James Harris

(24 July 1709 - 22 December 1780)
James Harris (1709-1780)

© National Portrait Gallery, London

James Harris (1709-1780)

Works in ECPA

alphabetical listing / listing in source editions

Source editions

  • Dodsley, Robert, 1703-1764. A Collection of Poems in Six Volumes. By Several Hands. Vol. V. London: printed by J. Hughs, for R. and J. Dodsley, 1763 [1st ed. 1758]. 6v.: music; 8⁰. (ESTC T131163; OTA K104099.005)

Biographical note

James Harris, nephew of the philosopher the Earl of Shaftesbury, was born in Salisbury in 1709 to wealthy parents. He was educated at Salisbury Grammar School and in 1726 matriculated at Wadham College, Oxford, but he did not take a degree. In 1729 he entered Lincoln's Inn, but when he inherited the family estate in 1731, he devoted himself to the private study of the classics, music, and antiquarian studies. He was an admirer and later collaborator of the composer Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759). He was also a lifelong friend of Henry Fielding and of his sister Sarah Fielding, whose work he supported. He was also an early supporter of Hester Lynch Thrale (1741-1821). Harris' most famous work is his Hermes; or, A Philosophical Inquiry Concerning Language and Universal Grammar (1751). He later became an MP for Christchurch, Hampshire, and held minor posts at court. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1763. In 1775, Harris published Philosophical Arrangements (1775), and his Philological Inquiries were published posthumously in 1781. Harris was a well-known and respected figure in London's literary and philosophical circles. Charles and Frances Burney became close friends in his later years.


DMI 5393; ODNB 12393; NCBEL 42, 1886


  • Probyn, Clive T. The Sociable Humanist: The Life and Works of James Harris 1709-1780. Oxford; New York: Oxford UP, 1991. Print.

Reference works

  • Baines, Paul, Julian Ferraro, Pat Rogers, eds. The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Eighteenth-Century Writers and Writing, 1660-1789. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. 166-167. Print.
  • Radcliffe, David H., ed. James Harris (1709-1780). Spenser and the Tradition: ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830. Center for Applied Technologies in the Humanities, Virginia Tech, 2006. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. https://web.archive.org/web/20170908014740/http://spenserians.cath.vt.edu/AuthorRecord.php?recordid=1187.
  • Suarez, Michael F. Harris, James. A Collection of Poems by Several Hands [1782]. Ed. Robert Dodsley and Michael F. Suarez. Vol. I. London: Routledge/Thoemmes, 1997. 161. Print. 6 volumes.