John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester

English poet, and peer of the realm (1647-1680)

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (1 April 164726 July 1680) was an English nobleman, a friend of King Charles II of England, and the writer of much satirical and bawdy poetry.

There's not a thing on earth that I can name,
So foolish, and so false, as common fame.


  • Here lies our sovereign lord the king,
    Whose word no man relies on;
    He never says a foolish thing,
    Nor ever does a wise one.
    • Written on the Bedchamber Door of Charles II, as quoted in The Book of Days : A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities (1832) by Robert Chambers, Vol. II, "July 26", p. 126
  • Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories.
    • As quoted in The New Speaker's Treasury of Wit and Wisdom (1958) by Herbert Victor Prochnow

A Letter from Artemisia in Town to Chloe in the Country (1679)

As published in The Works of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1800) by Samuel Johnson, p. 9
  • Love, the most generous passion of the mind
    The softest refuge innocence can find
  • When my young master's worship comes to town,
    From pedagogue and mother just fit free,
    The heir and hopes of a great famiiy;
    Who with strong beer and beef the country rules,
    And ever since the Conquest have been fools;
    And now, with careful prospect to maintain
    This character, lest crossing of the strain
    Should mend the booby breed, his friends provide
    A cousin of his own to be his bride...

A Satire Against Mankind (1679)

  • 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 sort of Flesh and Blood I pleas'd to wear,
    I'd be a Dog, a Monkey, or a Bear,
    Or any thing, but that vain Animal,
    Who is so proud of being Rational.
    • ll. 1-7
  • Reason, an Ignis fatuus of the Mind,
    Which leaves the light of Nature, Sense, behind.
    • ll. 12-13
  • Whilst the misguided Follower climbs with Pain,
    Mountains of Whimsies, heapt in his own Brain,
    Stumbling from Thought to Thought, falls headlong down
    Into Doubt's boundless Sea, where like to drown,
    Books bear him up a-while, and make him try
    To swim with Bladders of Philosophy.
    • ll. 16–21
  • 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.
    • ll. 25-29
  • For Wits are treated just like Common Whores;
    First they're enjoy'd, and then kickt out of Doors.
    • ll. 38-39
  • For all Men would be Cowards if they durst:
    And Honesty's against all common Sense.
    • ll. 158-159
  • Most Men are Cowards, all Men should be Knaves.
    The Difference lies, as far as I can see,
    Not in the thing it self, but the Degree.
    • ll. 169-171
  • But a meek humble Man of modest Sense,
    Who, Preaching Peace, does practice Continence;
    Whose pious life's a proof he does believe,
    Mysterious Truths, which no Man can conceive.
    If upon Earth there dwell such God-like Men,
    I'll here Recant my Paradox to them;
    Adore those Shrines of Virtue, homage pay,
    And, with the rabble world, their Laws obey.
    If such there are, yet grant me This at least,
    Man differs more from Man, than Man from Beast.
    • ll. 212-221


  • If you have a grateful heart (which is a miracle amongst you statesmen), show it by directing the bearer to the best wine in town, and pray let not this highest point of sacred friendship be performed slightly, but go about it with all due deliberation and care, as holy priests to sacrifice, or as discreet thieves to the wary performance of burglary and shop-lifting. Let your well-discerning palate (the best judge about you) travel from cellar to cellar and then from piece to piece till it has lighted on wine fit for its noble choice and my approbation.
  • The world appears like a great family,
    Whose lord, oppressed with pride and poverty,
    (That to the few great bounty he may show)
    Is fain to starve the numerous train below.
    • Like a Great Family
  • Dead we become the lumber of the world.
    • After Death
  • It is a good world to live in,
    To lend, or to spend, or to give in;
    But to beg or to borrow, or to get a man's own,
    It is the very worst world that ever was known.
  • Born to myself, I like myself alone,
    And must conclude my judgment good, or none:
    For could my sense be naught, how should I know
    Whether another man's were good or no?

    Thus I resolve of my own poetry,
    That 'tis the best; and there's a fame for me.
    If then I'm happy, what does it advance,
    Whether to merit due, or arrogance?
    Oh, but the world will take offence hereby!
    Why then the world shall suffer for 't, not I.
    Did eer this saucy world and I agree,
    To let it have its beastly will on me?
    Why should my prostituted sense be drawn
    To every rule their musty customs spawn?
    But men may censure you; 'tis two to one,
    Whene'er they censure, they'll be in the wrong.
    There's not a thing on Earth, that I can name,
    So foolish, and so false, as common fame.

    It calls the courtier knave, the plain man rude,
    Haughty the grave, and the delightful lewd,
    Impertinent the brisk, morose the sad,
    Mean the familiar, the reserv'd-one mad.
    Poor helpless woman is not favour'd more,
    She's a sly hypocrite, or public whore.
    Then who the Devil would give this — to be free
    From th' innocent reproach of infamy
    These things consider'd, make me (in despite
    Of idle rumour) keep at home and write.
    • Did e'er this Saucy World
  • A merry monarch, scandalous and poor.
    • On the King
  • For pointed satire I would Buckhurst choose,
    The best good man with the worst-natured muse.
    • An allusion to Horace, Satire x. Book i; compare: "Thou best-humour'd man with the worst-humour'd muse!", Oliver Goldsmith, Retaliation, Postscript
  • Angels listen when she speaks:
    She 's my delight, all mankind's wonder;
    But my jealous heart would break
    Should we live one day asunder.
    • Song
  • Then talk not of Inconstancy,
    False Hearts, and broken Vows;
    If I, by Miracle, can be
    This live-long Minute true to thee,
    'Tis all that Heav'n allows.
    • Love and Life, ll. 11-15
  • So, when my Days of Impotence approach,
    And I'm by Pox and Wine's unlucky chance
    Driv'n from the pleasing Billows of debauch
    On the dull Shore of lazy Temperance;

    My Pains at least some Respite shall afford
    While I behold the Battles you maintain
    When Fleets of Glasses sail about the Board,
    From whose Broad-sides Volleys of Wit shall rain.

    • The Maim'd Debauchee, ll. 13–20
  • Thus, Statesman-like, I'll saucily impose,
    And, safe from Danger, valiantly advise;
    Sheltered in Impotence, urge you to Blows,
    And, being good for nothing else, be Wise.
    • The Maim'd Debauchee, ll. 41–44
  • See the kind seed-receiving earth
    To every grain affords a birth:
    On her no showers unwelcome fall,
    Her willing womb retains 'em all,
    And shall my Caelia be confined?
    No, live up to thy mighty mind,
    And be the mistress of Mankind!
    • Upon Leaving His Mistress, ll. 15-21
  • Lest, once more wandering from that heaven,
    I fall on some base heart unblest,
    Faithless to thee, false, unforgiven,
    And lose my everlasting rest.
    • Absent from thee, I languish still, ll. 13-16
  • On thy wither'd lips and dry,
    Which like barren furrows lie,
    Brooding kisses I will pour,
    Shall thy youthful heart restore.
    (Such kind showers in autumn fall,
    And a second spring recall);
    Nor from thee will ever part,
    Ancient Person of my Heart.
    • A Song of a Young Lady to Her Ancient Lover, ll. 7-14
  • Farewell, woman! I intend
    Henceforth every night to sit
    With my lewd, well-natured friend,
    Drinking to engender wit.
    • Love a woman! Y’are an ass, ll. 9–12
  • Naked she lay, clasped in my longing arms,
    I filled with love, and she all over charms;
    Both equally inspired with eager fire,
    Melting through kindness, flaming in desire.
    With arms, legs, lips close clinging to embrace.
    • The Imperfect Enjoyment (published 1680)
  • Thou treacherous, base deserter of my flame,
    False to my passion, fatal to my fame,
    Through what mistaken magic dost thou prove
    So true to lewdness, so untrue to love?
    • The Imperfect Enjoyment
  • But oh, how slowly minutes roll
    When absent from her eyes,
    That feed my love, which is my soul:
    It languishes and dies.
    • The Mistress: A Song, ll. 5–8
  • The clog of all pleasure, the luggage of life,
    Is the best can be said for a very good wife.
    • On a Wife
  • Great Negative, how vainly would the Wise
    Enquire, define, distinguish, teach, devise,
    Didst thou not stand to point their dull Philosophies?

    Is, or is not, the Two great Ends of Fate,
    And, true or false, the Subject of Debate,
    That perfect, or destroy, the vast Designs of Fate.

    • Upon Nothing, ll. 28–33
  • The Elephant is never won with Anger,
    Nor must that man, who would reclaim a Lion,
    Take him by the teeth.
    • Valentinian (1685), Act I, Scene III
    • Valentinian was Rochester's adaptation of a play (ca. 1610-1614) by John Fletcher
  • We have a pretty witty king,
    Whose word no man relies on;
    He never said a foolish thing,
    Nor ever did a wise one.
    • About King Charles II of England, as quoted in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine Vol. XLIV (January - June 1857) p. 592; It is said to that this was written on the door of Charles II's bedchamber, and that on seeing it, the king replied, “This is very true: for my words are my own, and my actions are my ministers’...."