1788 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Bp. Beilby Porteus

Thomas Percy to Michael Lort, 2 March 1788; Nichols, Illustrations of the Literary History of the XVIII Century (1817-58) 7:490-91.



I wanted to hear from you, inter alia, to congratulate you and all good men on the promotion of Dr. Porteus to the bishopric of London, where he will do infinite good. Two abuses of a most destructive tendency, especially to youth, want to be reformed in that corrupt metropolis. Though difficult to cure, I will not despair of it from its excellent diocesan: the one, if I may credit the papers, has already attracted his notice — I mean the removal of common prostitutes from all the most frequent streets, &c. The other I wish were recommended to his notice, viz. to suppress the corrupt and inflammatory prints and publications which, in the cheapest forms, are obtruded upon youth in every stall and window of the booksellers' and print shops, to the universal corruption and destruction of the rising generation. From that great common shore (I believe I should write "sewer") the baleful streams are diffused through the whole kingdom, and every libidinous pamphlet or novel is lent out to hire in petty circulating libraries in every little dirty town in England. When I was dean of Carlisle, our remote bookseller had received a cargo of all the adulterous trials, with indecent prints, &c. the volumes of which he had taken to pieces, to accommodate the more easily and expeditiously all his circulating customers. I really thought it my duty to interpose, and partly by remonstrance, and partly by threatening to put in execution laws (which by the bye I fear did not, but ought to exist), I got them, and all the books of that sort, removed out of his shop and catalogue at least, and he promised me they should not be lent or sold to any one. I hope he kept his promise; but, if not altogether, he no longer obtruded them on the unsoliciting eye. Would to God something of this kind could be effected at the fountain-head! And, if vile books cannot wholly be prevented from existing, at least they should not stare the modest reader in the face, as I think you and I have heretofore lamented. The perusal of such vile publications by milliners' apprentices, &c. in the circulating libraries of every little town is the general preparation for the brothels of London; so that the checking this enormity would probably go far to prevent the other.