1829 · Adams, Mass.
The first book from the important early American radical birth control pioneer, written while the young physician was jailed in Worcester, Mass., for body-snatching corpses for dissection. Knowlton here advances an agnostic view of the material universe, with a minute look at the function of human physiology (and questions of consciousness, etc.) in making his argument that the entire universe is physical. Michael Sappol, in his article "The Odd Case of Charles Knowlton" (Bull. Hist. Med., 2009, 83: 460-498) describes the imprisoned Knowlton as having "a conversion experience, an anti-Christian revelation. Looking at the world through thoroughly anatomical eyes, Knowlton now came to understand that belief in the notion of immaterial spirit was rank superstition." The response to this work was of course hostile, and Knowlton--in debt to his printer, among other obligations--was forced to load up his unsold copies and launch an extensive book tour. While in New York, he crossed paths with Robert Dale Owen and Fanny Wright, and lectured at the Hall of Science; according to some accounts (see for instance Theresa Notare's dissertation "A Revolution in Christian Morals": Lambeth 1930-Resolution #15, 2008), Owen agreed to sell Knowlton's book if in exchange Knowlton would promote Owen's Moral Physiology. In reading Owen's Neo-Malthusian work on birth control, Knowlton saw an opportunity: "Knowlton thought that the contraceptive method Owen advocated, coitus interruptus, required too much sacrifice of pleasure on the part of the male. Accordingly, he began research for Fruits of Philosophy, which provided a survey of human sexual anatomy and physiology, a philosophical defense of contraceptive practice upon utilitarian grounds, and formulas for spermicidal douches, Knowlton's recommended method. Shortly after he published Fruits, Knowlton settled in the Berkshire village of Ashfield, Massachusetts, where his practice prospered in spite of conflicts with local clergy over his 'immoral works.' Knowlton's birth control manual sold well, and he was prosecuted three times under the state common law obscenity statute for selling it." (Inventory #: 16056)