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Little is known of Flecknoe's life. He was probably of English birth and may have been of Irish heritage. He was a Catholic and may have been a Jesuit. Joseph Gillow suggested he may have been the nephew of the Jesuit William Flecknoe or Flexney of Oxford, though there is no evidence of this.
The most reliable information about Flecknoe is found in his collection of letters, Relation of Ten Years' Travels in Europe, Asia, Affrique, and America, completed around 1655. It comprises correspondences he wrote to friends and patrons during his travels. The first of these is dated from Ghent (1640), whither he had fled to escape the troubles of the Civil War. In Brussels he met Béatrix de Cusance, wife of Charles IV, Duke of Lorraine, who sent him to Rome to secure the legalization of her marriage. There in 1645 Andrew Marvell met him, and described his leanness and his rage for versifying in a witty satire, "Flecknoe, an English Priest at Rome." He was probably, however, not in priest's orders.
He then travelled in the Levant, and in 1648 crossed the Atlantic to Brazil, of which country he gives a detailed description. On his return to Europe he entered the household of the duchess of Lorraine in Brussels. In 1645 he went back to England. His royalist and Catholic convictions did not prevent him from writing a book in praise of Oliver Cromwell, The Idea of His Highness Oliver ... (1650), dedicated to Richard Cromwell. This publication was discounted at the restoration by the Heroick Portraits (1660) of Charles II and others of the Stuart family. He also published a collection of prose sketches, Enigmatical Characters, in 1658, and a collection of poetry, Epigrams of all Sorts, in 1670.
"All human things are subject to decay,
And, when fate summons, monarchs must obey.
This F'lecknoe found, who, like Augustus, young
Was called to empire, and had governed long;
In prose and verse was owned, without dispute,
Throughout the realms of nonsense, absolute."
Dryden's aversion seems to have been caused by Flecknoe's affectation of contempt for the players and his attacks on the immorality of the English stage. His verse, which hardly deserved his critic's sweeping condemnation, was much of it religious, and was chiefly printed for private circulation. None of his plays was acted except Love's Dominion, announced as a "pattern for the reformed stage" (1654), that title being altered in 1664 to Love's Kingdom, with a Discourse of the English Stage. He amused himself, however, by adding lists of the actors whom he would have selected for the parts, had the plays been staged. Flecknoe had many connections among English Catholics, and is said by Gerard Langbaine, to have been better acquainted with the nobility than with the muses.
A Discourse of the English Stage, was reprinted in WC Hazlitt's English Drama and Stage (Roxburghe Library, 1869); Robert Southey, in his Omniana (1812), protested against the wholesale depreciation of Flecknoe's works. See also "Richard Flecknoe" (Leipzig, 1905, in Münchener Beiträge zur ... Philologie), by A Lohr, who has given minute attention to his life and works.
- Bibliographical Dictionary of the English Catholics, vol. ii., 1885