Why Attribution Mattered

A look at the printing business of the late 1600s: For sale: last surviving copy of ‘quintessential’ English pornography [pdf]

Sodom, described by the auctioneer Sotheby’s as the “quintessence of debauchery”, was penned in the mid-1670s and attributed to John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, the brilliant and outrageous Restoration court wit.

One of the most licentious figures of a licentious age, many of his plays were too indecent to be published. That Sodom, or The Gentleman Instructed. A Comedy, its full title, was produced at all is astonishing. Outrageously obscene in its sexual references, language and content, the printer hid his tracks by claiming it was printed in The Hague, giving the daft date of 1000000.

[…] “Although in every sense, and in almost every line, pornographic, the play has two primary purposes, one literary, the other political. One aim is the production of a hilarious burlesque, the other to satirise uncompromisingly the court of Charles II and the notoriously lecherous king himself.”

Authorship of the work has been the subject of much debate. Although credited on the front cover to “the E of R”, after the Earl of Rochester died in 1680, various works were attributed to him, by him or not, to capitalise on his notoriety.