Harris, John (1820-1884) (DNB00)

HARRIS, JOHN (1820–1884), poet, eldest son of John Harris, miner and farmer, who died 23 April 1848, by his wife Christianna Smith, was born at Six Chimneys Cottage, Bolennowe Hill, Camborne, Cornwall, 14 Oct, 1820. The only education he received was at some small local schools; at nine years of age he worked on a farm with an uncle, and was next employed in tin streaming. When aged ten he was engaged at Dolcoath mine, near Camborne, dressing copper ore. In his leisure time he managed to improve his education, and commenced making verses. At the age of twelve he went underground in Dolcoath mine with his father. A dirge by him on the death of some men who were killed in Cam Brea mine was printed and sung by a blind man in the streets of Camborne. Hugh Rogers, rector of Camborne, and others lent him books, by which he gradually acquired a knowledge of English poetic literature. In 1844 he had become a ‘tributor’ in Dolcouth mine, and managed to save 200l., with a portion of which he built a house with his own hands in his spare time. In the following year he married Jane, daughter of James Rule of Troon, by whom he had several children. By the interest of George Smith, LL.D. [q. v.], of Trevu, Harris's first volume of poems, entitled ‘Lays from the Mine, the Moor, and the Mountain,’ was printed by subscription in 1853, and reached a second edition in 1856. By the kindness of Mr. Edward Bastin he was enabled to give up working as a miner, and received in August 1857 a small appointment as scripture reader in Falmouth. He had long been a local preacher among the Wesleyans. From this time he issued a volume nearly every year. In 1864 he competed for the Shakespeare tercentenary poem, and obtained the first prize. His poetry, much of which is narrative, is natural and melodiously rhymed, and has been popular in Cornwall. Fifty pounds was granted him from the Royal Literary Fund in 1872 and again in 1876, while Lord Beaconsfield in 1877, and Mr. Gladstone in 1881, each secured him 200l. from the Royal Bounty Fund. The only time he was ever out of his native country was in 1864, when he made a journey to Stratford-on-Avon. He was struck with paralysis 14 April 1878, died at Killigrew Terrace, Falmouth, 7 Jan. 1884, and was buried at Treslothan on 10 Jan. His wife, who was born at Troon, Camborne, 24 Nov. 1821, still survives. A son, John Alfred Harris, born at Falmouth 17 Feb. 1860, a wood engraver, working in a recumbent position owing to a spinal affection, illustrated many of his father's writings and other works.

Besides the works named Harris wrote: ‘The Land's End and other Poems,’ 1859; ‘The Mountain Prophet,’ 1860; ‘A Story of Carn Brea,’ 1863; ‘Shakespeare's Shrine,’ 1866; ‘Luda, a Lay of the Druids,’ 1868; `Bulo, Reuben Ross,’ &c., 1871; ‘Wayside Pictures,’ 1874; ‘Walks with the Wild Flowers,’ 1875; ‘Tales and other Poems,’ 1877; ‘The Two Giants,’ 1878; ‘Monro,’ 1879; and 'My Autobiography,’ 1882. He also wrote twenty-four tracts entitled ‘Peace Pages for the People,’ contributed to ‘The Band of Hope,’ ‘The Family Friend,’ and other periodicals, or for the Leominster Tract Association and the Religious Tract Society.

[John Harris, the Cornish Poet, by his son, John Howard Harris, 1834; My Autobiography, by John Harris. 1882, with portrait; Boase and Conrtney's Bibliotheca Cornubiensis, pp. 208-9, 1217-18; Boase's Collectanea Cornubiensia, p. 321.]

G. C. B.