chapter  11
2 Pages

GILBERT BURNET, from the History of the Reign of King Charles II 1753

The three most eminent wits of that time, on whom all the lively libels were fastened, were the Earls of Dorset, and Rochester, and Sir Charles Sidley…Wilmot Earl of Rochester, was naturally modest, till the Court corrupted him. His wit had in it a peculiar brightness, to which none could ever arrive. He gave himself up to all sorts of extravagance, and to the wildest frolicks that a wanton wit could devise. He would have gone about the streets as a beggar, and made love as a porter. He set up a stage as an Italian mountebank. He was for some years always drunk, and was ever doing some mischief. The King loved his company for the diversion it afforded, better than his person: And there was no love lost between them. He took his revenges in many libels. He found out a footman that knew all the Court, and he furnished him with a red coat and a musket as a centinel, and kept him all the winter long every night, at the doors of such ladies, as he believed might be in intrigues. In the Court a centinel is little minded, and is believed to be posted by a captain of the Guards to hinder a combat: So this man saw who walked about, and visited at forbidden hours. By this means Lord Rochester made many discoveries. And when he was well furnished with materials, he used to retire into the country for a month or two to write libels: Once being drunk he intended to give the King a libel that he had writ on some ladies: But by a mistake he gave him one written on himself. He fell into an ill habit of body: And in several fits of sickness he had deep remorses; for he was guilty both of much impiety, and of great immoralities. But as he recovered he threw these off, and turned again to his former ill courses. In the last year of his life I was much with him, and have writ a book of what pass’d between him and me: I do verily believe, he was then so entirely changed, that, if he had recovered, he would have made good all his resolutions. Sidley had a more sudden and copious wit, which furnished a perpetual run of discourse: But he was not so correct as Lord Dorset, nor so sparkling as Lord Rochester.