Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 272
John Wilmot's "A Satire Against Reason and Mankind" is an expository poem that treats the abstract theme of reason. It features few developed fictional characters in the literary sense, but rather constructed interlocutors and imagined personages.
In an abstract sense, the main character is "man." In an extended metaphor, Wilmot imagines mankind struggling for wisdom like one on a physical journey in nature:
Whilst the misguided follower climbs with pain
Mountains of whimseys, heaped in his own brain;
Stumbling from thought to thought, falls headlong down
Into doubt's boundless sea where, like to drown,
Books bear him up awhile, and make him try
To swim with bladders of philosophy
Wilmot also imagines an interlocutor "from some formal band" (46) and quotes this imagined individual in order to refute his contentions. This rhetorically constructed clergyman says to the poet, "What rage ferments in your degenerate mind / To make you rail at reason and mankind?" (58-9). He continues to claim that God imparted reason to man alone among beast, and so reason is a divine magnificent bequest. The poet retorts that this reason is in fact a curse, as it makes man think he is better than he is:
This supernatural gift, that makes a mite
Think he's an image of the infinite,
Comparing his short life, void of all rest,
To the eternal and the ever blest (76-9)
Wilmot refers to one "Sir Thomas Meres," who was a contemporary English politician in the House of Commons. He introduces this figure only to compare him unfavorably to a hound ("Jowler" by name) who is more successful in killing hares than Meres is at chairing a committee (119-21).