MASTURBATION AMONG MEN
Article by FV Everleigh
In 1732, a society was founded by nobility and wealthy gentry in Scotland, just outside of Edinburgh, in the town of Anstruther. It came to be known as the Beggar’s Benison, and like the Hell-fire Clubs in England, its pastimes were sexual. But unlike Dashwood’s society which focused its intentions on sacrilegious irreverence, the Beggar’s Benison dedicated expressed its irreverence through masturbation.
Consider the initiation ceremony, for example. A new member was kept in small room where he would work on obtaining an erection while waiting for a call into the main room. When the other members were ready for him with their own erections, a horn was blown four times. Once he entered the room, his erect cock was placed on a pewter platter and covered with a folded white napkin. Gathered members would then approach, two by two, and touch his cock with their own. Port was then poured into a toast glass and, after the initiate selected and read a sexual passage from the Song of Solomon, he was adorned with a sash and medal and cheered with the pledge: “May Prick nor Purse never fail you.”
This set the tone. There would be much prick.
At a time when masturbation was perceived to be detrimental to the body, these men gathered to chat, muse, and jerk off – ‘frig’ – into a communal platter. On certain holidays, the men hired local women to come in and undress, which was recorded in the society’s minutes, a goldmine of this secret society’s habits. Most of the women were young, one was “fat and well-developed,” another “shewed herself satisfactorily,” Betty Wilson was “a bad model and unpleasant” while Jane Bowman “behaved well; a capital form of humanity.” Unfortunately, according to one recorded anecdote, this ‘exhibition’ followed one of these women after she left:
In a rural Scotch Parish a Wedding is of rare and extraordinary occurrence. On this occasion it got wing among the Parishioners that the Bride was a heroine [posed nude], and after the knot was tied, and at the departure for home, some covetous damsel shouted :— ‘Ah! ah! that’s the Bitch that shewed her hairy Cunt and Ass to the gentlemen of the Beggar’s Benison for Five Shillings.’*
There isn’t any record of sex taking place – the emphasis seems to have been largely voyeuristic. The meetings often included shared masturbation at which time cocks and come were compared (“Every Penis exhibited and compared by erection and frig discharge”). The men came into a communal platter, the ‘test-platter,’ to collect the semen.
Documentation of the meetings exist from 1733 to 1738, but since the society continued until 1836, it’s likely that the remaining documents were lost, most likely burned (there are records of theft and burning). Here are a few of the notes from the meetings:
- Candlemas. 13 Knights present. Chamber tyled at 3 o’clock, and opened in due manner. One Feminine Gender, 17, was hired for One Sovereign, fat and well – developed. She stripped in the Closet, nude ; and was allowed to come in with face half-covered. None was permitted to speak to or touch her. She spread wide upon a Seat, first before and then behind: every Knight passed in turn and surveyed the Secrets of Nature. Afterwards the Sovereign closed the Chambers, after Repast in the accustomed form. Secresy enjoined upon faith.
- Lammas. 18 assembled and Frigged upon the Test Platter. The origin and performance were discussed. The Platter was filled with Semen, each Knight at an average did not ” benevolent” quite a horn spoonful.
- St. Andrew’s Day. 24 present. Every Penis exhibited and compared by erection and frig discharge, 3 Novices were tested. A girl of 15 appeared nude for a few minutes: she shewed herself satisfactorily and was engaged for next Assembly.
- Candlemas. 13 present; exhibited and animadverted. Two girls, 16 and 17, posed, exhibited, and danced nude. Nothing inharmonious.
- St. Andrew’s Day. 24 met, 3 tested and enrolled. All frigged. The Dr. expatiated. Two nymphs, 18 and 19, exhibited as heretofore. Rules were submitted by Mr. Lumsdaine for future adoption. Fanny Hill was read. Tempest. Broke up at 3 o’clock a.m. [Note: They procured a manuscript copy. Fanny Hill was not published until 1748.]
These men also gathered for conversation, with topics ranging from natural history (the gender of the earthworm) to sexuality (the nature of the vagina), and recited essays and anecdotes. They gathered for drinking, with numerous meetings ending in brawls. But brawling aside, it appears as though these meetings were venues for male-bonding and friendship (albeit grounded in cock comparison) and convivial fun. They even recorded some of the jokes told during these meetings:
Why is a woman like a mathematician ?—
Because she wishes to know the longitude.
Why are youths like ferrets ?—Because they
wish to creep into coney holes.
What makes women most alike ?—The dark.
Why is Eliza like a cistern ?—Because she requires plugging.
It’s aye a whore that cries whore first.
It’s a poor kin, that there is neither a whore nor a thief in.
Your heart’s wi’ the Lord, but your prick is in
Jenny Walsh’s cunt.
They owned cock-shaped drinking vessels, and their private iconography was thick with cocks and cunts. For example, the society’s seal included two pelicans feeding from a vulva “representing life,” and numerous small medals included a number of phalluses. Another seal, which was pressed as a medal, had “a Penis erect with a Purse thereupon, alluding to the Motto,” their motto being “May Prick nor Purse never fail you.”* An oval medal, worn by the members, included a depiction of a nude Adonis surprising a nude Venus as she sleeps with the inscription, “Lose No Opportunity,” and on the reverse, the two nudes together with the inscription “Be Fruitfull and Multiply.” These phrases were also printed on the sashes worn by members. And the society collected treasured artifacts, among them a snuff box containing the pubic hair of one of King George IV’s mistresses. They also had a wig woven from the pubic hair King Charles II’s mistresses.
While the Beggar’s Benison wasn’t fervently anti-religious, like Dashwood’s ‘monks,’ it did draw from religious text and, arguably, religious ceremony, to give its meetings a framework. The repeated inscription “Be fruitfull and multiply” became more carnal than holy in this context. Its members created an index of all the most sexual passages from the Bible for future (and frequent) reference, and the society’s own Bible was protected behind a lock inscribed with two vulvas.
The Beggar’s Benison persisted for just over a century, from 1732 to 1836. By then, membership and attendance had declined. The last meeting of the club met November 30, 1836 when all members but one accepted the proposal that the society be disbanded. For a secret society, and an erotically charged one, it’s still surprising it survived for as long as it did.
*Anon. Records of the Most Ancient and Puissant Order of the Beggar’s Benison and Merryland, Anstruther (1892).