Want to write a best-seller with plenty of sex? Well perhaps you might be lucky if you follow in the footsteps of Samuel Derrick.
Who was he, I hear you ask? Well, Mr Derrick was Irish and a bit of a con-man if history is to be believed. He used to pretend to be a member of the Irish aristocracy but in reality he was a draper's apprentice, a bad actor, and a failed poet. He was determined to better himself, so travelled to London in an attempt to join such luminaries as Smollet, Boswell and Johnson. These lofty gentlemen, however, didn't give him the time of day.
At some point, (probably, the scholars reckon, in Debtor's Prison), he must have met up with Jack Harris, (AKA as John Harrison), a waiter, and a notorious pimp - self-proclaimed "Pimp General of All England." It was Mr Harris who had a handwritten list of prostitutes, but it was Mr Derrick who - under Mr Harris's name - published the list as Harris' List of Covent Garden Ladies and made a fortune. The book was a barn-storming best-seller and sold 250,000 in its 38 years of being in print.
In a city with well over 3,000 prostitutes (for a population of 675,000) Harris' List of Covent Garden Ladies was a must have accessory for any Georgian man of leisure and pleasure Harris' list was more than just a list. It was a tour of the houses of negotiable affection, "the votaries of Venus" and the prostitutes more personal address.
It wasn't just a list though, nor was it limited to Convent Garden! - it also included anecdotes on the ladies' careers and conquests. It detailed not only their addresses, physical characteristics but also their “specialties”.
Such as: 'Miss Smith, of Duke's Court in Bow Street, "a well made lass, something under the middle size, with dark brown hair and a good complexion" ' Miss Kilpin, who offers her favours inside the privacy of hackney carriages, but who is in reality 'a married city lady, who takes this method of getting home deficiencies supplied abroad'
Mrs Grafton of Wapping was fond of sailors. Her 'best customers are sea officers, who she particularly likes, as they do not stay long at home, and always return fraught with love and presents'.
Miss C: who perfumed herself (particularly below the waist) and entertained a prince who "was so much of an Englishman to despise all fictitious aids in that quarter and, turning up his nose at the ... musk, which was quite offensive to him, he rang the bell and sent the servant for a red herring".
A gentleman in possession of the book would know where to go for the fat and the thin, the top-market whores, the cheapest of the cheap. He'd be informed on the state of their teeth and tits - and their former conquests - nice to know who'd been there before you!
Mr Derrick - on the merits and profits of the book - did manage to become respectable, in the end. He became Master of Ceremonies at Bath on a huge salary of £800 a year - around £100,000 a year in today's money - but despite this rise in fortune, he still died penniless. After his death, the book continued in print in the hands of a society-aspiring prostitute, Charlotte Hayes, although it was generally thought that Ms Hayes did not write with such wit as Mr Derrick. New versions continued to be printed annually until 1797 after which society was becoming a little more prudish.
Read more in: "The Covent Garden Ladies: Pimp General Jack and The Extraordinary Story of Harris’s List" by Hallie Rubenhold – Tempus Publishing, ISBN 0-7524-2850-0
And if you get hold of a copy of The List itself - let me borrow it, will ya?