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Pierre Bayle, a reference to Rochester
An anonymous essay on Rochester
The Miscellaneous Works of the Right Hon. the late Earls of Rochester and Roscommon (1707). Sigg. A8v, B6r–7v.
This essay was first published as ‘The Memoirs of the Life and Character of the late Earl of Rochester, in
a letter to the Duchess of Mazarine. By Mons. St Evremont’ in Bragge’s edition of the poems of Rochester
and Roscommon (1707). It was not however, published in Evremond’s Works (1704), and in the edition of
his Works (1714) the translator, Des Maizeaux, specifically disclaims it with the words: ‘I must not forget
to inform the Publick that the Memoirs of the Life of the Earl of Rochester in a letter to the Duchess of
Mazarin…were not written by Mons. de St. Evremond.’
His talent of Satire was admirable, and in it he spar’d none, not even the King himself, whose Weakness for some of his
Mistresses he endeavour’d to cure by several Means; that is, either by winning them from him, in spite of the
Indulgence and Liberality they felt from a Royal Gallant, or by severely lampooning them and him on various
Occasions; which generally the King (who was a Man of Wit and Pleasure, as well as my Lord) took for the natural
Sallies of his Genius, and meant as Sports of Fancy more than the Efforts of Malice…. It may be here expected, that I
should give a Character of his Lordship’s Writings, his Genius, his Temper and the like: But the first are so well
defended already, that there is nothing left for me to add; and it is so difficult a Matter to paint the latter, that I am
afraid to attempt it. However, since it seems the Duty of this Task I have undertaken, I shall venture to add a few
Words on both.
He had a Strength of Expression, and a Happiness of Thought peculiar to himself, and seems to me, of all the
Moderns, to have come nearest the Ancients in Satire, scarce excepting our Boileau; for tho’ he be very correct, and has
spar’d no Pains to dress the Satires of Horace in good French, yet it smells too much of the Lamp: Whereas, when any
Thought of Horace, Juvenal, Persius, or Boileau, falls in my Lord’s Verses, it is plainly his Lordship’s, without any Marks of
borrowing it from any other, the Spirit and Easiness of the whole being of a Piece. His looser Songs, and Pieces, too
obscene for the Ladies’ Eyes, have their peculiar Beauties and are indeed too dangerous to peruse; for what would have
render’d them nauseous, if they had been written by a Genius less powerful, in him alarms the Fancy, and rouzes the
Blood and Appetite more than all the Medicaments of Cleopatra… He had a particular Picque to Dryden, after his mighty
Success in the Town, either because he was sensible that he deserv’d not that Applause for his Tragedies, which the mad
unthinking Audience gave them, (which Corruptness of Taste was afterwards somewhat corrected by the Duke of
Buckingham’s Rehearsal)1 or whether it was out of Indignation of having any Rival in Reputation, either as a Poet in
General, or a Satyrist in particular; Satire, indeed, being one of the chief Excellencies of Dryden, as well as of my Lord
Daniel Defoe, remarks on Rochester from the Review
Like John Dennis, Defoe tended to see the reign of Charles II as a golden age of literature.
August 31st 1706,
All the regulated Life of a just and pious Man is Musick in the Eye of the Observer; the Eloquence of the Orator, the
Lines of the Poet make Musick in the Soul; who can read Virgil, Horace, Milton, Waller, or Rochester, without touching the
Strings of his Soul, and finding a Unison of the most charming Influence there?
June 8th 1708,
But I cannot quit this Affair of Elections, before I take Notice a little of the general Behaviour of the Gentry and Persons
of Quallity, in order to their Election—What is become of all our Comedians? Ah, Rochester, Shadwel, Otway, Oldham,
where is your Genius? Certainly, no subject ever deserv’d so much to be exposed, nothing can be so fruitful in Banter,
or deserved more to be ridicul’d.
March 29th 1711,
And I appeal to any Man that remembers the Days of King Charles II. when the License Tyranny Reign’d over the Press,
whether that Age did not abound in Lampoons and Satyrs, that Wounded; and at last went far in Ruining the Parties
they were pointed at, more than has ever been practis’d since the Liberty of the Press—And he that does not know it,
must be very Ignorant of those Times, and has heard very little of Andrew Marvel, Sir John Denham, Rochester, Buckhurst,
and several others, whose Wit made the Court odious to the People, beyond what had been possible if the Press had
The publication of Buckingham’s Rehearsal in 1672 preceded Rochester’s quarrel with Dryden.
March 28th 1713,
But I cannot but make one Observation as I go, (viz) That the Lampoons of this Age differ very much from those we
have seen in former Times; and tho’ at the same time, we pretend much to have a degree of Polite Wit beyond those
Days; yet nothing of that keenness of Satyr, the happy turns and brightness of Fancy appears in the Lampoons of this
Age, that were seen in Andrew Marvel, Sir John Denham, Rochester, Buckingham, Buckhurst, Sidley1 and others, the Wits of that
Day, nay, give Sing-Song D’Urfey his due, even his Ballads outdid us exceedingly: What wretched Stuff have we seen in
our publick Prints on both sides, one as well as t’other, which pass for Satyr!
i.e. Sir Charles Sedley.