Last Updated September 5, 2023.
John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (commonly called "Rochester"), was a poet known for his wit, his controversial verses, and his sexual indiscretions (as he was known for enjoying alcohol and fathering illegitimate children). He lived during the reign of Charles II during the Restoration period—a period named for the restored monarchy. "A Satire Against Reason and Mankind" is his most popular work, and it is representative of the strain of his verses.
The poet laments the condition of man, to such an extent that he wishes he were another beast. The poem's tone is satirical and its content ironic; he claims that he would prefer to "be a dog, monkey, or a bear" (5) instead of a man. At least these creatures, according to Rochester, are spared the toil of being a man. Man struggles to acquire knowledge, but this attempt is always futile, amounting to only "mountains of whimseys, heaped in [man's] own brain" (17). Man is unable, according to Rochester, to understand things outside of himself.
Rochester claims that witty people are like whores, insofar as they please their admirers temporarily but have little substance. He also avers that religious men are misguided, as they think that their life has meaning when it does not. Rochester concludes with a sort of challenges to those who would prove him wrong. He devotes an entire stanza to a musing on some imagined individual who is "humble" and "of honest sense" (212). Rochester claims that, were a man to exist in reality, he (and the rest of the "rabble" ) would obey this man. The fact that no one is, in fact, revered in this way is evidence for the implied fact that no such man exists, proving Rochester's verses true.