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Tuesday 24 May 2022

I am somewhat cynical about his claims to expertise

I have over the last year or so become intrigued by the popular - at least, from the number of copies of his works that turn up on the secondhand market, I assume he was popular - writer of works in the general field of sexology in the early twentieth century, George Ryley Scott (1886-1955). This was partly due to discovering a somewhat startling assertion in one of the entries in Scott's Encyclopaedia of Sex (1939) which made me want to explore how authoritative one might consider him.

On the whole I think he can be put down as somebody who made a good living (one presumes) from churning out works of advice on sex, marriage, birth control, and venereal disease, studies of Curious customs of sex and marriage, Phallic worship: a history of sex and sexual rites, The History of Torture, The History of Corporal Punishment, A History of Prostitution and Far Eastern Sex Life. He also wrote on nudism, the laws of obscenity, poultry-keeping, cock-fighting, and tips for writing. Many of his works were first published by T. Werner Laurie, characterised by Wikipedia as 'a publisher of books that were avant-garde in some cases, racy in others' or Torchstream, which seems to have concentrated on the racy.

He does not seem to be what one might call a practising sexologist: he was not a medical doctor and does not seem to have been part of the circles in which these discussions were taking place. He did apparently apply for membership in the British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology in 1927 but there is no mention of proposer or seconder and the application does not seem to have been proceeded with (Minutes of the British Sexology Society in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin).

The National Birth Control Association was not prepossessed by his work on birth control. EF Griffith reported to the Medical Subcommittee on 3 March 1935 'that "Birth Control" by G Ryley Scott appeared to be in every way unsatisfactory and inaccurate'; it was decided to recommend to the publishers to withdraw the book, offering a list of the current literature on the subject  'which might cause him to be better informed'. In May the Executive Committee sent a letter to Ryley Scott suggesting that he should refer anyone needing information to NBCA. Griffith undertook to try getting into personal touch with publishers to find out if the book had already been published; if not to consult a solicitor about writing a letter to publishers concerning the author's inaccuracies and suggesting publication was inadvisable (Family Planning Association Archives in the Wellcome Library, SA/FPA/A.5/2).

He did sport Fellowships of the Philosophical Society of England, the Royal Anthropological Institute and the Zoological Society, but these were all, at the date in question, open to any individual with a demonstrable interest in the subject, in the case of the Zoological Society provided they could obtain a proposer and seconder from among existing fellows.

However, these qualification were very probably sufficient to obtain him the entrée to the materials in 'Cupboard' in the British Museum Reading Room that would have been necessary for his endeavours. His obituary in the Central Somerset Gazette, 4 Feb 1955 mentions his 'intensive research (he spent hours in the British Museum)'*.

All this inclines me to scepticism. Maybe he was sounder on chickens?

*A further thought: I read somewhere - memory suggests it was a comment by the narrator in Hunter Davies' novel Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush (1968) - that if you copy from one book it's plagiarism; if you copy from two or more, it's RESEARCH.

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