'In Bawdy Policy Well-Gifted': Allan Ramsay, Bawdry and the Reformation of Manners.
The collection and composition of bawdry in Scotland can be traced back to the earliest recorded specimens of Scottish literature, and to the inclusion in the Bannatyne Manuscript of William Dunbar's 'Tretis of the Twa Mariit Wemen and the Wedo' and the anonymous 'Freiris of Berwick'. (2) Following a relative dearth of critical attention (in part owing to strict censorship laws that regulated the publication of sexually explicit literature prior to 1960), recent years have seen the study of bawdry in Scottish literature emerge as a vibrant area of scholarship. That said, to date the most detailed scholarship examines Robert Burns (1759-1796) and his infamous association with a substantial collection of bawdy verse printed privately in 1799: The Merry Muses of Caledonia; A Collection of Favourite Scots Songs Ancient and Modern; Selected for use of the Crochallan Fencibles. (3) That Burns was a prolific collector and composer of bawdry is now indisputable. (4) However, he was preceded in these activities, and very much inspired, by Ramsay (1684-1758). (5)
Ramsay's interest in and deployment of bawdry was also inspired by the authors he most admired. Criticism to date has made much of the profound influence of classical, medieval and Augustan literature upon Ramsay's literary output, and of his careful adaptation of pre-existing literary modes and stanza forms. (6) Of particular note are the 'Christ's Kirk' and 'standard Habbie' stanzas which would become the most characteristically distinctive verse-forms of eighteenth-century poetry in Scots. The 'Christ's Kirk' stanza in its original form lent itself well to scenes of sociability, consumption, and raucous animation, while the 'standard Habbie', through clever use of rhyming dimeter, enabled poets to achieve a reductive quality suited to the most scathing satire. Gerard Carruthers has identified Ramsay's adaptation of such stanza forms as 'an indicator of the festive, anti-puritanical outlook that Ramsay, Fergusson and others adopted in the face of a Presbyterian--and so what they took to be a culturally denuded - Scotland.' (7) The same might be argued for Ramsay's use of bawdy language and subject matter in 'Elegy on Maggy Johnston' and 'Lucky Spence's Last Advice'. This essay will further the study of Scottish bawdry by considering Ramsay's motivations for composing such explicit verse, arguing that, beyond their comic depictions of Scotland's peasantry, drunkards and prostitutes, his bawdy works cast significant light upon his status as a poet and satirist with a keen eye on eighteenth-century culture and the movement towards a 'reformation of manners'.
Stephen H. Gregg explains that, '[the] culture of "reformation" encompassed a number of initiatives, begun in the 1690s and extending into the late 1720s, to reform the nation's moral standing. Inherent in this was the insistence of the Williamite court to stress its virtue and piety, in contrast to the Restoration court, by calling on magistrates to enforce the laws prohibiting sabbath-breaking, drunkenness, gaming, cursing and blasphemy, prostitution and sodomy.' (8) Such initiatives resulted in the formation (led by the Church of England) of the Society for the Reformation of Manners, a branch of which had fully taken hold in Edinburgh by 1700. (9) William A. Bauer says of the cultural significance of the movement that:
The politics, ethics, practicalities and problems of public responsibility for decent civil manners were all very much subjects of common conversation and learned speculation. Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift, and Richard Steele, among others, responded in this decade [1702-1712] to the very natural inclination to proscribe the terms of public moral betterment; for despite their great differences in other respects, these three were in essential agreement that the improvement of manners was itself of understood value and that the activity of the Society for the Reformation of Manners in particular, despite the vigor of its program, was insufficient or misdirected. (10)
Such 'learned speculation' was published in the periodical press, notably in essays by Defoe in Review (published from 1704-1713), Steele in Taller (published from 1709-1711, with occasional contributions by Swift), and Steele and Joseph Addison in The Spectator (published from 1711-1712). Ramsay undoubtedly admired the authors of these publications as they were the catalyst for the formation of the Easy Club which saw Ramsay adopt the pseudonym Isaac Bickerstaff (in homage to the fictitious editor of Tatler, and perhaps also to Swift who was the first to adopt that particular pseudonym in his satirical elegy, Predictions for the Year 1708). Furthermore, the Easy Club made it common practice to read and comment upon The Spectator at meetings. (11)
As founding members of the Easy Club in 1712, Ramsay and his cronies sought 'by a Mutual improvement in Conversation' to 'become more adapted for fellowship with the politer part of mankind and Learn also from one another's happy Observations to abhor all Such Nauseous fops as are by their Clamorous impertinencies the Bane and Destruction of all Agreeable Society[.]'. (12) The original 'Laws for Ye Order and Decency of Ye Easy Club' were recorded in the 'Journall of the Easy Club' in May 1712 and held that 'full Encouragement be given to any thing that's innocently Merry and diverting but nothing that's vicious to be Countenanced.' (13) An updated and expanded version of November 1712 included a new rule: that 'if any Curse or Swear he shall pay six pennies ilk time he so offends'. (14) And so, the club's aspirations to 'manners' and 'politeness' are made explicit. It is also clear from the 'Journall', though, that Ramsay's less than polite 'Elegy on Maggy Johnston' was circulating among its members and merited the club's attention. One entry on June 6 1712 records an address in verse as, 'The Petition of Samuell Colville'. (15) In this seemingly tongue-in-cheek lambasting of the Easy Club, 'Colville' refers to Ramsay's 'Elegy' as follows: (16)
How oft did thy patron forbid To harm ye ashes of ye Dead Yet thy Dull Barburnis Elegy Quite strangling Maggies' Memory A death worse than hers causes dye Thy muse with ye same Ease doth write As Constipated dogs do shite
Alexander Law surmises of this flyting piece that, 'No one would claim that lines like these are anything more than what bright young men would throw off to amuse and tease their fellows.' (17) Indeed, it seems entirely possible that a member of the club composed the verses, just as it is likely that the club penned letters from fictitious correspondents (also recorded in the 'Journall') for discussion at meetings. Although the club's 'Answer' to the 'Right worshipfull Blockhead and Correspondent' is somewhat less vulgar ('But know Contemn'd Malicious fool / Thy hellish spite we Redicule'), (18) and although the Easy Club were seemingly not as bawdy as some eighteenth-century gentleman's clubs, (19) it is apparent that there was a place at the club for coarse and scatological humour. On 1 July 1712, a 'query' sent by 'an unknown hand' asks:
6 Whether Maggie Johnstoun's death or Elegy be ye more Lamentable accident. (20)
The responses of 4 July are in frank humour and assert that:
6th Maggie's Elegy doubtless gave more occasion of Lamentation than her death because Many that Read it Lamented they were not so happy in their thoughts as to be master of such a performance. Qu. 6th Whether or not it be a Most Necessary qualification in a snarling critic to be superlatively Dull. (21)
The Easy Club, although aspiring to refined conversation and polite good manners, clearly eschewed 'dullness' and embraced Ramsay's 'Elegy'.
If, on the surface, Ramsay's bawdiness in works such as 'Elegy on Maggy Johnston' seems at odds with the Easy Club's position that a reformation of manners was desirable, we might consider that Ramsay deploys bawdry in response to the moderate view that genuine reform was dependent upon the eradication of hypocrisy among high society and the ecclesiastical courts, and to expose such hypocrisy. This is in keeping with the approach taken by Daniel Defoe in Reformation of Manners: A Satyr (1702). In the preface to his poem, Defoe asserts the following:
That no man is qualified to reprove other Mens Crimes, who allows himself in the Practice of the Same, is very readily granted, and is the very Substance and Foundation of the following Satyr: And on that score, the Author has as good a Title to Animadversion as another, since no Man can charge him with any of the Vices he has reproved. [...] If none but faultless men must reprove others, the Lord ha' Mercy upon all our Magistrates; and all our Clergy are undignified and suspended at a Blow. Nor does the Satyr assault private Infirmity, or pursue Personal vices; but it is bent at those, who pretending to suppress Vice, or being vested with Authority for that purpose, yet make themselves the Shame of their Country, encouraging Wickedness by the very authority they have to suppress it. (22)
For Defoe, those widely considered to be the moral custodians of society--judiciaries and the clergy--undermine the Reformation of Manners move-merit through their failure to adhere to the strict codes of moral conduct that they impose upon the lower echelons of society. His poem goes on to make explicit such hypocrisy:
How Publick Lewdness is expell'd the Nation That Private Whoring may be more in fashion. How Parish Magistrates, like pious Elves, Let non be Drunk a Sundays, but themselves. (23)
The upper classes, then, are proselytising in public and sinning in private. In his concluding pages, Defoe encourages the reader to, 'Ask but how well the drunken Plow-man looks, / Set by the swearing Justice in the Stocks'. (24) Both high and low society are susceptible to human appetites, they are equally flawed and should be treated alike.
Ramsay takes this up in 'Elegy on Maggy Johnston, who died Anno 1711' (25) a poem where human nature and its appetites are to the fore. Maggy, Ramsay writes in an introductory footnote, was the famed brewer of a potent ale popular among Edinburgh's inhabitants, who would visit her farm, one mile south of the city, to drink. Ramsay is careful to note that, 'many others of every Station, sometimes for Diversion, thought it no Affront to be seen in her Barn or Yard.' (26) Here is a poem about human excess, pleasure and its implications, where images of animalistic consumption, enhanced by a lively onomatopoeia, grow progressively more explicit in line with the drunkenness of Maggy's patrons: 'Aften in Maggy's at Hy-jinks,/ We guzl'd Scuds,' (ll. 21-22). There is the suggestion of nakedness, but any sexual undercurrents are rendered impotent by drink: 'Till we cou'd scarce wi hale out Drinks / Cast aff our Duds' (ll. 23-24). Ramsay describes scenes of increasingly raucous intoxication and indecency until the grotesque subjects of his verse 'glowre and gaunt, / And pish and spew, and yesk and maunt' (ll. 32-33). Bodily expulsions become increasingly frequent and more explicit as the poem progresses: 'Ae Simmer Night I was sae fou, / Amang the Riggs I gaed to spew' (ll. 55-60).
Reference to 'the Riggs' might be considered suggestive insofar as 'Corn-riggs are bonny' was the name of an air traditionally used in pastoral love song. Ramsay was aware of this: he later set the concluding song of The Gentle Shepherd (1725), 'My Patie is a Lover gay', to the same tune. Corn rigs were an agricultural drainage system whereby fields were ploughed into three-feet-high ridges. In song, such fields are often the scene of lovers' trysts (27) and this is certainly the case in 'My Patie is a Lover gay'. (28) Here Ramsay's female protagonist, Peggy, expresses in poignant language her physical and emotional desire for Patie, who is described as 'fair and ruddy' (l. 236), 'handsome' (l. 237), and 'comely in his Wauking' (l. 238). Patie seduces Peggy with 'mony a kindly Word' (l. 243) until she concedes:
Let Lasses of a silly Mind Refuse what maist they're wanting; Since we for yielding were design'd, We chastely should be granting. Then I'll comply, and marry Pate, And syne my Cockernonny He's free to touzel air or late, Where Corn-riggs are bonny. (ll. 249-56)
The use of 'Cockernonny' (which refers to a woman's hairstyle) might be considered a thinly-veiled allusion to sex and the female anatomy in that a 'Cockernonny' is here associated with pubic hair. Intentionally ambiguous, but we might derive that Patie will be granted sexual access among the corn rigs.
The protagonist in 'Elegy on Maggy Johnston', however, has satisfied a very different appetite, and is rendered impotent by drink. Ultimately, the corn rigs in both cases are a scene of carnal action:
And whan the Dawn begoud to glow, I hirsled up my dizzy Pow, Frae 'mang the Corn like Wirricow, Wi' Bains sae sair, And ken' nae mair than if a Ew How I came there. (ll. 61-66)
Ramsay's protagonist in 'Elegy on Maggy Johnston' is referred to in bestial terms: his mind and memory compromised, his body aching and decrepit, he has been incapacitated by drink. And so, we might consider that Ramsay, with his tongue firmly in his cheek, is here warning of the dangers of excess. However, 'Elegy on Maggy Johnston' is not an overtly moralistic poem. The penultimate stanza provides the following summary of Maggy's life:
Of warldly Comforts she was rife, And liv'd a lang and hearty Life, Right free of Care, or Toil, or Strife, (ll. 79-81)
Maggy may have embraced 'warldly Comforts', yet she was happy and at peace during her lifetime. Ramsay, then, offers a realistic survey of human behaviour and his concluding lines are without remorse:
Let a' thy Gossies yelp and yell, And without Feed, Guess whether ye're in Heaven or Hell, They're sure ye're dead. (ll. 87-90)
The final intentionally reductive lines are in keeping with Ramsay's humorous and light-hearted survey of humanity and appetite where, irrespective of gossip or religious moralising, the only certainty is that of the physical body.
Ramsay's explicit, comic approach to human nature underlies another of his early poems in Scots: 'Christ's Kirk on the Green'. (29) Ramsay collected and reprinted the first Canto, attributing it to King James I, and appended a further two of his own which he claimed to have written in 1715 and 1718 respectively. Here a brawling Scottish peasantry satisfy their appetites for food, drink and sex:
Was ne'er in Scotland heard or seen Sic Banqueting and Drinkin, Sic Revelling and Battles keen, Sic Dancing, and sic Jinkin, And unko Wark that fell at E'en, When Lasses were haff winkin, They lost their Feet and baith their Een, And Maidenheads gae'd linkin Aff a' that Day. (Canto II, ll. 186-93)
Once again, the clangers of carnal excess are made apparent as drunken young women lose their 'Maidenhead' or virginity. An overtly moralistic reading is prevented by Ramsay's vibrant imagery, and by his light-hearted reference to 'Sic Dancing, and sic Jinkin,' in defiance of strict Presbyterian religious orthodoxy (which advocated that dancing was a sinful activity). (30) Peter Zenzinger writes of Ramsay's carnal imagery in 'Christ's Kirk on the Green' that: 'Ramsay, as a middle-class poet aspiring to recognition by the upper classes, was in a position that required more deliberate distancing from his subject matter; he therefore tried to widen the gap between his world and that of the "vulgar" rustics, which explains the exaggerated coarseness of the low-life images in his additional cantos.' (31) However, we might consider that, while Ramsay's exaggerated imagery in bawdy poems such as 'Christ's Kirk on the Green' (and, indeed, 'Elegy on Maggy Johnston') conveys a vivid picture of humanity's capacity for pleasure, appetite and excess, he is more concerned with taking human nature into account than setting himself apart from the 'vulgar rustics" carnal susceptibility.
Ramsay's most explicitly bawdy poem, 'Lucky Spence's Last Advice,' (32) provides a comic survey of a society driven by greed and vice, and rife with hypocrisy. In an introductory note, Ramsay informs the reader that Lucky Spence was: 'a famous Bawd who flourished for several Years about the Beginning of the Eighteenth Century; she had her Lodgings near Holyrood-house; she made many a benefit Night to herself, by putting a Trade in the Hands of young Lasses that had a little Pertness, strong Passions, Abundance of Laziness, and no Fore-thought.' (33) Ramsay stresses the self-serving nature of the bawd and her proactivity in procuring young women for the sex trade. These 'young Lasses' are also referred to in less than complimentary terms, but as lazy and naive rather than cunning. The poem itself commences with the image of a body that is decayed, bestial and grotesque:
Three times the Carline grain'd and rifted, Then frae the Cod her Pow she lifted, In bawdy policy well-gifted, When she now faun, That Death na langer wad be shifted, She thus began: (ll. 1-6)
'Carline' is a derogatory name for an old and undesirable female. Close to death, groaning and belching, little good is imparted from Ramsay's central character's mouth. There is a very brief respite from this, however, in the second stanza, where she affectionately addresses her charges:
My loving lasses, I maun leave ye, But dinna wi' ye'r greering grieve me, Nor wi' your draunts and droning deave me, But bring's a gill; For faith, my bairns, ye may believe me, 'Tis 'gainst my will. (ll. 7-12)
The bawd's dying request is for 'a gill', and so appetite is escapable only in death. Her 'loving lasses" grief is brought to bear on their physical bodies as their 'draunts' and 'droning' echo the noises made by Lucky Spence and convey their own grotesque countenance. That the young women are traders in the body is emphasised through their description in physical terms as 'black Ey'd Bess and mim Mou'd Meg' (1. 13), and through Lucky Spence's ominous forewarning of their own physical decline: 'Ye'r Face will not be worth a Feg, / Nor yet ye'r Tail.' (ll. 17-18). (34) As the poem progresses, however, the female body is used for ill-gotten gains, and the male body increasingly scrutinised and exploited. And so, Ramsay gestures towards the perceived dangers of drink and women:
Whan e'er ye meet a Fool that's fow, That ye're a Maiden gar him trow, Seem nice, but stick to him like Glew; And whan set down, Drive at the Jango till he spew, Syne he'll sleep soun. (ll. 19-24)
The implication here is that the male body is weak and susceptible to carnal appetite. 'Lucky Spence' advises that her charges should take full advantage of their customers' weakness by feigning innocence (both sexual innocence and naivety), plying them with alcohol until they become insensible, and then plundering their pockets:
Whan he's asleep, then dive and catch His ready Cash, his Rings or Watch; And gin he likes to light his Match At your spunk-box, Ne'er stand to let the fumbling Wretch E'en take the Pox. (ll. 25-30)
This is the most explicit stanza of the poem, the full comic effect of which is reserved for those readers familiar with Ramsay's vernacular, and with contemporary accounts of Edinburgh's low life.
In his footnote to the lines 'And gin he likes to light his Match / At your spunk-box', Ramsay teases the ignorant English reader that, 'I could give a large annotation on this sentence, but do not incline to explain every thing, lest I disoblige future criticks by leaving nothing for them to do.' (35) Murray Pittock says of Ramsay's gloss that, 'The obscene allusion is thus made in Scots to veil it (as are others in the poem) for the enjoyment of the community audience; the external English critic will puzzle over what those in the know understand--they are, after all, words of advice from a bawd to her whores'. (36) As a 'future critick' I'm inclined to suggest that the lines are ambiguous. On one hand they are an explicit metaphor for male and female genitalia (the male 'inflamed' with sexual passion), and on the other they may just be a reference to an anecdote circulating in the eighteenth century about a hapless lover who set his sexual partner's pubic hair alight. A. D. Harvey explains that, 'During the eighteenth century, and for some hundreds of years previously, it had not been customary for lovers or even married couples to see each other naked.' (37) The result of this appears to have been what might be referred to as a genital curiosity, something that, by the late eighteenth-century, was frequently depicted in verse and in art. (38) Famously, the Scottish writer and judge, John MacLaurin, Lord Dreghorn (1734-1796) produced 'The Keekiad' (1760): a comic poem in which a husband, overcome by curiosity, examines his wife's private parts by candlelight, only to accidentally ignite her pubic hair. Harvey says of this that, 'No doubt igniting one's wife's pubic hair is amusing enough, especially to a lowland Scots sense of humour, but the whole point seems to be the oddity of wanting even to look at 'that which is better felt than seen'. (39)
This might also go some way towards explaining one motif for sexual activity common in Scottish verse and evident in Ramsay's works: that of
'lifting' a female's 'petticoat' or 'apron'. Here we might refer to the song 'O Mither dear, I 'gin to fear' (40) where the female persona laments, 'Had Eppy's apron bidden down, / The Kirk had ne'er a kend it' (ll. 17-18). The reference here is to the Kirk's salacious interest in the sexual activities of its parishioners, something that does not go unnoticed by Ramsay in 'Lucky Spence's Last Advice' where he makes reference to the Scottish Kirk's ritual public humiliation of those whose behaviour was considered sexually deviant. Indeed, known fornicators and adulterers were often sentenced to a spell upon the 'repenting stool' or 'cutty stool':
To get a mends of whinging fools, That's frighted for repenting stools. Wha often, whan their meral cools, Turn sweer to pay, Gar the kirk-boxie hale the dools Anither day. (ll. 37-42)
Lucky Spence's satirical attack upon sexual and religious hypocrisv posits that dishonest men who secretly indulge in sexual liaisons with prostitutes, yet fail to honour the monetary agreement, should be reported to the Kirk authorities. By portraying such men as 'whinging fools', 'frighted' at the prospect of public rebuke, Ramsay likens sexual and religious hypocrisy to cowardice. His reference to the 'kirk-boxie'--a fine for illicit sex--might be considered an explicit critique of the kirk as a prurient, money-making venture in its policing of sexual conduct. Ramsay's contempt for the recently unified British government, a consequence of his nationalist political predilections, is also in evidence as 'Lucky Spence' goes on to warn her wenches that 'Red Coats' (British soldiers) will match any attempt to expose their activity with sexual and physical violence, by tearing their clothes and kicking their buttocks: 'They'll rive ye'r brats and kick your doup, / And play the Deel.' (ll. 45-46).
In the concluding stanzas, Lucky Spence's ironic 'bennison' or 'blessing' is couched in sexual terms:
My Bennison come on good doers, Who spend their cash in bawds and whores; May rhey ne'er want the wale of cures For a sair snout: Foul fa' the quacks wha that fire smoors, And puts nae out. (ll. 85-90) My malison light ilka day On them that drink, and dinna pay, But tak a snack and rin away; May't be their hap Never to want a gonnorrhea, Or rotten clap. (ll. 91-96)
The men are not condemned for their sexual activity, but for their hypocrisy and failure to honour the transaction and accepted code of conduct between prostitute and customer. They are criticised for masking their 'sair snouts', as are the doctors who assist them in hiding their venereal disease as opposed to curing it. Just as 'Lucky Spence' laments sex workers' unwitting exposure to such diseases, she wishes it upon sexual hypocrites, that they may not escape their crime. We might consider that the full satirical effect of these stanzas is once again reserved for Ramsay's local readers, in that they make reference to the prevalence of venereal disease commonly referred to as 'Canongate breeches' among Edinburgh's sex workers and their customers. (41) The pervasiveness of veneral disease is parodied in the poem, which is littered with references: 'Ne'er stand to let the fumbling wretch / E'en take the pox' (ll. 29-30); 'They took advice of me your aunty, / if ye were clean' (ll. 71-72).
Ramsay, in 'Lucky Spence's Last Advice', is clearly responding to an upsurge (albeit predominantly in prose) of literature concerning prostitution. Gerard Carruthers says of this that:
From the late seventeenth century, there was an increased interest in the prostitute in particular in fiction, found in the likes of The Whore's Rhetorick Calculated to the Meridian of Condon and Conformed to the Rules of Art in Two Dialogues (1683). Ramsay must have known this, or work very like it (a huge amount of material passed before him as a bookseller and the work remains to be done on what precisely he sold in the course of his trade). Ramsay's swiftness to the pulse in fully fleshed out satire via prostitute-personae is particularly noteworthy, as "Lucky Spence" predates Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders (1722) by several years. (42)
The Whore's Rhetorick (1683), a translation of Ferrante Pallavicino's La Retorica delle Puttane composta conforme li precetti di Cipriano (1642), (43) was published anonymously. It was not until 1836 that an edition was printed in Edinburgh, but the volume was certainly circulating in Scotland prior to that date. The 1836 edition included an 'Introductory Notice' by antiquary and Scottish ballad collector, James Maidment (1793-1879). Furthermore, the 1683 volume held at the British Library is inscribed 'Chas: K: Sharpe'. Charles Kilpatrick Sharpe (c. 1781-1851) was another Scottish antiquary and ballad collector who, in 1823, dedicated a rare book of bawdy verse to Sir Walter Scott. (44) It is the case, then, that the 1683 edition was circulating in Scotland, and can be linked to a network of gentlemen collecting and circulating bawdry in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. It follows that The Whore's Rhetorick might be considered useful context in the study of eighteenth-century Scottish bawdry.
In an opening 'Epistle to the Reader', the author of The Whore's Rhetorick establishes that the intention of the work is to instruct both men and women in the 'Rules of a Profession convenient, nay which has been found necessary in all Common-wealths and civil Societies of Mankind'. (45) We should note the implication that the volume is didactic in its intention, since, 'Every prudent man will be solicitous to know all the mysteries of this Trade, by the ill effects the ignorance of it has produced in others'. (46) This pretence would become a common trope of eighteenth-century writing about prostitution. Indeed, we might consider that The Whore's Rhetorick was the precursor for a flourishing trade in books exposing the underbelly of Britain's cities, among these, Harris's List of Covent Garden Tadies (1757-1795) and Ranger's Impartial List of the Ladies of Pleasure in Edinburgh, with a Preface by a Celebrated Wit (1775). (47) Vic Gatrell identifies that such publications 'traded in a prurient facetiousness' and 'catered to a frank curiosity about low life in general and ladies of the night in particular, their moralizing no more than a parodic alibi.' (48) They also catered to the bawdy sensibilities of a multitude of eighteenth-century gentlemen's clubs and male coteries, as was often the intention of privately-printed, sexually-explicit literature.
Carruthers is correct to point out Ramsay's 'swiftness to the pulse' since 'Lucky Spence's Last Advice' was composed some time prior to 1718. Ramsay, in his poem, constructs a form of the instruction in sexual commerce that runs throughout The Whore's Rhetorick. Both works have as their main protagonist an experienced bawd who instructs her charge, her 'child' or 'bairn', on how best to manipulate men for the procurement of money, and in the effective management of customers. Furthermore, both texts advocate the seduction and manipulation of men through feigned innocence or 'Maidenhead', and provide explicit instructions for the exploitation of the male body made weak by excess. It is therefore entirely plausible that Ramsay had access to The Whore's Rhetorick, and that it inspired his mock elegy. It is equally possible that, along with The Whore's Rhetorick, Ramsay was motivated to write 'Lucky Spence's Last Advice' by a series of articles that appeared in The Spectator between October 1711 and January 1712, aimed at warning young men of the cunning and persuasive artifice of the day's bawds. Remarkably, one such article is introduced by the very same quotation in Latin that appears on the title page of The Whore's Rhetorick. (49)
Id vero est, quod ego mihi puto palmarium. Me reperisse, qumodo adoloscentulus Meretricum ingenia, & mores posset nosce Mature ut cum cognorit, perpetuo oderit.
The quotation is from the comedy Eunuchus by Roman playwright Terence, and it is quoted and translated in The Spectator on 'Friday, January 4, 1712' as follows: 'This I conceive to be my master-piece, that I have discovered how unexperienced youth may detect the artifices of bad women, and by knowing them early, detest them forever.' (50) The topic of prostitution was in fact introduced some months prior to that date, on 'Thursday, October 25, 1711' with the publication of a letter seemingly penned by a female assuming the pseudonym 'Belvidera'. 'Mr Spectator' introduces the correspondence as follows:
I have marked out several of the shoals and quicksands of life, and am continually employed in discovering those which are still concealed; in order to keep the ignorant and unwary from running upon them. It is with this intention that I publish the following letter, which brings to light some secrets of this nature. (51)
Once again, prose concerned with prostitution is preceded by a moralistic statement of intent. We might expect, however, that the reformist editors of The Spectator are more earnest in their intentions than the author of
The Whore's Rhetorick. In her letter, 'Belvidera' refers to 'a great many little blemishes which you have touched upon in your several other papers, and in those many letters that are scattered up and down your works':
At the same time, we must own that the compliments you pay our sex are innumerable, and that those very faults which you represent in us, are neither black in themselves, nor, as you own, universal among us. But, sir, it is plain that those your discourses are calculated for none but the fashionable part of womankind, and for the use of those who are rather indiscreet than vicious. But, sir, there is a sort of prostitutes in the lower part of our sex, who are a scandal to us, and very well deserve to fall under your censure. I know it would debase your paper too much to enter into the behaviour of those female libertines; but as your remarks on some part of it would be doing a justice to several women of virtue and honour, whose reputations suffer by it, I hope you will not think it improper to give the public some accounts of this nature. (52)
This might be regarded as a well-placed preface to the discourse on prostitution that followed on 'Friday, January 4, 1712'. Indeed, it seems likely that this letter was positioned to facilitate the traditionally feigned apology or excuse that preceded writing on prostitution.
Most interesting, however, is 'Mr Spectator's' response which, rather than entering into scathing dialogue upon prostitution, begins by prodding at the overtly self-righteous or, as he calls them, the 'outrageously virtuous':
The unlawful commerce of the sexes is of all others the hardest to avoid; and yet there is no one which you shall hear the rigider part of womankind speak of with so little mercy. It is very certain that a modest woman cannot abhor the breach of chastity too much; but prey let her hate it for herself, and only pity it in others, Will Honeycomb calls these over-offended ladies, the outrageously virtuous. (53)
Here is another very deliberate expression of the more moderate approach to reform which held that the upper classes should look to their own morals and behaviour before condemning that of the less fortunate. Mr Spectator goes on to describe an encounter with a prostitute near Covent-garden. He declines her services, of course, but claims to speak with her out of concern for her circumstances:
[We] stood under one of rhe arches by twilight; and there I could observe as exact features as I had ever seen, the most agreeable shape, the finest neck and bosom; in a word, the whole person of a woman exquisitely beautiful. She affected to allure me with a forced wantonness in her look and air; but I saw it checked with hunger and cold; her eyes were wan and eager, her dress thin and tawdry, her mien genteel and childish. This strange figure gave me much anguish of heart, and to avoid being seen with her, I went away, but could not forbear giving her a crown. The poor thing sighed, courtsied, and with a blessing expressed wirh the utmost vehemence, turned from me. This creature is what they call 'newly come upon the town,' but who falling, I suppose, into cruel hands, was left in the first month from her dishonour, and exposed to pass through the hands and discipline of one of those hags of hell whom we call bawds. (54)
The reference to the 'discipline' of bawds is very much in keeping with the dialogues of both The Whores Rhetorick and 'Lucky Spence's Last Advice'. Mr Spectator elucidates that bawds procure a young naive girl of little wealth and consequence, convince her that a wealthy bachelor desires her, and then sell her 'maidenhead', so that: 'The compassionate case of very many is, that they are taken into such hands without any the least suspicion, previous temptation, or admonition to what place they are going'. (55)
In the publication of 'Monday, January 14, 1712, The Spectator printed a responding letter signed only 'T.' which detailed the letter of a bawd inviting a gentleman to meet her innocent 'niece'. 'T' implores, T beg of you to burn it when you've read it' (and, one might presume, not publish it). Yet another example of eighteenth-century writing on prostitution cleverly disguised as didactic literature. In his preamble to the letter, 'Mr. Spectator' encourages his readers to have empathy for prostitutes, declaring that 'to do otherwise than this, would be to act like a pedantic Stoic, who thinks all crimes alike, and not like an impartial Spectator, who looks upon them with all the circumstances that diminish or enhance the guilt.' Bawds, however, continue to be referred to as 'the worst of women'. (56)
It seems likely, then, that this dialogue in The Spectator was significantly influential in Ramsay's construction of 'Lucky Spence's Last Advice'. Furthermore, it provides a context for the scrutiny of prostitution in literature concerned with the reformation of manners. Ramsay's 'Lucky Spence's Last Advice', then, as bawdy as it may be, may have been acceptable among certain branches of society for its mock didacticism and its typically scathing representation of those bawds, or 'hags of hell', who procured young girls for prostitution and sought to entrap unwitting men. For moderate reformers, the prostitutes themselves represented a much maligned branch of society, but one that deserved sympathy nonetheless.
The range of works clearly informed by Ramsay's penchant for bawdry extends beyond the scope of this essay. Much more remains to be done regarding Ramsay's collection and renovation of traditional bawdy verse (the bawdy made beautiful); the possibility that he added explicitly bawdy stanzas to more tender treatments of sexuality (in, for example, 'Fy Gar Rub Her O'er Wi Strae'--a bawdy variant of the Horatian translation, 'To the Ph--An Ode'); his treatment of male and female bodies in bawdy and erotic verse; and the way in which this manifests in his most substantial and celebrated work, the pastoral play The Gentle Shepherd (1725). That a more detailed consideration of Ramsay's bawdry has not thus far been undertaken is all the more remarkable for the fact that he does appear to have been more unabashedly bawdy than (for example) Robert Burns, whose sexually explicit writing has attracted considerably more critical attention. Burns circulated his bawdy verse privately and was explicit that it was not intended for the public eye. The first printed collection of his bawdry appeared posthumously, three years after his death. Allan Ramsay, on the other hand, made his bawdiest works widely available from an early stage in his literary career and, by including them in the first official publication of his poetry, accorded them their place in his literary canon. It is therefore time to take Ramsay's bawdry into full account, as he himself intended.
(1) George Chalmers, 'Life of the Author' in The Poems of Allan Ramsay, Vol. 1 (London: Cadell & Davies, 1800), xv.
(2) Significantly, Ramsay worked closely with the Bannatyne Manuscript when compiling The Evergreen: A Collection of Scots Poems (1724). 'The Frieris of Berwick' inspired Ramsay's bawdy poem, 'The Monk and the Miller's Wife's Tale.'
(3) See, R. D. S. Jack, 'Burns and Bawdy' in R. D. S. Jack & Andrew Noble (eds), The Art of Robert Burns, (London: Vision Press, 1982), 98-126; Pauline Mackay, '"Low, tame, and loathsome ribaldry": Bawdry in Romantic Scotland.' In European Romantic Review, 27:4, 433-448; Liam McIlvanney, Burns the Radical: Poetry and Politics in Late Eighteenth-Century Scotland, (East Lothian: Tuckwell Press, 2002); G. Ross Roy, 'Robert Burns and the Merry Muses' [Pamphlet accompanying facsimile edition], (South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1999); Jeffrey Skowblow, Dooble Tongue: Scots, Burns, Contradiction, (London: Associated University Presses, 2001).
(4) As recently as 1911, Duncan McNaught introduced an edition of The Merry Muses produced privately for the Burns Federation by proclaiming that, 'the association of Burns's name, either as author or editor, with the ribald volumes entitled "The Merry Muses," is not only an unwarranted mendacity, but one of the grossest outrages ever perpetrated on the memory of a man of genius.' See, McNaught, Duncan (ed.), The Merry Muses of Caledonia (Original Edition): A Collection of Favourite Scots Songs A ncient and Modern Selected For Use Of The Chrochallan Fencibles: A Vindication of Robert Burns In Connection With The A bove Publication A nd The Spurious Editions Which Succeeded It. Printed and Published Under The Auspices Of The Burns Federation. For Subscribers Only. Not For Sale, (Kilmarnock: Burns Federation, 1911), x. Scholars have since taken full account of the wealth of bawdy correspondence and verse in Burns's holograph, some of which are the poet's original productions, and others that he collected, transcribed and circulated.
(5) For example, Ramsay's 'Christ's Kirk on the Green' directly influenced Burns's bawdy religious satire, 'The Holy Fair' (also written in the Christis Kirk verse-form). Furthermore, Ramsay's bawdy and light-hearted treatment of drunkenness and human excess might be considered to have influenced Burns in the composition of several poems and songs, among them 'Tam o' Shanter' and 'The Jolly Beggars: A Cantata'.
(6) See, Thomas Crawford, 'The Medievalism of Allan Ramsay' in Scottish Language and Literature: Medieval and Rennaisance, Dietrich Strauss & Horst W. Drescher (eds), (New York: 1986), 497-507; A. M. Kinghorn, 'Watson's Choice, Ramsay's Voice and a Flash of Fergusson' in Scottish Literary Journal, 19:2 (1992) 5-23; Carol McGuirk, 'Augustan Influences on Allan Ramsay' in Studies in Scottish Literature, 16:1 (1981), 97-109; Murray Pittock, 'Allan Ramsay and the Decolonisation of Genre' in The Review of English Studies, 58: 235 (2007), 316-37.
(7) Gerard Carruthers, Robert Burns, (Tavistock: Northcote, 2006), 36.
(8) Stephen H. Gregg, Defoe's Writings and Manliness: Contrary Men, (Oxford: Routledge, 2016), 94.
(9) See, Davis D. McElroy, Scotland's Age of Improvement: A Survey of Eighteenth-Century Literary Clubs and Societies, (Pullman: Washington State University Press, 1969), 1-3.
(10) William A. Bauer, 'Defoe's Review and the Reform of Manners Movement' in Neophilologus 66:1 (1982), 149-57, 149.
(11) See, 'Journall of the Easy Club' in A. M. Kinghorn & A. Law (Eds), The Works of Allan Ramsay, Vol. 5, (Edinburgh: W. Blackwood for the Scottish Text Society, 1972), 5-58 (8).
(12) Ibid. p. 5.
(13) Ibid. p. 6.
(14) Ibid. p. 30.
(15) This pseudonym refers to Samuel Colville (fl. 1640--1680), Scottish satirist and author of 'Mock Poem or Whiggs Supplication' (1681), a satirical treatment of Scottish Presby-terianism. See, Fred Freeman, Robert Fergusson and the Scots Humanist Tradition, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1984); Colin Kidd, 'Enlightenment and Ecclesiastical Satire before Burns' in Ronnie Young, Ralph McLean & Kenneth Simpson (eds), The Scottish Enlightenment and Literary Culture, (Lewisburg PA: Bucknell University Press, 2016), 95-114, 101.
(16) Ibid. p. 10.
(17) Alexander Law, 'Allan Ramsay and the Easy Club' in Scottish Literary Journal 16:2 (1989), 18-40 (23).
(18) 'Journall', 12.
(19) As a point of comparison we might refer to the notorious Hellfire clubs or, in Scotland, to The Beggars Benison of Anstruther (which was very much a sex club). See, David Stevenson, The Beggar's Benison: Sex Clubs of Enlightenment Scotland and their rituals, (East Linton: Tuckwell Press, 2001).
(20) 'Journall', 13-14.
(21) Ibid., 15.
(22) Daniel Defoe, Reformation of Manners: A Satyr (1702), A2-3.
(23) Ibid., 6.
(24) Ibid., 61.
(25) Works, 1, 10-13.
(27) For example, in his notes to the 'Interleaved' Scots Musical Museum, Robert Burns records the following sexually suggestive chorus set to the same air:
There must have been an old song under this title.--The chorus of it, is all that remains-- O corn-rigs & rye-rigs, O corn-rigs is bonie; Whare e'er ye meet a bonie lass, Preen up her apron, Johnie.--
See the online collections of the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum: Object No. 5.3009a, 'Interleaved Scots Musical Museum Volume 1', annotated by Robert Burns: http://www.burnsmuseum.org.uk/collections/transcript/1823.
(28) Works, Vol. 3, 276-27.
(29) Works, Vol. 1, 57-82.
(30) Robert Burns makes reference to this in his famous autobiographical letter to Dr. John Moore where he recalls his 'absolute defiance' in attending dance classes against the wishes of his strict Presbyterian father. Henry Grey Graham explains in an account of eighteenth-century wedding celebrations in Scotland that the kirk, 'lifted up its voice and laid down its laws against these weddings, which they abhorred as occasions of drunkenness, profanity, and sensuality--especially in "promiscuous dancing of men with women." However, the Kirk might threaten and punish, the people danced defiantly; for to dance "promisky," as they called it, was their one great delight [...]'. See, G. Ross Roy & J. DeLancey Ferguson (eds), The Letters of Robert Burns, 2nd Edition, 2 Vols, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, rev'd edn, 1985), Vol. 1, 139; Henry Grey Graham, The Social Life of Scotland in the Eighteenth Century, (London: A&C Black, 1928), 187.
(31) Peter Zenzinger, 'Low Life, Primitivism and Honest Poverty: A Socio-Cultural Reading of Ramsay and Burns' in Studies in Scottish Literature, 30:1 (1998), 43-58 (46).
(32) Works, Vol. 1, 22 26.
(33) Ibid. 22.
(34) Such description of female bodies was typical of eighteenth-century writing about prostitutes. In particular, salacious 'guide books' such as Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies (London: 1757-1795) and Ranger's Impartial List of the Ladies of Pleasure in Edinburgh, with a Preface by a Celebrated Wit (Edinburgh: 1775) read as catalogues of prostitutes, their physical attributes and specialities. Bess and Meg also make a cameo appearance in 'Christ's Kirk on the Green' where they are described in equally physical and grotesque terms:
Whan a' cry'd out he did sae weel, He Meg and Bess did call up; The Lasses bab'd about the Reel, Gar'd a' their Hurdies wallop, And swat like Pownies whan they speel Up Braes, or when they gallop, (Canto II, ll. 74-78).
(35) Works, Vol. 1, 14.
(36) Pittock (2007), 325.
(37) A. D. Harvey, Sex in Georgian England: Attitudes and Prejudices from the 1720s to the 1820s, (London: Phoenix Press, 2001), 21.
(38) Several erotic engravings address such curiosity, among these, 'Cunnyseurs', 'The Curious Wanton' and 'The Hairy Prospect or The Devil in a Fright' by Thomas Row-landson (1756-1827), and 'Keeking By Candlelight', attributed to Tommaso Piroli (1750-1824).
(39) Harvey (2001), 32.
(40) Works, Vol. 3, 53.
(41) See, John S. Gibson, Deacon Brodie: Father to Jeckyll and Hyde (Edinburgh: Saltire Society, 1993), 20. I am grateful to Murray Pittock for making me aware of this association.
(42) Gerard Carruthers, 'The Invention of Scottish Literature in the Eighteenth Century', unpublished Ph.D. (University of Glasgow, 2001), 66-67: theses.gla.ac.uk/1181/.
(43) Ferrante Pallavicino (1615-1644) was an Italian author famed for his bawdy and anti-clerical works, and for his satirical attacks upon Pope Urban VIII. He angered the Catholic church to the extent that he was imprisoned and executed in France.
(44) Charles Kilpatrick Sharpe (ed.), A Ballad Book, (Edinburgh: Privately Printed, 1823). Only 30 copies were printed.
(45) Ferrante Pallavicino, The Whore's Rhetorick Calculated to the Meridian of London and Conformed to the Rules of Art in Two Dialogues (London: 1683). n.p.
(47) James Grantham Turner has also made a convincing case for the influence of The Whore's Rhetorick upon eighteenth-century fiction. See, James Grantham Turner, 'The Whores Rhetorick: Narrative, Pornography and the Origins of the Novel' in Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 24 (1995), 297-306.
(48) Vic Gattrell, City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London, (London: Atlantic Books, 2006), 36.
(49) I am indebted to Dr Ralph McLean, Curator of Long Eighteenth Century Collections at the National Library of Scotland, for his assistance in establishing a translation and source for these lines.
(50) The Spectator, No. 266, Friday, January 4, 1712.
(51) Ibid. No. 205 Thursday October 25, 1711.
(53) The Spectator, No.266, Friday, January 4, 1712.
(56) The Spectator, No., Monday, January 14, 1712.
University of Glasgow
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|Publication:||Scottish Literary Review|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2018|
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