WILLIAM BROWNE was the son of a gentleman of Tavistock, in Devonshire. He was educated at Oxford, and went from thence to the Inner Temple, but devoted himself chiefly to poetry. In his twenty-third year he published the first part of Britannia's Pastorals, prefaced by poetical eulogies, which evince his having been, at that early period of life, the friend and favourite of Selden and Drayton. To these testimonies he afterwards added that of Ben Jonson. In the following year he published the Shepherd's Pipe, of which the fourth eclogue is often said to be the precursor to Milton's Lycidas. A single simile about a rose constitutes all the resemblance! In 1616 he published the second part of his Britannia's Pastorals. His Masque of the Inner Temple was never printed, till Dr. Farmer transcribed it from a MS. of the Bodleian library, for Thomas Davies's edition of Browne's works, more than 120 years after the author's death.
He seems to have taken his leave of the Muses about the prime of his life, and returned to Oxford, in the capacity of tutor to Robert Dormer, Earl of Caernarvon, who fell in the battle of Newbury, 1643. After leaving the university with that nobleman, he found a liberal patron in William, Earl of Pembroke, whose character, like that of Caernarvon, still lives among the warmly coloured and minutely touched portraits of Lord Clarendon. The poet lived in Lord Pembroke's family; and, according to Wood, grew rich in his employment. But the particulars of his history are very imperfectly known, and his verses deal too little with the business of life to throw much light upon his circumstances. His poetry is not without beauty; but it is the beauty of mere landscape and allegory, without the manners that constitute human interest.