If I am surpassed in my love for the arcane, obscure and peculiar things in history, it is only by my wife Alice (who is not herself peculiar, and only occasionally obscure). Since we're both writers, our combined reference libraries are swollen with material that the average reader wouldn't pick up on a bet, but that we both cherish. A random traipse through our 240 linear feet worth of bookshelves is but a mere glimpse of the chaotic nature of our various interests. Mostly because we never know what we'll be writing about in future, and we've learned the hard way to never ever throw a book away. Ever.
Right about here is where I need to advise that Alice's new historical novel, Heart's Blood by Alice Von Kannon, will officially be released on April 21st, and we're in full promotion and publicity mode around Hodapphaüs this month. The story starts in Algiers and moves to Salem, Massachusetts in 1803 during the Age of Sail, when the little town once known only for its notorious witch trials had briefly become the richest and most cosmopolitan city in America. Her research material for this novel alone fills an entire wall of bookcases.
I'd be remiss if I didn't say it's available in paperback for pre-sale on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. To hell with E-books. It's not a real book unless there are a thousand copies blocking the fire exits in an Amazon warehouse in Lexington, Kentucky awaiting orders. At a paltry $8.99, you and your significant other need multiple copies for yourselves and everyone in your extended families. Buy extras in case you get quarantined for the Cornonavirus so you and your fellow medical detainees can start a book club.
'But', in the immortal words of the late Illus. Jim Tresner, 'I digress.'
Buried deep in the cobwebs of Alice's side of our research library is a 1970s reprint of a charmingly torrid Victorian publication called The Pearl: A Journal of Facetiae and Voluptuous Reading. The Pearl was a collection of erotic tales, cartoons, rhymes, limericks, songs and parodies published in London between 1879-81. It says everything about the Victorian period that teenage boys would go so far as to pore through Freud's latest journal publications desperately in search of new erotic vocabulary words, and hopefully a smoldering sexual fantasy description or three that didn't involve Oedipus. So The Pearl rose to that very occasion in its brief lifespan. It was a classic of its time, reveling in naughty stories about naughty schoolgirls, naughty college dons, naughty housewives, naughty vicars, naughty nuns and novices, naughty butlers, naughty maids (overwhelmingly French, saucy, and suitably attired), and other randomly naughty nobs and toffs, almost uniformly involving lots of spanking, just for, you know, being naughty.
The editor of The Pearl explained that he ruminated over what to call his new magazine for quite some time, and finally settled upon its present name, "in the hope that when it comes under the snouts of the moral and hypocritical swine of the world, they may not trample it underfoot, and feel disposed to rend the publisher, but that a few will become subscribers on the quiet."
The magazine was shut down by the English authorities after just eighteen issues for publishing rude and obscene literature during the infamous age of Victoria, when even the shapely, well-turned calf of a piano leg was allegedly deemed too arousing to the unbridled male libido to remain in the parlor unmolested if left un-sheathed. From all the nattering about such things, one irresistibly wonders if weary Victorian pianos everywhere might have enthusiastically welcomed a #metoo movement of their own. Naturally, after its shuttering, The Pearl became all the more popular as a prurient collectable over the decades, and then as a charmingly risqué example of Victoriana—especially since each issue was originally restricted to just 150 expensive subscription copies when it was published.
The poem The Lady Freemason first appeared in the 8th volume of The Pearl, and it had everything its subscribers, skin-flinty borrowers, furtive teenagers, naughty college dons and other fans of left-handed literature could want—smutty sounding stuff, imaginary smut, giggly allusion to really smutty stuff, and parody of Masonic ritual. It was fun for Masons and non-Masons alike. Non-members wondered what went on in lodges, and actual Masons DID know and were in on the jokes and the Masonic vocabulary. Which they probably found funnier than the smutty stuff.
It was tame enough for the Victorian Age, and yet inexplicably in the 21st century, it's probably not safe for work. Go figure.
In any case, with all of its puerile and snickersome Victorian sniggery intact, I present The Lady Freemason by Anon., forthwith.
Strictly Private, except to Brothers, BY ORDER, THE LADY FREEMASON.
As a brother of old, from his lodge was returning,
He called on his sweetheart, with love he was burning,
He wanted some favours, says she,
"Not so free," Unless you reveal your famed secrets to me."
"Agreed - 'tis a bargain - you must be prepared,
Your legs well exposed, your bosom all bared."
Then hoodwinked and silent, says she, "I'll be mum,
In despite of the poker you'll clap on my bum."
To a chamber convenient his fair charge he bore,
Placed her in due form, having closed tight the door,
Then presented the point of his sharp Instrumentis,
And the Lady was soon made an "Entered Apprentice."
His working tools next to her gaze he presented,
To improve by them seriously she then consented,
And handled his jewels his gavel and shaft,
That she in a jiffy was passed "Fellow Craft."
She next wanted raising, says he, "There's no urgency,"
She pleaded that this was a case of emergency,
His Column looked to her in no way particular,
But she very soon made it assume perpendicular.
He used all his efforts to raise the young elf,
But found he required much raising himself;
The task was beyond him. Oh! shame and disaster,
He broke down in his charge, and she became Master.
Exhausted and faint, still no rest could betide him,
For she like a glutton soon mounted astride him,
"From refreshment to labour," says she, "let us march.
Says he, "You're exalted - you are now Royal Arch."
In her zeal for true knowledge, no labour, no shirking,
His jewels and furniture constantly working,
By night and by day, in the light or the dark,
With pleasure her lover she guides to the Mark.