Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Flecknoe, Richard

FLECKNOE, RICHARD (d. 1678?), poet, is said to have been an Irishman and a Roman catholic priest. From his own account of his travels it appears that he went abroad in 1640, and spent three or four years in the Low Countries. He travelled to Rome in 1645, where, as he says, he was chiefly occupied with pictures and statues. From Rome he made a voyage to Constantinople about 1647, and he afterwards went to Portugal, and visited Brazil in 1648. Thence he returned to Flanders and to England. At Rome he was visited by Andrew Marvell, who described him in ‘Fleckno, an English priest at Rome.’ Marvell, with his hyperbolic humour, gives a quaint description of Flecknoe's extreme leanness, his narrow lodging up three pairs of stairs, and his appetite for reciting his own poetry. Flecknoe, as appears from his dedications, was known to many distinguished people on the continent and in England. Langbaine says that he was more acquainted with the nobility than with the muses. He speaks as a moderate catholic, though one of his books (see below) contains a panegyric upon Cromwell at the Protector's death. He says that nobody prints more or publishes less than he. He amused himself by writing plays, only one of which (‘Love's Kingdom’) was acted, and giving lists of the actors whom he would have wished to represent the parts. He disapproved of the license of the stage, and was regarded with special contempt and dislike by the popular writers. Dryden refers to him in his dedication of ‘Limberham’ (1678), and a rather obscure phrase, that there is a worse poet in the world than ‘he of scandalous memory who left it last,’ is supposed to intimate that Flecknoe was then recently dead. Dryden in his later satire, ‘MacFlecknoe,’ 1682, says that Flecknoe

In prose and verse was owned, without dispute,
Through all the realms of nonsense, absolute.

The causes of Dryden's antipathy, if they were anything more than a general dislike to bad poetry, are not discoverable. In one of his epigrams Flecknoe praises Dryden,

the Muses' darling and delight,
Than whom none ever flew so high a flight.

Southey has pointed out some good lines in Flecknoe, and Lamb prefixed some pleasing verses on silence to his essay ‘On a Quaker's Meeting.’ He is also praised in the ‘Retrospective Review.’ It must, however, be admitted that Flecknoe's verses, excepting a few happy passages, are of the kind which chiefly pleases the author. They were printed for private circulation, and are often rare.

His works are:

  1. ‘Hierothalamium, or the Heavenly Nuptials of our Blessed Saviour with a Pious Soule,’ 1626.
  2. ‘The Affections of a Pious Soule unto our Saviour Christ, expressed in a mixed Treatise of Verse and Prose,’ 1640.
  3. ‘Miscellania, or Poems of all Sorts, with divers other Pieces,’ 1653.
  4. ‘Love's Dominion, a dramatick piece full of excellent Moralities, written as a pattern for the reformed stage,’ 1654 (anon.)
  5. ‘A Relation of Ten Years' Travels in Europe, Asia, Affrique, and America,’ 1656.
  6. ‘The Diarium or Journal, divided into twelve Jornadas in burlesque Rhime or Drolling Verse,’ 1656.
  7. ‘Enigmaticall Characters, all taken to the Life from several Persons, Humours, and Dispositions,’ 1658. (A second edition, called ‘Sixty-nine Characters,’ &c., in 1665; and also in 1665 ‘Enigmatical Characters, &c. … being rather a new work than a new impression of the old,’ differing greatly from the other two.)
  8. ‘The Marriage of Oceanus and Britannia,’ 1659.
  9. ‘The Idea of his Highness Oliver, late Lord Protector, with certain brief Reflections on his Life,’ 1659.
  10. ‘Heroick Portraits, with other Miscellany Pieces,’ 1660.
  11. ‘Love's Kingdom, a Pastoral Trage-Comedy’ (‘Love's Dominion’ altered); appended is a short treatise of the English stage, 1664 (reprinted in Hazlitt's ‘English Drama and Stage,’ Roxburghe Library, 1869).
  12. ‘Erminia, or the Fair and Virtuous Lady, a Trage-Comedy,’ 1661 and 1665.
  13. ‘A Farrago of Several Pieces,’ 1666.
  14. ‘The Damoiselles à la Mode,’ 1667 (taken, according to the preface, ‘out of several excellent pieces of Molière’).
  15. ‘Sir William Davenant's Voyage to the other World, with his Adventures in the Poets' Elyzium: a Poetical Fiction,’ 1668 (with a postscript to the actors at the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields).
  16. ‘Epigrams of all Sorts,’ 1 bk. 1669.
  17. ‘Epigrams of all Sorts, made at divers times on several occasions,’ 1670, with ‘Epigrams Divine and Moral.’ Another book with same title (‘rather a new work than a new impression’), 1671.
  18. ‘A Collection of the choicest Epigrams and Characters of R. F.’ (rather a ‘new work than a new impression’), 1673 (from previous ‘Epigrams’ and ‘Enigmatical Characters’).
  19. ‘Euterpe Revived, or Epigrams made at several times … on persons … most of them now living,' 1675.
  20. 'A Treatise of the Sports of Wit,' 1675 (only two copies known, one in the Huth Library).

[Langbaine's Dramatic Poets, 1691, pp. 199-202; Ware's Writers of Ireland; Southey's Omniana, i. 105-10; Scott's Dryden, 1808, vi. 7, X. 441; Marvell's Works (Grosart), pp. xxxiv, 229; Retrospective Review, v. 266-75.]

L. S.