In The Widow’s Wager, Miss Esmeralda Ballantyne introduces Eurydice and Catherine to a scandalous little volume and guide to the Cyprians of Regency London called Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies.
Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies was a real publication, printed in London from 1757 through 1795, being updated most years. It was a guide to prostitutes and courtesans, complete with their names—perhaps with one letter missing—and addresses, as well as notes upon appearance, specialities and prices. The excerpts that Catherine and Eurydice read in the prologue are from editions of the guide.
The volume was originally compiled by Samuel Derrick, a linen draper from Dublin who came to London to pursue his dream of becoming an actor, dramatist and famed poet. In London, Derrick frequented The Shakespear’s Head, a coffeehouse in Covent Garden, whose chief waiter, one John Harrison, called himself the Pimp-General of All England. Inspired by this procurer’s own notes on the local ladies, Derrick created and published his own volume when in desperate need of money. There was likely an agreement with Jack Harris for the use of his name—although he subsequently published a competing title, which was not a success — although Derrick used his own observations. Derrick’s contribution remained anonymous for decades. It was a very popular little volume and it was believed to have sold 8000 copies per year in the 1760s. After Derrick’s death in 1769, the book continued to be updated by others, until its publication was ceased in 1795.
Hallie Rubenhold has written about this book—Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies: Sex in the City in Georgian Britain—as well as 18th century courtesans like Charlotte Hayes in The Covent Garden Ladies.