London: Printed for S. Bladon, 1779. Item #03479
One of the Earliest of "The Genre of Pornographic Trial Reports"
[TRIALS FOR ADULTERY. uniform title]. Trials for Adultery: or, the History of Divorces. Being Select Trials at Doctors Commons, for Adultery, Cruelty, Fornication, Impotence, &c. From the Year 1760, to the present Time. Including the whole of the Evidence on each Cause. Together with The Letters, &c. that have been intercepted between the amorous Parties… Taken in Short-Hand , by a Civilian. London: Printed for S. Bladon, 1779-1780.
First edition. Volumes 1-6 only (of 7).
Six octavo volumes (7 3/4 x 4 7/8 inches; 197 x 124 mm.). 392; 392; 404, 384; 426 (of 428); 406 pp. Twenty-one (of twenty-four) fine engraved plates. Volume I lacking two of the engraved plates (Daly, facing p. 39, and Draper, facing p. 20), and clean inner marginal tear on Q4 (pp. 5/6); Volume II with light marginal stain on 3A4 (pp. 59/50); Volume IV, Z3 (pp. 87/88) trimmed at fore-margin; Volume V, Z3 (pp. 55/56) trimmed at fore-margin and lacking last leaf 3H4 (pp. 305/306) "Address to the Public" (verso blank); Volume VI lacking one engraved plate (Grosvenor, facing p. 114).
Contemporary full calf, covers decoratively bordered in blind, spines with four wide raised bands, decoratively tooled in gilt and blind in compartments, two green morocco labels lettered in gilt, blind-stamped board edges and turn-ins, all edges gilt. Some minor wear to a few corners, otherwise a near fine set. Armorial bookplate (unidentified) on front paste-down of each volume and early ink signature of Thos. Grant at top of title-pages.
Trials for Adultery was published over a period of two years and was completed in seven volumes with thirty engraved plates. Because of their 'pornographic' nature some or all of the plates are often not found. In our set three of the plates have been excised by a previous owner.
"The genre of pornographic trial reports was fully developed in the late 1770s, a fact which is borne out by the publication in seven volumes of a special collection of interesting cases, Trials for Adultery: or, the History of Divorces. The editor remarks to the reader that 'conjugal infidelity is become so general that it is hardly considered as criminal; especially in the fashionable world'. In view of the many erotic and obscene prints contained in the seven volumes, the moral justifications offered in defence of the publication of the trial reports appear quite ridiculous, if not hypocritical. Mostly erotic, but occasionally also obscene, such pictorial material now became a standard feature of trial reports for the rest of the century" (Paul-Gabriel Boucé. Sexuality in Eighteenth-Century Britain, p.128).
Although fairly near the 'mark' for a "legitimate" publication of their date, it is probably unfair to call the plates obscene, however who could resist "Captain Gambier and Lady Knowles habited in loose Gowns and toying together" (volume VI, 'Admiral Knowles, against Captain Gambier', facing p. 21), "Mrs. Draper importuning her husband's Apprentice to go with her into the Bedchamber" (volume II, 'Richard Draper against Elizabeth Draper', facing p. 1), or "Mr. Wade & Mrs. Campbell discovered in a critical Situation by William Jenkins" (volume IV, 'John Hooke Campbell against Elizabeth Eustatia Campbell', facing p. 34). The publisher has been described by Raven as "the enterprising Samuel Bladon, warehouseman of Andrew Millar, investor in newspapers, and accounting adept"; his shop "a noted repository of old plays, was singled out by book trade chronicler Thomas Rees for 'its affluence of dust and soot'" (James Raven. The Business of Books: Booksellers and the English Book Trade 1450-1850, p.174).