H J Harris (b.1903): Habits, Cultures and Beliefs

 ‘One thing that makes me difficult to get along with is that I am prone to use words not in common use among those I associate with.  I have no way of making myself understood and the “tone” of is voices is quaintly pitched for every day speech and conversation’. (Harris 03/05/78)

Although HJ was born into a working class background he had a high standard of education which was supposed to help him succeed in his life.  However, as we have learnt HJ felt uncomfortable in society, feeling unable to communicate effectively due to his inability to understand what people meant when they spoke to him.

As a child HJ’s recreational habits had to fit in to his day, not by choice but by habit and control.  His every waking minute was controlled and timed to a perfect regime with prayers, chores and school work.

swimming

As well as weekly walks the children used to go swimming in the orphanage own swimming pool as well as visiting the local pool in Kingdown,

 ‘We went to Kingdown Swimming Baths to show off our abilities in Resuscitating the Apparently Drowned, and giving examples of how we could rescue a person in difficulty while in deep water (Harris 17/10/83).

Although his childhood was heavily based around religion he does not seem to have kept the belief and when talking of religion in his letters, he does so in a mocking tone.

‘I weighed it up thus; if anyone can give any account of ATTITUDES and MODES of thought if th 7th. Edwardian and early 5th. Georgian days, they would now either be in heaven, singing Hallelujahs to their King , or stoking up for Lucifer, for eternity (According to whom they served during their sojourn in life). (Harris 30/05/78)

As HJ reminisces about his childhood and despite being at an orphanage he realises that he had quite a lot to be grateful for.

‘So different to today’s children who are perhaps spoilt by having their every need supplied to saturation.  I often think, a little hardship might make them more appreciative of the things that society has put into their lap, and without even deserving it, too!’ (Harris 20/03/79)

In his letters HJ also mentions poverty he witnessed during his childhood

‘We saw lots of pale children about. Dirty and unkempt, maybe they all wore black socks, or did their bodies require scrubbing’. (Harris 18/06/78) 

HJ’s tone in his letters when comparing the poverty of today with the poverty of his time is angry and bitter.

‘Poverty was really appalling, scraggy children with nothing on their feet.  You can look at all the Oxfam pictures and adverts, such was common in the early years of this century IN ENGLAND! I’ve seen it!’  (Harris 30/01/84)

He is well-read and has obviously taken time to educate himself.  He was a listener of BBC Radio 4 station and has made an effort to learn about developments in psychiatry in particular the work of Freud and Jung.  Perhaps taking a keen interest in psychology because he has experienced mental institutions and has experience the treatment that was around in those days.

HJ does say,

‘I regret there would be no happy ending, and things did not work out right in the end, as so many stories of adversity do’. (Harris 18/04/15)

But I think he was more successful than he appreciated.  He eventually held a good job and bought his own house and indeed states,

‘Today, I can truthfully say I am better off (on Social Security) than ever I’ve been in any other part of my life’. (Harris 03/05/78)

HJ considers modern society to be wasteful and taking for granted everything they have,

‘We had quite a lot to be grateful for. (So different to ;today’s children’ who are perhaps spoilt by having their every need supplied to saturation.  I often think a little hardship might make them more appreciative of the things that society has put into their lap.  And without even deserving it, too!’ (Harris, 20/03/79)

‘There was no social security and nobody cared; we lived on a shoestring and there was no room for waste in ANY direction’.(Harris,

Bibliography

Bailey, Peter. Leisure in Class in Victorian England: Rational Recreation and the Contest for Control, 1830-1885. Routledge, 2007

Burnett, J. Mayall. D. Vincent, D eds. The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated Critical Biography 3 vols. Brighton: Harvester, 1984, 1987, 1989.

Harris, H.J. Autobiographical letters 197801984, TS, pp.13 (c5,000 words). Brunel University Library

Vincent, David. Bread, Knowledge and Freedom: A Study of Nineteenth-Century Working-Class Autobiography. London: Methuen, 1981. [A brilliant survey of lives and writings of autobiographers]

 

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