The “Solitary and Deluded Vice” Masturbation in the Regency

 

The “deluded and solitary vice” is an elusive subject in the Regency period because it does not appear in the primary sources very much. Much as now, it was the great unmentionable. There are mentions in the newspapers but there are problems there as well. Of course, we are using the advertisements from a relatively small number of organisations – Goss of Bouverie Street, Dr Solomon’s Guide to Health and Dr Currie of Hatton Garden. They advertised all over the country and used the same vocabulary.

They are very much against it. In the Regency, the solitary vice is presented in the papers as a medical problem with adverse medical consequences. Mentions are to be found in advertisement for surgeons and quack doctors and in books of medical advice. The consequences are muscle weakness, apathy and an imbecility that is similar to old age, sterility and barrenness these are the main ones, but Regency pamphlets on the subjects list many more.

Masturbation is seen as sin of youth and is “unhappily practiced by both sexes”. It starts at school- boarding school- at an age where reason has not taken her hold on the child. As a cynic, I thought that the emphasis on children was due to the fact that the advertisements were aimed at concerned adults, and these adults would not  self –refer if they had this “problem” themselves.

The treatment is rarely mentioned in the advertisements although Dr Currie-another major player in the Regency fight against Onanism- does point out that none of their treatments involve the “violent means” that others use. It does seem however that the cure for this is often the same as the cure for many other things at the same time, which may make people today sceptical, but there seems to be a lot of faith in the universal cure- all. This is from 1810

image002

Solomon’s Guide to Health-circulation about 80,000 when the Times was selling 4000 – adds new medical details and moral condemnation . They argued that Onanism*, or the Secret Venery, tried to recreate those feelings that God had created only for the “commerce between the sexes”. But the emphasis on the moral is fleeting; there is a large number of new medical consequences, including indifference to the “Pleasures of Venus” leading to barrenness, and in males, consumption caused by the draining away of “radical moisture”. Seminal weakness, a separate malady, was related to Onanism; it was all very “four humours” medicine.

True it is that we are ignorant whether the animal spirits and the seminal liquor are the same but experience teaches us those two fluids have an analogy and that the loss of either produces the same effects

Female Onanism had its specific problems.

Virgins who indulge themselves over eagerly in this abuse of their bodies deflower themselves and destroy that valuable badge of their chastity which it is expected they should not part with before marriage but which when lost can never be retrieved

Because of this they will be miserable on the marriage day, dues to the apparent loss of their “sacred badge”

the marriage bed which heaven has designed for the seat of the highest sensual enjoyments when they reflect that their virtue on the first amorous encounter is liable to such suspicions as may never be worn off but which may render uncomfortable the life both of her or otherwise her affectionate husband

As for boys, Solomon believes that the secret vice starts before puberty and before it was regarded as a vice. He suggests that ot was taught (note the choice of word-it tells you a lot about the “great schools” of England) in the great schools from about 8 years old. Reason is not present at this age. The implication is that the activity turns its participants into slaves- they are “deluded votaries” who are enervated by the activity-literally and metaphorically drained.

Onanism becomes an obsession in boys and prevents concentration on anything else; it is a shelving pool, which seems shallow at first and draws people in. Surprising, Dr Solomon uses the word masturbators- not often, but clearly a word that people would recognise.

Onanism is wrong because the context is wrong and the body is being forced too early. The actions would be natural in married adults; indeed it was a good thing, part of God’s gift; while Onanism made a mockery of the sacred duty of procreation.

Solomon, despite being a medicine seller, believes that REPENTENCE and TURNING AWAY FROM SIN is the real cure for Onanism. Indeed he makes no prescriptions at all for the maladies he mentions, expecting you to go and visit him for a personal consultation.

Whatever treatment you required involved a degree of secrecy. Whether it was VD (variously “ Lues Venera” “ the ebullition of passion” “a certain complaint”) the need to for abortion or a cure against the “solitary vice”, companies would allow you to add the postage onto the cost of medicine if you were buying from the provinces to avoid having a perform any financial transaction when the parcel reached you. It was the Regency equivalent of the plain brown wrapper. Goss of Bouverie Street had a secret door- which they then went on to advertise in the paper- but it was the Gentlemen’s Magazine, who were clearly not gentlemen all of the time.

* Genesis 38;8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother

My Book Dark Days ofGeorgian Britain.

All new material.
http://www.socialbookco.com/book/9781526702548/dark-days-of-georgian-britain

Publisher

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Dark-Days-of-Georgian-Britain-Hardback/p/14191

United States

https://www.amazon.com/Dark-Days-Georgian-Britain-Rethinking/dp/1526702541

Dying with “perfect resignation” in the Regency

 

When famous deists  and atheists died in the past, the vultures would circle in the hope of seeing an undignified death. This would prove to their satisfaction that the prospect of death could not be countenanced with the consolation of Christianity.
Jesuits claimed that Voltaire died fearfully; Dr Johnson went to visit the atheist David Hume with the incorrect belief that an atheist could not die without falling apart at the prospect of his imminent extinction. When Thomas Paine, a radical and deist who rejected formal religion and its constructs, was regaled by Christians during his last days. When, a few days before he died, a member of the New Jerusalemites knocked on his door and told Paine that the sect has rediscovered the keys to the true faith that had been lost for 4000 years, Paine replied that “they must be very rusty”.
Regency Obituary pages are formulaic, but the choice of formula tells you a great deal. When people died in great pain and suffering, there is a real hierarchy of phrase. In nearly every case, there is ” resignation” and on occasions there is “perfect resignation”. There difference is unclear; it may just be the ability to pay for an extra word. “Composure” is much more common than “calmness”-perhaps the former contains more acceptance, and implies preparing for death. These words were very powerful- even Thomas Paine uses them. His own last will and testament says that he dies “in perfect and resignation to the will of my creator God”
There are few references to heaven or immortality in Regency obituaries-perhaps this was too obvious or a little presumptuous? Many people declared their obedience to the will of the Creator- especially if they had suffered before their death. It was not death that they resigned themselves to, but suffering as God’s will. Mrs Pascoe (wife of Mr Pascoe, Surgeon) died in Tregoney, Cornwall aged 59 of a “protracted and severe affliction”. She was happy to attribute this to divine will without bitterness. “Throughout the whole time she evinced perfect composure and resignation. It was also made clear that during this time she maintained “benevolence”.
Six other people’s deaths are recorded in the Royal Cornwall Gazette on the same day. Thomas Parry was 102 and rose early until the day of his death. He was a poor labourer who would not have made it into the paper if he had died at 51. Eleanor Litcher was 76- a devoted servant. James Pinney and Thomas Hornblower’s death was regretted by the friends. There were trophies for all in this case.
Sometimes you needed a lot of patient resignation. Mrs Amos of Deal has been suffering with an affliction- not named- for 7 years before her calm death aged 73. Perfect resignation seemed to be more about the quality of life rather than the age of death.
Sir William Rule died with perfect resignation in December 1815- as he was our first man, we have his full name. About 50% of women mentioned in Regency obituaries are given a first name. He was a former surveyor of the British Navy and there is no mention of the cause of death, or that it was long and lingering. That is the only one I can find
Elizabeth Carrick of Bristol died with resignation and fortitude, as “befitted her worth and unaffected piety”- she was modest in her acceptance of her painful illness. Although acceptance of the divine will was not mentioned in this case, it is clear that it was not considered appropriate to try to fight the illness- perhaps the exact opposite of our attitude today. Sarah Dew died in the same newspaper after a long illness also.
Not everybody died with perfect resignation if they died of something horrible. In Hull, December 1816, Mrs Nesfeld of Scarborough died aged 26 without resignation and William Tootal of Wakefield aged 28 died “with”

Sometimes illnesses are often described as “hopeless”, presumably to emphasize the degree of achievement in dying well. This is Mrs Bulwer of Norfolk had 21 lines in the Norfolk Chronicle in 1810. It is not clear at what point that she discovered Christian patience, but we can be charitable and assume it was at the beginning. Here are some of her virtues;

image002

Most prolonged illnesses seemed to be measured in months or years. But Sarah Yeatman of Bristol had been ill for only six days before she died in July 1812, and she did it with perfect resignation. Most of those who died with perfect resignation were relatively old for their time; there are fewer young people who died with resignation, but are some, Mary Colmar of Hotwells was 15 and died a lingering death, and she managed resignation, but there was no suggestion that this was enhanced because of her age. Causes of death never seem to be mentioned
Dying vicars had a higher bar. They had to continue their role as examples to others even to the death-bed. Henry Crowe, Rector of Wolferton, Norfolk (and two other parishes; clearly he was less accomplished in the greed department) died “the death of the righteous”- this was clearly a set of things that he did, a process, not merely a righteous person dying. Another rector in Norfolk was said to have “taught his parishioners how to die”

Perfect resignation was not about death; it was about accepting fate, even when they involved immense suffering before death. The other group of people who were said to “evince perfect resignation” were criminals about to be executed. Indeed this was a more widespread use of the expression than in obituaries. Criminals had not suffered pain or illness, so it was not that experience they resigned themselves to; it was the will of God.

More about perfect resignation amongst those about to be hanged here
https://about1816.wordpress.com/2017/08/21/a-regency-guide-to-your-behaviour-when-being-hanged-1818/

My new book. This contains different material to the blog.

 

Three minute book review here

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Dark-Days-of-Georgian-Britain-Hardback/p/14191

http://www.socialbookco.com/book/9781526702548/dark-days-of-georgian-britain

In the United States

https://www.amazon.com/Dark-Days-Georgian-Britain-Rethinking/dp/1526702541

TWITTER- @about1816

FACEBOOK- Search ” Dark Days of Georgian Britain”

PINTEREST- Dark Days of Georgian Britain

Was it born dead? Concealment of Birth and Infanticide in the Regency.

image002

 

 

 

In the case of Mary Fordham of Hertford, the answer to the bleak question was yes; it was born dead. This mattered in Regency England, and not for reasons of concern for the mother, who had just gone through a traumatic experience. Murder carried the death penalty in Regency England; but then so did stealing lambs or spoons or passing a forged banknote. The difference is that the sentence for infanticide was usually carried out and the body dispatched to the anatomists for dissection.

Mary Fordham was a servant in Stevenage, living in the house of a man called Mr Whittingham. Mary Chapman, a sixteen year old fellow servant, had no inkling that Mary Fordham was pregnant, despite living at close quarters. They had shared the same bed on 2nd September 1810 and Chapman had been kept up all night by Fordham complaining about pains in her bowels. Chapman spent the next night in her own room; she went to visit Fordham the next morning and found her room in disarray. Chapman believed that Mary Fordham had given birth, and suggested that she clean up her room and go to work as normal. Later on the same day, Mary Chapman told the mistress of the house what had happened and together they searched the house for evidence of a baby. They found a five foot hole where rubbish was deposited; in the hole was Mary Chapman’s bloody stocking with a new-born boy in it.

Then the story becomes odd as well as grotesque. Mrs Whittingham appeared as a witness and recounted as story about how, about a month earlier, a labourer had entered their house in a scary mask. Although it had been a “frolic”, it had scared both Mrs Whittingham and Mary Fordham and was, according to the Mistress of the house, very likely to make pregnant women miscarry. Why would Mrs Whittingham come up with this story? Was she trying to move the date of conception by claiming that the baby had not gone full term, therefore obscuring the father’s identity- protecting the family honour-or was she trying to provide a plausible reason for the child dying at birth to protect her servant?

An apothecary (not a more expensive doctor) was called. He declared the child full-grown, but could not rule out a miscarriage. There was a wound on the child’s head, and brick the same size with blood on it next to the body. Mary was lactating; the male apothecary examined her breasts to check, truly adding insult and humiliation to unimaginable trauma.

It didn’t look good for Mary Fordham, despite the possibility of some support for whatever reason from the family. However, the draconian nature of the Georgian penal system came to her rescue. A surgeon deposed that the blow to the child’s head could have been caused either by a blow from the brick OR as a result of being thrown into the hole after dying at birth. It partly came down to who was believed, whether the defendant cut a good figure in court, and whether conspiracy could be proved. Mary’s appalling  experience, whatever it was, was one that she would have to do alone; to avoid the accusation of conspiracy ; perhaps her friend Mary Chapman realised this when she suggested that Mary Fordham “clean her room” and then went on to give her enough time to hide the body before she informed Mrs Whittingham.

Desperate as her life was, Mary Fordham, as a servant away from home, had some advantages. She had no family to monitor the shape of her body or check out on her sexual relationships. She did not give birth in a room in a slum where the cries of a new-born baby would be heard through thin walls. There was just not enough evidence.

The Newgate report suggested that “the learned judge summed up the evidence with great humanity” The jury followed his hint and found her guilty of concealment of birth only, with a sentence of two years in gaol. That this was the best possible outcome shows the horror of being pregnant, single and powerless in Regency Britain. The punishment of two years in prison was a new one, enacted by the Malicious Wounding or Stabbing Act in 1803, which also made procuring an abortion a capital offence for the first time.

Lots of children were adjudged to be born dead and their birth concealed. On the same day as Mary was sent to prison, another women, Martha Woods in Winchester received the same punishment

There was very little change in attitudes over the next century .One hundred years later, 1918, also in Hertfordshire, Amy Cook (21), a domestic servant, pleaded guilty to endeavouring to conceal the birth of her male child.

Mr J.H. Murphy, on behalf of the prosecution, said that it was one of those sad cases of a respectable young woman getting into trouble and then trying to conceal the consequences. She had no assistance at the birth of her child, and afterwards hid the body away in a box in her bedroom, and was thus able to resume her work the next day.
Suspicions, however, were aroused, the police were called in, and she eventually produced the body. There was nothing against the prisoner, and probably it was more the fault of the man who got her into trouble than her own for she said that she did not know what to do.
The girl’s mother said her daughter had been well-behaved and had been in good service for several years. Asked by the Judge if she was aware of her daughter’s condition before the concealment, she replied that at about Christmas time she had had suspicions and had challenged her, but her daughter denied that there was anything wrong. She did not see her daughter again until after this affair happened.
His Lordship said the prisoner was young and hitherto had a good character; otherwise he should have passed a more severe sentence upon her than he was going to pass. This kind of offence had been too prevalent in recent years, much too prevalent. Having regard to the circumstances, he should pass the very lenient sentence of 3 months’ imprisonment in the second division.
On hearing the sentence, the prisoner screamed, threw up her hands, and was carried out of Court in a fainting condition.

( From http://www.hertspastpolicing.org.uk/)

The stories are remarkably similar; the main differences are that Amy had a mother she had to lie to, and the father of the child was also blamed-a bit.

 Perhaps more significantly, Amy received a more severe sentence than even the Georgian “bloody code” had suggested one hundred years earlier.

Please consider my book on the Regency. More details  are  here, with information about other books. It is also available in libraries in the UK. I know that book  like this are out of reach of many; please consider asking your library to stock it .

c

 

A Regency Abortion

Procuring an abortion was a serious crime in the Regency period and when illegal abortionists were caught, the newspapers were relatively free with the details.

The papers were full of reports in the regency period and they followed a pattern with some variations; a servant, away from home and  without any family support is seduced and made pregnant by a gentlemen   or cleric; often a relationship is started but the asymmetry of   power between the two parties makes the relationship fail, even if success was ever part of the plan. Sometimes the man would procure and abortion or even attempt it themselves; if the women were expelled from the house when they became pregnant they would try to poison   themselves. Sometimes they would keep the pregnancy a secret, leave their employ at the last moment and then have the child in a dismal lodging house.

Liza Ann Layton was a servant who found herself away from home in Ipswich working for a James Robertson or Roberton . She was seduced   by Robertson   during the course of her employment   and Robertson suggested to her, according to Layton, that he would procure an abortion   “by the application of surgical instruments which, he stated, would not produce as much pain as a day’s illness”. There were two failed attempts one afternoon in 1816 when Layton was about four or five months pregnant, leaving Liza desperately weak and bleeding in bed. A few days later   Liza’s mother saw Robertson in the bedroom with her daughter with his hands under the blankets and later smuggled a bundle out of the room in his greatcoat.

This was not the only time Robertson procured an abortion for Liza, and of course himself. The relationship continued after the first termination but the details are hazy; Robertson moved to London and Layton followed him and there was at least one more abortion when she became pregnant again. There was  another period of estrangement when Layton was addicted to laudanum, but this was a relationship of sorts and Liza was not abandoned by Robertson when she became pregnant.

When the law caught up with Robertson he was charged   under the 1803 “Ellenborough Act” which   had made abortion after about 20 weeks   a felony which carried a maximum life imprisonment. This new law  was first specific English law that made abortion an illegal act; earlier the procedure had been covered by common law and the belief that the soul came into the foetus at about 16- 20 weeks and banned abortion after that date. It seems that women had regularly used methods of abortion in the first months of pregnancy for centuries and this was deemed as merely regularizing the menstrual system, not destroying a life.

Robertson’s alleged attempt had been made at “ four or five months” into the pregnancy     and   was therefore illegal under the new Act and the previous common law. Robertson strongly protested his innocence and so impressed the onlookers that four individuals offered sureties of £1000 to add to Robertson’s own bail of £2000.

He absconded before his trial at the Old Bailey, running away to Holland via Gravesend. The story goes cold at this point; it would be hard for Robertson to continue his trade in Holland after the publicity; the most shocking part of this story was that  he was a medical doctor, a surgeon to the   Middlesex Militia, a member of the Royal College of Physicians and lecturer in Midwifery.

widow welch

Not all women had the benefit of a medical man to botch an abortion for them. In 1811, Rebecca Holden, in the curious wording of the newspaper report “poisoning herself with a   poisonous drug” to end her pregnancy.   This may have been arsenic or a quack medicine that coyly promised to cure   “female obstructions”. (See above)

 Widow Welch’s Pills were a well known abortion inducer well into the twentieth century and would have contained a natural abortifacient  such as pennyroyal.  The advertisement hides its main aim with a torrent of other ailments, but it is particularly good for “female obstruction” which could be interpreted as inducing the onset of menstruation in a young woman or moderating the menopause, but actually meant abortion

Other methods were available. In February 1812, Eliza   Counter was accused of libelling the Honourable Basil Cochrane by saying that he organised a steam bath for his mistress to procure an abortion.

The Reverend William Jennings was accused in 1812 of administering calomel to his maid  Sarah Weeks  in an attempt to poison her with mercury. Sarah then gave birth to a dead child while suffering from symptoms that sounded exactly like mercury poisoning, including excessive salivation and an immense swollen tongue that were  symptoms of toxic amounts of calomel.

On 12 January 1813, in Bushley Park, Worcestershire, the servant   Judith Beale  ( “Spinster , 17”) took advantage of her mistress’s absence by inviting her boyfriend James Foster over for the night. She subsequently became violently ill in the mornings afterwards, and James, fearing the worst, procured mercury for Judith, assuring her that he knew of several people who had taken it without a problem. Judith believed him, took three- fourths of the mercury and died.

Savin- an extract of the poisonous tips of juniper, called ” cover shame ” in English folklore-was used   by Phoebe Sparrow, 22   of Dudley in 1813 by her cohabitating partner after four months of pregnancy. Phoebe took no more poison after that, perhaps she was pressurized into taking the original dose, but delivered her baby dead after eight months due to the weaknesses caused by this juniper based poison. It was this active ingredient that gave gin the reputation   as an abortion inducer. It was “ mother’s ruin” in more ways than one.

Many thousands of abortions were arranged successfully but anonymously in this period by trusted local women who only ever  appeared in the newspapers when the process was unsuccessful. Occasionally, women away from home with no contacts fell into the hands of what we could call quack doctors. Dolly Rosthorn used the services of a John Buckley of Bolton  in 1814 to abort a child that many papers suggested he was the father of. He botched the abortion so badly and caused so much pain that the jury considered this to the capital crime of murder; he was doing it deliberately, so was hanged at Lancaster gaol on March 19th, 1814.

 

There is more social history of this kind- all new material- in my book. Please consider buying one ( shop around for price! ) or recommending to your local library.

Publishers details here 

My chapter by chapter introduction here