Whores and Gamblers, Gamblers and Whores

“The whore and gambler, by the state
Licensed, build that nation’s fate;
The harlot’s cry from street to street
Shall weave Old England’s winding sheet;
The winner’s shout, the loser’s curse,
Shall dance before dead England’s hearse.”
William Blake “Auguries of Innocence” (1803)

If you ask a modern man to define a “whore,” he will most likely tell you that it is an archaic and prejudiced name for a “sex-worker.” In other words, he agrees with Elton John that a whore is a “sweet painted lady” who is “getting paid for being laid.”  He may chuckle roguishly and mutter something about “the world’s oldest profession.”

We may suppose that our modern man is unaware that this jaunty phrase is itself quite new, first appearing less than a hundred years ago in the titles of two salacious exposés.  The first was a 1929 article by William Josephus Robinson, a “sexologist” and “freethinking critic of Christianity.”  The second was a 1932 book by Joseph McCabe, an apostate priest and “one of the great mouthpieces of freethought in England.”

In other words, the phrase “world’s oldest profession” was born as a slogan of progressive propaganda, and more specifically as battering ram for the demolition of Christian monogamy. Robinson and McCabe did not claim that whores were unique to Christian societies, of course, since, had that been the case, whores could hardly claim the title of “world’s oldest profession.” What they claimed was that there had always been a market for the services of sex workers because irrational prejudice had thwarted rational satisfaction of sexual appetites.

Christian monogamy just happened to be the irrational prejudice that was thwarting the rational satisfaction of sexual appetites when Robinson and McCabe were writing.

By using the word “profession,” Robinson and McCabe hoped to make their readers think that receipt of payment is the essence of whoredom, but traditional opinion held that whores for hire were but a subset in the much larger class of whores.  In fact, the Latin word prostitutus literally meant an unchaste woman, and a prostitute was anciently any woman who coupled without regard for public morality.

A prostitute was a promiscuous woman who gave herself to whomever she pleased, with or without emolument.

The word “whore” was, likewise, a general name for an unchaste women.  Chastity means purity through separation.  Thus, a chaste maiden was pure because she did not enter into sexual union with any man, and a chaste matron was pure because she did not enter into sexual union with any man but her husband (or even with him if his imagination started to run wild).  Whether maiden or matron, a chaste woman did not give herself to whomever she pleased.

If she did, she was a whore, whether or not money exchanged hands.

The ancient German root horas means one who desires, and in many of the old Germanic languages the cognates of whore denote an adulteress. For instance, in Old Norse hordomr (whoredom) means adultery; and we may suppose that adultery is very seldom a business venture.

Incidentally, many passages in the Old Testament make much more sense once you discard the modern idea that a woman must be hired in order to merit the title of “whore” or “harlot.”  Infidelity is what makes a woman a whore, a harlot, or a prostitute.  This is why such women were called abandoned women.  They were on the loose, untied, off the leash, and doing just as they pleased.

The Rake’s Progress, William Hogarth (1735)

Now, let’s go back to those lines from Blake.

 “The whore and gambler, by the state
Licensed, build that nation’s fate;
The harlot’s cry from street to street
Shall weave Old England’s winding sheet;
The winner’s shout, the loser’s curse,
Shall dance before dead England’s hearse.”

I take the gambler of these lines to be the male counterpart of the female whore, and take both figures as representations of personal licentiousness.  The whore does as she pleases with her loins, the gambler does as he pleases with his money. To gamble is, after all, to play with money, as we can see by its connection to the words game or gambol (and playboy).

Thus, the whore and the gambler represent threats to the two pillars of a nation that Marxist theory calls production and reproduction.  The gambler treats money as a plaything, and not as the capital wherewith his nation may renew its physical plant.  The whore treats sex as a plaything, and not as the means wherewith her nation may renew itself.

And to play with money and sex is to play with fire.

For as the “gods of the copybook headings” might say, money and sex are tools, not toys.  Blake, who is too often seen as a wild man, agrees with the gods of the copybook headings, and in the lines I have quoted reminds us of the remedy those gods have for any nation that forgets it.

They rub that nation out!

When the personal licentiousness of the whore and the gambler are granted a public license “by the state,” the “fate” of the nation is not hard to foresee.  Its physical plant will run down and its generations will dwindle, until, at last, the gods of the copybook headings arrive to wrap what remains in the self-made winding sheet, and haul it away in the hearse that has been waiting, so long and so patiently, just outside the door.

6 thoughts on “Whores and Gamblers, Gamblers and Whores

  1. Pingback: Whores and Gamblers, Gamblers and Whores | @the_arv

  2. Pingback: Whores and Gamblers, Gamblers and Whores | Reaction Times

  3. My topic is yours, JM, whoredom – although it might not seem so at first.

    My wife and I recently decided that our catch-as-catch-can collection of old, random, beat-up furniture qualified as less than beautiful and was perhaps even becoming something of an obstacle to society. (Who, thinking his domiciliary arrangements un-beautiful, wants to invite his friends to a party?) We wanted an ensemble of newer furniture to give a more beautiful impression of the room in which we like to hold our dinners and get-togethers. Earlier today we drove thirty miles south to Cicero, New York, to a large furniture store where we proposed to make a few purchases.

    I might heap praise on the natural beauty of the region of Upstate New York in which I live, at the confluence of the Oswego River and Lake Ontario. In the temperate seasons, the greenery is luxuriant; the coastlines of the lake give brilliant northward and westward prospects, and the horizons generate spectacular sunsets. In its cultural, as distinguished from its natural, aspect, the same region can lay claim to a few virtues. Oswego, New York, is an old harbor city, important in the French and Indian Wars, the War of Independence, and the War of 1812. It boasts a good deal of Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Architecture. The oldest and best-maintained of the Nineteenth Century public buildings are located on Water Street, but there are in addition many well-maintained old private homes of noble appearance throughout the city. Unfortunately there are also many run-down neighborhoods dominated visually by old houses that have been cut up into apartments by landlords who make a pretty penny renting out units through the services of HUD and related government agencies. There are also the usual unsightly strip-malls to the east of the city on Route 104. The next town south of Oswego – and my wife and I were driving south – is Fulton, which architecturally is even uglier than the ugly parts of Oswego. The furniture store which was our destination sits in a great swatch of strip-malls in the construction of which no notion of beauty or humanity played any role.

    On the way home especially, I remarked the alternation of forests and farmlands, soothing to the eye and to the soul, with the wasteland stretches of low-rise cinder-block rectangles that might house – well, I would have to say, anything. It might be a liquor store, a diner, a dirty garage for the changing of engine oil, a service-station with a convenience store attached, a travel agency, or (in the backward economy of economically stricken Fulton) a video-rental business. On returning home and visiting The Orthosphere, where I read your latest post, it suddenly occurred to me that the depressed mood attending my observations of the day found its explanation in your discourse.

    The ugliness of cheap architecture is whorish. The cinder-block rectangle with a metal roof, divided into stalls to be let pell mell, offers itself for anything and everything and usually for what is, in itself, generic, cheap, and ugly. The student rental properties and HUD apartments in Oswego likewise offer themselves transiently to anyone who can pay, or indeed to those who cannot pay, because they will not work, but have their payments subsidized by those who do work. The cut-up houses, which once were homes, swiftly lose whatever architectural graciousness they might once have possessed and become, like the aging solicitrix leaning against the exterior wall of the tavern, eyesores and blights on the community. The cinder-block rectangle with a metal roof never partook in beauty and constitutes both eyesore and blight from its beginning. Whoredom, of course, is undignified, as anything immoral must be, as well as being ugly. Indignity, utterly self-confidant, thinks only of tarting itself up, not of reforming itself; it has no idea of beauty, but only of effective meretriciousness.

    Syracuse, the nearest “big” city, crumbles away before the eyes of its citizenry, which apparently cares not at all. Oswego elected a new mayor two years ago on his campaign promise, which he is trying heroically to carry out, to beautify the city, especially those parts that face the main thoroughfare, whose houses, slouching on their foundations, all look like the whorehouses that (essentially) they are.

  4. As you know, I spent the bloom of my youth in upstate New York, and therefor know all too well the squalor of just about everything that has been built upstate since around 1970. I was in graduate school at Syracuse University, with whose surroundings Berlin 1945 might be favorably compared. I haven’t been back for several years now, but I was struck on my last visit that, apart from some gentrified islands, the whole place seemed to be sinking into terminal seediness. To tell the truth, this is true across the country, but it stands out in the northeast because there the stately architecture of the nineteenth century stands as a reproach.

    Here are some relevant lines from David Bentley Hart:

    “Once religious imagination and yearning have departed from a culture, the lowest. grimmest, and most tedious level of material existence becomes not just one of reality’s unpleasant aspects, but in some sense the limit that marks the ‘truth’ of things . . . ”

    “A culture–a civilization–is only as great as the religious ideas that animate it . . . . One need only turn one’s gaze back to the frozen mires and fetid marshes of modern Europe . . . to grasp how devastating and omnivorous a power metaphysical boredom is” (In the Aftermath, pp. 45, 59)


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