...From the age of 14, he periodically marks the pages with an asterisk
that evidently indicates descents into the vice of masturbation.
"Shame shame that there shd be any sensuality when I know full well the
higher pleasures of intellect, yes, & those highest ones of Christianity,"
he laments at one point. But the asterisks continued, often accompanied by
references to "my worst temptation", "visits to sin and wickedness", and
"the passion to which I have given way".
In 1839, the diary records that he spoke to his father about his habit;
the next day he saw a doctor. How would he have been diagnosed? Perhaps as the
victim of a disease known to the Victorians as "spermatorrhoea". This was a
medical nonsense of the time (although one earnestly believed in) which
proposed that masturbation led to an uncontrollable flow of semen, which
eventually led to impotence and depression before culminating in total
As a remedy, various quack pills were on offer, as were metallic male
chastity belts - a specimen of these alarming devices is displayed in
The Victorian Vision. Whatever Clough was told or prescribed, his diary
tells us nothing, and it seems to have made no difference. The asterisks
persist, although the references to "my worst temptation" cease.