1. From dr.
Samuel Johnson, Lives of the Poets
2. A Satyre against Reason and Mankind
satire on Charles II
5. Biographical details
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.
dr. Samuel Johnson, Lives of the Poets
My subject is John
Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester:
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.
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
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
Merely as philosophy it is worth more than all
that I learned in the
University of Amsterdam.
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,
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,
certain instinct, will prefer
which fifty times for one does err;
Reason, an ignis
fatuus in the mind,
light of nature, sense, behind,
dangerous wandering ways it takes
fenny bogs and thorny brakes;
misguided follower climbs with pain
whimseys, heaped in his own brain;
thought to thought, falls headlong down
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,
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
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
others at his own expense,
For wits are
treated just like common whores:
enjoyed, and then kicked out of doors.
past, a threatening doubt remains
th' enjoyer with succeeding pains.
men of wit are dangerous tools,
And ever fatal
to admiring fools:
allures, and when the fops escape,
'Tis not that
they're belov'd, but fortunate,
hat they fear at heart, they hate.
methinks, some formal band and beard
Takes me to
task. Come on, sir; I'm prepared.
Then, by your
favor, anything that's writ
gibing, jingling knack called wit
abundantly; but you take care
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,
grand indiscretion bids me stay
And turns my
tide of ink another way.
ferments in your degenerate mind
To make you
rail at reason and mankind?
man! to whom alone kind heaven
everlasting soul has freely given,
Whom his great
Maker took such care to make
himself he did the image take
And this fair
frame in shining reason dressed
To dignify his
nature above beast;
whose aspiring influence
We take a
flight beyond material sense
mysteries, then soaring pierce
limits of the universe,
and hell, find out what's acted there,
And give the
world true grounds of hope and fear."
man, I cry, all this we know
pathetic pen of Ingelo,
Pilgrim, Sibbes' soliloquies,
And 'tis this
very reason I despise:
supernatural gift, that makes a mite
Think he's the
image of the infinite,
short life, void of all rest,
To the eternal
and the ever blest;
puzzling stirrer-up of doubt
deep mysteries, then finds 'em out,
frantic crowds of thinking fools
bedlams, colleges and schools;
Borne on whose
wings, each heavy sot can pierce
The limits of
the boundless universe;
ointments make an old witch fly
And bear a
crippled carcass through the sky.
exalted power, whose business lies
In nonsense and
This made a
spacious world, his tub prefer,
And we have
modern cloisterd coxcombs who
think, 'cause they have nought to do.
are given for action's
ceases, thought's impertinent.
of action is life's happiness,
And he who
thinks beyond, thinks like an ass.
against false reasoning I inveigh,
I own right
reason, which I would obey:
which distinguishes by sense
And gives us
rules of good and ill from thence,
desires with a reforming will
To keep 'em
more in vigor, not to kill.
hinders, mine helps to enjoy,
appetites yours would destroy.
My reason is
my friend, yours is a cheat;
out, my reason bids me eat;
yours your appetite does mock:
This asks for
food, that answers, "What's o'clock?""
distinction, sir, your doubt secures:
true reason I despise, but yours.
Thus I think
reason righted, bur for man,
recant; defend him if you can.
For all his
pride and his philosophy,
beasts are, in their degree,
As wise at
least, and better far than he.
are the wisest who attain,
means, the ends at which they aim.
Jowler finds and kills his hares
Meres supplies committee chairs,
a statesman, th' other but a hound,
justice, would be wiser found.
You see how far
man's wisdom here extends;
Look next if
human nature makes amends:
principles most generous are, and just,
And to whose
morals you would sooner trust.
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.
necessity, they kill for food;
Man undoes man
to do himself no good.
With teeth and
claws by nature armed, they hunt
allowance, to supply their want.
But man, with
smiles, embraces, frendship, praise,
his fellow's life betrays;
pains works his distress,
necessity, but wantonness.
For hunger or
for love they fight or tear,
man is still in arms for fear.
For fear he
arms, and is of arms afraid,
By fear to fear
Base fear, the
source whence his best passions came:
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,
tedious life in misery
laborious, mean hypocrisy.
Look to the
bottom of his vast design,
wisdom, power, and glory join:
The good he
acts, the ill he does endure,
from fear, to make himself secure.
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.
dishonest, if you think it fair
cheats to play upon the square,
Nor can weak
truth your reputation save:
The knaves will
all agree to call you knave.
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.
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
All this with
indignation have I hurled
pretending part of the proud world,
with selfish vanity, devise
holy cheats, and formal lies
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
flattery, which way soever laid,
Is still a tax
on that unhappy trade);
If so upright a
statesman you can find,
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,
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,
reproof of sins, does man deride;
heart makes preaching a pretense,
obstreperous, saucy eloquence,
To chide at
kings, and rail at men of sense;
None of that
sensual tribe whose talents lie
pride, sloth, and gluttony;
Who hunt good
livings, but abhor good lives;
exalted to that height arrives
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;
bishop who would be adored
at the council board,
A greater fop
in business at fourscore,
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,
peace, does practice continence;
life's a proof he does believe
truths, which no man can conceive.
If upon the
earth there dwell such GOD-like men,
recant my paradox to them,
shrines of virtue, homage pay,
And, with the
rabble world, their laws obey.
If such there
be, yet grant me this at least:
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
"A Satire on
I' th' isle
of Britain, long since famous grown
the best cunts in Christendom,
and oh! long may he reign and thrive,
King and best-bred man alive.
Him no ambition
moves to get renown
French fool, that wanders up and down
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:
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.
thy prick, like thy buffoons at Court,
thee because it makes thee sport.
the sauciest prick that e'er did swive,
peremptoriest prick alive.
law, religion, life lay on 't,
through all to make its way to cunt.
rolls about from whore to whore,
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.
in her he settles well his tarse,
Yet his dull,
graceless ballocks hang an arse.
believe, had I but time to tell ye
The pains it
costs to poor, laborious Nelly,
employs hands, fingers, mouth, and thighs,
she can raise the member she enjoys.
monarchs I hate, and the thrones they sit on,
the hector of France to the cully of Britain.
Maybe a few explanatory remarks are in
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
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.
Next, since I am in a
fairly serious mood here is Rochester discoursing poetically upon
5. Biographical details
- 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
- Is, or is not, the two great ends of
- 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
- The great man's gratitude to his best friend,
- King's promises, whore's vows, towards thee they
- Flow swiftly to thee, and in thee never end.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
ME/CFS (that I prefer
to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search
is a disease I have since 1.1.1979: