1596
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Metapmorphosis of Ajax: An Apologie.

A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, called The Metapmorphosis of Ajax: written by Misacmos, to his Friend and Cosin Philostilpnos.

Sir John Harington


Sir John Harington, writing anonymously, makes a passing reference to the Faerie Queene in his prose satire. The title is part of the humor: "An Apologie. 1. Or rather a Retractation. 2. Or rather a Recantation ... 11. Or rather all of them. 12. Or rather none of them." A group of London wits finds fault with Spenser's Alexandrine: "they descanted of the new Faerie Queene and the old both, and the greatest fault they could find in it, was that the last verse disordered their mouthes, and was like a tricke of seventeene in a sinkapace" sig. A2. A cinquepace was a lively dance.

John Harington to Lady Russell: "And, that I may confesse trewly and frankly to you (my best Lady, that have even from my childhood ever so specially favored me,) I was the willinger to write such a toye as this, because I had layne me thought almost buryed in the country these 3 or four yeares, and I thought this would give some occasion to have me thought of, and talked of, not as he that burned the Temple of Diana to make him famous, nor as Absolom that burned Joab's corne to make him come to speak with him; but rather as Sophocles, to save himself from a writt of dotage, show'd the work he was presently in hand with" 14 August 1596; in Monthly Magazine 42 (August 1816) 43.

Edmond Malone wrote to Thomas Warton, 25 April 1785: "Have you ever met with the pun on Ajax and A-jakes previous to Sir John Harrington's book on that subject in 1596?" Correspondence of Thomas Warton, ed. Fairer (1995) 528.

Thomas Park: "This ludicrous effusion combines much learning with more humour, and had three distinct impressions, though a license was refused for printing the work, and the author was forbid the court for writing it. In the life of Harington, prefixed to Nugae Antiquae, it is said to have been occasioned by the authors having invented a kind of water-closet for his house at Kelston near Bath. The ingenious Mrs. Cooper has made an odd mistake, from not having seen the tract, in supposing that it was written for a 'Court Amusement'" in Joseph Ritson, Bibliographia Poetica (1802) 237n.

William Beloe: "The volume hereafter described [A New Discourse] is the property of Mr. Isaac Reed: it is of the most extraordinary rarity, and particularly curious as having been Sir John Harrington's own copy of a work which procured him the displeasure of his Royal Mistress; and above all, as being distinguished by his own manuscript notes" Anecdotes of Literature 2 (1807) 372-73.

S. W. Singer: "The third portion has no general title, but the head and running-title call it 'An Apology'; in this the author feigns that he is accused in eleven distinct charges, and brought to trial, and, in choosing the jury, he introduces many of his illustrious friends, and gives a brief and spirited character of them as they are called over. — One remarkable passage, in which he has forestalled an admired thought of Gibbon's, deserves citation, — 'Sir John Spencer, of Northamptonshire, is called,' and at the close of his observations on him, he says, 'yet one token more; you have a learned writer of your name, make much of him, for it is not the least honour of your honourable family, Jury Spencer.' I think this portion of his book the most amusing and best written, but the whole is a most curious and amusing specimen of the Rabelaisian satire, which deserves to be better known. The admirers of Swift and Sterne would be surprised to find on perusing it, that some of the most amusing features of those eccentric writers are to be found in this ludicrous composition, of an author, who preceded them nearly two centuries, and of whose performance they were possibly ignorant" "Harington's Metamorphosis" Monthly Magazine 38 (December 1814) 398.

John Payne Collier: "All that is clever and entertaining, and shows that the writer was a man of lively wit and invention, and I dare say the best company in the world" Poetical Decameron (1820) 1:204-05.

Samuel Austin Allibone: "A license was refused for printing this work, yet it nevertheless went through three impressions. A new edition of 100 copies was printed, Chiswick, 1814, 8vo." Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1858-71; 1882) 1:789.

In 1807 Isaac Reed's copy of The Metamorphosis of Ajax sold for the considerable sum of £10 10s; see European Magazine 52 (December 1807) 464.




When I had finished the precedent pamphlet, and in mine owne fantasie verie sufficiently evaculated my head of such homely stuffe, of which it might seeme it was verie full charged, and shewed how little conceit or opinion I had of mine owne abilitie, to handle stately matters, by chusing so meane a subject to discharge my self upon: I thought now to rest me a while, and to gather some strength, by feeding upon some finer meates, and making some cullesses and restoratives for my selfe out of some other mens kitchins, and not open this vaine any more. But I laboured all in vaine to stop such a vaine: for certaine people of the nature of those that first dwelt in the Canaries, have forced me to a futher labour. For whether it were overwatching my selfe at primero, or eating too much venison, which they say is a verie melancholie meate: I know not how, but betimes one morning when we use commonly to take our sweetest sleepe, namely betweene eight and halfe houre past ten, I was either in so straunge a dreame, or in so strong a melancholie, that me thought there came to me a nimble dapper fellow (I can not hit on his name) one that hath pretie petifogging skill in the law, and hath bin an under-shiriffe (but not thrise) and is now in the nature of an Atturney, this honest friend told me this solemne tale; I was (saith he) yesternight at ( ) Ordinarie, and there met M. Zoilus, M. Momus, and three or foure good natured Gentlemen more of the same crew, and toward the ende of supper they fell to talking (as their maner is) of certaine bookes lately come foorth. And one of them told how Lipsyus the great Politicke (that learned to speake so good English but a while since) had written a booke de Cruce, protesting that though he understood not the language, yet it offended his conscience, to see so many crosses in one booke, and he have so fewe in his purse; then they spoke of M. Raynoldes booke against Bellarmine, but they could finde no fault with it, for they said it was of a matter they used not to trouble themselves withall: thirdly, they descanted of the new Faerie Queene and the old both, and the greatest fault they could find in it, was that the last verse disordered their mouthes, and was like a tricke of seventeene in a sinkapace. Finally, they ran over many mens writings, saying some wanted rime, some wanted reason, and some both. One they sayd, was so young, that he had not yet learned to write, and was fit now to be donatus rude, as Horace sayth. But to make short, at last one of the pulled out of his bosome a booke that was not to be sold in Paules Churchyard, but onely that he had borrowed it of his friend, and it was inituled, The Metamorpho-sis of AJAX, at which they began to make marvellous sport. . . .


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