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 writerʼs 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, which would push his birth year back to ca. 1792 (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. His tales began appearing in 1827 at the latest, when the Monthly Review highlighted his “name . . . as new to us”, characterizing his style as “unaffected and graceful” and “his subject, as well as his mode of treating it”, as reminiscent of “that most bewitching of all village annalists, Miss Mitford” (Mary Russell Mitford [1787–1855]) (Unsigned review of Friendshipʼs Offering [1827], 90). 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), referring apparently to the Crown Life Assurance Company. This firm existed from the early 1830s at New Bridge Street, Blackfriars in the City of London. (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 Ruskin 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 Jamesʼs 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 Ruskinsʼ pretensions and did not object to taking a gentlemanly form of remuneration for his services.
According to his memoir, Harrison traced his first encounter with a famous author to hearing S. T. Coleridge (ca.1772–1834), in lectures that can be dated 1812–13, when Harrison would have been around twenty years old. “He was giving a series of lectures on the belles lettres in a large room on the first floor of a sixth‐rate 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 [or Leverian] Museum [i.e., the Blackfriars Rotunda], on the Surrey side of Blackfriars Bridge” (Harrison, “Notes and Reminiscences” [May 1878] 537, 538).
Harrison was also personally acquainted with artists, connections that long pre‐existed his association with the Ruskins. He claimed that his friendship with the genre painter William Etty (ca. 1787–1849) reached back to their teens: “When I first knew Etty he was a pupil of Sir Thomas Lawrence” (i.e., ca. 1807) (Harrison, “Notes and Reminiscences” [May 1878] 538). Harrison also knew the architectural painter and printmaker David Roberts (1796–1864), with whom he shared contributions to Jenningsʼs Landscape Annual.
Roberts illustrated the Jenningsʼs volumes for 1835–38, based on his sketching excursion to Spain in 1832–33. Robertsʼs series of annuals picturing Iberia formed a “monumental transcription of picturesque Spain” in the growing early‐Victorian “visual archive” representing the Romantic‐era journey to the peninsula, which shifted perceptions from British “Enlightenment dismissals of Spain as the antithesis of all rationalist ideas and practices to an enthusiastic ‘hispanophilia’”. The letterpress for these volumes was written by Thomas Roscoe (ca. 1791–1871), who drew on published sources but also on his personal observations made during an 1835 journey, which retraced Robertsʼs earlier itinerary through the country (Saglia, “Imag(in)ing Iberia”, 127, 126, 123, 130). Harrison provided letterpress for the follow‐up annual for 1839, featuring scenes in Portugal, on which he collaborated with the artist James Holland (ca. 1799–1870). It is not clear whether Harrison visited Iberia for the purpose. In the preface, he noncommittally cites “materials collected during a recent visit”; and Ruskin later intimated that his old friend never left England. The annualʼs narrative is stiffly patched together from historical sources and a travel record of mundane encounters with fleas, dirt, and stubborn servants (Harrison, Tourist in Portugal, vi; and see “My First Editor”, in Ruskin, Works, 34:100–101). Since Harrison undertook writing about Portugal only a few years after taking over editorship of Friendshipʼs Offering, one can reasonably speculate that he collected useful information from John James Ruskin, the father of his precocious contributor, J.R., and the traveling partner of a firm that imported Portuguese sherry.
Subsequently, Portugal became something of a specialty of Harrisonʼs, supplying the setting for other tales and poems in the annuals, such as .
The reticence of Harrisonʼs “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—in his introduction to these sketches, “My First Editor: An Autobiographical Reminiscence”. Harrison, for his part, appears to have deemed reflection on his friendship and professional relation with the Ruskins to have been out of bounds for his memoir, with the possible exception of the section on Oxford. That portion reads like an unused travel sketch for the annuals, recounted by the narrator of his 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 world‐wide fame. It was published without the name of the author, and I dare not add it”—and he quotes Ruskinʼs “Christ Church, Oxford (Harrison, “Notes and Reminiscences” [August 1878], 223). The mixture of anxiety and nostalgia speaks worlds without giving much away.
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