1691 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Richard Flecknoe

Gerard Langbaine, in Account of the English Dramatick Poets (1691) 199-203.



This Gentleman liv'd in the Reigns of King Charles the First and Second; and was as Famous as any in his Age, for indifferent Metre. His Acquaintance with the Nobility, was more than with the Muses; and he had a greater propensity to Riming, than a Genius to Poetry. He never could arrive with all his Industry, to get but one Play to be acted, and yet he has printed several. He has publisht sundry Works, (as he stiles them) to continue his Name to Posterity; tho' possibly an Enemy has done that for him, which his own Endeavours would never have perfected; For whatever become of his own Pieces, his Name will continue whilst Mr. Dryden's Satyr call'd Mack Flecknoe, shall remain in Vogue. He has publisht several Pieces both in Prose and Verse, which I have seen; and he hath others in print, which I could never obtain a view of: as in particular, that Epistle Dedicatory, to a Nobleman, which Mr. Dryden raillys so severely in his Dedication of Limberham. As to what Works I have seen of his, I shall give the Reader a particular Account, beginning first with his Plays.

Damoiselles a la mode, a Comedy printed in octavo Lond. 1667. and dedicated to their Graces the Duke and Dutchess of Newcastle, more humbly than by way of Epistle. This Comedy was design'd by the Author to have been acted by the Kings Servants, as the Reader may see by the Scheme drawn by the Poet, shewing how he cast the several Parts: but I know not for what reason they refus'd it. The Poet indeed seems to give one, which whether true or false, is not much material; but methinks it will serve to shew the Reader his Humour. "For the acting this Comedy (says he) those who have the Governing of the Stage, have their Humours, and would be intreated; and I have mine, and won't intreat them: and were all Dramatick Writers of my mind, they should wear their Old Plays Thread-bare, ere they should have any New, till they better understood their own Interest, and how to distinguish betwixt good and bad." I know not whether the late Duke of Buckingham thought of Mr. Flecknoe when he drew the Character of Mr. Bayes; but methinks there is some resemblance between his Anger at the Players being gone to Dinner without his leave, and Mr. Flecknoe's Indignation at their Refusing his Play: Mr. Bays seeming to me to talk much at the same rate. "How! are the Players gone to Dinner? If they are, I'll make them know what 'tis to injure a Person that does them the Honour to write for them; and all that, A Company of Proud, Conceited, Humorous, Cross-grain'd Persons; and all that I'll make them the most Contemptible, Despicable, Inconsiderable Persons, and all that, in the whole World for this Trick."

This Play (as the Author in his Preface acknowledges) "is taken out of several Excellent Pieces of Molliere. The main Plot of the Damoiselles, out of his Les Precieuses Ridicules; the Counterplot of Sganarelle, out of his L'Escole des Femmes, and the Two Naturals, out of his L'Escole des Maris."

Erminia, or The Chast Lady, printed 8vo. Lond. 1665. and dedicated to the Fair and Virtuous Lady, the Lady Southcot. This Play (tho' the Actors Names design'd by the Authors, be printed over against the Dramatis Personae) was never acted.

Love's Dominion, a Dramatick Piece, full of Excellent Morality; written as a Pattern for the Reformed Stage, printed 8vo. Lond. 1654. and dedicated to the Lady Elizabeth Claypole. In this Epistle, the Author insinuates the use of Plays, and begs her Mediation to gain License to act them. Whether the Play answer the Title-page, or whether Mr. Flecknoe have so regularly observ'd the three Unities, I shall leave to the Criticks.

Love's Kingdom, a Pastoral-Tragi-comedy; not as it was acted at the Theatre near Lincolns-Inn, but as it was written, and since corrected; printed 8vo. Lond. 1664. and dedicated to his Excellency William, Lord Marquess of Newcastle. This Play is but the former Play a little alter'd, with a new Title; and after the King's Return it seems, the Poet got leave to have it acted; but it had the misfortune to be damn'd by the Audience, (which Mr. Flecknoe stiles The people, and calls them Judges without Judgment) for want of its being rightly represented to them. He owns that it wants much of the Ornament of the Stage; but that (he says) by a lively Imagination may easily be supply'd. To the same purpose he says of his Damoiselles a la mode, "That together with the Persons represented, he had set down the Comedians that he design'd should represent them; that the Reader might have half the pleasure of seeing it acted, and a lively Imagination might have the pleasure of it all entire."

I fancy Mr. Flecknoe would have been much pleas'd with Readers of the Argive Gentleman's Humour describ'd by Horace,

Qui se credebat miros audire Tragoedos,
In vacuo laetus sessor, plausorque Theatro.

Who fancy'd he saw Plays acted in the empty Theatre; but to others in their right Sences, all his Rhetorick could not have been able to perswade them, that a Play Read, (notwithstanding the utmost force of Imagination) can afford half the pleasure with that of a Play Acted; since the former wants the Greatest Ornament to a Play, Gracefulness of Action. But Mr. Flecknoe was to make the best of a Bad-market; and since he could not get his Plays acted, he was to endeavour to get them to be read; by labouring to perswade people, that Imagination would supply the defect of Action.

Marriage of Oceanus and Britannia, a Masque, which I never saw, and therefore am not able to give any Account of it.

Whether our Author have any more Plays in print, I know not; but I remember a Prologue amongst his Epigrams, intended for a Play, call'd The Physician against his will, which I believe might be a Translation of Molliere's Le Medecin malgre luy; but it was never publisht that I know of. As to his other Works, they consist of Epigrams and Enigmatical Characters, which are usually bound up with his Love's Dominion; at the end of which is a short Discourse of the English Stage, which I take to be the best thing he has extant. There is another Book of his Writing, call'd Diarium, or The Journal, divided into twelve Jornadas, in Burlesque Verse; with some other Pieces, printed 12mo Lond. 1656.