Censuring Libertine Sexuality: Sodom

  • Jeremy W. Webster


Shortly after the death of John Wilmot, earl of Rochester in July 1680, publishers began to produce volumes of “his” work: collections of his manuscript poems that had circulated around the court and London, mixed in with verses by several of his contemporaries, including Aphra Behn, John Oldham, Sir Carr Scroope, and Sir George Etherege. Even though these volumes were anthologies of poetry by several authors, publishers attributed the poems solely to Rochester. Gilbert Burnet, Rochester’s first biographer, explains one reason for this inaccurate attribution:

[H]e laid out his Wit very freely in Libels and Satyrs, in which he had a peculiar Talent of mixing his Wit with his Malice, and fitting both with such apt words, that Men were tempted to be pleased with them: from thence his Composures came to be easily known, for few had such a way of tempering these together as he had; so that, when any thing extraordinary that way came out, as a Child is fathered sometimes by its Resemblance, so it was laid at his Door as its Parent and Author.1

Anthony à Wood adds a second reason for the publication of all of these verses under Rochester’s name: “No sooner was the breath out of his body but some person, or persons, who had made a collection of his poetry in manuscript, did, meerly for the lucre sake (as ’twas conceived) publish them under this title, Poems on Several Occasions.”2


Europe Smoke Ghost Lost Alan 


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© Jeremy W. Webster 2005

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