I’ve not seen my lady Moll of late, but I hear tell she too is full of discontentments. Has there been some unkindness from Her Majestie? Or a scandal? This is a thing I must discover.
I know what it is to be dumpish. I pitie my lady Moll, and my lord.
My niece arrkst me, “What ails his Harryship?”
I reproved her. “Our Earl’s name is Harry, but few may call him that. Least of all you.”
Her words grieved me, I must confess, for it come to me that now my sister is gone none will ever call me, in jest, your Gibship.
And what ails our Earl? Well, the great fleet that is to have at Spain sailed without him. He could not go.
I heared tell that when he wished to join the Earl of Essicks and save Calley [Calais] from the Spanish, Her Majestie sayt: No. But then Essicks did not go neither.
Perchance my lord hoped Her Majestie might change her mind. Certes, he kept close to the Lord Admiral, but nowt came of that.
’Tis cruel to have a door closed in your face and no window to slip through. As we cats know.
“They’ll be sick and spewing now,” sayt Nero. “Let’s hope their stomachs settle before they have to draw their swords.”
Some were mazed to see Nero with us, because he’d spake of going.
Nero sayt his old master was much recovered from his illness, and it was his dutie to stay with him. And still he would not tell whither they ships were bound, though he claims to know.
I gave better newes. I rose up and called, “Friends, I have in my house a book of filth, which I believe my lord brought with him. In short, friends, it shows a new way for men and women to rid theirselves of their turds.”
“What’s wrong with the old way?” called a queen cat.
“Come they from their mouths now?” called another. “Who’d have thought it?”
That got a great screech from all.
Linkin cried, “What? Dare we speak of lords and ladies intricated in so nastie a business?”
“We do,” sayt I. “For lords and ladies do it. And cats too.”
“The fellow that writ this book tells men and women to follow our example and cover their filthiness. Indeed, he loves us cats so well he has made a strange device for them that we may fish in.”
“Fish for what?” arrkst my niece.
All screeched mightily when I sayt our Earl was privy to this great effusion of knowledge. We made such a merrie night of it I fear I must pass the morrow sleeping.
Oh, I grow old. I believe I’ve seen fifteen winters. In truth, seating myself and holding my pen makes my bones to ache. So I write less, while my young skoller is fire-hot to learn more. Why, I do not know. Soon she will have kits to rear.
Come winter when she’ll be at leisure, I shall show her the filthie book I told of. It may be more to her liking than poesie or flossfy [philosophy].
His booklet outlines a design for a water-closet, forerunner to our flushing toilet, and is full of classical allusions, references to events and people, digressions, doubles-entendres and puns. Ajax = a jakes (slang for a toilet, or what the Elizabethans called a privy).
John – later Sir John – Harington (1560-1612) was one of Elizabeth I’s many godchildren. She appears to have been very fond of him, though he often infuriated her. She was offended by this work, probably because of its satirical references rather than its subject matter. However, John was forgiven, and a water-closet was installed in Richmond Palace. There’s an artist’s vision in the Folger Shakespeare Library of how the finished product might look.
And the Southampton connection? John Harington claimed to have first discussed the idea of his privy at Wardour Castle, the home of Sir Matthew Arundell. Sir Matthew was the father-in-law of Gib’s Lady Moll (the Earl’s sister Mary).
The Earl, Lady Mary, her husband Thomas Arundell, and Sir Henry Danvers – the same Sir Henry who was later sought for murder – were all there. No doubt they had as much fun as Gib and his friends did.