Harris, Howel (DNB00)

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HARRIS, HOWEL (1714–1773), a principal founder of Welsh Calvinistic methodism, third son of Howel and Susanna Harris of Trevecca in the parish of Talgarth in Breconshire, was born there 23 Jan. 1713–14. He was a younger brother of Joseph Harris (1702–1764) [q. v.] The parents owned the farm on which they lived, and were fairly well off. Young Harris was intended for the established church, and received a good education. Owing to his father's death, 9 March 1730, he had to support himself by opening a school. His prospects improving, he hoped, with the help of a near relative, to qualify himself for ordination. He is said to have been ‘wild and inconsiderate, though not without occasional twitches of conscience.’ He was much impressed by a sermon (30 March 1735) upon the duty of partaking of the Lord's Supper, and resolved to lead a new life. The following Sunday, being Easter Day, he went to the Lord's table. He got much help from some books he read, especially from ‘Holy Rules and Helps to Devotion,’ by Brian Duppa [q. v.] He conducted domestic worship regularly at his mother's house, and on Sundays many neighbours came to hear him and to join him in prayer. On 25 Nov. 1735 he matriculated at St. Mary Hall, Oxford, but returned home at the end of one term, and at once began his evangelistic labours with the greatest ardour. He was soon followed by such crowds that the houses were often too small to contain them. In 1737 he was invited by a gentleman to come to speak at his house in Radnorshire. At this time he taught a school, but went out every evening and on Sundays and holidays to advise the people. At the end of the year he was deprived of his school, which was connected with the established church. He was thus enabled to preach three, four, and sometimes five times a day. He still went to church himself, and urged his hearers to do the same. But his enthusiasm began to give offence. Whitefield wrote him an encouraging letter in the beginning of January 1738, and states in his diary for 1739 that Harris had already founded thirty societies in South Wales. For some years he delivered only extemporary sermons upon sin and the judgment to come.

In the course of six or seven years Harris, with the aid of his coadjutors, had aroused the whole principality. His appearance is described as most commanding, his voice solemn and strong, and his earnestness quite irresistible. He made many bitter enemies, and was often in peril of his life. He extended his efforts in 1739 to North Wales, and while at Machynlleth the mob rushed at him howling, threatening, swearing, and throwing stones. An attorney and a clergyman threatened him, and he was shot at.

Harris's great coadjutor in the foundation of methodism was Daniel Rowlands of Llangeitho, Cardiganshire; but an unfortunate misunderstanding, which continued for many years, arose as early as 1747, and led to an open rupture in 1751. The methodist body, which was now numerous, was divided into two hostile parties, called Harris's people and Rowlands's people. The misunderstanding has never been satisfactorily explained. It has been attributed to some unguarded expressions of Harris, which, however, are common in hymns highly approved by Rowlands. Dr. Rees infers from some expressions in Williams's ‘Elegy on Harris’ that the cause was Harris's assumption of some authority in the connexion not allowable to a layman.

After this Harris withdrew to his own house at Trevecca, where he preached two or three times every day, and there in April 1752 he laid the foundation of a kind of protestant monastery. In 1754 the inmates or ‘family,’ as they were called, consisted of 100 persons, and in 1755 of 120, besides several families from North Wales, who had settled in the neighbourhood in order to benefit by Harris's ministry.

Harris was eminently loyal, and in 1759 he accepted an ensigncy in the Breconshire militia, and many of the ‘family’ joined him. He was alarmed by the prospect of a French invasion and the consequent establishment of papacy. During his short military career he preached in various parts of England. He would stand up to preach in his regimental dress in places where the mob would not have tolerated other preachers.

Towards the close of his life he was warmly supported by the Countess of Huntingdon [see Hastings, Selina], who established her school for ministers at Lower Trevecca. He corresponded with her, visited her at Brighton in 1766, and afterwards preached in London at Whitefield's Tabernacle and before aristocratic assemblies in private houses. The death of his wife in 1770 greatly affected him, and probably hastened his own end, which took place 21 July 1773. He left one daughter, who was provided for by an independent property from her mother. By his will he bequeathed all his property to the maintenance of his ‘family’ at Trevecca for ever. The institution has long been extinct.

His published works are: 1. ‘Hymnau Duwiol,’ in conjunction with two others, 1742. 2. ‘Cennadwri a Thystiolaeth ddiweddaf Howel Harris, Yswain,’ 1774. 3. ‘The last Message and Testimony of Howel Harris, Esqr., late of Trevecka in Wales. Found among some of his Papers,’ 1774. 4. ‘Ychydig Lythyrau ac Ystyriaethau ar Achosion Ysprydol ynghyd a Hymnau am Dduwdod a Marwolaeth ein Iachawdwr,’ 1782. 5. ‘Hanes Ferr o Fywyd Howel Harris, Yscwier; a dynwyd allan o'i ysgrifeniadau ef ei hun. At ba un y chwangewyd crynodeb byr o'i lythyrau o'r Flwyddyn 1738, hyd y Fl. 1772,’ 12mo, 1792.

[Morgan's Life and Times of Howel Harris; Methodistiaeth Cymru; Williams's Eminent Welshmen; Dr. Rees's Protestant Nonconformity in Wales, 2nd ed.; Life and Times of Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, i. 375, ii. 1 sq.; Malkin's South Wales.]

R. J. J.