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Fanny Hill or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure

The most libertine pleasures

Second Letter - Part I


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John Cleland, Memoirs of a woman of pleasure (Fanny Hill), Printed for G. Fenton (first edition), in the Strand, London, 1747.


LETTER THE SECOND

MADAM,

If I have delayed the sequel of my history, it has been purely to allow myself a little breathing time not without some hopes, that, instead of pressing me to a continuation, you would have acquitted me of the task of pursuing a confession, in the course of which my self-esteem has so many wounds to sustain.

I imagined, indeed, that you would have been cloyed and tired with uniformity of adventures and expressions, inseparable from a subject of this sort, whose bottom, or groundwork being, in the nature of things eternally one and the same, whatever variety of forms and modes the situations are susceptible of, there is no escaping a repetition of near the same images, the same figures, the same expressions, with this further inconvenience added to the disgust it creates, that the words Joys, Ardours, Transports, Extasies and the rest of those pathetic terms so congenial to, so received in the Practice of Pleasure, flatten and lose much of their due spirit and energy by the frequency they indispensably recur with, in a narrative of which that Practice professedly composes the whole basis. I must therefore trust to the candour of your judgment, for your allowing for the disadvantage I am necessarily under in that respect; and to your imagination and sensibility, the pleasing taks of repairing it, by their supplements, where my descriptions flag or fail: the one will readily place the pictures I present before your eyes; the other give life to the colours where they are dull, or worn with too frequent handling.

What you say besides, by way of encouragement concerning the extreme difficulty of continuing so long in one strain, in a mean tempered with taste, between the revoltingness of gross, rank and vulgar expressions, and the ridicule of mincing metaphors and affected circumlocutions, is so sensible, as well as good-natured, that you greatly justify me to myself for my compliance with a curiosity that is to be satisfied so extremely at my expense.

Resuming now where I broke off in my last, I am in my way to remark to you, that it was late in the evening before I arrived at my lodgings, and Mrs. Cole, after helping me to range and secure my things, spent the whole evening with me in my apartment, where we supped together, in giving me the best advice and instruction with regard to the new stage of my profession I was now to enter upon; and passing thus from a private devotee to pleasure into a public one, to become a more general good, with all the advantages requisite to put my person out to use, either for interest or pleasure, or both. "But then," she observed, "as I was a kind of new face upon the town, that is, was an established rule and myster of trade, for me to pass for a maid and dispose of myself as such on the first good occasion, without prejudice, however, to such diversions as I might have a mind to in the interim; for that nobody could be a greater enemy than she was to the losing of time. That she would, in the mean time, do her best to find out a proper person, and would undertake to manage this nice point for me, if I would accept of her aid and advice to such good purpose, that, in the loss of a fictitious maidenhead, I should reap all the advantages of a native one."

As too great a delicacy of sentiments did not extremely belong to my character at that time, I confess, against myself, that I perhaps too readily closed with a proposal which my candor and ingenuity gave me some repugnance to: but not enough to contradict the intention of one to whom I had now thoroughly abandoned the direction of all my steps. For Mrs. Cole had, I do not know how unless by one of those unaccountable invincible sympathies that, nevertheless, from the strongest links, especially of female friendship, won and got entire possession of me. On her side, she pretended that a strict resemblance, she fancied she saw in me, to an only daughter whom she had lost at my age, was the first motive of her taking to me so affectionately as she did. It might be so: there exist a slender motives of attachment, that, gathering force from habit and liking, have proved often more solid and durable than those founded on much stronger reasons; but this I know, that though I had no other acquaintance with her, than seeing her at my lodgings, when I lived with Mr. H..., where she had made errands to sell me some millinery ware, she had by degrees insinuated herself so far into my confidence, that I threw myself blindly into her hands, and came, at length, to regard, love, and obey her implicitly; and, to do her justice, I never experienced at her hands other than a sincerity of tenderness, and care for my interest, hardly heard of in those of her profession. We parted that night, after having settled a perfect unreserved agreement; and the next morning Mrs. Cole came, and took me with her to her house for the first time.

Here, at the first sight of things, I found every thing breathe an air of decency, modesty and order.

In the outer parlour, or rather shop, sat three young women, rather demurely employed on millinery work, which was the cover of a traffic in more precious commodities; but three beautifuller creatures could hardly be seen. Two of them were extremely fair, the eldest not above nineteen; and the third, much about that age, was a piquant brunette, whose black sparking eyes, and perfect harmony of features and shape, left her nothing to envy in her fairer companions. Their dress too had the more design in it, the less it appeared to have, being in a taste of uniform correct neatness, and elegant simplicity. These were the girls that composed the small domestic flock, which my governess trained up with surprising order and management, considering the giddy wildness of young girls once got upon the loose. But then she never continued any in her house, whom, after a due noviciate, she found un-tractable, or unwilling to comply with the rules of it. Thus she had insensibly formed a little family of love, in which the members found so sensibly their account, in a rare alliance of pleasure and interest, and of a necessary outward decency, with unbounded secret liberty, that Mrs. Cole, who had picked them as much for their temper as their beauty, governed them with ease to herself and them too.

To these pupils then of hers, whom she had prepared, she presented me as a new boarder, and one that was to be immediately admitted to all the intimacies of the house; upon which these charming girls gave me all the marks of a welcome reception, and indeed of being perfectly pleased with my figure, that I could possibly expect from any of my own sex: but they had been effectually brought to sacrifice all jealousy, or competition of charms, to a common interest, and considered me a partner that was bringing no despicable stock of goods into the trade of the house. They gathered round me, viewed me on all sides; and as my admission into this joyous troop made a little holiday, the shew of work was laid aside; and Mrs. Cole giving me up, with special recommendation, to their caresses and entertainment, went about her ordinary business of the house.

The sameness of our sex, age, profession, and views, soon creased as unreserved a freedom and intimacy as if we had been for years acquainted. They took and shewed me the house, their respective apartments, which were furnished with every article of convenience and luxury; and above all, a spacious drawing-room, where a select revelling band usually met, in general parties of pleasure; the girls supping with their sparks, and acting their wanton pranks with unbounded licentiousness; whilst a defiance of awe, modesty or jealousy were their standing rules, by which, according to the principles of their society, whatever pleasure was lost on the side of sentiment, was abundantly made up to the senses in the poignancy of variety, and the charms of ease and luxury. The authors and supporters of this secret institution would, in the height of their humour, style themselves the restorers of the golden age and its simplicity of pleasures, before their innocence became so unjustly branded with the names of guilt and shame.

As soon then as the evening began, and the shew of a shop was shut, the academy opened; the mask of mock-modesty was completely taken off, and all the girls delivered over to their respective calls of pleasure or interest with their men: and none of that sex was promiscuously admitted, but only such as Mrs. Cole was previously satisfied with their character and discretion. In short, this was the safest, politest, and, at the same time, the most thorough house of accommodation in town: every thing being conducted so, that decency made no intrenchment upon the most libertine pleasures; in the practice of which, too, the choice familiars of the house had found the secret so rare and difficult, of reconciling even all the refinements of taste and delicacy, with the most gross and determinate gratifications of sensuality.

After having consumed the morning in the dear endearments and instructions of my new acquaintance, we went to dinner, when Mrs. Cole, presiding at the head of her club, gave me the first idea of her management and address, in inspiring these girls with so sensible a love and respect for her. There was no stiffness, no reserve, no airs of pique, or little jealousies, but all was unaffectedly gay, cheerful and easy.

After dinner, Mrs. Cole, seconded by the young ladies, acquainted me that there was a chapter to be held that night in form, for the ceremony of my reception into the sisterhood; and in which, with all due reserve to my maidenhead, that was to be occasionally cooked up for the first proper chapman. I was to undergo a ceremonial of initiation they were sure I should not be displeased with.

Embarked as I was, and moreover captivated with the charms of my new companions, I was too much prejudiced in favour of any proposal they could make, to as much as hesitate an assent; which, therefore, readily giving in the style of a carte blanche, I received fresh kisses of compliment from them all, in approval of my docility and good nature. Now I was "a sweet girl... I came into things with a good grace... I was not affectedly coy... I should be the pride of the house," and the like.

This point thus adjusted, the young women left Mrs. Cole to talk and concert matters with me, when she explained to me, that "I should be introduced that very evening, to four of her best friends, one of whom she had, according to the custom of the house, favoured with the preference of engaging me in the first party of pleasure;" assuring me, at the same time, "that they were all young gentlemen agreeable in their persons, and unexceptionable in every respect; that united, and holding together by the band of common pleasures, they composed the chief support of her house, and made very liberal presents to the girls that pleased and humoured them, so that they were, properly speaking, the founders and patrons of this little seraglio. Not but that she had, at proper seasons, other customers to deal with, whom she stood less upon punctilio with, than with these; for instance, it was not on one of them she could attempt to pass me for a maid; they were not only too knowing, too much town-bred to bite at such a bait, but they were such generous benefactors to her, that it would be unpardonable to think of it."

Amidst all the flutter and emotion which this promise of pleasure, for such I conceived it, stirred up in me, I preserved so much of the woman, as to feign just reluctance enough to make some merit, of sacrificing it to the influence of my patroness, whom I likewise, still in character, reminded of it perhaps being right for me to go home and dress, in favour of my first impressions.

But Mrs. Cole, in opposition to this, assured me, "that the gentlemen I should be presented to were, by their rank and taste of things, infinitely superior to the being touched with any glare of dress or ornaments, such slick women rather confound and overlay than set off their beauty with; that these veteran voluptuaries knew better than not to hold them in the highest contempt: they with whom the pure native charms alone could pass current, and who would at any time leave a sallow, washy, painted duchess on her own hands, for a ruddy, healthy firm fleshed country maid; and as for my part, that nature had done enough for me, to set me above owing the least favour to art;" concluding withal, that for the instant occasion, there was no dress like an undress.

I thought my governess too good a judge of these matters, not to be easily overruled by her: after which she went on preaching very pathetically the doctrine of passive obedience and non-resistance to all those arbitrary tastes of pleasure, which are by some styled the refinements, and by others the depravations of it; between whom it was not the business of a simple girl, who was to profit by pleasing, to decide, but to conform to. Whilst I was edifying by these wholesome lessons, tea was brought in, and the young ladies, returning, joined company with us.

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Second Letter - Part II



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