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John Sheffield, Earl of Mulgrave, later Marquess of Normandy and Duke of Buckinghamshire, on Rochester

John Sheffield, Earl of Mulgrave, later Marquess of Normandy and Duke of Buckinghamshire, on Rochester

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Of fighting sparks some may their pleasure say,

But ’tis a bolder thing to run away.

The world may well forgive him all his ill,

For ev’ry fault does prove his penance still;

Falsely he falls into some dang’rous noose,

And then as meanly labors to get loose;

A life so infamous it’s better quitting,

Spent in base injuring and low submitting.

I’d like to have left out his poetry,

Forgot almost by all as well as me:

Sometimes he hath some humor, never wit,2

And if it ever (very rarely) hit,

’Tis under so much nasty rubbish laid,

To find it out’s the cinder-woman’s trade,

Who for the wretched remnants of a fire,

Must toil all day in ashes and in mire.

So lewdly dull his idle works appear,

The wretched text deserves no comment here,

There one poor thought’s sometimes left all alone

For a whole page of dulness to atone.

’Mongst forty bad’s one tolerable line,

Without expression, fancy, or design.

(from Poems on Affairs of State, ed. G.de F.Lord (1963), i. 412–13)


Lines 63–4, 80–9 of An Essay upon Poetry (1682)

First then of Songs, that now so much abound:

Without his Song no Fop is to be found…

… Here as in all things else, is most unfit

Bawdry barefac’d, that poor pretence to Wit, —

Such nauseous Songs as the late Convert made,1

Which justly call this censure on his Shade;

Not that warm thoughts of the transporting joy

Can shock the Chastest or the Nicest cloy,

But obscene words, too gross to move desire,

Like heaps of Fuel do but choak the Fire.


Bessus, a cowardly, bragging character in Beaumont and Fletcher’s King and no King.

The essence of the distinction here seems to be that humour is destructive, consisting mainly of ridicule, while wit involves

imaginative invention. A little later the emotional connotation came to be reversed and humour came to be regarded as

superior to wit, see for example Congreve’s letter ‘Concerning Humour in Comedy’ (1695) Spingarn, iii. 242.



That Author’s Name has undeserved praise,

Who pall’d the appetite he meant to raise.

(from J.E.Spingarn, Critical Essays of the Seventeenth Century (Oxford, 1908), ii. 288)




Charles Blount on Rochester’s translation from Seneca

7 February 1680

‘Letter to Strephon’ [i.e. Rochester], The Miscellaneous Works of Charles Blount (1695), pp. 117–18.

Charles Blount, 1654–93, was an admirer of Hobbes and published a number of free thinking and

deistic works.

My lord, I had the Honour Yesterday to receive from the Hands of an Humble Servant of your Lordship’s, your most

incomparable Version of that Passage of Seneca’s, where he begins with, —Post mortem nihil est, ipsaque mors nihil,2 etc. —

and must confess, with your Lordship’s Pardon, that I cannot but esteem the Translation to be, in some measure, a

confutation of the Original; since what less than a divine and immortal Mind could have produced what you have there

written? Indeed, the Hand that wrote it may become Lumber, but sure, the Spirit that dictated it, can never be so: No, my

Lord, your mighty Genius is a most sufficient Argument of its own Immortality; and more prevalent with me, than all

the Harangues of the Parsons, or Sophistry of the Schoolmen.1




Rochester was converted to Christianity on his deathbed in 1680.

‘After Death nothing is, and nothing Death’ (Rochester’s translation), see Pinto, xxxix.

The rest of the letter is a learned discussion of the immortality of the soul.


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John Sheffield, Earl of Mulgrave, later Marquess of Normandy and Duke of Buckinghamshire, on Rochester

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