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The Preface to Thomas Dryar’s (largely spurious) edition of Rochester
Giles Jacob on Rochester
The Poetical Register (1719–20), ii. 230–3.
Giles Jacob (1686–1744), was a lawyer by training. He wrote voluminously on literary and legal
JOHN WILMOT, Earl of Rochester.
This shining Nobleman was the Son of Henry Earl of Rochester; whose Fame, for Loyalty and Valour, equall’d his Son’s
for his surprizing Wit and Genius. He was born at Dichley, near Woodstock, in Oxfordshire, in the Year 1648, and educated
in Wadham-College, Oxford, under the Tuition of Dr. Blandford, afterwards successively Bishop of Oxford and Worcester.
He was a Person of most excellent Parts and great Learning, being thorowly acquainted with all Classick Authors, both
Greek and Latin. He early suck’d in those Perfections of Wit, Eloquence, and Poetry, which made him the Wonder of
the Age wherein he liv’d. In all his Composures there is something peculiarly Great and New; and tho’ he has lent to
many, he has borrowed of none: Nor was he deficient in his other personal Accomplishments, which were very much
improv’d by his Travels; for in all the Qualifications of a Gentleman for the Court or the Country, he was universally
known, and acknowledg’d to be a very great Master; but the natural Tendency of his Temper unhappily inclin’d him to
Excesses of Pleasure and Wantonness. He had a strange Vivacity of Thought, and Vigour of Expression; his Style was
clear and strong, and his Figures very lively, and few Men ever had a bolder Flight of Fancy, more steddily govern’d by
Judgment than his Lordship. He laid out his Wit very freely in Libels and Satires, in which he had a peculiar Talent of
mixing his Wit with his Malice, and fitting both with such apt words, that Men were tempted to be pleased with them.
From thence his Compositions came to be easily known, few or none having such an artful way of tempering these
together as he had: And his Satire he always defended, by alledging there were some Persons that could not be kept in Order,
or admonish’d, but in this way. His Poetry has eminently distinguish’d it self from that of other Men, by a thousand
irresistable Beauties: ’Twas all Original, like himself; the Excellencies are many and masterly, and the Faults few and
inconsiderable; and those it has are of the kind, which Horace says, can never offend.
—Quas aut incuria fudit;1
Aut humana parum cavit Natura.
But in his Choice of Subjects, he frequently border’d on Obscenity. He would often retire into the Country, and be for
some Months wholly employ’d in Study, or the Sallies of his Wit: His Studies were divided between the comical and
witty Writings of the Antients and Moderns, the Roman Authors, Books of History and Physick; and Boileau among the
French, and Cowley among the English Wits, were those he admir’d most. Nature had fitted him for great Things, and his
Knowledge and Observation qualified him to have been one of the most extraordinary Men England has produc’d: But
Death took him off in the three and thirtieth Year of his Age. He died in the Ranger’s-Lodge in Woodstock-Park, on the
26th of July, 1680. of a lingring Disease (which was attended with great Marks of Repentance for his Vices and
Extravagancies) and was bury’d in a Vault under the North Isle joining to Spellesbury Church in Oxfordshire. The chief of
his incomparable Poems are the following:
I. A Satire against Man; an inimitable Piece, and the severest Satire that ever was penn’d.
II. Horace’s tenth Satire of the first Book imitated. This Poem lashes Mr. Dryden and several of the top Poets of his time.
III. A Satire upon the Times.
IV. Satire on the King, for which he was banish’d the Court, and afterwards set up on Tower-street for an Italian
Mountebank; which occasion’d his famous Speech of Alexander Bendo
V. Tunbridge-Wells, a Satire.
VI. Bath Intrigues.
VII. The young Statesman, a Satire.
VIII. A Satire against Marriage.
IX. A Session of the Poets. This is a comical Satire on the Dramatick Poets.
X. The Rehearsal a Satire.
XI. A Defence of Satire. This Poem begins,
When Shakespear, Johnson, Fletcher rul’d the Stage,
They took so bold a Freedom with the Age,
That there was scarce a Knave or Fool in Town
Of any Note, but had his Picture shown.
And in his Answer to the Defence of Satire, written by Sir C.S. he has these Lines:
Satire is of Divine Authority,
For God made one of Man, when he made Thee.
XII. On the Death of Mr. Greenhill, the famous Painter.
XIII. Upon Nothing, an excellent Piece.
XIV. The Perfect Enjoyment.
XV. The Disappointment.
XVI. The Virgin’s Desire.
XVII. Et Cætera.
XVIII. To his Mistress.
XIX. On a false Mistress.
XX. An Extempore, upon receiving a Fall at Whitehall-Gate, by attempting to salute the Dutchess of Cleaveland, as she
was stepping out of her Chariot.1
‘Which either carelessness has produced or human nature has been too negligent about.’ Horace, Ars Poetica, 352–3. This is quoted
in Wolseley’s Preface, and Jacob is obviously borrowing from Wolseley in this passage.
1 I include this list as an illustration of the muddle the Rochester canon had got into. Only items I, II, IV, V, XIII, XIV, XVIII and
possibly XIX and XX would be accepted as by Rochester today. Jacob’s scholarship can be judged on item XI where he lists as
Rochester’s a poem which he goes on to tell us was written by ‘C.S.’ —Carr Scroope. Item XVII is particularly intriguing.
A Comment on Rochester from a Life of Sedley
The Works of Sir Charles Sedley (1722 [for 1721]), i. 8–9.
This life of Sir Charles Sedley, said on the title page to be ‘by an eminent hand’, is usually ascribed to
Daniel Defoe. It borrows freely from Giles Jacob’s accounts of the poets [see No. 38],
It is true, it [the writing of love poetry] was an Art too successful in those Days, to propagate1 the Immoralities of those
Times; nor did it at all assist to protect the Vertue of the Readers, whether of one Sex or another. But it must be
acknowledg’d, he [Sedley] excell’d Dorset, Rochester, and those superior Poets, who, as they conceiv’d lewdly, so they
wrote in plain English, and took no care to cover up the worst of their Thoughts in clean Linnen; which scandalous
Custom, in a Word, has assisted to bury the best Performances of that Age, because blended with Prophaneness or
Indecency. They are not fit to be read by People whose Religion and Modesty have not quite forsaken them; and which,
had those grosser Parts been left out, would justly have pass’d for the most polite Poetry that the World ever saw.
i.e. in propagating.
Pope and Spence on Rochester
Joseph Spence (1699–1768) from whom the following material is quoted was made Professor of Poetry at
Oxford in 1728. The Anecdotes for which he is now chiefly remembered are a lifetime’s record of
conversations with his literary acquaintances. They were first published in 1820. For Pope’s view of
Rochester see Introduction, pp. 14–15. The last extract is translated from a short history of the English
poets written by Spence in French.
Lord Rochester was of a very bad turn of mind, as well as debauched.
(From the Duke of Buckingham1 and others that knew him.)
(Anecdotes, ed. J.M.Osborn (1966), i. 470)
1–7 May, 1730
POPE: Oldham is a very undelicate writer. He has strong rage, but ’tis too much like Billingsgate. Lord Rochester had
much more delicacy and more knowledge of mankind. [Osborn, i. 473],
Oldham is too rough and coarse. Rochester is the medium between him and the Earl of Dorset. Lord Dorset
is the best of all those writers.
SPENCE: What, better than Rochester?
POPE: Yes; Rochester has neither so much delicacy nor exactness as Dorset. (instance: his Satire on Man.) [Osborn, i.
He [Lord Dorset] and Lord Rochester should be considered as holiday writers—as gentlemen that diverted
themselves now and then with poetry, rather than as poets.
SPENCE: (This was said kindly of them, rather to excuse their defects than to lessen their characters.) [Osborn, i. 469]
Rochester has very bad versification sometimes,
SPENCE: (He instanced this from his tenth satire of Horace,1 his full rhymes etc.) [Osborn, i. 471]
This period was very rich in satire. Besides the great Dryden it produced Dorset, Rochester, Oldham, Buckingham and
Butler [Remarks on Butler and Buckingham’s Rehearsal omitted]. Oldham wrote in a strong and very severe manner.
Rochester was more perceptive of the characters of men; he had a more penetrating force and was more polished. (Pope
and his Contemporaries (1949), ed. J.M.Osborn.)
Presumably John Sheffield, Earl of Mulgrave, Duke of Buckinghamshire, with whom Pope was acquainted.
Voltaire on Rochester
Voltaire was perhaps the first major French writer to take a serious interest in English literature. The Lettres
Philosophiques, an early work, were written during or soon after Voltaire’s visit to England from mid-1726
to the beginning of 1729. They were first published in 1733 in an English translation by John Lockman and
were first published in French the following year.
Letter 21, ‘Of the Earl of Rochester and Mr Waller’.
The Earl of Rochester’s name is universally known. Mr. de St. Evremont has made very frequent mention of him, but
then he has represented this famous nobleman in no other light than as the man of pleasure, as one who was the idol of
the fair; but with regard to myself, I would willingly describe in him the man of genius, the great poet. Among other
pieces which display the shining imagination his lordship only could boast, he wrote some satires on the same subjects as
those our celebrated Boileau made choice of. I do not know any better method of improving the taste, than to compare
the productions of such great geniuses as have exercised their talent on the same subject. Boileau declaims as follows against
human reason in his satire on man.
Cependant à le voir plein de vapeurs légères,
Soi-même se bercer de ses propres chimères,
Lui seul de la nature est la base et l’appui,
Et le dixième Ciel ne tourne que pour lui.
De tous les Animaux il ist ici le Mtre;
Qui pourait le nier, poursuis-tu? Moi peut-être:
Ce mtre prétendu qui leur donne des loix,
Ce Roi des Animaux combien a-t-il de Rois?1
The Lord Rochester expresses himself, in his satire against man, in pretty near the following manner: but I must first
desire you always to remember, that the versions I give you from the English poets are written with freedom and
latitude; and that the restraint of our versification, and the delicacies of the French tongue, will not allow a translator to
convey into it the licentious impetuosity and fire of the English numbers.
[Voltaire here translates lines 72–95 of the Satire Against Mankind into French.]
An Allusion to Horace, Pinto, lv.
THE CRITICAL HERITAGE
Whether these ideas are true or false, it is certain they are expressed with an energy and fire which form the poet. I
shall be very far from attempting to examine philosophically into these verses, to lay down the pencil and take up the
rule and compass on this occasion; my only design in this letter, being to display the genius of the English poets, and
therefore I shall continue in the same view.
[Voltaire ends the letter with a discussion of Edmund Waller.]
(Letters concerning the English Nation (1733))
From Chapter 7 of the Histoire de Jenni.
…extreme in his dissipation, in his courage, in his ideas, in his expression, in his Epicurean philosophy, attracted to
nothing unless it was extraordinary, which he very soon got tired of, having the kind of spirit which takes likeness for
demonstration; wiser and more eloquent than any other young man of his period but never giving himself the trouble of
going into anything deeply.
(‘Histoire de Jenni’, Works (Paris, 1879), xxi. 551)
Boileau, Satire. A translation of these lines by Oldham ‘a little altered’ are given in the text as follows:
Yet, pleas’d with idle whimsies of his brain,
And puff’d with pride, this haughty thing would fain
Be thought himself the only stay and prop
That holds the mighty frame of nature up.
The skies and stars his properties must seem,
Of all the creatures he’s the Lord, he cries.
And who is there, say you, that dares deny
So own’d a truth? That may be, Sir, do I.
This boasted monarch of the world who awes
The creatures here, and with his nod give(s) laws:
This self-nam’d king, who thus pretends to be
The lord of all, how many lords has he?
For a comparison of Boileau’s, Oldham’s and Rochester’s version of this satire see Rhymer, No. 26.
Francis Lockier on Rochester
Joseph Spence, Anecdotes, ed. J.M.Osborn (1966).
Francis Lockier 1667–1740, Dean of Peterborough, was a noted litterateur.
a) Horace’s ‘Supper’, Boileau’s ‘Festin’ and Lord Rochester’s ‘Feast’ [are] all very good. Rochester’s Satire on Man
exceeds and much elevates (instance the first lines) his pattern in Boileau.1
(Osborn, i. 720)
b) Lord Rochester and Lord Dorset’s two copies on Ned Howard1 (intended to have been set before his works in
ridicule) show their different tastes. One is mighty easy and natural, the other has more uncommon, beautiful, [and]
quite new thought in it than any copy perhaps that ever was written.
(Osborn, i. 679)
The references are to Horace Satires, II. viii, Boileau’s third satire and Rochester’s Timon. Both Timon and the Satire against Mankind
owe something to Boileau’s satires.
The reference seems to be to Dorset’s poem beginning ‘Come on, ye critics! Find one fault who dare’ and to a poem beginning ‘As
when a bully draws his sword’ which came to be attributed to Rochester but is probably by Edward Ashton; both poems are in the
new Yale edition of Poems on Affairs of State (i. 338–40). The passage illustrates, however, a familiar comparison between Rochester’s
natural style and Dorset’s inventiveness, for references to ‘easy’ Rochester cf. No. 6 and No. 22a.