"That vain Animal":  Rochester's Satyr and the Theriophilic Paradox
University of Haifa
Rosenfeld, Nancy. ""That vain Animal" : Rochester's Satyr and the Theriophilic Paradox." Early Modern Literary Studies 9.2 (September, 2003): 5.1-27 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/09-2/roseroch.html>.
John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester (1647-1680), is perhaps most in/famous for his sexually-explicit, often scatalogical poems. The son of a loyal supporter of Charles II, he is also figured in the drama of his time as the quintessential Restoration rake.  Yet in his poetry he interrogated the court hierarchy to which he belonged, while struggling with questions of the place of the human in the perceived cosmic hierarchy. Rochester's Satyr against Reason and Mankind is a development and explication of what has come to be known as the theriophilic paradox, the notion that while the human being occupies a higher rung in the universal hierarchy than the beast, as indicated by human power over the animal world, human behaviour justifies the claim that human morality is on a lower level than that of the beasts. The paradoxical nature of man's place in the broader hierarchy is also treated with in Rochester's Upon Nothing.
In his discussion of theriophilic currents in seventeenth-century French thought George Boas locates the theoretical basis of theriophily in the claim that animals are in some way more "natural" than man, and therefore superior. Theriophilists are challenged, of course, to justify this claim in the face of the counterargument that beasts, lacking reason, i.e. the ability to think, are necessarily located on a lower hierarchical rung than humankind. There may be, in other words, a theriophilic "Intentional Fallacy." Animal and human behavior cannot be judged by the same standards, since animals are incapable of intending: the lion who attacks and kills an antelope does not "intend" to cause suffering to its victim, while the man who knives his neighbor to death in a barroom brawl intends to cause suffering. Some seventeenth-century theriophilists replied that bestial lack of reason was not a curse, while others denied that animals lack reason. According to Boas:
The Primitivists [in 17th and 18th century France] were men who looked to their pre-civilized fellows as exemplars of human conduct. Some of these exemplary people were held to have lived in the Golden Age, but others--even in pagan times--were held to be extant in outlying districts of the globe. The Scythians and the Hyperboreans (sometimes the Aethiopians) were the noble savages of the Ancients. After the period of exploration set in and the American Indian was discovered, the inhabitants of the new world replaced the Scythians and Hyperboreans in the affections of the Primitivists. But at the same time some of their number, for one reason or another, turned their admiring glances below man and found the true models in the animals. [. . .] The theoretical--if not psychological--basis of Theriophily is that the beasts--like savages--are more "natural" than man, and hence man's superior (1-2).
Reports of voyages to so-called "newly-discovered" parts of Asia, Africa and the New World, including depictions of unfamiliar flora, fauna, geological phenomena, climate and societies, led some seventeenth-century writers not only to rework what is now called Eurocentricity, but to rethink the assumed centrality of the human. Liminal figures such as Rochester, born during the Civil War and coming of age during the Restoration, were conscious of living in a period characterized by sweeping change. It is thus not surprising that Rochester is numbered among those who question the place of the human animal vis-à-vis the nonhuman animal.
Rochester, according to Christopher Hill, "was unique among poets in challenging the Christian assumptions of his society. Man is alone in an irrational world. Our fallible reason is all we have to impose a limited coherence on an incoherent universe, to come to terms with the insoluble absurdity" (300). David Farley-Hills has even suggested that Rochester may usefully be viewed as one of the first poets of the absurd; and indeed, in Rochester's positioning of the poet in the role of clown, as well as in his Satyr's "extraordinary exploration of a world without God, in which man is forced to impose his own limited coherence on an incoherent world," (164, 189) there is something familiarly, yet uncomfortably, modern.
Most Christians in seventeenth-century England do not seem to have seriously doubted that one of the reasons for Satan's decision to rebel against God was his unwillingness to accept a lower place in what had been a fixed hierarchy in which the angels, headed by Satan himself, occupied an honorable position, second only to that of the Father. When God decided to beget a divine, yet human son who would occupy a rung above the angels, he changed, complicated and irrevocably confused the hierarchy. As told in Paradise Lost, when the rebel angels are defeated and sent howling into outer darkness the Father decides on the constitution of a new set of creatures, human and nonhuman, who will inhabit the new world--the earth--being prepared to receive them. Not only is the strict hierarchy of heaven changed by the insertion of this new element; its previously clear, linear structure is further blurred by the Father's decision to clothe his Son in human form.
Concern about man's place in the hierarchy pertained not only to Satan. As E. M. W. Tillyard suggested: "During the whole period when the notion of the chain of being was prevalent, from the Pythagorean philosophy to Pope, it was man's key position in creation--a kind of Clapham Junction where all the tracks converge and cross--that so greatly exercised the human imagination" (84). Tillyard then details the problematics of what he terms the "great commonplace": the idea that humankind occupies the middle ground between god and beast, while simultaneously noting the "vitality" engendered by the need to face up to the perceived paradox of man's place in the hierarchy (85-6). Man's rank between angel and animal, involving as it does the expectation that the human will adopt the morality of the divine while bearing the mortality--the senses and impulses--of the animal is a challenge to the human mind's ability to interpret and make sense of seeming incongruity.
In the Hebrew Bible nonhuman animals are generally ranked below the humans with whom they share the earth. Roy Flannagan suggests that animals' appetites serve to teach human beings "what to reject in ourselves as base motives [. . .]. The entrance of sin into the world spreads the distance between the hierarchies. It also increases the distance between humans and God, making communication more difficult. Sin creates enmity between humans and animals, and it makes the naturally subordinate into inferiors" (323). How, then, can a claim for animals' superiority be sustained?
In his Satyr against Reason and Mankind, Rochester, according to Harold Love, explores "alternatives to the lampoon ethos,"  and while "both more and less than a satire," the poem "might be more usefully described by the Popean, or, rather, Warburtonian, term 'moral essay'" ("Rochester and Traditions" 157). The central question posed in this "moral essay" is man's place in the created universe's hierarchy vis-à-vis the animals. From the opening line the poem's Speaker stakes out a claim for the notion that man, despite his much-vaunted reason, is "vain," "proud," and thus has a lower level of morality than the animals with whom he shares the earth:
Were I (who to my cost already am
One of those strange prodigious Creatures Man)
A Spirit free, to choose for my own share,
What Case of Flesh, and Blood, I pleas'd to weare,
I'd be a Dog, a Monkey, or a Bear,
Or any thing but that vain Animal,
Who is so proud of being rational (91-92; 1-7).
- Theriophily came into being, according to James E. Gill: "when Cynic and Stoic ideas of animal oneness with nature were contrasted to the idea that humankind had become divorced from nature, that human reason had somehow become 'unnatural.' Hence there are two 'reasons,' the reason of nature and the reasons of men" ("Fragmented Self" 32n). Reason, in other words, has two meanings which may overlap, but are not completely synonymous: the thought-processes engaged in by the human mind, on the one hand; and the inherent reasonableness--logic--of the natural universe. While beasts may be incapable of the former, they constitute a central element of the latter; and Gill suggests that historical and formal analysis of the principal sources of theriophilic thinking reveal a
dissociation of human nature and human reason from nature and the reason implicit in it--from the Logos, which is immanent in the orderly behavior of animals. Thus, while theriophiles argue that beasts are more natural, and therefore that they are better than man, they can also contend that beasts are more reasonable than men, even, paradoxically, if beasts do not reason as well as men or if they do not reason at all. Human reason in such cases is often seen as indirect, complex, abstract, and remote from the simple natural life ("Mind Against Itself" 558).
Could I choose to be any flesh-and-blood creature, the Speaker of the Satyr cries, I'd prefer to be any animal but man! The preference of beasts to men, resulting in a sense of mock distress at one's inability to choose to be another beast, can be seen as the Satyr's "primary satiric device," according to Charles A. Knight: "the Speaker presents alternative choices that he knows are impossible. Thus he is comically aware that he is trapped by his situation" (255).
Rochester's choice of a title, and subsequent editors' decisions not to modernize the spelling of satyr, direct attention to ancient connections between the literary/ dramatic form and the half-man half-goat of mythology.  The poet was surely familiar with Isaiah's description of the fallen Babylon, that corrupt city in which satyrs figure:
[W]ild beasts of the desert shall lie there [in Babylon]; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs  shall dance there.
And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces: and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged. 
This depiction of the desolate pleasure palaces would have resonated for Rochester with overtones of the London beau monde of the 1670s, in which he himself took an active part, while at the same time composing bitter attacks on corrupt courtiers and their hangers-on in such poems as A Ramble in St. James's Parke, Timon and Tunbridge Wells.
The half-man, half-goat is an especially salient image for a poet who would question man's rank in the cosmos vis-à-vis animals, even though the body-structure of the satyr of mythology clearly indicates that beasts rank beneath humans. The lower half of the satyr, after all, is the nonhuman, as is the case with other familiar human-animal combinations such as the centaur and the sphinx; and in Paradise Lost Sin "seemed a woman to the waist, and fair,/ But ended foul in many a scaly fold/ Voluminous and vast, a serpent armed/ With mortal sting (2.650-653). 
The Speaker of the Satyr, as might be expected, utilizes the familiar device of endowing animals with human emotions: "for Love, they [beasts] fight, or tear" (95; 139). In what may be a gesture of ironical respect to animals, however, the Speaker refrains from explaining human behaviour on the basis of its so-called animality. "Man, with smiles, embraces, Friendships, praise,/ Unhumanely his Fellows life betrays;/ With voluntary pains, works his distress,/ Not through necessity, but wantonness" (95; 135-8); when characterized by betrayal or wanton cruelty, human behaviour is explicitly termed "inhumane" rather than "bestial."
To one who questions man's superiority over the beasts it might seem reasonable to invent a creature half-beast, half-human, whose human half is the lower section of the body. Yet despite his claim that man ranks beneath the beasts, Rochester may have recoiled from depicting a creature whose lower half is human but whose upper half is animal. The famous portrait of Rochester and his pet monkey  shows the poet face-to-face, on an equal plane, as it were, with an ape. Ronald Paulson notes this sense of reciprocity, perhaps even of equality: Rochester offers the ape a bay-tree branch while "the ape (emblematic of imitation) offers the poet a page he has torn out of a book; he is aping the poet, sitting on a pile of books with another in his hand, a finger marking the place where he has stopped reading or has torn out pages. Rochester himself, however, is holding in his other hand a number of manuscript pages, aping the ape" (116). The poet, in other words, and possibly the painter, too, appear to have comically envisioned the man and the monkey as equals.
Rochester's engagement with the question of the human's place in the wider hierarchy was almost certainly influenced by John Milton's Paradise Lost.  During his visits to the earth Satan experiments with animal disguises, including, but not limited to, that of the serpent. Having adopted the form of a cormorant, Satan observes the newly-created Adam and Eve from his post at the top of a tree. The fiend then abandons his perch and playfully romps among the animal inhabitants of Eden, temporarily becoming one, then another, of the garden's denizens, and seemingly having a good time:
Down he alights among the sportful herd
Of those four-footed kinds, himself now one,
Now other, as their shape served best his end
Nearer to view his prey [. . .]
About them round
A lion now he stalks with fiery glare,
Then as a tiger, who by chance hath spied
In some purlieu two gentle fawns at play,
Straight couches close, then rising changes oft
His couchant watch (4.395-398, 401-406).
The composer of Genesis 3 ascribes no motive to the serpent for his attempt on Eve's virtue, and makes no reference to Satan: we are merely informed that "the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made" (Gen. 3:1). Milton adds--in the Argument preceding book 9 of Paradise Lost--that "Satan having compassed the earth, with meditated guile returns as a mist by night into Paradise, enters into the serpent sleeping;" and the body of the poem contains a more lengthy description of Satan's "possession" of the serpent:
In at [the serpent's] mouth
The devil entered, and his brutal sense,
In heart or head, possessing soon inspired
With act intelligential; but his sleep
Disturbed not, waiting close the approach of morn (9.187-191).
Yet the careful reader is left with a sense of confusion as to what Satan really did to/ with the serpent. Did he actually become a serpent, at least during the time of the temptation? Or did he temporarily remove the serpent from its body and borrow the body, as one might rent an apartment from its rightful owners while they are on vacation? 
If left to their own devices, the animals, according to Rochester, use their own forms wisely: "'Tis evident, Beasts are, in their degree,/ As wise at least, and better far than he [Man]" (94; 115-116). Both the Speaker in Rochester's Satyr and the Miltonic narrator of Paradise Lost may be claiming that there is something Satanic in the violation of the strictures of hierarchy inherent in using other creatures, those lower in the pecking order, as it were, to achieve one's own ends. The evil of such exploitation is clear for the Miltonic narrator. After all, Satan first scouts the Edenic territory in the shape of a beast and then addresses Eve while inhabiting the body of a serpent, in order to convince her to disobey God's fiat. Conversely, Rochester's Speaker praises what he terms the wisdom of the animals: "Those Creatures, are the wisest who attain,/ By surest means, the ends at which they aim" (94; 117-118), even when those ends are provision of food and reproduction: "For hunger, or for Love, they fight, or tear" (95; 139). The beast will only kill when survival is at stake; while this may be obedience to a mindless reflex, it may also be wise. The human, on the other hand, is motivated by fear: "wretched Man, is still in Arms for fear;/ For fear he armes, and is of Armes afraid,/ [. . .] Base fear, the source whence his best passions came" (95; 140-141, 143).
Rochester was raised as a communicant of the Church of England, as Dustin H. Griffin notes, although his mother is thought to have had Puritan leanings (195). While for long periods of his adult life he was not apparently a believer,  theriophily must still have been a paradox for him: after all, according to Genesis God created humans in his likeness "and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth" (Gen. 1:26). This dominion included giving names to "all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field" (Gen. 2:20); and when the abashed First Parents needed clothing God himself made them coats of animal skins to cover their nakedness (Gen. 3:21). It was clear to the composers of the Hebrew Bible that humankind ranked above animals in the hierarchy of the created world; after Adam's and Eve's expulsion from Eden beasts were clearly expendable in the face of human needs.
Rochester employs the theriophilic paradox to question traditional admiration for human reason, that quality which is used to justify mankind's superiority vis-à-vis beasts. Of what value is man's vaunted reason if it does not prevent humans from behaving cruelly to one another? The Speaker notes that beasts, unlike humans, do not practice wanton cruelty among their own kind:
Which is the basest Creature Man, or Beast?
Birds, feed on Birds, Beasts, on each other prey,
But Savage Man alone, does Man, betray:
Prest by necessity, they Kill for Food,
Man, undoes Man, to do himself no good.
With Teeth, and Claws, by Nature arm'd, they hunt,
Natures allowance, to supply their want (95; 128-134).
There may be, nevertheless, a possible connection between human reason and bestial appetite. The Speaker declares his readiness to obey his own "right reason," rather than the generally-accepted false reasoning of so-called philosophers:
My Reason is my Friend, yours is a Cheat,
Hunger call's out, my Reason bids me eat;
Perversy yours, your Appetite does mock,
This asks for Food, that answers What's a clock? (94; 106-109).
In the words of Ronald W. Johnson, the Satyr "appears to be one thing, an indictment of those who regard mankind as superior to beasts on the basis of reason; but the poem is quite another thing, an indictment of all mankind as inevitably dishonest on the basis of common sense" (373). Reason, in Rochester's view, is a form of what we now call common sense; the latter does not bid humans to ignore the exigencies of his body, but rather encourages an awareness of them.
The Adversarius, the proud reasoner with whom the Speaker argues, as Dustin W. Griffin points out, is described in language recalling Satan's fall (215). The downfall of reason leads its bearer "Through errors Fenny--Boggs, and Thorny Brakes" (92; 15), over "Mountains of Whimseys," (92; 17), eventually to drown in "doubts boundless Sea" (92; 19). Once afloat in the boundless sea, "like to drown,/ Books bear [Rochester's reasoner] up awhile, and make him try,/ To swim with Bladders of Philosophy" (92; 19-21). Griffin traces in the latter a pattern whose source may very well be the downfall of Satan in Paradise Lost (215). The image of the reasoner bobbing up and down, supported by life-preservers made of books, is reminiscent of the fallen angels in Paradise Lost who
apart sat on a hill retired,
In thoughts more elevate, and reasoned high
Of providence, foreknowledge, will and fate,
Fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute,
And found no end, in wandering mazes lost (2.557-561).
The denizens of hell sat, according to the Miltonic narrator, on a hill, "elevate" in thoughts, reasoning "high"; as is Rochester's reasoner, they are stationed above the rest of the landscape. This height, however, is ironic, since they are in fact lost in underworld mazes or, in the case of Rochester's reasoner, about to drown.
If the Satyr can be seen as an intellectual exercise in which the poet addresses the theriophilic paradox, in Upon Nothing (composed, according to David M. Vieth, about two years after the Satyr ) Rochester plays with the notion that physical appetites are not merely examples of human animality, but may subvert the very linearity of the familiar hierarchy. The offspring of a familiar subgenre of poems on the subject of nothing composed in order to display one's ability to deal with paradox, Upon Nothing is an ironical address to "Nothing," the "Elder Brother even to Shade" (62: 1). Tony Barley has noted its parody of (or "blasphemous jibes at") Genesis 1: "Yet Something did thy [Nothing's] mighty power command/ And from thy fruitfull Emptinesses hand/ Snatcht, Men, Beasts, birds, fire, water, Ayre, and land" (62; 10-12). The latter list, as Barley notes, undermines the familiar structure of creation as detailed in the Bible and indicates a "chaotic equality," while stanzas 3 through 6 "tease [. . .] the Miltonic gospel's narrative of Satan's rebellion in Paradise Lost" (135).
Rochester envisions the Nothing whom he apostrophizes as a kind of ravenous mouth, "a boundless self" into which "Somthing, the Generall Attribute of all" must inevitably "undistinguisht fall" (7-9). This figure is reminiscent of "blind mouths," the central image used by Milton in Lycidas to describe the clergymen who betray their pastoral trust:
Blind mouths! that scarce themselves know how to hold
A sheep-hook, or have learned aught else the least
That to the faithful herdman's art belongs!
What recks it them? What need they? (119-122)
The secular framework in which Rochester felt most comfortable may have made the figure of the leader as shepherd attractive to him. This figure would have been meaningful for believer and nonbeliever alike; for Rochester it would have resonated with echos of theriophilic thought, in which boundaries between man and animal, shepherd and flock, were muddled. In Upon Nothing Rochester argues:
With form and Matter, Time and Place did joyne
Body thy foe with these did Leagues combine
To spoyle thy Peaceful Realme and Ruine all thy Line.
But Turncote-time assists the foe in vayne
And brib'd by thee destroyes their short liv'd Reign
And to thy hungry wombe drives back thy slaves again (62; 16-21).
Form, matter, time, place and body are listed in a confusing, possibly even meaningless order. Matter, the "Wickedst offspring of Nothing's race (62; 13) is then evoked in the form of leaders who betray their followers: politicians, monarchs, princes, statesmen--once again listed in "chaotic equality"--all "like thee [Nothing] look wise" (63; 45). The poem concludes with a tour de force of oxymorons, culminating in "Great mans gratitude," "Kings promises," "Whors vows," all of which "fflow Swiftly into thee, and in thee ever end"(64; 49-51). Rochester herein demonstrates how human processes of thought muddle the order of familiar hierarchies.
Traces of the "mouths" of Milton's "blind mouths" may be found in the "hungry wombe" in which Nothing's slaves reside. This "wombe" is reminiscent of Miltonic depictions of Satan's place and body. Hell, in which Satan rules as monarch, is conventionally figured as a giant maw;  and the hungry womb to which the slaves in Rochester's poem are driven back recalls Sin, Satan's daughter/ spouse, as detailed by the Miltonic narrator in Paradise Lost:
about her middle round
A cry of hell hounds never ceasing barked
[. . .] yet when they list, would creep,
If aught disturbed their noise, into her womb,
And kennel there (2.653-654, 656-658).
The first part of Milton's figure "blind mouths"--blindness--is hinted at in the "blind Phylosophies" with which Rochester's so-called "wise" amuse themselves:
Great Negative how vainly would the wise
Enquire, define, distinguish, teach, devise,
Didst Thou not stand to poynt their blind Phylosophies.
Is or is not, the two great Ends of ffate
And true or false the Subject of debate
That perfect or destroy the vast designes of State-
When they have wrackt the Politicians Brest
Within thy Bosome most Securely rest
And when reduc't to thee are least unsafe and best (63; 28-36).
The wise "vainly," that is, both proudly and fecklessly, pursue their research and conduct their arguments, even though the Great Negative calls attention to their blindness. The "Is Not," or Nothing, parallels the False. Yet all subjects of debate eventually end up "reduc't" to nothing, where they are, somewhat confusingly, "least unsafe and best." The damned angels of Paradise Lost, too, pass their time in "pleasing," though sterile debates:
Of good and evil much they argued then,
Of happiness and final misery,
Passion and apathy, and glory and shame,
Vain wisdom all, and false philosophy (2.562-565).
The debate engaged in alike by Rochester's intellectuals and Milton's hellbound scholars "in wandering mazes lost" (2.561) is gratuitous; at most it can "charm/ Pain for a while or anguish" (2.566-7).
It is worth noting that Rochester's generous use of the oxymoron may in itself be an intellectual exercise, an encapsulation of the paradoxes which form the basis of many of his poems. In The Fall he speaks in the name of
we poor Slaves to hope and fear,
[who] Are never of our Joys secure:
They lessen still, as they draw near;
And none but dull delights endure (26; 9-12).
The oxymoron "dull delights" expresses Rochester's view of his own eroticism; a bored greed necessarily pertains to postlapsarian desire. In the blessed "Created state/ Of Man and Woman, e're they fell" (26; 1-2) "Each member did their wills obey" (26; 6). There is a clear double entendre at work here; after Adam's and Eve's disobedience, i.e. Fall, the male member, too, is often disobedient and subject to falling.
In their "Created State" (26; 1), prior to their fall, man and woman lay "Naked beneath cool Shades" (26; 5). The First Couple and their human offspring can look back to a time when they, together with their nonhuman animal brethren, were "blest" (26;1); there are no oxymorons here. The dullness and the delights of a postlapsarian existence cancel each other out, and thus predict the Nothing of the fallen universe. Although Nothing, as "Elder Brother even to Shade," had apparently preceded creation, Nothing is always/ already with us, "dwell[ing] with fooles in grave disguise" (63; 43).
Rochester's Satyr drew responses--some, as might be expected, in the form of parody. One Mr. Griffith, a minister, parodies the Satyr while arguing with with its basic premise in his contemporary, though undated "Answer to the Earle of Rochesters Satyre on Mankind":
Boeth Dog, & Beare as well, as men, will fight,
And to noe purpose too each other bite;
And as for puggy, all his virtues lye
In Apeing Man, the onely thinge you flye.
The wisest way, these Evills to redresse,
Is to bee, what you are, nor more, nor lesse,
That is not Man, Dog, Beare, or Monkey neither,
But a rare something of them all together (565).
Griffith is optimistic: "But must Humanity be quite erac'd/ Because it is from what, it was, defac'd?" (564) The minister raises the possibility of integrating the animal and the human: man's rung in the hierarchy--beneath the angels and above the animals, yet partaking of aspects of both--can be accepted if man accepts the presence of the dog, the bear, the monkey, in his self. Rochester's Speaker did not believe in the possibility of such integration; instead he yearned to meet the "meek, humble man [. . .] Whose pious life's a proof he does believe,/ Misterious truths, which no Man can conceive" (97; 218-9). For Rochester, confusion vis-à-vis one's place in the hierarchy could not be eliminated; at most, one could be aware of its presence.
In his major satires, as Farley-Hills notes, Rochester adopts a dramatic form that allows him to present feelings directly, while placing them in a critical medium. The satires are both "a passionate expression of anger against man's ineptitude and ultimately a triumph of Augustan order over individualism" (156). Order in the Satyr is imposed by the theriophilic paradox. The individual who emerges, the Speaker, is a human being who questions man's place at the center of the angel-human-beast linearity. For those currently pondering the place of "the human," this individual is perhaps most challenging in his very ability to entertain the possibility that beasts are superior to humans.
1. Satyr (91; 7). Citations of Rochester's poems are to The Poems of John Wilmot Earl of Rochester, ed. Keith Walker. Citations are of page and line number/s. Walker entitles Rochester's most discussed poem Satyr; it is commonly known, however, as A Satyr against Reason and Mankind.
2. Rochester was portrayed by George Etherege in The Man of Mode as Dorimant. As John Conaghan notes: "From the beginning, there has been a great deal of interest in the extent to which the characters [in The Man of Mode] may be drawn from life. [. . .] Of the many, often conflicting identifications, that of Dorimant with the Earl of Rochester seems the most reasonable" (3).
3. Love defines what he calls the "lampoon tradition" as characterized by: "the informal rhythm, the idiomatic language, the casual indecency, and the immediate sense of a speaker-the 'claret drinker'-and of that speaker's delighted malice towards the rest of the human race" ("Rochester and Traditions" 151).
4. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "The confusion between the words satiric and satyric gave rise to the notion that the satyrs who formed the chorus of the Greek satyric drama had to deliver 'satyric' speeches. Hence, in the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries, the frequent attribution to the satyrs of censoriousness as a characteristic quality."
5. The OED notes that in the English Bible satyr is applied to the hairy demons or monsters (in Hebrew: se'irim) of Semitic superstition, who are said to inhabit deserts.
6. Isaiah 13: 21-22.
7. Citations of Paradise Lost, by book and line number, are to Paradise Lost, ed. Alastair Fowler. Citations of other poems by Milton--to line number/s--are to The Poems of John Milton, eds. John Carey and Alastair Fowler.
8. Rochester and his Monkey (c. 1675) is exhibited in the National Portrait Gallery in London immediately next to a portrait of Charles II, the earl's royal patron. The provenance of Rochester and his Monkey is not certain, although it is commonly attributed to Jacob Huysmans.
9. As Marianne Thormahlen suggests, Rochester was almost certainly familiar with Paradise Lost (81); and Dustin H. Griffin also believes that Rochester may have read Milton's great epic (215). In a letter to his close friend Henry Savile, written in July 1678, Rochester paraphrases/ parodies the Miltonic narrator's description of the burning lake on which Satan and the fallen angels lie (Paradise Lost 1.75-84): The Letters of John Wilmot Earl of Rochester, ed. Jeremy Treglown, (201-202).
10. In a posting to the Milton-List Carol Barton notes that "Milton seems to suggest the contamination that others have spoken about as the reason for the creature's punishment in the phrase 'nor nocent yet' (PL 9.186): perhaps its post-lapsarian 'nocence' is evidenced by the introduction of venom into the Serpent's system, representing the infusion of evil brought on by Satan's penetration of its body: after the Fall, the Serpent is no longer 'fearless unfear'd,' (9.187), but fearful (of Christ's bruising heel) and 'fear'd' by humankind as well, as evidenced by the abhorrence of things reptilian (in the various incarnations of Error and dragons and Godzillas and other scaled nasties) in humankind's race-memory. Post Fall, there is no doubt of his nocence."
11. See Gilbert Burnet's account of Rochester's last months. Burnet, a Church of England clergyman and family friend, attended Rochester during his final illness; Burnet recorded and published conversations with the dying earl which purport to trace the latter's return to religious belief.
12. See Vieth's The Complete Poems of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester 118n. The all but insoluble difficulties involved in establishing a reliable Rochester canon are detailed by Vieth in his Attribution in Restoration Poetry: A Study of Rochester's "Poems of 1680." See also Harold Love's discussion of the publication of Rochester's oeuvre both during the poet's life and after his death in The Culture and Commerce of Texts: Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-Century England.
13. Northrop Frye has noted Milton's probable familiarity with medieval paintings of the harrowing of hell, in which the latter is usually represented as a leviathan, "a huge, open-mouthed monster into which, or whom, Christ descends, like the Jonah whom Christ accepted as a prototype of his own Passion." Yet Milton appears, according to Frye, to have doubted that Christ actually spent three days in hell after his death. Such a belief, Frye avers, would not have been consonant with Milton's [mortalist] conviction that "the whole of Christ's human nature died on the cross, with no surviving soul or spirit able to visit hell" (229). Paradise Lost editor Alastair Fowler claims that "Milton's belief in the joint extinction and joint resurrection of man's body and mind was not eccentric heresy, but good Biblical theology" (549n).
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- Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. Alastair Fowler. London: Longman, 1991.
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- Paulson, Ronald. "Rochester: The Body Politic and the Body Private." The Author in His Work: Essays on a Problem in Criticism. Eds. Louis L. Martz and Aubrey Williams. New Haven: Yale UP, 1978. 103-21.
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Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.
© 2003-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).