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Awesome Men in History: John Wilmot

This week’s Awesome Men In History takes an unusual turn: poetry.

John Wilmot

Now granted, poetry isn’t terribly manly in this day and age. Most of us, when we hear the word poetry, think of alcoholic writing professors who dress ten years out of style and wouldn’t know what a carburetor was if it had a hand down their pants. But it wasn’t always this way.

At one time, poets were raving hedonists who spent their time drinking, seducing women, getting into bar fights, or sometimes all three simultaneously. One such poet, and the subject of this week’s article, was the legendary English libertine John Wilmot, the Second Earl of Rochester.

Born in 1647 to a hard-drinking, newly ennobled Royalist father and an equally Royalist wife, John was pretty much set for life, financially speaking, and was thereby able to go off to college and thoroughly debauch himself in a manner not unlike many people reading this now. After traveling Europe for a while, which was a trend among children of the nobility then, he returned to England and quickly established himself in court as a drunken, perpetually horny lunatic given to “extravagant frolics,” whatever those are.

I’m guessing they’re related to his numerous mistresses. Dude saw more bumper than a mechanic.

But a lifestyle like John’s didn’t go unpunished. Charles II banned him from court in 1674 after John penned a satire, called Satyr, which lampooned the king as a pansexual man-trollop who abandoned the needs of his kingdom for sex on the regular. Two years later, John and a few of his drinking buddies picked a fight with the night-watch, who killed one of the attackers with a pike. It’s also rumored that John had a rival poet jumped in an alley and beaten half-senseless.

Try finding stories like this about, say, Robert Frost – you can’t.

Anyway, finding himself out of favor in court, John did what any sensible person would do: he began impersonating a quack physician, calling himself “Doctor Bendo,” and sold his services as a curer of infertility and other gynecological maladies. I think we’re all old enough to guess what his treatments were.

And then there’s the matter of his poetry. John was pretty much the Luther Campbell of his time, writing verses that would be dirty by modern standards, let alone an era where people were still gun-shy about bathing nude. And I don’t mean dirty in a coded, Shakespearean kind of way – just about every filthy word in circulation today was given vivid, throbbing life in John’s work.

Here’s an example, posted over at Nerve – don’t read it at work, or in front of your mother.

Still, despite his efforts to sleep with, drink with, or fight with just about every living thing in Europe, John Wilmot’s work is held in high esteem even today. They made a movie about him with Johnny Depp and everything, which is a good sign that one’s legacy is secure. And considering how much sex he packed into his relatively short life (he died at age 33), some of you readers might very well be related to him.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.


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