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From Robert Anderson’s Life of Rochester
ROCHESTER IN ECLIPSE: CRITICISM
An Introductory Comment
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
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.
An anonymous comment on Rochester
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.
Thomas Park on Rochester
A Note from his Edition of Horace Walpole’s A Catalogue of the Royal and Noble Authors of England (1806), p.
This lord’s (Rochester’s) licentious productions too forcibly warrant the sentence of outlawry that decorum and taste
have passed upon them.
Isaac D’Israeli on Rochester’s satire
‘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.
D’Israeli has just been discussing Pope’s quarrel with Bentley.