Excerpts from a
258-year-old book written by the Englishman thought to be
the first advocate for gay rights have been discovered by a
University of Manchester academic.
from the School of Arts, Histories, and Cultures learned
of the previously unnoticed tract while doing research at
the British National Archive in Kew, outside London.
The 3- by 5-foot
scroll is a handwritten court indictment of the printer
of a book titled Ancient and Modern Pederasty
Investigated and Exemplified.
Written by Thomas
Cannon in 1749 and suppressed immediately after
publication, the book is an anthology of stories and
philosophical texts in defense of male homosexuality.
One story deals
with cross-dressing, and others are translations of Greek
and Latin homoerotic texts. It includes the passage
"Unnatural desire is a contradiction in terms;
downright nonsense. Desire is an amatory impulse of
the inmost human parts."
"This must be the first substantial treatment of
homosexuality ever in English. The only other discussions of
homosexuality were contained in violently moralistic and
homophobic attacks or in trial reports for the crime
of sodomy up to and beyond 1750."
He came across
the scroll in a box of uncatalogued legal documents from
1750. No copies of the book itself are known, but the
indictment scroll contained long extracts.
18th-century courts--who were trying to suppress
this--unwittingly helped publicize it 258 years
later," Gladfelder said. "I think what happened to
Cannon paved the way for 200 years of homophobic
Sodomy was a
capital crime in the United Kingdom until 1861; it was not
decriminalized until 1967.
"We know very
little about Cannon," Gladfelder said. "But we do know
he had to leave the country for Europe to avoid indictment.
Interestingly, his father was Dean of Lincoln Cathedral, and
his grandfather was Bishop of Norwich and Ely. He was
also a sometime friend--and rival--of John
Cleland, author of the erotic classic Fanny Hill, or, the
Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure in 1748.
Cleland was author of the only other text of the
period containing an explicit scene of male homosexuality.
"It's a fair
assumption that Cannon was writing for a gay subculture
at the time, which has largely remained hidden. Though he
lived in anonymity, possibly because of the notoriety
of his pamphlet, I certainly regard him as a martyr.
His life has many parallels with Oscar Wilde, who was
persecuted by the law, forced into exile, and effectively
silenced for being an apologist and advocate of
same-sex love. But in Cannon's case the silencing was
more successful: Virtually all traces of his life and
work disappeared for 250 years." (Gay.com/U.K.)