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HARRIS, JOHN (b. Shropshire [?], England, ca.
1666; d. Norton Court, Kent, England, 7 September
1719), natural philosophy, dissemination of knowledge.
Harris, the son of Edward Harris, entered Trinity
College, Oxford, on 13 July 1683 as a scholar and
took his B.A. in 1686 and his M.A. (Hart Hall) in
1689. After leaving Oxford he took holy orders and
served as vicar of Icklesham, then as rector of
Winchilsea St. Thomas (1690), of St. Mildred (1708),
and of Landwei Velfrey, Pembroke (1711). He held
a prebend in the cathedral of Rochester (1707-1708),
became curate of Strood, Kent (1711), and held other
ecclesiastical posts. Harris' patron was Sir William
Cowper, to whom he was chaplain. He became a
fellow of the Royal Society in April 1696 and served
as second secretary of that organization in 1709. He
is reported to have received a B.D. from Cambridge
in 1699 and did receive a D.D. at Lambeth in 1706.
Harris showed an early interest in natural philosophy
and left a fragment of an autobiography which
gives a picture of life at Trinity under Ralph Bathurst
in the 1680's: “Lectures were here read in Experimental
Philosophy and Chymistry and a very tolerable
course of Mathematicks taught,” especially after
Harris took his first degree, for “then [Bathurst] gave
him leave to teach Mathematicks” (quoted in Blakiston,
Trinity College, p. 172). His tutor was Stephen
Hunt, a fellow of Trinity from 1681 to 1689.
The published works of Harris reflect both his
scientific and his theological interests. In 1698 he was
Boyle lecturer and delivered eight sermons designed
to confute the Hobbists and atheists and to demonstrate
the consonance of science and orthodox religion.
In 1697 he became a scientific controversialist,
defending John Woodward against the attacks of a
certain L. P.'s Two Essays Sent in a Letter From
Oxford to a Nobleman in London (1695). Harris
replied to L. P.'s alleged Hobbism in Remarks on
Some Late Papers Relating to the Universal Deluge
and to the Natural History of the Earth (1697).
During the period 1698-1704 Harris read scientific
lectures at the Marine Coffee House in Birchin Lane
and taught mathematics privately at his home. In
conjunction with these activities he published in 1703
his Description and Uses of the Celestial and Terrestrial
Globes and of Collins' Pocket Quadrant, which was
designed to supplement his public lectures. In 1719
he published Astronomical Dialogues Between a Gentleman
and a Lady, dedicated to Lady Cairnes, which,
by his own admission, were “in Imitation of those
of the excellent Mr. Fontenelle” (Astronomical Dialogues,
Harris' most famous work was the Lexicon technicum,
the first edition of which appeared in 1704.
This was the first general scientific encyclopedia, and
for it Harris drew upon some of the greatest authorities
of the day. In physics, astronomy, and mathematics
he turned to Newton; in botany he consulted