chapter  66
2 Pages

GEORGE GILFILLAN, Rochester as wicked moralist 1860

We hear of the Spirit of Evil on one occasion entering into swine, but, if possible, a stranger sight is that of the Spirit of Poetry finding a similar incarnation. Certainly the connexion of genius in the Earl of Rochester with a life of the most degrading and desperate debauchery is one of the chief marvels of this marvellous world. [Provides biographical information.] With [his] early courage some of his biographers have contrasted his subsequent reputation for cowardice, his slinking away out of street-quarrels, his refusing to fight the Duke of Buckingham, etc. This diversity at different periods may perhaps be accounted for on the ground of the nervousness which continued dissipation produces, and perhaps from his poetical temperament. A poet, we are persuaded, is often the bravest, and often the most pusillanimous of men. Byron was unquestionably in general a brave, almost a pugnacious man; and yet he confesses that at certain times, had one proceeded to horsewhip him, he would not have had the hardihood to resist. Shelley, who, in a tremendous storm, behaved with dauntless heroism, and who would at any time have acted on the example of his own character in Prometheus, who, in a shipwreck,

gave an enemy His plank, then plunged aside to die,

was yet subject to paroxysms of nervous horror, which made him perspire and tremble like a spirit-seeing steed. Rochester had the same temperament, and a similar creed, with these men, although inferior to them both in morale and in genius…. [Provides biographical information.]

… His poems appeared in the year of his death, professing on the title page to be printed at Antwerp. They contain much that is spurious, but some productions that are undoubtedly Rochester’s. They are at the best, poor fragmentary exhibitions of a vigorous, but undisciplined mind. His songs are rather easy than lively. His imitations are distinguished by grace and spirit. His Nothing is a tissue of clever conceits, like gaudy weeds growing on a sterile soil, but here and there contains a grand and gloomy image, such as-

And rebel Light obscured thy reverend dusty face.