Harris, William (1720-1770) (DNB00)

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HARRIS, WILLIAM (1720–1770), biographer, born at Salisbury, Wiltshire, in 1720, was the son of a nonconformist tradesman of that city. He was educated for the ministry at Grove and Amory's academy at Taunton, Somerset. He first officiated to a congregation at Looe in Cornwall, and was afterwards invited to another at Wells, Somersetshire, where he was ordained on 15 April 1741. He now married Miss Elizabeth Bovet of Honiton, Devonshire, and removed to that town. His ministerial labours for the rest of his life were confined to a very small congregation at Luppitt in the neighbourhood. Being desirous of commemorating the struggles of the nonconformists in the cause of religious and civil liberty, he wrote biographies of the Stuart family and of Cromwell. His preliminary attempt, a ‘Life of Hugh Peters,’ was published without his name in 1751. In this and his subsequent biographies he professed to follow ‘the manner of Mr. Bayle,’ illustrating the text with copious notes. In 1753 appeared his ‘Life of James I,’ 2nd edit. 1772; in 1758 that of Charles I, 2nd edit. 1772; in 1762 that of Cromwell, 2nd edit. 1772; and in 1766 that of Charles II, in two 8vo volumes. It was his design to have completed the series with a life of James II, but he was interrupted by an illness which ended fatally on 4 Feb. 1770 (Gent. Mag. xl. 95). His works were collected in five vols. 8vo, 1814, to which his life is prefixed. He wrote in an unattractive style, and is not impartial; but his notes are full of information from sources not easily accessible. The degree of D.D. was conferred on him by the university of Glasgow in 1765, at the instance of Thomas Hollis, who, along with Thomas Birch, assisted him in his histories. By will he gave his collection of historical documents to Dr. William's Library, then in Redcross Street. He left no children; his wife survived him.

[Life referred to; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. iii. 9; T. Amory's Nature of Sound Doctrine (Ordination Charge), 1741; Chalmers's Biog. Dict. xvii. 182–184; will in P. C. C. 104, Jenner.]

G. G.