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62. Richard Flecknoe.

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Flecknoe has these excellent lines addrest to a miser.

Money’s like muck, that’s profitable while
‘T servs for manuring of some fruitful soil
But on a barren one, like thee, methinks,
‘Tis like a dunghill that lies still and stinks

What was the cause of Dryden’s enmity to this poor author? so far from having provoked it, Flecknoe has even written an epigram in his praise: this tribute, and his religion (for he was a Catholic) it might have been thought, would have saved him. Perhaps Dryden was offended at his invectives against the obscenity of the stage, feeling himself more notorious, if not more culpable than any of his rivals, for this scandalous and unpardonable offence.

Flecknoe is by no means the despicable writer that we might suppose him to be from the nich in which his mighty enemy 106has placed him. These stanzas are well turned in their way.

TO LILY,

DRAWING THE COUNTESS 0F CASTELMAIN’S PICTURE.
Stay, daring man, and ne’er presume to draw
Her picture, till thou may’st such colours get
As Zeuxis and Apelles never saw,
Nor e’er were known by any painter yet.

‘Till from all beauties thou extracts the grace,
And from the sun the beams that gild the skies,
Never presume to draw her beauteous face,
Nor paint the radiant brightness of her eyes.

In vain the whilst thou dost thy labour take,
Since none can set her forth to her desert;
She who’s above all Nature e’er did make,
Much more’s above all can be made by Art.

Yet be’n’t discouraged, since whoe’er do see’t,
At least with admiration must confess,
It has an air so admirably sweet,
Much more than others, tho’ than her’s much less.

So those bold giants who would scale the sky,
Altho’ they in their high attempt did fall,
This comfort had, they mounted yet more high
Than those who never strove to climb at all.

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Comfort thee then, and think it no disgrace
From that great height a little to decline,
Since all must grant the reason of it was,
Her too great excellence and no want of thine.

He seems to have imitated the manner of his friend Davenant’s versification in these lines: but he has likewise followed the evil fashion just then introduced, of degrading our written language by the use of colloquial contractions.

Be the other merits of his verses what they may, he has this rare merit (if the little volume of his epigrams which I possess may be considered as a sample of his other works) that he is never in the slightest degree an immoral writer himself, and that he expresses a due abhorrence of the mischievous and disgraceful writings of his contemporaries.

This is from his divine epigrams.

Do good with pain, the pleasure in’t you find,
The pain’s soon past, the good remains behind:
Do ill with pleasure, this y’ave for your pains,
The pleasure passes soon, the ill remains.

108To a lady too confident of her innocence, he says,

Madam, that you are innocent I knew,
But the world wants innocence to think you so.

Here is the germ of a well-known epigram.

Shepherd. Since you are resolved, farewell,
Look you lead not apes in hell.
Nymph. Better lead apes thither, than
Thither to be led by men.

He says in the epistle dedicatory to his noble friends, “There is none prints more, nor publishes less than I, for I print only for myself and private friends.” This volume, however, he made public, because he thought it more passable than the rest. “I write chiefly to avoid idleness, and print to avoid the imputation; and as others do it to live after they are dead, I do it only not to be thought dead whilst I can live. Epigram in general is a quick and short kind of writing, 109rather a slight than any great force of the spirit, and therefore the more fit for me, who love not to take pains in any thing, and rather affect a little negligence than too great curiosity. For these here, they are chiefly in praise of worthy persons, of which none ever had a more plentiful supply than I, having been always conversant with the best and worthiest in all places where I came; and amongst the rest with ladies, in whose conversation, as in an academy of virtue, I learnt nothing but goodness, saw nothing but nobleness, and one might as well be drunk in crystal fountain, as have any evil thought whilst they were in their company, which I shall gladly always remember as the happiest and innocentest part of all my life.”

Never stranger, he says, was more indebted than he to the queen’s father Joam IV. of Portugal. It appears that he had been in Brazil, by the title of one of his epigrams, “on his Arara, drowned in his 110return from Brazil.” Had he written travels instead of verses, he might have secured for himself a lasting and respectful remembrance. It is a vexatious thought, that the man who possessed knowledge, by which you might have been benefitted, and for which you would have been thankful, should have employed his time in producing poems for which nobody cares.

Of the man who has given name to such a satire as Macfleckno, these notices, trifling as they are, will not be thought wholly worthless.

I will add one quotation more; it is from an invocation to Silence.

Sacred Silence, thou that art
Flood-gate of the deepest heart,
Offspring of a heavenly kind,
Frost of the mouth, and thaw of the mind,
Admiration’s readiest tongue.