Aphra Behn based some of the most baudy characters in her plays on John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, whom she knew because they were both among the most notable figures of the court of Charles II. Wilmot was, in a court of outrageous hooligans, perhaps the most perverse of them all.
Yet, I am reminded of Salieri's complaint, that God should have chosen to give such talent to such a childish reprehensible fool as Mozart. (At least such a rephrehensible fool as the movie version of Mozart.) For Wilmot's talent as a wordsmith is great, and although most of his poetry will not find its way into this blog for reasons of taste, the ease with which he worked his ideas into verse is astonishing. It clearly was a gift from God, an ill used gift from God most of the time, but still a gift.
I think he was (at least sporadically) aware both of the source of his gift and also of the incongruous use he made of it. The following is a lovely piece of metaphysics, with slight hints at theological undertones. I love the satyric way that he has Nothing and Something interacting. Much was made of his deathbed conversion; it provided a text for evangelistic writing for at least two hundred years. And yet it is not entirely clear that it was anything more than another game that Wilmot played. That we won't know for sure until we meet him, if we do.
Nothing! thou elder brother even to Shade,
Thou hadst a being ere the world was made,
And (well fixt) art alone of ending not afraid.
Ere time and place were, time and place were not,
When primitive Nothing something straight begot,
Then all proceeded from the great united--What.
Something the general attribute of all,
Sever'd from thee, its sole original,
Into thy boundless self must undistinguish'd fall.
Yet something did thy mighty pow'r command,
And from thy fruitful emptiness's hand,
Snatched men, beasts, birds, fire, air and land.
Matter, the wickedest off-spring of thy race,
By Form assisted, flew from thy embrace,
And rebel Light obscured thy reverend dusky face.
With Form and Matter, Time and Place did join,
Body, thy foe, with thee did leagues combine,
To spoil thy peaceful realm, and ruin all thy line.
But turn-coat Time assists the foe in vain,
And, bribed by thee, asists thy short-lived reign,
And to thy hungry womb drives back thy slaves again.
Great Negative, how vainly would the wise
Inquire, define, distinguish, teach, devise,
Didst thou not stand to point their dull philosophies?
The great man's gratitude to his best friend,
King's promises, whore's vows, towards thee they bend,
Flow swiftly into thee, and in thee never end.