- In Search of Lost Texts:Thomas Cannon’s Ancient and Modern Pederasty Investigated and Exemplify’d
The last page of the April 1749 issue of TheGentleman's Magazine was devoted, as was customary, to a "Register of Books" published in the preceding month. There, under the heading "Mathematical and Miscellaneous," between item 13 ("A new translation of the Duke de la Rochefoucalt's moral maxims. 3s. Millar") and item 15 ("The butler's assistant. 1s. 6d. Dodsley") could be found this laconic notice: "14. Pederasty investigated and exemplified. 1s."1 Unlike the entries on either side of it, this one gives neither the author's nor bookseller's name. Such anonymity might have suggested to readers that the work in question was not quite respectable, but it is impossible to be sure, especially in the absence of any other advertisement or review. No copies of the work seem to have survived, either. Since it is unpreserved, unattributed, unrecorded apart from this register, it almost seems as if the pamphlet never existed: what evidence is there that the title was anything more than a compositor's error or joke?
In fact three other documents attesting to the existence of this work—whose full title, although only recorded in one of the three, was Ancient and Modern Pederasty Investigated and Exemplify'd—have been known about for years, but far from managing to bring the lost text to light, their effect [End Page 22] has been, paradoxically, just to accentuate its lostness. The first discovered was the last produced: a 1755 petition submitted by Elizabeth Cannon to Thomas Pelham-Holles, Duke of Newcastle, asking that criminal charges against her son Thomas be dropped, as he stood accused of "the heinous Offence of Composing, as [John] Purser was of Printing and Publishing, a certain Tract or Pamphlet, containing the most detestable Principles of Impurity, not fit to be even remembered in the Title."2 In 1965, David Foxon put Elizabeth Cannon's petition together with two earlier documents from 1749–50 to establish that the "certain Tract or Pamphlet" that had got Thomas Cannon into trouble was the same work listed in The Gentleman's Magazine. One of these documents is a now well-known letter from the imprisoned novelist John Cleland to Newcastle's law clerk Lovel Stanhope, in which Cleland compares his own case to that of "the Son of a Dean and Grandson of a Bishop [who] was mad and wicked enough to Publish a Pamphlet evidently in defence of Sodomy, advertised in all the papers."3 As Elizabeth Cannon's petition confirms, Thomas's father, Robert, was in fact Dean of Lincoln and his grandfather, John Moore, Bishop of Norwich and Ely; Cleland was in effect fingering Thomas Cannon without actually naming him.4 The secretary of state's office must have taken the hint, for the last of the documents Foxon discovered, a letter from Newcastle to the attorney general Dudley Ryder, calls on Ryder to prosecute Cannon as "the Author of a most wicked, and mischievous Book, intitled, 'Ancient, and Modern Pederasty investigated, and exemplifyed.'"5
Collectively, these four documents—a notice of publication, two letters, and a legal petition—have constituted all that could be known of Thomas Cannon's ill-fated text. Like Cannon himself, that text was gradually forgotten, except as a footnote to scholars' on-again, off-again interest in the life and career of the author who informed on him, John Cleland. Pursuing Foxon's leads, William Epstein, Peter Sabor, and a handful of other scholars have explored the scant but intriguing evidence that survives of Cleland's personal relationship with Cannon, but in the absence of Ancient and Modern Pederasty itself, one could only speculate as to the literary relationship, if any, between Cleland's luxuriantly detailed account of a sodomitical romp in Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1748–49) and whatever Cannon may have had to say about same-sex desire in his own writing.6
Apart from the listing in TheGentleman's Magazine, all of the documents that testify to the previous existence, and thus, to the subsequent [End Page 23] loss, of Cannon's text...