The Publisher and the Prostitute

Harriette WilsonHarriette-1

Harriette-4Harriette-3John Joseph Stockdale

Above, left and right: notorious courtesan Harriette Wilson, who shocked and scandalised London society with her memoirs telling of her love affairs with famous and important men; bottom left: a carton from a facsimile copy of Harriette’s memoirs depicts the Marquis of Worcester lacing her stays; bottom centre: Wellington taking leave of Harriette, from the same source; bottom right: an unflattering cartoon of her publisher John Joseph Stockdale supposedly contemplating running off to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) rather than pay libel damages;

John Joseph Stockdale 

John Joseph Stockdale (date of birth uncertain but between 1770-77, died 16 February 1847) was an English publisher and editor with a reputation as a pornographer. He sought to blackmail a number of public figures over the memoirs of the notorious society courtesan, Harriette Wilson, drawing the famous retort from the Duke of Wellington, “Publish and be damned!” He also sued the parliamentary reporters Hansard over an allegation that he had published an indecent book and became involved in an important constitutional clash between parliament and the courts that ultimately brought about a change in the law.

The son of publisher John Stockdale and Mary, neé Ridgway, John Joseph was educated privately at a boarding school in Bedfordshire and in 1793 started to work for his father, being admitted to the freedom of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers on 3 August 1802, and afterwards taking up the livery. In 1805 he married Sophia, a niece of Philip Box, a successful banker, and he established his own business in Pall Mall in 1806, possibly with financial help from Box. He compiled and edited many books, including:

Richard Wellesley’s Events and Transactions in India (1805)

Eaton Stannard Barrett’s All the Talents: A Satirical Poem (1806)

Don Pedro Cevallos’s Usurpation of the Crown of Spain (1808) and Sketches Civil and Military of the Island of Java (1811)

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s second novel St. Irvyne; or, The Rosicrucian, A Romance (1810; reprinted in 1822).

Stockdale also sold copies of Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire by Percy Bysshe Shelley and his sister Elizabeth in 1810. In 1811, Stockdale, under the pseudonym of Thomas Little, published an edition of John Roberton’s treatise on the pathology of the reproductive system, On Diseases of the Generative System. Roberton was a radical and something of an outsider to the medical profession, and the book’s explicit anatomical plates, together with Stockdale’s louche reputation, meant that the book attracted some distaste and notoriety. Stockdale had in fact interpolated some additional sensational illustrations. In 1824, again as Thomas Little, Stockdale published The Beauty, Marriage Ceremonies and Intercourse of the Sexes in All Nations; to which is added The New Art of Love (Grounded on Kalogynomia), an augmented edition of Roberton’s 1821 book Kalogynomia, or the Laws of Female Beauty, a work that Roberton had himself published under the pseudonym of  T. Bell.


Stockdale was the publisher of the notorious Memoirs of Harriette Wilson (1825) which attracted crowds ten deep outside his shop, as Harriette was writing her memoirs in Paris and sending them across the Channel a chapter at a time. The work, detailing her love affairs with many famous and important men in society, could perhaps be described as being among the first “kiss ‘n’ tell” serialised memoirs, later to become celebrated in tabloid newspapers in the 20th century! Before publication, Stockdale and Wilson wrote to all her lovers and clients named in the book, including Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington and the hero of the Battle of Waterloo, and Henry Brougham, 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux, offering them the opportunity to be excluded from the work in exchange for a cash payment. Wellington famously responded with “Publish and be damned!”, a four-word exclamation that subsequently entered the English language as a household term.

John Joseph Stockdale died at Bushey, near Watford in Hertfordshire, in 1847 and his wife Sophia is thought to have made a further attempt to blackmail Brougham after Stockdale’s death

Stockdale v. Hansard

In 1839, HM Prisons Inspectors discovered a copy of On Diseases of the Generative System, well thumbed by the inmates of Newgate Prison. Official parliamentary reporter Hansard, by order of the House of Commons, printed and published the Report of the Inspectors of Prisons stating that an indecent book published by a Mr. Stockdale was circulating. Stockdale sued for defamation but Hansard’s defence, that the statement was true, succeeded. However, parliament ordered a reprint and Stockdale sued again but this time Hansard was ordered by the House to plead that he had acted under order of the Commons and was protected by parliamentary privilege.

The court of Queen’s Bench, led by Lord Denman, unanimously found that Hansard was not protected by privilege and awarded damages to Stockdale, HM Treasury defraying Hansard’s costs. However, when the Middlesex sheriffs attempted to enforce the court order, Hansard fell back upon parliament for protection. Accordingly, the sheriffs and other persons who sought to carry out the orders issued by the law court against the Hansards were imprisoned by order of the House of Commons. These protracted and vexatious proceedings were brought to a close only by the passing of the Parliamentary Papers Act 1840 by which it was enacted that proceedings, criminal or civil, against persons for the publication of papers printed by order of either House of Parliament shall be stayed upon the production of a certificate to that effect. Stockdale was thus finally defeated and the printer was indemnified.  It’s thought these protracted, drawn-out legal proceedings more or less ruined Stockdale.

A biography of Harriette Wilson is below…

“My own Wellington, who has sighed over me by the hour, talked of my wonderful beauty, ran after me . . . only for a single smile from his beautiful Harriette. Did he not kneel? And was I not the object of his first, his most ardent wishes, on his arrival from Spain? Only it was such a pity that Argyle got to my house first. . . .my tender swain Wellington stood in the gutter at two in the morning, pouring forth his amorous wishes in the pouring rain, in strains replete with heartrending grief.”
– – Harriette Wilson in her memoirs – –

Harriette Wilson (1786-1845?)
Harriette Wilson (née Dubouchet), known as Mrs Q, society courtesan, was born on 22 February 1786 at 23 Carrington Street, Marylebone, Middlesex, one of the 15 children of John James Dubouchet, a clockmaker, described by his daughter as “a proud Swiss, rather unpopular and a deep mathematician”, and Amelia Cook, a silk stocking mender. She showed her talents early, both for sexual prowess and financial acumen. Soon she was one of the most sought after courtesans in London. Harriette was an amazing woman. Completely independent, she turned down many an ardent suitor. She loved to walk and was often seen towing unfortunate swains all over town.

According to her own account, Harriette left London for Brighton at the age of 15, where she followed her eldest sister Amy’s example and became the mistress of Lord Craven. He was succeeded over the next 25 years by the Hon. Frederick Lamb, the Marquess of Lorne, Lord Ponsonby, the Marquess of Hertford, Lord Brougham, and many others, including the Prince Regent. For Lord Ponsonby she developed a genuine passion, recalling that “even the knocker of his door escaped not my veneration”.

She settled down for a time with the Duke of Argyle, but when he went to Scotland she became the mistress of the Duke of Wellington. Wellington drove her crazy. He was jealous of her male friends, and a poor conversationalist. But he was also extremely wealthy, so she stuck it out until she turned 35. At that time she retired from the business, moved to Paris, married, and settled down to a literary career.

Known professionally as Harriette Wilson or Mrs Q, her notoriety was great. After about 1820, she lived in Paris, making use of the diplomatic bag of Sir Charles Stuart to convey her correspondence to England, a practice discontinued by his successor, Lord Granville, who had previously fallen out with Harriette. She conducted a liaison with the Marquess of Worcester, whose father, the Duke of Beaufort, sought to extricate him with a promise of an annuity of £500. The duke then attempted to renege on the annuity, offering instead a single payment of £1,200, which created a lasting feeling of ill usage.

To gain her revenge, and encouraged by Lord Brougham, she determined upon writing her memoirs. She let it be known that an immediate payment of £200 would grant immunity from appearing in the volume, which payment was apparently forthcoming from a number of quarters, although it reputedly drew from the Duke of Wellington his oft-quoted riposte, “Publish and be damned!”. The book duly appeared in 1825 in four volumes as Memoirs of Harriette Wilson, Written by Herself, published by John Joseph Stockdale, James Murray having declined the work. The book ran to 30 editions in the first year; on its first appearance, demand was so great that a barrier had to be erected in front of Stockdale’s premises. Sir Walter Scott commented that “The gay world has been kept in hot water lately by this impudent publication … the wit is poor, but the style of the interlocutors exactly imitated”.

Despite its subject matter, the book was matter-of-fact and dull rather than salacious and pornographic, scandal deriving from the persons named rather than accounts of sexual adventures. The publication caused a number of libel actions, but none on the part of the celebrities named. Harriette Wilson and her publisher were believed to have made £10,000 from the book, leaving aside the cash payments for non-inclusion. She continued to attempt to blackmail her former clients by threatening further publications down to 1830, causing consternation at court and in high society. She engaged in other literary ventures, including bad novels.

Having acquired a comfortable fortune, Harriette Wilson retired and married William Henry Rochfort in order to free him from a debtors’ prison in 1826, although the Fleet marriage was not legally recognised. He had been a soldier in South America, and pretended to a claim to an Irish peerage; they lived in Paris at 111 rue du Faubourg St Honoré. Little is known of her subsequent life, although she is reported as returning to England “a pious widow”. Her date of death is usually given as 1846, but there is a death certificate for one Harriotte DuBouchet, aged fifty-nine, dated 10 March 1845, at 3 Draycott Place, Chelsea, which seems likely to be the correct date.

Harriette Wilson was described as “far from beautiful, but a smart, saucy girl, with good eyes and dark hair, and the manners of a wild schoolboy”. Although wide, her appeal was not universal: Henry Luttrell earned her hatred by refusing her advances and Byron declined her invitation to make her acquaintance. She was the most notorious of a circle of female relatives who shared her profession, including her sisters Fanny, Sophia, and Amy, and her niece Julia Johnstone. This last published in 1825 a commentary on Harriette’s memoirs, The confessions of Julia Johnstone, written by herself in contradiction to the fables of Harriette Wilson.

 (Adapted from articles at Wikipedia and other sources)


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