'Satire against reason and mankind' by John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester

AI and Tech Aggregator
Download Mp3s Free
Tears of the Kingdom Roleplay
Best Free University Courses Online
TOTK Roleplay

Were I (who to my cost already am
One of those strange, prodigious creatures, man)
A spirit free to choose, for my own share,
What case of flesh and blood I pleased to wear,
I'd be a dog, a monkey or a bear,
Or anything but that vain animal
Who is so proud of being rational.

The senses are too gross, and he'll contrive
A sixth, to contradict the other five,
And before certain instinct, will prefer
Reason, which fifty times for one does err;
Reason, an ignis fatuus in the mind,
Which, leaving light of nature, sense, behind,
Pathless and dangerous wandering ways it takes
Through error's fenny bogs and thorny brakes;
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 a while, and make him try
To swim with bladders of philosophy;
In hopes still to o'ertake th' escaping light,
The vapor dances in his dazzling sight
Till, spent, it leaves him to eternal night.
Then old age and experience, hand in hand,
Lead him to death, and make him understand,
After a search so painful and so long,
That all his life he has been in the wrong.
Huddled in dirt the reasoning engine lies,
Who was proud, so witty, and so wise.

Pride drew him in, as cheats their bubbles catch,
And made him venture to be made a wretch.
His wisdom did his happiness destroy,
Aiming to know that world he should enjoy.
And wit was his vain, frivolous pretense
Of pleasing others at his own expense,
For wits are treated just like common whores:
First they're enjoyed, and then kicked out of doors.
The pleasure past, a threatening doubt remains
That frights th' enjoyer with succeeding pains.
Women and men of wit are dangerous tools,
And ever fatal to admiring fools:
Pleasure allures, and when the fops escape,
'Tis not that they're belov'd, but fortunate,
And therefore, that they fear at heart, they hate.

But now, methinks, some formal band and beard
Takes me to task. Come on, sir; I'm prepared.

"Then, by your favor, anything that's writ
Against this gibing, jingling knack called wit
Likes me abundantly; but you take care
Upon this point, not to be too severe.
Perhaps my muse were fitter for this part,
For I profess I can be very smart
On wit, which I abhor with all my heart.
I long to lash it in some sharp essay,
But your grand indiscretion bids me stay
And turns my tide of ink another way.

"What rage ferments in your degenerate mind
To make you rail at reason and mankind?
Blest, glorious man! to whom alone kind heaven
An everlasting soul has freely given,
Whom his great Maker took such care to make
That from himself he did the image take
And this fair frame in shining reason dressed
To dignify his nature above beast;
Reason, by whose aspiring influence
We take a flight beyond material sense
Dive into mysteries, then soaring pierce
The flaming limits of the universe,
Search heaven and hell, find out what's acted there,
And give the world true grounds of hope and fear."

Hold, mighty man, I cry, all this we know
From the pathetic pen of Ingelo,
From Patrick's Pilgrim, Sibbes' soliloquies,
And 'tis this very reason I despise:
This supernatural gift, that makes a mite
Think he's the image of the infinite,
Comparing his short life, void of all rest,
To the eternal and the ever blest;
This busy, puzzling stirrer-up of doubt
That frames deep mysteries, then finds 'em out,
Filling with frantic crowds of thinking fools
Those reverend bedlams, colleges and schools;
Borne on whose wings, each heavy sot can pierce
The limits of the boundless universe;
So charming ointments make an old witch fly
And bear a crippled carcass through the sky.
'Tis this exalted power, whose business lies
In nonsense and impossibilities,
This made a whimsical philosopher
Before the spacious world, his tub prefer,
And we have modern cloisterd coxcombs who
Retire to think, 'cause they have nought to do.

But thoughts are given for action's government;
Where action ceases, thought's impertinent.
Our sphere of action is life's happiness,
And he who thinks beyond, thinks like an ass.
Thus, whilst against false reasoning I inveigh,
I own right reason, which I would obey:
That reason which distinguishes by sense
And gives us rules of good and ill from thence,
That bounds desires with a reforming will
To keep 'em more in vigour, not to kill.
Your reason hinders, mine helps to enjoy,
Renewing appetites yours would destroy.
My reason is my friend, yours is a cheat;
Hunger calls out, my reason bids me eat;
Perversely, yours your appetite does mock:
This asks for food, that answers, 'What's o'clock?'
This plain distinction, sir, your doubt secures:
'Tis not true reason I despise, but yours.

Thus I think reason righted, bur for man,
I'll ne'er recant; defend him if you can.
For all his pride and his philosophy,
'Tis evident beasts are, in their degree,
As wise at least, and better far than he.
Those creatures are the wisest who attain,
By surest means, the ends at which they aim.
If therefore Jowler finds and kills his hares
Better than Meres supplies committee chairs,
Though one's a statesman, th' other but a hound,
Jowler, in justice, would be wiser found.

You see how far man's wisdom here extends;
Look next if human nature makes amends:
Whose principles most generous are, and just,
And to whose morals you would sooner trust.
Be judge yourself, I'll bring it to the test:
Which is the basest creature, man or beast?
Birds feed on birds, beasts on each other prey,
But savage man alone does man betray.
Pressed by necessity, they kill for food;
Man undoes man to do himself no good.
With teeth and claws by nature armed, they hunt
Nature's allowance, to supply their want.
But man, with smiles, embraces, friendship, praise,
Inhumanly his fellow's life betrays;
With voluntary pains works his distress,
Not through necessity, but wantonness.

For hunger or for love they fight or tear,
Whilst wretched man is still in arms for fear.
For fear he arms, and is of arms afraid,
By fear to fear successively betrayed;
Base fear, the source whence his best passions came:
His boasted honor, and his dear-bought fame;
That lust of power, to which he's a slave,
And for the which alone he dares be brave;
To which his various projects are designed;
Which makes him generous, affable, and kind;
For which he takes such pains to be thought wise,
And screws his actions in a forced disguise,
Leading a tedious life in misery
Under laborious, mean hypocrisy.
Look to the bottom of his vast design,
Wherein man's wisdom, power, and glory join:
The good he acts, the ill he does endure,
'Tis all from fear, to make himself secure.
Merely for safety, after fame we thirst,
For all men would be cowards if they durst.

And honesty's against all common sense:
Men must be knaves, 'tis in their own defence.
Mankind's dishonest, if you think it fair
Amongst known cheats to play upon the square,
You'll be undone.
Nor can weak truth your reputation save:
The knaves will all agree to call you knave.
Wronged shall he live, insulted o'er, oppressed,
Who dares be less a villain than the rest.
Thus, sir, you see what human nature craves:
Most men are cowards, all men should be knaves.
The difference lies, as far as I can see,
Not in the thing itself, but the degree,
And all the subject matter of debate is only:
Who's a knave of the first rate?

All this with indignation have I hurled
At the pretending part of the proud world,
Who, swollen with selfish vanity, devise
False freedoms, holy cheats, and formal lies
Over their fellow slaves to tyrannize.

But if in Court so just a man there be
(In Court a just man, yet unknown to me)
Who does his needful flattery direct,
Not to oppress and ruin, but protect
(Since flattery, which way soever laid,
Is still a tax on that unhappy trade);
If so upright a statesman you can find,
Whose passions bend to his unbiased mind,
Who does his arts and policies apply
To raise his country, not his family,
Nor, whilst his pride owned avarice withstands,
Receives close bribes through friends' corrupted hands?

Is there a churchman who on God relies;
Whose life, his faith and doctrine justifies?
Not one blown up with vain prelatic pride,
Who, for reproof of sins, does man deride;
Whose envious heart makes preaching a pretense,
With his obstreperous, saucy eloquence,
To chide at kings, and rail at men of sense;
None of that sensual tribe whose talents lie
In avarice, pride, sloth, and gluttony;
Who hunt good livings, but abhor good lives;
Whose lust exalted to that height arrives
They act adultery with their own wives,
And ere a score of years completed be,
Can from the lofty pulput proudly see
Half a large parish their own progeny;
Nor doting bishop who would be adored
For domineering at the council board,
A greater fop in business at fourscore,
Fonder of serious toys, affected more,
Than the gay, glittering fool at twenty proves
With all his noise, his tawdry clothes, and loves;

But a meek, humble man of honest sense,
Who, preaching peace, does practice continence;
Whose pious life's a proof he does believe
Mysterious truths, which no man can conceive.
If upon the earth there dwell such God-like men,
I'll here recant my paradox to them,
Adore those shrines of virtue, homage pay,
And, with the rabble world, their laws obey.

If such there be, yet grant me this at least:
Man differs more from man, than man from beast.

Editor 1 Interpretation


John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, is one of the most controversial poets in English literary history. He is known for his satirical poems, which were often obscene and vulgar. One of his most famous works is "Satire against Reason and Mankind," which was written in the late 17th century. In this poem, Rochester attacks the idea of reason and argues that it is responsible for the corruption and misery of humankind. This literary criticism and interpretation will explore the themes and language of Rochester's "Satire against Reason and Mankind," and analyze the ways in which the poem reflects the cultural and intellectual climate of its time.

Historical Context

In order to fully understand the significance of "Satire against Reason and Mankind," it is important to examine the cultural and intellectual climate of the late 17th century. This was a time of great change and upheaval in England. The country had recently experienced a revolution, which had brought about a new government and a new king. This period is often referred to as the "Restoration," and it was characterized by a renewed interest in classical literature, science, and philosophy.

At the same time, there was also a growing sense of disillusionment with these ideals. Many people felt that reason and science had failed to bring about the kind of progress and prosperity that they had promised. This sense of disillusionment is reflected in Rochester's poem, which attacks the very idea of reason and argues that it is responsible for the misery and corruption of humankind.

Themes and Language

One of the key themes of "Satire against Reason and Mankind" is the idea that reason is responsible for the corruption and misery of humankind. Rochester argues that reason has led people to abandon their natural impulses and desires, and to pursue only their own self-interest. This has created a world in which people are constantly fighting and competing with one another, and in which there is no room for compassion or love.

Rochester's language in the poem is often shocking and vulgar. He uses obscene language to describe the human body and the act of sex, and he attacks religious and moral authorities with scathing satire. This language is a reflection of Rochester's own personality, which was notorious for its excesses and debauchery. However, it is also a commentary on the hypocrisy and corruption of the society in which he lived.

Structure and Tone

"Satire against Reason and Mankind" is written in rhyming couplets, which gives the poem a sense of order and structure. However, this structure is also used to create a sense of irony and satire. The poem begins with a tribute to reason, but this is quickly undermined by Rochester's attacks on reason as a corrupt and destructive force.

The tone of the poem is often sarcastic and mocking, but it is also deeply cynical. Rochester seems to have little faith in the ability of humans to improve their own condition, and he portrays them as hopelessly selfish and corrupt. However, there is also a sense of despair in the poem, as Rochester seems to be lamenting the state of the world and the futility of human endeavor.


"Satire against Reason and Mankind" can be interpreted in a number of different ways. Some readers may see it as a nihilistic attack on the very idea of progress and human improvement. Others may see it as a commentary on the hypocrisy and corruption of the society in which Rochester lived.

However, one possible interpretation of the poem is that it is a satire on the excesses and follies of the Restoration period. Rochester was himself a product of this period, and his own life was marked by excess and debauchery. The poem can be seen as a reflection of his own disillusionment with the ideals of the Restoration, and his recognition that reason and science were not necessarily the panacea that they had been promised to be.


"Satire against Reason and Mankind" is a powerful and provocative poem that challenges many of the assumptions and ideals of its time. It is a reminder that reason and science are not always enough to bring about progress and prosperity, and that humans are often their own worst enemies. While the poem is often shocking and vulgar, it is also a work of great depth and complexity, and it continues to resonate with readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, was a poet who lived during the 17th century. He was known for his satirical works, which often criticized the society of his time. One of his most famous works is the poem "Satire Against Reason and Mankind," which was published posthumously in 1680. This poem is a scathing critique of human nature and the Enlightenment ideals of reason and rationality. In this article, we will analyze and explain this classic poem in detail.

The poem begins with a description of the state of humanity. Rochester paints a bleak picture of human nature, describing it as "a wretched, crawling, and dejected thing." He argues that humans are driven by their passions and desires, rather than reason and rationality. He writes, "Man's but a reed, the weakest in nature, / But he's a thinking reed, and that's his feature." This line is a reference to the famous quote by philosopher Blaise Pascal, who argued that humans are both weak and capable of reason.

Rochester's critique of reason and rationality is a central theme of the poem. He argues that reason is not a reliable guide to truth or morality. He writes, "Reason, the use of it, no man knows; / 'Tis not in us to see our own repose." This line suggests that reason is not a natural or innate ability, but rather something that must be learned or acquired. However, even if we do acquire reason, it is not enough to guide us in life. Rochester argues that reason is often used to justify immoral or irrational behavior. He writes, "Reason, to use it, oft is to abuse it, / And not to use it, is oft to lose it." This line suggests that reason can be a double-edged sword, and that it is not always clear how to use it properly.

Rochester's critique of reason is closely tied to his critique of Enlightenment ideals. The Enlightenment was a period of intellectual and cultural growth in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. It was characterized by a belief in reason, rationality, and progress. However, Rochester argues that these ideals are misguided and dangerous. He writes, "All men are equal, this they can't deny; / Yet no two people are alike, no two agree." This line suggests that the Enlightenment ideal of equality is unrealistic, and that it ignores the diversity and complexity of human nature.

Rochester's critique of Enlightenment ideals is also reflected in his critique of science and technology. He argues that these things are not inherently good, but rather can be used for evil purposes. He writes, "Science was meant to cure our ills, / But now it serves to make us worse than beasts." This line suggests that science and technology have the potential to dehumanize us, and that they should be used with caution.

Another important theme of the poem is the idea of hypocrisy. Rochester argues that humans are often hypocritical, saying one thing and doing another. He writes, "We all declare for liberty; but in using it, we know not what we do." This line suggests that humans often claim to value freedom and equality, but in practice, they do not live up to these ideals. Rochester also criticizes religious hypocrisy, arguing that many people use religion as a way to justify their immoral behavior. He writes, "Religion's but a cheat, a fancy'd toy, / To frighten fools, and make the wise enjoy."

Rochester's use of satire is a key aspect of the poem. Satire is a literary technique that uses humor, irony, and exaggeration to criticize society and human behavior. Rochester's satire is often biting and sarcastic, but it is also deeply insightful. He uses satire to expose the flaws and contradictions of human nature, and to challenge the prevailing ideas of his time.

In conclusion, John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester's "Satire Against Reason and Mankind" is a classic poem that critiques human nature, Enlightenment ideals, and hypocrisy. Rochester's use of satire is both humorous and insightful, and his critique of reason and rationality is still relevant today. This poem is a reminder that humans are flawed and complex beings, and that we should approach life with humility and caution.

Editor Recommended Sites

Jupyter Consulting: Jupyter consulting in DFW, Southlake, Westlake
Cloud Taxonomy: Graph database taxonomies and ontologies on the cloud. Cloud reasoning knowledge graphs
Code Checklist - Readiness and security Checklists: Security harden your cloud resources with these best practice checklists
Training Course: The best courses on programming languages, tutorials and best practice
Prompt Composing: AutoGPT style composition of LLMs for attention focus on different parts of the problem, auto suggest and continue

Recommended Similar Analysis

Hunting of the Snark, The by Lewis Carroll analysis
I 'm nobody! Who are you? by Emily Dickinson analysis
I died for Beauty-but was scarce by Emily Dickinson analysis
The Pasture by Robert Frost analysis
Lament of the Frontier Guard by Ezra Pound analysis
A Brook In The City by Robert Frost analysis
Consolation by Elizabeth Barrett Browning analysis
A Martian Sends A Postcard Home by Craig Raine analysis
Hop-Frog Or The Eight Chained Ourang-Outangs by Edgar Allen Poe analysis
Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott analysis