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John Wilmot's "A Ramble in St. James's Park"

John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester

The Biography:

John Wilmot was born April 1, 1647, and became the second Earl of Rochester at the age of ten, upon the death of his father.  He was admitted to Wadham College in Oxford in 1660, and it was during this time he began experimenting with the more notorious aspects of his life.  For a brief period of time nothing was seen or heard of him, but he resurfaces in Charles II’s court in 1664.  He marries Elizabeth Mallet in January, 1667, the same year he is summoned to a seat in the House of Lords, and in 1669 Mallet and Rochester have a daughter.  Rochester’s life in London was quite notorious, and he is known for his libertine lifestyle.  In 1680 Rochester alls ill, and in June of that year he repents his previous actions to his mother’s chaplain.  Rochester died 26 July, 1680, at the age of 33 (Adlard 20, 31, 75, 115, 126-137).

 

 

London Red Light Districts:

There was a geographical shift in London in the late 18th Century from east to west – the lessoning of crime within the boundaries of the city coincided with the increasing of lawlessness in Westminster (Henderson 57).  Prostitution and soliciting did not expand equally around the city and its outlying areas, but rather became concentrated in a few specific localities.  These included Whitechapel, Shadwell, Drury Lane, Covent Garden, and the Strand, with brothels and bawdy houses being primarily restricted to such areas like St. Mary le Strand, Covent Garden, Charing Cross, Hedge Lane and Westminster (59).

Concentration of streetwalkers, brothels, and bawdy houses, mid-18th century (Henderson 52-62).

See in particular pages 54-56.

 

 

Prostitution and Space:

The contemplation of space and place in relation to prostitution in the 18th century presents many interesting avenues of examination.  Here are a few to consider:

 

"A Ramble in St. James's Park"

 

The nature of sexuality within the poem can be seen in a state of constant movement and flux between the interior (physically, the hansom cab) and the exterior (movement from location to location), and metaphorically between public space and private.  Sexuality within the poem is an active force that transcends the public and the private spaces of Rochester’s London.   The dichotomy between public and private is introduced within the first ten lines of the poem, and is thereafter undermined by the sexual promiscuity that transcends the boundaries of private space and permeates those of the public.  This results in the eroticization of public space.

Some quotes to consider:

“When I, who still take care to see, / Drunkenness relieved by lechery; / Went out into Saint James’s Park, / To cool my head and fire my heart” (Rochester 5-8).

  1. dichotomy of public space and private space
  2. very literally, the narrator goes out to go into – he must exit into this area where those who choose to do so engage in sexual promiscuity (a disparity undermined in the rest of the poem).

“And nightly now beneath their shade, / Are buggeries, rapes, and incests made, / Unto this all-sin sheltering grove, / Whores of the bulk, and the alcove…” (23-26).

  1. the illusion of safety of the “sheltering grove” is instantaneously destroyed as it is presented.  The shade of trees provides shelter, but for “buggeries, rapes, and incests.”
  2. the public space of the park is out of social order, both literally (in relation to the city’s geography) and metaphorically.

“In short, without much more ado, / Joyful, and pleased, away she flew / And with these three confounded asses / From park to hackney-coach she passes” (79-82).

1. the sexual act transcends the boundaries of the park, and intermingles the private with the public (again, both literally and metaphorically) through the liasons between Corinna and the three suitors.

 

Further Consideration:

What does the eroticization of the public space tell us when we consider the politics (gendered, racial, social, economical) of this imagined space?  Social politics suggests a moralizing of public space, as well as anxiety over emergent sexuality and sexual identities.  The boundaries of the public and the private are not fixed, but rather fluid – what does this say about issues of containment?

 

Bibliography and Works Cited

Adlard, John, ed.  John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester: The Debt to Pleasure.  New York:
     Rutledge, 2002.
Henderson, Tony.  Disorderly Women in Eighteenth-Century London: Prostitution and
     Control in the Metropolis, 1730-1830.  New York: Pearson Education Ltd., 1999.
Hubbard, Phil.  “Red-Light Districts and Toleration Zones: Geographies of Female Street
     Prostitution in England and Wales.”  Area.  29.2 (June 1997): 129-140.  JStor.
     University of Saskatchewan Library, Saskatoon, SK.  23 Feb 2009.
“John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester.”  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
     University of Saskatchewan Library, Saskatoon, SK.  3 Feb 2009.
     <http://www.oxforddnb.com/index.jsp>
Kramnick, Jonathan Brody.  “Rochester and the History of Sexuality.”  ELH.  69.2
     (Summer 2002): 277-301.  JStor.  University of Saskatchewan Library, Saskatoon, SK.
     21 Feb 2009.

 

 

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