TL Question #12b - Acceptance of God?

by Stephen Jeffreys

Moderator: Liz

User avatar
ONBC Moderator
Posts: 12971
Joined: Thu Jun 24, 2004 2:13 pm
Location: The Left Coast

Status: Offline

TL Question #12b - Acceptance of God?

Unread postby Liz » Fri Dec 16, 2005 5:57 pm

All my past life is mine no more;
The flying hours are gone,
Like transitory dreams given o'er,
Whose images are kept in store
By memory alone.

--John Wilmot
Earl of Rochester
"Love and Life," (1680)

Before I pose the second question of today I must share some background information with you. Bear with me here. We will eventually get to the question at hand.

There is a controversy as to whether John Wilmot did, in fact, convert to Christianity at the end of his life. Some feel that he was mad from the disease. Others feel it is just the response of a desperate man who’s about to die, but not genuine. Could it have been his mother’s attempt to redeem her son in the eyes of men and her Savior? Could she have been fooling herself? Below you will find the arguments of Dr. Gilbert Burnet for Wilmot’s conversion and repentance. Dr. Burnet, the Bishop of Salisbury, was respected as a cleric, a preacher, and an academic, as well as a writer and historian.

From the Greene book (1):

So, in October 1679 Rochester sent a friend to Burnet to ask for his company, and in Burnet’s words, "after I had waited on him once or twice, he grew into that freedom with me, as to open to me all his thoughts, both of religion and morality, and to give me a full view of his past life, and seemed not uneasy at my frequent visits."

The accuracy of Burnet’s account of these conversations and the later repentance was impugned when it was first published in 1680. Rochester’s friends refused to believe Burnet’s story. Burnet was a fashionable confessor; he was making capital out of those on whom he forced his attention. Otway’s lines on the fellow who ‘crept upon my troubled hours’ was the opinion of Burnet held by the wits…..But with the lapse of more than 250 years, with the knowledge we possess of Rochester’s life and parentage, Burnet’s book (2) becomes more than credible, it becomes convincing. The greater part is in the form of dialogue; Rochester offers his objections to the Christian religion, and Burnet answers him…..The part allotted to Rochester in the dialogue amounts to 302 lines, to Burnet’s 1,671. Rochester was overborne by the weight of his opponent; the objections which he tossed out so briefly were caught, turned this way and that way, pulled in pieces.


In April 1680 when Wilmot thought he was in better health he rode to the country in Somersetshire. The heat and violent motion of the ride inflamed the ulcer in his bladder and was forced to return to Woodstock-Park by carriage. He was wounded in body and in mind. Below are some quotes from Burnet on Rochester. I have kept the spelling, capitalization and punctuation as is. It is interesting how they spelled back then.

But now the Hand of God touched him, and as he told me, it was not only a general dark Melancholy over his Mind, such as he had formerly felt; but a most penetrating cutting sorrow. So that though in his Body he suffered extream pain, for some Weeks, Yet the Agonies of his Mind sometimes swallowed up the sense of what he felt in his Body. He told me, and gave it to me in charge, to tell it to one for whom he was much concern’d, that though there were nothing to come after this life, Yet all the Pleasures he had ever known in Sin, were not worth that torture he had felt in his Mind: He considered he had not only neglected and dishonoured, but had openly defied his Maker, and had drawn many others into the like Impieties: So that he looked on himself as one that was in great danger of being damn’d. He then set himself wholly to turn to God unfeignedly, and to do all that was possible in that little remainder of his life which was before him, to redeem those great portions of it, that he had formerly so ill employed.

One of the Earl’s stumbling blocks in believing was his disbelief of the scriptures—the Old Testament specifically. His scientific mind couldn’t accept them. According to Burnet, Wilmot's opinion in this regard changed radically during his last month of life. This passage apparently takes place on or about the 20th of July:

But he made me pray often with him and spoke of his Conversion to God as a thing now grown up in him to a settled and calm serenity. He was very anxious to know my Opinion of a Death-Bed Repentance. I told him, That before I gave any Resolution in that, it would be convenient that I should be acquainted more particularly with the Circumstances and Progress of his Repentance.

Upon this he satisfied me in many particulars. He said, He was now perswaded both of the truth of Christianity, and of the power of inward Grace, of which he gave me this strange account. He said, Mr. Parsons in order to his Conviction; read to him the 53 Chapter of the Prophesie of Isaiah*, and compared that with the History of our Saviour’s Passion, that he might there see a Prophesie concerning it, written many Ages before it was done; which the Jews that blasphemed Jesus Christ still kept in their hands, as a Book divinely inspired. He said to me, That as he heard it read, he felt an inward force upon him, which did so enlighten his Mind, and convince him, that he could resist it no longer: For the words had an authority which did shoot like Raies or Beams in his Mind; So that he was not only convinced by the Reasonings he had about it, which satisfied his Understanding, but by a power which did so effectually constrain him, that he did ever after as firmly believe in his Saviour, as if he had seen him in the Clouds.

*LIZ NOTE: Isaiah 53 does, in fact, prophesize the coming and Passion of Christ.

A portion of Burnet’s response to Rochester and Rochester’s response to him:

Yet certainly if the Mind of a Sinner, even on a Death-Bed, be truly renewed and turned to God, so great is His Mercy, that He will receive him, even in that extremity. He said, He was sure his Mind was entirely turned, and though Horrour had given him his first awakening, yet that was now grown up into a settled Faith and Conversion.

Below is an answer to a letter that Burnet wrote to Wilmot. Wilmot’s mother, the Countess of Rochester, told Burnet that Wilmot dictated every word and then signed it. Burnet writes, “I was unwilling to have publish’d it, because of a Complement in it to my self, far above my merit, and not very well suiting with his Condition. But the sense he expresses in it of the Change then wrought on him, hath upon second thoughts prevail’d with me to publish it, leaving out what concerns my self.”

June 25, 1689. Woodstock-Park, Oxfordshire.

My most Honour’d Dr. Burnet,

My Spirits and Body decay so equally together, that I shall write You a Letter as weak as I am in person. I begin to value Church-men above all men in the World, etc. If God be yet pleased to spare me longer in this World, I hope in your Conversation to be exalted to that degree of Piety, that the World may see how much I abhor what I so long loved, and how much I glory in Repentance, and in God’s Service. Bestow your Prayers upon me, that God would spare me (if it be His good Will) to shew a true Repentance and Amendment of life for the time to come: or else if the Lord pleaseth to put an end to my worldly being now, that He would mercifully accept of my Death-Bed Repentance, and perform that Promise that He hath been pleased to make, That at what time forever a Sinner doth Repent, He would receive him. Put up these Prayers, most dear Doctor, to Almighty God for your most Obedient and Languishing Servant.


Many were concerned that the Earl was mad because this was such an alteration in him, thus, discounting his conversion. This is Burnet’s response to that:

That this Lord was either mad or stupid, is a thing so notoriously untrue, that it is the greatest impudence for any that were about him, to Report it; and a very unreasonable Credulity in others to believe it. All the while I was with him, after he had slept out the disorders of the Fit he was in the first Night, he was not only without Ravings; but had a clearness in his Thoughts, in his Memory, in his reflections on Things and Persons, far beyond what I ever saw in a Person so low in his strength.

During this time the Earl said the following to Burnet in regards to his children:

See how Good God has been to me, in giving me so many Blessings, and I have carried my self to Him like an ungracious and unthankful Dog.

Burnet speaks of his last hours:

Some hours after he asked for me, and when it was told him, I was gone, he seem’d to be troubled, and said, "Has my Friend left me, then I shall die shortly." After that he spake but once or twice till he dyed: He lay much silent: Once they heard him praying very devoutly. And on Monday about Two of the clock in the Morning, he died without any Convulsion or so much as a groan.

(1) Lord Rochester’s Monkey by Graham Greene, © 1974

(2) Some Passages of the Life and Death Of the Right Honourable John Earl of Rochester, Who died the 26th of July, 1680, Written by his own direction on his death-bed, by Gilbert Burnet, D. D., London, Printed for Richard Chiswel, at the Rose and Crown in St. Paul’s Churchyard. 1680.

Unfortunately, we will never know the truth about Rochester’s final state of mind. What is your opinion?
Last edited by Liz on Fri Dec 16, 2005 7:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.

User avatar
Posts: 3851
Joined: Tue Jan 04, 2005 5:17 pm
Location: The Captain's Cabin

Status: Offline

Unread postby Jackslady » Fri Dec 16, 2005 6:23 pm

Wow, looks like I'm the first to comment on this, I'm up very late tonight here in England!

Liz, thank you for this long and interesting post.

At the risk of a low note, I honestly don't feel I could pass an opinion either way on this one, it's arguably the most fascinating mystery surrounding Rochester. Perhaps for myself I prefer to leave it at that, as a mystery, a man's conscience is a very private thing and perhaps John Wilmot would lose a little magic for me if I thought I knew too much about him!

Wilmot's biographers have divided opinions on this subject and I think it can be argued either way, there is compelling evidence to suggest he did convert, and equally compelling evidence to suggest he did not. I'll be interested to read everyone's views here.

Without giving too much away, I would just like to say that I feel the ending of the film handles this aspect perfectly.
"Easy on the goods darlin!"
"Tis not an easy thing to be entirely happy, but to be kind is very easy, and that is the greatest measure of happiness"-John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester

*Special thanks to es for help with my lovely avatar*

User avatar
ONBC Moderator
Posts: 12971
Joined: Thu Jun 24, 2004 2:13 pm
Location: The Left Coast

Status: Offline

Unread postby Liz » Fri Dec 16, 2005 7:30 pm

Not a low note at all, Jackslady. :chill: Your point is well taken. :cool:
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.

User avatar
Betty Sue
Posts: 1430
Joined: Fri Mar 25, 2005 7:37 pm

Status: Offline

Unread postby Betty Sue » Fri Dec 16, 2005 8:16 pm

Since faith really is a personal thing and Rochester never exhibited any during his prior life, it's no wonder there are doubters. I tried to read through the interesting passages as a doubter, but ended up as more of a believer. So far in my life I don't have the great need for repentance that he had , but I could relate to having trouble with the Old Testament (many a scholar has worked with me on this!) and to the 'inward force' that enlightened his mind and soul when he was feeling so desperate---a miracle? This happened to me when I was facing a terrifying (to me) operation and afraid of dyng. As I prayed, a feeling of total serenity came over me and lasted for months after the operation. So, personally, I think this kind of thing can happen and that, at least in that final time, the Earl was sorry that he had been so ungrateful, so uncaring and such a bad influence. Maybe he finally had clarity.
"I never wanted to be remembered for being a star."

User avatar
Posts: 6552
Joined: Tue Mar 08, 2005 10:14 pm
Location: australia

Status: Offline

Unread postby gilly » Fri Dec 16, 2005 8:57 pm

I've said this before a while ago,but I still think the same :blush: ...I think that it wasn't a conversion,but a reversion...a turning back to God...Certainly he seems to have struck a real rapport with Burnet,which facilitated this ....It's funny,even with some of his most bawdy poetry,there is almost a religious fervor in the words....That's one reason why I think the awareness of God was always there. :cool: .
Life is beautiful.

I have faith in you.

User avatar
ONBC Moderator
Posts: 12971
Joined: Thu Jun 24, 2004 2:13 pm
Location: The Left Coast

Status: Offline

Unread postby Liz » Fri Dec 16, 2005 9:42 pm

gilly wrote:I've said this before a while ago,but I still think the same :blush: ...I think that it wasn't a conversion,but a reversion...a turning back to God...Certainly he seems to have struck a real rapport with Burnet,which facilitated this ....It's funny,even with some of his most bawdy poetry,there is almost a religious fervor in the words....That's one reason why I think the awareness of God was always there. :cool: .

That's a very positive viewpoint, Gilly.

Personally, I feel that he did convert (or revert). I think that he was sensitive enough to realize that he had done some wrongs for which he felt strong guilt. But also, I feel that he had done a lot of soul searching, as it were, and chose to believe. I imagine it is probably common for those facing death to realize that this is it--it's now or never. I know they are afraid and that is a big part of it. But I also believe that it is possible that their frame of mind is changed (maybe in the sense that Betty Sue has described) and are more open to it, and thus more open to the comfort that a clergyman would provide. But I also have to say that my viewpoint is colored by what I want to believe.
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.

User avatar
Posts: 1120
Joined: Tue Aug 03, 2004 10:15 am
Location: making grilled cheese

Status: Offline

Unread postby SamIam » Fri Dec 16, 2005 9:56 pm

I don't think we will ever know what his state of mind was in his final moments. Supposedly you see your whole life flash before your eyes. Who knows. I think he wanted to repent because he didn't want to go to hell if that's what he believed in. I think he was drunk or so delirious from whatever disease he had..I believe it was syphilis. I know that makes you insane and bleed out of your brain and other such horrible things. I can't remember everything I learned in senior year health but that's most of it. He started to accept God at the end because I think he didn't want to go to hell for all of his sins.
That's just my two cents!
Ambition without inspiration is like a boat on dry land.

the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. -Eleanor Roosevelt

User avatar
Posts: 1504
Joined: Tue Jul 06, 2004 11:47 am
Location: This is Bat Country!

Status: Offline

Unread postby Raven » Fri Dec 16, 2005 10:20 pm

When the Earl sent letters to his son, he told him more then once to obey God. Along with being a good person and work hard. Why would the JW say this to his child and not revert at the end?

Don't get me wrong, I do not wonder or care if he reverted to God at the end or not. Many parents have a do what I say and not as I do, philosophy.

This may seem harsh, but only because there is nothing we can do about it in any case.

Funny that I found Jesus Christ Superstar on HBO just now?
A favorite movie when I was in HS.

Another 2cents

"In my experience, those who do not like you fall into two categories: the stupid
and the envious."
John Wilmot, the 2nd Earl of Rochester in The Libertine by Stephen Jeffreys

User avatar
Posts: 10378
Joined: Mon Jun 21, 2004 10:43 pm
Location: Austin

Status: Offline

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Fri Dec 16, 2005 11:10 pm

Many good :twocents: put in here today. I prefer to look at it as a mystery too. We will never know for sure and there are very strong arguments on both sides. Whatever the truth may have been, I hope he found peace.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -
Wow! What a ride!

User avatar
Posts: 5358
Joined: Wed Jul 07, 2004 11:53 am
Location: Missouri, USA

Status: Offline

Unread postby Boo-Radley » Sat Dec 17, 2005 12:55 am

I'm just as torn about this as many others have been. On the one hand, it isn't impossible that Wilmot could have realized God as he lay dying, moreover that he saw the full scope of his life and knew that he had not lived well or good and that his actions were precipitated by selfish desire. My only problem with Burnet's account is his reputation as a kind of professional confessor, and that Wilmot's mother (from my impression of her) would have greatly desired to have it said that her son did not die a sinner. I really hope (for his sake) that if Wilmot experienced a conversion at the end of his life that it was a true one, and not coerced or exaggerated, but of course we will never know.

Live in Depp
"With this hand I will cup your.... Oh goodness no!"~~Victor Van Dort

"The theater is my drug, and my illness is so far advanced that my physic must be of the highest quality."~~John Wilmot

User avatar
Gilbert's Girl
Posts: 163138
Joined: Sun Oct 03, 2004 3:14 am
Location: UK

Status: Offline

Unread postby Gilbert's Girl » Sat Dec 17, 2005 4:20 am

Interesting too that there is mystery surrounding Charles II death did he convert to the Catholic Religion on his deathbed or did he not. It is widely reported that he did but some have pointed out that he was so far gone anyone could have suggested anything to him and misunderstood the so called signs.
I think I agree some things are better left mystrious.

User avatar
Posts: 2509
Joined: Sat Jun 25, 2005 2:05 am
Location: Villa Incognito

Status: Offline

Unread postby dharma_bum » Sat Dec 17, 2005 6:08 am

We will never know will we? I think that to the last, JW needed to make his reality as interesting as what was in his head. He was dying, isolated and separated from the great inspirations in this life. Sparing with Burnet about theology must have been his saving grace in those last days… but not his real saving grace, me thinks
"You can't broom out your head. You certainly can't broom out your heart. And there's a hot wire between them, and everything shows in the eyes."
—Johnny Depp

User avatar
Posts: 312
Joined: Fri Apr 15, 2005 10:47 pm

Status: Offline

Unread postby karla » Sat Dec 17, 2005 11:15 am

I agree that we will never know for sure.

Several factors however lead me to believe that in the end he died a man of faith.

He was born of faith and was shaken from it.
He hated the man he had become, the king and his debaucherous court and the lifestyle of the time.
His satires were directed at all of this.
He drank in part to anesthetize the pain that he felt within himself.
He had much time in his physical illness to reflect upon his life.
He was sober and no longer numb to the pain he felt inside.
In the absence of alcohol he had to sit in the pain and deal with distractions.
Many alcoholics have a spiritual awakening once sober if the pain of their bottom has been deep enough to cause them not to want to live that way anymore.

So for me, the scenerio of a man who had much internal personal pain - abandonment by his father, an overbearing mother, death of his friends, war, rejection by the woman he loved, etc; that fell into a bad lifestyle that he at heart could not live with and drank as a solution to killing the pain he felt; who developed a life threatening illness and became sober; saw himself for who and what he really was; experienced all the pain he had been trying to hide and had a spiritual experience as a result is a very realistic scenerio.

Lamb draws a parallel between the Burnet/Wilmot conversations and the 12 steps of AA that are designed to lead to a spiritual experience in his book.

If Wilmot had lived in the 20th century his story might be one of the stories in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

User avatar
Posts: 16513
Joined: Tue Jul 06, 2004 5:03 pm
Location: Darkest UK~ Down in Albion

Status: Offline

Unread postby Endora » Sat Dec 17, 2005 11:32 am

The pragmatists amongst us would say that if you don't believe, you may as well live the life you want and then convert on your deathbed. If God does not exist, then you lose nothing. If he does, you have given yourself a last chance of redemption.

Personally, I hope he went out the way he lived his life. If he became a convert, I would not like him.
Work hard, learn well, and make peace with the fact that you'll never be as cool as Johnny Depp. GQ.

Solace in the flood

User avatar
Posts: 1381
Joined: Tue Jul 06, 2004 1:57 pm
Location: uk

Status: Offline

Unread postby suec » Sun Dec 18, 2005 3:44 pm

I think he reverted. I don't think he ever quite killed off the faith inside him. Raven is right about the references to faith and so on in his letters to his son... well maybe, he was playing it safe for the boy, but then there are also those religious references in his poems. Maybe they would be there anyway, given his religious upbringing, an instinctive reference point, but he could have omitted them. He was a truthful man, one who prized truth highly and it shows in his writing. And on one's deathbed is no time to start being dishonest.
"Luck... inspiration... both only really happen to you when you empty your heart of ambition, purpose, and plan; when you give yourself, completely, to the golden, fate-filled moment."

Return to “The Libertine”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests