Given that even main street chain stores now have a shelf or two that heaves with erotica in all its squelching, squishy, juicy glory, it is sometimes difficult to remember a time when we couldn’t just walk into Borders on our lunch break and pick up a few volumes of Best Anal Erotica or whatever floats your boat... and incomprehensible to imagine a time when this kind of stuff wasn’t simply hard to find, it was utterly illegal.
Of course that didn’t stop it appearing; indeed, just as sex was one of the first things anyone thought of once moving pictures were invented... and before that photography, and so on and so forth (and there’s a thought - when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, how long before he made the world’s first dirty phone call?)... just as blah blah blah, so what do you bet that the moment man figured out how to read and write, the first thing he penned was a XXX story?
The oldest erotic book I own is dated 1740: Merryland by Thomas Stretzer. I don’t have the original, of course; just a 1932 reprint by Robin Hood House of New York, a limited deluxe edition of 777 copies, and permeated with that delicious smell that haunts all old books and musty bookstores. But it’s a handsome edition, as befits one of the classic works of old English erotica.
Stretzer wrote under the desperately appropriate name of Roger Pheuquewell (say it fast) and his master piece was originally titled A New Description Of Merryland. And, on first inspection, it appears to be a travel guide, an account of the author’s roaming through one of the manifold new lands that were popping up on the map in those days... “a delightful country,” says the author, albeit one whose “laws, customs and curiosities” have yet to be fully discovered.
Where is Merryland? “It is situate in the low part of... that vast continent called by Dutch geographers Voiflandtscap... bounded on the upper side, or to the northward, by the little mountain called Mnsvnrs, on the east and west by Coxasin and Coxadext, and on the south or lower part it lies open to the terra firma.”
And with that established, the narrator goes on to discuss his first entrance into this wonderful country... his adventures therein... his discoveries, its climate and soil (“very wet and fenny”). And so he continues in this vein, quoting classical sources and contemporary scholars, in such a manner that an innocent chancing upon this book really could believe it to be as innocent as it seems.
In other words, it is one of the most outrageously funny pieces of erotica you will ever read, a perverse parody not only of the travelogues that the author admits he is tired of in his opening remarks, but also of mankind’s attempts ever since then to camouflage our most basic lusts and desires beneath the veneer of respectability.
We laugh at Merryland because we know what Stretzer is writing about. We admire it because it is a truly brilliant piece of satire. But most of all, we marvel at it, because is there any author alive today who could write a 136 page book about a pussy, and then file it away with the Lonely Planet guides?
Or who would even feel the need to do so?
Sometimes, I think, our modern freedoms spoil things for us.
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