A Woman of Pleasure
The printshops and bookshops of St James’s and Bond Street competed with the coffee houses as centres of conversation, scandal and intrigue.
In the attic above Hannah Humphrey’s bookshop at No. 27 St James’s Street, the caricaturist James Gillray (1756-1815) etched and printed his work. In July 1811 he attempted to kill himself by jumping out of the window; his eyesight had been failing since 1806.
John Cleland (1709-1789) was living at 37 St. James’s Place when in 1748 he published (anonymously) the risqué ‘Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure’, better known as Fanny Hill. It achieved enormous sales, bringing its publisher £10,000 - but only 20 guineas for its author.
St James's Coffee House
60 St James’s Street
Jonathan Swift wrote some of his letters to Esther Johnson, published posthumously as Journal to Stella (1766), at ‘St. James’s’ and used the address for his mail.
Addison and Steele regularly visited on Sunday evenings to gather political news for The Tatler and The Spectator. These folio sheet newspapers, comprising fluent essays on current moral or political issues, were published more or less daily from 1709 to 1711 and sold in the coffee houses. They also contained advertisements for noteworthy publications and events including, for example, the latest books by Alexander Pope.
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762), proto-feminist, poet and wit, wrote one of her Six Town Eclogues (1747) about St.James’s, evoking the drinking and womanising for which the coffee houses had become notorious. She advised Addison on his tragedy Cato (1712) and wrote The Spectator No. 573 for him in 1714. When in 1722 she rejected Alexander Pope’s declaration of love with an amused laugh, he became her enemy for life.
From 1773 Oliver Goldsmith and David Garrick became habitués. In response to Garrick’s proposal that they write each other’s epitaph, Goldsmith wrote Retaliation: A Poem (1774) at St. James’s.
In the poem Goldsmith sets out to provide epitaphs for ten friends – including himself and Garrick – all of whom he imagines gathered around a table. He died before completing the poem. In 1806 the Coffee House closed down, having been superseded by Brook’s Club.
St James's Park
Charles II renovated the park by planting new trees and constructing the Mall. Nell Gwynne’s house stood on the south side of Pall Mall, with its garden in the park.
The Earl of Rochester, John Wilmot (1647-80), pictured left, wrote A Ramble in St James’ Park (1672), which captures an aspect of the Park at the time:
Much Wine had pass’d, with grave Discourse
Of who fucks who, and who does worse ..
And nightly now, beneath their shade
Are Buggeries, Rapes and Inceasts made ..
Great Ladies, Chambermaids and Drudges
The Rag-picker and the Heiress trudges.
Carmen, Divines, Great Lords and Taylors
Prentices, Poets, Pimps and Jayles,
Footmen, fine Fopps do here arrive
And here – promiscuously – they swive ..
Sexual activity in the Park also caught the attention of Alexander Pope in the second book of Horatian Satires, Imitations (1735):
My Lord of London, chancing to remark
A noted Dean much busy’d in the Park
‘Proceed’ he cry’d, ‘proceed my Reverend Brother
‘tis Fornicatio Simplex and no other;
Better than lust for Boys, with Pope and Turk
Or other Spouses like my Lord of York’.
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