by Rex Wockner
University of Manchester academic Dr. Hal Gladfelder has discovered pro-gay writings from 1749 in the National Archives in Kew, England.
The five-foot-long handwritten scroll is a legal indictment of the printer of a book by Thomas Cannon called “Ancient and Modern Pederasty Investigated and Exemplify’d.”
The book — which contained stories and philosophical texts in defense of male homosexuality — disappeared immediately after it was published, but the indictment reproduces many passages from it.
One surviving extract states: “Unnatural desire is a contradiction in terms; downright nonsense. Desire is an amatory impulse of the inmost human parts.”
Gladfelder said the book “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.”
Gladfelder “came across the scroll in a box of uncatalogued legal documents from 1750.”
“[T]he 18th-century courts — who were trying to suppress this — unwittingly helped publicize it 258 years later,” he said.
Little is known about Cannon, but Gladfelder said he had to leave England to avoid indictment.
“Interestingly, his father was dean of Lincoln Cathedral and his grandfather was bishop of Norwich and Ely,” he said.
“It’s a fair assumption that Cannon was writing for a gay subculture at the time,” Gladfelder added. “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.”