1820 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir John Harington

John Payne Collier, in Poetical Decameron (1820) 1:201-02.



MORTON. His biographers say that he got into disgrace at court for them [Ajax and Ulysses upon Ajax].

BOURNE. He says so himself, and his biographers repeat it; but he adds, as you will find by Lib. I. Epig. 52. that Elizabeth was not only reconciled to him but "sent him thanks for his invention."

ELLIOT. What invention? Does he mean the invention of his book?

BOURNE. By no means, but the invention of a new kind of water-closet, much on the principle of those now used, and of which you see here is a wood-cut.

ELLIOT. A strange subject for a poet to choose. We need not be surprised that Queen Elizabeth, who was much more nice in word than deed, should take offence at the publication of such a work by one of her courtiers.

BOURNE. Nor is the matter treated by any means as cautiously and curiously as it might have been; I mean with reference to its coarseness.

ELLIOT. But you have not yet explained why it is called The Metamorphosis of Ajax.

BOURNE. You know probably that a certain house of office was formerly called "a Jakes;" that is easily corrupted into "Ajax;" and one point in Sir J. Harington's book, though by no means a good one, is to account for the name by showing how Ajax became so transformed. I need not enter into this, and you may judge how the matter is handled when I tell you that he quotes from one of the most offensive parts of Rabelais. After all he does not make it very intelligible.