chapter  63
‘S.H.’, ‘Information about Nell Gwyn from Rochester’s poems’, Gentleman’s Magazine October 1851
Pages 2

I admit the objections which may be urged against the character of the witness I adduce. The acknowledged depravity of Lord Rochester, the scurrility and obscenity of much of his poetry, and the fickleness of his judgment, cause whatever he narrates, or whatever he describes, to be received with suspicion, if not with disgust. Yet so long as the works of an age are the witnesses of the moral standard of that age, it is only by their perusal that this knowledge can be acquired. So also as regards the lives of public characters. The sketch from the hand of a contemporary, with adequate means of information, is of far greater value than the more finished portrait drawn from the traditional or scattered records of later periods. It is in this respect that the poetry of the Restoration and that of Lord Rochester is valuable. The indecency of Lord Rochester I shall pass without comment. To him may be applied what Mr. Macaulay has written of Wycherley: ‘His indecency is protected against the critics as a skunk is protected against the hunters. It is safe, because it is too filthy to handle, and too noisome even to touch’.1 But to his poetical criticisms more lenity may be shown; his correctness in this respect argues favourably for the admission of his evidence on matters of fact, the truth of which more than most men of his day he was able to ascertain. In illustration of this, let us consider the description he has given of Dryden’s facility of versification, —

—his loose slattern Muse Five hundred verses every morning writ, Prove him no more a Poet than a Wit. Such scribbling authors have been seen before; ‘Mustapha’, the ‘Island Princess’, forty more, Were things perhaps composed in half an hour.1