chapter  75
RICHARD GARNETT, Rochester as satirist, 1895
Pages 2

Chapter 2, ‘Poets Contemporary with Dryden’. John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1647-80), is principally known to posterity by his vices and his repentance. The latter has helped to preserve the memory of the former, which have also left abiding traces in a number of poems not included in his works, and some of which, it may be hoped, are wrongly attributed to him. For a number of years Rochester obtained notoriety as, after Buckingham, the most dissolute character of a dissolute age; but at the same time a critic and a wit, potent to make or mar the fortunes of men of letters. ‘Sure’, says Mr. Saintsbury ‘to play some monkey trick or other on those who were unfortunate enough to be his intimates’.1 Many a literary cabal was instigated by him, many a libel and lampoon flowed from his pen, among others, The Session of the Poets,2 correctly characterized by Johnson as ‘merciless insolence’. Worn out by a life of excess, he died at thirty-three, and his penitence, largely due to the arguments and exhortations of Burnet, afforded the latter material for a narrative which Johnson, entirely opposed as he was to the author’s political and ecclesiastical principles, declares that ‘the critic ought to read for its elegance, the philosopher for its arguments, and the saint for its piety’.