Moses Browne, who rose by his own merit from the humble occupation of a pen-cutter to the station of a respectable divine of the church of England, was born in 1704. Early in life he distinguished himself by his poetical talents; and when only twenty years of age published a tragedy and a farce, called Polidus, and All bedevilled. These were played together at a private theatre in St. Alban's street. He became afterwards a frequent contributor to the Gentleman's Magazine, and, as far as concerned the poetical part, was, for a long time, one of its chief supports.
Sir John Hawkins, in his Life of Dr. Johnson, says, he was a candidate for the fifty pounds prize, alluded to in the Doctor's first letter to Cave, as well as for the other prizes which Cave proposed for Poems on particular subjects; in all, or most of which compositions, he had the good fortune to succeed.
His Piscatory Eclogues, which were first published without his name, appeared in 1729: a second edition came out among his Poems, on various subjects, in octavo, 1739: and the third, in an extended form, by itself, accompanied with notes, in 1773.
For a long time, however, even after his abilities were known, he remained in poverty: being able to make little provision beyond the day that was passing over him. The following letter which he wrote to Dr. Birch, in 1745, who had before assisted his studies, will probably have some interest with the reader.
I am almost ashamed to presume on that very slender knowledge you may have of me by a few accidental interviews formerly at Mr. Caves, to ask any favour of you, but not having the least acquaintance with any gentleman of the Royal Society besides, I trouble you with a few enquiries I want to make, which will be a great kindness and obligation if you will please to inform me of, by a letter directed as beneath. My sight decaying pretty much, and rendering it somewhat difficult for me to provide as formerly for my family (I having a wife and seven children) I am wishing to know how I might apply for some little place that does not require all ones time, to help me with some little additional support.
I apprehend there must be something of messengers, door keepers, or whatever kind of officers they may be, belonging to the Society. If you will be so good as to inform me what their list is, what salary, and who must be applied to for a gift of this kind, it will be esteemed a very singular favour. I have no thoughts nor aim of becoming troublesome to you, farther than for your kind intelligence, and shall use no liberties with your name, unless you are pleased from your own good will to allow me any other encouragements or services which I have no pretensions nor boldness to ask of you. I am a subject of pity in my circumstances that I have so few, very few friends, but I entirely trust to that good Providence to support me, some way or other, thro' my remaining days, whose regards I have so kindly, beyond all my deserts, experienced hitherto.
I am, with great respect,
Sir, your most sincere and
Next the Barley Mow,
Feb. 15th, 1745."
In 1750 he edited Walton and Cotton's Angler, with a preface, notes, and some valuable additions; this was republished in 1759 and 1772; in the former year drawing him into a controversy with Sir John Hawkins, who happened to be then publishing an improved edition of the same work.
From his poems, as well as from the scattered observations in the Angler, he appears to have been always of a religious turn; and in 1752 he published, in verse, a series of devout Contemplations, entitled Sunday Thoughts. Doctor Johnson, we are told, who often expressed his dislike of religious poetry, and who, for the purpose of religious meditation, thought one day as proper as another, read them with cold approbation, and added that he had a great mind to write Monday Thoughts. They, however, went through a second edition in 1764, and a third in 1781.
In a letter to Dr. Birch, dated Dec. 8th, 1752, he mentions the advice of many of his friends, that he should endeavour to obtain orders. "A gentleman of Northampton, he says, wrote me word a few days since, that he had a promise of a living for me, if I would get ordained directly, and be down by the 30th of next month." Early in the following year his testimonials were signed by Dr. Birch, Mr. Nicholas Fayting, and Dr. John Groom of Childerdale in Essex; and soon after his ordination he was presented with the vicarage of Olney in Buckinghamshire, on the cession of Mr. Wolsey Johnson.
In 1754, he published a sermon, preached at Olney, on Christmas-day, entitled The Nativity and Humiliation of Jesus Christ, practically considered.
In 1755 he published a small quarto poem, entitled Percy Lodge, a seat of the Duke and Dutchess of Somerset, written by command of their late Graces, in the year 1749.
In what year he was presented to the vicarage of Sutton, in Lincolnshire, we are not informed by any of the writers who mention him: but in 1763 he was elected to the chaplainship of Morden College in Kent. In 1765, he published a Sermon, "preached to the Society for the Reformation of Manners;" and, a few years after, a Visitation Sermon, delivered at Stony Stratford.
Beside these pieces, Mr. Brown is said to have published one or two political tracts; and in 1772, a translation of a work by John Liborious Zimmerman, entitled The Excellency of the Knowledge of Jesus Christ. 12mo. Lond. He died at Morden College, Sept. 13, 1787, in his 84th year.