Frederic Harrison

Frederic Harrison

Frederic Harrison (October 18, 1831–January 14, 1923) was a British jurist and historian.

He was born in London although members of his family (originally Leicestershire yeomen) had been lessees of Sutton Place, Guildford, of which he wrote an interesting account ("Annals of an Old Manor House", 1893). He was educated at King's College London and Wadham College, Oxford, where, after taking a first-class in Literae Humaniores in 1853, he became fellow and tutor.

He was called to the bar in 1858, and, in addition to his practice in equity cases, soon began to distinguish himself as an effective contributor to the higher-class reviews. Two articles in the "Westminster Review", one on the Italian question, which procured him the special thanks of Cavour, the other on "Essays and Reviews", which had the probably undesigned effect of stimulating the attack on the book, attracted especial notice. A few years later Harrison worked at the codification of the law with Lord Westbury, of whom he contributed an interesting notice to Nash's biography of the chancellor. His special interest in legislation for the working classes led him to be placed upon the Trades Union Commission of 1867-1869; he was secretary to the commission for the digest of the law, 1869-1870; and was from 1877 to 1889 professor of jurisprudence and international law under the council of legal education.

A follower of the positive philosophy, but in conflict with Richard Congreve as to details, he led the Positivists who split off and founded Newton Hall in 1881, and he was president of the English Positivist Committee from 1880 to 1905; he was also editor and part author of the "Positivist New Calendar of great Men" (1892), and wrote much on Comte and Positivism.

Of his separate publications, the most important are his lives of Cromwell (1888), William the Silent, (1897), Ruskin (1902), and Chatham (1905); his "Meaning of History" (1862; enlarged 1894) and "Byzantine History in the Early Middle Ages" (1900); and his essays on "Early Victorian Literature" (1896) and "The Choice of Books" (1886) are remarkable alike for generous admiration and good sense. In 1904 he published a "romantic monograph" of the 10th century, "Theophano", and in 1906 a verse tragedy, "Nicephorus".

An advanced and vehement Radical in politics and Progressive in municipal affairs, Harrison in 1886 stood unsuccessfully for Parliament against Sir John Lubbock for the University of London. In 1889 he was elected an alderman of the London County Council, but resigned in 1893. In 1870 he married Ethel Berta, daughter of William Harrison, by whom he had four sons. George Gissing, the novelist, was at one time their tutor; and in 1905 Harrison wrote a preface to Gissing's "Veranilda".

As a religious teacher, literary critic, historian and jurist, Harrison took a prominent part in the life of his time, and his writings, though often violently controversial on political and social subjects, and in their judgment and historical perspective characterized by a modern Radical point of view, are those of an accomplished scholar, and of one whose wide knowledge of literature was combined with independence of thought and admirable vigour of style. In 1907 he published "The Creed of a Layman", "Apologia pro fide mea", in explanation of his religious position.

One of his sons lost his life in World War I. Later works include "Autobiographic Memoirs" (1911); "The Positive Evolution of Religion" (1912); "The German Peril" (1915); "On Society" (1918); "Jurisprudence and Conflict of Nations" (1919); "Obiter Scripta" (1919); "Novissima Verba" (1920).

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