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Rochester, John Wilmot, 2nd earl of

Rochester, John Wilmot, 2nd earl of (1647–80). Poet and courtier. Wilmot's father fought for the king in the Civil War, was created a baron in 1643, and advanced to the earldom in 1652. Wilmot inherited the title at the age of 11, spent a year at Wadham College, Oxford, fought as a volunteer in the naval battle off Lowestoft in 1665, and was appointed a groom of the bedchamber the following year. Sympathizers say that he was then corrupted by the court, but it seems to have had good material to work on. In 1667 he married an heiress, whom he had attempted to abduct. He was a crony of Buckingham, with a reputation as a wit, debauchee, drunkard, and patron. Some of his poems circulated in manuscript during his lifetime: the collected poems came out in 1680 and 1691. Much of the output is tediously coarse, but there are occasional jewels. His epigram on Charles II is justly famous—‘who never said a foolish thing, nor ever did a wise one’. Johnson, in the Lives of the Poets, while deploring Rochester's depravity, praised ‘a mind which study might have carried to excellence’.

J. A. Cannon

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