RESTIF DE LA BRETONNE, Nicolas-Edme. ~ Le Pornographe, ou Idées d’un honnête-homme sur un projet de réglement pour les prostituées, propre à prévenir les Malheurs qu’occasionne le Publicisme des Femmes: avec des notes historiques et justificatives. ‘Londres, chez Jean Nourse... A La Haye, chez Gosse junior, & Pinet’ [but Paris: Delalain,] 1769.
8vo (196 × 124 mm), pp. [iv], 7-368, complete with half-title reading ‘Idées singulières...’, woodcut floral vignette to head of p. . Contemporary mottled calf, gilt, sides with triple ruled borders, panelled spine with floral tools, morocco label. Evenly rubbed, slight worming to lower cover along foot of joint and (minimally) lower forecorner. A good copy.
First edition, second issue (Londres and La Haye imprint). Intended as the first of a projected series of works with the general title Idées singulières, Le Pornographe is an important early manifesto for the regulation of prostitution. It also holds a significant place in the historical etymology of pornography: meaning literally ‘one who writes about prostitutes’, being the first modern coinage of a word used by the ancient Greeks.
Restif issued the work anonymously, presenting it with a preface claiming that the idea was not a French invention at all but one found in the manuscript of an Englishman by the name of Lewis Moore. In a series of letters, the work presents an anatomy of prostitution, noting its inevitability in cities such as Paris and its dangers to public health and morality. Most interestingly, it then outlines a system of regulations, with well-managed maisons publiques, in which prostitutes are required to stay, where they are protected and cared for and where customers are strictly controlled. A major preoccupation is the contemporary anxiety over the (wrongly) perceived decline in population, a decline to which prostitution was seen to have contributed. Restif proposes that pregnant prostitutes be required to fulfil their pregnancies and that their children should be brought up and educated within the maisons publiques and to take up alternative professions when of age.
This early work by Restif encapsulates both his social realism his utopian aspirations, both of which became major aspects of his later novels.
The imprint is false and the work was published in Paris by Delalain, who sold the author’s works, but who deleted his own name from the imprint after the first impression. The two issues are identical save for the title-page.