« ПредишнаНапред »
friends have not moral courage to deny it, and strangers will not take the trouble to investigate its correctness. It is part of our design, however, to raise obscure worth—to rescue talent or ingenuity from unmerited obloquy, and to award the meed of praise to those, who, either from injustice or misfortune, have been improperly deprived of it, and it is a branch of our prerogative, in the exercise of which we feel peculiar pleasure. Not that we have any wish to canonize“ anointed Dulness," nor to fill a conspicuous niche in the Temple of Fame with a statue of Richard Flecknoe; but we do feel a desire to mitigate the harshness with which he has been censured, and we think, with considerable confidence, that the extracts we shall make from these two small volumes will have that effect, and convince our readers, that he is not the contemptible scribbler he has been generally represented ; at least, that he could write, and has written, some things which merit praise, and ought to be preserved. Flecknoe is said to have been originally a Jesuit, and appears to have moved in a superior circle of society. Langbaine informs us, that his acquaintance was more with the nobility than with the muses, and he says himself, that his Characters were made“ with all the advantages and helps, the noblest company, divertisements and accommodation, could afford to quicken the wit, heighten the fancy, and delight the mind, whose main design is to honour nobility, praise virtue, tax vice, laugh at folly and pity ignorance.” He wrote to avoid idleness, and printed to avoid the imputation of it. “ There is none,” says he,“ prints more nor publishes less than I, for I print only for myself and private friends."
He was the author of five plays, one of which only, according to Langbaine, with all his industry, he succeeded in bringing upon the stage, and that had the misfortune to be damned. To compensate, however, for two other of his plays not being performed, he cast the characters, and opposite the dramatis persona printed the names of the actors he designed should represent them, in order, as he observes in his preface to one of them (the Demoiselles à la mode), “that the reader might have half the pleasure of seeing it acted, and a lively imagination might have the pleasure of it all entire." Either Langbaine is mistaken in affirming, that this play was never acted, or Flecknoe was very anxious to have it supposed that it had been, for besides printing the names of the actors, he has, in his collection of Epigrams, published three years after the play, inserted a “ Prologue on the revival of his Demoiselles à la mode.” However this may be, the last thing that Flecknoe would think of as the cause of his plays being rejected, was his own want of merit. It is probable, he had not the slightest suspicion of such a thing. He seems, indeed, to have been a vain busy cox
comb, who thought it genteel “ rather to affect,” to use his own expressions, “a little negligence, than too great curiosity” in his writings. He attempted to write smartly, rather than tersely; wittily, rather than seriously; ingeniously, rather than profoundly. But although he has not the slightest claim to be considered a man of genius, we cannot deny him the praise of fancy and ingenuity; and that he had these two qualities, we shall proceed to adduce our proofs.
His character of “A valiant man" is in the following words.
“ He is only a man, your coward and rash being but tame and savage beasts; his courage is still the same, and drink cannot make him more valiant, nor danger less : his valour is enough to leaven whole armies, and he is an army himself worth an army of other men: his sword is not always out like children's daggers, but he is always last in beginning quarrels, though first in ending them: he holds honour (though delicate as chrystal) yet not so slight and brittle to be broke and cracked with every touch; therefore (though most wary of it) is not querulous nor punctilious; he is never troubled with passion, as knowing no degree, beyond clear courage, and is always valiant, but never furious. He is the more gentle i'th' chamber, more fierce he's in the field; holding boast (the coward's valour) and cruelty (the beast's) unworthy a valiant man: he is only coward in this, that he dares not do an unhandsome action. In fine, he can only be overcome by discourtesy, and has but one defect; he cannot talk much, to recompence which, he does the more."
“A make-bate” is described thus. . “ She is a tattling gossip that goes a fishing or groping for secrets, and tickles you under the gills, till she catches hold of you; only the politick eel escapes her hand, and wrigles himself out again: she tells you others' secrets, only to hook yours out of you, and baits men as they do fishes one with another still. She is as industrious as a bee in flying about and sucking every flower; only she has the spider's quality of making poison, instead of honey, of it. For she bas all her species of arithmetic, multiplication, addition, and detraction too, only at numeration she is always out, making every thing more or less than 'tis indeed; whilst they blame flatterers for wanting their sicut erat to their gloria, she wants both her gloria and sicut erat too. In fine, you have divers serpents so venomous, as they infect and poison with their very breaths; but none have breaths more infectious nor poisonous than she, who would set man and wife at dissention the first day of their marriage, and children and parents the last day of their lives; nor will innocence ever be safe, nor conversation innocent, till such as she be banished human society; the bane of all societies where they come; and if I could afford them being any where with Ariosto's discord, it should be only amongst mine enemies : meantime, tis my prayer, God bless my friends from them."
But Flecknoe succeeds best in the portraiture of female excellence, in which he appears to have taken peculiar pleasure. In speaking of the society to which he had been accustomed, he adds, that “in the conversation of ladies, as in an academy of virtue, I learnt nothing but goodness, saw nothing but nobleness, and one might as well be drunk in a christal fountain as have any evil thoughts whilst they were in their company, which I shall gladly always remember as the happiest and innocentest part of all my life.”.
One or two of his female characters, we shall extract. " Of a lady of excellent conversation.”
“ You would not only imagine all the muses, but all the graces were in her too, whilst for matter, words, and manner, she is all that is delightful in conversation; her matter not stale and studied, but recent and occasional; not stiff, but ductile and pliable to the company; high, not soaring; familiar, not low; profound, not obscure; and the more sublime, the more intelligible and conspicuous. Her words not too scanty, nor too wide, but just fitted to her matter, not intricately involving, but clearly unfolding and explicating the notions of her mind. In manner, majestick, not imperious; conversation that's a tyranny with others, being a common-wealth with her, where every one's discourse and opinions are free; she never contradicting, but when any speak impertinently, only blushing for them, and saying no more: (a greater reprehension to those who understand blushing, than can be exprest in words.) Having too much reason to call passion to her aid, and disdaining to use force and violence (the ordinary arms of falsehood) to defend the truth, so if you yield not, she does, rather than contend, leaving you the shame of a victory, when, with more honour, you might have yielded and been overcome: nor does she rashly take up argument, and abruptly lay it down again; but handsomely assume it; delightfully continue it, and, like an air in musick, just then, when the ear expects, it comes unto a close : all in her being sweet, delightful and harmonious, even to the very tone and accent of her voice, it being more musick to hear her speak than others sing. Then she's withal so easy company, and far from all constraint, as 'tis pleasure to be in it: whilst others, like uneasy garments, you cannot stir in without pain, which renders her conversation far cheerfuller than theirs who laugh more, but smile less, spending more spirits with straining for an hour's mirth, than they can recover in a month again; which renders them so unequal company, whilst she is always equal and the same. True joy being a constant serious thing, as far different from light and gigling mirth, as elemental fire from squibs and crackers; whence she, Prometheus-like, inspires all who converse with her, with noble flame and spirit, none ever departing from her company but wiser and far better than they came. It being virtue to know her, wisdom to converse with her, refinest breeding to observe her, joy to behold her, and a species of the beatitude of t'other life, only to enjoy her conversation in this."
VOL. V, PART II.
And again, of “ An all-admirable person."
“ Beauty, alone is too secular a theme for praise, and virtue too monastical and one; together they make an excellent conjunction, so they are accompanied with goodness and obligingness; disobliging beauty else repelling as fast as it attracts (and losing all its graces by infusing them into vessels disobligingness makes bottomless); neither is virtue ever so honoured, when its goodness is contracted in itself, as when 'tis diffusively good to all: to speak separately then of all these perfections, which she has jointly to admiration : for her beauty, all you call sweet and ravishing is in her face; a cheerfulness 'tis joy for to behold, and a perpetual sun-skine without any clouds at all, joined with such attractive virtue, as she draws all to a certain distance, and there detains and suspends them, with reverence and admiration ; none ever daring to approach her nigher, nor having power to go farther off ; whence that beauty, which in the days of Ethnicisme, had excited to idolatry, now only excites to piety and devotion, sufficient alone to fill the place with votive tables, and even in picture to work miracles; she being still the greater miracle herself, and so all surprising as a disease, but as taking as her eyes would be epidemical, and soon depopulate all the world. Then she's so obliging, civil, and courteous, as obligingness, civility, and courtesy, seem to be born with her, and it is feared will die and be buried with her in the same grave when she dies : her speech and behaviour being all so gentle, sweet, and affable, as you may talk of magick, but there is none charms but she, nor has complacency and observance more ready at a beck: she (to the shame and confusion of the proud and imperious) doing more with one gentle intreaty than they with all their loud iterated commands. Whence she alone with her sweetness and gentleness, would tame fierce lions, and civilize barbarousest savages; and if there be any fierceness and savageness in the world, 'tis only where she is not, and because she cannot be everywhere: whence heaven seems only to have made her so beautiful, to make virtue more lovely in her, the one serving to adorn the other; as her noble obligingness and goodness does for the ornament of both.”
Amongst his Epigrams, too, we find several sketches of a similar kind; as, for example, that “ On the death of Lady Jean Cheynée,” which is very prettily written.
“ The softest temper, and the mildest breast
A saint she liv'd, and like a saint she dy'd,
Also, the one" On Mary Dutchess of Richmond.”
“Whether a cheerful air does rise
The portrait which succeeds is gently touched off :
“ Her innocence is the pure white garment that she wore in baptism, which in others loses gloss, and is quickly sullied; but in her holds colour, and conserves its candour still: it is no witless, but guiltless innocence, such as was our first parents’ in Paradise ; of which, had they been but as wary and tenacious, they had not lost it so easily, nor had paradise been lost so soon. She knows no harm, and therefore does, nor imagines none, her ignorance being a far better and surer guard for her innocence than others' knowledge. She hates vice almost as much by nature as by grace ; nor is there any more beholding to both than she. She is virtue's white-paper, whilst others are only blotted, or coarse blotting-paper at the best ; and is only fit to write Heaven's dictates on. Her innocent soul being of the same stuff and piece your angels are made of; which, could she conserve like them, but unblemished and unspotted, she might go to Heaven in it without translation, which her noble birth and breeding promises for her in her infancy; nor is there any doubt but her high honour and virtuous mind will fully perform, when she comes to age, all that they have promised."