James Harris (grammarian)


James Harris (grammarian)

James Harris (July 20, 1709 – December 22, 1780), English grammarian, was born at Salisbury.

He was educated at the grammar school in the Close at Salibury, and at Wadham College, Oxford. On leaving the university he was entered at Lincoln's Inn as a student of law, though not intended for the bar. The death of his father in 1733 placed him in possession of an independent fortune and of the house in Salisbury Close.

He became a county magistrate, and was Member of Parliament for Christchurch from 1761 until his death, and was Comptroller to the Queen from 1774 to 1780. He held political office under George Grenville, retiring with him in 1765. The decided bent of his mind had always been towards the Greek and Latin classics; and to the study of these, especially of Aristotle, he applied himself with unremitting assiduity during a period of fourteen or fifteen years.

He published in 1744 "Three Treatises--on art; on music, painting and poetry; and on happiness". In 1751 appeared the work by which he became best known, "Hermes, a philosophical inquiry concerning universal grammar". He also published "Philosophical Arrangements" and "Philosophical Inquiries". Harris was a great lover of music and a friend of Handel and directed concerts and music festivals at Salisbury for nearly fifty years. He adapted the words for a selection from Italian and German composers (subsequently published by the cathedral organist, James Corfe) and wrote a number of Pastorals (pastiches of various - mostly Italian - works), one of which was produced by David Garrick at Drury Lane under the title "The Spring".

Harris is also known as a correspondent of fellow classicist Lord Monboddo, who disclosed in a 1772 letter [Letter from Lord Monboddo to James Harris, 31 December, 1772; reprinted by William Knight 1900 ISBN 1-85506-207-0] to Harris the possible first glimmerings of pre-evolutionary thought.

Harris's works were collected and published in 1801, by his son, the first earl of Malmesbury, who prefixed a brief biography. His papers are held by the Hampshire Record Office.

Line note references

Further reading

*"Music and Theatre in Handel's World: The Family Papers of James Harris 1732-1780", by Donald Burrows and Rosemary Dunhill, Oxford University Press, USA (March 29, 2002)

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