14 AUGUST 1964, Page 19

All Good Fun

A History of Pornography. By H. Montgomery Hyde. (Heinemann, 25s.) H. MONTGOMERY HYDE'S A History of Por- nography is a study of the provenance, content and distribution of sexual writing, whether this be scientific, 'scientific,' serious literature with an erotic flavour, or sheer hard-core pornography. He covers the historical ground from the Bible

• to the Olympia Press; and he has some straight- forward things to say on the moral, social and • legal issues as canvassed (or ignored) down the ages.

• Although this book is neither original nor pro- found, it is good-humoured and sensible throughout. Mr. Montgomery Hyde is on the Side of tolerance and fun : "'Both boys and Women are good for, pleasure," is [Lucian's] con- sidered view of the matter. And there perhaps it is as well to leave it.' There is more practical Wisdom in this brief comment than in all the White Papers or psychological theses ever written. It only people would mind their own business.

• . But, of course, this amiable attitude, whether to sex itself or to what is written about it, is not a new one. As Mr. Montgomery Hyde points .out, it was the standard attitude of all educated men until St. Paul and the Fathers started their dismal nagging. Even then, things still went Pretty well with erotic writers, for the Church Was concerned to suppress blasphemy rather than smut, until, in the nineteenth century, a newly Powerful middle class raised its protest out of Sheer love of interference. And there, as our author might say with a permissive shrug, it is Perhaps as well to leave it. Mr. Montgomery Hyde himself leaves it with the observation that there is little evidence that pornography ever did any harm to anybody. Conceivably it may encourage people to masturbate : and what if it does? (My question, not Mr. Montgomery Hyde's, though he certainly implies it.) Was there ever a less expensive or more peaceable amuse- Merit?

° There are some pleasing curiosities for good measure. Did you know that Gilbert and Sullivan Wrote a dirty piece—The Sod's Opera? That Plum was guilty, not of what we call onanism, NI of coitus interruptus? Or that Aretino is alleged to have died of a fit of laughter on hearing an indecent story about his sister?