Libertines Real and Fictional in Rochester, Shadwell, Wycherley, and Boswell Page: 6
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Libertines like Rochester, a professed disciple, reinterpreted Hobbes, choosing to
emphasize certain aspects of his philosophical system and ignore others as it suited them,
and in the process-quoting or paraphrasing Hobbes out of context as unscrupulously as
his opponents did-transformed arguments intended to prove beyond doubt the absolute
necessity for submission to authority into a manifesto of 'the natural liberty of Man.'"
The libertines, in fact, promoted a world Hobbes opposed-the state of nature, which is a state in
which humans solely obey instincts and refuse to follow the strictures imposed upon them by
social institutions such as marriage, family, the Church, and government. Hobbes viewed nature
as an "intolerable condition from which man, by the iron laws of self-preservation, must seek at
all costs to escape" (24). Instead of challenging tyrannical institutional authority, libertines
rebelled against all authority except natural law because according to them, natural law allows
them freely and without institutional intervention or infliction of punishment to pursue their own
whims without consideration of others.
Literary examples of Restoration libertines include the poetic personae in John Wilmot,
Earl of Rochester's "Love and Life, A Song," John Vaughn, Earl of Carberry's "Song," and Sir
Charles Sedley's "Out of French." Each of these libertine narrators defies reason and endorses
their views of Hobbesian philosophy which dictates that one follow instincts and sense, while
rejecting the Church, marriage, family, and government. For instance, the narrator of Carberry's
"Song" denies the existence of good and evil, calls religion a "politic cheat," a wife an
"Orthodox Whore," a priest a "pimp" to a couple, and proclaims the following: "There's no God,
Heav'n, Hell, or a Devill; / 'Tis all one to debauch, or to be Civill" ("Song" 1. 7, 12, 13, and 3-4).
And Rochester, a paradigmatic real life eighteenth-century libertine, kidnapped his future wife
and spent his life in London enjoying its pleasures, which included keeping numerous mistresses
and making statements such as, "And if you have a grateful heart (which is a miracle amongst
you statesmen), show it by directing the bearer to the best wine in town, and pray let not this
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Smith, Victoria. Libertines Real and Fictional in Rochester, Shadwell, Wycherley, and Boswell, dissertation, May 2008; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc6051/m1/12/?q=rochester: accessed July 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .