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Isaac D’Israeli on Rochester’s satire
Goethe quotes the Satire against Mankind
Goethe’s Autobiography translated by R.O.Moon (1932), p. 512.
Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832) Germany’s most famous poet, took a keen interest in English
literature throughout his life.
The gayest and the most serious works have the same end, namely, to moderate both joy and pain by a felicitous intellectual
representation. If in this light we look at the majority of the English, mostly moral didactic, poems, they will, on the
average, only show us a gloomy dissatisfaction with life. Not only Young’s Night Thoughts, where this theme is preeminently worked out, but also the other meditative poems wander, before one is aware of it, into this mournful region,
where a task is presented to the understanding, which it is insufficient to solve, since even religion, which a man can always
construct for himself, here leaves him in the lurch. Whole volumes might be compiled which could serve as a
commentary to this frightful text:
Then Old Age and Experience, hand in hand,
Lead him to death, and make him understand,
After a search so painful and so long,
That all his life he has been in the wrong.1
Gilbert Burnet, Some Passages of the Life and Death of… Rochester, 1680, (No. 10).
William Hazlitt on Rochester
Collected Works (1902), ed. A.R.Waller.
William Hazlitt (1778–1830), was, next to Coleridge, the best literary critic of the period.
Lectures on the English Poets, 1818:
Rochester’s poetry is the poetry of wit combined with the love of pleasure, of thought with licentiousness. His
extravagant heedless levity has a sort of passionate enthusiasm in it; his contempt for everything that others respect,
almost amounts to sublimity. His poem upon Nothing is itself no trifling work. His epigrams were the bitterest, the
least laboured, and the truest, that were ever written.
Critical List of Authors from Select British Poets, 1824:
Rochester, as a wit, is first-rate: but his fancy is keen and caustic, not light and pleasing like Suckling or Waller. His
verses cut and sparkle like diamonds.
Satire against Mankind, ii. 25–8. Goethe quotes these lines in English but does not name the author.
An anonymous aside on Rochester
Extract from an article on ‘The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia’, Retrospective Review (1820), ii. 35.
And, indeed, it is remarkable enough, how few of those who have astonished their contemporaries by their wit and
genius, and whose name were in their own age held up to an almost idolatrous admiration, have left behind them memorials
sufficient to justify their fame…. In the compositions of Rochester, what foundation can we find for that reputed
predominancy of wit which all his contemporaries allowed him, and which seemed almost to excuse his profligacy and
extenuate his vice. We look in vain, in the productions of such men, to find an adequate cause for the lavishness and
superabundance of praise which was heaped on them by the devotion of their co-evals.
Henry Crabb Robinson on Rochester’s obscenity
Henry Crabb Robinson On Books and their Writers (1938), ed. E.J. Morley, i. 247.
Henry Crabb Robinson (1775–1867), friend of Lamb, Southey, Wordsworth and Coleridge, is here
confuting an argument that Byron is a great poet because he reveals the depravity of human nature.
Extract from Diary for 20 September 1820: I admitted that Lord Byron’s works do exhibit a most depraved and corrupt
heart, but observed that he shares this merit with Voltaire, Lord Rochester, and all the obscene and profligate writers of
Italy and France.
John Genest on Rochester’s Valentinian
Extract from Some Account of the English Stage (1832), i. 411–2.
This work is one of the most reliable and informative accounts of English Drama from 1660–1830.
Lord Rochester plainly saw what parts of the original ought to be omitted, and has very properly ended his play with the
death of Valentinian—but he has not been fortunate in his additions, his language being very inferiour to Fletcher’s.
Nothing could be more a-propos than the revival of this Tragedy at this time;1 as no Court Chaplain ever carried the
doctrine of Passive obedience and Non-resistance to greater lengths than Fletcher does in the Maid’s Tragedy—The Loyal
Subject—Rollo, and this play—his father, who was Bishop of London, had probably instilled good principles into him at
an early age—Lord Rochester has added some similar sentiments of his own.