La Dame aux Camellias" and "Manon Lescaut".
Ryan, writing a report for the Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1839, the peak of the period of suppression, states that he had an interview with the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police, who, after enquiries from seventeen of his subordinates, stated officially that there were 7,000 prostitutes in London. Ryan, who makes it evident that he needs to feel that there are armies of prostitutes to be punished and redeemed, immediately abandons this well-authenticated figure for the obviously fantastic one of 80,000 and uses it throughout his report, which is a model of confusion, bogy-hunting and inaccuracy. (Mayhew counted 6,371 in 1837.)
The Commissioner added that there were 933 brothels and 848 houses of ill-fame. The population at that time was about two million. As the population rose, the number increased, and brothels catering to flagellation and other perversions became rather numerous. The interest in flagellation seems to have grown steadily during Victoria's reign, if we may judge from the volume of pornography devoted to this subject, but without extensive research it is impossible to judge whether this corresponds to an increase in actual flagellation. In fact, it is difficult to evaluate the extent of violent and destructive urges in the period. Society gave numerous opportunities for sadistic behaviour, but not on the scale of thy Middle Ages. If it is true, for instance, that judges imposed savage penalties, it is also true that nearly two hundred crimes, which had formerly called for the death penalty, were removed from this category. And if it is true that a sadistic strain can be found in Dickens' preoccupation with cruelty, it is equally true that it better to sublimate this interest by writing novels exposing cruelty and injustice than to practise cruelty and injustice oneself. Sadistic and masochistic urges were certainly preserved and occasionally they emerged in pathological forms, as in the case of Swinburne, and even Tennyson (who near the end of his life confessed to an interest in de Sade): but society was mobilizing defences and setting limits to the extent to which these urges could be indulged. Early in the century the movement for kindness to animals had developed. The cynic can point out that such a movement is only necessary when a considerable number of people are being unkind to animals; the psychologist can point out that frequently kindness to animals goes with unkindness to children, and that kindness to animals was sometimes a cheap way of soothing a conscience disturbed by its temptations to cruelty. Yet it is indisputably better to develop an ideal of kindness, and so to hamper cruelty even if this is not a radical solution. Perhaps it is also indicative of this trend that, for the first time, Jesus begins to be represented as a gentle figure. In Biblical story He is a rather violent and rough-spoken individual, though the roughness of his speech is disguised by the mellifluous King James translation. On the other hand, this change may express the ideal of submissive relationship between son and father.
The Victorians were well aware of the importance of the authoritarian family as a device for training children to accept a hierarchical society, and the emergence of the term "pater-familias" (without any corresponding use of materfamilias) betrays the patriarchal character of their habit of thought. But the Victorians extended the term of family influence much further than ever before, and while this can be explained partly in economic terms, since the age of marriage rose much higher than in previous centuries, it also seems to betray a desire to keep children in subjection and perhaps a resentment of the competition of the younger generation.(8) In earlier times, for instances boys had gone to the university at thirteen or fourteen (Milton, as a matter of fact, was only twelve): the age now became nineteen or twenty. The university authorities did not adapt themselves to this change but continued to treat the young men as pre-pubertal boys. At Cambridge, for instance, there is a university rule against the bowling of hoops on King's Parade and another which restricts the right of playing marbles on the steps of the Senate House to scholars of King's. It was for this reason that proctors were appointed to prowl the streets at night to see that undergraduates did not associate with women. To exercise such supervision over a man of twenty would, in medieval times, have been regarded as fantastic. And it is noticeable that, while the universities rigidly repress any manifestations of adult sexuality, they display great tolerance of any signs of prolonged infantilism, such as is shown in the so-called "rags". This tenderness is also shown by the police.
This raising of the age of matriculation left school authorities with a serious problem, since they had to attempt to maintain biologically adult males in a state of sexual continence. The method which occurred to them was to introduce compulsory sport in order to exhaust them. Until the early decades of the nineteenth century, the school authorities constantly criticized the playing of games by students. In 1810 Sydney Smith, for instance, complained about the importance attached to games, and a few years later, at Shrewsbury, Dr. Butler tried to suppress all games.(183) But by 1860 hostility had given place to encouragement; playing fields were being bought and games-masters installed. The role of sport in relation to sexual attitudes is one of the many issues which will have to be explored more fully when the comprehensive history of sexual patterns comes to be written.
Though they often spoke of family in sentimental terms, the fact that their motives for prolonging family influence were unconnected with it is shown by their willingness to hold the family together long after any spontaneous desire for such an association had vanished. Samuel Butler wrote in his notebooks:
"I believe that more unhappiness comes from this course than any other — I mean from the attempt to prolong family connection unduly and to make people hang together artificially who would never naturally do so."
Butler could speak on this subject with authority, and his novel "The Way of All Flesh" superbly epitomizes the disastrous consequences of the puritan, patrist attitude and demonstrates the insidious way in which such parents can destroy the spontaneity and sincerity of their children.
It was this patriarchal trend which caused the subject of birth control to meet with such violent opposition. If a clear-cut instance of the abruptness with which attitudes can change when a change in parental identifications is occurring, were wanted, no better example could be found than that of attitudes to birth control. John Stuart Mill was imprisoned for suggesting that the use of birth control might reduce the rate of infanticide. Only a few decades before, Bentham had been quite in order in suggesting a wider use of the condom in order to reduce the poor-rate! The new laws against obscenity were promptly used to suppress discussion of birth-control, and few seem to have felt that there might be anything inappropriate in treating discussion of the topic as obscenity. Knowlton's "Fruits of Philosophy" had been on sale for forty years when a Bristol bookseller was convicted for selling it. Bradlaugh immediately republished it, thus provoking the famous trial which he hoped might lead to an alteration of the law, but which led, as it turned out, to a sentence of six months' imprisonment and a £200 fine — penalties from which he escaped upon appeal only by the good fortune of a technical error in the drawing of the indictment.
Having seen in earlier chapters how the sexual inhibitions of patrists are reinforced by the sense of guilt created by taboos on infantile masturbation, it is clearly to the point to ask whether or not the Victorians laid special stress on this. And, in fact, they devoted immense care to this subject. It is not surprising in view of the German tendency to authoritarianism, to find a preoccupation with this subject first developing there: as early as 1786, in his "Unterricht für Eltenr", S. G. Vogel advocated the infibulation of the foreskin to prevent masturbation, and the subject became quite generally discussed in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Bloch speaks of small cages which fathers fitted to their sons, like a male girdle of chastity, keeping the key themselves. J. L. Milton's book on the subject, "Spermatorrhea", had run through twelve editions by 1887; he describes cages lined with spikes, which were worn at night, and even — grotesque thought — a device whereby any filial erection was made to ring an electric bell in the parent's room.
Significantly, the Victorians, in keeping with their conception of women as pure and sexless, were much less concerned with the idea of female masturbation, although on the Continent the use of instrumental devices for this purpose appears to have been developed to an almost oriental extreme.
In conclusion, it must be emphasized again that the Evangelical and Victorian ideal — just like the medieval ideal — was never fully accepted by the bulk of society, was often contravened even by those who paid it lip-service, and was rejected outright by a minority.
There were those, like Bradlaugh and Amberley, who put up with vilification to support specific programmes of which they approved; there were those, like Vizetelly, who continued, even after conviction, to translate the works of Zola, who insisted that art must be judged on its own plane. In some quarters moreover, eighteenth-century freedom persisted well into the nineteenth century: Lord Melbourne delighted to "talk broad" at table, and did not hesitate to entertain George Eliot to dinner.(39) But what makes the story confusing is the coincidence of the Romantic movement with the peak of the Evangelical movement. In Lady Melbourne's amours we see eighteenth-century licence; but when her daughter-in-law, Caroline Lamb, gashes herself at a society ball because of her hopeless love for Byron, it is a very different phenomenon, and one which Lady Melbourne found deeply shocking.(39) The reaction from the Napoleonic wars intensified the Romantic revolt. Young women drank vinegar or stayed up all night in order to appear pale and interesting. Empire clothing was exiguous and practically transparent; in Paris, the "espoitrinement" was revived, and a country visitor observed that he had never seen such a sight since he was weaned.
So, in the 1820's, which we think of as a time of repression, we can find a young lady writing to the editress of a ladies' magazine, complaining angrily about its moralistic tone, and adding that she is obviously a person who has "sinned until she can sin no more" and now wishes to prevent anyone else enjoying themselves.(50)
The story is still further complicated by such economic and political factors as the Industrial Revolution, but there is no space to discuss that aspect here.
Yet it is not the fact that certain individuals openly rejected certain tenets of the code (while respecting the others) which is significant, so much as the extent to which a hidden sexual life, of a brutal and perverted character, was carried on beneath the veneer of respectability, and very often by those who in public maintained the most respectable front. It was the age of the locked room, the discreet brothel, and the expensive limited edition of erotic works. The simile of Grand Central Station was perhaps not so inappropriate after all.