Regime de Vivre by, John Wilmont.
John Wilmont, Earl of Rochester, is a poet from the time of Pilgrim’s progress and Paradise lost, from the age of Restoration that reacted against the “spiritual authoritarianism” of the Puritan era. ‘As though the pendulum of England’s morality swung from repression to license more or less overnight. Theaters reopened after having been closed during the protectorship, Puritanism lost its momentum, and bawdy comedy became a recognizable genre. In addition, women were allowed to perform on the commercial stage as professional actresses for the first time.’
‘Wilmot “drank hard,” “loved debauchery,” and was even “inspired” in its exercise. He also valued no “promises, professions, or friendships, according to any rules of honour or integrity.” But he did experience “scruples from religion to startle him.” This bacchic, mercurial figureâ€”depicted in some accounts as a jolly, dashing cavalierâ€”was, of necessity, not present at the birth of his son.’ read more at Poetry Foundation
A Satyr against Reason and Mankind
(...in which the poet argues that the â€œrightâ€ reason comes from the senses; for example, the speaker’s right reason tells him to eat when he is hungry, whereas humankind’s more common false reason says to wait until the clock indicates that it is the hour to dine. The poet will allow that there is some value in reason if it is this right reason, but that humankind, in general, is still contemptible. People, he says, are worse than beasts who act on instinct. People believe themselves to be eminently wise, but they are in fact the greatest of fools. An interlocutor praises humankind as being made in God’s image and possessing souls, which, he says, raise people above the beasts by allowing them to comprehend the universe, Heaven, and Hell. The speaker retorts that people are mites who presume to compare their brief lives to the infinite. Humanity makes up its own cosmic mysteries and then solves them. The poet is contemptuous of philosophers who prefer their cloisters to the wide world, and who spend their time thinking because they are incapable of doing. The poet distinguishes between false reason and right reason, which exists only insofar as it governs action and helps people enjoy life.)
Were I – who to my cost already am
One of those strange, prodigious creatures, man –
A spirit free to choose for my own share
What sort of flesh and blood I pleased to wear,
I’d be a dog, a monkey, or a bear,
Or anything but that vain animal,
Who is so proud of being rational.
His senses are too gross; and he’ll contriveA sixth, to contradict the other five;
And before certain instinct will prefer
Reason, which fifty times for one does err.
Reason, an ignis fatuus of the mind,Which leaving light of nature, sense, behind,
Pathless and dangerous wand’ring ways it takes,
Through Error’s fenny bogs and thorny brakes;
Whilst the misguided follower climbs with pain
Mountains of whimseys, heaped in his own brain;
Stumbling from thought to thought, falls headlong down,
Into Doubt’s boundless sea where, like to drown,
Books bear him up awhile, and make him try
To swim with bladders of Philosophy;
In hopes still to o’ertake the escaping light;
The vapour dances, in his dazzling sight,
Till spent, it leaves him to eternal night.
Then old age and experience, hand in hand,
Lead him to death, make him to understand,
After a search so painful, and so long,
That all his life he has been in the wrong:
Huddled in dirt the reasoning engine lies,
Who was so proud, so witty, and so wise.
Pride drew him in, as cheats their bubbles catch,
And made him venture, to be made a wretch.
His wisdom did his happiness destroy,
Aiming to know that world he should enjoy;
And Wit was his vain, frivolous pretence
Of pleasing others, at his own expense.
For wits are treated just like common whores,
First they’re enjoyed, and then kicked out of doors;
The pleasure past, a threatening doubt remains,
That frights th’enjoyer with succeeding pains:
Women and men of wit are dangerous tools,
And ever fatal to admiring fools.
Pleasure allures, and when the fops escape,
â€˜Tis not that they’re beloved, but fortunate,
And therefore what they fear, at heart they hate.
But now, methinks some formal band and beard
Takes me to task; come on sir, I’m prepared:
Then by your favour, anything that’s writ
Against this jibing, jingling knack called Wit
Likes me abundantly: but you take care
Upon this point not to be too severe.
Perhaps my Muse were fitter for this part,
For I profess, I can be very smart
On Wit, which I abhor with all my heart;
I long to lash it in some sharp essay,
But your grand indiscretion bids me stay,
And turns my tide of ink another way.
What rage forments in your degenerate mind,
To make you rail at reason, and mankind?
Blessed glorious man! To whom alone kind heaven
An everlasting soul hath freely given;
Whom his great maker took such care to make,
That from himself he did the image take;
And this fair frame in shining reason dressed,
To dignify his nature above beast.
Reason, by whose aspiring influence
We take a flight beyond material sense,
Dive into mysteries, then soaring pierce
The flaming limits of the universe,
Search heaven and hell, find out what’s acted there,
And give the world true grounds of hope and fear.
Hold might man, I cry, all this we know,
From the pathetic pen of Ingelo;
From Patrick’s Pilgrim, Sibbes’ Soliloquies,
And’tis this very Reason I despise,
This supernatural gift that makes a mite
Think he’s an image of the infinite;
Comparing his short life, void of all rest,
To the eternal, and the ever-blessed.
This busy, pushing stirrer-up of doubt,
That frames deep mysteries, then finds them out;
Filling with frantic crowds of thinking fools
The reverend bedlams, colleges and schools;
Borne on whose wings each heavy sot can pierce
The limits of the boundless universe:
So charming ointments make an old witch fly,
And bear a crippled carcass through the sky.
â€˜Tis the exalted power whose business lies
In nonsense, and impossiblities.
This made a whimsical philosopher
Before the spacious world his tub prefer,
And we have modern cloistered coxcombs, who
Retire to think’cause they have nought to do.
But thoughts are given for action’s government;
Where action ceases, thought’s impertinent:
Our sphere of action is life’s happiness,
And he that thinks beyond thinks like an ass.
Thus, whilst against false reasoning I inveigh,
I own right reason, which I would obey:
That reason which distinguishes by sense,
And gives us rules of good and ill from thence;
That bounds desires, with a reforming will
To keep’em more in vigour, not to kill.
Your reason hinders, mine helps to enjoy,
Renewing appetites yours would destroy.
My reason is my friend, yours is a cheat,
Hunger calls out, my reason bids me eat;
Perversely, yours your appetite does mock:
This asks for food, that answers,’what’s o’clock?’
This plain distinction, sir, your doubt secures,
â€˜Tis not true reason I despise, but yours.
Thus I think reason righted, but for man,
I’ll ne’er recant, defend him if you can.
For all his pride, and his philosophy,
â€˜Tis evident: beasts are in their own degree
As wise at least, and better far than he.
Those creatures are the wisest who attain,
By surest means, the ends at which they aim.
If therefore Jowler finds and kills the hares,
Better than Meres supplies committee chairs;
Though one’s a statesman, th’other but a hound,
Jowler in justice would be wiser found.
You see how far man’s wisdom here extends,
Look next if human nature makes amends;
Whose principles are most generous and just,
And to whose morals you would sooner trust:
Be judge yourself, I’ll bring it to the test,
Which is the basest creature, man or beast?
Birds feed on birds, beasts on each other prey,
But savage man alone does man betray:
Pressed by necessity, they kill for food,
Man undoes man, to do himself no good.
With teeth and claws, by nature armed, they hunt
Nature’s allowance, to supply their want.
But man, with smiles, embraces, friendships, praise,
Inhumanely his fellow’s life betrays;
With voluntary pains works his distress,
Not through necessity, but wantonness.
For hunger or for love they bite, or tear,
Whilst wretched man is still in arms for fear.
For fear he arms, and is of arms afraid:
From fear, to fear, successively betrayed.
Base fear, the source whence his best passions came,
His boasted honour, and his dear-bought fame.
The lust of power, to whom he’s such a slave,
And for the which alone he dares be brave;
To which his various projects are designed,
Which makes him generous, affable, and kind.
For which he takes such pains to be thought wise,
And screws his actions, in a forced disguise;
Leads a most tedious life in misery,
Under laborious, mean hypocrisy.
Look to the bottom of his vast design,
Wherein man’s wisdom, power, and glory join:
The good he acts, the ill he does endure,
â€˜Tis all from fear, to make himself secure.
Merely for safety after fame they thirst,
For all men would be cowards if they durst.
And honesty’s against all common sense,
Men must be knaves,’tis in their own defence.
Mankind’s dishonest: if you think it fair
Among known cheats to play upon the square,
You’ll be undone.
Nor can weak truth your reputation save,
The knaves will all agree to call you knave.
Wronged shall he live, insulted o’er, oppressed,
Who dares be less a villain than the rest.
Thus sir, you see what human nature craves,
Most men are cowards, all men should be knaves;
The difference lies, as far as I can see,
Not in the thing itself, but the degree;
And all the subject matter of debate
Is only, who’s a knave of the first rate?