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The wildest & most fantastical odd man

This snippet follows on from A Ramble in St James’ Park, and is an overview of the life of the second earl of Rochester.

John Wilmot, second earl of Rochester (1647–1680), poet and courtier, was born on 10 April 1647 the only surviving son of Henry Wilmot, first earl of Rochester, a royalist army officer, and his second wife, Anne.  The family moved to Paris when Henry Wilmot went into exile, settling in the Louvre at the court of Henrietta Maria, Charles I’s queen.

In 1660 Rochester was admitted to Wadham College, Oxford.  He was ‘a very hopefull Youth, very virtuous and good natur’d (as he was always) and willing & ready to follow good Advice’. Oxford was a hard drinking university and Rochester had the misfortune to be patronised by Robert Whitehall, known as that ‘useless member’ of Merton College, who, as a result of ‘following the trade of drinking as he was wont, procured himself a red face.’ Whitehall undertook to instruct the boy, ‘on whom he absolutely doted’, in the art of poetry.

Rochester was created MA filius nobilis on 9 September 1661, and on 21st November 1661 he set out on his travels with a governor, Dr Andrew Balfour, a physician and herbalist presumably chosen by the king, and two servants, with all expenses paid by the crown. The group toured Europe, resting at Venice, Padua, and Paris.

Even before Rochester arrived back at court, the king had chosen a bride for him. He was ‘encouraged by the king to make his [addresses] to Mrs. Mallet, who was the great beauty and fortune of the North.’  Elizabeth’s grandfather had brought her to court in 1664 to find her a husband. On 28th May 1665, Pepys recounted the following story:

of my Lord of Rochester’s running away on Friday night last with Mrs. Mallet … who had supped at White-hall and was going home to her lodgings with her grandfather, my Lord Ha[w]l[e]y, 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 Rochester (for whom the King had spoke to the lady often, but with no success) was taken at Uxbridge; but the lady is not yet heard of, and the King mighty angry and the Lord sent to the Tower.

In June 1665, Rochester addressed a petition to the king from the Tower: ‘Sheweth that noe misfortune on earth could bee so sensible to your Petitioner as the losse of your Majesties favour.’ Charles responded on 19th June by ordering Rochester to be discharged from the Tower. Released from prison, and having spent some time abroad, serving in the Anglo-Dutch wars, Rochester returned to court in 1667, and on 29th January, he and Elizabeth were married. In the same year he took his seat in the House of Lords.

In 1668, pregnant with their daughter, Lady Rochester retired to Adderbury, the Wilmot estate in Oxfordshire, where Anne Wilmot (named for Rochester’s mother), was born on 30th April 1669. For twelve years, from 1667 to 1679, Rochester’s life followed a familiar pattern: London during sessions of parliament and Adderbury during recesses; ‘He was wont to say that when he came to Brentford [on the London road] the devill entred into him and never left him till he came into the country again.’

Rochester’s life at court revolved around wine and women. According to Anthony Hamilton’s Memoirs of the comte de Grammont, Rochester seduced Sarah Cooke, who became ‘the prettiest, but also the worst actress in the realm.’  She was followed by others, including the actress Elizabeth Barry. Later reports stated that Rochester took over Barry’s training as an actress and ‘taught her not only the proper cadence or sounding of the voice, but to seize also the passions, and adapt her whole behaviour to the situations of the character.’ In April 1677, Barry, pregnant with Rochester’s child, left ‘this gaudy, gilded stage’.  His daughter, Elizabeth Clerke, was born in December 1677, but Barry was ‘no more monogamous than Rochester,’ and their relationship was very stormy. According to one of Rochester’s letters, Elizabeth ‘made it … absolutely necessary’ for Rochester to remove his daughter temporarily from her care.  In his will he left the child £40 a year.

‘For five years together’, Rochester himself said, ‘he was continually Drunk … [and] not … perfectly Master of himself … [which] led him to … do many wild and unaccountable things.’ He presented himself to Barry as ‘the wildest and most fantastical odd man alive,’ and in June 1675, he ‘in a frolick after a rant did … beat downe the dyill [glass chronometer] which stood in the middle of the Privie Gardens, which was esteemed the rarest in Europe’.  “What … doest thou stand here to fuck time?” he apparently ranted.

Rochester’s writings were 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, but 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.  Rochester was also interested in the theatre. In addition to an interest in the actresses, he wrote an adaptation of Fletcher’s Valentinian (published in 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;

In the summer of 1679, Rochester learned that Jane Roberts, a former mistress, had died of syphilis. The year before, she had undergone mercury therapy, a particularly unpleasant therapy to cure the pox; ‘what shee has endured would make a damd soule fall a laughing att his lesser paines’.

Rochester himself succumbed to syphilis in 1679.  He renounced his former life of sin, and ordered ‘all his profane and lewd Writings … and all his obscene and filthy Pictures, to be burned.’ Towards the end, Rochester was ‘delirious’ his friend William Fanshaw observed, ‘for to my knowledge he believed neither in God nor Jesus Christ.’ His mother reported to her sister-in-law that ‘one night … he was disordered in his head’ and talked ‘ribble rabble’ and that on another occasion ‘his head was a little disordered.’ At last there was nothing left but ‘Skin and Bone’. Rochester died at High Lodge about 2 a.m. on 26 July 1680 ‘without … so much as a groan.’ He was buried on 9th August 1680.

Source: Frank H. Ellis, DNB. 
© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved
Love Poetry Prostitution Sex Vice

A Ramble in St James’ Park

Continuing with the poetry theme, today’s fragment is from John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester (1647-80) a notorious courtier and poet. His life is deserving of a post of its own, and I will work on a few snippets from his biography for a later post. However, what follows is his scandalous poem A Ramble in St James’s Park, which as a result of its pornographic nature, was still in 1964 regarded as unprintable in England. The poem is fascinating as a counterpart to Gascgoine’s Disdainful Dame, but it also challenges our perceptions of history as remote and disconnected from the modern world.

WARNING: It goes without saying that the poem contains some very strong language and sexual imagery and is not suitable for under 18s.

A Ramble in St. James’s Park

Much wine had passed, with grave discourse
Of who fucks who, and who does worse
(Such as you usually do hear
From those that diet at the Bear),
When I, who still take care to see
Drunkenness relieved by lechery,
Went out into St. James’s Park
To cool my head and fire my heart.
But though St. James has th’ honor on ‘t,
‘Tis consecrate to prick and cunt.

There, by a most incestuous birth,
Strange woods spring from the teeming earth;
For they relate how heretofore,
When ancient Pict began to whore,
Deluded of his assignation
(Jilting, it seems, was then in fashion),
Poor pensive lover, in this place
Would frig upon his mother’s face;
Whence rows of mandrakes tall did rise
Whose lewd tops fucked the very skies.
Each imitative branch does twine

In some loved fold of Aretine,
And nightly now beneath their shade
Are buggeries, rapes, and incests made.
Unto this all-sin-sheltering grove
Whores of the bulk and the alcove,
Great ladies, chambermaids, and drudges,
The ragpicker, and heiress trudges.
Carmen, divines, great lords, and tailors,
Prentices, poets, pimps, and jailers,
Footmen, fine fops do here arrive,

And here promiscuously they swive.
Along these hallowed walks it was
That I beheld Corinna pass.
Whoever had been by to see
The proud disdain she cast on me
Through charming eyes, he would have swore
She dropped from heaven that very hour,
Forsaking the divine abode
In scorn of some despairing god.

But mark what creatures women are:
How infinitely vile, when fair!
Three knights o’ the’ elbow and the slur
With wriggling tails made up to her.
The first was of your Whitehall baldes,
Near kin t’ th’ Mother of the Maids;
Graced by whose favor he was able

To bring a friend t’ th’ Waiters’ table,
Where he had heard Sir Edward Sutton
Say how the King loved Banstead mutton;
Since when he’d ne’er be brought to eat
By ‘s good will any other meat.
In this, as well as allthe rest,
He ventures to do like the best,

But wanting common sense, th’ ingredient
In choosing well not least expedient,
Converts abortive imitation
To universal affectation.
Thus he not only eats and talks
But feels and smells, sits down and walks,
Nay looks, and lives, and loves by rote,
In an old tawdry birthday coat.
The second was a Grays Inn wit,
A great inhabiter of the pit,
Where critic-like he sits and squints,
Steals pocket handkerchiefs, and hints

From ‘s neighbor, and the comedy,
To court, and pay, his landlady.
The third, a lady’s eldest son
Within few years of twenty-one
Who hopes from his propitious fate,
Against he comes to his estate,
By these two worthies to be made
A most accomplished tearing blade.

One, in a strain ‘twixt tune and nonsense,
Cries, “Madam, I have loved you long since.
Permit me your fair hand to kiss”;
When at her mouth her cunt cries, “Yes!”
In short, without much more ado,
Joyful and pleased, away she flew,
And with these three confounded asses
From park to hackney coach she passes.

So a proud bitch does lead about
Of humble curs the amorous rout,
Who most obsequiously do hunt
The savory scent of salt-swoln cunt.
Some power more patient now relate
The sense of this surprising fate.
Gods! that a thing admired by me
Should fall to so much infamy.
Had she picked out, to rub her arse on,
Some stiff-pricked clown or well-hung parson,
Each job of whose spermatic sluice

Had filled her cunt with wholesome juice,
I the proceeding should have praised
In hope sh’ had quenched a fire I raised.
Such natural freedoms are but just:
There’s something generous in mere lust.
But to turn a damned abandoned jade
When neither head nor tail persuade;
To be a whore in understanding,
A passive pot for fools to spend in!

The devil played booty, sure, with thee
To bring a blot on infamy.
But why am I, of all mankind,
To so severe a fate designed?
Ungrateful! Why this treachery
To humble fond, believing me,
Who gave you privilege above

The nice allowances of love?
Did ever I refuse to bear
The meanest part your lust could spare?
When your lewd cunt came spewing home
Drenched with the seed of half the town,
My dram of sperm was supped up after
For the digestive surfeit water.
Full gorged at another time

With a vast meal of slime
Which your devouring cunt had drawn
From porters’ backs and footmen’s brawn,
I was content to serve you up
My ballock-full for your grace cup,
Nor ever thought it an abuse
While you had pleasure for excuse –
You that could make my heart away
For noise and color, and betray

The secrets of my tender hours
To such knight-errant paramours,
When, leaning on your faithless breast,
Wrapped in security and rest,
Soft kindness all my powers did move,
And reason lay dissolved in love!
May stinking vapors choke your womb
Such as the men you dote upon
May your depraved appetite,

That could in whiffling fools delight,
Beget such frenzies in your mind
You may go mad for the north wind,
And fixing all your hopes upon’t
To have him bluster in your cunt,
Turn up your longing arse t’ th’ air
And perish in a wild despair!
But cowards shall forget to rant,

Schoolboys to frig, old whores to paint;
The Jesuits’ fraternity
Shall leave the use of buggery;
Crab-louse, inspired with grace divine,
From earthly cod to heaven shall climb;
Physicians shall believe in Jesus,
And disobedience cease to please us,
Ere I desist with all my power
To plague this woman and undo her.

But my revenge will best be timed
When she is married that is limed.
In that most lamentable state
I’ll make her feel my scorn and hate:
Pelt her with scandals, truth or lies,
And her poor cur with jealousies,
Till I have torn him from her breech,

While she whines like a dog-drawn bitch;
Loathed and despised, kicked out o’ th’ Town
Into some dirty hole alone,
To chew the cud of misery
And know she owes it all to me.
And may no woman better thrive
That dares prophane the cunt I swive!

Booze Love Poetry

’Twas wit at first, and wine, that made them live

This snippet is from Henry Vaughan, English metaphysical poet (1622-95). What is interesting is the description of a gathering of poets in a London tavern, all intent on boozing, smoking, & womanising. An interesting insight into the intersection between art & everyday life in the seventeenth century

A Rhapsody

Occasionally written upon a meeting with some of his friends at the Globe Tavern, in a chamber painted overhead with a cloudy sky and some few dispersed stars and on the sides with landscapes, hills, shepherds, and sheep.

Darkness and stars i’ the midday! they invite
Our active fancies to believe it night;
For taverns need no sun but for a sign,
Where rich tobacco and quick tapers shine,
And royal, witty sack, the poet’s soul,
With brighter suns than he doth gild the bowl;
As though the pot and poet did agree
Sack should to both illuminator be.
That artificial cloud with its curled brow

Tells us ’tis late; and that blue space below
Is fired with many stars; mark, how they break
In silent glances o’er the hills and speak
The evening to the plains; where, shot from far,
They meet in dumb salutes, as one great star.
The room, methinks, grows darker, and the air
Contracts a sadder color and less fair;
Or is ’t the drawer’s skill: hath he no arts
To blind us so we can’t know pints from quarts?
No, no, ’tis night; look where the jolly clown

Musters his bleating herd and quits the down.
Hark! how his rude pipe frets the quiet air
Whilst every hill proclaims Lycoris fair.
Rich, happy man! that canst thus watch and sleep,
Free from all cares, but thy wench, pipe, and sheep.
But see, the moon is up; view where she stands
Sentinel o’er the door, drawn by the hands
Of some base painter that for gain hath made

Her face the landmark to the tippling trade.
This cup to her, that to Endymion give,
’Twas wit at first, and wine, that made them live.
Choke may the painter! and his box disclose
No other colors than his fiery nose;
And may we no more of his pencil see
Than two churchwardens and mortality.

Should we go now a-wandering, we should meet
With catchpoles, whores, and carts in every street,
Now when each narrow lane, each nook and cave,
Signposts and shop-doors pimp for every knave,
When riotous sinful plush and telltale spurs
Walk Fleet Street and the Strand, when the soft stirs
Of bawdy, ruffled silks turn night to day,
And the loud whip and coach scolds all the way,

When lust of all sorts and each itchy blood
From the Tower-wharf to Cymbeline and Lud
Hunts for a mate, and the tired footman reels
’Twixt chairmen, torches, and the hackney wheels.
Come, take the other dish; it is to him
That made his horse a senator.  Each brim

Look big as mine! The gallant, jolly beast
Of all the herd (you’ll say) was not the least.
Now crown the second bowl, rich as his worth,
I’ll drink it to; he! that like fire broke forth
Into the Senate’s face, crossed Rubicon,
And the state’s pillars, with their laws thereon,
And made the dull gray beards and furred gowns fly

Into Brundisium, to consult and lie.
This to brave Sulla!  Why should it be said
We drink more to the living than the dead?
Flatt’rers and fools do use it. Let us laugh
At our own honest mirth; for they that quaff
To honor others do like those that sent
Their gold and plate to strangers to be spent.
Drink deep; this cup be pregnant; and the wine
Spirit of wit to make us all divine,

That big with sack and mirth we may retire
Possessors of more souls and nobler fire,
And by the influx of this painted sky
And labored forms, to higher matters fly;
So, if a nap shall take us, we shall all
After full cups have dreams poetical.
Let’s laugh now, and the pressed grape drink
Till the drowsy day-star wink,
And in our merry, mad mirth run
Faster and farther than the sun;
And let none his cup forsake
Till that star again doth wake;
So we men below shall move
Equally with the gods above.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Love Poetry

Disdainful Dame

This fragment comes from George Gascogine (1539-78), Elizabethan poet & soldier.  What is particularly charming about the poem is the author’s determination to chastise, Horatian-style, his scornful mistress.
Farewell with a Mischief
written by a lover being disdainfully abjected by a dame of high calling, who had chosen (in his place) a playfellow of baser condition: & therefore he determined to step aside, and before his departure giveth her this farewell in verse
Thy birth, thy beauty, nor thy brave attire,
(Disdainful Dame, which doest me double wrong)
Thy high estate, which sets thy heart on fire,
Or new found choice, which cannot serve thee long
Shall make me dread, with pen for to rehearse,
Thy skittish deeds, in this my parting verse.
For why thou knowest, and I myself can tell,
By many vows, how thou to me wert bound:
And how for joy, thy heart did seem to swell,
And in delight how thy desires were drowned.
When of thy will the walls I did assail,
Wherein fond fancy fought for mine avail.
And though my mind have small delight to vaunt,
Yet must I vow my heart to thee was true:
My hand was always able for to daunt
Thy slandrous foes and keep their tongues in mew.
My head (though dull) was yet of such device,
As might have kept thy name always in price.
And for the rest my body was not brave,
But able yet, of substance to allay
Thy raging lust, wherein thy limbs did rave,
And quench the coals which kindled thee to play.
Such one I was, and such always will be,
For worthy Dames, but then I mean not thee.
For thou hast caught a proper paragon,
A thief, a coward, and a Peacock fool:
An Ass, a milksop, and a minion,
Which hath no oil thy furious flames to cool;
Such one he is, a fere for thee most fit,
A wand’ring guest, to please thy wavering wit.
A thief I count him for he robs us both,
Thee of thy name, and me of my delight:
A coward is he noted where he goeth,
Since every child is match to him in might.
And for his pride no more, but mark his plumes,
The which to prink he days and nights consumes.
The rest thyself in secret sort can judge,
He rides not me, thou knowest his saddle best:
And though these tricks of thine mought [might] make me grudge,
And kindle wrath in my revenging breast,
Yet of myself, and not to please thy mind,
I stand content my rage in rule to bind.
And far from thee now must I take my flight,
Where tongues may tell (and I not see) thy fall:
Where I may drink these drugs of thy despite,
To purge my Melancholic mind withall.
In secret so, my stomach will I sterve [starve],
Wishing thee better than thou dost deserve.
                  Spraeta tamen vivunt

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