Libertines Real and Fictional in Rochester, Shadwell, Wycherley, and Boswell Page: 45
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As an older man reminiscing about his libertine youth, the debauchee foresees the future with
optimism-not in spite of his impotence, but because of it. According to Dustin Griffin, "age in
Rochester brings, not an escape from passion, but enslavement to it" (Griffin 60). Arguably the
word "enslavement" has negative connotations of forced submission to authority or rules, but
Griffin's assessment of age as a celebrated, or at least not a dreaded part of life, is correct in that
the narrator's emotional and intellectual need to satisfy his sexual appetite still exists in spite of
the dissolution of the physical manifestation of it-sexual potency. The poetic persona can still
enjoy his unabated "passion" via recounting his experiences to others and reminiscence about the
sexual conquests during which he fulfilled his passion. These reminiscences enable the
debauchee to feel as if he is still engaging in the libertine behavior of his youth, while his
simultaneous acceptance of his old age and its accompanying impotence implicitly allows him to
obey a type of reason that entails an embracing of libertinism and reason-right reason.
Though one could argue that the term "impotence" connotes hindrance from or even
prevention of enjoying life, the narrator offers a more positive view of the impotence
accompanying his age. The narrator sees himself as "shelter 'd in impotence" ("Maim'd" 1. 47,
my emphasis) instead of hindered by it. The word "shelter" implies that impotence protects the
narrator and offers him security in his old age. According to Griffin, "the worst plight" is
usually not "the death of desire nor even the failure of the body to perform. Rather, it is the
persistence of desire, the continued eagerness to perform, when the power of attracting is gone"
(Griffin 59). However, the debauchee chooses not to consider his disabled physical condition as
a plight. He feels "sheltered" from impotence, but he also sees this new physical condition that
accompanies age as a new era or even a rite of passage about which he can be enthusiastic.
Impotence offers the poetic persona a chance to "be wise" and enjoy his old age as both a
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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/m1/51/?q=rochester: accessed February 28, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .