London: Printed for C. Moran, 1770. First collected edition. Contemporary speckled calf, skillfully rebacked with original spines laid down. Gilt and morocco labels to spines. Marbled endpapers. Measuring 155 x 96mm and collating complete, including final advert leaf to volume II: , ii, 147, [1, blank]; , v, [1, advert], 139, . Bookplates of J. O. Edwards to front pastedowns of each, with additional bookseller's ticket to front endpaper of volume II. Front endpaper of volume I detached at base but holding well else; some offsetting to preliminary and terminal leaves of both volumes. Occasional light pencil marginalia. Overall a fresh copy of a scarce work on the women of the London sex trade. ESTC reports only 8 copies in libraries, and its most recent appearance at auction was in 1931. The present is the only complete copy on the market.
Edward Thompson's position as a satirist "has drawn the attention of commentators from Dr. Johnson to modern times," and given that his "verse and prose was generally in the manner of his declared mentors, the ancients Horace, Juvenal, and Ovid...his targets were frequently political, and ad hominem" (Bibliographic Society). Among his most notable works were those that addressed London's widespread sex trade, praising and critiquing the women who had been immortalized as Toasts of the Town in Harris' Guide to Covent Garden Ladies. These were drawn together for the first time as a collection under the title The Court of Cupid: The Meretriciad (1761), The Temple of Venus (1663), The Courtesan (1765), and The Demi-Rep (1765).
The Court of Cupid allowed Thompson to capitalize on the fame of London's courtesans, reprinting and expanding works that were already popular; but it was also commercially beneficial to the demi-reps as well. For the most successful members of the trade, staying in the public eye was necessary. It could help young courtesans develop reputations and clientele; it could ensure that established courtesans continued to be seen as desirable and thus could justify (or increase) their fees. Certainly this was the case for Kitty Fisher, who appeared among a multitude of other Toasts and bawds in The Meretriciad and then became the central focus of The Courtesan four years later. By this time, poetry, satires, and gossip columns could not get enough of her. "Her name grew familiar to the beaux of clubland, and curiosity was piqued when it was known that she was an exclusive young lady who would accept no present and grant no interview without a formal introduction" (Bleackley). As a woman immortalized in print and paint (Joshua Reynolds famously did a series of portraits of her), she could even publicly turn down and humiliate Casanova as being beneath her.
Kitty is not alone among the multitude of women mentioned in this collection --- bawds and brothels, friends and rivals were preserved for literary critics and historians to remember. Satires like Thompson's assist us in remembering that during the height of London's sex trade, there existed a vibrant and successful community of women who profited from their sexual desirability, and who used those profits to carve out a desirable social space outside of the constrained domestic roles into which patriarchy had insisted they fit.
Register of Erotic Books 1097. ESTC T126148. (Item #5057)