London: Richard Baldwin at the Oxford Arms, 1697. First edition. Finely bound in full crushed morocco by Sangorski & Sutcliffe. All edges speckled red. Early bookseller's description tipped in at front endpaper. Retaining initial and terminal blanks. With "Vol I" to title (ESTC notes a variant first edition "lacking Vol I" but notes no priority). Pages 107-110 a bit proud; small tear to lower corner of pages 273-274 and small marginal stain to pages [5-8] and 287, neither affecting text. Internally unmarked and surprisingly fresh. Measuring 180 x 110mm and collating , 318: complete. A scarce piece institutionally and in trade, we have been unable to locate any earlier example in English of a comprehensive history of the sex trade. ESTC reports copies at only 7 institutions. It has appeared at auction only three times in the past 40 years, with the present being the only copy on the market.
The earliest attempt in English to create a comprehensive history of the sex trade, during a period when sex workers were most frequently reduced in print to bawd characters in literature, stand-ins for targets of political or religious tracts, or the subjects of legal treatises. A General History purports to record thousands of years of the profession, across cultures, regions, and religions; as might be expected, however, the anonymous author approaches the subject from a heavily Judeo-Christian perspective. "The Original of the Crime which is the Subject of the following Sheets must necessarily be deduced from the Sin of our first Parents." Indeed, the first 133 pages are dedicated to examining Biblical narratives in which men from Adam, to Noah, to Lot were led astray by lustful women in their lives. As the author shifts to the world of Roman history and mythology, a new attitude develops. Here are increasing acknowledgements of the sexual violence frequently enacted on female and on gender non-conforming bodies; the outcomes of sullied reputations leading to limited options for survival within the social structure; and the complicity of men in power as patrons of the sex trade. It is certainly not a progressive examination. The author struggles between religious intolerance for and fetishization of the sex work he documents. But as an initial contribution, A General History suggests that sex workers should be present and integrated into European history rather than erased.
ESTC R217877. Wing E3296A. Fine (Item #4305)