9. Sense And Sensuality
From Sex In History by Gordon Rattray Taylor (1954)

"NO MAN is an Island", said Donne. Poets perceive the trend of the times sooner than others (that is their trade) and the reminder was indeed necessary, unheeded though it went. The sense of individual autonomy, had, by the beginning of the eighteenth century, reached such a pitch that, in the cases of an increasing number of men, we are entitled to diagnose failure to form a superego of any kind matrist or patrist. We need not doubt that the processes father and mother identification still occurred, but when fathers and mothers permitted themselves every licence, children in copying them, would learn to do the same. This sense of licence naturally extended itself to sexual matters and the Age of Reason is an age of astonishing sensuality. The arts and trades of an increasingly complex civilization were invoked to create new triumphs of creative endeavour, but they were also exploited to satisfy the wildest vagaries of sexuality.

Such movements seem to start among the leaders of the community and then to filter slowly downwards: it was certainly so in this case. The Court of Charles II displays in microcosm all the major trends which were to appear more widely in the following century. Quite incorrectly, the Restoration has gained the reputation of being a period of general licence. The plays of the Restoration dramatists, written principally by courtiers or noblemen, set a new standard of frankness and have given the age a name for debauchery, but they were seen by only a minute fraction of the population. The plays themselves constituted only two per cent of the sales of booksellers, most of whose trade consisted of scientific and religious works. (150). And while Charles licensed two theatres— as compared with a maximum of six or seven in Elizabeth's time— they received so little support that the two companies were obliged to merge. A few court rakes, like Rochester or Medley, wenched and cheated themselves into premature graves, but the mass of the population remained unaffected.

However, it is certainly true that the overthrowing of Puritan rule and the restoration of the king caused a great outburst of popular rejoicing, in which the erection of maypoles of unprecedented height played a significant part. It is true that a king is a father figure and normally is seen as authoritarian. But Charles was indulgent. Cromwell had embodied all the severest features of a father figure; Charles profited by receiving he affection due to a loving and permissive parent. It was recalled that the Puritans had been regicides, and it became a mark of loyalty to pull down all they had set up. "To be debauched", says Krutch, with pardonable exaggeration, "was the easiest way of clearing oneself of the suspicion of disloyalty." Sons, too, are frequently in reaction from their fathers, and now the times favoured such a reaction. Thus, Philip, Lord Wharton, whose father had been so strict a Calvinist that he forbade not only poems, dancing and playgoing, but even hunting, acquired the reputation of being the greatest rake in England, while still maintaining an influential political position.

Charles himself was no authoritarian, but a cynic who

"had a very ill opinion of both men and women; and did not think there was either sincerity or chastity in the world out of Principle".

Bored by long sermons while in the hands of the Puritans, he now demanded church music he could beat time to, entertained himself with both the Catholic and Protestant whores, and, as Dryden said

"scattered his maker's image through the land".

Charles was, one imagines, a matrist: though loving pleasure, he betrayed no signs of the vindictive and destructive aggressiveness which was to mark the eighteenth century, and his political acts were both far-seeing and restrained. His reign saw the Act of Indulgence to religious dissenters, the Habeus Corpus Act, and the foundation of the Royal Society—three landmarks in history. Under his permissive rule, learning received a great stimulus: Boyle, Hooke, Harvey and Newton produced their greatest discoveries, while in art was inaugurated a period which reached its peak in the reign of Anne, when the accession of another Queen gave a more stimulus to the matrists, and the age blossomed with playwrights, poets, musicians and architects.

It is to the court rakes that one has to turn for the first warnings of eighteenth century vindictiveness, sensuality an exhibitionism. Whether we think of Rochester tempting Charles to a brothel and then arranging for all his money be stolen, or of Sedley, naked at a window in Covent Garden profanely haranguing the crowd (Pepys said there were a thousand people): whether we think of the Countess of Pembroke arranging for the stallions to leap the mares in front of the house ("and then", says Aubrey, "she would act the like sport herself with her stallions" ) or whether we think of Dr. Triplet, Protected by armed men, singing a scabrous ballad beneath the windows of the flagellomaniac Dr. Gill, head master of St. Paul's, and "so frighted that he beshitt himself most fearfully", the picture is not an attractive one (7).

But in reading the memoirs of the time, it is not so much the licence as the unscrupulousness and brutality that impress one. The Earl of Oxford did not hesitate to achieve seduction by entering into a spurious marriage; Farquhar was deceived by fake heiress. Hired bravi were employed, as in the Italian Renaissance, to execute revenges: Rochester had Dryden beaten up for a supposed slight in one of his plays; Kynaston and Coventry were among others similarly treated. Brawls in theatres were commonplace, and a man might be run through for jostling another in the press. But this violence was not a peculiarity of the Court, it was part of the tenor of the times: even Oxford dons would black one another's eyes. In the Moorfields, the weavers would fight a pitched battle with the butchers until the butchers, fleeing, were driven to remove and conceal their aprons, while the weavers strode victoriously about crying "A hundred pounds for a butcher". Even the Inns of Court were the scene of riots, and the Lord Mayor, invited there for dinner, found himself besieged in a room. (28).

Our bowdlerized history books give but a poor impression of the cruelty which was still natural to an age which had tortured so many witches. The taste is best conveyed by quoting not impulsive and individual acts of violence, but a deliberate court decision, the sentence pronounced on the five judges who condemned Charles I to death:

"You shall go from hence to the place from whence you came, and from that place shall be drawn upon a hurdle to the place of execution, and there shall hang by the neck till you are half dead, and shall be cut down alive, and your privy members cut off before your face and thrown into the fire, your belly ripped up and your bowels burnt, your head to be severed from your body, your body shall be divided into four quarters, and disposed as His Majesty shall think fit."

By the eighteenth century, this violence had become so widespread that men scarcely dared venture on the streets at night: in Kensington and Hampstead bells were rung when parties were about to set out for the city under armed guard, so that all who wished to make the hazardous journey might join them.

"The impunity with which outrages were committed in the ill-lit and ill-guarded streets of London during the first half of the eighteenth century can now hardly be realized", says Lecky "In 1712 a club of young men of the higher classes, who assumed the name of Mohocks, were accustomed nightly to sally out drunk into the streets to hunt the passers-by and to subject them in mere wantonness to the most atrocious outrages. One of their favourite amusements, called 'tipping the lion', was to squeeze the nose of their victim flat upon his face and to bore out his eyes with their fingers. Among them were the 'sweaters' who formed a circle round their prisoner and pricked him with their swords till he sank exhausted to the ground, the 'dancing masters' so-called from their skill in making men caper by thrusting swords into their legs, the tumblers, whose favourite amusement was to set women on their heads and commit various indecencies and barbarities on the limbs that were exposed. Maid servants, as they opened their masters' doors, were waylaid, beaten and their faces cut. Matrons enclosed in barrels were rolled down the steep and stony incline of Snow Hill. Watchmen were beaten unmercifully and their noses slit. Country gentlemen went to the theatre as if in time of war, accompanied by their armed retainers. A Bishop's son was said to be one of the gang and a baronet was among those who were arrested."

Just as in Italy, the ever present possibility of insult an injury made it essential to resent the smallest slight for fear that it might be followed by some worse imposition, and, also as in Italy, this produced an institutionalised pattern in the form of duel. Once created, the duel could itself be used as a means expressing aggression. It would be interesting, for instance, to know more of the private resentments of John Reresby, who, while dining at a neighbour's house, quarrelled with the fiance of his host's daughter, and threw his wine in his face. Besought by his fiancee not to throw away his life in a duel, the young man swallowed the insult; and Reresby records the incident with satisfaction, evidently feeling that he emerges well from it. (28).

The second, and perhaps the most significant, strain in the sexuality of the period seems to have been a fear of impotence We might suspect this from the emergence of Don Juanism for the obsessive repetition of seduction generally derives from need to prove one's potency. Not infrequently, it became quite explicit: for instance, in 1732, the Hon. Mrs. Weld sought dissolution of her marriage (marriages could be dissolved by Act of Parliament) on the grounds of her husband's impotence which he admitted. (19). He said,

"as often as he attempted to have Carnal Knowledge of his wife, a Pain struck him across the Belly which so contracted his Privy Parts, as to put him in much Torment, and obliged him to desist from further Caresses".

Thus it was clearly impotence of psychological origin. Moreover, when one reads the closing chapters of "Clarissa Harlowe" it is difficult to escape the impression that the duel was a symbolic method of proving potency. The hair-trigger sensitivity of the gallant, and his especial concern with his sister's honour, point to fears of impotence and incest such as we should expect to find where mother fixations were heavily repressed.

One of the most extraordinary literary judgments ever made is that Richardson was a moralist. Both "Clarissa Harlowe", and the "Letters from Pamela", are endlessly prolonged accounts, characteristically obsessive, of the seduction and degradation of girls, which could only have been written by a man for whom such events had a dreadful fascination. Not only is Clarissa, rejected by her family, placed in a brothel (the obvious fantasy for anyone who feels that women are whores— and we have seen the Oedipal origins of such a feeling) and eventually driven to her death, but, for good measure, we are shown Lovelace's friend, Belmont, seducing a girl with the aid of drugs and abandoning her. The story almost exactly parallels that of a recent highly successful novel, except that in this case the seducer is not presented as being a gentleman, and the psychic impotence which motivates him is frankly stated.

The themes of violence and impotence run through the sexual life of the period in a horrid counterpoint, and ever more repellent steps are necessary to evoke some shadow of the vanished potency. Where the Restoration poet had hoped that Phyllis would be kind, the Georgian gallant ruthlessly seduced girls, if necessary using narcotics for the purpose, and left them to their fate. It was considered especially important that the girl should be a virgin. This is a demand which differs in an important respect from the demand of a man that his intended wife should be a virgin, and it occurred with such frequency that Bloch has spoken of the period as one of "defloration mania". To deflower a woman is a method of expressing one's resentment of her sex: and how important the sadistic element was is shown by a work like "The Battle of Venus" (1760) which dwells on the charm of the victims struggles and cries of pain.

But the 'Schadenfreude' of the Age of Reason went even further: there were many who could only obtain the necessary frisson by seducing children far below the age of puberty. In Johnstone's "Chrysal", an elderly rake's valet suggests:

"A very fine girl as your excellency could wish to see."
"How old ?"
"About sixteen."
"Psha, mellow pears! I loathe such trash."
"If your excellency pleases to wait but a little, I have one in my eye, that will suit your taste exactly; a sweeter child is not in all England."
". . . but how old ?"
"Just ten and finely grown."
"Right, the right age...."

These perverted desires explain the extreme youth of many street prostitutes and the inmates of seraglios, as the regular brothels were called. Satan's Harvest Home (1749), a satirical tract and certainly over coloured, speaks of the pitiful sight of a crowd of little creatures lying in heaps . . . and how some of them, hardly high enough to reach a man's waistband, are already pregnant, but a study based on police records shows that this, if true, was exceptional, the largest age-group being twenty five to thirty. Archenholtz speaks of the immense number of prostitutes in England: 50,000 in London, Marylebone alone having 13,000. Such figures are certainly wildly exaggerated. Retif, in his "Pornographe", estimated the number of prostitutes in Paris at 18,000, but a careful study of police records made later showed the actual number to have been only 2,900 at a date only a few years later than that at which he wrote. (204). We need scarcely doubt that Archenholtz's figure is equally exaggerated. Nevertheless, procuring became a highly organized trade, under the guidance of Mrs. Needham, and, if Tarnowsky is to be trusted, the price of a virgin was brought down from £50 to £5. (13) Certainly a considerable technique in the restoration of lost virginities developed — "rearranging the crumpled blossoms of the rose" was the sanctimonious simile — and there is at least one heart-rending account of a girl who had been stitched up four times pleading (in vain) to be excused further operations of the sort. (91).

Before the end of the century, condoms, which had formerly been a prerogative of the rich, were being sold widely: every brothel stocked them and they were advertised in the press, but still primarily as a measure against infection, as Daniel Turner, writing in 1717, makes clear in his book on syphilis.

". . . the Condum being the best, if not the only Preservative our Libertines have found out at present, and yet by reason of its blunting the Sensation, I have heard some of them acknowledge that they often chose to risk a Clap, rather than engage "cum Hastis sic clypeatis." (128).

Its possibilities as a contraceptive were not at first appreciated, for the rake cared little whether he left his victim with child or not. Women, however, were beginning to equip themselves with effective contraceptive devices, and Casanova relates how he once stole from a nun her supply of the devices which are so necessary (as he puts it) to those who wish to make sacrifices to love, leaving a poem in their place. But he was ultimately prevailed upon to return them.

The English Don Juan was less graceful and less light-hearted. Taine gives an instructive description of him.

"Unyielding pride, the desire to subjugate others, the provocative love of battle, the need for ascendancy, these are his predominant features. Sensuality is but of secondary importance compared with these."

We need to demonstrate our ascendancy only when the matter is in doubt, and the neurotic character of the doubt in this case is fairly obvious. If the eighteenths century gallant felt the need to fight a duel, it was for motives more subtle than those which animated the Renaissance bravo. And it is for this reason that the violence of the Age of Reason, though not so extreme as that of the Italian Renaissance, yet has a far more sadistic and gratuitous character. The gallant might believe himself to be actuated by reason, but the unconscious had him in its grip none the less surely for that.

The extent to which aggressive and destructive impulses were fused with sexual impulses— and often with homosexual impulses— during this period is displayed still more clearly by the extensive development of flagellation, both of passive and of active type. Otway had already introduced a masochistic scene in "Venice Preserv'd" as early as the Restoration, and in Shadwell's "The Virtuoso", a character demands to be flagellated, saying that he acquired the taste at Westminster School; the names of flagellatory headmasters are numerous: from Dr. Col of Eton at the beginning of the sixteenth century the line runs on through Dr. Busby of Westminster, Dr. Bowyer of Christ Hospital and Dr. Gill of St. Paul's in the seventeenth, to Dr Drury and Vaughan of Harrow, and Drs. Keate, May and Edgeworth of Eton in the eighteenth and nineteenth. (13).

But this strain began in the eighteenth century to become so general that it became known on the Continent as "the English vice"; with the appearance of the first overtly pornographic work on the subject in 1718 (A Treatise on the Use Flogging) flogging became a passion. There were special brothels devoted to it, such as Mrs. Jenkins'. In 1767, we hear Elizabeth Brownrigg was executed for beating one of her apprentices, Mary Clifford, to death. Chace Pine, a roue of the period, devised a machine which would whip four persons at a time. It is curious that the wave of Puritanism which was to sweep over the country towards the end of the century made no difference whatever. Eros became taboo, but not Thanatos. Mrs. Colet's flagellation brothel acquired such fame that George IV visited it, and the number of such brothels increased. Mrs. Berkley made £10,000 in eight year from her flagellatory brothel and was able to retire and live in comfort. (13).

One of the reasons for the popularity of flagellation was, however, the debauched state of many gallants, who could only obtain the necessary stimulus by subjecting themselves to flagellation. And this devitalization may be found in such eccentricities as the development of voyeurism; just as in certain music-halls now, girls — the so-called " posture girls " — would pose in the nude. (13).

The third strand in the web of the period is that of homosexuality. The trend had certainly started during the Restoration, for Pepys speaks of it as general at Court, and in 1698 Elizabeth, Duchess of Orleans, when Lord Portland was sent as Ambassador to Paris, wrote to a friend: "Nothing's more ordinary in England than this unnatural vice." Just fifty years later, Strutwell, in Roderick Random, declares that

"homosexuality gains ground apace and in all probability will become in a short time a more fashionable device than fornication".

Allowing for the element of satire, this is confirmed by Satan's Harvest Home, the second part of which consists of an essay entitled "Reasons for the Growth of Sodomy".

In view of this it is perhaps understandable to find "a young Irish clergyman" writing a tract called "An Essay upon Improving and adding to the Strength of Great Britain and Ireland by Fornication".

But in addition to active homosexuality, there was a striking trend towards a general effeminacy. To evaluate it correctly, it is necessary to remember that the trend was quite a general one; men of unimpeachable masculinity were adopting fashions of such a feminine character that tracts like Satan's Harvest Home could ask why they did not put on petticoats and have done with it. Walpole could send a muff as a present to George Montague in 1764. Men made use of cosmetics, which perhaps seems the less astonishing when one reads some of the advertisements addressed to them today.

The period is a difficult one to analyse. In many respects it shows signs of matrism: the dislike of authority, the tolerance of homosexuality and the liberal attitude to sexual indulgence all speak for this. But in other respects it departs from the usual matrist pattern, and nowhere more so than in the attitude to women. The relationship of men to women— and this emerges just as clearly in a woman's novel like Evelina, as it does in a man's, like Roderick Random— was basically one of enmity. Men sought to use women as instruments for their convenience. Women accepted men as filthy creatures, whom one could unfortunately not do without.

In these circumstances the status of women bore a somewhat contradictory appearance. Intellectually, they enjoyed considerable freedom. It became possible for them to meet to discuss intellectual matters, as did the members of the Blue Stocking movement. Women begin to emerge as writers: as early as the Restoration we have a woman playwright and novelist in Mrs. Behn, and a poetess in Katharine Phillips, while towards the end of the century women writers became common. Freedom of expression, which had probably been general in the beau monde, began to affect wider circles: thus in Bage's novel, "Mount Henneth", we find one of the women characters starting a discussion of copulation after noticing a horse engaged in leaping a mare, and the conversation proceeds upon a scientific and philosophical plane in quite the Aldous Huxley manner. Scatological taboos were equally relaxed: neither sex felt embarrassment about excretion and in France we hear of men accompanying ladies to the closet and continuing their conversation while the natural functions were being performed. (3). (In country districts the two- or three-seat privy was still not uncommon a generation ago.)

In these circumstances, it is not surprising that the courtesan should reappear: for the woman of wit who was unwilling to marry it was almost the only possible solution and not a wholly unattractive one. Any list of them would have to include, in addition to Fanny Murray, Mrs. Abington, Mrs. Errington, and the illegitimate daughter of Lord Tyrawley — Mrs. Anna Bellamy — who became the friend of Garrick and Lord Chesterfield. Perhaps the gayest and most high spirited was the enchanting Kitty Fisher, whose unmercenary character has been made known to generations of children through the lampoon which became a nursery rhyme. Lucy Locket, whose fame is conjoined with hers, was a barmaid at the Cock, in Fleet Street; she discarded one of her lovers when she had run through all his money. Kitty Fisher, as the rhyme delicately hints, thought it enough that he was attractive in appearance. It is true that Kitty Fisher stuck firmly to the rule that her fee was a hundred guineas, but this was less from purely mercenary reasons than from commercial principle. Once, when the Duke of York gave her only a £50 note, having no more on him, she ate it on her bread and butter for breakfast. (6).

Apart from being a courtesan — and writing, for those who had talent enough — there was no satisfactory mode of existence open to the woman who wished to support herself at the level of the professions. Marriage was still the only respectable solution. The "old maid " begins to appear in history, and always as an object of derision, as in Defoe or Smollett. Tabitha Bramble, though she eventually married the cadaverous soldier Lismahago, represents a type which has been familiar in English fact and fiction down to the present day— but which, perhaps, is now vanishing. Proposals were made for the starting of a sort of lay nunnery, in which women could support themselves by sewing and other respectable activities, but the response was mockery. (234). Furthermore, despite the freedom accorded to men and to married women, the old taboos on premarital sexual experience had lost little of their force in bourgeois circles and among the more conservative of the aristocracy, and here the result of a mis-step was still likely to be condemnation to a life of prostitution. Yet there were circles where this was not necessarily the case. For instance, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu wrote:

"No one is shocked to hear that Miss So-and-so, Maid of Honour, has got nicely over her confinement." (207).

The simplified marriage laws were often misused in order to exploit women. Civil marriage, without ecclesiastical blessing, had been made compulsory by the Puritans in 1653, though Charles II afterwards re-legalized church marriage for those who preferred it. All that was needed, in order to marry, was a simple declaration and the clasping of hands. No ring was needed, and the Act, with Caledonian caution, specified that the, handfasting could be omitted where the persons had no hands. Marriage was permissible at any hour, in any building, without banns or licence, at a moment's notice. This led to abuses, such as bigamy and the contracting of fictitious marriages for purposes of seduction or in order to obtain the fortune of heiresses. Fleet Street became the centre of the marriage trade. According to Pennant,

"I have often been tempted by the question, 'Sir, will you please to walk in and be married' while walking down Fleet Street". (102).

It was to remedy these abuses that the Hardwicke Act was passed in 1753, requiring the publication of banns or the giving of prior notice of marriage. This was regarded, at the time, as an intolerable imposition.

Divorce, however, became no easier; those with a few thousand pounds to spare and the right connections could sometimes obtain a dissolution by promoting an Act of Parliament, but even in this case the classic reasons for divorce, adultery and impotence, were still not admitted. (Mrs. Weld, mentioned earlier, was not granted her divorce.)

Perhaps the main clue to the contradictions of the age may lie in the cavalier way in which eighteenth century man attempted to deny the claims of the unconscious, and in his repeated attempts to live by reason to the exclusion of feeling When the unconscious compulsions drove him to acts which were difficult to justify rationally, he produced a philosophy of sensuality to justify them. Naturally it was a Frenchman, de Sade, who, in the enforced leisure of a long imprisonment, carried this attempt to its ultimate limits: the three pillars of his philosophy were sodomy, cruelty and sacrilege. He praised Montigny's "Thérèse Philosophe" (the story of a girl who defies every moral law and ends up on a bed of roses) as the only book to ally luxury and impiety agreeably. (192). For de Sade, blasphemy and perversion ceased to be a pleasure and became a duty: he was dominated by the need to defy moral laws just as surely as the puritan is dominated by the need to observe them.

For many, of course, simple promiscuity was enough. Thus, of Lady Melbourne's six children, one was fathered by the Prince of Wales, one by Lord Egremont, and one by an unknown sire. (The story that Lord Egremont bought the right to her favours from Lord Coleraine for £13,000 is probably untrue.) The paternity of the Harley family was so confused that it was known as the Harleian Miscellany. (39). A balanced account would also note the persistence of Puritan feeling, which remained dominant in some parts of the country.

While the excesses of perversion were probably confined to a comparatively small class within the community, the taste for violence and the ruthless readiness to ignore the interests of others seem to have been widespread. Some very grave disturbance of the child's emotional links with the parent must have been occurring to produce such violence of aggression, such denial of feeling. Evidently there were powerful resentments directed towards the mother, uneasily combined with a powerful need to identify with her. Only thorough research into the circumstances of child upbringing will throw light on why this occurred.

Certainly it was an age of failure to sublimate sexual libido. Failure to sublimate normally directed libido would help to account for the absence of romantic love— and hence for the Romantic Protest which was to flare up later in the century.

All in all, it may be regarded, I think, as a demonstration of what happens when there is failure to form a superego, and it is this which distinguishes it from periods of matrism. The frank sexuality of the pagan Celt or of the characters in Brantome, though not always devoid of violence, nevertheless has little in common with the obsessive need for sexual stimulus with its taints of sadism and perversion, which we find in the Age of Reason. Thus the period demonstrates something which the patrists find so hard to understand, the difference between licence and freedom.