May 6, 2013
me+ME:  O Poetry, poetry, poetry! (Lord Rochester)
1.  From dr. Samuel Johnson, Lives of the Poets
2.  A Satyre against Reason and Mankind
3.  A satire on Charles II
4.  Upon Nothing
5.  Biographical details

About ME/CFS


I am still paying back my walk of over a week ago, so I am still not feeling very well.

Today I am changing my subject to poetry, and will quote a number of poems of the very learned and witty John Wilmot and start with a brief introduction.

1. From dr. Samuel Johnson, Lives of the Poets

My subject is John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester:

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, who lived from 1647-1680, was - without any doubt - a rake, who died from venereal disease - syphilis - aged 33, but he lived and died over 300 years ago, and also was a very interesting poet.

Besides, he got praised by dr. Johnson:

                   Life of Rochester
Lord Rochester was eminent for the vigour of his colloquial wit, and remarkable for many wild pranks and sallies of extravagance. The glare of his general character diffused itself upon his writings; the compositions of a man whose name was heard so often, were certain of attention, and from many readers certain of applause. This blaze of reputation is not yet quite extinguished; and his poetry still retains some splendour beyond that which genius has bestowed.
The strongest effort of his muse is his poem upon Nothing.
In all his works there is sprightliness and vigour, and every where may be found tokens of a mind, which study might have carried to excellence. What more can be expected from a life spent in ostentatious contempt of regularity, and ended, before the abilities of many other men began to be displayed?

2. A Satyre against Reason and Mankind

These days John Wilmot has gotten somewhat popular again, although I do use the word with considerable hesitation, because it is highly relative and in fact he will not be open to many, in spite - or indeed because - of the fact that he wrote very clearly.

In any case, I know and like him since ca. 1968, for verses such as the following - and you get these in full, for a reason I'll give, after noting that my text comes, with some slight alterations, from the same text under the link of the title: Merely as philosophy it is worth more than all that I learned in the University of Amsterdam.

A Satyre against Reason and Mankind

    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,
Or anything but that vain animal
Who is so proud of being rational.
    The senses are to gross, and he'll contrive
A sixth, to contradict the other five,
And before certain instinct, will prefer
Reason, which fifty times for one does err;
Reason, an ignis fatuus in the mind,
Which, leaving light of nature, sense, behind,
Pathless and dangerous wandering ways it takes
Through error's fenny bogs and thorny brakes;
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 a while, and make him try
To swim with bladders of philosophy;
In hopes still to o'ertake th' escaping light,
The vapor dances in his dazzling 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.
Huddled in dirt the reasoning engine lies,
Who was proud, so witty, and so wise.
     Pride dew him in, as cheats their bubbles catch,
And made him veneture 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
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.
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 belov'd, but fortunate,
And therefore, hat they fear at heart, they hate.
     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
Light 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 degenerate mind
To make you rail at reason and mankind?
Blest, glorious man! to whom alone kind heaven
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;
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,
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:
This supernatural gift, that makes a mite
Think he's the 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
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;
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 whimical philosopher
Before the spacious world, his tub prefer,
And we have modern cloisterd 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.
Our sphere of action is life's happiness,
And he who 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
And gives us rules of good and ill from thence,
That bounds desires with a reforming will
To keep 'em more in vigor, not to kill.
Your reason hinders, mine helps to enjoy,
Renewing appetites yours would destroy.
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:
'Tis not true reason I despise, but yours.
     Thus I think reason righted, bur 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 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 supplies committee chairs,
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,
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.
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, frendship, praise,
Inhumanly his fellow's 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 arms, and is of arms afraid,
By fear to fear successively betrayed;
Base fear, the source whence his best passions came:
His boasted honor, and his dear-bought fame;
That lust of power, to which he's a slave,
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,
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,
'Tis all from fear, to make himself secure.
Merely for safety, after fame we thirst,
For all me would 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'll be undone.
Nor can weak truth your reputation save:
The knaves will all agree to call you knave.
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,
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,
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)
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,
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 -
     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,
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;
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;
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
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.
If upon the 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:
Man differs more from man, than man from beast.

3. A satire on Charles II

Next, we find Wilmot satirizing his friend, Charles II, king of England, in a poem he handed himself to the king, who liked wits, and forgave him - and this time you only get the beginning, with the full text again given by the link:

"A Satire on Charles II"
I' 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 ballocks 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.

Maybe a few explanatory remarks are in place. 

King Charles II owed a lot to Rochester's father, and was himself much charmed by Rochester's courage, conversation and abilities, although he also had him locked up in the Tower, quite possibly at least in part to protect Rochester from himself and others, because Rochester seems to have been superior in verbal wit to everybody who was then living.

Also, Rochester was for years "Gentleman of the Bed Chamber" of the king, and was intimate with Charles II (who also happens to have been one of the very few intellectually gifted kings, who was himself probably an atheist), who - as a rule - seems to have much appreciated him.

Most that Rochester says about Charles II is literally true, but whether indeed "His scepter and his prick are of a length" is also literally true is not known. In fact, it so happens that Graham Greene reproduces in his "Lord Rochester's Monkey" an image of Charles II that depicts him at his inauguration, with a scepter, from which it would follow that, if true, this king would have been a true prodigy of mankind.

4. Upon Nothing

Next, since I am in a fairly serious mood here is Rochester discoursing poetically upon nothing:

Upon Nothing

    Nothing, thou elder brother even to shade,
    That hadst a being ere the world was made,
    And (well fixed) art alone of ending not afraid.
    Ere time and place were, time and place were not,
    When primitive Nothing Something straight begot,
    Then all proceeded from the great united--What?
    Something, the general attribute of all,
    Severed from thee, its sole original,
    Into thy boundless self must undistinguished fall.
    Yet Something did thy mighty power command,
    And from thy fruitful emptiness's hand,
    Snatched men, beasts, birds, fire, air, and land.
    Matter, the wickedest offspring of thy race,
    By Form assisted, flew from thy embrace,
    And rebel Light obscured thy reverend dusky face.
    With Form and Matter, Time and Place did join,
    Body, thy foe, with these did leagues combine
    To spoil thy peaceful realm, and ruin all thy line.
    But turncoat Time assists the foe in vain,
    And, bribed by thee, assists thy short-lived reign,
    And to thy hungry womb drives back thy slaves again.
    Though mysteries are barred from laic eyes,
    And the Divine alone with warrant pries
    Into thy bosom, where thy truth in private lies,
    Yet this of thee the wise may freely say,
    Thou from the virtuous nothing takest away,
    And to be part of thee the wicked wisely pray.
    Great Negative, how vainly would the wise
    Inquire, define, distinguish, teach, devise?
    Didst thou not stand to point their dull philosophies.
    Is, or is not, the two great ends of Fate,
    And true or false, the subject of debate,
    That perfects, or destroys, the vast designs of Fate,
    When they have racked the politician's breast,
    Within thy bosom most securely rest,
    And, when reduced to thee, are least unsafe and best.
    But Nothing, why does Something still permit
    That sacred monarchs should at council sit
    With persons highly thought at best for nothing fit?
    While weighty Something modestly abstains
    From princes' coffers, and from statesmen's brains,
    And Nothing there like stately Nothing reigns,
    Nothing, who dwellest with fools in grave disguise,
    For whom they reverend shapes and forms devise,
    Lawn sleeves, and furs, and gowns, when they like thee look wise.
    French truth, Dutch prowess, British policy,
    Hibernian learning, Scotch civility,
    Spaniard's dispatch, Dane's wit are mainly seen in thee.
    The great man's gratitude to his best friend,
    King's promises, whore's vows, towards thee they bend,
    Flow swiftly to thee, and in thee never end.  
5. Biographical details

Here are a few brief notes on John Wilmot, who was much in favor of "honesty and reason", as I am:

My interest in him - that dates back a long time: some 45 years - is especially due to his very high intelligence, great wit, courage and unconventionality.

He only got to be 33, after having gone to university age 12, as a "model pupil", with a very great knowledge of Latin and Greek; became a Master of Arts at 14; behaved as a hero when 17 and 18 during the naval war with the Dutch; eloped with his future wife - a rich and pretty heiress - who loved him, to secure his marriage (for Rochester had everything: wit, appearance, manners, education, savoir faire, the admiration of the king, a high noble title, and proven courage - except money), after which he gave the rest of his life to women, drinking, poetry, and being a rake, which regularly landed him in the Tower, mostly due to his very satirical or sarcastic remarks and poems, that offended many, but that also always liberated him rapidly, it seems because king Charles II very much appreciated his conversation - and apart from that with staying (and recuperating, undoubtedly) with his wife and children, whom he loved and who loved him.

He died from a combination of syphilis and failure of his kidneys, and became known after his death because Charles Burnet, a theologian with more such (asserted, supposed) feats, is said to have converted him on his deathbed.

Graham Greene, whose book on Rochester I owe some 25 years, who himself was a Catholic convert, believes Burnet; most of Rochester's friends did not, and neither do I, and that especially because Rochester, as said, next to his many loves for other women, loved his own wife and children, while he was socially known as a horrible blasphemer, an atheist, a man who had no virtue and did not want any virtue, and who undoubtedly had offended, hurt or displeased very many very much less intelligent persons than himself.

Here is Burnet - the man who claimed he had converted Rochester, on his very painful deathbed - as cited on page 210 of Greene's biography, with links to my Nedernieuws (from 2004, with very nice quotes from Gibbon) and my Philosophical Dictionary:

He said he looked upon it as a vast Power that wrought by necessity of its nature, and thought that God had none of those affections of love or hatred, which breed perturbation in us, and by consequence he could not see that there was to be either reward or punishment. He thought our conceptions of God were so low, that we had better not think much of him, and to love God seemed to him a presumptuous thing and the heat of fanciful men. Therefore he believed there should be no religious worship, but a general celebration of that Being, in some short hymn. All the other parts of worship he believed to be the invention of priests, to make the world believe that they had a secret of incensing and appeasing God as they pleased... And for the state after death, though he thought the soul did not dissolve at death, yet he doubted much of rewards and punishments: the one he thought too high for us to attain by our slight services, and the other was too  extreme to be inflicted for sin.

Finally, here is Rochester as quoted in Greene's foreword:

"He had the arrogance of the artist, and these lines, taken from the 'Epistle to O.B.' could well have applied to himself:"

Born to my self, I like my self alone
And must conclude my judgement good or none...
Thus I resolve of my own poetry,
That 'tis the best, and there's fame for me.
If then I'm happy, what does it advance
Whether to merit due, or arrogance?
O, but the world will take offense thereby
Why then the world shall suffer for't, not I.

[1] Let me also say that I owe most - not: all - quotations of the poetry by Rochester to this site: John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester.

About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which is a disease I have since 1.1.1979:
1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)

       home - index - summaries - mail