The Kama Shastra Society, founded by Sir Richard Burton and his partner, Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot, around the year 1882 was set forth as a secretive, educational society. This society published many written works, largely of erotic yet scholarly content of Oriental descent, including a translation of the Kama Sutra. Their goal they claimed was to “remove the scales from the eyes of Englishmen who are interested in Oriental literature.” The secrecy that shrouded the Kama Shastra Society and the men who founded it was based in necessity for the very reason the Society was founded. While outwardly appearing to be a scholarly society, the Kama Shastra Society was more correctly a method of circumventing the law of the day.
What Law Did The Kama Shastra Society Circumvent?
The Obscene Publications Act of 1857 also referred to as Lord Campbell’s Act was a major force in obscenity law in Great Britain. This Act had sent many writers and publishers to live behind the cold walls of a prison cell. The law also provided for the courts to seize and destroy any literature which was deemed to be obscene in nature. While the sale of obscene or pornographic literature was already a criminal offense prior to the institution of the Act, the Obscene Publications Act of 1857 made it possible to prosecute both the author and the publisher as well. This led to much debate over passing the law but with good faith assurances that it was only ” intended to apply exclusively to works written for the single purpose of corrupting the morals of youth and of a nature calculated to shock the common feelings of decency in any well-regulated mind,” it was allowed passage into the law of the day. Lord Campbell had originated the law while presiding over a pornography trial as a heated debate in the House of Lords over a bill aiming to restrict the sale of poisons raged on. He was struck by the thought that the two were similar dangers with a difference in purpose. While the literal poison could destroy the mind, obscene materials could very well destroy one’s soul. Once this thought had entered his mind he was quoted as saying the trade of pornographic material was “a sale of poison more deadly than prussic acid, strychnine or arsenic.” With a justice in power with those sentiments, it is easy to understand the trepidation of Burton, Arbuthnot and their peers to reveal the nature and activities of the Kama Shastra Society.
How the The Kama Shastra Society Get Around The Law?
Burton and Arbuthnot made it a point to defy British law when they published the Kama Sutra. Using a secretive meeting, they arranged with a publisher by the name of Payne to print the first copies of the Kama Sutra translated into the English language. Distributing these 250 original copies of the work, the made their identification difficult to ascertain. The trick to this was the reversal of their initials in the title page where they stated the text of the Kama Sutra was “translated from the Sanskrit and annotated by A. F. F. and B. F. R.” They justified their actions with the thought that millions of Orientals had access to the texts in one form or another, what harm could be done by English gentlemen merely reading the work. With that thought firmly in mind and their own identities sufficiently protected, they distributed one of the most controversial texts of it’s time amongst their membership. They had went through such extensive pains to protect their identity and the secret society that little is known of the society even today.