The Game at Flats, 1715
Lesbianism was called "the game of flats" (or "game at flatts"). This is a reference to games with playing cards, which were called "flats", and an allusion to the rubbing together of two "flat" female pudenda. For example, sex between women was described in 1698–99 as "a New Game / Call’d Flats with a Swinging Clitoris". "Flats" might also refer to the counters or flat broad-pieces used in betting games. The lesbian usage, though it can be traced back to at least 1663, is not recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary. The following poem was published in 1715, though it may have been used earlier in one of Rowe's plays. The poem was reprinted in 1733, with a footnote hinting at the identity of the two women: "These Stanzas were made on Mrs. B––le, and a Lady her Companion, whom she calls Captain." (The Miscellaneous Works of Nicholas Rowe, Third Edition, London, 1733).
The Game at Flats. A SONG.
WHile SAPPHO with harmonious Airs
Her dear PHILENIS charms,
With equal Joy the Nymph appears
Dissolving in her Arms. Thus to themselves alone they are
What all Mankind can give;
Alternately the happy Pair
All grant, and All receive.
Like the Twin-Stars, so fam'd for Friends,
Who set by Turns, and rise;
When one to THETIS Lap descends,
His Brother mounts the Skies.
With happier Fate, and kinder Care,
These Nymphs by Turns do reign,
While still the falling, does prepare
The rising, to sustain.
The Joys of either Sex in Love
In each of them we read,
Successive each, to each does prove,
Fierce Youth and yielding Maid.
SOURCE: The Poetical Works of Nicholas Rowe, Esq;, London: Printed for E. Curll at the Dial and Bible, against St. Dunstan's Church in Fleetstreet, 1715, pp. 26-27.
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "The Game at Flats, 1715", Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 25 April 2007, updated 16 June 2008 <http://www.rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/rowe.htm>.