Harness, William (DNB00)

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HARNESS, WILLIAM (1790–1869), author of a 'Life of Shakespeare,' born near Wickham in Hampshire on 14 March 1790, was son of John Harness, M.D., commissioner of transports, and elder brother of Sir Henry Drury Harness [q. v.] In 1796 Harness went to Lisbon with his father, and in 1802 was entered at Harrow, where he made the acquaintance of Lord Byron. The fact of his having been permanently lamed in an accident at an early age may perhaps have had something to do with Byron's partiality for him. At all events their acquaintance ripened into friendship, which after the poet's removal from the school was kept up by correspondence. Harness proceeded to Christ's College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. 1812, M.A. 1816, and took holy orders, being ordained curate of Kelmeston, Hampshire, in 1812. In the same year Harness paid a three weeks' visit to Newstead Abbey; Byron refrained from dedicating 'Childe Harold' to his friend, for fear it might hurt him in his profession. (For many of the letters of the correspondence, see Moore's Life of Byron, 1847, pp. 23, 59, 66, 79, 145-8, 160.) Harness was curate of Dorking 1814-16, and afterwards preacher at Trinity Chapel, Conduit Street, London, and minister and evening lecturer at St. Anne's, Soho. When Boyle lecturer at Cambridge in 1822, Harness thought it his duty to speak of the pernicious influence of 'Cain.' His friendship with Byron, however, continued to the last, and in after years he indignantly repudiated the charges brought forward by Lady Byron and Mrs. Beecher Stowe. At Hampstead he was curate from 1823 to 1826, and then, owing to his popularity as a preacher, became incumbent of Regent Square Chapel, St. Pancras, London, from 1826 to 1844, with an income of 400l. a year. His sermons were moderate, learned, and tenable. His liberal views, his eloquence and high character were the means of doing much good in his district. On the opposite side of Regent Square, Edward Irving's chapel was situated, and in 1831, during the height of the Irving excitement, Harness preached a sermon entitled 'Modern Claims to Miraculous Gifts of the Spirit.' His edition of Shakespeare in eight volumes octavo, 1825, has prefixed to it a life which occupies the first volume, remarkable for its scrupulous impartiality. The second edition with plates appeared in 1830, the third in 1833, the imperial edition also in 1833 in one volume quarto, the royal octavo edition in one volume in 1836 and again in 1840 and 1842, the last reprint being for the American market. On visiting Stratford, and finding the inscription on Shakespeare's monument in an imperfect state, he had it restored at his own expense. Harness wrote charades of an improved character for the use of his friends; three of these were inserted by Miss Mitford in 'Blackwood's Magazine,' 1826, xix. 558-67; to the same periodical in 1827, xxii. 164 et seq., he contributed a tale entitled 'Reverses,' which had a great success. For John Murray in 1827 he commenced a family edition of the works of the elder dramatists, but only brought out four volumes of Massinger's plays. His reviews in the 'Quarterly' carried much weight, and Macready is reported to have said that he had lost 2,000l. a year owing to an article by Harness in that publication. In 1841 Lord Lansdowne appointed him clerical registrar of the privy council. In 1844, under the name of 'Presbyter Catholicus,' he wrote a pamphlet entitled 'Visiting Societies and Lay Readers. A Letter to the Lord Bishop of London,' directed against the bishop's proposal for a metropolitan visiting and relief association, which attracted much notice. On his retirement from Regent Square in 1844 he was presented by his congregation with a massive silver candelabra. From 1844 to 1847 he was minister of Brompton Chapel, London. During this period, at the suggestion of Dean Milman, he undertook to build the church of All Saints, Knightsbridge. He raised 10,500l., of which he himself gave 1,100l. The church was opened in 1849, and he became the perpetual curate from that date to his death. For the two years previously he had been the perpetual curate of Knightsbridge district, in the parish of St. Margaret's, Westminster. On 1 March 1851 he acted as one of the stewards at the farewell dinner given to W. C. Macready. After the death of Miss Mitford, he produced, amid considerable opposition from interested parties, 'The Life of Mary Russell Mitford,' which he just lived to see completed. In 1866 he was appointed Rugmere prebendary in St. Paul's Cathedral, and preached there several times.

While on a visit to one of his former curates, Edward Neville Crake, dean of Battle, he was killed by falling down the stone staircase of the deanery on 11 Nov. 1869. He was buried at Bath. A brass tablet was erected to his memory in All Saints' Church, Knightsbridge, and a prize bearing his name was founded by the subscriptions of his friends at Cambridge for the study of Shakespearean literature. His intimate friends included Mrs. Siddons, Fanny Kemble, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kean, Southey, Wordsworth, Miss Mitford, Catherine Fanshawe, Joanna Baillie, Harriet Martineau, and Thomas Hope.

His writings were: 1. 'The Wrath of Cain. A Boyle Lecture,' 1822. 2. 'The Connexion of Christianity with Human Happiness,' the substance of the Boyle Lectures, 1823, 2 vols. 3. 'The Life of W. Shakspeare.' Being vol. i. in 'The Dramatic Works of Shakspeare,' edited by W. Harness, 1825, 8 vols. 4. 'The Plays of P. Massinger adapted for family reading,' edited by W. H., 1830. 5. 'The Dramatic Works of J. Ford, edited by W. H., 1831. 6. 'Welcome and Farewell: a Drama by W. H.,' 1837. 7. 'Parochial Sermons,' 1837. 8. 'Christian Education. Four Sermons,' 1840. 9. 'The Image of God in Man. Four Sermons preached before the University of Cambridge,' 1841. 10. 'The First-Born: a Drama by W. H.,' 1844. 11. 'The Errors of the Roman Creed considered in Six Sermons,' 1851. 12. 'Christian Unity, a practicable Christian Duty,' 1852. 13. 'The Life of Mary Russell Mitford,' 1870. 14. 'The Literary Remains of C. M. Fanshawe,' 1876. Besides many single sermons.

[L'Estrange's Life of the Rev. W. Harness, 1871; Register and Magazine of Biography, December 1869, pp. 308-9; Times, 16 Nov. 1869, p. 10; Illustrated London News, 4 Dec. 1869, p. 578.]

G. C. B.