Popular Rage (Homophobia)

Copyright © Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited. This essay may not be republished or redistributed without the permission of the author.

(1) Defences of Homosexuality

The mollies pursued their lifestyles with a bawdy insouciance, in marked contrast to the guilt-ridden behaviour of so many homosexuals from the 1860s through the 1950s. A surprisingly large number of the mollies admitted the "crimes" with which they were charged, but did so readily, unblushingly, and without shame. We recall how William Brown "was not ashamed to answer .†.†. I think there is no Crime in making what use I please of my own Body". On the one hand we have seen mollies whose tremendous presence of mind – call it bluff if you will – can enable them to deny the facts in the face of the most obvious evidence, as when John Dick, caught in the very act, and lying panting on a youth's backside, nevertheless protested his innocence even while adjusting his attire. On the other hand we have seen mollies who seem to be quite insensible to the notion that homosexual behaviour should be regarded with abhorrence by the multitude, as when Isaac Broderick defended himself against the very serious charge of molesting his pupil by claiming "to improve him in his Studies". Some mollies positively glowed with pride over their natures, such as one of the members of the Vere Street Coterie in the 1810s, "a deaf tyre Smith", who "has two sons, both very handsome young men, whom he boasts are as full as depraved as himself", or Tolson, who "was not ashamed to confess" to buggery.

Rarely do we find any expression of self-disgust, though naturally men would plead not to be exposed to public shame, for there was every reason to fear severe physical abuse during exposure in the pillory. Internalised guilt is absent not because the mollies were libertines or rakes, but simply because they enjoyed themselves, and seemed genuinely surprised when others called their pleasure sinful. Most of the mollies' participes crimens were quite willing partners who shared the same desire. Those few heterosexual men occasionally approached by a molly did not always react with the spontaneous revulsion which we might expect from them. Even the law-abiding citizens who lived in the neighbourhood of a known molly house seldom heaped abuse upon its customers or brought the tavern to the attention of the police. Generally they contented themselves with neighbourhood gossip until goaded into action by an interfering member of the Societies for Reformation of Manners.

The molly subculture was fairly open rather than furtive, sometimes so much so that their "flaunting it" aroused the indignation of the self-appointed guardians of public morality. According to the author of "OEconomy of Love":

Go where we will, at ev'ry time and place,
Sodom confronts and stares us in the face; –
They ply in public, at our very doors,
And take the bread from much more honest whores.

Those who are mean, high paramours secure;
And the rich guilty screen the guilty poor:
The sin, too proud to feel from reason awe,
And those who practice it too great for law.1

As early as 1703 the mollies seem to have overrun the city, at least according to the author of A New Dialogue between The Horse at Charing-Cross, and The Horse at Stocks-Market: "Such cursed Lewdness does infect the Town, / 'Tis a mere Sodom, or Gommorrah grown'. Apparently homosexuality in London was regarded with the same fashion as it was supposed to have been in Italy, where, according to the author of Satan's Harvest Home, sodomy is "esteemed so trivial, and withal so modish a Sin, that not a Cardinal or Churchman of Note but has his Ganymede". In some satires we find the term "Gany-boy". But of course the mollies were conscious that among the prejudiced populace they were generally regarded with disapprobation, sufficient evidence being their all-too-frequent fate on the pillory or gallows. The resulting stance of self-justification provoked such artifacts of molly culture as the following song once sung by "that charming Warbler, Miss Irons" (presumably a blacksmith):2

Let the Fops of the Town upbraid
Us, for an unnatural Trade,
We value not Man nor Maid;
          But among our own selves we'll be free,
                    But among, &c.

We'll kiss and we'll Sw[iv]e,
Behind we will drive,
And we will contrive
          New Ways for Lechery,
                    New Ways, &c.

How sweet is the pleasant Sin?
With a Boy about Sixteen,
That has got no Hair on his Chin,
          And a Countenance like a Rose,
                    And a Countenance, &c.

Here we will enjoy
The simpering Boy,
And with him we'll toy;
          The Devil may take the Froes,
                    The Devil &c.

Confusion on the Stews,
And those that Whores do chuse,
We'll praise the Turks and Jews,
          Since they with us do agree,
                    Since they &c.

They're not confin'd
To Water or Wind,
Before or behind,
          But take all Liberty,
                    But take &c.

Achilles that Hero great,
Had Patroclus for a Mate;
Nay, Jove he would have a Lad,
          The beautiful Ganymede,
                    The Beautiful &c.

Why should we then
Be daunted, when
Both Gods and Men
          Approve the pleasant Deed,
                    Approve the &c.

This song may have been composed by a heterosexual satirist, but I tend to regard it as an authentic record of a molly oral tradition, similar to the bawdy songs such as "Come, let us [bugger] finely" mentioned in the trial records as having been sung at Mother Clap's House. The lyrics are by no means beyond the capabilities of a non-professional poet, and one need not be a classical scholar to be familiar with its mythological allusions. Various bawdy ballads and lewd limericks still circulate in the modern gay subculture, though for the most part they remain unrecorded.

There were in fact several more serious defences of homosexuality, all from the rationalist and non-Christian standpoint. In Gulliver's Travels Swift ridiculed cultural relativism by the satiric suggestion that although the rudiments of lewdness are instinctive to women, the "politer pleasures" of homosexuality in both sexes were "entirely the production of art and reason" (Book IV, Chapter 7, last paragraph, which might have been added as a result of the raid on Mother Clap's molly house in the year of publication, 1726). Voltaire took a liberal attitude toward what he termed the pêche philosophique. A perhaps spurious anecdote records that while at the court of Frederick the Great, Voltaire slept with an English gentleman as a "scientific experiment"; he found it not to his taste. A few days later the Englishman informed him that he had repeated the experiment with another. Voltaire replied: "Once, a philosopher; twice, a sodomite!"

Perhaps the earliest extended defense of homosexuality in literature occurs in Smollett's novel Roderick Random (1748), though it is uttered by the rascally Earl Strutwell and not meant to be taken seriously. In order to seduce Roderick, the Earl gives him a copy of Petronius' Satyricon and pretends to defend its lewdness (Chapter 51):

I own that his taste in love is generally decried, and indeed condemned by our laws; but perhaps that may be more owing to prejudice and misapprehension, than to true reason and deliberation. The best man among the ancients is said to have entertained that passion; one of the wisest of their legislators has permitted the indulgence of it in his commonwealth; the most celebrated poets have not scrupled to avow it. At this day it prevails not only over all the East, but in most parts of Europe; in our own country it gains ground apace, and in all probability will become in a short time a more fashionable vice than simple fornication. Indeed, there is something to be said in vindication of it; for, notwithstanding the severity of the law against offenders in this way, it must be confessed that the practice of this passion is unattended with that curse and burden upon society, which proceeds from a race of miserable and deserted bastards, who are either murdered by their parents, deserted to the utmost want and wretchedness, or bred up to prey upon the commonwealth. And it likewise prevents the debauchery of many a young maiden .†.†. not to mention the consideration of health, which is much less liable to be impaired in the gratification of this appetite .†.†. Nay, I have been told, that there is another motive, perhaps more powerful than all these, that induced people to cultivate this inclination, namely, the exquisite pleasure attending its success.

The sole advocate for the total decriminalisation of homosexuality was Jeremy Bentham, the Utilitarian philosopher and law reformer. In 1774–1775, and again in 1814–1816, he wrote some 300 manuscript pages reviewing the place of homosexuality in history and analyzing how it should be regarded from the Utilitarian standpoint. He could find "no reason for punishing it at all: much less for punishing it with the degree of severity with which it has been commonly punished". In ancient Greece "everybody practised it: nobody was ashamed of it"; at the very worst, men such as Xenophon consider it "as a weakness unbecoming to a philosopher, not as a turpitude or a crime unbecoming to a man". The problem over interpretations of Platonic Love with which the Victorians would wrestle, is easily resolved:

The Greeks knew the difference between love and friendship as well as we – they had distinct terms to signify them by: it seems reasonable therefore to suppose that when they say love they mean love, and when they say friendship only they mean friendship only. And with regard to Xenophon and his master, Socrates, and his fellow-scholar Plato, it seems more reasonable to believe them to have been addicted to this taste when they or any of them tell us so in express terms than to trust to the interpretations, however ingenious and however well-intended, of any men who write at this time of day, when they tell us it was no such thing.

Bentham did not believe that there was a fixed division between active and passive roles between persons of the same age who shared this taste, nor did he believe that those who may preferred the passive role were in any way debilitated or effeminate. He emphasised that it could have no appreciable effect upon the growth of population except in the unlikely event of everyone becoming exclusively homosexual. "If then merely out of regard to population it were right that paederasts should be burnt alive, monks ought to be roasted alive by a slow fire".

The only charge against homosexuality that Bentham thinks merits serious consideration is that the indifference of the male toward the female would thereby defraud the latter of her rights. But he points out that the reality is just the opposite: women are already seriously denied their rights to freedom and happiness by the terms of monogamous marriage and by the censure heaped upon them if they partake of any of the pleasures freely allowed to the male sex. "If a woman has a husband she is permitted to receive [sex] only from her husband: if she has no husband she is not permitted to receive it from any man without being degraded into the class of prostitutes. .†.†. As long as things are upon that footing there are many cases in which the women can be no sufferers for the want of sollicitation on the part of the men".

And as for the charge that homosexuality is "unnatural": "If the mere circumstance of its not being necessary [to procreation] were sufficient to warrant the terming it unnatural it might as well be said that the taste a man has for music is unnatural". Bentham noted that in ancient history paederasts usually had mistresses as well as boys, and exclusive homosexuality was comparatively rare. But in modern times he felt that the persecution of homosexuals tended to encourage exclusive homosexuality, and the rigour with which the laws against homosexuality were applied actually contributed to the growth of the gay subculture:

the persecution they meet with from all quarters, whether deservedly or not, has the effect in this instance which persecution has and must have more or less in all instances, the effect of rendering those persons who are the objects of it more attached than they would otherwise be to the practise it proscribes. It renders them the more attached to one another, sympathy of itself having a powerful tendency, independent of all other motives, to attach a man to his own companions in misfortune.

Written in 1785, Bentham's cool, calm, clear-headed defense of homosexuality is a breath of fresh air in the otherwise stifling atmosphere of prejudice and ignorance that would prevail well into the twentieth century. But his comments had no effect upon public opinion or the law, and were never published during his lifetime, for reasons that are not difficult to understand. One page of jottings reveals his personal anxieties: "To other subjects it is expected that you sit down cool: but on this subject if you let it be seen that you have not sat down in a rage you have betrayed yourself at once".

(2) Homophobia

Despite occasional eccentricities and odd patterns of behaviour, most of the mollies were quite ordinary men, sober, honest, and indistinguishable from their neighbours. But in the following paragraphs we shall examine in more detail the stereotype rather than the reality. Our information comes mostly from people who are strongly prejudiced against homosexuals, moralists castigating the abominable practices of beastly wretches; distortions, blind spots and lies are the necessary result. We find in the accounts few of those anecdotes that are commonly used to reveal the human side of even the worst criminals, whom the populace often secretly admires. We find instead the non-human monsters of the popular imagination, and they are exhibited as being quite irrevocably foul. This section deals not with the homosexual subculture as such, but with homophobia, the anti-homosexual prejudice that runs throughout the heterosexual culture-at-large. During the Age of Enlightenment, the most abusive epithet that could be thrown upon a man was "Sodomite Dog!"

To begin with, our deeply biased "observers" regard homosexuality as a "Contagion", an infectious disease that will spread through society like wildfire in the absence of legal restraints and punishments and preventatives. When the Camberwell labourer Richard Branson was tried in 1760 for an attempt to commit sodomy with James Fassett, one of the scholars of Dulwich College, the prosecutor argued, quite seriously, that if homosexual intercourse had taken place it would have infected the whole fabric of British society. A huge crowd in court nodded approvingly as the jury was asked for an exemplary punishment, "for had he prevailed with this Lad, now Sixteen Years old, to commit this horrid and most detestable Crime, he would have infected all the others; and, as in course of Years they grew big enough, they would leave the College to go into the World and spread this cursed Poison, while those left behind would be training the Children to the same vitious Practises".

We may find this notion amusing, for it suggests that homosexuality is natural to man, that heterosexuality is merely an acquired social habit that will be cast aside at the first temptation. This belief probably originates in the basic sexist assumption that men are naturally superior to women. It follows that men would seek out other men were it not for the laws which prohibit such intercourse or the customs which prescribe heterosexual intercourse. I am not exaggerating this perverse logic, for this is precisely the belief of at least one anonymous writer to The London Journal for 14†May 1726:

If the Legislature had not taken prudent Measures to suppress such base and irregular Actions, Women would have been a Piece of useless Work in the Creation, since Man, superior Man, has found out one of his own Likeness and Nature to supply his lascivious Necessities.

Such a sentiment is rarely put into print – and perhaps never so explicitly – for it embarrassingly reveals many men's subconscious fear of being homosexual. The author of these words not surprisingly bolsters his self-image and establishes his credentials by assuming the pseudonym of "Philogynus", i.e. "Woman-lover". With such self-revelations so perilously near to the surface, we can understand why the satirists and moralists found it necessary to establish a distance between themselves and the mollies by means of gross exaggeration and distortion of the latter's vicious natures. No enemy is so monstrous as that which one fears lurking within oneself.

Homophobia is highly specific to the Christian tradition, which is one reason why sodomy is often ascribed to the Jews and Turks. The very terms "sodomy" and "sodomite" of course derive from the biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah, while "buggery" derives from bougre or Bulgarian, from the heretical sect believed to have imported the practice into France in the eleventh century. Every tirade against a Sodomite Dog contains some allusion, however slight, to the sinfulness with which the Christian deity is supposed to have regarded the inhabitants of the Cities of the Plain. It is common for such religious terminology to be used more for political than for religious purposes, but a belief in the biblical myth sometimes seems quite genuine: "However the Government having undertaken the Prosecution of them, 'tis not doubted, but strict Care will be taken to detect them, in order to avert from these Cities those just Judgments, which fell from Heaven upon Sodom and Gomorrah" (London Journal, 7†May 1726). Repeatedly we find threats of "heavenly vengeance" if London's magistrates do not bring the sodomites under control. The mollies are referred to as "that diabolical fraternity", and we are given to understand that the origins of homosexuality are not to be found upon this common earth, but in the very bowels of hell.

In the event, our writers are at pains to prove that this vice is not endemic to Great Britain. The lawyer Robert Holloway in The Phoenix of Sodom (1813) cites the very place and time of its appearance: "From the best authority that can be gathered, this crime was first introduced into England about the year 1315, by a sect of heretics called Lollards .†.†. for from a note on the Parliamentary Rolls it is said, 'A Lollard has committed the sin not to be named among Christians'". But however heretical its supposed origins, British Christians frequently linked homosexuality with Roman Catholicism, as in The Frauds of Romish Monks and Priests (1691): "I found at last, that they had secret Commerce with Women, or, what is worse, and that I would not willingly name viz. That they were addicted to the abominable sin of Sodomy". For similar charges see The First Century of Scandalous, Malignant Priests (1643), The Master Key to Popery (1742), The Cloisters Laid Open (late 1700s), and many more.

In the popular imagination these "New Ways of Lechery" were believed to have been imported from Italy, France and Turkey. "But of all the Customs Effeminacy has produc'd, none more hateful, predominant, and pernicious, than that of the men's Kissing each other. This Fashion was brought over from Italy, (the Mother and Nurse of Sodomy); where the Master is oftner Intriguing with his Page, than a fair Lady. And not only in that Country, but in France, which copies from them, the Contagion is diversify'd, and the Ladies (in the Nunneries) are criminally amorous of each other, in a Method too gross for Expression" (Satanís Harvest Home). We have previously noted that the Turks and Jews were believed to have a special fondness for sodomy; here is another example, from Sodom & Onan (1776):

Their Turkish Crimes, shou'd feel the Turkish Law.
.†.†. But here the Laws have Avenues,
Which pow'rful Sod'mites frequently abuse;
Tamper with God, and terrify with Threats,
'Till the astonish'd Ignorant forgets
His injuries. Alarm'd at all he hears,
Amaz'd, distracted with a thousand Fears,
He sells his Country, quits his virtuous shield,
And artful B[ugger]s Glory in the Field.

Regardless of its supposed place of origin, sodomy was abhorred as a distinctly non-British luxury: "Britons, for shame! be male and female still. / Banish this foreign vice" (from ďOeconomy of LoveĒ). Here again homophobia reveals the powerful alliance between sexism and national chauvinism. Xenophobia probably contributed to the first wave of persecution of homosexuality as part and parcel of the foreign ways brought to England by William and Mary.

One Christian feature of the xenophobia common to anti-homosexual prejudice is the belief that homosexuality is bestial and unnatural. Within the most detailed Judaeo-Christian exegesis upon the myth of Sodom and Gomorrah, sodomy was held to be unnatural because of the cross-species mating of the Sons of Heaven with the Daughters of Earth, that is, angels with mortal women. Such an interpretation was not widely known outside the erudite circle of biblical scholars, though we do occasionally find it expressed in popular literature, as in this passage from The Hell-Fire-Club (1721): "the filthy Sodomites did strive to join / With Substances Ethereal and Divine; / As if it was their Thoughts to get a Race / Of Demi-Gods to guard that cursed Place" (p. 14). But most people considered sodomy to be unnatural simply because it was not procreative. Thus in The Fruit Shop both mollies and masturbators are discussed in the chapter titled "The Unnaturalists, or Deserters of the Fruit-shop": "A still greater degree of criminality (than even what misguided and erroneous groping after chymerical but destructive self-sufficiency [i.e. masturbation] implieth) is chargeable to unnaturalism; which horrid form of sin stigmatizeth with public infamy, and calls aloud for heavenly vengeance on its followers".

Despite all the satires against the Jesuits, anti-homosexual prejudice itself is nourished by the Roman Catholic attitude professing the sanctity of procreation, as in this superb example of heterosexual bias: "An old Proverb says There is no Harm done where a good Child's got. Faults of this Nature must be confess'd to proceed from a Richness in Constitution, and therefore, are more excusable than base and unmanly Practices. It is the Action of a Man to beget a Child, but it is the Act of a Beast, nay worse, to –– I scorn to stain my Paper with the Mention" (Satanís Harvest Home). A similar broadside claims that the "Roman Catholick Church .†.†. upon politick Reasons tolerates Whores and Stews, as knowing, if mens Lusts be damm'd up in their ordinary Course, they'll find a more filthy Channel: She allows Simple Fornication, to prevent Adulteries and Sodomies".3

By means of a curious turn of logic which equates impotence with any form of non-procreative sexuality, the mollies were called eunuchs, though how they were supposed to be able to perform with men when they could not perform with women is never made clear: "unable to please the Women, [they] chuse rather to run into unnatural Vices one with another, than to attempt what they are but too sensible they cannot perform" (Satanís Harvest Home, p. 50)). Prejudice of course needs no logic to support it, and operates primarily upon the principle "heads I win, tails you lose". Thus we learn that the mollies are "like Eunuchs" and "loath the dear Sex they have no Power to please": "This must be the Case, if we consider the Majority of Persons suspected of this Vice, are antiquated Leachers" (ibid. p. 53) – though trial records demonstrate that this is decidedly untrue. Bentham's closely reasoned argument against equating not-procreative acts with unnatural acts would have had little impact in combating such prejudice.

What we are really seeing here is the basic sexist assumption that "each Sex should maintain its peculiar Character" (ibid. p. 54). Within this world view, men are hard and women are soft, men are active and women are passive, men are functional whereas women are decorative. The mollies were believed to be soft (the Latin term molles means "soft"), hence they were described as impotent or effeminate – these amount to much the same thing in the eyes of prejudice. We have already noted that the charge of effeminacy laid against the mollies was at least partly true, if we can rely on the accounts of the more objective observers. The more prejudiced moralists, however, disregard the particular circumstances and traditions of such things as mock births and maiden names, and would have us believe that all homosexual men universally imitated the ways of women – and this despite the paradox that arises when they are simultaneously supposed to "despise the Fair Sex". Effeminacy and male homosexuality are virtually indistinguishable; "they would appear as soft as possible to each other, any Thing of Manliness being diametrically opposite to such unnatural Practices" (ibid. Ch. 2,, p. 50). It is refreshing to find a pretended defence of effeminacy in The Pretty Gentleman: or, Softness of Manners Vindicated (1747), even though it quickly becomes apparent that this an equally vicious satire on homosexuality. But the satire starts well enough in praise of elegance, refinement and cultivation, and the author's historical survey seems to me to be pretty accurate: the first Pretty Gentlemen he finds in history is James I, noted for his refined delight in a beautiful person and fine clothes; "this Refinement sunk in Reputation" under Charles I, and harder still was its fate under the Republic and the Protector, when "not a Man of any Elegance durst even show his Head"; taste was restored with the Monarchy, though "the Prince was somewhat inelegant in Himself"; but in the current century the Pretty Gentleman has been "an Object of general Contempt, and barbarous Raillery". In defence, a "Fraternity of Pretty Gentlemen" have organised themselves on the principle of mutual love, not inferior to the Sacred Band of Thebes, and their motto is Magna est inter Molles concordia! This is of course an attack upon the mollies, and soon we are introduced to a band of shrieking, camping, hysterical queens named Timidulus, Lord Molliculo (tender arse), Sir Roley Tenellus, Cottilus, Fannius, and Narcissus Shadow, Esq – all of whom tellingly prefer Leg of Lamb to Old English Roast Beef.

According to the author of Plain Reasons for the Growth of Sodomy (a separate section of five chapters originally published c. 1728, reprinted in Satan's Harvest Home, 1749, by a different author), such effeminacy/homosexuality begins in early childhood with a sentimental or "soft" education. Young men are brought up as "Milksops"; they get up late in the morning, eat milk-porridge instead of a hearty English breakfast, go "to a Girls'-School, to learn Dancing and Reading", then to a Master to learn Latin Grammar; in other words, mollies were supposed to be cultivated, refined, civilised, probably aristocratic – all of which is exactly the opposite of the way the ordinary gay tradesman behaved. "Besides, his whole Animal Fabrick is enervated for want of due Exercise". (Molly blacksmiths and butchers are not envisaged.) Modern education has become so decadent that a boy is "brought up in all respects like a Girl (Needle-works excepted) for his Mamma had charg'd him not to play with rude Boys, for fear of spoiling his Cloaths". It will be appreciated that these arguments reflect class antagonisms, specifically the lower-class prejudice against the "soft" aristocracy. This prejudice against the upper classes becomes even more pronounced in the chapter titled "The Italian Opera's [sic], and Corruption of the English Stage, and other Public Diversions", wherein the author laments that whereas men "used to go from a good Comedy warm'd with the Fire of Love; and from a good Tragedy, fir'd with a Spirit of Glory; they [now] sit indolently and supine at an OPERA".

Our author seems to have conflated the mollies with fops, dandies and beaux – probably ones seen on the stage, for theatrical stereotypes of effeminate men were as popular then as they are today. The mollies with whom we are familiar never seemed to dress so stylishly as those he paints for us. "Party colour'd Silk Coats" and "new-fashion'd Joke Hats" were probably seen less often in a molly house than a blacksmith's leather apron, and fancy hair-dos, if ever worn, were probably reserved for only the very special festival nights and masquerade balls. "But what renders all more intolerable, is the Hair strok'd over before and cock'd up behind, with a Comb sticking in it, as if it were just ready to receive a Head Dress: Nay, I am told, some of our Tip Top Beaus dress their Heads on quilted Hair Caps, to make 'em look more Womanish; so that Master Molly has nothing to do but slip on his Head Cloths and he is an errant Woman, his rueful Face excepted; but even that can be amended with Paint".

Doggerel about molly-eunuchs was commonplace, though such creatures existed only on the printed page, as in "The Petit Maitre. A Poem. By a Lady": "Tell me, gentle hob'dehoy! / Art thou Girl, or art thou Boy? / .†.†. / Man, or Woman, thou are neither; / But a blot, a shame to either". Not even Lord Hervey, the archetypal man-woman, could quite live up to such portraits, and it is with some relief that we occasionally hear other views to the contrary: "It is a generally received opinion, and a very natural one, that the prevalency of this passion has for its object effeminate delicate beings only: but this seems to be .†.†. a mistaken notion; and the reverse is so palpable in many instances, that the Fanny Murry, Lucy Cooper, and Kitty Fisher, are now personified by an athletic Bargeman, an Herculean Coal-heaver, and a deaf tyre Smith" (Holloway, The Phoenix of Sodom).

(3) Mob Hysteria

Given the intransigence of the firmly-rooted Christian (and English) prejudice against homosexuals, we cannot be too shocked by the preventative remedies put forward to quash the contagion. It is best to nip it in the bud, according to a journalist in 1726, for "If Vice in our juvenile Years becomes habitual, you will find it an hard Task to shake it off when you come to Years of Maturity". But, in lieu of an early preventative, the best way to stop its growth may be to outlaw men's kissing each other in public, no matter what the cost in self-control: "I am of a Society of Gentlemen, and with Pride I declare it; who have made a solemn Vow, never to give, or take from any Man a Kiss, on any account whatever; and so punctual have we been in Observation of this Injunction, that many times at the Expence of a Quarrel, this Rule has been most inviolably kept among us" (Satanís Harvest Home. By the beginning of the next century, homophobia had effectively eliminated such public tokens of affection between men, as reported by a German traveller to England in 1818: "The kiss of friendship between men is strictly avoided as inclining towards the sin regarded in England as more abominable than any other".

But for the man who has already become a molly, no hope is to be held out: "Instead of the Pillory, I would have the Stake be the Punishment". Even the just lawyer Holloway recommends "restraining this vice, either by castration, or some other cogent preventative". It is as though our moralists have been reading Reasons Humbly Offer'd For a Law to Enact the Castration of Popish Ecclesiastics. As the Best Way to prevent the Growth of Popery in England (1700). Indeed we must never forget the historical links between the condemnations of heresy, homosexuality and foreignness. Usually such proposals as castration are couched in the most outrageous invective whose fury tends to cancel itself out and become ludicrous. The author of Sodom and Onan, for example, had very strong feelings on the subject:

Oh! that with legal pow'r I were endued
To punish sodomite turpitude;
Spaniards and Portuguese shou'd both resign,
And Dutch the Inquisition at Amboyn!,
When they but hear the tortures I'd invent,
Unnatural transgressions to prevent.
                              . . .
Let rank corruption, mining all within,
Consume his vitals, .†.†.
And may he one tormenting B[ul]boe feel,
From the Corona veneris to the heel;
While shankers, perforate his mouth and nose .†.†.

and so on, for many more lines of damnable doggerel.

The mollies were regarded as the lowest of the low by many of the decent upper-middle-class citizens of eighteenth-century Britain. They were reviled as monstrous sinners and beastly wretches, creatures so like dogs that even the most inhumane treatment of them could be tolerated. Any student of the history of the laws against homosexuality will recognise that sodomy was a crime set apart, wholly different in nature from all other crimes, a crime committed by a different race from mere mortals, a crime which merited a severer form of punishment than even the most violent murder or rape. This ruthless and hardhearted attitude was not simply the official stance of the moralists, but was felt throughout many levels of society. It finds some of its worst manifestations – by deed rather than word – in the summary proceedings of the mob. For example, in July 1810 we hear of a certain Mr Chalk, a shoemaker and small shopkeeper in Balford, near Salisbury, who apparently misconducted himself toward his apprentice boy. The case was not brought to the attention of a sober court, but immediately dealt with by the mob. When his neighbours heard of it they angrily marched his effigy around town and consigned it to the gallows. In great despair at such a ruinous demonstration, Chalk hanged himself.

Nor was it any safer to be found out in the metropolis. In October 1810 a man was set upon by a mob in Dowgate Hill, London, accusing him of an abominable crime. He was nearly killed by them until half an hour later a police officer arrived and took him to the Compter for his own safety. No one had come forward to charge him with a specific crime, so the next day the Lord Mayor sought out people to appear against him and he was committed to trial. The news correspondent who reported the incident deplored such mob action and cited the possibly malicious nature of the accusations, but hoped too that "such miscreants should be punished with the utmost rigour of the law, and that the law against such crimes should be more severe".

The populace were wont to take their vengeance before as well as after a conviction. Earlier that same month and year a certain Carter had been confined to St James's watch-house for an unnatural crime against a young man in St James's Park. When he was brought to Marlborough Street station to be charged a few days later, the avenues were choked with five thousand spectators. During the journey the mud and filth flew so thickly about him that the constables abandoned their posts and "escorted" him from a safe distance behind. But Carter was not alone in his misery, for he was handcuffed to another man who had committed theft. When the crowd discovered that half their pelting had been mistakenly directed towards a mere run-of-the-mill criminal they redoubled their fury upon the sodomite and took up a subscription for the remuneration of the thief. Most of the mob waited outside during Carter's trial, and then accompanied him back to prison, hurling mud and imprecations all the way.

Mollies unfortunate enough to be convicted of sodomy were hanged at Tyburn, while those found guilty of attempted sodomy were sent to the pillory (often twice), fined (usually £10–£30) and imprisoned (from six months to three years). Imprisonment often led indirectly to death because of gaol fever, which was widespread throughout most eighteenth century prisons. Prisons were wholly lacking in sanitation and ventilation, and this variety of typhus sometimes raged so fiercely that gaols had to be closed to clergymen and prison officers and the inmates were simply locked up and left to their own devices until the fear of contagion abated.

The lesser punishment – to be stood in the pillory – was by no means a lenient one, for the victims often had to fear for their lives at the hands of an enraged multitude armed with brickbats as well as filth and curses. Modern anthropologists will point out that placing one in a pillory, including the dread procession from the prison to the pillory and back again, is founded upon a primitive rite of degradation or humiliation, whereby the victim becomes a scapegoat for the sins of society, and quite literally has heaped upon him the offal of civilisation. In the eighteenth century, when the mob was never very well kept under control, the victims in the pillory, male or female, found themselves at the centre of an orgy of brutality and mass hysteria, especially if the victim were a molly.

We have already mentioned how Charles Hitchin had his clothes literally torn from his body by the force of the missiles thrown at him while he stood in the pillory in April 1727. In September of the same year, an unnamed gentleman and his coachman John Croucher were committed to Newgate for having made love to one another. I cannot trace what happened to the gentleman, but the coachman was sentenced to six months in prison and to stand in the pillory in New Palace Yard on 25†October, where he was subjected to treatment nearly as severe as that which fell upon Hitchin. For the period 1720–1740 gay men were stood in the pillory nearly every week. In many cases the reactions of the mob are not recorded; in others, little purpose would be served by citing them, as it becomes a matter of noting which ones attracted the greater attentions of the Drury Lane Ladies, or which ones were celebrated with more mud than brickbats, more dead cats than turnips, more rocks than offal.

Occasionally the event occurred which every convicted molly feared most: on 3†April 1763, an unidentified man who stood in the pillory at Bow, for sodomy, was killed by the mob. The coroner's jury brought in a verdict of wilful murder, and some persons were taken into custody for this outrage. A pillory broadside was distributed just prior to his death, called This is not the Thing: Or Molly Exalted. It shows the poor sod in the pillory being jeered at by the populace: he laments "I am now in the Hole indeed come all in my Friends", and the women in the mob shout "Flogg him", "Here's a fair Mark", "Shave him close", and "Cut it off". The broadside ballad begins with the following quatrains:

Ye Reversers of Nature, each dear little Creature,
          Of soft and effeminate sight,
See above what your fate is, and 'ere it too late is,
          Oh, learn to be – all in the Right.
                    Tol de rol.

On the Fair of our Isle see the graces all smile,
          All our Cares in this Life to requite;
But such Wretches as You, Nature's Laws wou'd undo,
          For you're backward – and not in the Right.
                    Tol de rol

The peak of mob hysteria was reached in 1810, a year when it was very dangerous for gay men to be visible in London, and many in fact fled the country. In August of that year a certain Dickinson was convicted of attempted sodomy with a Drum Boy of the Guards. When he stood in the pillory at Charing Cross he "received the most pitiless pelting from the indignant multitude, with mud, eggs, turnips and other missiles. He is a well-looking young man, about 22, and was a waiter at Hatchett's hotel, Piccadilly. In the course of the first ten minutes he was so completely enveloped with mud and filth, that it was scarcely possible to distinguish his back from his front; and it was with the utmost difficulty that the peace officers could prevent him from being torn to pieces by the mob, on his return from the pillory to the prison". In September five members of the Vere Street Coterie were stood in the pillory in Haymarket. On this occasion the mob hysteria (described in full in chapter 12) was so staggeringly brutal that the incident seems to have made the authorities realise that such public proceedings were catering to the worst tribal instincts of the mob. In the event, the pillory was abolished in 1816 except as punishment for subornation and perjury, and totally abolished in 1837.

Only rarely do we hear the suggestion that the punishment meted out to homosexuals may be too great for their crimes. The lawyer Holloway felt that the crime of Cook, convicted of keeping a sodomitical house (but not of sodomy itself), "is no justification of the brutality with which he was treated". And he noted that the authorities were beginning to realise that sodomy "is an offence, like that of rape, easily charged, but very difficult to be disproved; – the accusation should therefore, be clearly and incontestibly made out". Convictions for sodomy, a felony, were relatively rare, for they required incontrovertible proof of penetration (although a man could be convicted and hanged solely on the uncorroborated evidence of his own partner in the act). Convictions for attempted sodomy, a misdemeanour, were easier to obtain, for the criminal act could consist of anything ranging from an unsuccessful attempt at anal intercourse to a man's merely groping another about the front of his breeches; only one witness was required, either as observer or participant. The facts that one's partner was a consenting adult and the act took place in private were wholly irrelevant in the eyes of the law.

We might feel that the mollies were no worse off than many other "criminals", for the law was universally harsh in its broad definition of what constituted criminal acts, in the weak nature of the evidence required for convictions, and in the general severity of its sentences. But such a conclusion would be wrong. The law and its application were very clearly biased against the mollies. This bias is obvious when we compare the homosexual cases mentioned throughout this study (most of them involving consenting partners, usually adults, often in private, and mostly resulting in convictions and harsh sentences) to the heterosexual cases in the same trial records – usually involving rape of a young girl, and usually resulting in an acquittal. Of 24 men prosecuted for rape from 1720 to 1731 (sometimes involving girls 10 to 12 years old, in one instance 5 years old), only three were sentenced to death (one of whom was pardoned), one was fined and imprisoned, one was imprisoned, one was fined, and eighteen were acquitted. Even Adam White, charged with having sodomised his eleven year old daughter, was acquitted. From 1730 to 1830 there were 294 prosecutions for (heterosexual) rape in the Old Bailey; a guilty verdict was given in only 51 of these cases (17 percent), and 28 of the offenders were executed; 57 of the cases involved girls under the age of 10 years, and 10 of these offenders were found guilty; 10 years was legally regarded as the age of consent or age of sexual discretion for females, two years below the age at which a girl could marry. Criminal statistics were not scientifically compiled by the Home Office until 1811, very near the end of the period of my survey in this book: in the returns for that year, "four out of five convicted sodomists were executed, as against only 63 out of 471 other capital offenders". According to a House of Commons report published in 1819, there were 28 executions for sodomy from 1805 through 1818. According to Home Office statistics published in 1837, 31 more men were executed for sodomy from 1819 through 1836; the peak years for executions were 1806 (6), 1810 (4), 1814 (5), 1819–25 (15), 1826–32 (7), and 1834 (4).

And as for the Drury Lane Ladies – the law regarded them with bemused tolerance. Let us conclude this chapter with an incident which highlights the contrasting legal attitudes towards whores and mollies: on the same day in September 1810 that James Walker and Shudy Macnamara were committed to trial for having committed (consensual) sodomy, a felony punishable by death, at the Sun & Apple Tree, White Hart Yard, Drury Lane, 24 female prostitutes who were charged with behaving in a disorderly fashion in St James's Street, were dismissed on their promise to conduct themselves with more propriety in future.

1. Quoted in The Fruit Shop (London, 1766), pp. 160–165. In fact these lines are lifted from Charles Churchill's poem The Times, first published in 1764; see The Works of C. Churchill (London, 1774), vol. III, pp. 170–171.
2. James Dalton, A Genuine Narrative (London, 1728), pp. 42–43.
3. Clod-Pate's Ghost: Or a Dialogue Between Justice Clod-Pate, and his (quondam) Clerk Honest Tom Ticklefoot (London, no date), p. 2.

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton, "Popular Rage (Homophobia)", The Gay Subculture in Georgian England, 16 August 2009 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/homophob.htm>.

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