Early Reflections on the History of Homosexuality, 1825

The following newspaper editorial is concerned primarily with the practice of blackmail by threatening to accuse men of homosexuality. However, it is also very interesting in showing an early awareness of something that might be called the history of homosexuality; for example, it discusses events in the molly subculture of one hundred years earlier. It also, incidentally, illustrates a new understanding of homosexuality as a "disease" rather than simply a "vice".

          It is always with the greatest reluctance that we break silence with regard to those unnatural offences and disgusting practices which now, unfortunately, engross so much of the public attention. Indeed, we could wish that there were the same understanding on the part of the Press not to allude to unnatural crimes, which there is in decent society. There was, indeed, something like an understanding of this sort, in consequence of the disgusting scenes of 1810, which was tolerably well observed, till the case of a certain Bishop broke down every restraint of the kind. At that time, however, we exposed ourselves to the reproach of wishing to screen that individual, on account of his rank and connections, from an unwillingness to pollute our pages with the revolting subject, and we only hielded when it became impossible to remain longer silent. We are no advocates of that mawkish squeamishness which would exclude from Journals all mention of frailties or improprieties, deeming it necessary that sacrificers should occasionally be made for the sake of the security afforded against oppression and injustice by publicity. But these revolting cases ought to be an exception to the rule. The very same reason which forbids all allusion to them in company ought to exclude them from vehicles of information put into the hands of both sexes, and all ages.

          The French have a saying, grand observateur grand menteur. People are but too apt to find that for which they are on the look out. We fear, in the anxiety to make discoveries, many innocent people will be accused, and thereby ruined (for accusation is ruin), before a twelvemonth has expired. The number of individuals who have been convicted of late of attempts to extort money for suppressing charges of this kind, ought to put people on their guard, to be cautious how they listen to such accusations. In a city like London, in which there are so many persons living on their wits, the danger from false accusation is very great. We have heard it stated, that attempts are not unfrequently made by the lowest description of prostitutes, to intimidate men who are passing along the streets at late hours, into the payment of money, to avoid being accused by them. From the brutal treatment to which these wretches are exposed by the faultiness of our Police System with regard to them, it is hardly to be wondered at that they should be as indifferent to the misery they cause as others are indifferent to their misery.

          The zeal of many well-meaning persons may be stimulated by an idea which has been broached in thepublic papers, that this revolting vice is on the increase. We do not believe any thing of the kind. In all times there have been men of depraved propensities, who feed on what is loathsome and disgusting. But such propensities never can be communicated; their existence argues a previous morbidity and diseased system. It is quite distinct from an indulgence of any passion which is natural. The case of parents cannot be too much employed in guarding youth against yielding to sins, the approaches to which are but too inviting; but there is no necessity to guard against that which repels from its loathsomeness. The disease, therefore, never can spread. If an angel from Heaven were to say so, we should not believe him.

          We believe that many persons in England in former times have been convicted of these revolting offences on false evidence. – The Society for the Reformation of Manners made itself particularly active in prosecutions for such offences, and we are strongly inclined to think, from a perusal of the reports of the trials, that much false swearing was the result of this activity. The year 1726 seems to have been particularly fertile in such cases. If we are to believe these reports, the number of houses in London of the description of that in the Strand was then very great. Among others, MARGARET CLAP was indicted for keeping a sodomitical house, in July, 1726, and found guilty. One of the witnesses stated, that on the 14th of November preceding, he went into the prisoner's house, in Field-lane, when he found between forty and fifty men making love to one another. Another stated, that above forty were taken from it in one night, and committed to prison. Moorfields was then famous, or infamous for abominable practices. In the trial of WILLIAM BROWN (1726) one witness said, "There's a walk in the Upper Moorfields, by the side of the way that parts the Upper Field from the Middle Field. I knew that this walk was frequented by Sodomites, and was no stranger to the methods they used in picking one another up." The houses for infamous practices are called by the witnesses Molly-houses. Many of the individuals convicted persisted to the law in denying the charge, and the witnesses seem to have been the very scum of the creation. They would not be listened to for a moment by a Jury of the present day. One man who had the good fortune to be acquitted (we suspect it was almost as dangerous to acquit them for such an offence as it was to disbelieve at the time in the existence of the Popish Plot), says, very feelingly, "As to the report of my being a Sodomite, it was raised out of spite; for I unfortunately let a barber's shop to one JOHNSON, whose wife was a cursed ——, and had been in Newgate for perjury. JOHNSON owed me half a year's rent, and I arrested him, for which his wife, whenever she got drunk, used to call me Sodomite Dog, and so the scandal began, and was spread among my neighbours."

          Magistrates ought to be very cautious how they listen to charges of this nature, at a time of general excitement like the present. Vengeance, as well as profligacy, will naturally avail themselves of the opportunity to rey on innocence. It is of the utmost consequence to scrutinize the evidence with the most unrelenting rigour. No evidence of persons not above suspicion ought to be received. It would be well to make diligent inquiry into the character of all witnesses in such cases, the manner they earn their living, &c. before a public examination takes place. If precautions of this nature be not taken, the next twelve months will be the ruin of many innocent individuals.

SOURCE: Morning Chronicle Saturday, 27 August 1825, Issue 17559.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "Reflections on the History of Homosexuality, 1825", Homosexuality in Nineteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 17 Januarty 2012 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1825gay.htm>.

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