W. H. Harrison (ca. 1792–1878)
Harrison served as a copyeditor and what we would now call a production editor for Ruskinʼs publications throughout much of the writer's public life. Harrisonʼs birth year is given in the Poetess Archive as 1795, but Harrison himself in a 20 November 1873 letter to John Ruskin mentions his age as eighty‐one (John James Ruskin, Letters to W. H. Harrison). In the year of Harrisonʼs death, his fragmentary memoir, “Notes and Reminiscences”, was published in the Dublin University Magazine, for which Ruskin wrote a preface, entitled “My First Editor: An Autobiographical Reminiscence” (reprinted in On the Old Road [1885], Works, 34:91–104).
In the early years of his association with the Ruskins, Harrison was both an editor of and a contributor to literary annuals. In 1835–36, he succeeded Thomas Pringle (1789–1834) and Henry D. Inglis (1795–1835) as editor of Friendshipʼs Offering . Harrison did not rely on writing and editing as his primary income. In his “Notes and Reminiscences”, he mentions holding positions in connection with banking houses; and Ruskin, in “My First Editor”, seats him at a “desk in the Crown Life Office” (Ruskin, Works , 34:99). He refers apparently to the Crown Life Assurance Company, which existed from at least the early 1830s at New Bridge Street, Blackfriars. (In 1856–58, the building was handsomely remodeled in Venetian Gothic by Deane and Woodward [OʼDwyer, Architecture of Deane and Woodward, 311–16].) As their home residence, the Harrisons lived nearby the Ruskins in the suburb of Camberwell, but Hilton believes that, though Harrison often dined at Herne Hill and later Denmark Hill, "the Ruskins did not call at his small, poor home" (John Ruskin: The Later Years, 217). John James typically addressed Harrison at his Crown Life office to discuss editorial business.
When the Ruskins first became acquainted with Harrison (presumably when he took over editorship of Friendshipʼs Offering), he would have been able to regale them with reports of conversation with such relics of Regency literary society as William Beckford (ca. 1760–1844) as well as with influential literary men of the day, such as the editor William Jerdan (ca. 1782–1869) and the author and clergyman George Croly (ca. 1780–1860). Harrisonʼs piquant recollections of famous writersʼ appearance, haunts, and conversation suggest a man of humor and observation, and a frequenter of convivial and benevolent institutions such as the Literary Fund Club. Harrison, then, was a respectable City man with minor literary and artistic connections, who for that reason would have appealed to John James Ruskin, and who shared John James's ultra-Tory opinions about the supremacy of the British church and state as a bulwark against Roman Catholicism. Harrison was also, one suspects, obsequious to the Ruskins' pretensions and did not object to taking a gentlemanly form of remuneration for his services.
According to his reminiscences, Harrison traced his first encounter with a famous author to hearing S. T. Coleridge (ca.1772–1834), in lectures that can be dated , when Harrison would have been years old. “He was giving a series of lectures on the Belles Lettres in a large room on the first floor of a sixthߚrate tavern at the end of a blind alley on the right hand side of Fetter Lane, not far from Fleet Street. . . . I heard Coleridge lecture the same winter at the Surrey Institution, formerly the Leverean Museum, on the Surrey side of Blackfriars Bridge” (Harrison, “Notes and Reminiscences” [May 1878] 537, 538). These lectures . Harrison was also personally acquainted with artists, even prior to his association with the Ruskins. His association with William Etty (ca. 1787–1849) reached back to , “When I first knew Etty he was a pupil of Sir Thomas Lawrence” (Harrison, “Notes and Reminiscences” [May 1878] 538). This was . Where are the JJR/WHH letters mentioned in Viljoen, Ruskinʼs Backgrounds? Says 50 letters, 1857–63 and he mentions inviting Ruskin as “a very young man” to dine at his house with artists such as David Roberts (1796–1864) (Harrison, “Notes and Reminiscences” [May 1838] p. 538, [June 1878] pp. 701–2).
Harrison knew Roberts from their common association with Jennings Landscape Annual , but they did not collaborate on Robertsʼs important work for that publication based on his Spanish excursion of 1832–33. The letterpress for those volumes of – was written by Thomas Roscoe (ca. 1791–1871). Instead, for the volume of 1839, Harrison collaborated with the artist James Holland (ca. 1799–1870) on depictions of Portugal, the logical followߚup on the successful Spanish volumes (see Saglia, “Imag(in)ing Iberia”). Surely it is no accident that Harrisonʼs writing about Portugal for this important landscape annual fell so close in time to his first introduction to his Camberwell neighbors, the partner in a firm importing sherry from the vineyards of Pedro Domecq .
Subsequently, Portugal became something of a specialty of Harrisonʼs, supplying the setting for other tales and poems in the annuals, such as . Harrison is selfߚconsciously a writer of “light literature,” however, and, for him, a “specialty” necessarily reflected a cultural phenomenon—in this case, the appeal of the Iberian peninsula to the late Romantic and early Victorian imagination, owing to Spainʼs occupation and looting by Napoleon and subsequent liberation, along with subsequent visits by Roberts and David Wilkie figuring in prominence of . It is not known that Harrison ever visited this country— Ruskin intimates that his old friend had never left England (Ruskin, Works )—and it seems likely that Harrison worked in the fashion of many writers for the ephemeral travel literature of the day, culling and synthesizing information available in the vast outpouring of volumes published by travelers to exotic places. This approach is significant as it provides some basis for speculating about the manner of conversation between Harrison and John James Ruskin, who did possibly travel to Portugal prior to his marriage , and who was a partner with the Portuguese vintner Pedro Domecq .
The reticence of Harrison, “Notes and Reminiscences,” in which he mentions the Ruskins only in passing, perhaps played a part in Ruskinʼs crafting of the much more delicately balanced rhetoric—poised between nostalgic admiration and critical satire—of his introduction to these sketches, “My First Editor: An Autobiographical Reminiscence” (Ruskin, Works , 34:93–104). For his part, Harrison appears to have deemed reflection on his friendship and professional relation with the Ruskins as out of bounds for his “Reminiscences,” with the possible exception of the section on Oxford. That recollection reads like an unused travel sketch for the annuals, recounted by the narrator of his other tales and sketches—genial, ironic, given to rhetorical flourish. The sketch concludes by opening a window only slightly on the relationship he developed with the “Graduate of Oxford”: “As in athletics, so in intellectual contests, life is often the price of the prize. Here is a poem from the pen of an undergraduate, who has since achieved a worldߚwide fame. It was published without the name of the author, and I dare not add it”—and he quotes “Christ Church, Oxford” ([August 1878] p. 223). The mixture of anxiety and nostalgia speaks worlds without giving much away.
. In later years, WHH approved of JRʼs denunciations of liberalism: tone in which you have lately been dealing with grave subjects has given me more pleasure than I can express. You have thrown the Bible at the heads of public & private sinners with a surer aim, and a greater force than half the theologians of the day are displaying And you donʼt—like some of them—deal in“nonnatural senses” which is the greatest bosh in the world. No sentence should have two meanings. Tennysonʼs have one his own and the other his readerʼs but then he is a great genius.