Reference > Cambridge History > The Age of Dryden > Dryden > Mac Flecknoe
  The Medal Absalom and Achitophel, Part II  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

I. Dryden.

§ 23. Mac Flecknoe.

Unlike Absalom and Achitophel and its offshoot The Medal, Mac Flecknoe is a purely personal satire in motive and design. Richard Flecknoe was an Irishman, formerly in catholic orders, who (if a note to The Dunciad is to be trusted) had “laid aside the mechanic part of priesthood” to devote himself to literature. It is difficult to understand why (except for the fact that he had been a priest) Dryden should have determined to make this harmless, and occasionally agreeable, writer of verse a type of literary imbecility. 86  Flecknoe must be supposed to have died not long before Dryden wrote his satire, in which the “aged prince” is represented as abdicating his rule over “the realms of Nonsense” in favour of Shadwell. This humorous fancy forms the slight action of the piece, which terminates with a mock catastrophe suggested by one of Shadwell’s own comedies. Thus, with his usual insight, Dryden does not make any attempt to lengthen out what is in itself one of the most successful examples of the species—the mock heroic—which it introduced into English literature. Pope, as is well known, derived the idea of his Dunciad from Mac Flecknoe; but, while the later poem assumed the proportions of an elaborate satire against a whole tribe of dunces as well as against one egregious dunce, Dryden’s is a jeu d’esprit, though one brilliant enough to constitute an unanswerable retort upon unwarrantable provocation. Slight as it is, Mac Flecknoe holds a place of its own among Dryden’s masterpieces in English satirical poetry.   60

Note 86. See, also A Discourse concerning the Original and Progress of Satire, (u. s., p. 27) where the collocation “from Spenser to Flecknoe” appears as an equivalent to “from the top to the bottom of all poetry.” Some curious early lines by Marvell entitled Fleckno, an English Priest at Rome, describe him as reciting his verses in a lodging, “three stair-cases high” (Grosart’s Fuller Worthies edition of The Complete Works of Andrew Marvell, vol. I, pp. 229 ff.). They first appeared in 1681, and may, possibly, have suggested Dryden’s choice. Though he reprinted the poem with corrections in 1684, he does not appear to have acknowledged it as his before 1692. [ back ]

  The Medal Absalom and Achitophel, Part II  

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