"Satyr [Against Reason and Mankind]"
By John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester

  • Transcription, correction, editorial commentary, and markup by Students and Staff of Marymount University, Jordan Lawton
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Sources

Antwerpen [London] : [John Redmayne], 1680The E. of R--- = John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester.The first unauthorised edition.Place of publication from Wing.Printer identified in "The Library", March 2014.Wing R1753 conflates several editions. In this edition the title page has two rows of five ornaments; "E. of R---" has a full stop after "E".Citation/references: Wing (CD-Rom, 1996), R1753Fisher, N. ’Rochester’s poems on several occasions, 1680.’ The Library, 7th series, v.15:1 (March 2014), 45-62.Microfilm. Ann Arbor, Mich. University Microfilms International, 1978. 1 microfilm reel ; 35 mm. (Early English books, 1641-1700; 848:15).Images sourced from the Wing microfilm (Early English books, 1641-1700; 848:15) as duplicated in EEBO.For more information about this item, see the ESTC entry at http://estc.bl.uk/R7108. Ann Arbor, MI : Text Creation Partnership , 2003The XML for this digital edition drawn from the EEBO-TCP edition ( http://name.umdl.umich.edu/A57495.0001.001 ) which is also Wing R1754. It has been updated to correspond to the Early English Books microfilm page images from Wing R1753, included here.Internet Archive , 1675The shorter 1675 edition, bound together with other items in the Newberry Library's Luttrell Broadsides collection, is available in facsimile via Internet Archive, at https://archive.org/details/case_6a_158_no_7.

Editorial Statements

Research informing these annotations draws on publicly-accessible resources, with links provided where possible. Annotations have also included common knowledge, defined as information that can be found in multiple reliable sources. If you notice an error in these annotations, please contact lic.open.anthology@gmail.com.

Original spelling and capitalization is retained, though the long s has been silently modernized and ligatured forms are not encoded.

Hyphenation has not been retained, except where necessary for the sense of the word.

Page breaks have been retained. Catchwords, signatures, and running headers have not. Where pages break in the middle of a word, the complete word has been indicated prior to the page beginning. Where a single line of poetry is printed across multiple lines for reasons of space, we have described a single line of poetry.

Materials have been transcribed from and checked against first editions, where possible. See the Sources section.


Citation

Wilmot, John, Earl of Rochester. "Satyr [Against Reason and Mankind]", [John Redmayne], 1680, pp titlepage and 6-13. Literature in Context: An Open Anthology. https://anthologydev.lib.virginia.edu/work/Rochester/rochester-satyr-mankind. Accessed: 2020-04-05T23:01:23.62Z
[TP] POEMS
ON SEVERAL
OCCASIONS

Printed at ANTWERP,n002 n002 'Antwerp’ is a false imprint. James Thorpe discusses this interesting detail in The Earliest Editions of Rochester’s Poems" noting that the printings were “unlicensed books printed in London” where the false imprint was used for “simple subterfuge presumably intended to attract the lovers of racy literature or distract prosecution”. - [JL] 1690.
6 SATYR [AGAINST REASON AND MANKIND]
1WEre I (who to my cost already am 2One of those strange prodigious Creatures Man.) 3A Spirit free, to choose for my own share, 4What case of Flesh, and Blood, I pleas'd to wear, 5I'd be a Dog, a Monkey, or a Bear. 6Or any thing but that vain Animal, 7Who is so proud of being rational. 8The senses are too grossn003, and he'll contrive n003Gloss/note on "gross" - [JL] 9A Sixth, to contradict the other Five; 10And before certain instinct, will preferr 11Reason, which Fifty times for one does err. 7 12Reason, an Ignis fatuus,n004n004From the Latin meaning, literally, "foolish fire," an ignis fatuus is a will-o'the-wisp, a flitting phosphorescent light that led travelers astray in marshy areas like the "Fenny Bogs and Thorny Brakes" (15) Rochester describes below (OED, "ignis fatuus, n."). - [JL] in the Mind, 13Which leaving light of Nature, sense behind; 14Pathless and dan'grous wandring ways it takes, 15Through errors, Fenny-Boggs, and Thorny Brakes; 16Whilst the misguided follower, climbs with pain, 17Mountains of Whimseys, heap'd in his own Brain: 18Stumbling from thought to thought, falls headlong down, 19Into doubts boundless Sea, where like to drown. 20Books bear him up awhile, and makes him try, 21To swim with Bladders of Philosophy; 22In hopes still t'oretake th'escaping light, 23The Vapour dances in his dazling sight, 24Till spent, it leaves him to eternal Night. 25Then Old Age, and experience, hand in hand, 26Lead him to death, and make him understand, 27After a search so painful, and so long, 28That all his Life he has been in the wrongn005; n005Lines 29-36 explain how, from Rochester's perspective, this approach to life that prizes reason is "in the wrong." - [TH] 29Hudled in dirt, the reas'ning Engine lyes,n006 n006 30Who was so proud, so witty, and so wise, 31Pride drew him in, as Cheats, their Bubblesn007, catch, n007Gloss on bubbles 32And makes him venture, to be made a Wretch. 33His wisdom did his happiness destroy, 34Aiming to know what World he shou'd enjoy; 35And Wit, was his vain frivolous pretence, 36Of pleasing others, at his own expence. 37For Wittsn008n008 During the Restoration period in England, Charles II would often be found in the company of young intellectuals or "wits." In The Court Wits of the Restoration, John Harold Wilson writes that “the label Wit was attached only to one who made some real pretense to distinction as a poet, critic, translator, raconteur, or a man of learning" (6). Among the so-called "court wits" were Rochester, Sir John Suckling, Edmund Waller, and others. [add paraphrase from page 5 of Tilmouth: https://books.google.com/books?id=DipmhwkFfQMC - [JL] are treated just like common Whores, 38First they're enjoy'd, and then kickt out of Doores, 39The pleasurea009 past, a threatning doubt remains, a009As Jeremy Webster argues in Performing Libertinism in Charles II’s Court, “[l]ibertines...performed traditionally secretive acts— excessive drinking, carnality, sodomy, sedition, assault, and sacrilege—in the public sphere in a variety of ways” (2). Here, Rochester is talking in part about sexual pleasure that, once enjoyed, brings causes the enjoyer to fear or hate that pleasure. This fear is in part existential or philosophical--pleasure brings with it "dang'rous" (41) questions about the value of social order founded on reason--but it is also material, as in the fear of sexually transmitted infection, from which Rochester sufferred. The "succeeding pains" (40) to which he refers encapsulate both kinds of fears. - [TH] 40That frights th'enjoyer, with succeeding pains: 41Women and Men of Wit, are dang'rous Tools, 42And ever fatal to admiring Fools. 8 43Pleasure allures, and when the Foppsn010n010In "Fops and Some Versions of Foppery," Robert B. Heilman discusses this term, noting that as a “general, all-purpose carrier of disapproval, fop works much like fool" (364). - [JL] escape, 44'Tis not that they're belov'd, but fortunate, 45And therefore what thy fear, at least they hate. 46But now methinks some formal Band, and Beard,n011n011According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "band" refers to an eighteenth-century neck piece traditionally worn by clergy members, scholars, and those in the legal profession (n.2.4b). In this portrait by Benjamin Wilson (c.1750) of James Bradley, third Astronomer Royal from 1742 to 1762, the band at his neck indicates his academic profession. Via the Royal Museums Greenwich online collections, this Wilson's portrait of Bradley is housed in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. ) - [JL] 47Takes me to task, come on Sir I'm prepar'd. 48Then by your favour, any thing that's writ 49Against this gibeing jingling knack call'd Wit, 50Likes me abundantly, but you take care, 51Upon this point, not to be too severe. 52Perhaps my Muse, were fitter for this part, 53For I profess, I can by very smart 54On Wit, which I abhor with all my heart: 55I long to lash it in some sharp Essay,n012 n012For Margaret Ezell, who writes about the performative quality of Restoration libertinism, Rochester's libertinism was a deliberate assertion of privilege designed to cultivate power in the court ("Enacting Libertinism: Court Performance and Literary Culture" in The Oxford English Literary History, Vol. V.). Rochester's poem is a response to the question being asked here by a hypothetical clergyman (the "formal band and beard"). Here, he is performing the persona of the pedantic, prudish curate ultimately to mock him and his moral philosophy, thereby cultivating a witty superiority. 56But your grand indiscretion bids me stay, 57And turns my Tide of Ink another way. 58What rage ferments in your degen'rate mind,n013 59To make you rail at Reason, and Mankind? n013The clergyman describes Rochester's mind as "degen[e]rate," and his way of thinking, deviant. Rochester’s poem is a “Satire against Reason and Mankind”; it is fundamentally skeptical of the ability--or desirability--of reason and law to ameliorate baser human interests. - [TH] 60Bless glorious Man! to whom alone kind Heav'n, 61An everlasting Soul has freely giv'n; 62Whom his great Maker took such care to make, 63That from himself he did the Image take; 64And this fair frame, in shining Reason drest, 65To dignifie his Nature, above Beast. 66Reason, by whose aspiring influence, 67We take a flight beyond material sense. 68Dive into Mysteries, then soaring pierce, 69The flaming limits of the Universe. 70Search Heav'n and Hell, find out what's acted there, 71And give the World true grounds of hope and fear. 72Hold mighty Man, I cryn014, all this we know, n014At this point, Rochester's character speaks, returning a satirical answer to the pedantic curate. 73From the Pathetique Pen of Ingello;n015 n015 Nathaniel Ingelo, born ca 1621. Graduate and fellow of the Queen’s College, Cambridge. Ingelo was a clergyman and author of a religious romance entitled Bentivolio and Urania. Marianne Thormählen writes in aRochester: The Poems in Context that the works of Ingelo and Simon Patrick mentioned below would have been well known during Rochester’s time. She mentions that Rochester would have detested “Ingelo’s exalted view of man; and his attacks on Epicurus and his followers”. 9 74From P— Pilgrimn016,n016Simon Patrick, Bishop of Ely. 1626-1707. Graduate of Queen’s College, Cambridge and was a fellow from 1649 to 1658. Author of a book entitled “The Parable of the Pilgrim: Written to a Friend” which Rochester is directly referencing here. Patrick’s first assignment as a domestic chaplain at the home of Sir Walter St. John, John Wilmot’s uncle. S— replysn017, n017Richard Sibbes, 1577-1635. Writer, theologian and graduate of St. Johns College, Cambridge. 75And 'tis this very reason I despise. 76This supernatural gift, that makes a Myte-, 77Think he is the Image of the Infinite: 78Comparing his short life, void of all rest, 79To the Eternal, and the ever blest. 80This busie, puzling, stirring up of doubt, 81That frames deep Mysteries, then finds 'em out; 82Filling with Frantick Crowds of thinking Fools, 83Those Reverend Bedlamsn018, Colledges, and Schools n018 84Borne on whose Wings, each heavy Sotn007.9 can pierce, n019 85The limits of the boundless Universe. 86Son020 charming Oyntments, make an Old Witch flie, n020Rochester compares the inflated ideology of the pedantic curate--whose "business" is "Nonsense" and "impossibilities" (86)--with the superstitions that give witches the power of flight. - [TH] 87And bear a Crippled Carcass through the Skie. 88'Tis this exalted pow'rn021, whose bus'ness lies, n021Rochester refers here to reason as the falsely "exalted pow'r." The remainder of the poem will lay out why the poet thinks so. 89In Nonsense, and impossibilities. 90This made a Whimsical Philosopher, 91Before the spacious World, his Tubn022 prefer, Note on Tub 92And we have modern Cloysterd Coxcombs, who 93Retire to think, cause they have naught to do. 94But thoughts, are giv'n for Actions government, 95Where Action ceases, thoughts impertinent: 96Our Sphere of Action, is lifes happiness,n023 n023Rochester became identified with philosophical and sexual libertinism of the Restoration, which was characterized by the public, even performative pursuit of pleasure and a vivid, almost nihilistic sexuality. Libertinism was underpinned by a selective reading of Thomas Hobbes' theory of human nature. Hobbes, according to Christopher Tilmouth, "declar[ed] that the passions, not reason, constituted the proper, primary determinants of human conduct" and "posited...a new ideal of happiness, equating felicity with a constant motion of the self from the satisfaction of one appetite to the next, and he accorded fear and the lust for power critical roles in this kinetic process" (Tilmouth 4-5). Hobbes characterized humankind in nature as in a permanent state of conflict and struggle, governed by their appetites and their passions, and to avoid this chaotic, violent state of nature, human societies contract with strong leaders to bring order to passion and law to desire: "it is manifest that, during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war, and such a war as is of every man against every man" (Leviathan, XIII, para. 8). Rochester positions his libertinism as a moral freedom beyond the civil codes of contractual law. For more on Restoration libertinism, see James Turner, Libertines and Radicals in Early Modern London, especially chapter 6; and Diane Maybank'sarticle for the British Library about libertinism on the Restoration stage. 97And he who thinks Beyond, thinks like an Ass. 98Thus, whilst' gainst false reas'ning I inveigh, 99I own right Reason, which I wou'd obey: 100That Reason that distinguishes by sensen024, n024Rochester compares his materialist sense of reason--reason that rightly "distinguishes by sense [perception]"--to the flawed or "false" reason of the pedantic curate, that starts with the "beyond" (97). - [TH] 101And gives us Rules, of good, and ill from thence: 102That bounds desires, with a reforming Will, 103To keep 'em more in vigour, not to kill. 104Your Reason hinders, mine helps t'enjoy, 105Renewing Apetites, yours wou'd destroy. 10 106My Reasons is my Friend, yours is a Cheat, 107Hungar call's out, my Reason bids me eat; 108Perversly yours, your Appetite does mock, 109This askt for Food, that answers what's a Clock? 110This plain distinction Sir your doubt secures, 111'Tis not true Reason I despise but yours. 112This I think Reason righted, but for Man, 113I'le nere recant defend him if you can. 114For all his Pride, and his Philosophy, 115'Tis evident, Beasts are in their degree, 116As wise at least, and better far than he. 117Those Creatures, are the wisest who attain, 118By surest means, the ends at which they aim. 119If therefore Jowlern025, finds, and Kills his Hares, n025 120Better than M—n026, supplyes Committed Chairs; n026 121Though one's a Sates-man, th'other but a Hound. 122Jowler, in Justice, wou'd be wiser found. 123You see how far Mans wisedom here extends, 134Look next, if humane Nature makes amends; 125Whose Principles, most gen'rous are, and just, 126And to whose Morals, you wou'd sooner trust. 127Be Judge your self, I'le bring it to the test, 128Which is the basest Creature Man, or Beast?n027 n027In the following lines, Rochester sets up an extended comparison between the nature of violence in the animal kingdom and in the human world. 129Birds feed on Birds, Beast on each other prey, 130But Savage Man alone, does Man betray: 131Prest by necessity, they Kill for Food, 132Man, undoes Man, to do himself no good. 133With Teeth, & Claws: by Nature arm'd thy hunt, 134Natures allowance, to supply their want. 135But Man, with smiles, embraces Friendships, praise. 136Unhumanely his Fellows life betrays; 11 137With voluntary pains, works his distress, 138Not through necessity, but wantonness. 139For hunger, or for Love, they fight, or tear, 140Whilst wretched Man, is still in Arms for fear; 141For fear he Armes, and is of Armes afraid, 142By fear, to fear, successively betray'd 143Base fear, the fource whence his best passion came, 144His boasted Honour, and his dear bought Fame. 145That lust of Pow'r, to which he's such a Slave, 146And for the which alone he dares be brave: 147To which his various Projects are design'd, 148Which makes him gen'rous, affable, and kind. 149For which he takes such pains to be thought wise, 150And screws his actions, in a forc'd disguise: 151Leading a tedious life in Misery, 152Under laborious, mean Hypocrisie. 153Look to the bottom, of his vast design, 154Wherein Mans VVisdom, Pow'r, and Glory joyn; 155The good he acts, the ill he does endure; 156'Tis all for fear, to make himself secure. 157Meerly for safety, after Fame we thirst, 158For all Men, wou'd be Cowards if they durst. 159And honesty's against all common sense, 160Men must be Knaves, 'tis in their own defence. 161Mankind's dishonest, if you think it fair; 162Amongst known Cheats, to play upon the squaren028, n028"To play upon the square" means to play fairly (or "fair and square," in current colloquial terms). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this expression was "[v]ery common from c1670, frequently with reference to...gaming" ("square," adj., III.12.b). - [TH] 163You'le be undone ----- -------n029 n029Note on these dashes, use of dashes like this in general 164Nor can weak truth, your reputation save, 165The Knaves, will all agree to call you Knave. 166VVrong'd shall he live, insulted o're, opprest. 167VVho dares be less a Villain, than the rest. 12 168Thus Sir you see what humane Nature cravesn030, n030In Leviathan (1651), Hobbes argued that humans are completely driven by the primary drives of appetite and aversion; people are selfish at their root. In the state of nature, which is a state of war, “there is no place for industry...; no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and, which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Paragraph 9, Chapter 13, Leviathan). 169Most Men are Cowards, all Men shou'd be Knaves: 170The diff'rence lyes (as far as I can see) 171Not in the thing it self, but the degree; 172And all the subject matter of debate, 173Is only who's a Knave, of the first Rate? 174All this with indignation have I hurl'd, 175At the pretending part of the proud World, 176Who swolne with selfish vanity, devise, 177False freedoms, holy Cheats, and formal Lyes 178Over their fellow Slaves,n031 to tyrannize. n031Rochester suggests that "the pretending part of the proud World" (175) use their supposed spiritual superiority to weild tyrranical power over other people, not recognizing that everyone is a "Slave." - [TH] 179But if in Courtn032, so just a Man there be, n032Note on "court" and court culture 180(In Court, a just Man, yet unknown to me.) 181Who does his needful flattery direct, 182Not to oppress, and ruine, but protect; 183Since flattery which may so ever laid, 184Is still a Tax on that unhappy Trade. 185If so upright a States-Man, you can find, 186Whose passions bend to his unbyas'd Mind; 187Who does his Arts, and Policies apply, 188To raise his Country, not his Family; 189Nor while his Pride, own'd Avarice withstands, 190Receives Aurealn033 Bribes, from Friends corrupted hands. n033Note on aureal 191Is there a Church-Man who on God relyes? 192Whose Life, his Faith, and Doctrine Justifies? 193Not one blown up, with vain Prelatique Pride, 194Who for reproof of Sins, does Man deride: 195Whose envious heart with his obstrep'ous sawcy Eloquence, 196Dares chide at Kings, and raile at Men of sense. 13 197Who from his Pulpit, vents more peevish lies, 198More bitter railings, scandals, Calumnies, 199Than at a Gossipping, are thrown about, 200When the good Wives get drunk, and then fall out. 201None of that sensual Tribe, whose Talents lye, 202In Avarice, Pride, Sloth, and Gluttony. 203Who hunt good Livings, but abhor good Lives, 204Whose lust exalted, to that height arrives, 205They act Adūltery with their own Wives. 206And e're a score of years compleated be, 207Can from the lofty Pulpit proudly see, 208Half a large Parish, their own Progeny. 209Nor doating B—n034 who wou'd be ador'd, n034note on B-- 210For domineering at the Councel Board; 211A greater Fop, in business at fourscoren035, n035A unit of measurement, usually of time. A "score" is twenty; so, four score is four times twenty, or eighty. 212Fonder of serious Toyes, affected more, 213Than the gay glitt'ring Fool, at twenty proves, 214With all his noise, his tawdrey Cloaths, and loves, 215But a meek humble Man, of modest sense, 216Who Preaching peace, does practice continence; 217Whose pious life's a proof he does believe, 218Misterious truths, which no Man can conceive. 219Ifn036 upon Earth there dwell such God like Men, n036Rochester here makes an IF/THEN logical statement. If such "[in]conceiv[ably]" (218) "meek humble M[e]n, of modest sense" (215) can be revealed, he'll "recant" (220) this poetic statement. 220I'le here recant my Paradoxn037 to them. n037note on paradox? 221Adore those Shrines of Vertue, Homage pay, 222And with the Rabble Worldn038, their Laws obey. n038"Rabble" here is used as a derogatory term to refer to the masses or the common people--and "their Laws" (222)--from which mob Rochester distances himself through his libertinism. See the OED "rabble," n.1 and adj., particularly sense 3. 223If such there are, yet grant me this at least, 224Man differs more from Man, than Man from Beast.

Footnotes

a001John Wilmot, second earl of Rochester, was born to Anne St. John, Countess of Rochester and Henry Wilmot, first earl of Rochester on April 1st, 1647, in Oxfordshire, England. In 1658, at age eleven, John Wilmot succeeded his fathers’ Earldom. Just three years later, Wilmot received an M.A. from Wadham College, Oxford. Charles II, King of Great Britain and Ireland at the time, appointed Rochester a tutor to be mentored by. Rochester and his tutor, Sir Andrew Balfour travelled through France and Italy until 1664 when Rochester returned to Charles’ court. In his time at court, Wilmot became one of the most famous poets and controversial satirists of the Restoration period. In the collection The Poems of John Wilmot, editor Keith Walker notes that Rochester’s raucous lifestyle and many vices--some characteristics of his libertinism--often garnered contempt from the king’s court. Though he was a notable poet, Rochester acted as a patron to many playwrights including John Dryden and John Fletcher. The latter part of the 1670s saw Rochester contribute more seriously to the affairs of the state. On his deathbed, Rochester is said to have called upon his close friend, the bishop of Salisbury, Gilbert Burnet, to recant his past libertinism and convert to Christianity. Rochester died on July 26th, 1680, in Oxfordshire, at the age of thirty-three. The image included here (NPG 804), licensed under Creative Commons, is a portrait in oil on canvas of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester by an unknown artist (c.1665-1670), via the National Portrait Gallery, UK. As the notes to the portrait point out, "This portrait has a satirical message almost certainly of Rochester's devising. It portrays him, manuscript in hand, bestowing the poet's laurels on a jabbering monkey who is tearing out the pages of a book and handing them crumpled to the poet."
a002 'Antwerp’ is a false imprint. James Thorpe discusses this interesting detail in The Earliest Editions of Rochester’s Poems" noting that the printings were “unlicensed books printed in London” where the false imprint was used for “simple subterfuge presumably intended to attract the lovers of racy literature or distract prosecution”.
a003Gloss/note on "gross"
a004From the Latin meaning, literally, "foolish fire," an ignis fatuus is a will-o'the-wisp, a flitting phosphorescent light that led travelers astray in marshy areas like the "Fenny Bogs and Thorny Brakes" (15) Rochester describes below (OED, "ignis fatuus, n.").
a005Lines 29-36 explain how, from Rochester's perspective, this approach to life that prizes reason is "in the wrong."
a007Gloss on bubbles
a008 During the Restoration period in England, Charles II would often be found in the company of young intellectuals or "wits." In The Court Wits of the Restoration, John Harold Wilson writes that “the label Wit was attached only to one who made some real pretense to distinction as a poet, critic, translator, raconteur, or a man of learning" (6). Among the so-called "court wits" were Rochester, Sir John Suckling, Edmund Waller, and others. [add paraphrase from page 5 of Tilmouth: https://books.google.com/books?id=DipmhwkFfQMC
n009As Jeremy Webster argues in Performing Libertinism in Charles II’s Court, “[l]ibertines...performed traditionally secretive acts— excessive drinking, carnality, sodomy, sedition, assault, and sacrilege—in the public sphere in a variety of ways” (2). Here, Rochester is talking in part about sexual pleasure that, once enjoyed, brings causes the enjoyer to fear or hate that pleasure. This fear is in part existential or philosophical--pleasure brings with it "dang'rous" (41) questions about the value of social order founded on reason--but it is also material, as in the fear of sexually transmitted infection, from which Rochester sufferred. The "succeeding pains" (40) to which he refers encapsulate both kinds of fears.
a010In "Fops and Some Versions of Foppery," Robert B. Heilman discusses this term, noting that as a “general, all-purpose carrier of disapproval, fop works much like fool" (364).
a011According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "band" refers to an eighteenth-century neck piece traditionally worn by clergy members, scholars, and those in the legal profession (n.2.4b). In this portrait by Benjamin Wilson (c.1750) of James Bradley, third Astronomer Royal from 1742 to 1762, the band at his neck indicates his academic profession. Via the Royal Museums Greenwich online collections, this Wilson's portrait of Bradley is housed in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. )
a012For Margaret Ezell, who writes about the performative quality of Restoration libertinism, Rochester's libertinism was a deliberate assertion of privilege designed to cultivate power in the court ("Enacting Libertinism: Court Performance and Literary Culture" in The Oxford English Literary History, Vol. V.). Rochester's poem is a response to the question being asked here by a hypothetical clergyman (the "formal band and beard"). Here, he is performing the persona of the pedantic, prudish curate ultimately to mock him and his moral philosophy, thereby cultivating a witty superiority.
a013The clergyman describes Rochester's mind as "degen[e]rate," and his way of thinking, deviant. Rochester’s poem is a “Satire against Reason and Mankind”; it is fundamentally skeptical of the ability--or desirability--of reason and law to ameliorate baser human interests.
a020Rochester compares the inflated ideology of the pedantic curate--whose "business" is "Nonsense" and "impossibilities" (86)--with the superstitions that give witches the power of flight.
a021Rochester refers here to reason as the falsely "exalted pow'r." The remainder of the poem will lay out why the poet thinks so.
a024Rochester compares his materialist sense of reason--reason that rightly "distinguishes by sense [perception]"--to the flawed or "false" reason of the pedantic curate, that starts with the "beyond" (97).
a027In the following lines, Rochester sets up an extended comparison between the nature of violence in the animal kingdom and in the human world.
a028"To play upon the square" means to play fairly (or "fair and square," in current colloquial terms). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this expression was "[v]ery common from c1670, frequently with reference to...gaming" ("square," adj., III.12.b).
a030In Leviathan (1651), Hobbes argued that humans are completely driven by the primary drives of appetite and aversion; people are selfish at their root. In the state of nature, which is a state of war, “there is no place for industry...; no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and, which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Paragraph 9, Chapter 13, Leviathan).
a031Rochester suggests that "the pretending part of the proud World" (175) use their supposed spiritual superiority to weild tyrranical power over other people, not recognizing that everyone is a "Slave."
a032Note on "court" and court culture
a033Note on aureal
a034note on B--
a035A unit of measurement, usually of time. A "score" is twenty; so, four score is four times twenty, or eighty.
a036Rochester here makes an IF/THEN logical statement. If such "[in]conceiv[ably]" (218) "meek humble M[e]n, of modest sense" (215) can be revealed, he'll "recant" (220) this poetic statement.
a037note on paradox?
a038"Rabble" here is used as a derogatory term to refer to the masses or the common people--and "their Laws" (222)--from which mob Rochester distances himself through his libertinism. See the OED "rabble," n.1 and adj., particularly sense 3.