THOMAS BROWN, of facetious memory, as Mr. Addison says of him, was the son of a considerable farmer of Shiffnal in Shropshire, and educated at Newport-school in that county; from whence he was removed to Christ-church in Oxford, where he soon distinguished himself by his uncommon attainments in literature. He had great parts and quickness of apprehension, nor does it appear that he was wanting in application; for we are told, that he was very well skilled in the Latin, Greek, French, Italian, and Spanish languages, even before he was sent to Oxford. The irregularities of his life did not suffer him however to continue long at the university; but when obliged to quit it, instead of returning home to his father, he formed a scheme of going to London, in hopes of making his fortune some way or other there. This scheme did not answer. He was very soon in danger of starving; upon which he made interest to be schoolmaster of Kingston upon Thames, in which pursuit he succeeded. But this was a profession very unsuitable to a man of Mr. Brown's turn, and a situation that must needs have been extremely disagreeable to him; and therefore we cannot wonder, that he soon quitted his school, and went again to London; where finding his old companions more delighted with his humour, than ready to relieve his necessities, he had recourse to his pen, and became an author, and partly a libeller, by profession. He published a great variety of pieces, under the names of dialogues, letters, poems, &c. in all which be discovered no small erudition, and a vast and exuberant vein of humour: for he was in his writings, as in his conversation, always lively and facetious. In the mean time he made no other advantage of these productions, than what he derived from the booksellers; for though they raised his reputation, and made his company sought after, yet as he possessed less of the gentleman than wits usually do, and more of the scholar, so he was not apt to choose his acquaintance by interest, but was more solicitous to be recommended to the ingenious who might admire, than to the great who might relieve him. An anonymous author, who has given the world some account of Mr. Brown, says, that though a good-natured man, he had one pernicious quality, which was, rather to lose his friend than his joke. He had a particular genius for satire, and dealt it out liberally whenever he could find occasion. He is famed for being the author of a libel, fixed one Sunday morning on the doors of Westminster-abbey; and of many others against the clergy and quality. He used to treat religion very lightly, and would often say, that he understood the world better, than to have the imputation of righteousness laid to his charge, yet, upon the approach of death, his heart misgave him, as if all was not right within, and he began to express sentiments of remorse for his past life.
Towards the latter end of Brown's life, we are informed by Mr. Jacob, that he was in favour with the earl of Dorset, who invited him to dinner on a Christmas-day, with Dryden, and some other men of genius; when Brown, to his agreeable surprise, found a bank note of £50 under his plate; and Dryden at the same time was presented with another of £100. Brown died in 1704, and was interred in the cloister of Westminster-abbey, near the remains of Mrs. Behn, with whom he was intimate in his life-time. His whole works were printed in 1707, consisting of dialogues, essays, declamations, satires, letters from the dead to the living, translations, amusements, &c. in 4 vols. Much humour and not a little learning are, as we have already observed, scattered every where throughout them, but they are totally destitute of delicacy, and have not been reprinted for many years. Dr. Johnson, in his Life of Dryden, very justly says that "Brown was not a man deficient in literature, nor destitute of fancy; but he seems to have thought it the pinnacle of excellence to be a 'merry fellow'; and therefore laid out his powers upon small jests or gross buffoonery, so that his performances have little intrinsic value, and were read only while they were recommended by the novelty of the event that occasioned them. What sense or knowledge his works contain is disgraced by the garb in which it is exhibited."