Libertines Real and Fictional in Rochester, Shadwell, Wycherley, and Boswell Page: 35
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Libertine Indecision in A Satyr Against Mankind'
The poetic persona of A Satyr against Mankind prefers following his instincts and
rejecting any illegitimate or non-self-imposed authority to aligning himself solely with the
dictates of reason. Instead, he reconciles libertinism and reason by obeying what Rochester
refers to as "right" reason or reason that does not exclude instinct or libertinism, but allows man
to moderate his instincts, including his libertine behavior. "Right reason" also includes
obedience to institutional authority-e.g., state, church, family, and marriage-but not to the
detriment of one's natural, instinctual impulses. In fact, the poetic persona does not endorse an
anarchic, unruly society in which one follows reason exclusively nor does he support a similarly
chaotic world in which one exclusively obeys every whim and instinct without consulting reason.
James Grantham Turner writes, "Libertines are not anarchists, since they believe in laws to
govern 'the rabble'; for themselves, however, they claim a special privilege or grace which
allows them, or even compels them, to break those laws" (80). Essentially, libertines like
Rochester takes a classist viewpoint in their poetry and drama in that they believe social
institutions are necessary for controlling the lower socioeconomic classes ("the rabble") but
disobey these same laws and controls implemented by social institutions so that they can gratify
their needs to follow instinct or nature. In addition, Rochester's classist approach to libertinism
SWhile I focus on the concept of libertinism and the problems of attempts to provide a standard definition of
libertinism, most criticism of Rochester's A Satyr Against Mankind often focus on the composition of the poem
itself. Many critics of Rochester's A Satyr Against Mankind focused on the originality (or lack thereof) and the
literary sources that possibly influenced Rochester when he wrote the poem. For example, John Sitter argues that
Rochester is beholden to Boileau and his Satire VIII, while Vivian de Sola Pinto argues that the "poem entitled in
the most reliable editions as A Satyr Against Mankind, is suggested by the Eighth Satire of Boileau, reinforced by
many suggestions from the essays of Montaigne and particularly from the Apologie de Raimond Sebond and from
the Maximes of La Rochefoucald" (Sitter 285 and Pinto, 148). In contrast, John Moore claims that Rochester was
conceivably influenced by Boileau but not indebted to him. He cites numerous instances in A Satyr Against
Mankind during which Rochester directly contradicts Boileau and also observes many portions in the poem in which
"Boileau's influence is offset by echoes in Rochester's lines of earlier writers" (Moore 400). Similarly, Moore
concludes, it is difficult to name Montaigne's Essaies as a direct source for Rochester because they are "essentially a
collection of ideas culled from earlier writers," which makes it "difficult to attach much significance to parallels
between Montaigne and any later writer until the possibility of common earlier sources has been ruled out" (393).
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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/m1/41/?q=rochester: accessed February 26, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .