SEX MANUAL FROM COCK LANE

The Works of Aristotle, the famous Philosopher. In four parts. Containing, I. His complete Master-Piece: Displaying the Secrets of Nature, in the Generation of Man. To which is added, The Family Physician… II. His Experienced Midwife: Absolutely necessary for Surgeons, Midwives, Nurses, and Child-bearing Women. III. His Book of Problems… IV. His Last Legacy… A New and improved Edition.

London, Printed for Archibald Whissleton, Chiswell-street, [c. 1815].

4 parts in one vol., 8vo, pp. 216; a few woodcut illustrations in the text; top portion of title excised with loss of the printed word ‘The’ and an ownership inscription; small tear to outer margin of M4 (with loss of one or two characters), some scattered foxing, nevertheless a good copy; bound in contemporary sheep; worn, small loss to leather to both boards; contemporary ownership inscriptions in both pencil and ink of ‘Elizabeth Wright, Cock Lane, Smithfield’ to upper pastedown, silk bookmark loosely inserted.

£650

Approximately:
US $811€768

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The Works of Aristotle, the famous Philosopher. In four parts. Containing, I. His complete Master-Piece: Displaying the Secrets of Nature, in the Generation of Man. To which is added, The Family Physician… II. His Experienced Midwife: Absolutely necessary for Surgeons, Midwives, Nurses, and Child-bearing Women. III. His Book of Problems… IV. His Last Legacy… A New and improved Edition.

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A very rare edition of the four popular pseudo-Aristotelian manuals on procreation, gestation, and childbirth, with a contemporary female provenance.

Aristotle’s Complete Masterpiece, the most influential of these texts, was the first sex manual in English when it first appeared in 1684, and was reprinted multiple times throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It discusses various topics, from the purpose and pleasures of sex (groundbreakingly acknowledging women’s sexual pleasure), to virginity and fertility, pregnancy, childbirth, and ‘monstrous births’ (exemplified by the woodcuts on pp. 61-64). Aristotle’s Experienced Midwife (first 1700) was apparently ‘translated’ (i.e. edited, with some of the text drawn from Nicholas Culpeper) by the self-trained popular empiric William Salmon (1644–1713), a prolific author of domestic medical treatises. The Book of Problems was a medieval compilation of questions and answers on natural history, with only a few devoted to reproduction. The final part, Aristotle’s Last Legacy, which first appeared in around 1720, was in effect a digest of the Masterpiece. These texts were all frequently reprinted, but all printings are uncommon, and some have no doubt vanished entirely; surviving copies tend to be in mediocre condition at best.

Cock Lane, a small street in Smithfield in the City of London, was notorious for being the site of legal brothels throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and of illegal ones even after the Vagrancy Act of 1824, when convicted prostitutes could be sentenced to up to one month’s hard labour. It is not unlikely that the Elizabeth Wright who owned this copy was a sex-worker, trying to protect herself from unwanted pregnancies and venereal diseases.

No copies recorded on Library Hub. OCLC finds only two copies, at the Thomas Fisher Library, Toronto, and at the Library Company of Philadelphia.

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