Image of two men kissingHomosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook compiled by Rictor Norton

Reformation Necessary to Prevent Our Ruin



The Society for the Reformation of Manners (i.e. Morals) was formed in Tower Hamlets, London, in 1690, and there developed a large number of Societies within a loose confederation. Their primary goal was the suppression of bawdy houses, street prostitution, profanity and general public immorality. A network of moral guardians was set up, with four stewards in each ward of the city of London, two for each parish, and a committee, whose business it was to gather the names and addresses of offenders against morality, and to keep minutes of their misdeeds. By 1699 there were nine such societies, and by 1701 there were nearly twenty in London, plus others in the provinces, all corresponding with one another. One of the main differences between these Societies and other moral reform movements, is that the Societies adopted the strategy of exploiting the criminal justice system for suppressing immorality. Thus their members gathered information which they gave to Justices of the Peace, and provided funds to people to pay for prosecutions, or brought prosecutions on their own. Many members of the Societies became local Constables, and some judges were members of the Societies. The following sermon was delivered by one of the leading members of the Societies, and illustrates many of their values, specifically with regard to homosexuality.

Rictor Norton

Reformation Necessary to Prevent Our Ruine
Preached to the
Reformation of Manners,
St. Mary-le-Bow,
Wednesday, January 10th, 1727.

By the Right Reverend Father in God,
RICHARD [SMALBROKE], Lord Bishop of St. David's.

* * * *
I shall shew, that such is the present State of the Moral World among us, that nothing but a zealous Reformation of Manners can prevent our Ruine, and divert the impending Judgments of God from falling upon us. . . . [p. 5]

We may not only in our private Capacity express our just Resentments and pious Indignation against those that are Wicked and Profane among us, as they are Enemies of the Honour of God, and the Good of the Publick, and contribute to the Ruine of their Country, both by the natural Consequences of their Vices, and by provoking God to send down his Judgments on a sinful Nation; but in a publick Capacity, and when commissioned by lawful Authority, we may exert our selves, and indeed are obliged so to do, as Magistrates and Ministers of God, in being a Terrour to evil Works. And since Magistrates of the best Intentions and Abilities cannot of themselves act vigorously against the most enormous Offenders, without the Concurrence and Assistance of other good Men, it becomes the Duty of private Persons to act subordinately to the Magistrates, and to render them capable of doing Justice effectually in the Way of Information and Testimony, as well as by assisting them in apprehending and conducting to due Punishment all guilty Persons, in the lower Offices of executing Justice. . . . [p. 6]

But to go on; as an immoderate Love of irregular Pleasure is a distinguishing Character of the present Age, so the Zeal of Phinehas, which was particularly exerted against Lewdness, ought to animate us to an Imitation of his Example, notwithstanding the Variation of some Circumstances in the Cases proposed. However, one Coincidence is very remarkable; namely, that as that Sin was openly committed, and the Midianitish Woman was brought by the offending Israelite to his Brethren, and in the Sight of Moses and the whole Congregation; so the Profession of Lewdness at present is undissembled, and even a Vindication of Publick Stews has appear'd in the World, together with several other Treatises of the like Nature, that are peculiarly calculated for serving the Cause of Impurity, for banishing all Remains of our native Modesty and antient Decency, and making Men ten times more the Children of Hell than they were before. And as if the Destruction of the Publick were deliberately aimed at by the Devil's Agents, as well as that of the Souls and Bodies of private Proselytes to Vice, an universal Luxury and Corruption of Manners has not long since been gravely recommended to the World, under the Notion of Publick Benefits; as if all Shame among Men were lost, and a Paradox could be maintained that is not only contrary to the Nature and Reason of all Virtue and Vice with regard to Society, but to the Experience of all Ages and Nations, which assures us in the most Authentick Histories of the World, that the greatest Empires and States, as well as that of the Jews, and have proportionably decay'd, and finally have been sunk and ruined, by a general Luxury and Dissolution of Manners. And none but Unbelievers of all Profane as well as Sacred History can doubt of so well-supported a Truth. . . . [pp. 18-19]

Once more; since that most detestable and unnatural Sin of Sodomy, which but rarely appears in our Histories, and that among Monsters and Prodigies, has been of late transplanted from the hotter Climates to our more temperate Country, and has dared to shew its hideous Face among a People that formerly had it in the utmost Abhorrence; it is now become the indispensable Duty of the Magistrate to attack this horrible Monster in Morality, by a vigorous Execution of those good Laws, that have justly made that vile Sin a Capital Crime. There are some Sins indeed, of which this leads the Train, that have that shameful Turpitude in them, and are so foul a Disgrace to human Nature, that they can scarce be decently treated of, though it be in order to their Confutation and Punishment. For, as the Apostle observes, It is a Shame among Christians even to speak of those things that are done in secret, by such Dishonourers of their own Bodies. However, for the Sake of the Dignity of our Nature, and the Honour of the Reformed Christian Religion, our most zealous Efforts ought to be exerted against this abominable Sin, of what Rank soever any Persons may be that are guilty of it. It is certain, that no Sin can be a greater Contradiction to the declared Intention of the Author of Nature, in continuing the Race of Mankind by the Female Sex created for that End, to the Divine Institution of Marriage in Paradice it self, and to the Command of God to encrease and multiply Mankind. But as the Good of Society is the particular Care of the Magistrate, whatever has a direct Tendency to lessen the Number of Subjects, and to weaken or dishonour the Government, or bring it to Confusion, falls under his immediate Cognizance. And therefore not only in our Constitution, but in all Civilized Nations, the Laws have severely punished this execrable Crime. And accordingly we find it recorded, that Josiah, when he effectually reformed the Jews, brake down and destroy'd the Houses of the Sodomites (2 Kings xxiii.7.) And, God be thanked, we need not go abroad to illustrate this matter; since for the Honour of our Present Government it ought to be here mentioned, that the Prosecution of those most impure Wretches, that are guilty of this flagrant Crime, has been order'd to be carried on at the Expence of the Crown. And surely all subordinate Magistrates cannot but be induced to imitate with Zeal the glorious Example of Him, by whom they are immediately invested with Authority to punish so odious and filthy a Crime. But above all, this scandalous Abuse of human Nature is a Sin that bears so direct an Opposition to the Laws of God, and is so highly Provoking to him, that if it be not soon extinguished, but shall gain ground among us, we cannot but be apprehensive of the Judgments of an angry God coming down upon so wicked a Nation; and that after all our Professions of Reformation and repeated Deliverances, we shall be at last abandoned to Ruine. Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Cities about them, in like manner giving themselves over to Fornication, and going after strange Flesh, are set forth for an Example, suffering the Vengeance of eternal Fire (Jude. Ver. 7.); that is, of that Fire from Heaven, whose Effects still remain, and will always do so, and which was Emblematical of that Eternal Fire, which waits for all such hardened and impenitent Sinners. . . . [pp. 21-3]

On this Occasion therefore I think it my Duty to Congratulate those among us, that have the Courage to bear the Odium of a Virtuous Singularity in a degenerate Age, to apppear on the Lord's side, (as Moses expresses it, Exod. xxxii.26.) and to join the Sons of Levi in supporting the Cause of Religion, upon their late good Successes in this spiritual Warfare. It is no doubt a very pleasing Reflection at present, and will be an unspeakable Consolation in the last Moments of Life, of all good and active Magistrates, that they have used their Authority in supressing several lewd Houses, and infamous Nurseries of Debauchery; or in contributing to clear the Streets of their greatest Nuisances, the solliciting Night-walking Strumpets, those shameless Scandals of their Sex and Country. And that those abominable Wretches, that are guilty of the Unnatural Vice, have been frequently detected and brought to condign Justice, is very much owing to the laudable Diligence of the Societies for Reformation. . . . [pp. 29-30]

The Three and Thirtieth
PROGRESS made in the
Cities of London and Westminster,
And Places adjacent,
By the Societies for Promoting
a Reformation of Manners;
By Furthering the Execution of the LAWS against Prophaneness and Immorality, and by other Christian Methods.

THANKS be to GOD, many such Combinations and publick Confederacies are now in Being, who make it a great Part of their Business to oppose associated as well as particular Offenders.

The Societies for Reformation of Manners are eminently of that Number: And the Usefulness of such Confederacies is visible from what has been actually brought about by means of the said Societies, far beyond what could have been hoped for from any private Endeavours. Multitudes, for more than Thirty Years last past, have been prosecuted, and punished according to Law, for lewd and scanandalous Practices. Great Numbers of Bawdy-Houses, and other disorderly Houses, have been suppressed and shut up, and the Streets very much purged from the wretched Tribe of Night-walking Prostitutes, and most detestable Sodomites. Many young men, taken with lewd Women, have, by their being brought to timely Shame and Punishment, been discouraged, and turned (as we have Reason to hope) from following such sinful Courses, which often cause them to defraud their Parents, Masters, &c. and bring themselves to utter Ruin. . . . [p.36]

The said Societies have prosecuted, and been assisting in Prosecuting, from the First of December 1726, to the First of December 1727, divers Sorts of Offenders; viz. For Lewd and disorderly Practices, Common Gaming-Houses, and other Disorderly Houses, Common Gamesters, Profane Swearing and Cursing, Exercising their Trades or Ordinary Callings on the Lord's-Day, and for Drunkenness; In all — 1363.

The Total Number of Persons prosecuted by the Societies, in or near London only, for Debauchery and Prophaneness, for 36 Years last past, are calculated at about 94322.

The said Societies have also been assistant in bringing to Punishment several Sodomitical Houses, as well as divers Persons for Sodomy, and Sodomitical Practices, who have been prosecuted by the Direction, and at the Charge of the Government.

If Impiety and Debauchery had gone on spreading and increasing among us for the last Thirty Years, at that prodigious rate as they did for many Years before, we had assuredly been one of the most profligate Nations in the World, which must probably have reduced us to a very miserable Condition long before now; but by the Blessing of GOD upon the various Endeavours of our Religious Societies of several Sorts, a great Check hath been given to the Prevalency of the most scandalous Vices, and in many Instances, a visible Reformation has ensued. . . .
[p. 38]

Now, Whereas some have most maliciously insinuated, That it is not Reformation which is intended, but the getting of Money from the Delinquents; and by such base and vile Reports have imposed on some very well-meaning People: It is hereby declared to the World, That such a Charge upon these Societies is absolutely false. It is allowed that there have been some base and wicked Persons, (not engag'd, or in the least concerned in the Societies for Reformation of Manners) who have extorted Money from Offenders, and sometimes from honest Men. But all such Practices are utterly detested by these Societies, (who, it is well known, have strictly enquired after such Persons, and when discovered, have brought them to Punishment) nor do they know or believe, that any engaged in these Societies are chargeable therewith. And to prevent, as much as is possible, all Suspicion of a mercenary Design or Principle in any that act in the Business of Reformation, the Gentlemen concerned have all along recommended it, and indeed insisted upon it with those of the Societies, who have given Informations against Vice or Prophaneness, that they should never receive that Part of the Penalty which the Law allows the Informer; and it has not come to their Knowledge, that any one Person of those Societies hath acted otherwise. . . . [pp. 39-40]

SOURCE: Reformation necessary to prevent Our Ruine: A Sermon Preached to the Societies for Reformation of Manners, at St. Mary-le-Bow, on Wednesday, January 10th, 1727, London: Printed and Sold by Joseph Downing, in Bartholomew-Close, near West-Smithfield, 1728.
CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Reformation Necessary to Prevent Our Ruin, 1727," Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. Updated 29 April 2000, amended 24 July 2002 <>.

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