A series of pornographic poems hidden inside a serious volume of verse from the 18th century have been discovered by Oxford’s Dr Claudine van Hensbergen.
Van Hensbergen, who works for the English faculty, expressed her surprise at the discovery, stating that she was not prepared for what was to be included within a collection of poems she was looking at.
She commented, “To my surprise, ‘The Cabinet’ turned out to be a collection of pornographic verse about dildos.
“The poems include ‘Dildoides’ about the public burning of French-imported dildos, and ‘The Discovery’, a poem about a man watching a woman in bed while hiding under a table”, she commented.
One poem, entitled ‘The Delights of Venus’, involves a woman giving explicit details of the joys of sex to a virginal friend. Guy Tonkin, a second year English student, commented, “I found ‘The Delights of Venus’ to be reminiscent of recent crewdate chat”.
In the poem “A Panegyrick Upon Cundums”, Rochester writes about “Shankers, cordee and bubos”, or the swellings and general ills associated with venereal disease.
Van Hensbergen believes that the inclusion of these poems explains why ‘The Works of the Earls of Rochester and Roscommon’ was so popular.
The collection was a best seller in its time. Van Hensbergen said, “Knowing about the existence and nature of ‘The Cabinet’ throws a different light on why this particular miscellany was one of the most popular of the century.
“In brief, sex sells books, then just as it still does today.”
Van Hensbergen found the poems whilst carrying out research for the University’s Digital Miscellanies Index, a project which aims to create a free online database of 18th century poetry.