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John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester: renowned wit and the greatest libertine of Charles II's Restoration court - yet these letters show another, softer (in places) man who seems to have been in love with both his wife, Elizabeth Mallet, and his mistress, Elizabeth Barry.

This is a good academic collection of Rochester's extant letters from both manuscript and printed sources. Treglown prefaces them with a brief life of Rochester but then lets the letters speak for themselves. Amongst the missives from Rochester himself are some to him from friends such as George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, and his own special friends such as Henry Savile.

Rochester's personality is a complex one: charming, vibrant, endlessly inventive, yet also scabrous, cruel and cutting. The sense of self-disgust that comes through his later poems is a testament to his sometimes overlooked sense of moral calibration, and his subversive ethics.

The letters collected here offer only a partial view of Rochester since many haven't survived (his mother is supposed to have burned reams of his private papers after his death), but it's a very direct and immediate one. Best read alongside the poetry (Selected Poems) and the Johnson biography (A Profane Wit), this is a valuable and fascinating volume.
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