1687 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir John Harington

William Winstanley, Lives of the Most Famous English Poets (1687) 93-95.



Sir John Harrington is supposed to be born in Somerset-shire, he having a fair Estate near Bath in that Country. His Father, for carrying a Letter to the Lady (afterwards Queen) Elizabeth, was kept twelve months in the Tower, and made to spend a Thousand Pounds e're he could be free of that trouble. His Mother also being Servant to the Lady Elizabeth, was sequestered from her, and her Husband enjoyned not to keep company with her; so that on both sides he may be said to be very indear'd to Queen Elizabeth, who was also his Godmother, a further tye of her kindness and respects unto him.

This Sir John was bred up in Cambridge, either in Christ's or in St. John's-Colledge, under Dr. Still his Tutor. He afterwards proved one of the most ingenious Poets of of English Nation, no less noted for his Book of witty Epigrams, than his judicious Translation of Ariosto's Orlando Fusioso, dedicated to the Lady Elizabeth, afterwards Queen of Bohemia.

The British Epigrammatist, Mr. John Owen, in his second Book of Epigrams, thus writes to him:

A Poet mean I am, yet of the Troop,
Though thou art not, yet better thou canst do't.

And afterwards in his fourth Book, Epig. 20. concerning Envy's Genealogy; he thus complements him.

Fair Vertue, foul-mouth'd Envy breeds, and feeds;
From Vertue only this foul Vice proceeds;
Wonder not that I this to you indite,
'Gainst your rare Vertues, Envy bends her spite.

It happened that whilest the said Sir John repaired often to an Ordinary at Bath, a Female attendress at the Table, neglecting other Gentlemen, which sat higher, and were of greater Estates, applied herself wholly to him, accommodating him with all necessaries, and preventing his asking any thing with her officiousness. She being demanded by him, the reason for her so careful waiting on him? I understand (said she) you are a very witty man, and if I should displease you in anything, I fear you would make an Epigram of me.

Sir John frequenting often the Lady Robert's House, his Wives Mother, where they used to go to dinner extraordinary late, a Child of his being there then, said Grace, which was that of the Primer, Thou givest them Meat in due season; Hold, said Sir John to the Child, you ought not to lie unto God, for here we never have our Meat in due season. This Jest he afterwards turned into an Epigram, directing it to his Wife, and concluding it thus:

Now if your Mother angry be for this,
Then you must reconcile us with a kiss.

A Posthume Book of his came forth, as an addition to Bishop Godwin's Catalogue of Bishops, wherein (saith Dr. Fuller) besides mistakes, some tart reflections in Uxoratos Episcopos, might well have been spared. In a word (saith he) he was a Poet in all things, save in his wealth, leaving a fair Estate to a learned and religious Son, and died about the middle of the Reign of King James.