1782 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Richard Flecknoe

Isaac Reed, in Biographia Dramatica (1782; 1812) 243-44.



This writer lived in the reign of King Charles II. He is said to have been originally a Jesuit, and, in consequence of that profession, to have had connexions with most of the persons of distinction in London, who were of the Roman Catholic persuasion. The character that Langbaine gives of him is, that his acquaintance with the nobility was more than with the Muses, and that he had a greater propensity to rhyming than genius for poetry.

He wrote many things both in prose and verse, more especially the latter, and has left behind him five dramatic pieces, only one of which (Love's Kingdom) he could ever obtain the favour of having acted, and that met with but indifferent success. Their titles are, 1. Love's Dominion. D. P. 12mo. 1654. 2. Marriage of Oceanus and Britannia. Allegorical Fiction. 12mo. 1659. 3. Erminia. T. C. 4to. 1661. 4. Love's Kingdom. Past. Tr.-Com. 12mo. 1664. 5. Damoiselles a-la-Mode. C. 12mo. 1667.

The author, however, wrapped up in his own self-opinion, has carried off this disappointment in a manner extremely cavalier, and almost peculiar to himself; for, in the preface to his Damoiselles a-la-Mode, which had been refused by the players, he has these very remarkable words: "For the acting this comedy (says he), those who have the government of the stage have their humour, and would be entreated; and I have mine, and won't entreat them; and were all dramatic writers of my mind, they should wear their old plays threadbare ere they should have any new, till they better understood their own interest, and how to distinguish between good and bad." The Duke of Buckingham, in his Rehearsal, seems to have kept this passage strongly in his eye, in the anger he has put into Baye's mouth when the players were gone to dinner. However, notwithstanding all this important bluster of Mr. Flecknoe, and his having printed to his dramatis personae the names of the actors by who he had intended the several parts to be performed, in order, as he says, "that the reader might have half the pleasure of seeing it acted," it is probable that he and his works might have sunk together into absolute oblivion, had not the resentment of a much great poet against him, we mean Mr. Dryden, doomed him to a different kind of immortality from that which he aimed at, by giving his name to one of the severest satires he ever wrote, viz. his Mac Flecknoe, which, though pointed at Shadwell, has nevertheless some severe strokes upon our author, which, together with the title of the poem itself, will preserve his memory, and, as he himself proposed by the publication of his own works, "continue his name to posterity," so long as the writings of that admirable poet continue to be read.