A Profane Wit

A Profane Wit

The Life of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester

James William Johnson


University of Rochester Press



A biography of the poet and libertine the Earl of Rochester.
Of the glittering, licentious court around King Charles II, John Wilmot, the second Earl of Rochester, was the most notorious. Simultaneously admired and vilified, he personified the rake-hell. Libertine, profane, promiscuous, he shocked his pious contemporaries with his doubts about religion and his blunt verses that dealt with sex or vicious satiric assaults on the high and mighty of the court. This account of Rochester and his times provides the facts behind his legendary reputation as a rake and his deathbed repentance. However, it also demonstrates that he was a loving if unfaithful husband, a devoted father, a loyal friend, a serious scholar, a social critic, and an aspiring patriot.

An Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Rochester, James William Johnson is the author or editor of nine books and many articles treating British and American Literature.


25 black and white illustrations
478 pages
9x6 in
Hardback, 9781580461702, November 2004
Paperback, 9781580463362, November 2009
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC BIO006000, HIS037040, HIS015000
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Table of Contents

A Christian Upbringing (1647-1655)
A Classical Education (1656-1659)
Growing Debauched at Oxford (1660-1661)
The Grand Tour (1662-1664)
Campaigns and Engagements (1665)
Pursuits and Conquests (1666)
Man's Estate (1667)
The King's Pimp (1668-1669)
Love Raised to Extremes (1669-1670)
The Quintessence of Debauchery (1671)
Sallies in the Country (1671-1672)
Sodom (1673)
New Scenes of Foppery (January-June 1674)
Dog Days and Masques (July-December 1674)
Reversals and Recognitions (1675)
Livy and Sickness (January-April 1676)
Flights and Disguises (May-December 1676)
Sessions Poetical and Political (1677)
Scurvy Alarums (1678)
Extremity: on All Sides (1678-1679)
An End of Communion (1679-1680)
Sapience Angelical (May-July 1680)


Johnson (Emer., University of Rochester) wrote this generous biography -- a veritable progress of a rake's rake -- with enthusiasm and engaged fascination with Rochester (1647-1680) . . . Johnson's forte, in addition to the extensiveness of his information, is his strong narrative sweep: this is an exciting biography. Highly Recommended. CHOICE

Within the last five years there have been two other new biographies of the poet and courtier, both oriented towards a more general reader than is implied here. However, any reader would be advised to choose Johnson's as the most authoritative account to date. . . . An additional strength of this biography is the way in which it uncovers so much more than an individual life. Interwoven with Rochester's fortunes are those of King and country, court and parliament and a huge array of other personalities. ENGLISH: THE JOURNAL OF THE ENGLISH ASSOCIATION

A life of Rochester could not be better done. It is a biography not only for the scholar, replete with footnotes, references and bibliography, but also for the reader, being written in an easy style with learning lightly worn. . . A fine biography unlikely to be bettered in the foreseeable future. THE PRESS (New Zealand)