The Man: John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester

This man was so epic, the only person who could begin to capture his level of swag was Johnny Depp in the 2004 film The Libertine. And this guy was an absolute asshole. The biggest douche you could ever hope to meet, while still a genius writer and all-around geezer. Famously, he was one of Charles II’s drinking buddies in the English Court during the Restoration, when people had just recently become free from the strickt puritan rule of the Commonwealth, and were in the mood for fun, theatre, poetry, drinking, lampoons and getting your clam or rod out at the drop of a hat.

John and the monkey. Notice how the little shit is offering him a page of verse.

John and the monkey. Notice how the little shit is offering him a page of verse.

He is celebrated as one of the genious libertines of the 17th century, influenced by Hobbesian philosophy, John Milton and French Libertines, and in turn influenced the writings of Swift and Dafoe, among others. Unlike his good drinking buddy/occasional literary and personal enemy John Dryden, Rochester did not celebrate Restoration society or Charles’s rule (cf. Annus Mirabilis), but rather was a miserable, misanthropic bastard, cynical as the day is long and depraved as the weather is shite, believed that the King’s rule was failed and the future absolutely bleak. His poetry is sometimes referred to as apocalyptic poetry or decadent sublime, partially influenced by the times he lived in, such as witnessing the Great Fire of London in 1666, or watching the inefficient tottering of his drunken Monarch. He was banished from Charles’s court on several occasions, always eventually forgiven and called back.

In his personal life, he was mainly a cunt: fought bitterly and constantly with his peers, was an alcoholic most of his adult life, started plenty of fights and left others to fight them (one time leading to the death of his friend Mr. Downes), and generally was quite rude to people until his death-bed conversion and untimely demise from a combination of alcohol, syphilis, gonorrhea and other assorted ailments.

Johnny Depp with his cool hairdo

Johnny Depp with his cool hairdo

His literary production is bloody brilliant though. The first things I read were the “Disabled Debauchee” and “Satyr against Reason and Mankind”, and istantly loved them. They were dark, sarcastic, pessimistic and ultimately funny as anything. Sometimes he would fall too deep into his own bile, but mostly it’s all good. Most of his works should be easily found Online or printed, I got his complete works in ebook form from Project Gutenberg.

Here’s one source:

http://www.luminarium.org/eightlit/rochester/wilmotbib.htm

One of my favourites is A Satyr on Charles II, which deserved him to fall from the King’s graces for a time. This was quite falsely presented in The Libertine, the true story is he wrote this while getting pissed in the Court, and accidentally (being seriously inebriated at the time), handed it to the King himself when he thought he was handing it to one of his poet friends. Understandably, hilarity followed.

Source: http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Texts/charles2.html

In th’ isle of Britain, long since famous grown
For breeding the best cunts in Christendom,
There reigns, and oh! long may he reign and thrive,
The easiest King and best-bred man alive.
Him no ambition moves to get renown
Like the French fool, that wanders up and down
Starving his people, hazarding his crown.
Peace is his aim, his gentleness is such,
And love he loves, for he loves fucking much.

    Nor are his high desires above his strength:
His scepter and his prick are of a length;
And she may sway the one who plays with th’ other,
And make him little wiser than his brother.
Poor Prince! thy prick, like thy buffoons at Court,
Will govern thee because it makes thee sport.
‘Tis sure the sauciest prick that e’er did swive,
The proudest, peremptoriest prick alive.
Though safety, law, religion, life lay on ‘t,
‘Twould break through all to make its way to cunt.
Restless he rolls about from whore to whore,
A merry monarch, scandalous and poor.

    To Carwell, the most dear of all his dears,
The best relief of his declining years,
Oft he bewails his fortune, and her fate:
To love so well, and be beloved so late.
For though in her he settles well his tarse,
Yet his dull, graceless bollocks hang an arse.
This you’d believe, had I but time to tell ye
The pains it costs to poor, laborious Nelly,
Whilst she employs hands, fingers, mouth, and thighs,
Ere she can raise the member she enjoys.
    All monarchs I hate, and the thrones they sit on,
    From the hector of France to the cully of Britain.

Another piece I absolutely recommend is A Satyr Against Reason and Mankind, another brilliant one, where you can definately see the influence from Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan.

Source: http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Texts/mankind.html

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 pleased to wear,
I’d be a dog, a monkey, or a bear, [5]
Or anything 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 prefer [10]
Reason, which fifty times for one does err;
Reason, an ignis fatuus of the mind,
Which, leaving light of nature, sense, behind,
Pathless and dangerous wand’ring ways it takes
Through error’s fenny bogs and thorny brakes; [15]
Whilst the misguided follower climbs with pain
Mountains of whimseys, heaped in his own brain;
Stumbling from thought to thought, falls headlong down
Into doubt’s boundless sea where, like to drown,
Books bear him up awhile, and make him try [20]
To swim with bladders of philosophy;
In hopes still to o’ertake th’ escaping light;
The vapour dances in his dazzling sight
Till, spent, it leaves him to eternal night.
Then old age and experience, hand in hand, [25]
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.
Huddled in dirt the reasoning engine lies,
Who was so proud, so witty, and so wise. [30]

Pride drew him in, as cheats their bubbles catch,
And made him venture to be made a wretch.
His wisdom did his happiness destroy,
Aiming to know that world he should enjoy.
And wit was his vain, frivolous pretense [35]
Of pleasing others at his own expense.
For wits are treated just like common whores:
First they’re enjoyed, and then kicked out of doors.
The pleasure past, a threatening doubt remains
That frights th’ enjoyer with succeeding pains. [40]
Women and men of wit are dangerous tools,
And ever fatal to admiring fools:
Pleasure allures, and when the fops escape,
‘Tis not that they’re beloved, but fortunate,
And therefore what they fear, at heart they hate. [45]

But now, methinks, some formal band and beard
Takes me to task. Come on, sir; I’m prepared.

“Then, by your favor, anything that’s writ
Against this gibing, jingling knack called wit
Likes me abundantly; but you take care [50]
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, [55]
But your grand indiscretion bids me stay
And turns my tide of ink another way.

“What rage ferments in your degenerate mind
To make you rail at reason and mankind?
Blest, glorious man! to whom alone kind heaven [60]
An everlasting soul has freely given,
Whom his great Maker took such care to make
That from himself he did the image take
And this fair frame in shining reason dressed
To dignify his nature above beast; [65]
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 heaven and hell, Find out what’s acted there, [70]
And give the world true grounds of hope and fear.”

Hold, mighty man, I cry, all this we know
From the pathetic pen of Ingelo;
From Patrick’s Pilgrim, Sibbes’ soliloquies,
And ’tis this very reason I despise: [75]
This supernatural gift, that makes a mite
Think he’s an image of the infinite,
Comparing his short life, void of all rest,
To the eternal and the ever blest;
This busy, puzzling stirrer-up of doubt [80]
That frames deep mysteries, then finds ’em out,
Filling with frantic crowds of thinking fools
Those reverend bedlams, colleges and schools;
Borne on whose wings, each heavy sot can pierce
The limits of the boundless universe; [85]
So charming ointments make an old witch fly
And bear a crippled carcass through the sky.
‘Tis this exalted power, whose business lies
In nonsense and impossibilities,
This made a whimsical philosopher [90]
Before the spacious world, his tub prefer,
And we have modern cloistered coxcombs who
Retire to think ’cause they have nought to do.

But thoughts are given for action’s government;
Where action ceases, thought’s impertinent: [95]
Our sphere of action is life’s happiness,
And he that thinks beyond, thinks like an ass.
Thus, whilst against false reasoning I inveigh,
I own right reason, which I would obey:
That reason which distinguishes by sense [100]
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 to enjoy,
Renewing appetites yours would destroy. [105]
My reason is my friend, yours is a cheat;
Hunger calls out, my reason bids me eat;
Perversely, yours your appetite does mock:
This asks for food, that answers, “What’s o’clock?”
This plain distinction, sir, your doubt secures: [110]
‘Tis not true reason I despise, but yours.

Thus I think reason righted, but for man,
I’ll ne’er recant; defend him if you can.
For all his pride and his philosophy,
‘Tis evident beasts are, in their own degree, [115]
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 the hares
Better than Meres supplies committee chairs, [120]
Though one’s a statesman, th’ other but a hound,
Jowler, in justice, would be wiser found.

You see how far man’s wisdom here extends;
Look next if human nature makes amends:
Whose principles most generous are, and just, [125]
And to whose morals you would sooner trust.
Be judge yourself, I’ll 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. [130]
Pressed by necessity, they kill for food;
Man undoes man to do himself no good.
With teeth and claws by nature armed, they hunt
Nature’s allowance, to supply their want.
But man, with smiles, embraces, friendship, praise, [135]
Inhumanly his fellow’s life betrays;
With voluntary pains works his distress,
Not through necessity, but wantonness.

For hunger or for love they fight and tear,
Whilst wretched man is still in arms for fear. [140]
For fear he arms, and is of arms afraid,
From fear, to fear successively betrayed;
Base fear, the source whence his best passions came:
His boasted honor, and his dear-bought fame;
The lust of power, to which he’s such a slave, [145]
And for the which alone he dares be brave;
To which his various projects are designed;
Which makes him generous, affable, and kind;
For which he takes such pains to be thought wise,
And screws his actions in a forced disguise, [150]
Leading a tedious life in misery
Under laborious, mean hypocrisy.
Look to the bottom of his vast design,
Wherein man’s wisdom, power, and glory join:
The good he acts, the ill he does endure, [155]
‘Tis all from fear, to make himself secure.
Merely for safety, after fame we thirst,
For all men would be cowards if they durst.

And honesty’s against all common sense:
Men must be knaves, ’tis in their own defence. [160]
Mankind’s dishonest; if you think it fair
Among known cheats to play upon the square,
You’ll be undone.
Nor can weak truth your reputation save:
The knaves will all agree to call you knave. [165]
Wronged shall he live, insulted o’er, oppressed,
Who dares be less a villain than the rest.

Thus sir, you see what human nature craves:
Most men are cowards, all men should be knaves.
The difference lies, as far as I can see, [170]
Not in the thing itself, 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 hurled
At the pretending part of the proud world, [175]
Who, swollen with selfish vanity, devise
False freedoms, holy cheats, and formal lies
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) [180]
Who does his needful flattery direct,
Not to oppress and ruin, but protect
(Since flattery, which way soever laid,
Is still a tax on that unhappy trade);
If so upright a statesman you can find, [185]
Whose passions bend to his unbiased mind,
Who does his arts and policies apply
To raise his country, not his family,
Nor, whilst his pride owned avarice withstands,
Receives close bribes through friends’ corrupted hands— [190]

Is there a churchman who on God relies;
Whose life, his faith and doctrine justifies?
Not one blown up with vain prelatic pride,
Who, for reproof of sins, does man deride;
Whose envious heart makes preaching a pretense, [195]
With his obstreperous, saucy eloquence,
To chide at kings, and rail at men of sense;
None of that sensual tribe whose talents lie
In avarice, pride, sloth, and gluttony;
Who hunt good livings, but abhor good lives; [200]
Whose lust exalted to that height arrives
They act adultery with their own wives,
And ere a score of years completed be,
Can from the lofty pulpit proudly see
Half a large parish their own progeny; [205]
Nor doting bishop, who would be adored
For domineering at the council board,
A greater fop in business at fourscore,
Fonder of serious toys, affected more,
Than the gay, glittering fool at twenty proves [210]
With all his noise, his tawdry clothes, 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
Mysterious truths, which no man can conceive. [215]
If upon earth there dwell such God-like men,
I’ll here recant my paradox to them,
Adore those shrines of virtue, homage pay,
And, with the rabble world, their laws obey.

If such there be, yet grant me this at least: [220]
Man differs more from man, than man from beast.

The film The Libertine isn’t necessarily brilliant, but it’s still interesting enough for those who like literature, historical drama or swearing. Again, awesome performances from Johnny Depp and John Malcovich, worth checking out if you are fans as well.

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