Dorset and Sedley: Mischievously Meant
DORSET AND SEDLEY ARE ALWAYS INCLUDED IN THE LISTS OF THE major Court Wits of the Restoration. They are both noted for pastoral lyrics, and both deserve to be better known for satire. Both write neoclassical satires, Dorset pursuing a mock-heroic, Sedley a Martialian strain. And both deploy baroque techniques to enliven their best poems, poems which mischievously play with sexual stereotypes.
Charles Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, fourth earl of Middlesex, and sixth earl of Dorset, is known to subsequent literary history by this last, patrilineal title. His use of pastoral, mock-pastoral, and mock-heroic styles earns him the label of neoclassical, and if the traits of the baroque indeed include extravagance, the grotesque, the bizarre, the monstrous, the outrageous, he certainly qualifies as a baroque neoclassic. His modern editor and biographer, Brice Harris, tellingly refers to Dorset’s most effectively scathing court satires, “Colon” (composed late 1679-early 1680) and “A Faithful Catalogue of our Most Eminent Ninnies” (composed spring 1688), as “neoclassical” even as he is forced to apologize for their roughness by explaining, “Unfortunately, like most neoclassical satire which professes to be cool and unbiased, Dorset’s satire in these two poems is directed against his enemies.” While Harris opines that Dorset, especially in “Faithful Catalogue,” is “lost in a maze of misdirections,” he concludes, “But the wit and the poetry and the Juvenalian indignation with folly and knavery are there, and it is safe to say that no one other than Dorset could have written the poem. Rochester had been dead for eight years.”1 This concluding detail implies a Roches-