The Yokel’s Preceptor

This evening I attended another Untold London writing workshop at The British Library, a free workshop part of the Write Queer London competition.

The event was framed around an obscure Victorian publication: ’19th century pornographer, publisher and jailbird William Dugdale wrote the Yokel’s Preceptor as a guide to gay cruising spots in Victorian London – very thinly disguised as a terrible warning to countryfolk’ (Untold London).

Cover of the Yokels Preceptor

The effervescent librarian Bart Smith explained the history of this rare work, of which there are only two known copies in the world, one under level 3 security at The British Library and one in a library in Boston, MA.

Bart photocopied a few pages and gave us a handout, the cover of the work is a typographic jumble, making a visual reference to bill posters of the same period (the book was printed and published in 1855 by H. Smith, 37 Holywell Street, Strand). The language is colloquial by today’s English, floral, florid, titillating and ostentatious. The twentieth century gay underground language of Polari comes to mind. The book attempts to make current slang accessible to the poor unsuspecting countryfolk so as their visit to the city should not be met with debauched and torrid incidents involving prostitutes, marjories (slang term for gay) and unsavory types of all persuasions:

‘Or, More Sprees in London! Being a … show-up of all the rigs and doings of the flash cribs in this great metropolis … To which is added a Joskin’s vocabulary of the various slang words now in constant use, etc. London’ (Yokel’s Preceptor).

Of typographic note was &c. used for etc. It is charming to see the ampersand used in such a meaningful way, even the etc. is a lazy device.

After Bart’s introduction, the founding editor of Chroma JournalShaun Levin, ran a workshop. We split into groups and spend some time writing a contemporary version, based in different areas of London. I enjoyed the discussion more with my fellow group members and couldn’t find any hook with which to begin writing. Unlike Kevin Maxwell (whom I met on the way in) who composed a delightfully humorous poem that made me think about where my writing strengths and interests lie.


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