8vo, pp. , xvi, -170, with a half-title; some offset from the turn-ins to half-title and final page, a little toned and dusty, but a very good copy in contemporary sheep, edges worn; manuscript note ‘Reed’s Circulating Library’ to head of D2, numbered 389 on the endpapers.
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or, the Lady’s two Questions resolved. Question the first; why Men have not much to boast of their Greatness, nor Women of their Beauty, in certain very interesting Parts? Resolved in the History, political, natural, and moral, of a primitive Commonwealth. Question the second. Wherefore is it that both Sexes are so eternally dear Lovers of that same? Resolved in a Story, intituled the Female Embassy. Taken from the Priapeian Collection of the Chevalier Marino. By Dr. B –––.
First and only edition, extremely rare, of an unusual work of erotic fiction. Despite the implication that this is a translation from Italian, it is in fact an English original.
The Chevalier Marino, a libertine gallant of Turin, surprises his lover Signora Rosalba as she is attempting to investigate with strategically placed mirrors, ‘Question the first’. Annoyed by ‘the chevalier’s having caught her in so laughable a posture’, she refuses to indulge his awakened passion until he promises to provide answers to both questions, which he does in the form of two fables. The first tells of a primitive ‘Commonwealth’ in which all the constituent members of the human body are separate beings, chief among which are the Poles (‘heavy insensible creatures’ at rest, but ‘big with meaning and fire’ when aroused), the Flats (‘naturally soft, and open to persuasion’), and the Twinballians (‘a good hum-drum sort of people, natural formed to depend upon others’). The double-entendres come thick and fast.
Among the Poles, the tallest have dominion, and the tallest of all is Maypole, who takes as his wife a Flat named Ingulpha, ‘whose capacity was … a match for his penetration’. The haughty Tall-Poles drive out the Small-Poles and favour only the Beautiful-Flats. The Ugly-Flats and the Small-Poles unite to seek revenge, but their conspiracy is betrayed by the duplicitous Twinballians. Ugly-Flats are punished with ‘a great gash in the phyzz of them’ which ‘from time to time breaks out a-bleeding afresh’, but this only drives the rebels to greater action and they eventually overthrow and destroy their oppressors, leaving little trace of either to be found today.
The second fable, ‘The Female Embassy’, takes ancient Greece as its scene. A collective of Grecian maidens, upset at man’s disappointing proportions in relation to the donkey’s, sends a disputation to Jupiter to complain. Jupiter’s solution – enlargement will come at the cost of pleasure, which will be possible only every three months. Having allowed Jupiter to take their maidenhaids, the women wisely reject his proposal.
The Why and the Wherefore is not found in any of Ashbee’s bibliographies, nor in any register of erotic or prohibited books known to us. Frederick Duke of York had a copy (Sotheby’s sale of 1827, lot 5374), as did Dr Hardy (Catalogue of English Prose Fiction 193). We have not identified ‘Dr. B–––’ and the publisher is probably pseudonymous. It is hard to imagine how this copy found its way into any but the most discreet circulating library.
ESTC lists a single copy, at the British Library.