London: Printed for A. Moore near St. Paul's, . First edition. Measuring 190 x 115mm and collating complete with sheets E and F reversed by the binder: vii, 54. Disbound but holding together nicely. Some toning to title and terminal leaves, with occasional marginal foxing; overall quite pleasing. A scarce work about a notorious member of the sex trade, the present is also a bit of a bibliographical mystery. In addition to the author using a pseudonym, ESTC and Treadwell note that the printer is also fictitious (with A. Moore frequently used to disguise the producers of licentious publications). ESTC records copies at only 10 institutions (seven of these in North America); with the exception of the present copy, no other appears in the modern auction record since 1928. It is the only example in trade.
The daughter of a clergyman, Elizabeth Wisebourn would use the performance of piety throughout her career to attract high calibre clientele, recruit infamous as well as new sex workers to her house, and shape public perception of the sex trade and her role in it. In her early teens, she spent time in Italy and then as "a protegee of Mother Cresswell, learning the trade from her" as well as acquiring functional "knowledge of medicine and would-be cures for venereal diseases" (Linnane). As the present history documents, "by 1679 she was well established in the London sex industry, operating her 'discreet business' from a premises near the theatre in Drury Lane. She used to visit prisons, clutching her Bible, to buy the freedom of likely girls...touting for customers in church" and drawing in a clientele that attracted to her "some of the most celebrated courtesans of the day" (Linnane). While some of these courtesans were in Wisebourn's employ, many others maintained themselves as sole proprietors, using the Wisebourn house as more of a social club to see and be seen -- a method for mutually promoting success in the trade. Not one to limit her client pool, "Wisebourn also found lovers for frustrated wives" (Linnane). She died in 1719, after having been held up and attacked by the notorious criminal Joseph Blueskin Blake while in transit between Hampstead and Drury Lane.
The present anonymously composed tract documents Wisebourn's entrance into the trade, highlighting the hypocritical and performative relationship she and her house had with the church. Yet the piece is not simply a take-down of the most famed brothel owner of her time; it acknowledges the complex relationships among bawds, courtesans, and clients, the immense wealth that a woman could gain in the trade, the important role of medical knowledge in caring for employees, and even the cult of personality that could feed such success. Following her death, Wisebourn place in London was filled by Sarah "Sally" Lodge, "a cheerful little soul" who "began her career at the age of fourteen in the 1790s and soon had a high class brothel near the Strand" (Linnane). Unlike Wisebourn, however, Lodge struggled with maintaining her business long-term, making bad business decisions that caused her to lose her brothel and her reputation. Anodyne's testament of Wisebourn stands as a reminder of the widespread influence that this particular leader in the industry had before and after her death, leaving behind a legacy deserving of print. It remains the main source of information for Wisebourn's life and career.
ESTC T65352. Treadwell, Of False and Misleading Imprints, 41-34. (Item #5025)