Friday, August 31, 2012

Female Excellence: Satyr Pokes Women

by Stephen J. Gertz

The most celebrated wit and courtier in Restoration England, John Wilmont, 2d Earl of Rochester (1647-1680) suffered from a laundry list of STDs and alcoholism when he died at age thirty-three.  "Extravagant frolics," and drunkenness were his calling cards at the Court of Charles II.

He played hard, and he wrote wonderfully, producing poetry and ripping satires that got him into trouble with Charles. Routinely bounced out of Court for transgressing the boundaries of taste and Charles' tolerance, he'd then write or do something to redeem himself in the eyes of the king to earn his way back into his good graces.

Once, while in hiding to avoid a mess he'd made (after getting into it with a member of the night-watch, one of his friends was gored and killed by a pike-thrust), he assumed the identity of "Dr. Bendo," a quack with a knack for treating the gynecological disorders and barrenness of women with a proprietary magic potion that cured hysteria and infertility with an unsurprising degree of success considering that it was administered in situ con brio with tumescent syringe. When "Dr. Bendo" was otherwise busy, Rochester impersonated the nonexistent "Mrs. Bendo," the better to intimately examine patients without stimulating their husbands' suspicions. The Bendos of Bendover were, apparently, a popular couple.

In 1679, four satiric poems - A General Satyr on Woman; A Satyr upon Woman's Usurpation; A Satyr on Woman's Lust; In Praise of a Deformed, but Virtuous Lady, Or A Satyr on Beauty - were published under the title Female Excellence, Or, A Woman Display'd... written "by a Person of Quality."

John Wilmont, 2d Earl of Rochester

A satyr wrote these satires, and, though anonymously written, one, A Satyr upon Woman's Usurpation, was presumed by his contemporaries to have been written by Wilmont. Donald Wing, in his Short-Title Calalog 1641-1700, subsequently assigned authorship of all four of the satires in Female Excellence to him. David M. Vieth, in Attribution In Restoration Poetry: A Study of Rochester's Poems of 1680 (Yale: 1963), however, rejects it, as does Harold Love in English Clandestine Satire 1660-1702 (Oxford: 2004).

Whoever wrote these satiric verses, they, emerging from the Restoration, must be considered firmly within the realm of Rochesteriana,  a genre that includes the disputed yet highly likely by Wilmont, Sodom, a theatrical farce posthumously published in 1684 whose cast of characters includes: Bolloxinion, the King of Sodom; Cuntigratia, His Queen; Pricket, a young Prince; Buggeranthos, General of the Army; Borastus, the Buggermaster-general; and Fuckadilla, Cunticulla, and Clytorism as Maids of Honor.

Below, a Restoration cosmetic surgeon's pre-op assessment of an aging patient:

"With age with furrows shall have plow'd her face,
And all her body o're thick with wrinkles place,
Her breasts turn black, her sparkling eyes sink in,
Fearful to see the bristles on her chin,
Her painted face grown swarthy, wan and thin,
Her hands all shriveled o're, her nails of length
Enough to digg her grave, had she but strength.
Such is the mistress that blind poets praise..."

(from In Praise of a Deformed, but Virtuous Lady, Or A Satyr on Beauty).

This is truly unfair. Not all women age into gargoyles. And I've met more than a few men who evolved into troglodytes when Father Time slapped them upside the face.


[ROCHESTERIANA.]  Female Excellence: or, Woman display’d, in several satyrick Poems. By a Person of Quality …   London, Printed for Norman Nelson … 1679. First edition. Folio. 8 pp.

Wing R1749.

Image courtesy of Bernard Quaritch Ltd, currently offering this volume, with our thanks.

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