Harris, Walter (1686-1761) (DNB00)

HARRIS, WALTER (1686–1761), Irish historiographer, born in 1686, was son of Hopton Harris of Mountmellick in Queen's County, Ireland, who served as a lieutenant of the Williamite militia in the Irish wars of 1690–1. Walter Harris entered Kilkenny school in 1701, was admitted in 1704 to Trinity College, Dublin, where he obtained a scholarship in 1707, but was soon after expelled for having joined with other students in a disturbance; afterwards, in 1753, he received the honorary degree of doctor of laws. He was called to the bar in 1713, and in November 1716 married Elizabeth, daughter of the Rev. Thomas Waye of Killree, co. Kilkenny. She died in the following month, and Harris subsequently married Elizabeth Ware, a great-grandchild of Sir James Ware. From this connection appears to have originated the design, which occupied him for many years, of publishing an English edition of the Latin works of Sir James Ware relating to Ireland. In 1748 Harris received a pension of 100l. from the Irish government to enable him to continue his historical researches; in 1755 he presented a petition to the House of Commons at Dublin, praying for assistance to enable him to publish a history of Ireland. The parliamentary committee on the petition reported that the publication of Harris's collection of materials for the history of Ireland would be highly serviceable to the public, and that the cost of printing 750 copies would amount to a sum not exceeding 2,660l. The scheme was not carried out, but Harris's transcripts were subsequently purchased by parliament, and given into the custody of the Dublin Society. Harris died at Dublin on 26 July 1761. He was appointed vicar-general of the protestant bishop of Meath in 1753.

Before Harris began his labours on Ware's Latin works, some of them had appeared in an inaccurate English translation in London in 1705. Harris issued, in 1739, a folio volume illustrated with engravings and entitled ‘The whole works of Sir James Ware concerning Ireland, revised and improved. Volume I., containing the history of the bishops of that kingdom, and such matters, ecclesiastical and civil, in which they were concerned, from the first propagation of Christianity therein to the present time.’ Harris not only translated Ware's account of the bishops, but enlarged it and continued it in the protestant succession to 1739. The first part of the second volume of Harris's edition of Ware's works appeared in 1745. It contained a revised and enlarged version in English of Ware's treatise, ‘De Hibernia et antiquitatibus ejus.’ The second part of the second volume was published in 1746 with the title, ‘The writers of Ireland. In two books. I. Of such writers who were born in Ireland. II. Of such writers who, though foreigners, enjoyed preferments or offices in Ireland, or had their education in it.’ Harris stated that he had made ‘many material additions to the original work,’ continuing it ‘down to the beginning of the present century.’ Harris's contribution is mainly compiled from printed books. His treatment of writers in the Irish language is throughout defective and inaccurate. Lists of religious treatises and sermons fill many pages. The latest writer mentioned is Jonathan Swift. The unsold copies of Harris's edition of Ware's writings were reissued at Dublin with new title-pages in 1764.

Harris's other works, all published in Dublin, were:

  1. ‘Historiographorum aliorumque scriptorum Hiberniæ commentarium, or a history of the Irish writers,’ Dublin, 1736, 8vo.
  2. ‘Hibernica, or some ancient pieces relating to the history of Ireland,’ 1747, folio; with ‘An essay on the defects in the histories of Ireland, and remedies proposed for the amendment and reformation thereof,’ addressed to Baron Newport, chancellor of Ireland. In this Harris mentions the materials existing, so far as he knew, for a history of Ireland, and states that he had transcribed numerous documents on the subject. A second part of the ‘Hibernica’ appeared in 1750. A third part was prepared for the press, but never published. The manuscript now belongs to the writer of the present article. The two published parts were reprinted together in 1770, Dublin, 1 vol. 8vo.
  3. A ‘History of William III,’ printed anonymously, Dublin, 1747, 4 vols. Harris complained that this work had been issued, contrary to his wishes, in a curtailed form by the bookseller, who had undertaken the cost of its publication. Harris accordingly published in 1749 his unabridged history of the life and reign of William III, fol., dedicated to the earl of Harrington, then lord-lieutenant of Ireland, and illustrated with engravings.
  4. ‘Fiction unmasked, or an answer to a Dialogue lately published by a Popish physician. … In a dialogue between a Protestant and a Papist,’ 1752, 8vo; a polemical tract intended to controvert statements printed by Dr. John Curry and other writers on the movements of the Irish in 1641.

In 1744 Harris helped the Physico-Historical Society of Dublin to produce ‘The ancient and present state of the county of Down,’ 8vo. Some imperfect and inaccurate papers left by Harris came into the possession of a Dublin book-dealer, who, in 1766, printed them with the title of the ‘History and Antiquities of the City of Dublin’ (also London, 1766). Much of this work was reprinted, without acknowledgment and with additional errors, in ‘A History of the City of Dublin,’ by Whitelaw and Walsh, London, 1818.

[Manuscripts in relation to W. Harris in the possession of the writer of this article; Manuscripts of Kilkenny College, Hon. Society of King's Inns, Dublin, and Royal Dublin Society; Journals of House of Commons in Ireland, vol. v.; Faulkner's Dublin Journal, 1739–61; Review of the Civil Wars in Ireland, 1786; Reports of Irish Record Commission, 1810; Bibliotheca MSS. Stowensis, 1818; Hist. MSS. Comm. 8th Rep. 1881; Calendar of Ancient Records of the City of Dublin, 1889.]

J. T. G.