Copy of sex manual banned for 200 years goes on sale...but there's little to make modern readers blush
'Aristotle's Compleat Master-Piece' first appeared around 1680 and sets out some dubious 17th century advice on sexual relationships and how to conceive
Friday 04 January 2013
Its contents may seem tame by today's reading standards, but that won't stop an early manual on sex and pregnancy, banned from sale in the UK for more than 200 years, causing a stir when it goes up for auction this month.
Aristotle's Compleat Master-Piece first appeared around 1680 and sets out some dubious 17th century advice on sexual relationships and how to conceive.
A copy of the book, which was banned from sale in the UK for more than 200 years, is expected to fetch up to $400 when it goes on sale at Edinburgh auction house Lyon and Turnbull.
The book first appeared around 1680, and an edition printed in the 1760s is going to auction.
It was hugely popular at the time of its initial printing and there were more editions published in the 18th century than any other medical text.
It continued to do a brisk trade on the black market after it was banned. The ban, astonishingly, wasn't lifted until 1961.
Cathy Marsden, a book specialist at the auctioneers, said: "It was very popular. It was probably the most printed text of its kind and it went through a lot of editions.
"It's fascinating reading. It tells an amazing story about the changing perspectives on sex."
The book is thought to have served as a reference guide for amateur midwives and young married couples and includes dire warnings about the possible consequences of extra-marital sex.
"There's nothing in it that would really be considered dirty in our society now. It's funny more than anything," Ms Marsden explained.
"There are various things which warn parents about what could happen to their children if they sinned whilst conceiving them, perhaps by having sex outside marriage. It would say that your baby would be born all hairy or it would suggest that Siamese twins were the result of the parents' sins.
"There are also interesting bits about the 17th century notion that it was considered beneficial for a woman to enjoy sexual intercourse in order to conceive. It suggests that both men and women should enjoy sex.
"That's interesting because much later on, when they realised that a woman didn't have to climax in order to conceive, the idea of a woman enjoying sex was considered far less important."
Although the book is attributed to Aristotle there is little or no philosophy, and it contains very little or none of his work.
The actual author of the book remains unknown.
Simon Vickers, also a book specialist at Lyon and Turnbull, said: "Drawing from the works of Nicholas Culpepper and Albertus Magnus, with a good dose of old wife's tale, there were more editions of this work published in the 18th century than any other medical text.
However, Aristotle's Compleat Master-Piece slowly began to be considered highly distasteful and even downright lewd and was banned in Britain until 1961."
A cutting from 1930s' newspaper advice column is said to have included a question from a reader asking where a copy of the book could be obtained.
Apparently contradicting itself, the reply stated: "You may not buy a copy of Aristotle's Complete Masterpiece. You may expect to pay three-and-sixpence."
The edition being auctioned at Lyon & Turnbull is thought to have been published around 1766. It will go under the hammer in Edinburgh on Wednesday January 16.
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