ARISTOTLE'S MASTER-PIECE Aristoteles Master-piece, or, The Secrets of Generation diplayed in all the parts thereof..., J. How, and are to be sold next door to the Anchor Tavern in Sweethings-rents in Cornhil, 1684, THE ONLY KNOWN COMPLETE COPY OF ONE OF THE TWO EARLIEST SURVIVING EDITIONS
Lot 47
ARISTOTLE'S MASTER-PIECE
Aristoteles Master-piece, or, The Secrets of Generation diplayed in all the parts thereof..., J. How, and are to be sold next door to the Anchor Tavern in Sweethings-rents in Cornhil, 1684, THE ONLY KNOWN COMPLETE COPY OF ONE OF THE TWO EARLIEST SURVIVING EDITIONS
Sold for £22,500 (US$ 35,208) inc. premium

Lot Details
ARISTOTLE'S MASTER-PIECE
Aristoteles Master-piece, or, The Secrets of Generation diplayed in all the parts thereof., Containing, 1. The Signes of Barrenness. 2. The Way of Getting a Boy or Girl. 3. Of the Likeness of Children to Parents. 4. Of the Infusion of the Soul into the Infant. 5. Of Monstrous Births, and the reasons thereof. 6. Of the Benefit of Marriage to both Sexes. 7. The Prejudice of unequal Matches. 8. The Discovery of Insufficiency. 9. The Cause and Cure of Green-sickness. 10. A Discourse of Maiden-heads. 11. How a Midwife ought to be Qualified. 12. Directions and Cautions to Midwifes. 13. Of the Privities. 14. The Fabrick of the Womb. 15. The Use and Action of the Genitals. 16 Signs of Conception, and whether of a Male or Female. 17. To discover false Conceptions. 18. Instructions for Women with Child. 19. For preventing Miscarriage. 20. For Women in Child-bed. 21. Of ordering New-born Infants, and many other very useful particulars: to which is added a Word of Advice to both Sexes in the Act of Copulation: and the Pictures of several Monsterous Births drawn to the Life, FIRST EDITION, setting with line 11 of title ending 'reasons', woodcut frontispiece of a hairy woman and a black child born to white parents, 6 woodcuts of monstruous births (including repeat of frontispiece) at end, with the blank H12, occasional worm-trails and staining, a few leaves cropped, the woodcuts with holes, tears and chips (slight loss to 4 of the images, the last with loss of text), contemporary sheep, binding loose (text block separated in 2), upper cover with slight loss to lower half of outer edge [Wing A3697fA], 12mo, J. How, and are to be sold next door to the Anchor Tavern in Sweethings-rents in Cornhil, 1684

Footnotes

  • "THE DIRTY BOOK OF THE EARLY MODERN PERIOD": THE ONLY KNOWN COMPLETE COPY OF ONE OF THE TWO EARLIEST EDITIONS OF THE MOST NOTORIOUS SEX MANUAL OF THE AGE.

    "Aristotle's Masterpiece was the most popular book about women's bodies, sex, pregnancy, and childbirth in Britain and America from its first appearance in 1684 up to at least the 1870s. More than 250 editions are known, but all are very rare... It was sold furtively by country peddlers and in general stores and taverns; regular booksellers seldom advertised it, though they usually had it under the counter" (The Library Company of Philadeplphia, 'Treasures', online catalogue).

    The work was in fact assembled from Levinus Lemnius's The Secret Miracles of Nature (1564) and Jakob Rüff's midwifery manual De conceptu et generatione hominis (1554). The attribution to Aristotle is totally spurious and was probably a vain attempt to give the work some measure of respectability; but although it was effectively banned until the mid-twentieth century, the prohibition didn't keep it from circulating: it was reprinted endlessly until the early twentieth century and became one of the most notorious and widely distributed sex books in the English language, right up to the 1960s. Such enduring popularity was partly due to the practical advice on pregnancy and the care of infants, and partly to its rather sensationalised descriptions of the sexual act and forms of monstrosity.

    The present copy is the only one of this particular edition known to have survived, there being two distinct editions dated 1684 with different settings of the title-pages, the priority of which has not been established. Ours has line 11 ending 'reasons' rather than 'sexes', and the word 'Swee/things' rather than 'Sweetings' in the imprint. ESTC notes these variations, but not the fact that the entire text is in two different settings throughout.

    We have traced one complete copy of the other 1684 edition, sold by Maggs in 2011 (Catalogue 1447, 'Wing Books Printed in England 1641-1700 From the Library of James Stevens Cox', item 11). ESTC records seven copies of the two editions (British Library, Guildhall Library, Royal College of Surgeons, University of Pennsylvania, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Yale University, 2 copies), but all are incomplete to varying degrees.
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