Elizabethan and Jacobean Studies

By Frank Percy Wilson | Go to book overview

Harington's Folly

KATHLEEN M. LEA

IN April 1605 Sir John Harington made out a claim for himself as well suited to be Ireland's Chancellor as well in 'his sperytuall office as his temporall'. He sees no reason why his reputation as a poet should stand in the way and in an old metaphor sums up his career and qualifications.

I conclude (as one pretily argued last day in the Schools,) that the world ys a stage and wee that lyve in yt are all stage players, some are good for many parts, some only for dumme shows, some deserve a plaudite some a plorate.

I playd my chyldes part happily, the schollar and students part to neglygently, the sowldyer and cowrtyer faythfully, the husband lovingly, the contryman not basely nor corruptly. Once I played the foole to frendly, in breaking the wyse Solomons Cownsell had not a Just Solomon gevn the condemnd chyld to the parent that had most ryght. Now I desyre to act a Chawncellors part hollyly, that my last act may equall my fyrst, and that I may not in extremo actu deficere.

He addresses himself to 'my Lords' as Saints and to the King as 'Sanctus Sanctorum' and beyond all to Providence.

A copy of this letter directed to 'my Lo: of Devonshyre and my Lo. of Cramborne' is in a Bodley manuscript (Rawlinson B. 162). It is certainly corrected by Harington's hand, but not signed, and it may well be a holograph as I shall argue later. It was published in 1879 by Macray, under the title A Short View of the State of Ireland. Harington's cheerful confidence is attractive and completely in character; he had a sharp eye for what might turn up. That this suggestion was turned down is hardly surprising though he was likely to have been quite sincere and had had considerable experience of Irish affairs. He urges as qualifications that his genius leads him to that Island, he has crossed four times without being seasick; that he was friendly with Irish people of all ranks; that he had tested himself for spiritual qualities (since he was aspiring to the See of Dublin) by the chapter in Timothy and found, that like a true bishop, he was ἀϕιλάργυρος and had only one wife.

-42-

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