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The Cannibal Club

The Cannibal Club was a Victorian gentlemen's club of iconoclasts who came together to discuss, create and collect erotica as well as to talk about controversial issues like censorship, homosexuality, women's rights and atheism. Founded in 1863, members included Sir Richard Burton, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Richard Monckton Milnes, Charles Bradlaugh, Simeon Solomon, Thomas Bendyshe, James Campbell Reddie, George Augustus Sala Edward Sellon and Fredrick Hankey.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Algernon Charles Swinburne, 1861, | Swinburne was born April 5th 1837. Happy birthday to L'Enfant terrible of Victorian poetry!

Pleasure Bound: Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism by Deborah Lutz. Lutz explores two groups that formed themselves around strong personalities: the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood gathered around poet-painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and the Cannibal Club founded by explorer Burton. These groups, she argues, created an opening for today’s more sexually tolerant society, especially in terms of acceptance of homosexuality.

I think the Cannibal Club would agree. lol

Algernon Charles Swinburne’s infamous Poems and Ballads. Literary critic John Morley called him “The libidinous laureate of a pack of satyrs” He went on to describe Swinburne’s collection of poetry as being “crammed with pieces which many a professional vendor of filthy prints might blush to sell.”

James Campbell Reddie was a Cannibal Club member and a writer and collector of erotica. His work Mysteries of Verbena House was likely inspired by his real life exploits with Cannibals Algernon Charles Swinburne and Frederick Hankey at the infamous London flagellation brothel Verbena Lodge.

The Highly Civilized Man: Richard Burton and the Victorian World by Dane Kennedy. Kennedy argued that the Cannibal Club had received unfair criticism by their contemporaries. “The Cannibal Club was much more than a meeting place for homosocial merriment; it was in fact a venue for venting what were considered at the time subversive opinions about religion, race, sex, and much more"

“The Lash that set their lyrick blood on fire/ The Lash that ever when they cry keeps time/ When stroke to stroke responds in glowing rhythm/ And still the humbled bottom hails the Rod sublime!” -The Flogging Block by Algernon Charles Swinburne, No one could write as eloquently about flagellation than this eccentric Victorian poet and notorious Cannibal Club member.

"Burton's tomb fittingly reflects his life. It is built of stone but shaped like a Bedouin tent, though this common description is not entirely accurate. The tomb is actually modelled on a tent that Burton had made for his travels with his wife Isabel to Syria. Apparently it's most important attribute was that Burton could stand upright when inside. The tomb is located in Mortlake, South West London, and both Burton and Isabel now rest there."

Explorer Sir Richard Burton was swarthy, mysterious and dark with a deep scar on his cheek from an altercation with an irate native in India. A romanic Byronesque figure, Burton inspired deep devotion from members of both sexes. Burton called the Cannibal Club meetings his “orgies”.

Sir Richard F. Burton on the Web

isidore-of-seville.com

The ever iconoclastic Sir Richard Burton wrote of the Cannibal Club: “We did not tremble at the idea of ‘acquiring an unhappy notoriety’. We wanted to have the truth and the whole truth, as each man sees it. We intended to make room for every form of thought, the orthodox and heterodox; the subversive and conservative; the retrograde equally with the progressive.”

The Bride, the Bridegroom and Sad Love, Simeon Solomon. The groom is embracing the love of this young boy behind the back of his bride. Solomon suggests that the heterosexual union of matrimony is not completely sexually fulfilling for the man. The piece seems to questions the divine happiness supposedly to be found in marriage of man and woman, and indicates the presence of male-male desire beyond the bounds set my matrimony.

Sir Richard Burton was a significant early contributor to the study of homosexuality with his preface to Arabian Nights called the “Terminal Essay”. He reported that the Egyptians were “famous for their enjoyment of male-male buggery”. The book was received as morally repugnant by the majority of English critics. Some reviews include descriptions such as “a morally filthy book”, “one of the grossest books in English history” and “Captain Burton’s Oriental muck heap”

The flogging block at Eton. It was Eton's practice of publicly flogging their young students that instilled in poet Algernon Charles Swinburne's his love of flagellation and inspired many of his works such as The Flogging Block and The Whippingham Papers

Richard Monckton Milnes, 1st Baron Houghton. He was a long time suitor of Florence Nightingale before she ultimately turned him down.

Richard Monckton Milnes aka Lord Houghton (1809–1885) His estate of Fryston Hall had a massive collection of literary erotica and became a gathering place for the Cannibal Club.

The first athiest MP; Charles Bradlaugh - MP for Northampton. In 1877 he was arrested and prosecuted for distributing pamphlets to educate working class women about birth control called The Private Companion of Young Married Couples. Atheist, feminist, unionist, Cannibal. I love this guy!

Charles Bradlaugh

spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk

Charles Bradlaugh was a Cannibal Club member and a staunch atheist. After refusing to swear an oath to God he was refused his seat in parliament. Bradlaugh successfully battled a five year legal case to take up his seat in parliament without taking the oath.

Simeon Solomon, ‘Self-Portrait’ 1859. Unfortunately, Solomon lived to see his name and work fall into obscurity after his arrest for sodomy. He ended his life in 1905 from complications from alcoholism, in extreme poverty at a workhouse in the infamous East End slum of St. Giles. When a cousin tried to take the ailing Solomon from the dismal place witty to the last, Solomon replied, “Thank you, but I like it here, it’s so central”

'Self-Portrait', Simeon Solomon | Tate

tate.org.uk

Simeon Solomon - Bacchus, 1867. Many of Solomon's depictions of handsome young men were criticized for their blatant androgyny.

Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene * Simeon Solomon 1864. Lesbianism, and Sappho in particular, was a subject of interest to many of the Cannibals such as Algernon Swinburne who wrote many poems about Sappho and her lovers including Anactoria.

Simeon Solomon. By David Wilkie Wynfield - Solomon was a pre Raphaelite painter and fellow Cannibal. An anomaly in Victorian high society, he was gay and Jewish.

Portrait of Algernon Swinburne by William Bell Scott (1837-1909) ACG was a technically-innovative poet who shocked Victorian society with the decadence of his work.  The Victorian establishment assumed that his morals matched his poetry, although Oscar Wilde claimed that Swinburne's degeneracy was a show, and he had "done everything he could to convince his fellow citizens of his homosexuality and bestiality without being in the slightest degree a homosexual or a bestializer."

Algernon Charles Swinburne, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Fanny Cornforth and William Michael Rossetti at Cheyne Walk. 1863.

Truth = Stranger than fiction. Sir Richard Francis Burton; The Original Most Interesting Man in the World