The Life of the late celebrated Mrs. Elizabeth Wisebourn, vulgarly call’d Mother Wybourn; containing secret Memoirs of several Ladies of the first Q---y, who held an Assembly at her House; together with her last Will and Testament … London: Printed for A. Moore … [1721?].

London: Printed for A. Moore … [1721?]

8vo., pp. vii, [1], 54; sheets E and F reversed by the binder, title-page and last page dusty, else a good copy, disbound.


US $0€0

Make an enquiry

First edition of a scurrilous account of Elizabeth Wisebourn[e], a famous bawd, and the goings-on in the gilded apartments of her elegant London brothel in Drury-Lane. Born in 1653 and educated in Rome under the tuition of a Lady Abbess to whom ‘she ow’d all that she knew of her Business’, Elizabeth made the acquaintance of ladies of first rank on her return to London, setting up a House where they could consort in private with the greatest variety of gallants. She also maintained a supply of the latest anti-venereal nostrums (a medical theme underlies the main narrative). Although her clients, female and male, are concealed by dashes and invented names, they must have been readily recognized by readers of the day. As her business increased she joined forces with the opera manager John James Heidegger, and together they conceived scandalous masquerades ‘to promote the Trade of her House’.

Among the amorous affairs of her ‘society of ladies’ are those of Monavaria and a Doctor, whose ‘only Rival, if (which is much doubted) he has really any, is a Poet’, unmistakeably Pope. George Sherburn identifies the lady as the Duchess of Buckinghamshire (The Early Career of Alexander Pope, p. 295). Pope figures again in the story of the lady who stabbed herself to death ‘for the Love of Mr. P--pe’, and as the author of Verses to the Memory of an unfortunate Lady, and there are other passing references.

Elizabeth died in 1720, and her ‘Last Will and Testament’, in the manner of Curll, includes bequests to her ladies (‘her Daughters’) of mourning rings and to Dr. Anodyne Tanner, her executor, of all her Nostrums.

Authorship is a puzzle. Richard Savage in his Author to be Lett (1729) credits it to one ‘Dick Morley’, but this would appear to be another pseudonym. Whoever did write this remarkable pamphlet had considerable literary flair and an intimate knowledge of the world of the rich and famous. The printer’s name is also fictitious, A. or Anne Moore being widely used in the 1720s to conceal the printer of licentious pamphlets.

ESTC lists five copies in three British libraries, and seven copies in North America. Guerinot, pp. 80-82. For more about ‘Mother’ Wisebourne see Dan Cruickshank, the Secret History of Georgian London.

You may also be interested in...


A Letter to a Friend of Robert Burns: occasioned by an intended Republication of the Account of the Life of Burns, by Dr. Currie; and of the Selection made by him from his Letters …

First edition. James Currie’s Works of Burns with a life and letters was first published in 1800 and several times reprinted and enlarged.

Read more


Miscellanies, viz. I. Day-Fatality. II. Local-Fatality. III. Ostenta. IV. Omens. V. Dreams. VI. Apparitions. VII. Voices. VIII. Impulses. IX. Knockings. X. Blows Invisible. XI. Prophesies. XII. Marvels. XIII. Magick. XIV. Transportation in the Air. XV. Visions in a Beril, or Glass. XVI. Converse with Angels and Spirits. XVII. Corps-Candles in Wales. XVIII. Oracles. XIX. Exstasie. XX. Glances of Love / Envy. XXI. Second-Sighted Persons …

First edition of Aubrey’s entertaining collection of folk history, superstitions, and gossip, the only book he completed. The topics he tackles in this work of ‘hermetick philosophy’ include ‘omens and prophecies, dreams and apparitions, day fatality and second sight, all of which he was concerned to explore and explain, verify or discredit’ (Oxford DNB). It is a work rich in curious information: there are charms to cure agues or the bite of a mad dog, spells to summon a vision of your future spouse on St Agnes’ Eve, and advice on the interpretation of dreams.

Read more