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This review is taken from PN Review 20, Volume 7 Number 6, July - August 1981.

ALL THE FOOLS IN THE WORLD The Letters of John Wilmot Earl of Rochester, ed. Jeremy Treglown (Basil Blackwell) £21.00

Three hundred years after John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, died, relying 'wholly upon Christ's merits for his salvation', at the pleasant lodge in Woodstock Park that had been the scene of many of his debauches, a complete edition of his letters has at last been published, and nothing could be more welcome to mark the tercentenary. When, during the preparation of The Debt to Pleasure, I was going through the correspondence in MS Harleian 7003 at the British Library, I compared the autograph text with that printed, marred by monstrous errors, in John Hayward's pioneering Collected Works of John Wilmot Earl of Rochester (1926) and sighed for a complete and good edition.

This Jeremy Treglown, a conscientious editor, has now supplied, and his Introduction combines an excellent biographical portrait with a concise and penetrating account of Rochester's poetry. 'He is the funniest poet of his time-indeed, arguably the most irresponsibly hilarious in the language,' Treglown writes. 'His poems break every kind of taboo, not only by being obscene, malicious, untrue (in a literal sense), or any combination of these, but through an imaginative recklessness that disregards any rule of moderation or common sense. . . . The humour and metaphorical energy of Rochester's imagination charge his letters, as well as his poems'. He goes on to point out that 'Rochester's hilarity is related to his seriousness, and particularly to the intensity with which he questioned traditional, metaphysically-based notions of goodness and tried to find workable empirical alternatives ...


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