Sir JOHN HARRINGTON, an ingenious English poet, was the son of John Harrington, esq. who was imprisoned in the Tower, under queen Mary, for holding a correspondence with the lady Elizabeth, with whom he continued in great favour to the time of his death. He also was somewhat of a poet and a translator. Sir John was born at Kelston, near Bath, in Somersetshire, in 1561, and had queen Elizabeth for his godmother. He was instructed in classical learning at Eton-school, and from thence removed to Cambridge, where he took the degree of M.A. In his thirtieth year, 1591, he published a translation of Ariosto's "Orlando Furioso," by which he gained a considerable reputation, and for which he is now principally known. Warton says, that although executed without spirit or accuracy, unanimated and incorrect, it enriched our poetry by a communication of new stores of fiction and imagination, both of the romantic and comic species, of gothic machinery and familiar manners. Mr. Harrington was knighted in the field by the earl of Essex, which gave much offence to the queen, who was sparing of such honours, and chose to confer them herself. In the reign of James, he was created knight of the Bath; and, being a courtier, presented a MS. to prince Henry, levelled chiefly against the married bishops, which was intended only for the private use of his royal highness; but, being published afterwards, created great clamour, and made several of the clergy say, that his conduct was of a piece with his doctrines; since he, together with Robert earl of Leicester, supported sir Walter Raleigh in his suit to queen Elizabeth for the manor of Banwell, belonging to the bishopric of Bath and Wells; on a presumption that the right rev, incumbent had incurred a praemunire, by marrying a second wife. Wood's account of it is this: "That sir John Harrington, being minded to obtain the favour of prince Henry, wrote a discourse for his private use, entitled '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 book is no more than a character and history of the bishops of those times, and was written to the said prince Henry, as an additional supply to the catalogue of bishops of Dr. Francis Godwin, upon occasion of that proverb,
Henry the eighth pulled down monks and their cells,
Henry the ninth shall pull down bishops and their bells.
In the said book the author Harrington doth, by imitating his godmother, queen Elizabeth, shew himself a great enemy to married bishops, especially to such as had been married twice; and many things therein are said of them, that were by no means fit to be published, being written only for private use. But so it was, that the book coming into the hands of one John Chetwind, grandson by a daughter to the author, a person deeply principled in presbyterian tenets, did, when the press was open, print it at London in 1653; and no sooner was it published, and came into the hands of many, but it was exceeding clamoured at by the loyal and orthodox clergy, condemning him that published it."
Sir John died in 1612. His lady, Mary, daughter of sir George Rogers, survived him till 164. In his epigrams are several to his mother-in-law lady Rogers. These "Epigrams" were the most popular of his works, although they cannot now be allowed much poetical merit. They were first published in 1618, and afterwards in 1625, under the title of "The most elegant and witty epigrams of sir John Harrington, knt. digested into four bookes," 8vo. The "Nugo Antiquae," a miscellaneous collection of his works, and antiquary collections and letters in prose and verse, was published some years ago, by the rev. Henry Harriugton of Bath, in whose family the papers were; of these a second edition was published in 1792, 3 vols. 12mo, and a third with most valuable additions and improvements, in 1804, 2 vols. 8vo, by Thomas Park, F.S.A. with illustrative notes and memoirs of the author.