Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Very First Little Black Book in History



My Dearest Readers,
Everyone knows the term "little black book" and how every rake keeps it safely tucked within the back of his trousers (or front...depending). But did you honestly think it's a modern invention to list the name of women in a book who will spread their legs at a moment's notice?

Allow me to introduce you to the gentleman above responsible for history's first little black book that was put to print and made use of by every man willing to pay the price. His name? Samuel Derrick. Samuel was a struggling poet. After years of struggling to be acknowledged for his brilliance (boy does that sounds familiar...), he decided to get drunk one night (why not?) and headed to his local London pub. Lo and behold, above his tankard of ale, stands a menacing, yet dashing man by the name of Jack Harris who is approached by a man asking for a woman who could pump him. A woman with large breasts, blue eyes and blond hair. Jack whips out a "list" that gives descriptions and the address of every prostitute in London. Well...almost every prostitute. Jack asks for a fee and gives the man the name and address of the woman that will see to his needs.

Visions of sugar plums began dancing in Samuel's head. And he wondered. What if such a list were made available to more than the random randy? And what if this list could be compiled and sold in a way to give it an air of sophistication? A sophistication only a poet could give. With these thoughts brewing, he set down his tankard and decided to take life by the balls (pun intended). He approached Jack Harris, who happened to be one of the biggest pimps in London known as "the General Pimp of all England", and told him of his idea to sell his list. The two came to an agreement that Harris's name would be used to authenticate the list and the first little black book was bound and put into publication for every man in London to buy. It was known as Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies.



In it were the names and addresses of London's prostitutes and their "specialties." From the year 1757 to 1795 more than a quarter of a million copies were sold. An astounding number for the time. Any man serious about his pleasure wasn't caught dead without it. As for all the London prostitutes, they all begged and paid to be listed. It was good for business, after all. The trouble was, even if a lady (and I use that term loosely) was fortunate to have her name listed in the book and paid a pretty penny to do so, ultimately, she had no control as to what was written about her.

While Jack Harris dabbled in making sure the names and addresses and specialties were in fact legit (he worked hard every night seeing to it...ehm), Samuel Derrick was the one who ultimately penned the verses that were inserted into the book.
at you would see when you bought your own copy of the List (and it wasn't in the least bit complimentary to the poor gal trying to sell her goods):
Printed in the 1773 supplement

"Mrs. Berry, King's Place, Pall Mall
'Mercury upon most women has some effect'
(As a side note, mercury at the time, Mercury was used to treat venereal disease...)

An arrant Brimstone of Irish birth, who pretends to set up as one of the first rank courtesans, and would impose upon us her stale and battered commodity for fresh fruit, but we think our judgement cannot be imposed upon at this time of day, and are of the opinion that she has undergone too many salivations, that the power of Mercury has lost its effect upon her: in a word she is almost rotten and her breath is cadaverous."

A better advertisement for a gal would have been more like this:

Printed in the 1789 Supplement

"Madamoiselle, at Mrs. W-lp-les, No. 1 Poland Street
'Here I would die each blissful night,
Here chase the fleeting time away,
And whelm'd in love's serene delight
Rise full of life at happy day'

Every girl with a beautiful face and a good form, must in some measure, please; but very few among this list of trading nymphs afford that pleasure in enjoyment you meet with, in this delectable piece. She is now on the verge of twenty four, with fine dark hair, love sparkling eyes, and a set of teeth as would defy the power of a Spence to imitate, or the brush of Ruspini to improve. You may toy and kiss with this charming girl, if you please, but she does not suffer that kind of amorous dalliance long; she eagerly thirsts for more substantial pleasure, and has either by experience or instinct, a most pleasing knack of prolonging the dying moment, first as nature, by sounds, and short fetched sighs, proclaim the coming shower, her eager grasp suddenly suspends the liquid treasure and drains, by slow degrees, the soft injection, making it almost, with Dr. Graham 'the critical hour.' This enchanting game she has played for two years, and if you are her partner, she expects at least double the number of yellow boys (this is a slang term for guineas). If report speaks truth, this lady has been a singer at the Opera House in Paris, and we have no doubt that she is a native of Italy."

Sadly, Samuel and Jack didn't live happily ever after. Even with a huge list of women at their fingertips. When both died, the list continued for only a few years longer being edited and put together by unknowns. The Georgian hey-day with sex frolicking was nearing its end and the list was removed from publication due to public outcry from religious snobs.

And there you have it. The very first little Black book in History. If you want to a more detailed version of their story, pick up the book THE COVENT GARDEN LADIES by Hallie Rubenhold. It's an amazing book that makes you cringe, laugh and cross your legs all at the same time...

Until next time.
Cheers and much love,
Delilah Marvelle

9 comments:

Obe said...

One does wonder if women took the time to create their own. Surely there had to be one enterprising young miss...

Rachel said...

Hi Delilah!
I look forward to your blogs each month! I am sure to learn something new with each one.
This was no exception. Very interesting.
Rachel

Delilah Marvelle said...

My dearest Obe,
I'm certain there were more than a few ladies carrying their own little black books but if they did, they would have never let society know of it...not if they were "ladies."
My dearest Rachel,
I am so thrilled to hear that someone actually finds my blogs worth reading, LOL. I try. I really do. Thank you *so* much for posting, Rachel!

therese said...

I am still figuring it out, but subscribed to this post with google reader, so I don't miss when you post.

I love the extra layer of history you bring to sexual escapades and soulful romance.

Now, being of Irish descent, I'm sure there's many a wench, who lost Mercury's effect. So there is much to be learned from the Italian's loyalty to hygiene.

therese said...

What I should add is, the Italians had all those god's coming down from Mt. Olympus, for trysts in flowered meadows, and a Mediterranean environment.

The Irish lasses had foggy bogs and corner pubs, and the occasional castle, where contortions were required, to kiss a stone, for the gift of gab.

Even sex in history requires a sense of perspective.

Susan Lute said...

Do you think a hero would use or keep a "little black book"? Could you write that in a historical? Or in a contemporary romance?

Echm...let me introduce our hero, Randolf Darian. Because of a juvenille bet he's made with his best buddy, he keeps a little black book of the women he wants to date... until he meets up with our smart, funny heroine, Twila Burroughs, a thief who inadvertently steals his little black book and decides to turn the tables on him...

Hmmm... I think it could work :)

Lori Brighton said...

Where do you find these books?!

I take it he was never a poet laureate?

Evangeline said...

I keep hearing about this book! Does anyone have an actual copy? I am really intrigued by the history of sex, but it's so hard to track down primary sources!

Delilah Marvelle said...

Therese,
You are so right about even sex in history requiring perspective. That's what I'm all about, baby! Grin.
Su,
Anyone with a naughty reputation, then or now is overdo for a story involving a little black book. I think it could totally work. Let me go write it right now. LOL
Lori,
I am a book hussie, I confess, and I am always hunting for books on the topic of sexuality in the context of history. There are so many out there it's mind boggling... My favorite store that I always try to hunt through is Powell's here in Portland which is the largest new and used bookstore on the West Coast. They get their books from estates, what people sell, it's amazing. And no, I don't think Sammuel ever made laureate anything, LOL

Evangeline,
Go to half.com to hunt down your copy. It's the cheapest place to find it. And if you ever want sources, you know who to go to. Waggling brows.