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Nugae Antiquae

Nugae Antiquae
Sir John Harington.

Sir John Harington lived 1560-1612.  His father, also John Harington, was a close friend of Queen Elizabeth I, who stood godmother to his son, our author. He was the owner of a castle and estate in Somerset, but spent much of his time at Queen Elizabeth's court. Though he held various minor offices, he was principally a literary man, poet, translator and inventor of the flush toilet. His works included the first English translation of Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, which he produced as a punishment, ordered by Queen Elizabeth, for having shown a translation of some naughty parts of it to her ladies-in-waiting. He was intermittently in and out of favour with the queen, in, because of his wit, learning and poetical talents; out, because of his cheekiness and scurrility. On his return from a failed expedition to quell rebels in Ireland, he faced the full force of her anger: "'Go home,' she said. I did not stay to bidden twice; if all the Irish rebels had been at my heels, I should not have had better speed, for I did now flee from one whom I both loved and feared too." He was soon back in favour again, and survived the downfall and execution of his patron, the Earl of Essex. His best known work is The Metamorphosis of Ajax, a description of the first flush toilet, (available on his site at https://www.exclassics.com/ajax/ajaxintr.htm) on the strength of which he featured in an episode of South Park. In 1769 his descendant Henry Harington, M.A. edited some of his papers, and published them under the title Nugĉ Antiquĉ.("Ancient trifles".) This includes poems, letters and essays by Harington, as well as much by other authors (not included in this edition).

The letters reveal his varying efforts to gain and retain favour, from James I as well as Elizabeth, as well as his financial troubles, his efforts to restore the abbey church of Bath which had been stripped and looted during the Reformation, and the consolation he received from his domestic happiness. Other highlights are:

·         His description of the campaigning in Essex's failed attempt to defeat Irish rebels in 1599

·         A pageant presented by the ladies and gentleman of the court to James I and the King of Denmark, where both kings and the entire cast were helplessly drunk.

·         A supplie [i.e. supplement] or addition to Bishop Godwin's Catalogue of Bishops. This is not the dry-as-dust ecclesiastical history one would expect from the title, but a lively collection of scandalous and otherwise interesting anecdotes of mostly late 16th Century bishops, many of whom Harington knew personally. It greatly resembles Aubrey's "Brief Lives" in content and style.


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With Essex in Ireland
The Drunken Pageant
Lives of Bishops

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