- The Callous Appetites of Debauched Readers:Edmund Curll and The Potent Ally
The Potent Ally: Or, Succours from Merryland is a small collection of erotic works that was published in London on 3 January 1741.1 The anonymous collection is comprised of a miscellany of five items that the publisher, Edmund Curll, later described as "Carnal Recreations, in Prose and Verse."2 The Potent Ally was a hastily assembled mix—typical of Curll—containing published and unpublished erotic literature from as early as 1684 that was designed to cash in on the enormous popularity of Thomas Stretser's A New Description of Merryland (1740, hereafter referred to simply as Merryland).3 Though The Potent Ally contains much of interest to scholars of eighteenth-century sexual cultures, it is particularly noteworthy for those who study the early history of the condom. The few scholars who have mentioned this collection tend to treat it only in relation to the "spectacular success" of Merryland and the texts that it spawned,4 or, when focusing on the individual texts contained in The Potent Ally, they only discuss those individual texts, even when quoting from The Potent Ally itself.5 [End Page 1]
The success of Stretser's Merryland was certainly remarkable; it was a publishing sensation in London in the winter of 1740–41. The first edition was advertised in the Craftsman on 1 November 1740, a third on 15 November, a fourth on 6 December, and a fifth on 3 January 1741. Merryland was pirated many times;6 it was also translated into French;7 and it prompted a volume of observations, penned by Stretser himself,8 under the title of Merryland Displayed: or, Plagiarism, Ignorance, and Impudence, Detected (1741).9 Stretser observes that the success of Merryland was such that it "occasioned the republishing and selling several other Pamphlets of the same Stamp, which had long been neglected and forgot: For the Booksellers perceiving the Taste of the Age, by the great Demand for this Pamphlet, saw it was a proper Season to reprint all the smutty Stuff they could think of, to humour the prevailing Goût of the Town, and scratch the callous Appetites of their Debauched Readers."10 A few examples will demonstrate the accuracy of Stretser's claim: in December 1740, William Hatchett's erotic poem A Chinese Tale was advertised with a frontispiece describing it as "a Key to the Description of Merryland," and in February 1741, an advertisement appeared for The History of Apprius, Extracted From the Chronicle of the World under the title of The History of Apprius, King of Merryland: Extracted From the Chronicle of the World.11 The History of Apprius first appeared in 1728, and Hatchett's Chinese Tale in February 1740: both were readvertised with "Merryland" in their titles in the winter of 1740–41 in the hope of cashing in on the public demand for "smutty [End Page 2] Stuff."12 In 1741 and 1742, Merryland continued to "[exceed] everything in point of Sale."13 In 1743 A Short Description of the Roads which Lead to that Delightful Country called Merryland was published; in 1745 "A Com-pleat Set of Charts of the Coasts of Merryland" was seized and destroyed; and in 1768, more than twenty years later, the Memoirs of the Seraglio of the Bashaw of Merryland. By a Discarded Sultana was published.14
In addition to these works and The Potent Ally, between 1742 and 1747 Curll published a series of collections under the title The Merryland Miscellany; Or, Carnal Recreations, in Prose and Verse.15 These collections usually included Stretser's Merryland, Merryland Displayed, The Potent Ally, and about a dozen other works, many of which were over a decade old (works such as The Pleasures of Coition; or, The Nightly Sports of Venus from 1721 and the Arbor Vitæ and Frutex Vulvaria from 1732, which are what might be called botanical erotica).16 Almost every copy of the Merryland Miscellany is, in fact, unique, being made up of a selection of erotic texts, which were also sold separately or in custom collections. The stocks of these previously...