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Harris, John

1. Dates
Born: Shropshire (?), c.1666
Died: Norton Court, Kent, 7 Sept. 1719
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
Lifespan: 53
2. Father
Occupation: Unknown
The Oxford record of Harris' admission lists the father as Edward Harris of London, Gent.
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Oxford, M.A.
Oxford University, Trinity College, 1683-6; B.A., 1686; Hart Hall, 1686-9; M.A., 1689.
There is a report of a B.D. at Cambridge, 1699; there is no record of this in Cambridge, however, and I am not listing it.
D.D. at Lambeth, 1706. (I'm not sure what this means, and I am not listing it.)
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
Harris was ordained and made his career as a cleric.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Natural Philosophy
Subordinate: Mathematics
Harris delivered the Boyle lectures in 1698, on the consonance of science and religion, and he defended Woodward against asserttions that he was an atheist. He published Astronomical Dialogues, 1719, an imitation of Fontenelle's Entretiens. His best known and most important work was the Lexicon technicum, 1704-10, the first scientific dictionary. Harris was not a prominent contributor to any science; I think that "Natural Philosophy" best represents his effort.
In so far as he had a science, it was mathematics. A translation of Pardies Short . . .Elements of Geometry, 1701; A New Short History of Algebra, 1702.
He also published a collection of voyages, Navigantium atque itinerantium bibliotheca, 2 vols., 1705.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Church Life
Secondary: Patronage, Schoolmastering, Publishing
Vicar of Icklesham, Sussex, 1690.
Rector of Winchelsea St. Thomas, 1690.
A prebend in the Cathedral of Rochester, 1707.
Perpetual Curate of Stood, Kent, 1711 (apparently an aspect of the prebend).
Rector of St. Mildred, Bread Street, and St. Margaret (London), 1708.
Rector of Landwei Velfrey, Pembroke, 1711-19.
Rector of East Barming, Kent, 1715.
It is not clear how many of these were plural appointments, but clearly quite a few were.
Harris was Chaplain to Sir William Cowper, later Lord Cowper, Keeper of the Great Seal; Cowper was responsible at least for the benefice of St. Mildred and St. Margaret and for the prebendary stall at Rochester, and I suspect much else.
Harris gave lectures on mathematics at the Marine Coffee House and taught mathematics in his home, 1698-1704. The lectures at the coffee house were free, but they were established by Charles Cox, M.P., and we may be sure that Harris' services were not offered gratis.
In the first age when it was seriously possible, Harris also published for profit. His Lexicon was published by subscription (then a new device); in vol. 2, 1200 subscribers were listed.
8. Patronage
Types: Court Official, Aristrocrat, Eccesiastic Official, Gentry
Dedicated vol. 1 of the Lexicon, 1704, to Prince George.
Sir William Cowper, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, presented him to the united parishes of St. Mildred, Bread Street, and St. Margaret, London. Cowper also arranged the prebend in the Cathedral of Rochester for him in 1607. To him Harris dedicated the second volume of the Lexicon. From what I have seen, it appears proper to list Cowper in his role as aristocrat rather than governmental official.
Entered on the cure of the parish of Winchelsea, adjacent to Icklesham, by the special order of Bishop of Chichester.
He dedicated Astronomical Dialogues, 1719, to Lady Cairnes.
Harris was improvident. Despite all that patronage, he was destitute in his final years and was helped by the benefaction of John Godfrey, Esq. of Norton Court, Kent, in whose home he died. (Note that Godfrey later patronized Stephen Gray.)
9. Technological Involvement
Type: None
Harris' History of Kent contained maps, and at one point I had listed Cartography. Gough is quite explicit that the book is wholly derivative and not very good at that. Certainly I never saw any reference to his doing any cartography.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
Informal Connections: Relationship with Stephen Hunt, 1680s. Became a scientific controversialist defending John Woodward against the attack of a certain L.P.
Royal Society, 1696-1719; Council (though I do not have the years); Second Secretary, 1709; Vice-President, a short time.
  1. Thomas Hearne, Remarks and Collections, 7, (Oxford, 1906), p. 46.
  2. H.E.D. Blakiston, Trinity College (Oxford), (London, 1898), p. 172.
  3. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 9, 13-14. Joseph Foster, Alumni oxonienses, 2, 657.
  4. Douglas McKie, "John Harris and his Lexicon technicum," Endeavour, 4, 53-7.
  5. Richard Gough, British Topography, 4 vols. (London, 1780), 2, 445.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

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1995 Al Van Helden
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