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From Robert Anderson’s Life of Rochester

From Robert Anderson’s Life of Rochester

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200



ROCHESTER IN ECLIPSE: CRITICISM

1800–50



50.

An Introductory Comment

1800



From the Preface to Cooke’s edition of The Poetical Works of the Earl of Rochester (1800), p. xii.

This Preface, reproduced in later editions, leans heavily on Johnson’s Life of Rochester from which it

quotes freely.

These brief Memoirs afford a melancholy proof of the fatal effects of genius perverted, and talents misapplied. The Earl

of Rochester, from his elevated rank in life, literary endowments, and engaging qualifications, might have rendered

himself an ornament to society: instead of this, the record of his transient life serves only as a memento of human

frailty, and a blot to sully the page of biography.



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51.

An anonymous comment on Rochester

1806



Extract from an unsigned review of Thomas Moore’s Epistles, Odes and other Poems, Edinburgh Review (July

1806), viii. 457.

While France has to blush for so many tomes of Poésies Erotiques we have little to answer for, but the coarse

indecencies of Rochester and Dryden; and these, though sufficiently offensive to delicacy and good taste, can scarcely be

regarded as dangerous. There is an antidote to the poison they contain, in the open and undisguised profligacy with

which it is presented. If they are wicked, they have the honesty at least to profess wickedness. The mark of the beast is

set visibly on their foreheads; and though they have the boldness to recommend vice, they want the effrontery to make

her pass for virtue. In their grossest immoralities, too, they scarcely ever seem to be perfectly in earnest; and appear

neither to wish nor to hope to make proselytes. They indulge their own vein of gross riot and debauchery; but they do

not seek to corrupt the principles of their readers; and are contented to be reprobated as profligate, if they are admired

at the same time for wit and originality.

The immorality of Mr. Moore is infinitely more insidious and malignant.



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52.

Thomas Park on Rochester

1806



A Note from his Edition of Horace Walpole’s A Catalogue of the Royal and Noble Authors of England (1806), p.

224.

This lord’s (Rochester’s) licentious productions too forcibly warrant the sentence of outlawry that decorum and taste

have passed upon them.



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53.

Isaac D’Israeli on Rochester’s satire

1814



‘Literary Quarrels from Personal Motives’, Quarrels of Authors (1814), p. 314.

Isaac D’Israeli (1766–1848), the father of Benjamin Disraeli, was an assiduous collector of literary

anecdote. His best known collection is Curiosities of Literature (1791–3, 1823).

…to give full effect to their severity,1 poets always infuse a certain quantity of fiction. This is an artifice absolutely

necessary to practise; so I collect from a great master in the arts of satire, and who once honestly avowed, that no satire

could be composed, unless it was personal; and no personalities would sufficiently adorn a poem, without lies. This great

satirist was Rochester. Burnet details a curious conversation between himself and his lordship on this subject.1 The

bishop tells us that ‘he would often go into the country, and be for some months wholly employed in study, or the sallies

of his wit, chiefly directed to satire. And this he often defended to me, by saying, there were some people that could

not be kept in order, or admonished but in this way.’ Burnet remonstrated, and Rochester replied—‘A man could not

write with life, unless he were heated by revenge; for to make a satire without resentments, upon the notions of

philosophy, was as if a man would, in cold blood, cut men’s throats who had never offended him. And he said, the lies in

these libels came often in as ornaments, that could not be spared without spoiling the beauty of the poem.’ It is as useful

to know how the materials of satire are put together; as thus the secret of pulling it to pieces more readily, may

sometimes be obtained.



1



D’Israeli has just been discussing Pope’s quarrel with Bentley.



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