Author Sir John Harington, whose surname is also spelled as Harrington, is a renowned English author who spent a huge chunk of his career in the royal courts of England. He primarily served in the courts of Queen Elizabeth I and her son James I. During his service as a courtier in English courts, he was known for indelicate humor. Another thing he is well known for is being credited as the inventor of the flush toilet.
Sir John Harington and His Works
Sir John Harington was well known for his literary prowess though most of his works enjoyed the height of popularity mostly during his lifetime. Letters and Epigrams is a masterwork where he shows sketches of writings and social life in the Elizabethan era. He translated Orlando Furioso in 1591.
And, though not related in the medical field in any way, John Harington made a loose translation of Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum from Latin to English in 1608. One of his notable works, however, is ‘A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, called the Metamorphosis of Ajax’ that marks his name on the development and invention of the flush toilet.
‘A jacks’ or ‘a jakes’ is what is known as a privy or toilet during the Elizabethan era. The Metamorphosis of Ajax, published in 1596, discusses the construction of a flush toilet in detail. This gives us the meaning behind using his name as a euphemism for a toilet or bathroom.
Looking into the Euphemism
The Metamorphosis of Ajax, at first glance, is simply a lengthy description of how to make a bathroom or toilet, which is the one he has in his Kelston manor. This invention, which is really a forerunner to our modern day bathroom, is the reason for the American euphemism. However, his work, the Metamorphosis of Ajax goes even further other than just being some sort of instruction material.
It was published under his pseudonym Misacmos. The work itself is an allusion to state of political affairs of the day. It is in many ways a coded attack on the current royalty, which inevitably angered the queen and put him in bad standing with the royal courts. This work gained popularity in 1596 but it cost John Harington’s banishment from the queen’s court.
John Harington’s fortunes went on a further decline when James I rose to the crown after the queen’s death. He served time in prison as surety for his cousin’s debts. He escaped custody in 1603 since he did not enjoy the idea of languishing in jail. James I made him a Knight of the Bath, recognizing his loyalty, and granted him all forfeited properties. However, he never again regained his social status in England’s high society after that.