By , .

Restoration England’s most famous wit, John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester, looked at his world while holding a knife to its throat. Some of his poems were brutal, some were gentle love lyrics. All had simple rhymes and rhythms, and most of them showed his scorn. In his love poems, Rochester wrote with skill, while cheerfully springing surprises.

Reading his poems quickly, they seem to be lewd, sarcastic doggerel that any talented, drunken pen could produce. But looking more closely, a reader finds brilliant poems that are fresh and frank.

Rochester found most of his subject matter in the world he’d been dropped into. Rochester’s poems described an English world that was conceited and foolish: writers, aristocrats, patrons of the arts, all the people who should know better. According to Rochester’s poems, each of them was childish, filled with self-love.

Like William Hogarth, an English artist of slightly later times, Rochester exposed the lewd, selfish, scheming world that flourished all around him. One of his poetic themes: Restoration England’s sexually depraved aristocrats. He turned the knife on himself as well, describing his bisexual lust and his ‘pleasant’ sexual encounters from barracks and streets. Rochester wrote of himself as a ridiculous, trapped man. Many others, he said, saw themselves as privileged, entitled to anything.

Rochester’s scalpel sets him apart from earlier great poets (like John Donne) and Rochester’s own contemporaries. Rochester’s craftsmanship included descriptive pairs of words — for example, ‘narrow jealousy,’ ‘frivolous pretence,’ ‘huffing honesty’ — that were musical and important for putting his unusual philosophy into poems.

John Wilmot, the 2nd Earl of Rochester, was born in 1647 to an aristocratic family in England. However, when his father died in debt, young Rochester was left ‘half-educated’ and completely dependent on King Charles II, the greatest rake of the day. Rochester abducted Elizabeth Mallet, heiress and poet; they married and she controlled his finances. He was never financially secure or independent. They wrote one book of poems. He wrote hundreds of poems and satires. John Wilmot died in 1680, at 33.


This text was copied from Wikipedia on 9 June 2024 at 4:10AM.

The Earl of Rochester
Portrait by Peter Lely, 1677
Born(1647-04-01)1 April 1647
Died26 July 1680(1680-07-26) (aged 33)
Cause of deathBelieved to be complications from syphilis[1]
Resting placeSpelsbury, Oxfordshire, England
Alma materWadham College
University of Oxford
Notable work
Style2nd Earl of Rochester, 2nd Baron Wilmot of Adderbury, 3rd Viscount of Athlone (peerage of Ireland)
SpouseElizabeth Malet

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (1 April 1647 – 26 July 1680) was an English poet and courtier of King Charles II's Restoration court, who reacted against the "spiritual authoritarianism" of the Puritan era.[3] Rochester embodied this new era, and he became as well known for his rakish lifestyle as for his poetry, although the two were often interlinked.[3] He died as a result of a sexually transmitted infection at the age of 33.

Rochester was described by his contemporary Andrew Marvell as "the best English satirist", and he is generally considered to be the most considerable poet and the most learned among the Restoration wits.[4] His poetry was widely censored during the Victorian era, but enjoyed a revival from the 1920s onwards, with reappraisals from noted literary figures such as Graham Greene and Ezra Pound.[5] The critic Vivian de Sola Pinto linked Rochester's libertinism to Hobbesian materialism.[5]

During his lifetime Rochester was best known for A Satyr Against Reason and Mankind and it remains among his best-known works today.


Upbringing and teens

John Wilmot was born at Ditchley House in Oxfordshire on 1 April 1647. His father, Henry, Viscount Wilmot, was created Earl of Rochester in 1652 for his military service to Charles II during the King's exile under the Commonwealth. Paul Davis describes Henry as "a Cavalier legend, a dashing bon vivant and war-hero who single-handedly engineered the future Charles II's escape to the Continent (including the famous concealment in an oak tree) after the disastrous battle of Worcester in 1651".[3] His mother, Anne St. John, was a strong-willed Puritan from a noble Wiltshire family.[5]

From the age of seven, Rochester was privately tutored, two years later attending the grammar school in nearby Burford.[6] His father died in 1658, and John Wilmot inherited the title of the Earl of Rochester in April of that year.[3] In January 1660, Rochester was admitted as a Fellow commoner to Wadham College, Oxford, a new and comparatively poor college.[7] Whilst there, it is said, the 13-year-old "grew debauched". In September 1661 he was awarded an honorary M.A. by the newly elected Chancellor of the university, Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, a family friend.[8]

Elizabeth Wilmot (Malet) by Peter Lely

As an act of gratitude towards the son of Henry Wilmot, Charles II conferred on Rochester an annual pension of £500. In November 1661 Charles sent Rochester on a three year Grand Tour of France and Italy, and appointed the physician Andrew Balfour as his governor.[9] This exposed him to an unusual degree to European (especially French) writing and thought.[10] In 1664 Rochester returned to London, and made his formal début at the Restoration court on Christmas Day.[3][11]

It has been suggested by a number of scholars that the King took a paternal role in Rochester's life. Charles II suggested a marriage between Rochester and the wealthy heiress Elizabeth Malet. Her relatives opposed marriage to the impoverished Rochester, who conspired with his mother to abduct the young Countess. Samuel Pepys described the attempted abduction in his diary on 28 May 1665:

Thence to my Lady Sandwich's, where, to my shame, I had not been a great while before. Here, [I told] her a story of my Lord Rochester's running away on Friday night last with Mrs. Mallett, the great beauty and fortune of the North, who had supped at White Hall 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 foot men, 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 successe [sic]) was taken at Uxbridge; but the lady is not yet heard of, and the King mighty angry, and the Lord sent to the Tower.[12]

18-year-old Rochester spent three weeks in the Tower, and was released only after he wrote a penitent apology to the King.[3]

Rochester attempted to redeem himself by volunteering for the navy in the Second Dutch War in the winter of 1665, serving under the Earl of Sandwich.[13] His courage at the Battle of Vågen, serving on board the ship of Thomas Teddeman, made him a war hero.[13] Pleased with his conduct, Charles appointed Rochester a Gentleman of the Bedchamber in March 1666, which granted him prime lodgings in Whitehall and a pension of £1,000 a year.[14] The role encompassed, one week in every four, Rochester helping the King to dress and undress, serve his meals when dining in private, and sleeping at the foot of the King's bed.[3] In the summer of 1666, Rochester returned to sea, serving aboard HMS Victory under Edward Spragge.[13] He again showed extraordinary courage in battle, including rowing between vessels under heavy cannon fire, to deliver Spragge's messages around the fleet.[15][16]

Upon returning from sea, Rochester resumed his courtship of Elizabeth Malet.[17] Defying her family's wishes, Malet eloped with Rochester again in January 1667, and they were married at the Knightsbridge chapel.[18] They had four children: Lady Anne Wilmot (1669–1703), Charles Wilmot (1671–1681), Lady Elizabeth Wilmot (1674–1757) and Lady Malet Wilmot (1676–1708/1709).

In October 1667, the monarch granted Rochester special licence to enter the House of Lords early, despite being seven months underage.[3] The act was an attempt by the King to bolster his number of supporters among the Lords.[19]

Teenage actress Nell Gwyn "almost certainly" took him as her lover; she was later to become the mistress of Charles II.[3] Gwyn remained a lifelong friend and political associate, and her relationship with the King gave Rochester influence and status within the Court.[3]

Twenties and last years

The Earl of Rochester in armour by Godfrey Kneller

Rochester's life was 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 described them).[20] The Merry Gang flourished for about 15 years after 1665 and 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, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. Gilbert Burnet wrote of him that, "For five years together he was continually Drunk ... [and] not ... perfectly Master of himself ... [which] led him to ... do many wild and unaccountable things."[8] Pepys's Diary records one such occasion on 16 February 1669 when Rochester was invited to dine with the King and the Dutch ambassador:

The King dining yesterday at the Dutch ambassador's, after dinner they drank and were pretty merry; and among the rest of the King's company there was that worthy fellow my Lord of Rochester, and Tom Killigrew, whose mirth and raillery offended the former so much that he did give Tom Killigrew a box on the ear in the King's presence, which do give much offence to the people here at Court ...[21]

His actions were considered an offence against the King, or a lèse-majesté, and he was banned from the court, although the King soon called for his return.[3]

In 1673, Rochester began to train Elizabeth Barry as an actress.[3] She went on to become the most famous actress of her age.[3] He took her as his mistress in 1675.[3] The relationship lasted for around five years, and produced a daughter, before descending into acrimony after Rochester began to resent her success.[3] Rochester wrote afterwards, "With what face can I incline/To damn you to be only mine? ... Live up to thy mighty mind/And be the mistress of mankind".[22]

Portrait of the poet by Jacob Huysmans

When the King's advisor and friend of Rochester, George Villiers, lost power in 1673, Rochester's standing fell as well.[3] At the Christmas festivities at Whitehall of that year, Rochester delivered a satire to Charles II, "In the Isle of Britain" – which criticized the King for being obsessed with sex at the expense of his kingdom.[3] Charles's reaction to this satirical portrayal resulted in Rochester's exile from the court until February.[3] During this time Rochester dwelt at his estate in Adderbury.[3] Despite this, in February 1674, after much petitioning by Rochester, the King appointed him Ranger of Woodstock Park.[3]

In June 1675 "Lord Rochester in a frolick after a rant did ... beat downe the dyill (i.e. sundial) which stood in the middle of the Privie Garding, which was esteemed the rarest in Europ".[23] John Aubrey learned what Rochester said on this occasion when he came in from his "revells" with Charles Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, and Fleetwood Sheppard to see the object: "'What ... doest thou stand here to fuck time?' Dash they fell to worke".[8] It has been speculated that the comment refers not to the dial itself, which was not phallic in appearance, but a painting of the King next to the dial that featured his phallic sceptre.[24] Rochester fled the court again.[3]

Rochester fell into disfavour again in 1676. During a late-night scuffle with the night watch, one of Rochester's companions, Roger Downes, was killed by a pike-thrust. Rochester was reported to have fled the scene of the incident, and his standing with the monarch reached an all-time low.[25] Following this incident, Rochester briefly fled to Tower Hill, where he impersonated a mountebank "Doctor Bendo". Under this persona, he claimed skill in treating "barrenness" (infertility), and other gynaecological disorders. Gilbert Burnet wryly noted that Rochester's practice was "not without success", implying his intercession of himself as a surreptitious sperm donor.[26] On occasion, Rochester also assumed the role of the grave and matronly Mrs. Bendo, presumably so that he could inspect young women privately without arousing their husbands' suspicions.[27]

The coffin of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, in its vault in Spelsbury church, Oxfordshire
The coffin plate removed from Rochester's coffin


By the age of 33, Rochester was dying from what is usually described as the effects of tertiary syphilis, gonorrohea, or other venereal diseases, combined with the effects of alcoholism. Carol Richards has disputed this, arguing that it is more likely that he died of renal failure due to chronic nephritis (Bright's disease).[28] His mother had him attended in his final weeks by her religious associates, particularly Gilbert Burnet, later Bishop of Salisbury.

After hearing of Burnet's departure from his side, Rochester muttered his last words: "Has my friend left me? Then I shall die shortly". In the early morning of 26 July 1680, Rochester died "without a shudder or a sound".[29] He was buried at Spelsbury church in Oxfordshire.

A deathbed renunciation of libertinism and conversion to Anglican Christianity, Some Passages of the Life and Death of the Honourable John Wilmot Earl of Rochester, was published by Reverend Burnet.[30] Because this account appears in Burnet's own writings, its accuracy has been disputed by some scholars, who accuse Burnet with having shaped the account of Rochester's denunciation of libertinism to enhance his own reputation. On the other hand, Graham Greene, in his biography of Wilmot, calls Burnet's book "convincing".[31]


Rochester's manor house in Adderbury, Oxfordshire

Rochester's poetic work varies widely in form, genre, and content. He was part of a "mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease",[32] who continued to produce their poetry in manuscripts, rather than in publication. As a consequence, some of Rochester's work deals with topical concerns, such as satires of courtly affairs in libels, to parodies of the styles of his contemporaries, such as Sir Carr Scrope. He is also notable for his impromptus,[33] one of which is a teasing epigram on King Charles II:

We have a pretty witty king,
Whose word no man relies on.
He never said a foolish thing,
And never did a wise one.[34]

To which Charles supposedly replied, "That's true, for my words are my own, but my actions are those of my ministers".[35]

Rochester's poetry displays a range of learning and influences. These included imitations of Malherbe, Ronsard, and Boileau. He also translated or adapted from classical authors such as Petronius, Lucretius, Ovid, Anacreon, Horace, and Seneca.

Rochester's writings were at once admired and infamous. A Satyr Against Mankind (1675), one of the few poems he published (in a broadside in 1679), is a scathing denunciation of rationalism and optimism that contrasts human perfidy with animal wisdom.

The majority of his poetry was not published under his name until after his death. Because most of his poems circulated only in manuscript form during his lifetime, it is likely that much of his writing does not survive. Burnet claimed that Rochester's conversion experience led him to ask that "all his profane and lewd writings" be burned;[36] it is unclear how much, if any, of Rochester's writing was destroyed.

Rochester was also interested in the theatre. In addition to an interest in actresses, he wrote an adaptation of Fletcher's Valentinian (1685), a scene for Sir Robert Howard's The Conquest of China, a prologue to Elkanah Settle's The Empress of Morocco (1673), and epilogues to Sir Francis Fane's Love in the Dark (1675), Charles Davenant's Circe, a Tragedy (1677). The best-known dramatic work attributed to Rochester, Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery, has never been successfully proven to be written by him. Posthumous printings of Sodom, however, gave rise to prosecutions for obscenity, and were destroyed. On 16 December 2004 one of the few surviving copies of Sodom was sold by Sotheby's for £45,600.[37]

"[Rochester's] letters to his wife and to his friend Henry Savile ... show an admirable mastery of easy, colloquial prose."[38]

Portrait of John Wilmot by Sir Peter Lely, Dillington House

Scholarship has identified approximately 75 authentic Rochester poems.[39] Three major critical editions of Rochester in the twentieth century have taken very different approaches to authenticating and organising his canon. David Vieth's 1968 edition adopts a heavily biographical organisation, modernising spellings and heading the sections of his book "Prentice Work", "Early Maturity", "Tragic Maturity", and "Disillusionment and Death". Keith Walker's 1984 edition takes a genre-based approach, returning to the older spellings and accidentals in an effort to present documents closer to those a seventeenth-century audience would have received. Harold Love's Oxford University Press edition of 1999, now the scholarly standard, notes the variorum history conscientiously, but arranges works in genre sections ordered from the private to the public.

Reception and influence

Rochester was the model for a number of rake heroes in plays of the period, such as Don John in Thomas Shadwell's The Libertine (1675) and Dorimant in George Etherege's The Man of Mode (1676).[3] Meanwhile he was eulogised by his contemporaries such as Aphra Behn and Andrew Marvell, who described him as "the only man in England that had the true vein of satire".[40] Daniel Defoe quoted him in Moll Flanders, and discussed him in other works.[41] Voltaire, who spoke of Rochester as "the man of genius, the great poet", admired his satire for its "energy and fire" and translated some lines into French to "display the shining imagination his lordship only could boast".[42]

By the 1750s, Rochester's reputation suffered as the liberality of the Restoration era subsided; Samuel Johnson characterised him as a worthless and dissolute rake.[43] Horace Walpole described him as "a man whom the muses were fond to inspire but ashamed to avow".[44] Despite this general disdain for Rochester, William Hazlitt commented that his "verses cut and sparkle like diamonds"[45] while his "epigrams were the bitterest, the least laboured, and the truest, that ever were written".[46] Referring to Rochester's perspective, Hazlitt wrote that "his contempt for everything that others respect almost amounts to sublimity".[46] Meanwhile, Goethe quoted A Satyr against Reason and Mankind in English in his Autobiography.[47] Despite this, Rochester's work was largely ignored throughout the Victorian era.

Rochester's reputation would not begin to revive until the 1920s. Ezra Pound, in his ABC of Reading, compared Rochester's poetry favourably to better-known figures such as Alexander Pope and John Milton.[48] Graham Greene characterised Rochester as a "spoiled Puritan".[49] Although F. R. Leavis argued that "Rochester is not a great poet of any kind", William Empson admired him. More recently, Germaine Greer has questioned the validity of the appraisal of Rochester as a drunken rake, and hailed the sensitivity of some of his lyrics.[50]

Rochester was listed #6 in Time Out's "Top 30 chart of London's most erotic writers". Tom Morris, the associate director, of the National Theatre said, "Rochester reminds me of an unhinged poacher, moving noiselessly through the night and shooting every convention that moves. Bishop Burnett, who coached him to an implausible death-bed repentance, said that he was unable to express any feeling without oaths and obscenities. He seemed like a punk in a frock coat. But once the straw dolls have been slain, Rochester celebrates in a sexual landscape all of his own."[51]

In popular culture

A play, The Libertine (1994), was written by Stephen Jeffreys, and staged by the Royal Court Theatre. The 2004 film The Libertine, based on Jeffreys' play, starred Johnny Depp as Rochester, Samantha Morton as Elizabeth Barry, John Malkovich as King Charles II and Rosamund Pike as Elizabeth Malet. Michael Nyman set to music an excerpt of Rochester's poem "Signor Dildo" for the film.[52]

The play The Ministry of Pleasure by Craig Baxter also dramatises Wilmot's life and was produced at the Latchmere Theatre, London in 2004.

Rochester is the central character in Anna Lieff Saxby's 1996 erotic novella, No Paradise but Pleasure.

The story of Lord Rochester's life in Susan Cooper-Bridgewater's historical fiction Of Ink, Wit and Intrigue – Lord Rochester in Chains of Quicksilver, 2014. ISBN 978-1783063-079

Nick Cave's 2004 song "There She Goes, My Beautiful World", from the album Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus, includes the lines "John Wilmot penned his poetry / Riddled with the pox".

Germaine Greer published a piece called "Doomed to Sincerity"[53] about the life of the Earl.


  1. ^ Christopher Hill reviews 'The Letters of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester' edited by Jeremy Treglown · LRB 20 November 1980
  2. ^ John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (2013). Selected Poems. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-164580-8.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Paul Davis, ed. (2013). Selected Poems: John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-164580-8.
  4. ^ "Cerisia Cerosia | Anna Livia, that superfine pigtail to" (PDF). 22 June 2022. Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 July 2013. Retrieved 19 July 2012.
  5. ^ a b c "A Martyr to Sin". The New York Times.
  6. ^ James William Johnson (2004). A Profane Wit: The Life Of John Wilmot, Earl Of Rochester. University Rochester Press. p. 19. ISBN 978-1-58046-170-2.
  7. ^ James William Johnson (2004). A Profane Wit: The Life Of John Wilmot, Earl Of Rochester. University Rochester Press. p. 29. ISBN 978-1-58046-170-2.
  8. ^ a b c Frank H. Ellis, "Wilmot, John, second earl of Rochester (1647–1680)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 12 July 2012
  9. ^ Johnson, James William (2004). A Profane Wit: The Life of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. University Rochester Press. p. 56. ISBN 978-1-58046-170-2.
  10. ^ Treglown, Jeremy. "Rochester and the second bottle." Times Literary Supplement [London, England] 10 Sept. 1993: 5. Times Literary Supplement Historical Archive. Web. 11 Dec. 2012.
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ a b c Gilbert Burnet; Samuel Johnson; Robert Parsons (1782). Some passages in the life and death of John Earl of Rochester, written by his own direction on his death-bed ...: with a sermon, preached, at the funeral of the said Earl, by the Rev. Robert Parsons. T. Davies. p. 6.
  14. ^ Frank H. Ellis, "Wilmot, John, second earl of Rochester (1647–1680)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 accessed 4 April 2013
  15. ^ Johnson, James William (2004). A Profane Wit: The Life of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. University Rochester Press. p. 85. ISBN 978-1-58046-170-2.
  16. ^ Ballantyne, Iain; Eastland, Jonathan (2005). Warships of the Royal Navy: HMS Victory. Barnsley, Yorkshire: Pen and Sword Maritime. p. 28. ISBN 1844152936.
  17. ^ Johnson, James William (2004). A Profane Wit: The Life of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. University Rochester Press. p. 88. ISBN 978-1-58046-170-2.
  18. ^ Notes and Queries (2011) 58 (3): 381–386. doi: 10.1093/notesj/gjr109
  19. ^ Johnson, James William (2004). A Profane Wit: The Life of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. University Rochester Press. p. 98. ISBN 978-1-58046-170-2.
  20. ^ Google books Charles Beauclerk, Nell Gwyn: Mistress to a King (New York: Grove, 2005), 272.
  21. ^ Pepys, Samuel (31 October 2004). Braybrooke, Richard Griffin; Wheatley, Henry B. (Henry Benjamin) (eds.). Diary of Samuel Pepys – Complete 1669 N.S. Translated by Bright, Mynors.
  22. ^ Suckling, John; Rochester, John Wilmot; Sedley, Charles (1906). "Upon Leaving his Mistress". Ballads and other poems. Pembroke booklets. First series; 4. Hull: J. R. Tutin. pp. 55, 56.
  23. ^ Paton, Henry; Roberts, Hallam (1914). Report on the Laing Manuscripts, Preserved in the University of Edinburgh. Vol. 1. London: The Hereford Times. p. 405.
  24. ^ Wilmot, John (2002). The Debt to Pleasure. New York: Routledge. p. 14. ISBN 0-415-94084-2.
  25. ^ Johnson, Profane Wit, 250–253
  26. ^ Timbs, John. Doctors and patients, or, Anecdotes of the Medical World and Curiosities of Medicine. London: Richard Bentley and Son (1876), p. 151.
  27. ^ Alcock, Thomas. "Epistle Dedicatory" to Lord Rochester, The Famous Pathologist or The Noble Mountebank. Ed. and introd. Vivian de Sola Pinto. Nottingham: Sisson and Parker (1961), pp. 35–38
  28. ^ Richards, Carol (2011). Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness: the Life of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester.
  29. ^ Johnson, Profane Wit, 327–343
  30. ^ Norton, D. A History of the English Bible as Literature Cambridge 2000 pp. 172–73 ISBN 0-52177807-7
  31. ^ Greene, Graham (1974). Lord Rochester's Monkey, being the Life of John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester. New York: The Bodley Head. p. 208
  32. ^ Alexander Pope, "First Epistle of the Second Book of Horace", line 108.
  33. ^ Rochester composed at least 10 versions of Impromptus on Charles II
  34. ^ Papers of Thomas Hearne (17 November 1706) quoted in Doble, C. E. (editor) (1885) Remarks and Collections of Thomas Hearne Volume 1, Oxford: Clarendon Press for the Oxford Historical Society, p. 308
  35. ^ A thorough discourse concerning this epigram and the king's response can be found from the 19th to 21st paragraph of the foreword of "The Tryal of William Penn and William Mead" [1]
  36. ^ Watts, Isaac (1814). The Repentance and happy death of the celebrated Earl of Rochester: to which is added some suitable verses on the occurrence by .. Isaac Watts. 1674-1748. Nottingham: Printed by Sutton and son, Review office. p. 4.
  37. ^ "IN BRIEF: Trump picks new 'Apprentice'; Bawdy 17th century play auctioned". CBC News. 17 December 2004. Archived from the original on 22 December 2008.
  38. ^ Luebering, J.E. (2014). Authors of the Enlightenment: 1660 to 1800 (1 ed.). Britannica Educational Publishing. p. 77. ISBN 978-1-62275-010-8. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
  39. ^ Black, Joseph Laurence (2006). The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century. The Broadview Anthology of British Literature. Vol. 3. Broadview Press. p. 232. ISBN 978-1-55111-611-2.
  40. ^ The Project Gutenberg eBook of Andrew Marvell, by Augustine Birrell
  41. ^
  42. ^ Great Books Online, François Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694–1778). "Letter XXI—On the Earl of Rochester and Mr. Waller" Letters on the English. The Harvard Classics. 1909–14,, Accessed 15 May 2007
  43. ^ David Farley-Hills (1996). Earl of Rochester: The Critical Heritage. Psychology Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-415-13429-3.
  44. ^ Horace Walpole, A Catalogue of the Royal and Noble Authors of England, 1758.
  45. ^ William Hazlitt, Select British Poets (1824)
  46. ^ a b William Hazlitt,
  47. ^
  48. ^ Pound, Ezra. ABC of Reading (1934) New Directions (reprint). ISBN 0-8112-1893-7
  49. ^ Lord Rochester's Monkey: Being the Life of John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester by Graham Greene Review by: G. S. Avery The Modern Language Review, Vol. 70, No. 4 (October 1975), pp. 857-858
  50. ^ Germaine Greer reviews ‘The Works of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester’ edited by Harold Love · LRB 16 September 1999
  51. ^ John O‘Connell (28 February 2008). "Sex and books: London's most erotic writers". Time Out. Archived from the original on 10 April 2019. Retrieved 26 November 2015.
  52. ^ "Signior Dildo by Lord John Wilmot - All Poetry". Archived from the original on 11 October 2008. Retrieved 12 June 2011.
  53. ^ Greer, Germaine (16 September 1999). "Doomed to Sincerity". London Review of Books. 21 (18).

Further reading

  • Some Account of the Life and Death of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester by Gilbert Burnet (Munroe and Francis, 1812)
  • Greene, Graham (1974). Lord Rochester's Monkey, being the Life of John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester. New York: The Bodley Head. ASIN B000J30NL4.
  • Griffin, Dustin H. (1973). Satires Against Man. Berkeley, Calif.: Berkeley : University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-02394-3.
  • Larman, Alexander (2014). Blazing Star: The Life And Times of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. Head of Zeus. ISBN 9781781851098.
  • Wilmot, John (2002). David M. Vieth (ed.). The Complete Poems of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (New ed.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. pp. 256 pages. ISBN 0-300-09713-1.
  • Wilmot, John (2002). The Debt to Pleasure. New York: Routledge. pp. 140 pages. ISBN 0-415-94084-2.
  • Combe, Kirk (1998). A Martyr for Sin: Rochester's Critique of Polity, Sexuality, and Society. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press. p. 186. ISBN 0-87413-647-4.

External links

15 Annotations

First Reading

Jeannine  •  Link

John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester (commonly referred to as Lord Rochester) was one of Charles II's "Merry Gang" of debauched court companions. He is noted for his profane wit, his outrageous antics/escapdes and his obscene and satirical poetry and plays. He had a sharpness and bite to his words, made all the more stinging due to the fact that he exposed many a truth that most wished never to be made public. During his peak in his career he managed to make his targets cringe at the thought of what he may reveal about them. He reportedly had a "spy" who he sent out to gather "private" information which he could use as the material for his writing.
He is famous for his kidnapping of a young heiress (who he eventually married) and for his love affair with Elizabeth Barry, whom he developed into one of the most famous actresses of the time.
He lived life to the lowest, a depraved alcoholic, full of syphillis and/or other disease and for one last surprise, repented and was welcomed back into the church before his early death at age 33.
The following urls list information about his life and the first one also includes some of his poems (many of which may are extremely sexually explicit, so be forewarned).

Also below are some articles about Rochester's character and essays about his works.………………

Jeannine  •  Link

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester
posted here as some biographical information is presented

Lord Rochester, Everyman’s Poetry, edited by Paddy Lyons

Lord Rochester’s poetry is NOT for the bashful reader and explicitly reflects his lewd debauched lifestyle and biting satiric wit. The poems presented in this collection reflect a sense of unsettling restlessness ranging from jaw dropping comical exaggerations right up to vindictively cruel and downright nasty statements about the people, politics, mistresses/whores and monarchy of the time, all of which he embraced and despised at the same time. Interspersed between the obscenities and somewhat hidden from the initial shocking impact of reading the poems is the underlying talent and genius of the man who chose to live a rather sad and wasted life while at court, all of which he presented without any pretense and without any of the flowery hypocrisy of the time. In spite of the crudeness, it’s impossible to dismiss Rochester. He is often ranked second in his time only to Dryden, but remains unexplored in colleges and universities due to the crass obscenity and vulgarity of his expression. Also of interesting note, although he wrote with a bite and attacked without mercy, he still maintained an appreciation of the good in other people and remained an idealist buried beneath the seedy court of a cynical monarch.
Amazon US…

Amazon UK…

Lord Rochester’s Monkey by Graham Greene

Greene’s book, which was banned from being published in the 1930’s for fear of prosecution for obscenity follows the life and wildly erotic escapades of John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester. Rochester by far was among the most notorious of all of Charles Merry Gang of rakes. Along with the wild sexual exploits that he set up for himself and other (including pimping for Charles II), Rochester was a practical joker, a scandalous courtier and a dissolute drunk. His poetry is intertwined into Greene’s presentation of Wilmot and helps to reveal the conflicts that this wildly intelligent and talented wit of a man struggled with throughout his short and debauched life. This book will truly show a side of the Court of Charles II that no other writer besides Rochester would dare to expose with such bite and honesty.

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, was born April 1, 1647 and died at age 33. As a young man, he basically “had it all” (sans money) including a titled life, a fine position in the Restoration Court, marriage to a witty heiress and great potential in terms of looks, wit, bravery and ability. His short life was the culmination of a downward spiral of alcohol, sex, disease (syphilis) and depravity which began around the time he entered into the court of Charles II and became one of Charles’ “Merry Gang”. Within the gang, he established himself as a controversial and highly obscene satirist, playwright and poet and managed to one by one attack and alienate just about everyone that had ever supported him. His ongoing stream of mistresses/whores, extravagantly outlandish escapades and adventures, banishments from court were consistently over the top. He dug into places and subjects usually hidden behind closed doors and meant to be private and blew the top off of the secrets of Charles II’s Court, comrades, mistresses, etc. He employed has footman as a well positioned spy to provide him with outlandish insider material and gossip upon which he drew to create his works.

Rochester lived two distinctly separate lives. His private life was spent in the country was spent with his wife and 4 beautiful children. The darker Court side, which led to his downfall, consisted of drunkenness, extravagant frolics, raunchy and lewd sex, a highly visible affair with actress Elizabeth Barry, who he developed into a famous stage actress. Rochester’s behavior and satiric nature caused him to see the cynical world of Charles’s court and to basically take any relationship within that court and attack it with a sharp satiric bite. Nobody was safe from his profanity and banishment was a common event in his life. In one wildly famous episode Rochester disguises himself as Dr. Bendo who famously offered out physic and provided “infertility assistance” to poor unsuspecting females. Greene provides and ample and sensationalized view of Rochester’s antics.

Finally at the end of his life, while dying (most likely from syphilis and/or other related disease), he surprises all once again with an even more “outlandish” scandal, when through his relationship with Gilbert Burnet (not a totally accurate or unbiased source of information here) he repents his sins and re-establishes himself with the church. Although not an “easy” read due to the obscenity and profane subject matter, it is interesting in the larger perspective of Charles II’s court, the arts, the artist and the man. It was, however a “lighter” version of the life of Wilmot, a little softer on his flaws and not necessarily as highly documented as the book review that follows (“Profane Wit”).

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A Profane With by James William Johnson

This is a magnificent piece of work by Johnson and peels apart the life of John Wilmot in a surprisingly dignified manner. Johnson extensively presents not only the life of Wilmot but the factors and experiences that seem to have influenced his choices and his dismal life. Johnson’s extensive notations and biography are brilliant in detail and breadth. He adds a level of detail into Wilmot’s life and provides a clear understanding of his struggles and his genius. Johnson does not sensationalize Wilmot and his antics (as does Greene in many ways) but holds him “accountable” for his actions and his omissions in his life. Johnson’s explores the influences of Wilmot’s writing and his behaviors with a finely detailed manner, bringing into consideration his lesser known role as a husband and father as well as his role in the politics and Parliament. He also explores Wilmot’s bi-sexual tendencies and ponders the psychological issues that affected his life choices. Reading this in conjunction with the poetry offers a totally different perspective then reading the poetry alone without having some understanding of the man.

Amazon UK…

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“Some Account of the Life and Death of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester who dies July 26, 1680” By Gilbert Burnet

Burnet was a contemporary of Rochester and the Lord Bishop of Sarum. He spent time with one of Rochester’s amours as she lay dying of venereal disease (probably something she gave with Rochester) and he helped her come to peace with her spiritual side. Rochester, hearing of his work for his former amour, and dying himself, desired to meet Burnet and perhaps “debate” his issues with Christianity and God. Burnet, seeing the potential for reclaiming this highly lost and wayward soul took up the challenge and visited Rochester during the last few months of his life to discuss religion, Rochester’s past sins, etc. Out of those meeting came a transformation where Rochester recognized his sinful ways and as Burnet claims wished to have his story shared in order to benefit others who have taken the sinful path. Burnet records the history of Rochester very discreetly and doesn’t go into any lurid details as he doesn’t wish to harm any of those family members living or to disgrace others mentioned to him by Rochester. He then presents the arguments and conversations that the two men shared as Rochester’s disease progressed and he finally died. The interesting thing is I was never sure if this book was more about Burnet’s view of his persuasive talents than about Rochester’s truly opening himself to God. Expensive to buy so searching a library may be the best bet.

Used Book Market…

jeannine  •  Link

From Grammont's footnotes

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester; "a man," as Lord Orford observes, "whom the muses were fond to inspire, and ashamed to avow; and who practised, without the least reserve, that secret which can make verses more read for their defects than for their merits "(Noble Authors, vol. ii. p. 43); was born, according to Burnet and Wood, in the month of April, 1648; but Gladbury,in his almanac for 1695, fixes the date on April 1, 1647, from the information of Lord Rochester himself. His father was Henry, Earl of Rochester, better known by the title of Lord Wilmot. He was educated at Wadham College, Oxford, and, in 1665, went to sea with the Earl of Sandwich, and displayed a degree of valour which he never shewed at any period afterwards. Bishop Burnet says, he "was naturally modest, till the court corrupted him. His wit had in it peculiar brightness, to which none could ever arrive. He gave himself up to all sorts of extravagance, and to the wildest frolics that wanton wit could devise. He would have gone about the streets as a beggar, and made love as a porter. He set up a stage as an Italian mountebank. [For a copy of his speech on this occasion, see note 142.] He was for some years always drunk; and was ever doing some mischief. The king loved his company, for the diversion it afforded, better than his person; and there was no love lost between them. He took his revenges in many libels. He found out a footman that knew all the court; and he furnished him with a red coat and a musket, as a sentinel, and kept him all the winter long, every night, at the doors of such ladies as he believed might be in intrigues. In the court, a sentinel is little minded, and is believed to be posted by a captain of the guards to hinder a combat; so this man saw who walked about and visited at forbidden hours. By this means Lord Rochester made many discoveries; and when he was well furnished with materials, he used to retire into the country for a month or two to write libels. Once, being drunk, he intended to give the king a libel he had writ on some ladies, but, by mistake, he gave him one written on himself. He fell into an ill habit of body, and, in set fits of sickness, he had deep remorses, for he was guilty both of much impiety and of great immoralities. But as he recovered, he threw these off, and turned again to his former ill courses. In the last year of his life, I was much with him. and have writ a book of what passed between him and me: I do verily believe, he was then so changed, that, if he had recovered, he would have made good all his resolutions." -- History of his own Times, vol. i. p. 372. On this book, mentioned by the bishop, Dr. Johnson pronounces the following eulogium:-- that it is one "which the critic ought to read for its elegance, the philosopher for its arguments, and the saint for its piety. It were an injury to the reader to offer him an abridgment." -- Life of Lord Rochester.… see note 109

jeannine  •  Link

Wilmot's infamous speech while pretending to be Dr. Alexander Bendo is detailed in Grammont's footnotes at note number 142. It's too long to list her but well worth the read.…

Terry F  •  Link

The Libertine (2004)
Directed by Laurence Dunmore
Stephen Jeffreys (play, screenplay)

Tagline: He didn't resist temptation. He pursued it.

Cast overview, first billed only:
Johnny Depp .... Rochester
Samantha Morton .... Elizabeth Barry
John Malkovich .... King Charles II

Plot Outline: The story of John Wilmot (Depp), a.k.a. the Earl of Rochester, a 17th century poet who famously drank and debauched his way to an early grave, only to earn posthumous critical acclaim for his life's work. (view trailer… )…

jeannine  •  Link

Rochester -as presented by Grammont.
The Memiors of Grammont were actually written by Anthony Hamilton and were considered highly scandalous as they depicted the Court of Charles II in such an unfavorable and seedy light. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature states that in regards to its accuracy "It must be admitted that Hamilton produced a book which is too much a work of art to be entirely trustworthy, and the subject-matter is often arranged for effect, which would scarcely have been allowed if strict accuracy had been the main object."
With that in mind, and for readers who may enjoy an entertaining, although less than sterile biographical representation of the court wit, the link below leads you to chapter IX and then allows you to screen ahead to chapter X.…

Second Reading

Bill  •  Link

John, son of Henry Wilmot, earl of Rochester, held the first rank of the men of wit and pleasure of his age; and he will ever be remembered for the extreme licentiousness of his manners and his writings. He had an elegant person, an easy address, and a quickness of understanding and invention almost peculiar to himself; and, what may now perhaps seem improbable, he had natural modesty. He entered, with blushes in his face, into the fashionable vices of this reign; but he well knew that even these vices would recommend him, and only be considered as so many graces added to his character. His strong and lively parts quickly enabled him to go far beyond other men in his irregularities; and he soon became one of the most daring profligates of his age. He was in a continual state of intoxication for several years together; and the king who admired his sallies of wit and humour, was more delighted with his company when he was drunk, than with any other man's when he was sober. He was ever engaged in some amour or other, and frequently with women of the lowest order, and the vilest prostitutes of the town. He would sometimes, upon these occasions, appear as a beggar, or a porter; and he as well knew how to assume the character, as the dress of either. After he had run the giddy round of his pleasures, his eyes were open to conviction, and he became the Christian and the penitent. His repentance began with remorse and horror, but ended with hope and consolation.
---A Biographical History of England. J. Granger, 1779.

Bill  •  Link

ROCHESTER, (John, Earl of) a witty profligate poet in the reign of Charles II. was born in 1648. He was very perfect in the Latin language, of which he was extremely fond; and, if we believe Andrew Marvel, he was the only man in England who had a true vein of satire. He led such a life of drunkenness and gross sensuality, as to wear out his constitution before he had attained his thirty-fourth year. Mr. Walpole calls him "a man whom the Muses were fond to inspire, and ashamed to avow." In his last illness he grew serious, and though he had been an avowed infidel all his life, the perusal of the 53d chapter of Isaiah, converted him to Christianity, and he died perfectly resigned, and full of faith and penitence, in 1680.
---Eccentric biography. 1801.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Most of these annotations concern John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester's life after the Diary. In 1660 he was 13.

His father was dead; a fearless General, and a man's man, Henry, Lord Wilmot, made the 1st Earl of Rochester in 1652 by a grateful Charles II for keeping him company for the dangerous weeks trying to escape after the second Battle of Worcester.

But do not underestimate John Wilmot's mother, Anne "Nan" St.John Lee Wilmot, Countess of Rochester, Groom of the Stole to Anne Hyde, Duchess of York. In fact, Nan was so influential in parliament she has her own page on the House of Common's blog, and, of course, she was never an MP:

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester was sent to Wadham College, Oxford, on 18 January 1660, at aged 12. He was admitted as a Fellow commoner, where he "grew debauched".
Rochester entered the school under the tutorship of the mathematician Phineas Bury, but a more influential tutor was the physician Robert Whitehall of Merton College, who may have inducted him into the life of debauchery.
It is said that Dr. Whitehall doted on him and taught him to drink deeply at the Oxford taverns, where he gained admittance in the disguise provided by a borrowed master's gown. This is unsubstantiated storytelling, although it gains credibility by the fact that Rochester left 4 silver pint pots to his college on going down from university. Such gifts were common tokens of esteem from students to their colleges.
On 9 September 1661 Rochester was awarded an honorary M.A. at age 14 by the newly elected Chancellor of the university, Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon, a family friend.
How this could happen is described in an entry about the education of sons of noblemen:………

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.




  • Feb


  • Dec