Harris, George (1809-1890) (DNB01)

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HARRIS, GEORGE (1809–1890), author, born at Rugby on 6 May 1809, was the eldest son of George Harris (d. 16 Jan. 1856), a solicitor of that town, by his wife Christabella, only daughter of Rear-admiral William Chambers (d. 28 Sept, 1829). On 6 May 1820 he entered Rugby School. He was a delicate child and suffered from rough treatment while at the school, which he left to join the Spartiate, the flagship of Admiral Sir George Eyre, as a midshipman. He was, however, unable to endure the hardships of a life on board ship, and, being attacked by illness before the vessel sailed, gave up the idea of entering the navy. After some unpleasant experiences at a private school at Totnes in Devonshire he was articled to his father in 1825. On the expiry of his articles in 1832 he was admitted attorney, and in January 1834 became a partner in his father's firm. Life at Rugby, however, was distasteful to him; he was possessed by ambition for literary success and a desire for London life; and on 22 June 1838 he gave up his prospects and quitted the firm.

After a sojourn in London of little more than a year, during which he wrote for the 'British and Foreign Review' and other journals, and entered at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, he accepted the post of editor of the 'Hull Times' on 11 Sept. 1839. An attack on the Hull railway line led to his resignation on 21 Sept. 1840, and he determined to devote his attention to preparing for the bar. He entered the Middle Temple in December 1839, and was called to the bar on 13 Jan. 1843. He went the midland circuit, but obtained no great practice. In 1847 he published his 'Life of Lord-chancellor Hardwicke' (London, 3 vols. 8vo), on which he had been at work for nearly three years. It was dedicated to the prince consort, who had taken some interest in the progress of the book, was well received by the critics, but had no sale. Harris had neglected his practice at the bar during the preparation of the work, he was disappointed in hopes of patronage from the Earl of Hardwicke, who .had taken a great interest in his labours, and he had lost money in railway speculations. He consequently found himself in great financial straits, from which he was only delivered by his marriage with Miss Elizabeth Innes in 1848, a union which placed him beyond anxiety in money matters, and gave him a wife to whom he became sincerely attached.

In April 1853 Harris filled the office of deputy court judge of the Bristol district, and early in 1861 he became acting judge 'of the county court at Birmingham. In 1862 he was appointed registrar of the court of bankruptcy at Manchester, a post which he retained until 1868, when ill-health compelled him to retire on a pension. In the meantime he had turned his attention to the possibility of rendering accessible manuscripts and historical documents scattered throughout the country in private hands. He had himself had experience of the difficulties attending historical research, while compiling his 'Life of Hardwicke,' and gradually the idea of an official commission, to investigate and catalogue manuscripts of historical interest in private collections shaped itself in his mind. In 1857 he first brought forward his idea in a paper read at Birmingham in October before the Law Amendment Society, and entitled 'The Manuscript Treasures of this Country, and the best Means of rendering them available.' The paper was published in the 'Transactions of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science,' a society founded under the patronage of Lord Brougham in 1857, of which Harris was an original member. In this paper Harris suggested the formation of a committee for the purpose of cataloguing and arranging manuscripts in private hands. The project was taken up by Lord Brougham, and Harris himself laboured to forward it. A memorial was presented to Lord Palmerston on 9 July 1859 by a deputation with Harris as spokesman. Palmerston was interested, but the project met with much opposition, and the commission was not finally issued until 2 April 1869, since which date the work of investigation has steadily proceeded. Harris, however, had little or no connection with the project after its temporary failure in 1859.

In 1868 Harris was deprived of a powerful friend and patron by the death of Lord Brougham. He contributed a 'Memoir of Lord Brougham,' compiled partly from personal ecollections, to the 'Law Magazine and Review.' It was afterwards separately published (London, 1868, 8vo). In 1876 he brought out his 'Philosophical Treatise on the Nature and Constitution of Man' (London, 2 vols. 8vo), a work on which he had been engaged intermittently for forty-three years. While many of his theories were novel, his general treatment of the subject showed a singular tendency to revert to the principles and terminology of the mediæval schoolmen, and he completely ignored the methods and conclusions of modern scientific psychology.

Harris was an active member of the Anthropological Society of London, and in 1871 was chosen a vice-president, a position which he retained on the formation of the Anthropological Institute in that year by the union of the Anthropological Society and the Ethnological Society. In 1876, thinking that the Anthropological Institute 'did not give sufficient attention to psychological subjects,' he joined Edward William Cox [q. v.] in founding the Psychological Society, of which he became a vice-president.

In 1888 Harris issued his egotistical 'Autobiography ' (London, 8vo) for private circulation. It consists chiefly of extracts from his diary, which he kept regularly from 1832, and contains a preface by his friend (Sir) Benjamin Ward Richardson [q. v. Suppl.] He died at Northolt in Middlesex on 15 Nov. 1890, at his residence, Iselipps, an old manor-house, which he had bought and enlarged. On 12 Dec. 1848 he married at Bathwick Church, Bath, Elizabeth, only surviving child of George Innes (d. 17 July 1842), master of the King's School at Warwick and rector of Hilperton in Wiltshire.

Besides the works already mentioned, Harris was the author of: 1. 'The True Theory of Representation in a State,' London, 1852, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1857. 2 'Civilization considered as a Science, in relation to its Essence, its Elements, and its End,' London, 1861, 8vo; 2nd ed. 1872. 3. 'Principia Prima Legum; or, an Examination and Analysis of the Elementary Principles of Law,' London, 1865, 8vo (only part i. published). 4. 'The Theory of the Arts; or, Art in relation to Nature, Civilization, and Man,' London, 1869, 2 vols. 8vo. 5. 'Supernatural Phenomena : Tests adapted to determine the Truth of Supernatural Phenomena,' London, 1874, 8vo. He contributed many papers to the 'Journal of the Anthropological Society' and to 'Modern Thought.' He wrote numerous legal biographies for the 'Law Magazine and Law Review,' including those of Lord Westbury, Lord Cranworth, Lord-chief-baron Pollock, and Lord Wensleydale.

[Harris's Autobiography; Journal of the Anthropological Institute, 1890–1, xx. 199-200; The Biograph, 1880, iv. 95–100; Rugby School Reg. 1884, i. 141; Men of the Time, 1887; Chambers's Short Memoir of George Harris (the elder), 1856.]

E. I. C.