Born at Kelston, near the City of Bath, was the Son of John Harington, Esq; who, having been imprison'd in the Tower, in the Reign of Queen Mary, for holding a Correspondence with the Lady Elizabeth, was much in her Favour after she was advanc'd to the Throne, and received many Testimonies of her Bounty, and Gratitude.
Sir John had the Honour to be her God-Son, and, both in Respect to his Father's Merit and his own, continued in her Esteem to the Last. He was first educated at Eaton, then remov'd to Cambridge where he commenc'd Master of Arts, and, before He was Thirty, gave the World a Translation of the Orlando Furioso of Ariosto by which He gain'd considerable Reputation. After this He compos'd Four Books of Epigrams, which, in those Times, were received with great Applause, several of These mention another humorous Piece of his, call'd Miscasmos Metamorphosis, which, for a while, gave Offence to her Majesty; yet was, afterwards, both absolv'd, and acknowledg'd. — This is not added to the Rest of his Works, and, therefore, I suppose, was only meant for a Court-Amusement, not the Entertainment of the Publick, or the Increase of his Fame. — In the Reign of James the First, He was created a Knight of the Bath, and presented a Manuscript to Prince Henry, call'd A Brief View of the State of the Church of England, as it stood in Queen Elizabeth's and King James's Reign, to the Year 1608. — This Piece was severe on the marry'd Bishops, and was intended only for the private Use of His Highness; But was, some Years after, publish'd by one of Sir John's Grandsons, and occasion'd much Displeasure from the Clergy, who did not fail to recollect that his Conduct was of a Piece with his Doctrines. — He, together with Robert Earl of Leicester having supported Sir Walter Raleigh in his Suit to Queen Elizabeth, for the Manor of Banwell, belonging to the Bishoprick of Bath, and Wells; on the Presumption that the then Right Reverend Incumbent, had incurr'd a Premunire, by marrying a second Wife.
Sir John appears to be a Gentleman of great Pleasantry, and Humour; his Fortune was easy, the Court his Element, and Wit not his Business, but Diversion. — 'Tis not to be doubted, but his Translation of Ariosto, was publish'd after Spencer's Fairy Queen; and yet, both in Language, and Numbers, is greatly Inferior. — Indeed, if I may be forgiven, for daring to meddle with Studies so much beyond me, the whole Poem of Orlando is a tedious Medley of unnatural Characters, and improbable Events; and the Author's Patron, Cardinal Hippolito De Este, had some Reason for that severe Question, — Where the Devil, Signor Ludovico, did you pick up all these damn'd Lies? In my humble Opinion his Genius was infinitely more fit for Satire, than Heroick Poetry, as, I think, will be manifest, even from the Two following Passages, which appear to me the most eminent in the whole Poem: And, if his Translator had follow'd the same Track, He had not been more out of his right Way. — But 'tis Time to stop, or I shall be thought more astray than either.