Wadham and Gomorrah

Conrad Russell

  • The Poems of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester edited by Keith Walker
    Blackwell, 319 pp, £35.00, September 1984, ISBN 0 631 12573 6

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, one of the original ‘amorous sons of Wadham’, perhaps took part in writing an obscene farce called Sodom. Dr Walker drily observes that ‘to assert this twenty years ago would have damaged Rochester’s reputation as much as to deny it today.’ We are certainly more able than many of our predecessors to accept that this poetry was of some importance for its age. If we look at the claim of an anonymous poet that ‘one man reads Milton, forty Rochester,’ we are no longer tempted to dismiss it out of hand. We are perhaps more in danger of accepting it without adequate empirical investigation. We also have an advantage over the publishers of, for example, the 1691 text in that we are able to print Rochester’s text in the full flower of its bawdiness. Dr Walker has abundantly proved his contention that the 1691 edition is ‘an avowedly castrated text’: most of the passages which give Rochester a distinctively different flavour from other poets are missing from it.

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