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Using a water closet, c 1596.

Using a water closet, c 1596.
4 0 c m
actual image size: 17cm x 32cm


This illustration, titled 'Visit of the devil to the old man', comes from a humorous pamphlet 'A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, called the Metamorphosis of Ajax' written by the writer John Harington, or Harrington, a godson of Queen Elisabeth I. 'Ajax' was code for 'jakes' - Elizabethan slang for privy. Harington was using the water closet as a metaphor in this pamphlet, to attack the elements of hypocrisy that he saw in society. The book contains extensive literary allusions and double meanings. The water closet shown was a wash-down system with a valve in the bottom of the water closet - both still elements of the modern flush toilet.

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© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library

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