This charming book, freely available for free download from Google Books, is a review prostitutes of London in the late 18th century. I’m currently reading the 1789 edition, full title:
Harris’s List of Covent-Garden Ladies:
Man of Pleasure’s Kalendar for the Year 1789
The Histories and some curious Anecdotes of the most celebrated Ladies now on the Town, or in Keeping, and also many of their Keepers.
Every review starts with the name and address. Normally they have blanked out a letter from the name, but never so much so that you couldn’t work out what the name actually is! After that, there is a poem dedicated to the girl, often detailing specifics about her, and finally followed by the review.
It is quite amazing the variety in the reviews, and the reviewers certainly had a way with words. The below is one that particularly made me laugh. (I have kept the italics of the original but changed the ‘f’s to ‘s’s for readability)
Miss Grant, No 4, Bolton Street, Piccadilly.
The luscious, curling nut-brown hair,
Which stands on belly high,
Does like a sumptuous arch appear,
And grows from thigh to thigh.
For one pound one our charming girl distributes her world of beauties; she is quite the nut-brown lass, now just at luscious nineteen, and has only been traversing the public forest of love twelve months, ever depending on the bounty of the public for support; and although she cannot be ranked in the first class of beauties (when her temper is in a composed state) she is quite the agreeable pretty girl, and condescendingly good natured.
The general ravager of beauty has left rather too many dells; but her eyes, which are of a love-piercing darkness, and beam with a most languishing kindness make amends, in bed she is most eagerly wanton, and will scarce suffer the necessary inviting preludes to take place; but she in general takes care to have the one thing needful properly prepared, and then if you are not expeditious in your mounting, St George must follow. Nor has she the least desire to suspend the liquid treasure, but eager for bliss, drives forward, till nature herself gives a close to the scene.
She wishes to receive three convincing proves of your manhood before sleep, and will use every love-inviting means to procure it, the soft hand, the nimble wrist, the pouting lip, the darting tongue, and the luscious squeeze, are at once employed as incentives to renew the sport.
Having read a few of these, one pound is quite expensive compared to many others. Using the retail price index, it was only about £100 in today’s money, but as a wage, it was about £1400 in today’s cash, so not a bad earner.
The general ravager of beauty most often seems to have been smallpox, and many of the girls are described as being heavily marked by it.
The suspense of liquid pleasure is an interesting line as, according to the other reviews I’ve read, it seems than most ladies of the trade demanded that a man pull out, and a girl who allowed a man to stay in was actually quite rare. So, if you ever wondered how they avoided getting pregnant, it seems likely this was a major weapon in their arsenal.
These reviews are generally of a better class of prostitute, and many are terrible stories of girls who were taken advantage of and then tossed aside with no other option than to take to prostitution. However, there are also many many stories of girls who seem to enjoy it, as the above. Although Miss Grant herself was not a kept woman, many of them were, and received lodgings and an allowance. There’s a very funny account of one girl kept thus, who has to get past a the watchful eye of her master’s footboy in order to “satisfy the ravages of her confinement”.
Of course, you then have the highest class of courtesan. If you are interested, download (again for free) the memoires of Harriette Wilson, mistress to the great and the good and to whom, when she asked him for a few quid to have his name left out, the Duke of Wellington said “publish and be damned”.
Wonderfully written, is no wonder he was embarrassed by what they revealed about him. Ah, maybe he should have just given her the cash she asked for!