Harris, William (1675?-1740) (DNB00)

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HARRIS, WILLIAM, D.D. (1675?–1740), presbyterian divine, was born about 1675, probably in Southwark, where his mother lived as a widow in 1692. Walter Wilson (following Josiah Thompson) thinks he was educated in the academy of Timothy Jollie [q. v.] at Attercliffe, near Sheffield (opened in 1689). The minutes of the presbyterian board show that in 1692–6 he studied successively in the academies of John Southwell at Newbury, Berkshire, and James Waters at Uxbridge, Middlesex. He began early to preach, and was some time assistant (unordained) to Henry Read at Gravel Lane, Southwark. On Read's death (1698) Harris was called to succeed Timothy Cruso [q. v.] at Crutched Friars, in spite of some opposition, and received presbyterian ordination. The accounts of his popularity are conflicting. There is no doubt that he was a leader of liberal dissent; his delivery was marred by hoarseness. For over thirty years (from 1708) he was one of the Friday evening lecturers at the Weighhouse, Eastcheap. He was one of the original trustees (1716) of Dr. Daniel Williams's foundations. At the Salters' Hall debates [see Bradbury, Thomas] in 1719, he sided with the non-subscribers. In 1723 he was one of the original distributors of the English regium donum. On 12 April 1727 he succeeded William Tong in the merchants' lecture at Salters' Hall. He received the degree of D.D. from Edinburgh, 8 Nov. 1728, and a similar honour from Aberdeen. Nathaniel Lardner [q. v.] was his colleague in his pastoral charge from 1729; an earlier colleague was John Billingsley the younger (1657–1722) [q. v.] He died, after a short illness, on 25 May 1740, and was buried (30 May) in Dr. Daniel Williams's vault, Bunhill Fields. Funeral sermons were preached by his intimate friend, Benjamin Grosvenor [q. v.] and by Lardner. To Dr. Williams's library he left nearly two thousand volumes; his portrait, now in the library, Gordon Square, London, was presented in 1768 by Lardner's executor; an engraving from it is given in Wilson's ‘Dissenting Churches.’

Harris published much, and, according to Wilson, ranked as ‘the greatest master of the English tongue among the dissenters.’ Among his works are: 1. ‘Exposition of the Epistles to Philippians and Colossians,’ in the continuation of Matthew Henry's ‘Exposition,’ 1710, fol. 2. ‘Practical Discourses on … Representations of the Messiah, throughout the Old Testament,’ &c., 1724, 8vo (intended as a reply to Anthony Collins). 3. ‘Memoirs of … Thomas Manton, D.D.,’ &c., 1725, 8vo. 4. ‘Funeral Discourses,’ &c., 1736, 8vo. 5. ‘Four Discourses upon … the Lord's Supper,’ &c., 1737, 8vo. Besides other writings, Wilson gives a list of thirty-eight single sermons, the earliest in 1702, including eleven funeral and three ordination sermons.

[Funeral sermons by Grosvenor, 1740, and Lardner, 1740; Protestant Dissenters' Magazine, 1799, p. 467; Wilson's Dissenting Churches of London, 1808 i. 66 sq., 1814 iv. 195; Calamy's Own Life, 1830, ii. 466; Cat. of Edinburgh Graduates, 1858, p. 239; Jeremy's Presbyterian Fund, 1885, pp. 113 sq.]

A. G.