The Disabled Debauchee

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester

Edited by Jack Lynch

This is a reading text, with no pretense to being a critical edition. The notes are my own.

As some brave admiral, in former war,
Deprived of force, but pressed with courage still,
Two rival fleets appearing from afar,
Crawls to the top of an adjacent hill;
From whence (with thoughts full of concern) he views [5]
The wise and daring conduct of the fight,
And each bold action to his mind renews
His present glory, and his past delight;
From his fierce eyes, flashes of rage he throws,
As from black clouds when lightning breaks away, [10]
Transported,° thinks himself amidst his foes, carried away
And absent yet enjoys the bloody day;
So when my days of impotence approach,
And I’m by pox° and wine’s unlucky chance, syphilis
Driven from the pleasing billows of debauch,° [15] sexual excess
On the dull shore of lazy temperance,° moderation
My pains at last some respite° shall afford, relief
Whilst I behold the battles you maintain,
When fleets of glasses sail about the board,
From whose broadsides volleys of wit shall rain. [20]
Nor shall the sight of honourable scars,
Which my too-forward valour did procure,° obtain
Frighten new-listed° soldiers from the wars. enrolled
Past joys have more than paid what I endure.
Should hopeful youths (worth being drunk) prove nice,° [25] fussy
And from their fair inviters meanly shrink,
’Twould please the ghost of my departed vice,
If at my counsel they repent and drink.
Or should some cold-complexioned sot° forbid, drunkard
With his dull morals, our night’s brisk alarms, [30]
I’ll fire his blood by telling what I did,
When I was strong and able to bear arms.
I’ll tell of whores attacked, their lords at home,
Bawds’° quarters beaten up, and fortress won, pimps or madams
Windows demolished, watches° overcome, [35] watchmen
And handsome ills by my contrivance° done. plots
Nor shall our love-fits, Cloris,° be forgot, a typical lover’s name in poetry
When each the well-looked link-boy° strove t’enjoy, boy who lights the streets
And the best kiss was the deciding lot:° outcome of chance
Whether the boy fucked you, or I the boy. [40]
With tales like these I will such heat inspire,
As to important mischief shall incline.
I’ll make them long° some ancient church to fire, desire
And fear no lewdness they’re called to by wine.
Thus statesman-like, I’ll saucily impose, [45]
And safe from danger valiantly advise,
Sheltered in impotence, urge you to blows,
And being good for nothing else, be wise.


fleets of glasses sail about the board
Rochester likens glasses for liquor on the table to ships moving in formation in a battle. The “broadsides” are literally blasts of cannon from the side of a ship, and metaphorically quips.