June 13, 2013


Earl of Rochester

John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester (1647-1680) has a reputation as a writer of lyrics that are at once elegant, witty, and obscene. Graham Greene wrote a biography of Rochester entitled Lord Rochester's Monkey, which I may get around to reading someday.

Rochester's poetry was published by circulating manuscripts among his friends. So there exist poems with multiple variants, some of these variants could be moderately decorous, while others are as obscene as Rochester's reputation suggests.

Among the poems are numerous satires, primarily pieces of invective directed at someone that Rochester dislikes. One of his targets being the French, or those who ape French manners and customs. Here's an example from his "A Satire on Charles II:"

The song beginning "Fair Chloris in a pig-sty lay" is Rochester in a playfully obscene manner. It is not until the final verse that we learn just what Chloris is doing in that pig-sty.

To many Rochester is of interest because of his libertine lifestyle, and possible atheism, and his final deathbed conversion. That may be what attracted Greene to him. Others may be repulsed by his obscenity. I can't say that I was terribly moved by either the beauty of his verse, or his obscenity.

Next up the conclusion of Rick Atkinson's Liberation Trilogy, Guns at Last Light.