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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Frederic Harrison (1831–1923)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
FREDERIC HARRISON is a man of striking personality, whose activity has been varied. He is a brilliant essay-writer and controversialist, whose literary work is full of life and savor. He is a student and writer of history, especially in its modern and socialistic aspects. And he is a thinker who, in England, is the most stalwart champion of the Positivist philosophy of Comte.  1
  He has himself told the story of his education and early life. Born in London, October 18th, 1831, of good family, with both English and Irish blood in his veins, he went to King’s College School, and then to Oxford, where he was a scholar at Wadham College and displayed a talent for the classics. His student days fell from 1848 to 1852; a time when instead of dealing with abstract themes in true sophomoric fashion, he was, as he says, absorbed in current affairs, “impressed with the tumultuous succession of events that surged across Europe.” He felt the complexity of modern society and desired to study it. His sympathy for the popular cause was deep, and grew deeper with the years. On being graduated, Mr. Harrison taught for some years in the Working-Men’s College, associated with such men as F. D. Maurice and Thomas Hughes. He also served on the Trades-Union Commission for three years. These positions brought him into touch with leading economists and humanitarians. Gradually the idea of teaching the principles of Positivism took possession of him; and having private fortune enough for independence, his chief aim for five-and-twenty years has been to do this work. This devotion to philosophic exposition leads him to disclaim any other profession. He asserts that he has never studied literature as an art, nor has he been a great reader, even in his historical studies, always preferring to talk with men and see things for the forming of an opinion. This trait and training give to Harrison’s writing an incisive vigor that is marked.  2
  By the time he was thirty-five, Mr. Harrison had come to an acceptance of the cardinal tenets of Comte: successively he was convinced of the truth of that French philosopher’s views on history, education, society, politics, philosophy, and religion. The English disciple preaches the brotherhood of man, the Divineness of humanity, the hope of that altruistic immortality desired by George Eliot, which comes from living in the lives of those made better by our presence. This modern faith, so sharply opposed to all supernatural religious conceptions, finds few followers, as he frankly confesses. But he defends and expounds it in all honesty, and is never more trenchant and individual than when writing about it. He was the champion of this Positivist faith against Herbert Spencer’s agnosticism in a series of articles which attracted wide attention when first published in the Nineteenth Century in 1884, and were afterwards published in book form. Later statements of his position are to be found in ‘The Creed of a Layman’ (1907) and ‘The Positive Evolution of Religion’ (1912).  3
  Mr. Harrison has translated Comte’s ‘Social Statics.’ In history his views are modern and liberal, while his style makes the expression of exceptional interest. Works in this field are:—‘The Meaning of History’ (1862), ‘Oliver Cromwell’ (1888), ‘Annals of an Old Manor-House’ (1893), ‘The Study of History’ (1895), ‘George Washington and other American Addresses’ (1901), and ‘Chatham’ (1905). Other books are ‘Order and Progress’ (1875), ‘The Choice of Books, and Other Literary Pieces’ (1886), ‘The Millenary of King Alfred’ (1897), ‘Ruskin, Mill, and Other Literary Estimates’ (1900), ‘Memories and Thoughts’ (1906), ‘Autobiographical Memoirs’ (1911), and ‘The German Peril’ (1915). The essay on ‘The Choice of Books’ has always been popular, and is distinguished by a fine culture, independence of judgment, good sense, and happy presentation.  4
 
 
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