Don’t you love it when history and fiction collide? I’ve talked before about my interest in erotica episodes in history, now along comes news of a historic tome entitled Aristotle’s Master-Piece. For 300 years, it was a best-selling sex manual for amateur midwives and young married couples. In the 18th century the book “became a best-selling guide to pregnancy and childbirth…going into more editions than all other popular works on the topic combined.” And according to the Smithsonian, “boys pinched it from their mothers, men shared its saucy secrets and women relied upon its advice.”
Although banned in Britain until 1961, hundreds of editions were printed on both sides of the Atlantic and it was still available for sale—its contents largely unaltered—in the sex shops of Soho throughout the 1930s. It was even referenced in James Joyce’s Ulysses.
And now you can get your hands on your very own copy! A 1760 edition will be auctioned on Jan. 16 by the venerable Scottish firm of auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull; you can see the listing here—I think it can be forgiven for being only “slightly dust-soiled” after all these years.
The title of the book is more than a little misleading, though; it’s doubtful that it can be considered a masterpiece, nor was it written by Aristotle (at some point in its history it was incorrectly attributed to him)! Originally published around 1684, it is usually attributed to an English doctor by the name William Salmon, who himself apparently cut and pasted text from earlier manuscripts. I’d be interested in seeing whether it fits the ‘masterpiece’ bill—but I don’t think I’m willing to fork out the 300-400 euros to find out!