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at length has the fiendish satisfaction to see the white page of chastity
“ Blacken beneath his touch, into a scroll
Of damning sins, seal'd with a burning soul." Seduced, perhaps, by the wretch she loves, possibly reduced to indigence, and unable to bear her agonizing feelings, the unhappy female has no resource but in a broken heart; or, entirely discarding honour, the last plank of virtuous safety, she plunges heedlessly into a sea of " delicious immoralities”—and pursues such destructive courses as must shortly, in a different way, terminate her deplorable career.
Women are ever in the extremes- either the best or worst of human creatures. When once the unfortunate female breaks down the barriers of chastity, the descent to the depths of infamy is quite natural—"une pente inev. itable l'entraine," says Rousseau-she arrives at the lowest degree of human misery, where she soon beconies familiar with every crime, although her heart had perhaps been born for virtue. No prosperity that is not founded on moral rectitude can last. That of the wanton is“ frail as the flower and fleeting as the gale;" the vice which supports her diffuses its influence on her conduct, and makes her squander profusely what she gets with profusion; indeed, one of the ordinary and just penalties of unlicensed passion, is dilapidation of fortune: Thus what has been viciously acquired, is heedlessly squandered; and the same vicious
circle constantly recurs, of wants, supplies and extravagance.
Many of the public girls formerly lived in innocent tranquillity, enjoying the peaceful pleasures of the country. Seduction, the contagion of example, pernicious books, and a heated imagination, induced them to desert the domestic circle and elope to the metropolis, where they plunged into the giddy maze of dissipation, with insatiable appetite and voluptuous avidity.
Dr. Colquhoun has calculated that there were on an average 60,000 women in London, “ who hang their lips like cherries out for sale”
I would not venture to present a detailed account of this proscribed class of human beings; for I know that on this subject a fastidious prudery is affected, by those whom abhorrence hardens against compassion, and a squeamish sensibility is assumed, by persons whose purity of imagination has not been sullied by the contact of actual depravity. In the sketch which I will present you, I shall omit every idea repulsive to moral delicacy, and soften the colouring of the whole, as the glaringness of the picture would overpower human sight.
The first class of public women do not deem themselves exempt from the rules which direct society, and the decorum which secures its members from contempt or detestation. They live in splendid apartments, where they unite fashionable and elegant occupations with the infamous details of prostitution; in their dan
gerous haunts, the lyre is swept by the fingers of Sensuality—and Virtue languishes or expires under the influence of the infectious sounds, which steal upon her unguarded ear.*
Next in order are the Cyprians, living under the care of matrons, whom, as Horace says, “luridi dentes turpant et capitis nives,”wretches tottering under the load of irreverent age and loathsome disorders, and who infamously prostitute the language of virtue and religion to their infernal schemes. In the comedy of the Minor, by Foote, the character of one of these hoary sinners is drawn with admirable force and vis comica, Mrs. Cole is thus made to lull the conscience of an innocent girl with the disgusting cant of a Methodist preacher: “Don't you remember what Mr. Squintum said? A woman's not worth saving, that won't be guilty of a swinging sin, for then she has matter to repent upon!”
The third division of this sad eventful history,” embraces the infesters of the play-houses and public gardens. Their behaviour in public, although not remarkably modest, is not such an outrage on common decency, as that of the females who hold the most infamous rank in this scale of unfortunate beings,
* All the dangerous arts of these Syrens are employed to collect and accumulate, during their transient hours of favour; but, with that inconsistency which marks the infatuation of vice, their expenditure is calculated upon a scale which, they think, gives the semblance of respect and dignity; and dazzles, by “miscellaneous splendours,” the scrutiny that would pry into their degradation and dishonour.
The lowest step of the ladder is plunged into the very mire of debauchery, and presents a nauseous picture of degraded humanity, Here wickedness appears in its native deformity, and the shudder of horror which runs through the veins, tells us that vice knows how to punish itself. Young girls, not above fifteen years of age! are seen parading the streets of London, and insulting every passenger with the most obscene and blasphemous language. After employing the greater part of the night in debauchery, they huddle together in some recess, and whine themselves to sleep. It is truly a heart-rending spectacle to see a number of these poor creatures lying together on some cold step, or in the porch of a threshold, some coughing, others shivering with cold, and all half-starved. Here they brood over the terrible catalogue of their sufferings, till, with the fiends of hell, they startle and tremble at the morning's light. " Ah, turn thy eyes"--exclaims Goldsmith,
"Where the poor houseless, shivering female lies--
In winter they sleep in the brickyards, where they lie, conglomreated (as it were) in each others arms. Some time ago, a number of young girls were suffocated in one of the brick
yards, to which they had retired to pass a very cold night!
These females, exposed, during their peregrinations, to the rude insults of the inebriated, the infernal exactions of watchmen, and to the inclemencies of the night, coniract diseases even when their dreadful trade does not produce them, At length, the unfortunate wretches sink into a degree of apathy, from which the excitement of ardent spirits affurds but a temporary relief. Colquhoun supposes that eighttenths of the common prostitutes die of rottenness and misery, and that they do not perish without having corrupted twice their own number of young girls and men!
Hogarth's Harlot's Progress is one of the most eloquent pictures ever presented to the world, of those forlorn wretches who gain their bread by the miserable trade of nocturnal prostitution. We find in the Rambler, in Candide and in Roderick Random, descriptions of their
way of life," pathetic enough to soften the obdurate hearts of the most outrageously virtuous. The following passage from a celebrat. ed work is very striking. The inmates of a brothel, after the debauch of the nirht, retired to their truckle-beds in the cocklofts, where stripping off every part, not only of their finery, but even of the comforts of dress, they were crowded three or four together, to keep each other warm, under a ragged coverlet, upon a bare mattress, where their shudderings and groans