Debauchery

(c) Dillington House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

John Wilmot portrait by Peter Lely

After years of religious oppression under Cromwell and the puritans Britain was ready to release its pent up frustrations with gusto in the Glorious Revolution.  The restoration of Charles II to the monarchy in 1660 opened the doors to theater, dance, music and art.  Into this world stepped the famous libertine John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester.

Born April 1st 1647.  His father was a famous brave dashing cavalier and smuggled the young Charles out of England.  John had an up and down beginning to his career.  “Debauched” in Oxford, aged 13.  He tried to elope with a rich wife and was imprisoned in the Tower.  He volunteered to fight in the Navy and redeemed himself with heroism in battle.  His wit made him highly entertaining and favoured at court.  His pranks got him in trouble and rose to the level of treason and got him banned from court.

A famous rake in his day, the poem below gives a sense of his style.  He lived and wrote about overt sexuality.   He died aged only 33.  He is described as being drunk for 5 years in the company of what Andrew Marvell called “The Merry Gang”.  This was a gang of noble young blades who engaged in a feast of debauchery in the Court of King Charles.  It is thought that Wilmot died suffering from a variety of venereal diseases including Syphilis and Gonorrhea.

Because of his  lax moral character Wilmot was largely ignored in the Victorian era when poetry had a great flowering.  It was not until the 1920’s that he was re-admitted to polite society.

A Song Of A Young Lady To Her Ancient Lover ; by Lord John Wilmot

Ancient Person, for whom I
all the flattering youth defy,
long be it e’er thou grow old,
aching, shaking, crazy cold;
but still continue as thou art,
Ancient Person of my heart.

On thy withered lips and dry,
which like barren furrows lie,
brooding kisses I will pour,
shall thy youthful heart restore,
such kind show’rs in autumn fall,
and a second spring recall;
nor from thee will ever part,
Ancient Person of my heart.

Thy nobler parts, which but to name
in our sex would be counted shame,
by ages frozen grasp possest,
from their ice shall be released,
and, soothed by my reviving hand,
in former warmth and vigour stand.
All a lover’s wish can reach,
for thy joy my love shall teach;
and for thy pleasure shall improve
all that art can add to love.
Yet still I love thee without art,
Ancient Person of my heart.

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