Harris, William

, a biographical compiler, was the son of a tradesman at Salisbury, who probably was a dissenter. He was born in that city in 1720, and received his education at an academy kept at Taunton by messrs. Grove and Amory, men of learning and note, as dissenting teachers. An early love of books, and a thirst for knowledge, rendered application easy and profitable; and he was thought qualified to preach before he was nineteen years of age. He first officiated to a congregation at St. Loo, in Cornwall, and was afterwards invited to another in the city of Wells, where he was ordained in 1741. Within a few years, his marriage to a Miss Bovet of Honiton, | occasioned his removal to that town; and his ministerial labours for the rest of his life, were confined to a very small congregation at Luppit, in the neighbourhood. To what denomination of dissenters he belonged we are not told. The strain of his discourses is said to have been plain and practical, but none of them have been published, and he appears to have soon courted fame in a different pursuit.

His political, if not his religious creed, led him to study the history of the seventeenth century, which in his time had received few of the lights that have since been thrown upon it; and what he read, he read with the eager eye of a nonconformist, desirous to rescue his brethren from obloquy, and afford them a larger share in the merit of perpetuating the liberties of this kingdom. With this view, he resolved to become the biographer of the English branch of the Stuart family, and of Cromwell, and to assign to each their agency in the production of those great events in the seventeenth century, the rebellion, the restoration, and the revolution.

His preliminary attempt was on a singular subject, the “Life of Hugh Peters,” which, as he published it without his name, has escaped the notice of the collectors of his works, but is prefixed to the late edition of his “Lives” as the first in the order of time, and essentially connected with one of the subjects of his future inquiries. In this life he professed to follow “the manner of Bayle,” and it might have been thought that its aukward appearance in print would have shown Dr. Harris that his choice was injudicious; but, for whatever reason, he followed the same in his subsequent works. The Life of Peters was published in 1751, and in 1753 appeared his Life of James I.; in 1753, that of Charles I.; in 1761, that of Cromwell and in 1765, that of Charles II. this last in 2 vols. 8vo. It was his design to have completed this series with a Life of James II., but he was interrupted by an illness which terminated fatally in February 1770, in the fiftieth year of his age. His degree of D. D. was procured for him from the university or Glasgow, in 1765, by his friend Mr. Thomas Holiis, who had assisted him in his various undertakings, by many curious and interesting communications, and the use of scarce books and pamphlets. Dr. Birch and other gentlemen in London seem also to have contributed liberally to his stock of historical materials. | It is indeed as a collection of such, that these Lives have been principally valued, for Dr. Harris cannot be ranked among elegant writers, nor can it be gravely asserted that he is always impartial. His reasonings are strongly tinged with his early prejudices, but his facts are in general narrated with fidelity, and the evidence on both sides is given' without mutilation. 1


Life prefixed to the edition of his Works, 1814, 5 vols. 8vo,