Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Flatman, Thomas

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FLATMAN, THOMAS (1637–1688), poet and miniature-painter, was admitted a scholar of Winchester College 22 Sept. 1649, being eleven years of age at the previous Michaelmas, and from Winchester he was admitted 11 Sept. 1654 to a scholarship at New College, Oxford. In the register of his admission to Winchester he is stated to have been born in Red Cross Street, London; in the New College register he is said to have come from Aldersgate Street. He was a fellow of New College in 1656, and in that year contributed to the collection of Oxford verses on the death of Charles Capel. In 1657 he left Oxford, without a degree, for the Inner Temple. He was created M.A. of Cambridge by the king's letters, dated 11 Dec. 1666, ‘being then A.B. of Oxford, as is there described’ (Baker, ap. Wood, Athenæ, ed. Bliss).

Having settled in London he devoted his talents to painting and poetry. As a miniature-painter he was, and is, greatly esteemed; but his poetry, which was received with applause by his contemporaries, has been unduly depreciated by later critics. Granger declares that ‘one of his heads is worth a ream of his Pindarics.’ His Pindarics deserve the derision of Rochester:—

Flatman, who Cowley imitates with pains,
And rides a jaded muse whipt with loose reins.

But his other poems are better. ‘A Thought of Death’ (which Pope imitated in ‘The Dying Christian to his Soul’) and ‘Death. A Song,’ are singularly impressive; the ‘Hymn for the Morning’ and ‘Another for the Evening’ are choice examples of devotional verse; and some of the lighter poems, notably the paraphrases of select odes of Horace, are elegant. Flatman's ‘Poems and Songs’ were first collected in 1674, 8vo, and reached a fourth edition in 1686. Prefixed are commendatory verses by Walter Pope (only in first edition), Charles Cotton, Richard Newcourt, and others. In the third and fourth editions are a portrait of the author, engraved by R. White, and a dedicatory epistle to the Duke of Ormonde, who is said to have been so pleased with the ode on the death of his son, the Earl of Ossory (published in 1680), that he sent the poet a diamond ring. The edition of 1686 is the most complete. Some of the poems were in the first instance published separately, or had appeared in other collections. ‘A Panegyrick … to Charles the Second,’ s. sh. fol. 1660, and two copies of verses prefixed to Sanderson's ‘Graphice,’ 1658, were not reprinted; but Flatman was careful to collect most of his scattered poems. Among his ‘Poems and Songs’ he included his commendatory verses before Faithorne's ‘Art of Graveing,’ 1662, ‘Poems by Mrs. Katherine Philips, the Matchless Orinda,’ 1667, Creech's translation of ‘Lucretius,’ 2nd edit. 1683, and Izaak Walton's edition of Chalkhill's ‘Thealma and Clearchus,’ 1683; also some satirical verses contributed to ‘Naps upon Parnassus,’ 1658 [see Austin, Samuel, the younger].

He died in Three-leg Alley, St. Bride's, London, 8 Dec. 1688, and was buried in the parish church. On 26 Nov. 1672 he had married a ‘fair virgin’ of some fortune, and in Hacket's epitaphs there is an epitaph upon one of his sons. Flatman is said to have possessed a small estate at Tishton, near Diss. Two miniature portraits of him, painted by himself, are preserved; one in the collection of the Duke of Buccleuch, and another in the Dyce collection at South Kensington. There are also portraits of him by Sir Peter Lely and by Faithorne.

Wood ascribes to him ‘Montelion's Almanac’ for 1661 and 1662; also a mock romance, ‘Don Juan Lamberto: or, a Comical History of the Late Times. By Montelion, Knight of the Oracle,’ &c., b. l., two parts, 1661, 4to (reprinted in vol. vii. of ‘Somers Tracts,’ 1812), ‘to both which parts (very witty and satyrical), tho' the disguis'd name of Montelion, Knight of the Oracle, &c., is set, yet the acquaintance and contemporaries of Th. Flatman always confidently aver'd that the said Flatman was the author of them.’ A satirical tract, ‘Heraclitus Ridens,’ 1681, has been attributed to Flatman. Wood (Fasti, ed. Bliss, ii. 37) states that in May 1672 ‘there had like to have been a poetical war’ between Flatman and Dr. Robert Wild; but ‘how it was ended I cannot tell.’

[Wood's Athenæ, ed. Bliss, iv. 244–6; Granger's Biog. Hist. 2nd ed. iv. 54–6, 117–18; Walpole's Anecdotes of Painting, 1849, pp. 460–1; Gent. Mag. March 1834; Notes and Queries, 4th ser. iv. 251; Godwin's Lives of Edward and John Phillips, p. 113, &c.; Hunter's Chorus Vatum, Addit. MS. 24490, fol. 206; Corser's Collectanea; Redgrave's Dictionary of Artists; information kindly supplied by the Warden of New College, Oxford.]

A. H. B.