JOHN CLELAND (1710 - 1789)
John Cleland was born in 1710, the son of Major William Cleland, Commissioner of Taxes. He was educated at Westmister and joined the East India Company in Bombay in 1728 where he remained until 1740, having achieved some success in business. He returned to London in 1741 when his father died. A dispute with his mother did nothing to alleviate ongoing financial difficulties and he became a journalist interspersed with periods within a debtor’s prison. After the publication of Fanny Hill, for which he was paid £20, Cleland attempted to repeat its commercial success with the publication in 1751 of Memoirs of a Coxcomb which lacked the eroticism of Fanny Hill and, as a result, sold only a few copies. His later attempts at erotic fiction also fell into oblivion and he spent the rest of his days translating and writing poetry, plays and, eventually, scientific treatises. In 1779 Boswell described him as a lonely figure living in shabby chaos ‘drinking tea and eating biscuits… There was something genteel in his manner amidst this oddity.’ It was in such obscurity and poverty that Cleland died in 1789.