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John Wilmot (1647 - 1680)

Related: theatre - 1600s - 1600s literature - early erotica - free love - libertine novel - British literature - history of obscenity - radical - satire

Contemporaries: Benedictus de Spinoza - Samuel Pepys - Daniel Defoe - Mary Delarivier Manley - Jonathan Swift - Giambattista Vico

Johnny Depp in The Libertine (2004) - Lawrence Dunmore

The Libertine is an English-language British 2004 film starring Johnny Depp, John Malkovich, Samantha Morton, and Rosamund Pike. It is directed by Lawrence Dunmore from Stephen Jeffreys' adaptation of the play of the same name. Johnny Depp's character is the poet John Wilmot. The film features the characters Charles II of England, John Wilmot and actress Elizabeth Barry. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Libertine_%282005_film%29


John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (1647-1680) was an English nobleman, a friend of King Charles II of England, and the writer of much satirical and bawdy poetry.

Rochester was born in Ditchley, Oxfordshire, and educated at Wadham College, Oxford. Having carried out the Grand Tour, he became the toast of the Restoration court and a patron of the arts. He married an heiress, Elizabeth Malet, but had many mistresses, including the actress Elizabeth Barry. Shortly before his death, he had a change of heart, largely thanks to the influence of Bishop Gilbert Burnet.

Rochester's most famous verse concerned King Charles II of England, his great friend. In reply to his jest that:

"He never said a foolish thing, and never did a wise one",

Charles is reputed to have said:

"That is true -- for my words are my own, but my actions are those of my ministers. Rochester's mother was Parliamentarian by descent and inclined to Puritanism for possibly expedient means. His father, a hard-drinking Royalist from Anglo-Irish stock, had been created Earl of Rochester in 1652 for military services to Charles II during his exile under the Commonwealth; he died abroad in 1658, two years before the restoration of monarchy in England.

At twelve Rochester matriculated at Wadham College, Oxford, and there, it is said, `grew debauched'. At fourteen he was conferred with the degree of M.A. by the Earl of Clarendon, who was Chancellor to the University and Rochester's uncle. After a tour of France and Italy, Rochester returned to London, where he was to grace the Restoration Court. Courage in sea-battle against the Dutch made him a hero.

In 1667 he married Elizabeth Malet - a witty heiress whom he had attempted to abduct two years earlier: Pepys' Diary, 28 May 1665:

"Thence to my Lady Sandwich's, where, to my shame, I had not been a great while before. Here, upon my telling her a story of my Lord Rochester's running away on Friday night last with Mrs Mallet, the great beauty and fortune of the North, who had supped at Whitehall 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 footmen, 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 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.".

Rochester's life is 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 called them) who flourished for about fifteen years after 1665. As well as Wilmot they included Henry Jermyn, Charles Sackville Lord Buckhurst (later Earl of Dorset), John Sheffield Earl of Mulgrave, Henry Killigrew, Sir Charles Sedley, the playwrights Wycherley and Etherege, as well as George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham.

In banishment from Court for a scurrilous lampoon on Charles II, Rochester set up as `Doctor Bendo', a physician skilled in treating barrenness; his practice was, it is said, `not without success'. Deeply involved with theatre, his coaching of his mistress Elizabeth Barry began her career as the greatest actress of the Restoration stage.

At the age of thirty-three, as Rochester lay dying - from syphilis, it is assumed - his mother had him attended by her religious associates; a deathbed renunciation of atheism was published and promulgated as the conversion of a prodigal. This became legendary, reappearing in numerous pious tracts over the next two centuries.

Rochester's own writings were at once admired and infamous. Posthumous printings of his play Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery gave rise to prosecutions for obscenity, and were destroyed. During his lifetime, his songs and satires were known mainly from anonymous broadsheets and manuscript circulation; most of Rochester's poetry was not published under his name until after his death.

One of the most accessible and attractive of the major English poets, Rochester has long been the least available. Though his poetry is as persistently literary as it is lively, it has been marginalised by the very forces which gathered and gave profile to, the writings that compose English Literature.

Rochester has not lacked distinguished admirers. Defoe quoted him widely and often. Tennyson would recite from him with fervour. Voltaire admired Rochester's satire for 'energy and fire' and translated some lines into French to 'display the shining imagination his lordship only could boast'. Goethe could quote Rochester in English, and cited his lines to epitomise the intensely 'mournful region' he encountered in English poetry. Hazlitt judged that 'his verses cut and sparkle like diamonds', while 'his contempt for everything that others respect almost amounts to sublimity'. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wilmot%2C_2nd_Earl_of_Rochester

Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery (1684) - John Wilmot, Earl Rochester

Sodom, or the Quintessence of Debauchery (1684) - John Wilmot, Earl Rochester[Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Book Description
The most obscene play ever written. Rochester, a member of the court of Charles II of the England, had a rep as the most outre sexual deviant of his day.

The drama gives us Sodom's king, Bolloxinion, his wife Cuntigratia, their children, generals, ministers and servants engaging in an impossibly wide series of activities, (hook being that *traditional* sex was abandoned, by edict...) --This text refers to the Paperback edition. --via Amazon.com

The play Sodom is not known definitively to be the work of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester. Determining date of composition and attribution are complicated owing mostly to misattribution of evidence for and against Rochester's authorship in Restoration and later texts.

Whether by Rochester or not (the question can't be answered), Sodom merits attention not just as an early piece of pornography but also as a disguised satire on the court of Charles II and especially of his apparent willingness to tolerate Catholicism in England at a time when that religion was officially proscribed. Written presumably at the time of Charles's 1672 Declaration of Indulgence (which promulgated official toleration of Catholics and others), Sodom delineates in its racy plot a king much like Charles whose insistence on promoting his sexual preference for sodomy can be read as an analogue to the debate in England at the time about the king's real motive in pushing religious toleration. See Richard Elias, "Political Satire in Sodom," Studies in English Literature, 1978. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodom%2C_or_the_Quintessence_of_Debauchery [Sept 2005]

We do know that in 1689 two British booksellers were convicted of obscenity for selling the Earl of Rochester's Sodom: or, The Quintessence of Debauchery (first published in Antwerp in 1684), where the sodomy is almost entirely male-male. --http://www.glbtq.com/literature/censorship,3.html [Sept 2005]

Extreme indulgence in sensual pleasures; dissipation. --AHD

Orgies. --AHD

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester
John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (April 1, 1647 July 26, 1680) was an English nobleman, a friend of King Charles II, and the writer of much satirical and bawdy poetry. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wilmot%2C_2nd_Earl_of_Rochester [Sept 2005]

See also: Sodom - 1600s - erotic fiction - UK - obscene - satire - bawdy

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