Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Publish and Be Damned!

A contempory portrait of courtesan, Harriette Wilson.
Have you ever paused to wonder where the expression, "Publish and be damned" comes from?
In truth, I hadn’t thought about it, until I read the story of Harriette Wilson’s memoirs and the proverbial penny dropped.

In the 18th century Harriette Wilson was celebrated and adored amongst men - for Harriette was a courtesan. She was one of three prostitute sisters, banded together under the name of ‘the Three Graces.’

At a time when social etiquette was everything, Harriette’s attitude was:

“A fifty pound note is as good as an introduction.”
Frances Wilson's fascinating book on Harriette.
She was lively, extravagant and outrageous, and must have been like a breath of fresh air to some of the men who called on her services. She had many famous lovers whom she listed in order of rank:

“Dukes: Argyle, Beaufort, Leinster …..Wellington.
Marquesses: Anglesey, Bath, Hertford”

…and so on, working her way through Burke’s Peerage to the modest Esquires.
However when she fell on hard times, ever a woman of ingenuity, she channelled her formidable skills into writing an autobiography. She then sent copies of the manuscript to her high-born conquests with a note saying:

“Two hundred pounds by return of post, to be left out.”
Duke of Wellington, hero of Waterloo, commanding his troops.
One of the few men to resist this unprincipled blackmail was the Duke of Wellington, who reputedly scribbled:

“Publish and be damned” on the papers before sending them back. Accordingly, Harriette was less than flattering in her account of him in her memoirs.
The Duke of Wellington - looking slightly less heroic.
I leave you with a sample of Harriette’s style:

“Beautiful creature!” uttered Wellington. “Beautiful eyes, yours.”

Wellington was now my constant visitor – a most unentertaining one, Heaven knows! And in the evening, when he wore his broad red ribbon, he looked very like a rat-catcher.”


  1. Ah, so it doesn't mean Publish and face the reviews? :D

  2. Debra - No, it doesnt mean that, although it feels like it sometimes.
    P A Brown - I think Harriette had a certain sense of style when it came to revenge. Talk about girl power!
    Grace x

  3. Hmmm ... I assume you know that "The Three Graces" is also the affectionate name given to the architectural wonders aka The Cunard Building,The Liver Building and the Port of Liverpool Building which make the waterfront of my home town such a fantastic sight?

    Shades of Maggie May!! LOL Thanks for an interesting post


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