Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The works of the Devill

Like so many things on this blog, this brief pre-breakfast post is Anthony Powell's fault. While looking to see if he'd written about his friend Cyril Connolly in his Some Poets, Artists and "A Reference for Mellors" (2006), I came across the following statement about Lord Rochester, attributed to Connolly:
Rochester represents a frontline almost too hot to hold by apologists for pleasure, one which has to be abandoned in favor of more defensible positions.
A man who claims to have spent five years on end drunk is, on that basis alone, always going to be a bit difficult to defend.

Powell sent me, as he so often does, to John Aubrey, who in his Brief Lives had this to say in his sadly brief account of Rochester:
His youthly spirit and oppulent fortune did sometimes make him doe extravagant actions, but in the country he was generally civill enough. He was wont to say that when he came to Brentford the Devill entered into him and never left him until he came into the Country again.
"Extravagant actions" is a nice bit of understatement--covering as it does everything from the kidnapping of the lady who would become his wife to the hired assault on Dryden to his pornographic poetry and his play, Sodom, written for the King and court, which consisted mostly of nudity and sex and included a stage direction ordering the cast to "Fall to fucking."

But, though I'd not have thought to blame the Devill, all that was known to me. Far more unexpected is what I learned upon looking up Rochester's wife, Anne, Countess Rochester. Aubrey's entry for Rochester's contemporary, poet John Denham, concludes--with typically intriguing Aubreyan vagueness--with the note that
His 2nd lady had no child: was poysoned by he hands of the Countess of Rochester, with Chocolatte.
This may require a trip to the library.

Oh, and finally, a side note: if you don't view this blog in a reader, you'll see that I've added a tag cloud to the right side, by which I (or you) can track the current balance of my various obsessions. Hmm . . . I have written about Lord Rochester rather a lot. Have I written about him too much? Is that even possible?


  1. The title of the Powell book (which I've never seen, nor read) has always baffled me!

  2. It wasn't published in the U.S.; I picked it up when we visited the Powell show at the Wallace Collection back in the winter of 2006.

    The confusing last portion of the title refers to a short story that's included which takes the form of an employment reference from Lady Chatterly for the gamekeeper, Mellors. I gather that among the sort of Powell fans who are members of the society and attend meetings, this story was well-known already.

  3. I like word clouds tremendously, and yours particularly. I think you will be okay as long as you write about Lord Rochester and his monkey in equal measure.