Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

It was to remedy these abuses that the Hardwicke Act was passed in 1753, requiring the publication of banns or the giving of prior notice of marriage. This was regarded, at the time, as an intolerable imposition.

Divorce, however, became no easier; those with a few thousand pounds to spare and the right connections could sometimes obtain a dissolution by promoting an Act of Parliament, but even in this case the classic reasons for divorce, adultery and impotence, were still not admitted. (Mrs. Weld, mentioned earlier, was not granted her divorce.)

Perhaps the main clue to the contradictions of the age may lie in the cavalier way in which eighteenth century man attempted to deny the claims of the unconscious, and in his repeated attempts to live by reason to the exclusion of feeling When the unconscious compulsions drove him to acts which were difficult to justify rationally, he produced a philosophy of sensuality to justify them. Naturally it was a Frenchman, de Sade, who, in the enforced leisure of a long imprisonment, carried this attempt to its ultimate limits: the three pillars of his philosophy were sodomy, cruelty and sacrilege. He praised Montigny’s “Thérèse Philosophe” (the story of a girl who defies every moral law and ends up on a bed of roses) as the only book to ally luxury and impiety agreeably. (192). For de Sade, blasphemy and perversion ceased to be a pleasure and became a duty: he was dominated by the need to defy moral laws just as surely as the puritan is dominated by the need to observe them.

For many, of course, simple promiscuity was enough. Thus, of Lady Melbourne’s six children, one was fathered by the Prince of Wales, one by Lord Egremont, and one by an unknown sire. (The story that Lord Egremont bought the right to her favours from Lord Coleraine for £13,000 is probably untrue.) The paternity of the Harley family was so confused that it was known as the Harleian Miscellany. (39). A balanced account would also note the persistence of Puritan feeling, which remained dominant in some parts of the country.