John Harris, D.D. (1667?-1719), scientific writer, divine, and topographer, born about 1666, son of Edward Harris, was scholar of Trinity College, Oxford, from 1684 to 1688. After taking orders he was presented to the vicarage of Icklesham, Sussex. On 7 Sept. 1690 he entered on the cure of the adjacent parish of Winchelsea, by the special order of the Bishop of Chichester, and on 14 Feb. 1690-1 he was inducted into the rectory of St. Thomas, Winchelsea (Cooper, Hist. of Winchelsea, p. 142). He was patronised by Sir William Cowper, lord keeper of the great seal (afterwards Lord Cowper and lord chancellor).
Cowper appointed him his chaplain; obtained for him a prebend in the cathedral of Rochester, in which he was installed 6 Feb. 1707-8; and presented him to the united parishes of St. Mildred, Bread Street, and St. Margaret Moses, London. Harris also held the perpetual curacy of Strood, Kent, to which he was appointed, in right of his prebendal stall, on 29 Aug. 1711; and he was presented to the rectory of East Barming, Kent, in 1715. He was severely persecuted by the Rev. Charles Humphreys, lecturer at St. Mildred's in 1708, who held him up to ridicule in a publication entitled 'The Picture of a High-flying Clergyman' (London, 1716).
At an early age his studies had taken a scientific turn, and on 29 April 1696 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society (Thomson, Hist. Royal Soc. App. p. xxix). Two years later he preached the Boyle lectures in St. Paul's Cathedral. He took the degree of B.D. at Cambridge in 1699, and obtained the Lambeth degree of D.D. on 10 July 1706 (Gent. Mag. ccxvi. 636). About 1698, or soon afterwards, he began to read free public lectures on mathematics at the Marine Coffee House in Birchin Lane. These lectures had been instituted 'for the public good' by Mr. (afterwards Sir Charles) Cox, M.P. Harris was still engaged in delivering those lectures in 1702 and 1704; and in the former year he also taught all kinds of mathematics at his house in Amen Corner, 'where any person might be either boarded or taught by the month.'
In 1706, and perhaps earlier, he was a member of the council of the Royal Society, and on 30 Nov. 1709 he was elected secretary, an office which he held for only one year. He is supposed also to have been for a short time a vice-president of the society. He was employed by the London booksellers to compile a 'Collection of Voyages and Travels,' which was afterwards improved by Dr. John Campbell; and he likewise, at their suggestion, prepared the first English 'Dictionary of Arts and Sciences,' from which more recent cyclopaedias take their origin. In 1712 he began to make collections for a 'History of Kent,' of which one volume-of little value-was published shortly after his death.
Harris was culpably improvident, and was generally in distress. He died on 7 Sept. 1719 an absolute pauper, at Norton Court, Kent, and was buried in Norton Church at the expense of John Godfrey, esq., who had long been his friend and benefactor. His portrait, engraved by G. White, from a painting by B. White, is prefixed to the 'Lexicon Technicum;' another, engraved by Vertue, from a painting by A. Russel, appears in the 'History of Kent'.
His works are:
- 'Remarks on some late Papers relating to the Universal Deluge, and to the Natural History of the Earth,' London, 1697, 8vo; an able defence of the system of Dr. Woodward against the attacks of Dr. Martin Lister and others.
- 'The Atheistical Objections against the Being of God, and his Attributes, fairly considered and fully refuted,' being the Boyle lectures for 1698.
- 'Short but yet plain Elements of Geometry and Plane Trigonometry,' 1701, from the French of Ignace Gaston Pardies.
- 'The description and uses of the Celestial and Terrestrial Globes, and of Collins's Pocket Quadrant,' London, 1703, 8vo.
- 'Lexicon Technicum; or an Universal English Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, explaining not only the terms of Art, but the Arts themselves,' 1 vol. London, 1704; 2nd edit., 2 vols. 1708-10. The first volume was dedicated to Prince George of Denmark, and the second to Lord-chancellor Cowper. A supplement to the work 'by a society of gentlemen' appeared at London in 1744, fol.
- 'Navigantium atque Itinerantium Bibliotheca: or a compleat Collection of Voyages and Travels, consisting of above four hundred of the most authentick writers,' 2 vols., London, 1705, fol. Another edition, revised, with large additions, by Dr. John Campbell, 2 vols., 1744-8, fol., and again, 2 vols., 1764, fol.
- 'The London Merchant's Mirror, or the Tradesman's Guide, being Tables for the ready casting up Bills of Exchange,' London, 1705, a small sheet composed and engraved by Harris.
- 'The British Hero; or a discourse shewing that it is the interest, as well as duty, of every Briton to avow his loyalty to King George on the present important crisis of affairs,' a sermon, London, 1715, 8vo.
- 'The Wickedness of the pretence of Treason and Rebellion for God's sake,' a sermon, London, 1715, 8vo.
- 'Astronomical Dialogues between a Gentleman and a Lady: wherein the Doctrine of the Sphere, uses of the Globes, and the Elements of Astronomy and Geography are explained. With a description of the Orrery,' London, 1719, 8vo, 2nd and 3rd editions, corrected by J. Gordon, 1729 and 1766.
- 'The History of Kent, in five parts,' vol. i. (all published), London, 1719, fol. This work is extremely inaccurate. Thirty-six of the plates of the seats and towns were afterwards published separately. Some of the plates were engraved by Harris himself. Harris's manuscript collections passed, after the death of his friend John Godfrey, into the hands of Edward Goddard, esq., of Clyffe Pypard, Wiltshire, who possessed them in 1761, but Hasted, the historian of Kent, was not able to recover them (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. ii. 282).
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[Addit. MS. 5871, f. 43 b; Evans's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, No. 5012; Gent. Mag. 1814, pt. i. p. 19; Gough's British Topography, i. 445, 462, 483, 788; Hasted's Kent, i. pref. iv, 557, ii. 29 n.; Le Neve's Fasti; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. (Bohn), p. 1002; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ix. 769; Memoirs of Whiston, p. 155.]
Thompson Cooper, Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 25. pgs. 13-14.