Mensbodies, Menselves, Circa 1734

Dear Millicent,

While researching a forthcoming post about hair and the awkward female, I went down a few strange snickelways and ended up learning about what I can only call a royal sausage fest.  Enter the The Most Ancient and Puissant Order of the Beggar’s Benison and Merryland, Anstruther.  Founded in 1732, the club was a group of elite men that got together to get sexy and learn sexy (Merryland was their euphemism for a woman’s body). They officially lasted until 1836, had chapters in Edinburgh and St. Petersburg, and had a bit of a revival in 1912. They came up in my research because of a prize object of the group that is currently locked up in a cabinet in the British Museum: a snuffbox full of the pubic hair of George IV’s mistress. The group also protected: “one renowned Wig worn by the Sovereign composed of the Privy-hairs qf Royal courtezans.”

The idea of rich and powerful men secretly meeting to do scandalous things is not a surprise.  But finding real artifact of it is, as is being able to peek into what men were talking about three centuries ago when they were talking about sex. In 1892, about 250 copies of the Records of the Beggar’s Bennison, “printed for private distribution only” were made, and there are a few copies online. The records make for a strange compilation: half frat party, half Mensbodies, Menselves. There are songs, records of lectures, general note taking, and conversation that reminds me of women’s cervix finding groups of the 1970s.  Throughout, the Beggars appear less like a ribald stag party, and more like a group of adolescents unsatisfied with the information they’ve been given, and hellbent on figuring it all out for themselves. They jerked off, they researched how animals copulated, they looked at the morality of abortion, they wondered how conception took place, they went over basic anatomy, they really liked sex, often talk about women as respected partners with full desire of their own, and they told lots of stupid dirty jokes.  I’m not saying they’re great hedonist heroes. Their reason for being interested in birth control was to avoid bastards. Women were complete passive objects to them, and they are totally obsessed with their own dicks. But–and this is a big but–they were having conversations that pretty much took 200 years for even men to get back to, and that women are only in the past 30 years really allowed to have.  What we have in their notes here would at the least be a better textbook than what kids in abstinence only ed are getting. But, that’s another conversation.

They met twice a year to eat drink and celebrate male sexuality. It makes for some insane reading.  Here’s some highlights:

Member-ship

The Recorder and two Remembrancers prepared the Novice in a closet, by causing him to propel his Penis until full erection. When thus ready he was escorted with four puffs of the Breath-Horn before the Brethren or Knighthood, and was ordered by tiiQ Sovereign to place his Genitals upon the Testing Platter, which was covered with a folded white napkin, The Members and Knights two and two came round in a state of erection and touched the Novice Penis to Penis.

!!! They knocked dicks in greeting! The club was apparently started in response to societal prudishness, especially about masturbation (which the Beggar’s liked to call “frigging.”) After this, they had some wine, read from the Song of Solomon, looked at their library of Don Juan, Ovid, or listened to salty stories by sea captains.

On Bibles

Theirs had a list of all the naughty parts (are there naughty parts?), erotic drawings, and a lock shaped like a vulva. They had a punchbowl with the same insignia.

Natural Science

1733, St. Andrew’s Day, 16 members present.  Lecture topics: ” The engendering of Toads; The menstruation of Skate; and The gender of an Earthworm”

“Posture Girls”

The Beggar’s hired local women to get naked, which was apparently a problem because the town was so small. From 1734:

One Feminine Gender, 17, was hired for One Sovereign, fat and well – developed. She stripped in the Closet, nude ; and was allowed to come in with face half-covered. None was permitted to speak to or touch her. She spread wide upon a Seat, first before and then behind: every Knight passed in turn and surveyed the Secrets of Nature.

and

Betty Wilson, 15, was hired, but a bad model and unpleasant. Resolved against such another row.

On Circle Jerks and Semen

1734, Lammas. 18 assembled^ and Frigged upon the Test Platter. The origin and performance were discussed. The Platter was filled with Semen, each Knight at an average did not “benevolent” quite a horn spoonful.

1735.    St. Andrew’s Day. 24 present. Every Penis exhibited and compared by erection and frig-discharge.

1737.    St. Andrew’s Day. 24 met, 3 tested and enrolled. All frigged. [Then they all read Fanny Hill].

On Size

A penis of five or six inches, the average length, is a good development, proportionate in mathematical circumference, — tapering from the root to the nut,—the best shape for deflowering a virgin.

Equal Opportunity Frigging

The male organ differs much in size, especially in men of small stature and fools. So some females far exceed in capacity mothers who have had large families, especially when addicted to the common trick of using their fingers, which three-
fourths of males and females practise, as the most handy way of allaying their cravings.

The contrivance is termed ” Onanism,” and is denounced as fostering insanity with other ills; but
this was not what Onan was punished for, nor can the moderate use physically cause these evils any
more than the immoderate acts in the natural way

On Boners

There is a wonderful adaptation of the parts to these functions. If the yard were perpetually in a position of erection, it could not possibly escape injury and derision, negative to its beautiful purposes ; for love and veneration are our highest exquisite passions. In our whole frame, a glance, a thought, a touch, the merest transient effort of imagination can call up the ready instrument of our desires, and endow it with a power indispensable.

On Semen

In the healthy subject it is of a rather thick consistence, somewhat resembling thick French starch, and possesses a peculiar piscatorial scent.

On Infertility

Three-fourths of women stigmatised as barren owe their condition to the worn-out or ” indiscreet*’ state of the male, who is the procreative or active agent.

On the passive and active

Sexual connexion, we all know, is effected by the Male, who is the active agent, putting his Penis in full erection into the Vagina of the Female, who is the “passive voice,” as we say in Grammar.

On Birth Control Risks

The French use ” French Letters,”  [condoms] but even the best are full of risk. The first engagement is ever attended
with nervous excitement and difficulty, and although this night-cap or sheath of fine skin which covers the Penis may fit, it may burst in the act of copulation, and do damage irreparable by causing impregnation in her whom we so much love.

[Against the sponge] But if the Penis is of respectable size in length and circumference, it is liable in its eagerness to shift the sponge to one side, and some of the seed will be lodged at the very door of the womb. Another evil of the sponge is the annoyance which it often gives to the Male by causing wounds to the Penis,

On Withdrawal, and the benefits of cuddling

Surely then, Prevention or entire Withdrawal is tiie act of loving-kindness, which in point of justice and honour we owe to her whose charms we obtain. The passion of Love has its seat in the whole body.

On Family Planning and avoiding bastards

First:—That no married people should have more children than they wish to have, and can maintain and bring up with ease. Second:—That no unhealthy or delicate women should produce children at all. Third:—That there should be no Bastards. Fourth: That sexual commerce should be independent of the dread of a conception which blasts the prospects of the female. Nine-tenths, at least, of the misery and ruin which are caused by seduction result from cases of pregnancy.


 

On not knowing what lubrication is

That a mucous fluid is poured out then by hot women is undoubted ; but the female has no seminal vessels like the male. Yet there is a stimulating something which produces the same desires and the same pleasures.

I’m fascinated by how much power they do give to the female, and how unknown she is for all of their ritual and braggadocio.  Most of these men were married, and were obviously sexually active, but these records suggest that they had to rely on ritualistic hedonism to do something as direct as looking unabashed at a naked vulva.  Apparently, a mistress or wife wouldn’t offer the same “secrets of nature,” as the posture girl with her face half-covered (and that half-covered face is completely haunting). The power structures these guys benefit from is apparent throughout the text, but their inquiries are sometimes endearing (if that doesn’t make me sound like too patronizing, speaking from almost 300 years in their future). They assure each other that their 5 or 6 inch dicks are ideal, they measure their semen on a communal platter (the platter by the way, is also at the British Museum), behind closed doors they’re making their own internet message boards of the time, defining normal by communally looking at the wilderness of sex.

Yours,

CF


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