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JOHN WILMOT, EARL OF ROCHESTER
No individual, perhaps, better merits the distinction of being placed at the head of Converted Infidels, than the witty and profligate Earl of Rochester. This pre-eminence he may justly challenge, in whatever aspect his character is viewed; whether we regard the accomplishments of his mind, or the licentiousness of his morals ; the reckless bardihood of his impiety, or the sincerity of his penitence. No libertine of that dissolute age was more expert in the mysteries of iniquity, or had so completely studied every art that could supply him with excuses or encouragement in his pleasures. None understood better to handle the unhallowed weapons of raillery and ridicule, or could more skilfully ward off conviction, when assailed by an ingenious adversary; and none had resisted, with greater obstinacy, the
application of all external means to undeceive and reclaim him from his errors. Nature had bestowed upon him abilities of the highest order, which he had cultivated beyond most of his contemporaries in the same rank of life; and had these superior endowments been enlisted on the side of virtue and decency, his name must have descended to posterity, as one of the inost extraordinary men of his time.
But these exalted qualities, which might have made him the delight of society, and an ornament to his country, were so corrupted and debased by vice, that his dissipations have become a proverb, and left a deeper stain on the voluptuous court in which he flourished; and had not his repentance interposed, his character must have remained, to all generations, the scandal of his age, and a reproach to buman nature. Fortunately, however, he lived to see his folly, and to feel the consequences of his misconduct; to renounce the errors, and abandon the criminal courses into which he was unhappily seduced, both by inclination and example. His brief career is a lamentable demonstration of the mischievous effects of infidelity ; and his dying convictions furnish a memorable instance, among the many triumphs which Christianity has achieved over all the arguments and sophistries of its enemies. A painful sickness, the result of habitual intemperance, roused him to a sense of his delusion and his danger ; and in the fiery ordeal of affliction, his stubborn opposition was subdued, and melted down into humble acquiescence, and unfeigned acknowledgments of his guilt. The cloud that obscured his moral perceptions being dispersed, his hopes and sentiments
entirely changed their nature. A light from heaven seemed to pour its effulgence around him, like that which struck the apostle to the ground, who, “ though before a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious, yet obtained mercy, that in him Christ Jesus might shew forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them that should hereafter believe on him to everlasting life.”
The family from which Lord Rochester was descended, had made no inconsiderable figure in the history of their country, his ancestors being eminent, on both sides, for their devoted loyalty and military services. His father, Henry, acted a conspicuous part in the civil wars, and was created, by Charles I. Baron of Adderbury, in Oxfordshire and afterwards made Earl of Rochester by Charles II. then in exile, whom he had accompanied to the continent. He is better known, however, by the title of Lord Wilmot, so often mentioned by Clarendon; and contributed not a little, by his courage and able conduct, towards the success which at first attended the royal arms. In most of the actions he was personally concerned, and in some he had the chief command. At the very commencement of hostilities, he was taken prisoner by the Scots, in the rout at Newburn, being then Commissary-General of the horse, but he was soon after released by the treaty of Rippon. At the battle of Edge-hill he commanded the left wing, and shared, with Prince Rupert, the reputation of that victory. He took by stratagem the town of Marlborough, which the Parliament had garrisoned; being at that time advanced to the rank of Lieutenant-General. At the siege of Reading, having marched suddenly from Oxford,