Thursday, June 18, 2009

Why don't judges beg the pardon of Satan any more?

Sheridan wasn't the only scandalous writer with snazzy comebacks. John Wilkes, a mid-eighteenth century reformer and satirical pamphletist was one of the more scandalous personnages of the Georgian era. To illustrate, the amateur Historian humbly begs her Gentle Readers to inspect this share this gem from The King Who Lost America: A portrait of the life and times of George III, which is further subtitled, A Highly Entertaining Portrait of the Rather Endearing Prig Who Lost the Colonies.

"The incorrigible John Wilkes did not rest after this highly publicized libel trial and the closure of his newspaper, North Briton. Wilkes and his fellow Hell Fire member Thomas Potter had composed an indiscreet parody of Pope’s Essay on Man entitled Essay on Women. Whereas Pope had inscribed his poem to Lord Bolingbroke, commencing the dedication “Awake, my St John!” the Wilkes version was inscribed to Fanny Murray, a fashionable courtesan and began “Awake, my Fanny!” According to an outraged contemporary who was familiar with the text: “The natural abilities of the ass are made the subject of an unclean description… the sense of Pope’s Universal Prayer is perverted to serve the vilest purpose of unchastity… God is ludicrously insulted by a repetition of the grossest obscenity…” etc.

... the trial did not go quite so well for Wilkes. Bishop Warburton, purple with rage, ranted that the blackest fiends in hell would not keep company with the author of Essay on Women, adding that he begged the pardon of Satan for linking their names together.”

It is little wonder then, that the fourth Earl of Sandwhich met Wilkes later on, said Earl exclaimed, “Sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!”

To which Wilkes replied, “That, sir, depends on whether I first embrace your Lordship’s principles or your Lordship’s mistresses.”

No comments:

Post a Comment