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Grief and Flattery
averse to the thought of living, that she talked of nothing but death."
After a fortnight Etherege called upon her and found a grave Lutheran minister endeavouring to rouse her from this state of rebellion against Providence. Her answer was, "that Providence may even thank itself, for laying so insupportable a load upon me." The The parson gave place to the man of the world, whose wit was greater than his piety.
Etherege began by condoling with the widow, not on her husband's death, but on the alteration in herself which grief had made, saying he had come to confer a benefit upon the public in inducing her to overcome her sorrow.
"I told her that grief ruins the finest faces sooner than anything whatever; and as envy itself could not deny her face to be the most charming in the universe, so, if she did not suffer herself to be comforted, she must expect soon to take a farewell of it. I confirmed this assertion by telling her of one of the finest women we ever had in England, who did herself more injury in a fortnight's time by lamenting only her brother's death, than ten years could possibly have done; that I had heard an eminent physician at Leyden say, that tears, having abundance of saline particles in them, not only spoiled the complexion, but hastened wrinkles. 'But, madam,' concluded I, 'why should I give myself the trouble to confirm this by foreign instances, and by the testimonies of our most knowing doctors, when alas! your own face so fully justifies the truth of what I have said to you.'"
The startled widow called for her mirror, and after a minute scrutiny, said that the Wit's words were true. "But what can I do? for something I owe to the memory of the dead, and something to the world which expects at least the common appearance of grief." Upon which
Etherege persuaded her that she could owe nothing to her husband, who was dead, and no tears, even if shed on his hearse, would do him any service; and as for the world "you are under no obligation to spoil a good face. No, madam, preserve your beauty, and then let the world say what it pleases, your ladyship may be revenged upon the world whenever you see fit."
Madam Hoffman expressed herself as convinced, and took Etherege's advice to allow herself to be served "with the most exquisite meat and the most generous wines," only on condition that he would sup with her; and at the "noble regale that evening in her bed-chamber," she pushed the glass so strenuously about that the Dandy could hardly find the way to his couch. "To conclude this farce... this phoenix of her sex, this pattern of conjugal fidelity, two mornings ago was married to a smooth-chinned ensign of Count Trautmandorf's regiment that had not a farthing in the world but his pay to depend upon."
Etherege's death, probably in 1693, was characteristic of the life he led. Having been entertaining his friends too well, he proceeded, with lights in his hands, to show his guests from his apartments, when he fell downstairs and broke his neck. A contemporary says that he was "a man of much courtesy and delicate address,” in person fair, slender, and genteel, with a handsome face; his comeliness being spoiled in later life by intemperance and irregularity. Profligacy, sprightliness, and good humour marked his character.
He who was responsible for the lines
Here lies my sovereign lord the King,
Who never said a foolish thing
"A very profane Wit"
was John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, the satirist, the wit, the beau, and the rake. He was born in 1648, and presented himself at the Court of Charles II. when about eighteen. He then possessed a tall and slender figure, a handsome and animated face, graceful manners, and modest demeanour. As to his features I will not describe them, for I find that an old writer gives them in almost the same words which he uses in describing George Villiers. In 1665 he served with great gallantry under Lord Sandwich when in quest of the Dutch East India fleet.
From 1665 to 1680 Rochester was a great man, both at Court and in the public eye. "An idle rogue," says Pepys. "A very profane wit," adds Evelyn; while Bishop Burnet speaks of him as "exactly well-bred, and what by a modest behaviour natural to him, what by a civility become almost as natural, his conversation was both easy and obliging." He was made Gentleman of the Bedchamber and Comptroller of Woodstock Park, but he grew too familiar, for he could never rule his tongue :
A merry monarch, scandalous and poor,
is one of his lines upon his King; and to the Duchess of Portsmouth he wrote:
Unthinking Charles, ruled by unthinking thee.
Whether such lines, worse sayings, or bad actions were the cause, he was several times banished from Court, and by way of diverting himself he followed in the path of the Duke of Buckingham, and set up as a mountebank. He wandered as a beggar about the streets, or as Alexander Bendo told fortunes, sold simples and love-philtres to chamber-women, waiting-maids, and shop-girls, as well as to gay Court damsels, who, hooded and masked, came to
learn their future, only to be duped by the doctor, who found out more of the intrigues of the Court than he told of love to the ladies.
Later, since he could not go to Whitehall, he established himself in the City. "His first design was only to be initiated into the mysteries of those fortunate and happy inhabitants; that is to say, by changing his name and dress, to gain admittance to their feasts and entertainments. . . . As he was able to adapt himself to all capacities and humours, he soon deeply insinuated himself into the esteem of the substantial wealthy aldermen, and into the affections of their more delicate, magnificent, and tender ladies; he made one in all their feasts, and at all their assemblies, and whilst in the company of the husbands he declaimed against the faults and mistakes of government, he joined their wives in railing against the profligacy of the Court ladies and in inveighing against the King's mistresses; he agreed with them, that the industrious poor were to pay for these cursed extravagances; that the City beauties were not inferior to those at the other end of the town. . . after which, to outdo their murmurings, he said, that he wondered Whitehall was not yet consumed by fire from heaven, since such rakes as Rochester, Killigrew, and Sedley were suffered there."
Having resolved to marry some one with money, he made love to Elizabeth Mallett, who had twenty-five hundred a year; but as she did not respond readily enough to his advances, he planned an abduction. When this young lady was returning home with her grandfather one night after supping at Whitehall with "La Belle Stewart," their coach was stopped at Charing Cross, the door was flung open and without ceremony Miss Mallett was dragged from her seat and taken to another carriage.
The Penalty of Wit
Her grandfather, Lord Haly, could do nothing, for a mob of men, on horseback and on foot, surrounded him. Elizabeth found two strange women in the coach, which was escorted at a furious speed by six horses out of London. There was little delay in the pursuit, and just on the London side of Uxbridge, Rochester was discovered alone, and waiting under the shelter of the hedge. He was escorted back to London, and Charles, who was willing enough to help him to his end in legitimate ways, was angry enough to send his friend to the Tower. However, the adventure did not disgust Elizabeth; she may even have been a little flattered by it, for in a short time she married Rochester; and though she had to endure all the neglects and infidelities that a licentious man could inflict, she seems ever to have been a loving wife.
Rochester posed as patron to the poets, first encouraging Dryden, then Settle, and Otway. When annoyed by a satire which he believed that Dryden had penned, he hired "Black Will with a cudgel" to give the laureate a beating in Rose Street, Covent Garden; but Lord Mulgrave was the real offender, he having described Rochester as
A cringing coward,
Mean in action, lewd in every limb.
Sometimes he has some humour, never wit;
'Tis under such a nasty rubbish laid,
To find it out's the cinder-woman's trade.
Some malicious sayings which were circulated about Lord Mulgrave were attributed to Rochester, so challenge was sent. Rochester denied being the author of the offending mot, but accepted the challenge, and decided to fight on horseback. When he came upon the