A new portrait of Albert done by Roberto Venosa!
Will be on exhibit at:
Burning Man, Nevada,
Tis’ Saturday… and for some reason I am off to work again… hmmmmm. Anyway, a gift for today…
This Speaks For Itself…
Poetry: John Wilmot
Your Tax Dollars At Work: Operation Acoustic Kitty
This Speaks For Itself…
Poetry: Lord John Wilmot
A Woman’s Honour: A Song
Love bade me hope, and I obeyed;
Phyllis continued still unkind:
Then you may e’en despair, he said,
In vain I strive to change her mind.
Honour’s got in, and keeps her heart,
Durst he but venture once abroad,
In my own right I’d take your part,
And show myself the mightier God.
This huffing Honour domineers
In breasts alone where he has place:
But if true generous Love apppears,
The hector dares not show his face.
Let me still languish and complain,
Be most unhumanly denied:
I have some pleasure in my pain,
She can have none with all her pride.
I fall a sacrifice to Love,
She lives a wretch for Honour’s sake;
Whose tyrant does most cruel prove,
The difference is not hard to make.
Consider real Honour then,
You’ll find hers cannot be the same;
‘Tis noble confidence in men,
In women, mean, mistrustful shame.
Were I (who to my cost already am
One of those strange prodigious Creatures Man)
A Spirit free, to choose for my own share,
What Case of Flesh, and Blood, I pleas’d to weare,
I’d be a Dog, a Monkey, or a Bear,
Or any thing but that vain Animal,
Who is so proud of being rational.
The senses are too gross, and he’ll contrive
A Sixth, to contradict the other Five;
And before certain instinct, will preferr
Reason, which Fifty times for one does err.
Reason, an Ignis fatuus, in the Mind,
Which leaving light of Nature, sense behind;
Pathless and dang’rous wandring ways it takes,
Through errors Fenny — Boggs, and Thorny Brakes;
Whilst the misguided follower, climbs with pain,
Mountains of Whimseys, heap’d in his own Brain:
Stumbling from thought to thought, falls headlong down,
Into doubts boundless Sea, where like to drown,
Books bear him up awhile, and make him try,
To swim with Bladders of Philosophy;
In hopes still t’oretake th’escaping light,
The Vapour dances in his dazling sight,
Till spent, it leaves him to eternal Night.
Then Old Age, and experience, hand in hand,
Lead him to death, and make him understand,
After a search so painful, and so long,
That all his Life he has been in the wrong;
Hudled in dirt, the reas’ning Engine lyes,
Who was so proud, so witty, and so wise.
Pride drew him in, as Cheats, their Bubbles catch,
And makes him venture, to be made a Wretch.
His wisdom did his happiness destroy,
Aiming to know that World he shou’d enjoy;
And Wit, was his vain frivolous pretence,
Of pleasing others, at his own expence.
For Witts are treated just like common Whores,
First they’re enjoy’d, and then kickt out of Doores:
The pleasure past, a threatning doubt remains,
That frights th’enjoyer, with succeeding pains:
Women and Men of Wit, are dang’rous Tools,
And ever fatal to admiring Fools.
Pleasure allures, and when the Fopps escape,
‘Tis not that they’re belov’d, but fortunate,
And therefore what they fear, at heart they hate.
But now methinks some formal Band, and Beard,
Takes me to task, come on Sir I’m prepar’d.
Then by your favour, any thing that’s writ
Against this gibeing jingling knack call’d Wit,
Likes me abundantly, but you take care,
Upon this point, not to be too severe.
Perhaps my Muse, were fitter for this part,
For I profess, I can be very smart
On Wit, which I abhor with all my heart:
I long to lash it in some sharp Essay,
But your grand indiscretion bids me stay,
And turns my Tide of Ink another way.
What rage ferments in your degen’rate mind,
To make you rail at Reason, and Mankind?
Blest glorious Man! to whom alone kind Heav’n,
An everlasting Soul has freely giv’n;
Whom his great Maker took such care to make,
That from himself he did the Image take;
And this fair frame, in shining Reason drest,
To dignifie his Nature, above Beast.
Reason, by whose aspiring influence,
We take a flight beyond material sense,
Dive into Mysteries, then soaring pierce,
The flaming limits of the Universe,
Search Heav’n and Hell, find out what’s acted there,
And give the World true grounds of hope and fear.
Hold mighty Man, I cry, all this we know,
From the Pathetique Pen of Ingello;
From Patricks Pilgrim, Stilling fleets replyes,
And ’tis this very reason I despise.
This supernatural gift, that makes a Myte — ,
Think he’s the Image of the Infinite:
Comparing his short life, void of all rest,
To the Eternal, and the ever blest.
This busie, puzling, stirrer up of doubt,
That frames deep Mysteries, then finds ‘em out;
Filling with Frantick Crowds of thinking Fools,
Those Reverend Bedlams, Colledges, and Schools;
Borne on whose Wings, each heavy Sot can pierce,
The limits of the boundless Universe.
So charming Oyntments, make an Old Witch flie,
And bear a Crippled Carcass through the Skie.
‘Tis this exalted Pow’r, whose bus’ness lies,
In Nonsense, and impossibilities.
This made a Whimsical Philosopher,
Before the spacious World, his Tub prefer,
And we have modern Cloysterd Coxcombs, who
Retire to think, cause they have naught to do.
But thoughts, are giv’n, for Actions government,
Where Action ceases, thoughts impertinent:
Our Sphere of Action, is lifes happiness,
And he who thinks Beyond, thinks like an Ass.
Thus, whilst against false reas’ning I inveigh,
I own right Reason, which I wou’d obey:
That Reason that distinguishes by sense,
And gives us Rules, of good, and ill from thence:
That bounds desires, with a reforming Will,
To keep ‘em more in vigour, not to kill.
Your Reason hinders, mine helps t’enjoy,
Renewing Appetites, yours wou’d destroy.
My Reason is my Friend, yours is a Cheat,
Hunger call’s out, my Reason bids me eat;
Perversly yours, your Appetite does mock,
This asks for Food, that answers what’s a Clock?
This plain distinction Sir your doubt secures,
‘Tis not true Reason I despise but yours.
Thus I think Reason righted, but for Man,
I’le nere recant defend him if you can.
For all his Pride, and his Philosophy,
‘Tis evident, Beasts are in their degree,
As wise at least, and better far than he.
Those Creatures, are the wisest who attain,
By surest means, the ends at which they aim.
If therefore Jowler, finds, and Kills his Hares,
Better than Meres, supplyes Committee Chairs;
Though one’s a States-man, th’other but a Hound,
Jowler, in Justice, wou’d be wiser found.
You see how far Mans wisedom here extends,
Look next, if humane Nature makes amends;
Whose Principles, most gen’rous are, and just,
And to whose Moralls, you wou’d sooner trust.
Be judge your self, I’le bring it to the test,
Which is the basest Creature Man, or Beast?
Birds, feed on Birds, Beasts, on each other prey,
But Savage Man alone, does Man, betray:
Prest by necessity, they Kill for Food,
Man, undoes Man, to do himself no good.
With Teeth, and Claws, by Nature arm’d they hunt,
Natures allowance, to supply their want.
But Man, with smiles, embraces, Friendships, praise,
Unhumanely his Fellows life betrays;
With voluntary pains, works his distress,
Not through necessity, but wantonness.
For hunger, or for Love, they fight, or tear,
Whilst wretched Man, is still in Arms for fear;
For fear he armes, and is of Armes afraid,
By fear, to fear, successively betray’d.
Base fear, the source whence his best passion came,
His boasted Honor, and his dear bought Fame.
That lust of Pow’r, to which he’s such a Slave,
And for the which alone he dares be brave:
To which his various Projects are design’d,
Which makes him gen’rous, affable, and kind.
For which he takes such pains to be thought wise,
And screws his actions, in a forc’d disguise:
Leading a tedious life in Misery,
Under laborious, mean Hypocrisie.
Look to the bottom, of his vast design,
Wherein Mans Wisdom, Pow’r, and Glory joyn;
The good he acts, the ill he does endure,
‘Tis all for fear, to make himself secure.
Meerly for safety, after Fame we thirst,
For all Men, wou’d be Cowards if they durst.
And honesty’s against all common sense,
Men must be Knaves, ’tis in their own defence.
Mankind’s dishonest, if you think it fair,
Amongst known Cheats, to play upon the square,
You’le be undone –
Nor can weak truth, your reputation save,
The Knaves, will all agree to call you Knave.
Wrong’d shall he live, insulted o’re, opprest,
Who dares be less a Villain, than the rest.
Thus Sir you see what humane Nature craves,
Most Men are Cowards, all Men shou’d be Knaves:
The diff’rence lyes (as far as I can see)
Not in the thing it self, but the degree;
And all the subject matter of debate,
Is only who’s a Knave, of the first Rate?
All this with indignation have I hurl’d,
At the pretending part of the proud World,
Who swolne with selfish vanity, devise,
False freedomes, holy Cheats, and formal Lyes
Over their fellow Slaves to tyrannize.
But if in Court, so just a Man there be,
(In Court, a just Man, yet unknown to me)
Who does his needful flattery direct,
Not to oppress, and ruine, but protect;
Since flattery, which way so ever laid,
Is still a Tax on that unhappy Trade.
If so upright a States-Man, you can find,
Whose passions bend to his unbyass’d Mind;
Who does his Arts, and Pollicies apply,
To raise his Country, not his Family;
Nor while his Pride own’d Avarice withstands,
Receives close Bribes, from Friends corrupted hands.
Is there a Church-Man who on God relyes?
Whose Life, his Faith, and Doctrine Justifies?
Not one blown up, with vain Prelatique Pride,
Who for reproof of Sins, does Man deride:
Whose envious heart makes preaching a pretence
With his obstrep’rous sawcy Eloquence,
To chide at Kings, and raile at Men of sense.
Who from his Pulpit, vents more peevish Lyes,
More bitter railings, scandals, Calumnies,
Than at a Gossipping, are thrown about,
When the good Wives, get drunk, and then fall out.
None of that sensual Tribe, whose Tallents lye,
In Avarice, Pride, Sloth, and Gluttony.
Who hunt good Livings, but abhor good Lives,
Whose Lust exalted, to that height arrives,
They act Adultery with their own Wives.
And e’re a score of Years compleated be,
Can from the lofty Pulpit proudly see,
Half a large Parish, their own Progeny.
Nor doating Bishop who wou’d be ador’d,
For domineering at the Councel Board;
A greater Fop, in business at Fourscore,
Fonder of serious Toyes, affected more,
Than the gay glitt’ring Fool, at Twenty proves,
With all his noise, his tawdrey Cloths, and Loves.
But a meek humble Man, of honest sense,
Who Preaching peace, does practice continence;
Whose pious life’s a proof he does believe,
Misterious truths, which no Man can conceive.
If upon Earth there dwell such God-like Men,
I’le here recant my Paradox to them,
Adore those Shrines of Virtue, Homage pay,
And with the Rabble World, their Laws obey.
If such there are, yet grant me this at least,
Man differs more from Man, than Man from Beast.
A Letter from Artemesia in the Town to Chloe in the Country
In verse by your command I write.
Shortly you’ll bid me ride astride, and fight:
These talents better with our sex agree
Than lofty flights of dangerous poetry.
Amongst the men, I mean the men of wit
(At least they passed for such before they writ),
How many bold adventurers for the bays,
Proudly designing large returns of praise,
Who durst that stormy, pathless world explore,
Were soon dashed back, and wrecked on the dull shore,
Broke of that little stock they had before!
How would a woman’s tottering bark be tossed
Where stoutest ships, the men of wit, are lost?
When I reflect on this, I straight grow wise,
And my own self thus gravely I advise:
Dear Artemesia, poetry’s a snare;
Bedlam has many mansions; have a care.
Your muse diverts you, makes the reader sad:
Consider, too, ’twill be discreetly done
To make yourself the fiddle of the town,
To find th’ ill-humored pleasure at their need,
Cursed if you fail, and scorned though you succeed!
Thus, like an errant woman as I am,
No sooner well convinced writing’s a shame,
That whore is scarce a more reproachful name
Like men that marry, or like maids that woo,
‘Cause ’tis the very worst thing they can do,
Pleased with the contradiction and the sin,
Methinks I stand n thorns till I begin.
Y’ expect at least to hear what loves have passed
In this lewd town, since you and I met last;
What change has happened of intrigues, and whether
The old ones last, and who and who’s together.
But how, my dearest Chloe, shall I set
My pet to write what I would fain forget?
Or name that lost thing, love, without a tear,
Since so debauched by ill-bred customs here?
Love, the most generous passion of the mind,
The softest refuge innocence can find,
The safe director of unguided youth,
Fraught with kind wishes, and secured by truth;
That cordial drop heaven in our cup has thrown
To make the nauseous draught of life go down;
On which one only blessing; God might raise
In lands of atheists, subsidies of praise,
For none did e’er so dull and stupid prove
But felt a god, and blessed his power in love –
This only joy for which poor we were made
Is grown, like play, to be an arrant trade.
The rooks creep in, and it has got of late
As many little cheats and tricks as that.
But what yet more a woman’s heart would vex,
‘Tis chiefly carrried on by our own sex;
Our silly sex! who, born like monarchs free,
turn gypsies for a meaner liberty,
And hate restraint, though but from infamy.
They call whatever is not common, nice,
And deaf to nature’s rule, or love’s advice,
Forsake the pleasure to pursue the vice.
To an exact perfection they have wrought
The action, love; the passion is forgot.
‘Tis below wit, they tell you, to admire,
And ev’n without approving, they desire.
Their private wish obeys the public vice;
‘Twixt good and bad, whimsey decides, not choice.
Fashions grow up for taste; at forms they strike;
They know what they would have, not what they like.
Bovey’s a beauty, of some few agree
To call him so; the rest to that degree
Affected are, that with their ears they see.
Where I was visiting the other night
Comes a fine lady, with her humble knight,
Who had prevailed on her, through her own skill,
At his request, thought much against his will,
To come to London.
As the coach stopped, we heard her voice, more loud
Than a great-bellied woman’s in a crowd,
Telling the knight that her affairs require
He, for some hours, obsequiously retire.
I think she was ashamed to have him seen:
Hard fate of husbands! The gallant had been,
Though a diseased, ill-favored fool, brought in.
“Dispatch,” says she, “that business you pretend,
Your beastly visit to your drunken friend!
A bottle ever makes you look so fine;
Methinks I long to smell you stink of wine!
Your country drinking breath’s enough to kill:
Sour ale corrected with a lemon peel.
Prithee, farewell! We’ll meet again anon.”
The necessary thing bows, and is gone.
She flies upstairs, and all the haste does show
That fifty antic postures will allow,
And then bursts out: “Dear madam, am not I
The altered’st creature breathing? Let me die,
I find myself ridiculously grown,
Embarassee with being out of town,
Rude and untaught like any Indian queen:
My country nakedness is strangely seen.
“How is love governed, love that rules the state,
And pray, who are the men most worn of late?
When I was married, fools were a la mode.
The men of wit were then held incommode,
Slow of belief, and fickle in desire,
Who, ere they’ll be persuaded, must inquire
As if they came to spy, not to admire.
With searching wisdom, fatal to their ease,
They still find out why what may, should not please;
Nay, take themselves for injured when we dare
Make ‘em think better of us than we are,
And if we hide our frailties from their sights,
Call us deceitful jilts and hypocrites.
They little guess, who at our arts are grieved,
The perfect joy of being well deceived;
Inquisitive as jealous cuckolds grow:
Rather than not be knowing, they will know
What, being known, creates their certain woe.
Women should these, of all mankind avoid,
For wonder by clear knowledge is destroyed.
Woman, who is an arrant bird of knight,
Bold in the dusk before a fool’s dull sight,
Should fly when reason brings the glaring light.
“But the kind, easy fool, apt to admire
Himself, trusts us; his follies all conspire
To flatter his, and favor our desire.
Vain of his proper merit, he with ease
Believes we love him best who best can please.
On him our gross, dull, common flatteries pass,
Ever most joyful when most made an ass.
Heavy to apprehend, though all mankind
Perceive us false, the fop concerned is blind,
Who, doting on himself,
Thinks everyone that sees him of his mind.
These are true women’s men.”
Here forced to cease
Through want of breath, not will to hold her peace,
She to the window runs, where she had spied
Her much esteemed dear friend, the monkey, tied.
With forty smiles, as many antic bows,
As if ‘t had been the lady of the house,
The dirty, chattering monster she embraced,
And made it this fine, tender speech at last:
“Kiss me, thou curious miniature of man!
How odd thou art! how pretty! how japan!
Oh, I could live and die with thee!” Then on
For half an hour in compliment she run.
I took this time to think what nature meant
When this mixed thing into the world she sent,
So very wise, yet so impertinent:
One who knew everything; who, God thought fit,
Should be an ass through choice, not want of wit;
Whose foppery, without the help of sense,
Could ne’er have rose to such an excellence.
Nature’s as lame in making a true fop
As a philosopher; the very top
And dignity of folly we attain
By studious search, and labor of the brain,
By observation, counsel, and deep thought:
God never made a coxcomb worth a groat.
We owe that name to industry and arts:
An eminent fool must be a fool of parts.
And such a one was she, who had turned o’er
As many books as men; loved much, read more;
Had a discerning wit; to her was known
Everyone’s fault and merit, but her own.
All the good qualities that ever blessed
A woman so distinguished from the rest,
Except discretion only, she possessed.
But now, “Mon cher dear Pug,” she cries, “adieu!”
And the discourse broke off does thus renew:
“You smile to see me, whom the world perchance
Mistakes to have some wit, so far advance
The interest of fools, that I approve
Their merit, more than men’s of wit, in love.
But, in our sex, too many proofs there are
Of such whom wits undo, and fools repair.
This, in my time, was so observed a rule
Hardly a wench in town but had her fool.
The meanest common slut, who long was grown
The jest and scorn of every pit buffoon,
Had yet left charms enough to have subdued
Some fop or other, fond to be thought lewd.
Foster could make an Irish lord a Nokes,
And Betty Morris had her City cokes.
A woman’s ne’er so ruined but she can
Be still revenged on her undoer, man;
How lost so’er, she’ll find some lover, more
A lewd, abandoned fool than she a whore.
“That wretched thing Corinna, who had run
Through all the several ways of being undone,
Cozened at first by love, and living then
By turning the too dear-bought trick on men –
Gay were the hours, and winged with joys they flew,
When first the town her early beauties knew;
Courted, admired, and loved, with presents fed;
Youth in her looks, and pleasure in her bed;
Till fate, or her ill angel, thought it fit
To make her dote upon a man of wit,
Who found ’twas dull to love above a day;
Made his ill-natured jest, and went away.
Now scorned by all, forsaken, and oppressed,
She’s a momento mori to the rest;
Diseased, decayed, to take up half a crown
Must mortgage her long scarf and manteau gown.
Poor creature! who, unheard of as a fly,
In some dark hole must all the winter lie,
And want and dirt endure a while half year
That for one month she tawdry may appear.
“In Easter Term she gets her a new gown,
When my young master’s worship comes to town,
From pedagogue and mother just set free,
The heir and hopes of a great family;
Which, with strong ale and beef, the country rules,
And ever since the Conquest have been fools.
And now, with careful prospect to maintain
The character, lest crossing of the strain
Should mend the booby breed, his friends provide
A cousin of his own to be his bride.
And thus set out
With an estate, no wit, and a young wife
(The solid comforts of a coxcomb’s life),
Dunghill and pease forsook, he comes to town,
Turns spark, learns to be lewd, and is undone.
Nothing suits worse with vice than want of sense:
Fools are still wicked at their own expense.
“This o’ergrown schoolboy lost Corinna wins,
And at first dash to make an ass begins:
Pretends to like a man who has not known
The vanities nor vices of the town;
Fresh in his youth, and faithful in his love;
Eager of joys which he does seldom prove;
Healthful and strong, he does no pains endure
But what the fair one he adores can cure;
Grateful for favors, does the sex esteem,
And libels none for being kind to him;
Then of the lewdness of the times complains:
Rails at the wits and atheists, and maintains
‘Tis better than good sense, than power or wealth,
To have a love untainted, youth, and health.
“The unbred puppy, who had never seen
A creature look so gay, or talk so fine,
Believes, then falls in love, and then in debt;
Mortgages all, ev’n to the ancient seat,
To buy this mistress a new house for life;
To give her plate and jewels, robs his wife.
And when th’ height of fondness he is grown,
‘Tis time to poison him, and all’s her own.
Thus meeting in her common arms his fate,
He leaves her bastard heir to his estate,
And, as the race of such an owl deserves,
His own dull lawful progeny he starves.
“Nature, who never made a thing in vain,
But does each insect to some end ordain,
Wisely contrived kind keeping fools, no doubt,
To patch up vices men of wit wear out.”
Thus she ran on two hours, some grains of sense
Still mixed with volleys of impertinence.
But now ’tis time I should some pity show
To Chloe, since I cannot choose but know
Readers must reap the dullness writers sow.
But the next post such stories I will tell
As, joined with these, shall to a volume swell,
As true as heaven, more infamous than hell.
But you are tired, and so am I.
To this moment a rebel I throw down my arms,
Great Love, at first sight of Olinda’s bright charms.
Make proud and secure by such forces as these,
You may now play the tyrant as soon as you please.
When Innocence, Beauty, and Wit do conspire
To betray, and engage, and inflame my Desire,
Why should I decline what I cannot avoid?
And let pleasing Hope by base Fear be destroyed?
Her innocence cannot contrive to undo me,
Her beauty’s inclined, or why should it pursue me?
And Wit has to Pleasure been ever a friend,
Then what room for Despair, since Delight is Love’s end?
There can be no danger in sweetness and youth,
Where Love is secured by good nature and truth;
On her beauty I’ll gaze and of pleasure complain
While every kind look adds a link to my chain.
‘Tis more to maintain than it was to surprise,
But her Wit leads in triumpth the slave of her eyes;
I beheld, with the loss of my freedom before,
But hearing, forever must serve and adore.
Too bright is my Goddess, her temple too weak:
Retire, divine image! I feel my heart break.
Help, Love! I dissolve in a rapture of charms
At the thought of those joys I should meet in her arms.
John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (April 1, 1647 July 26, 1680) was an English nobleman, a friend of King Charles II, and the writer of much satirical and bawdy poetry.
Rochester was born in Ditchley, Oxfordshire, and educated at Wadham College, Oxford. Having carried out the Grand Tour, he became the toast of the Restoration court and a patron of the arts. He married an heiress, Elizabeth Malet, but had many mistresses, including the actress Elizabeth Barry. Shortly before his death, he had a theistic change of heart, largely thanks to the influence of Bishop Gilbert Burnet.
Rochester’s most famous verse concerned King Charles II, his great friend. In reply to his jest that:
“He never said a foolish thing, nor ever did a wise one”,
Charles is reputed to have said:
“That is true — for my words are my own, but my actions are those of my ministers.”
Rochester’s mother was a Parliamentarian by descent and inclined to Puritanism for possibly expedient reasons. His father Henry Wilmot, a hard-drinking Royalist from Anglo-Irish stock, had been created Earl of Rochester in 1652 for military services to Charles II during his exile under the Commonwealth; he died abroad in 1658, two years before the restoration of the monarchy in England.
At twelve Rochester matriculated at Wadham College, Oxford, and there, it is said, “grew debauched”. At fourteen he was conferred with the degree of M.A. by the Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, who was Chancellor to the University and Rochester’s uncle. After a tour of France and Italy, Rochester returned to London, where he was to grace the Restoration Court. Courage in sea-battle against the Dutch made him a hero.
In 1667 he married Elizabeth Malet, a witty heiress whom he had attempted to abduct two years earlier. Pepys describes the event in his diary, 28 May 1665: “Thence to my Lady Sandwich’s, where, to my shame, I had not been a great while before. Here, upon my telling her a story of my Lord Rochester’s running away on Friday night last with Mrs Mallet, the great beauty and fortune of the North, who had supped at Whitehall with Mrs Stewart, and was going home to her lodgings with her grandfather, my Lord Haly, by coach; and was at Charing Cross seized on by both horse and footmen, and forcibly taken from him, and put into a coach with six horses, and two women provided to receive her, and carried away. Upon immediate pursuit, my Lord of Rochester (for whom the King had spoke to the lady often, but with no success) was taken at Uxbridge; but the lady is not yet heard of, and the King mighty angry and the Lord sent to the Tower.”
Rochester’s life is divided between domesticity in the country and a riotous existence at Court, where he was renowned for drunkenness, vivacious conversation, and “extravagant frolics” as part of the Merry Gang (as Andrew Marvell called them) who flourished for about fifteen years after 1665. As well as Wilmot they included Henry Jermyn, Charles Sackville, Earl of Dorset , John Sheffield, Earl of Mulgrave, Henry Killigrew, Sir Charles Sedley, the playwrights William Wycherley and George Etherege, and George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.
In banishment from Court for a scurrilous lampoon on Charles II, Rochester set up as “Doctor Bendo”, a physician skilled in treating barrenness; his practice was, it is said, “not without success”. He was deeply involved with the theatre and was himself the model for the witty and poetry-reciting rake Dorimant in Etherege’s The Man of Mode (1676). According to an often repeated anecdote, his coaching of his mistress Elizabeth Barry began her career as the greatest actress of the Restoration stage. Modern scholars, however, have little faith in this story, which was first told much later.
At the age of thirty-three, as Rochester lay dying from syphilis, it is assumed his mother had him attended by her religious associates; a deathbed renunciation of atheism was published and promulgated as the conversion of a prodigal. This became legendary, reappearing in numerous pious tracts over the next two centuries.
Rochester’s own writings were at once admired and infamous. Posthumous printings of his play Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery gave rise to prosecutions for obscenity, and were destroyed. On 16 December 2004 a copy of Sodom (characterized as the world’s first known piece of printed pornography) was sold by Sotheby’s for £45,600. During his lifetime, his songs and satires were known mainly from anonymous broadsheets and manuscript circulation; most of Rochester’s poetry was not published under his name until after his death.
Rochester has not lacked distinguished admirers. Defoe quoted him widely and often. Tennyson would recite from him with fervour. Voltaire admired Rochester’s satire for ‘energy and fire’ and translated some lines into French to ‘display the shining imagination his lordship only could boast’. Goethe could quote Rochester in English, and cited his lines to epitomise the intensely ‘mournful region’ he encountered in English poetry. William Hazlitt judged that ‘his verses cut and sparkle like diamonds’, while ‘his contempt for everything that others respect almost amounts to sublimity’.