I have concentrated on the English case; but similar trends can be traced after 1800, at least in outline, in other western European and English-speaking societies. Conversely, one way of characterizing what has happened in the western world since the 1960s would be to say that the Victorian compromise has increasingly broken down. The social importance of marriage has declined spectacularly. Divorce rates have soared. Casual sex is now more commonplace than ever. The mass use of artificial contraception has divorced sex and pleasure more completely than ever before from pregnancy and procreation. As we have seen, the ultimate origins of this greater liberty lay in the social and intellectual revolutions of the Enlightenment. So the other important theme in nineteenth – and twentieth-century attitudes was the gradual expansion of sexual freedom, in theory and in practice. The experience of the last fifty years should be seen not as a sharp break with the past, but as an acceleration of these on-going trends, and their increasing expansion into the mainstream of sexual culture.1

Male libertine culture continued to flourish and develop through­out the Regency period and the Victorian and Edwardian ages. Modern city life provided heterosexual men with endless opportun­ities for casual sex; prostitution expanded further all through the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries. By 1900, easily accessible homosexual subcultures had likewise spread to every port and city across the westernized world. (As Graham Robb puts it, ‘Tchaikov­sky could travel all over Europe and always be sure of finding someone to have sex with’.) As for women, from the 1920s onwards contem­poraries were in no doubt (and subsequent historians have tended to agree) that they were living through the beginnings of a new era, in which urban lifestyles were increasingly associated with liberty for both sexes. The birth of the ‘new woman’ in the early twentieth cen­tury was the point at which mainstream feminism, and norms of femininity more generally, began to develop gradually away from their traditional fixation upon strict pre-marital chastity.2

This slow but steady decline in the sexual double standard was but one symptom of a larger intellectual shift between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries: the steady rise, and eventual triumph, of equal­ity as the guiding principle in ethical and political affairs. One of the foundations of the Victorian compromise had been that rights and norms should differentiate between social groups (whether by race, class, sex, or sexual orientation), for their own good and that of the wider community. Already in the nineteenth century this presumption had been challenged by feminists, socialists, and other progressives, but it was only in the course of the last century that it was seriously weak­ened, and ultimately overturned, by the opposite principle: that, legally and morally, all human beings deserve equal respect. Nowadays we have come to take this idea utterly for granted. So far has it advanced in recent decades that the sexual rights of individuals are now com­monly presumed to be more tangible, and ultimately perhaps even more important, than any notion of public morality or the public good. Even fifty years ago such a consensus would have been unthinkable.

Equally important in bringing about these changes has been the ongoing evolution of ideas about the public and the private. As this book has shown, it was in the eighteenth century that this distinction took on a key role in defining the sphere of sexual freedom. In general terms, ‘private’ behaviour was by definition beyond the scope of legal and communal sanction. On the other hand, whenever actions were perceived to be unnatural, or detrimental to others or to the commu­nity, they remained a matter of legitimate public concern, even if carried out in secret. Thus the boundary between the two was never fixed, but dependent upon the balance of power, opinion, and circum­stance. In essence, the rights of women and of homosexuals to sexual privacy were but weakly asserted in the eighteenth century; advanced somewhat in practice in the nineteenth century; but only became widely accepted and legally established in the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The history of this development contains a remarkable irony. As we have seen, the idea of the right to sexual privacy originally developed out of arguments for the inviolability of religious conscience. Yet nowadays it has expanded so far that trad­itionalist Christians have been reduced to arguing that their religious freedom is being infringed by the equal rights accorded to homosexual men and women, or by the provision of contraception and abortion. In the modern world, the right to express one’s sexual instincts has come to be seen as more important even than spiritual conscience.3

Yet sex is not just more private than ever before: it is also more public. The gradual expansion of the sphere of sexual privacy has taken place alongside a continued and growing interest in the public discussion of sex. The media revolution that began in the eighteenth century did not stop in 1800: the scope and speed of public commu­nication, and its fascination with sexual affairs, continued to develop. Since the 1960s, once again, these trends have further accelerated. Especially notable have been the continued falling away of censorship and personal inhibition, and the recent rise of the internet, which together have further complicated the relationship between the public and the private. Indeed, the great paradox of our times seems to be that, as a culture, we increasingly assert the essential privateness of sex and sexuality as far as the public realm of the state and the law are concerned, yet simultaneously seem to have a growing desire to expose the most intimate details of our lives to the broadest possible public gaze. This is a considerably different balance between the pri­vate and the public than the Victorians upheld, and it has shattered one of the key components of their compromise. The essential ten­sion, as we have seen, goes back to the Enlightenment.

How far, then, have we really come? We like to think of social change in terms of linear progress: that, too, is a legacy of the Enlight­enment. Yet this predisposes us to historical short-sightedness – we easily forget how contingent our present state is, that the past is lit­tered with alternative paths not taken, that even within the last few generations the boundaries of the right to sexual privacy have been continually challenged and redrawn. Both in law and in social prac­tice, the widespread acceptance of sexual freedom for women and for unmarried persons is a comparatively novel development. Even today, across the English-speaking world, the provision of contraception and of abortion remains highly contested, as does the issue of prostitution.

Though it is is variably defined, and often extends to relationships that are not obviously harmful, incest between consenting adults is permitted in some states but elsewhere remains a crime. Divergence of opinion about the limits of sexual freedom remains one of the most contentious cultural issues of our time.

Above all, despite the growing intellectual purchase of ideas of privacy and equality, the extension of homosexual freedom has proved persistently contentious. After homosexual sex in private for men over twenty-one was legalized in Britain in 1967, there was a sharp rise in prosecutions for ‘public’ homosexual cruising: it was not the principle of gay sex, but its confinement out of sight, that the enforce­ment of the new law was intended to promote. As recently as the later 1980s, the United States Supreme Court affirmed that even private, consensual sex between men was intrinsically immoral and punish­able, whilst the government of the United Kingdom made it illegal for any local authority to do anything that might ‘promote homosexual­ity’ or the teaching in schools of ‘the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’ – laws which in both cases were not finally overturned until 2003.4 Despite numerous and ongoing challenges, discrimination against same-sex relations persists, not just in respect of marriage, but equally when it comes to the criminaliza­tion of unacceptable forms of behaviour. In the United Kingdom it is now legal for a man to brand his wife on the buttocks with a red-hot iron during sex, but not for men, privately and willingly, to engage in equivalent kinds of sadomasochist ritual – a judgement upheld both by the House of Lords and by the European Court of Human Rights.5 Small wonder that many academics and activists nowadays dismiss the distinction between public and private acts as an ideological con­struct that obscures the broader hegemony throughout society of particular, mainly ‘heteronormative’, presumptions and policies.6

Over the past fifty years the balance between liberty and repression, equality and inequity, individual rights and communal morality, has therefore been constantly shifting. Though their form keeps evolving, questions of sexual morality, private and public, constantly recur: right now, in various ways, they threaten a crisis within the world­wide Catholic church, are tearing apart the global community of Anglican churches, and continue to stir up great passions in American politics. Yet all these disagreements have taken shape within essen­tially new parameters, based on the modern ways of living and thinking that first emerged in the eighteenth century. What is more, the ideals of the Enlightenment are ever more firmly entrenched: the basic idea that sex between consenting adults, irrespective of their sex, sexual orientation, or marital status, is protected by a constitu­tional right to privacy is now, though still controversial, enshrined in the fundamental law of the United Kingdom, the European Union, and the United States.7

The ultimate legacy of the Enlightenment has thus been far from straightforward, and its consequences are still unfolding. Yet in retro­spect it is easy to see that it marked the point at which the sexual culture of the west diverged onto a completely new trajectory. If any­thing, the characteristics of that culture – its individualism, its explicitness, its permissiveness, the equal status claimed by women and by homosexuals – have become more distinctive in recent dec­ades, even as the world has grown smaller. They have also been widely influential: just as western feminism has had an impact across the globe, so too have western concepts of sexual freedom.8

In some parts of the world sexual ideals and practices reminiscent of pre-modern Europe nevertheless continue to be upheld. Men and (especially) women remain at risk of public prosecution for having sex outside marriage. Often, the word of God is supposed to justify this. As Ayatollah Khomeini famously affirmed in 1979, the execution of prostitutes, adulterers, and homosexuals was as justified in a moral society as the amputation of gangrenous flesh. In several Islamic coun­tries, imprisonment, flogging, and execution by hanging or even by stoning continue to be imposed on men and women convicted of extra-marital or homosexual relations.9 Even more widespread and deep-rooted is the extra-legal persecution of men and women for such matters. These are the same practices that sustained western culture for most of its history. They rest on very similar foundations – the theocratic authority of holy texts and holy men, intolerance of reli­gious and social pluralism, fear of sexual freedom, the belief that men alone should govern. How they help maintain patriarchal social order is obvious: so too is their cost to human happiness. How durable they will prove to be in the rest of the world remains to be seen.

Liberty and equality

Plate і. Edward Rigby striking an unrepentant pose in 1702. This print was produced just a few
months after his release from prison for attempted sodomy
(see Chapter 2, ‘Thinking the Unthinkable’).

Liberty and equality

Plate 2. The sacrifice of young woman to the lechery of a seasoned debauchee: melodramatic
prints on this subject became immensely popular in the later eighteenth century
(see Chapter 3, ‘Rakes and Harlots’).

Liberty and equality

Plate 3. Pamela fainting, having discovered Mr B hiding in her bedroom to ravish her. In the
background is his accomplice, Mrs Jewkes. From a set of popular illustrations to Samuel
Richardson’s sensational and deeply influential best-seller Pamela (1740)

(see Chapter 3, ‘Novel Attitudes’).

Liberty and equality

Plate 4. William Blake’s life-long fascination with multiple marriage is illustrated by his 1795
print of Lamech, the first polygamist mentioned in the Bible: on the left are his two wives, Adah
and Zillah (Genesis 4.19) (see Chapter 4, ‘Polygamy and Population’).

Liberty and equality

Plate 5. Clarissa Harlowe, her dress already ripped open by the heartless rapist Lovelace,
begs in vain for mercy. A later eighteenth-century illustration to Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa
(1747-8), with captions in French as well as English for the benefit of the novel’s innumerable
continental readers (see Chapter 3, ‘Novel Attitudes’).

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Plate 6. William Hogarth, Marriage a la Mode (1745), opening scene. On the left is the syphilitic
Viscount Squanderfield — ignoring his bride-to-be, who is already intriguing with one of the
lawyers, Mr Silvertongue. On the right their fathers haggle over the marriage contract, interested
only in the material aspects of the match.

Liberty and equality

Plate 7. Marriage a la Mode (1745), final scene. The miserable countess has poisoned herself
upon learning of her lover’s execution. As her crippled, syphilitic baby grips her lifeless face, her
unfeeling, avaricious father strips the rings off her fingers (see Chapter 4, ‘Marriage and Money’).

Liberty and equality

Plate 8. The patriarchal philanthropist: Robert Dingley, merchant and founder of the Magdalen Hospital for Penitent Prostitutes. On his knee, in the frontispiece to the charity’s published Account (1761), rests one of the penitents (see Chapter 5, ‘Self-interest and Sexual Interest’).

Liberty and equality

Plate 9. The octagonal chapel of the London Magdalen Hospital in Blackfriars Road, which
opened in 1772 and could seat 500 visitors. In the centre of the gallery, visible behind the gauze
screen, are the penitents themselves (see Chapter 5, ‘Self-interest and Sexual Interest’).

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Plate 10. The dining hall of the Lambeth Asylum for poor orphan girls (founded in 1758), the
inmates in their uniforms apparently being visited by the middle-class family shown at the centre

(see Chapter 5, ‘Chastity and Class’).

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Plate її. One of the countless consumer objects based on Hogarth’s Harlot’s Progress
(1732): an expensive, hand-painted porcelain plate with an image of scene 2, produced at the
Meissen porcelain works in eastern Germany around 1740 (see Chapter 6, ‘The Growth of

Mass Culture’).

Plate 12. Emily Warren, a renowned courtesan, portrayed by Joshua Reynolds in 1781 as Thai’s,
Alexander the Great’s favourite prostitute (see Chapter 6, ‘Sexual Celebrity’).


Liberty and equality

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Liberty and equality

Plate 13. Louise de Keroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth: one of Charles II’s most powerful mistresses, and the object of ceaseless public interest (see Chapter 6, ‘Sexual Celebrity’).

Plate 14. Nell Gwyn, whose rivalry with the Duchess of Portsmouth fascinated
contemporary observers (see Chapter 6, ‘Sexual Celebrity’).


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Plate 15. James Gillray’s lurid pun on the name and role of Dorothy Jordan, longtime mistress to
the Duke of Clarence, later King William IV (see Chapter 6, ‘Sexual Celebrity’).


Liberty and equalityPlate 16. One of Joshua Reynolds’s best-known and most – copied paintings of Kitty Fisher (1759): as Cleopatra, dissolving a priceless pearl in wine to impress Marc Antony (see Chapter 6, ‘Self­promotion and Exploitation’).

Liberty and equalityPlate 17. One of the engravings that Reynolds and Fisher commissioned immediately after the portrait’s completion, to bring the image to mass public attention (see Chapter 6, ‘Self­promotion and Exploitation’).

Liberty and equality

Plate 18. Another of the many pictures that Kitty Fisher commissioned to enhance her celebrity
(1765). As well as providing a pun on her name, the goldfish bowl reflects a crowd of people
peering through the window to catch a glimpse of the famous courtesan
(see Chapter 6, ‘Self-promotion and Exploitation’).

Liberty and equality

Plate 19. William Heath, Which is the Dirtiest (1820): the estranged Queen Caroline and King
George IV, flinging filth at one another – it sticks to him, but not to her
(see Chapter 6, ‘Self-promotion and Exploitation’).

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Plate 20. A smiling Mary Anne Clarke and her printer and publisher rejoice in their enormous
pay-offs, as the relieved Prince of Wales and other noblemen destroy the damning evidence of
corruption and immorality that her memoirs had threatened to uncover
(see Chapter 6, ‘Self-promotion and Exploitation’).


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Liberty and equality

Plate 21. An 1825 satire on Harriette Wilson’s practice of writing blackmailing letters to her
former lovers, offering them the opportunity to buy themselves out of her memoirs
(see Chapter 6, ‘Self-promotion and Exploitation’).

Plate 22. The central ritual object of the ‘Beggar’s Benison’ sex club: the platter upon which its
members collectively ejaculated (see Chapter 6, ‘Celebrating Sex’).

Liberty and equality

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Printed in the United States of America
on acid-free paper

* Though not the early Stuart MP Sir Sydney Montagu, who was fond of saying ‘that he that doth get a wench with child and marries her afterward it is as if a man should shit in his hat and then clap it upon his head’: The Diary of Samuel Pepys, ed. Robert Latham and William Matthews, 11 vols (1970-83), i. 261.

f His strong views on this subject are equally evident in his anonymous translation of Ovid, composed at exactly the time that his relationship with Mary Daniel was devel­oping. In recommending flattery and deceit, the poet had advised men that ‘if a girl insists upon a promise of marriage, give it her, and bind it by many oaths: for no indictment lies for this sort of perjury’. To these lines Fielding, who nowhere else criticizes the work’s morality, appended an urgent footnote: ‘This is the most excep­tionable passage in the whole work . . . we cannot help expressing our detestation of

49. This documentary print by Paul Sandby shows a family of
ballad-sellers in 1760 hawking copies of other (now lost) publications
about Kitty Fisher. To attract attention, and in tribute to her name,
the man is carrying them around attached to the end of a fishing rod:
‘Come, who’ll fish in my fishpond?’, he cries.

[1] 25 Henry VIII c. 6; 18 Elizabeth c. 3. The latter law was probably intended to apply only where the bastard child was likely to require financial support from the parish. When the legislation was updated in 1610 the new statute made this explicit: hence­forth the mothers of bastards who were a charge on the parish were to be imprisoned at hard labour for a year (7 James I c. 4). They were often also whipped.

[2] The deliberately distorted Latin phrase means something like ‘you will collect fre­quently: you will rise up’.

[3] The churchwardens of St Mary Whitechapel and St Botolph Bishopsgate subse­quently appealed against these orders, and the children were passed back again – such brutal shipping of children and adults back and forth whilst parish officers wrangled about their legal place of settlement was not uncommon under the poor law: London Metropolitan Archives, CLA/047/LJ/13/1700 (City Sessions Papers, Dec. 1700).

[4] Cf. 1 Peter 2.11: ‘abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul’.

[5] To avoid this fate she escaped from prison disguised as a man, ran away to Paris and, when the High Commission pursued her even there, converted to Catholicism and entered a nunnery (though before long she fell out with the nuns and departed again).

[6] In 1683 the Quaker leaders George Whitehead and William Crouch complained to the Archbishop of Canterbury ‘about the great sufferings of our Friends by inform­ers. . . telling him what wicked persons they were, and that many of them had for­sworn themselves, and deserved to be indicted for perjury: and what a dishonour it was to their Church, to employ such agents to force people to a conformity by perse­cution. . . To excuse them, his answer was, There must be some crooked timber used in building a ship’. The Christian Progress of… George Whitehead (1725), 500.

[7] Though not entirely: see below, pp. 89-90.

! ‘Set the nation free’, orders the king of Sodom, in which the proclamation of bug­gery stands satirically for Charles Il’s Declaration of Indulgence (1672), ‘Let con­science have its force of liberty’: The Works of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, ed. Harold Love (1999), 305.

[8] See below, Chapter 4, ‘Polygamy and Population’.

[9] The sectarian practice of private marriage also led to predictable charges of adultery and fornication: see e. g. Truth Cleared from Reproaches (1654), 1-6; Laur[ence] Claxton [i. e. Clarkson], The Lost Sheep Found (1660), 15-17; Adrian Davies, The Quakers in English Society 1655-1725 (2000), 39-40.

[10] That all humans had an intrinsic attraction to chastity, reasoned Hutcheson, was proved by the fact that libertines seduced modest women despite the availability of prostitutes: ‘Chastity it self has a powerful charm in the eyes of the dissolute, even when they are attempting to destroy it’ (An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725), 235; the same argument can be found in the anonymous popular pamphlet A Conference about Whoring (1725), 26).

[11] Monmouth himself lived, and died, by the same principles. When, at his execution in 1685, the two bishops present on the scaffold badgered him to repent his adulterous life, even refusing him communion, he replied angrily that he cared much more for his mistress than his wife, and had been faithful to her: ODNB.

[12] Though staunch upholders of conventional morality were apt to dismiss such evi­dence as fanciful. ‘Meeting with a celebrated book, a volume of Captain Cook’s voy­ages,’ recorded John Wesley in his diary on 17 December 1773, ‘I sat down to read it with huge expectation. But how was I disappointed. I observed, 1. Things absolutely incredible: A nation. . . without any sense of shame! Men and women coupling

together in the face of the sun, and in the sight of scores of people! . . . Hume or Vol­

taire might believe this: but I cannot.’

[15] ‘When I hear a fine gentleman talking much about his honour before women,’ observed a mid-eighteenth-century author, ‘it gives me the same impression as if I heard him say, Ladies, you may very safely grant my request, and let me lie with you; for I assure you, I am a man of honour, and never boast of those favours’. An Essay on Modern Gallantry [c. 1750], 9.

[16] Though critics of sexual toleration were quick to point out that even common pros­titutes were ‘wives and daughters’, whose families were affected by their actions: [George Bluet?], An Enquiry whether a General Practice of Virtue tends to the Wealth or Poverty, Benefit or Disadvantage of a People? (1725), 141-6.

[17] Between them, notes Barbara Taylor, Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire and her sister in the 1780s and 1790s chalked up ‘two marriages, seven affairs (including two probable lesbian ones on the part of the Duchess, one of them a menage a trois involv­ing her husband), and nine children, three of them illegitimate’: Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination (2003), 200.

[18] Though in one later unpublished fragment of a memoir, looking back on her life, she was bitterly to attack what she had by then come to regard as a masculine tyranny: ‘the worshippers of free love not only preyed upon one another, but preyed equally upon their own individual selves, turning their existence into a perfect hell. . . The selfishness, the treachery, and meanness, and the cruelty practised by the opponents of marriage and the misery these same opponents induced. . . exceeded any amount of the same results produced by marriage’: printed in Daisy Hay, Young Romantics (2OIo), 307-9.

[19] Or, as the libertine poet and politician Sir Charles Hanbury Williams put it, in a private, humorous ode to the young, beautiful Horatio Townshend (inspired by Horace, Ode IV): ‘Come to my Breast, my Lovely Boy! / Thou Source of Greek and Roman Joy! / And let my Arms entwine ’ye; / Behold my strong erected Tarse [i. e. Cock], / Display your plump, and milk-white Arse, / Young, blooming, Ligurine!’: Yale Lewis Walpole Library, MS CHW 69, fol. 19 (1740).

[20] The next time he dared visit, the barber deposed, ‘as soon as he came into the room, the Warden said to him, How dost do, my dear barber? It’s fine weather, my dear bar­ber. How does thy cock do, my dear barber? Let me feel it; and then went to kiss him’: A Faithful Narrative of the Proceedings in a late Affair between the Rev. Mr. John Swinton and Mr. George Baker (1739), 18.

[21] ‘Evidence of participation not altogether wanting, though certainly not absolutely conclusive’ was Bentham’s ultimate verdict on the last point (Bentham MSS, clxi. 339). ‘Would probably be prosecuted, if published to-day,’ noted the UCL cataloguer when he came across these papers in the 1930s.

[22] When drafting some of his earliest statements on the decriminalization of sodomy, in the 1770s, Bentham envisaged them as part of a larger volume on penal law, intend­ing that these passages should be printed in Latin and inserted only in ‘some copies’ of the work. Towards the end of his life, he conceived of publishing his arguments for sexual toleration at much greater length, and anonymously, as a two-part work to be called Not Paul, but Jesus. In 1817 he drew up a prospectus of it, addressed to the fabulously rich bisexual writer and art collector William Beckford. The first part, which he eventually published under this title in 1823, using the pseudonym ‘Gamaliel Smith’, was intended to undermine the authority and doctrines of St Paul as the basis of conventional, ascetic Christian morality. The second part, ‘not proposed to be pub­lished till some time after the first’, which was to uphold ‘the liberty of [sexual] taste’ on utilitarian grounds, remained unfinished and unpublished.33

[23] ‘Those unfortunate women who live by prostitution’, concurred Adam Smith in 1776, were ‘the most beautiful women perhaps in the British dominions’: An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, ed. R. H. Campbell, A. S. Skin­ner and W. B. Todd (1976), I. xi. b. 41.

[24] ‘ For an historian’, by contrast, ‘great abilities. . . are not requisite’, noted Samuel Johnson, ‘for in historical composition, all the greatest powers of the human mind are quiescent’ – ‘no writer has a more easy task than the historian’: Boswell’s Life of John­son, ed. George Birkbeck Hill and L. F. Powell, 6 vols (1934-50), i. 424-5.

[25] concerned was Richardson to drive home the reality of such scen­arios that, of all the 173 letters in the volume, to this one alone he appended a postscript stressing its absolute truth: ‘N. B. This shocking story is taken from the mouth of the young woman herself, who so narrowly escaped the snare of the vile procuress; and is fact in every circumstance.’4

In his novels, the same facts come vividly to life. His heroines are all virgins who are pursued, abducted, and under constant threat from

[26] Indeed he was a useless seducer, complained one male critic: ‘how sheepishly does he act, and what blunders does he not commit?’ If he’d acted with more guile and confidence ‘he would have met with less and less resistance, till at last he might have accomplished his desires, before Miss Pamela had certainly known what he would be at’: Critical Remarks on Sir Charles Grandison (1754), 22-3.

[27] It was ridiculous how obsessed everyone was with the ‘fictitious merit’ of female chastity, complained Shelley in 1812: in truth, seduction was a term which ‘could have no meaning, in a rational society’. The Letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley, ed. Frederick L. Jones, 2 vols (1964), i. 323.

[28] In the first letter she ever wrote to Richardson, in the midst of reading Clarissa, she had already (anonymously) confessed ‘though I shall blush. . . that if I was to die for it, I cannot help being fond of Lovelace’, and fantasized about his redemption: ‘a fault­less husband have I made him, even without danger of a relapse’ (The Correspondence of Samuel Richardson, ed. Anna Laetitia Barbauld, 6 vols (1804), iv. 180-81).

[29] The same point was to be made by John Stuart Mill in 1826: ‘Good treatment of women. . . is one of the surest marks of high civilization. But it seems to be very little considered, in what good treatment of women consists. It does not consist in treating them as idols to be worshipped, or as trinkets to be worn for display; any more than in shutting them up like jewels in a case, removed from the light of the sun and the sight of men. In both cases, this treatment is a proof that they are valued; else why are so much pains taken about them? But in both cases they are valued exactly like beau­tiful trinkets; the value set upon them is quite compatible with perfect indifference to their happiness or misery.’ The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, ed. J. M. Robson et al., 33 vols (1963-91), xx. 45-6.

this sentiment, which appears shocking even in a heathen writer’: [Henry Fielding], Ovid’s Art of Love Paraphrased (1747), 71.

[31] The philosopher Francis Hutcheson thought he had an even better idea – adulterers should be divorced, but forbidden to marry ‘the partner of their guilt’; instead they would be compelled ‘to marriages with persons formerly infamous, and of sufficient lust for them, to prevent their corrupting others’: Francis Hutcheson, A System of Moral Philosophy, 2 vols (1755), ii. 181.

[32] Though Delany, unsurprisingly, robustly affirmed orthodox arguments against poly­gamy, it is perhaps not irrelevant to his interest in the subject that his own marriage to a rich widow a few years earlier had been entirely prudential – he was already in love with none other than Mary Pendarves (whom we met earlier in this chapter), and she with him. When his first wife died in 1742, Delany quickly travelled to England, pro­posed, and finally was married to Mary Pendarves, more than a decade after they had first met. She was to become one of Richardson’s favourite correspondents and advis­ers.

[33] For Dr Johnson’s characteristically ambiguous views on the subject (bigamy was wrong; but he himself had often fantasized about keeping a seraglio), see Boswell’s Life of Johnson, ed. George Birkbeck Hill and L. F. Powell, 6 vols (1934-50), v. 216-17.

[34] Malthus, characteristically, was to argue both that polygamy, like whoring, was less productive, and that, in certain circumstances, it led to overpopulation and misery: T. R. Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population [edns of 1803-26], ed. Patricia James, 2 vols (1989), i. 28, 32-4, 55, 88, 92, 111; and ibid., i. 80, 90-92.

[35] See above, Chapter 1, ‘God’s Revolution’.

[36] There was a similar hardening of racial attitudes. Across the British Empire, white colonial distaste for the supposedly lax mores of other races was increasingly promin­ent. At home, in 1782 the governors of the Lambeth Asylum decreed that it should admit ‘no negro or mulatto girl’; the following year, the Magdalen Hospital likewise barred all ‘black women’. An Account of the Institution and Proceedings of the Guardians of the Asylum (1782), 17; H. F. B. Compston, The Magdalen Hospital (1917), 200; Philippa Levene (ed.), Gender and Empire (2004), ch. 6.

[37] Although the high-minded Lord Hardwicke liked to tell the story of how, con­fronted with a nude double-portrait of Fanny Murray and Kitty Fisher, he had, to its owner’s astonishment, been able to express ‘his perfect ignorance’ of who the subjects were: Richard Cooksey, Essay on the Life and Character of John Lord Somers (Wor­cester, 1791), 102-3.

[38] At some point such names, like those of famous fictional characters, even came to be given to pet dogs, such as the favourite Jack Russell terriers of the High Court judge Sir Christopher French QC (1925-2003), who were called Lucy Lockett, Polly Pea – chum, Roderick Random, Matthew Bramble, and Kitty Fisher: The Daily Telegraph, 27 March 2003.

[39] Not to be outdone, his rival John Fielding exploited his powers as a magistrate to publicize his own scheme. First he instigated a series of raids on brothels; then, in the manner of a press conference, he interrogated each arrested prostitute in front of a large, invited audience, and had the results published in the papers – ‘in order to shew the public in general, and the worthy subscribers to the Asylum or House of Refuge for deserted girls in particular, the great necessity of such a provision, and the great good this charity may produce’.15

[40] As the feminist sexual reformer Janet Chance put it in 1931, ‘In spite of all the talk about sex experience, in spite of all the apparent equality of outlook amongst the younger generation, passion in England remains a lopsided affair. The men, more or less, for their part, know what can be. The women, for their part, often do not’: The Cost of English Morals (1931), 36.

[41] At an earlier trial of another purportedly obscene novel, he had asked the jurors if they’d be willing at Christmas to distribute the book ‘as presents to the girls in the office – and if not, why not?’

[42] This was the state of affairs that the impeccably patrician Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan (1894-1986), grew up taking for granted, and whose apparent breakdown from the 1960s onwards left him bewildered. As he recalled at the very end of his life, ‘in the old days you could be absolutely sure that you could go to a restaurant with your wife and not see a man that you knew having lunch with a tart. It was all kept separate, but this does not seem to happen these days’: Alastair Horne, Macmillan i957-19s6 (i989h 495.