John Harris

Birth: 1667


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:

[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.

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