1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Harris

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:245.



JAMES HARRIS of Salisbury, a learned and benevolent man, published in 1744 treatises on art, on music and painting, and on happiness. He afterwards (1751) produced his celebrated work, Hermes, or a Philosophical Inquiry concerning Universal Grammar. The definitions of Harris are considered arbitrary and often unnecessary, and his rules are complicated; but his profound acquaintance with Greek literature, and his general learning, supplying numerous illustrations, enabled him to produce a curious and valuable publication. Every writer on the history and philosophy of grammar must consult "Hermes." Unfortunately the study of the ancient dialects of the northern nations was little prevalent at the time of Mr. Harris, and to this cause (as was the case also with many of the etymological distinctions in Johnson's Dictionary) must be attributed some of his errors and the imperfections of his plan. Mr. Harris was a man of rank and fortune: he sat several years in parliament, and was successively a lord of the admiralty and lord of the treasury. In 1774 he was made secretary and comptroller to the queen, which he held till his death in 1780. His son, Lord Malmesbury, published in 1801, a complete edition of his works in two volumes quarto. Harris relates the following interesting anecdote of a Greek pilot, to show that even among the present Greeks, in the day of their servitude, the remembrance of their ancient glory is not extinct: — "When the late Mr. Anson (Lord Anson's brother) was upon his travels in the East, he hired a vessel to visit the Isle of Tenedos. His pilot, an old Greek, as they were sailing along, said with some satisfaction, 'There 'twas our fleet lay.' Mr. Anson demanded, 'What fleet?' 'What fleet!' replied the old man, a little piqued at the question, 'why, our Grecian fleet at the siege of Troy.'"