JOHN BROWN was a native of Rothbury in Northumberland and born November 5, 1715. His father, who was a clergyman, was a North Briton, and became vicar of Wigton, in Cumberland, the year of his son's birth. At the grammar-school of the last-named place, Brown was educated, and from thence removed to St John's college, Cambridge, where he took the degree of bachelor of arts, in 1735, with distinguished reputation.
Having taken orders, he was made a minor canon and lecturer of Carlisle; and on the defeat of the rebels in 1746, preached two excellent sermons on the connection between religious truth and civil freedom, &c.
Being a whig in principle, he obtained, through some friends of that party, the living of Morland, in Westmoreland; and was, on the same grounds, appointed chaplain to Dr. Osbaldeston, bishop of Carlisle.
During his residence at that city, he wrote his poem entitled, Honour, which was followed by the Essay on Satire, the most celebrated of all his poetical productions, and which still continues to be united with the Satires of Pope. It is written in many parts with an elegance, correctness, spirit, and harmony, which rival the best productions of that illustrious bard, whom he characterises with great justice, and in a splendid strain of panegyric.
In 1751, Brown published his Essays on the Characteristics of Shaftesbury, which were received with a high degree of applause, and ran through several editions. But the most popular of his prose compositions, was his Estimate of the Manners and Principles of the Times, of which seven editions were printed in little more than a year. It made its appearance in 1757, when the minds of the people were depressed with some unprosperous public events, and consequently were disposed to listen to unfavourable representations of the manners and principles of the nation. Its effect was visible: it roused the sensibility of the English, and they soon display'd their energies in every quarter of the globe.
Brown, who in due time took the degree of doctor in divinity, wrote several pieces for the stage. His Barbarossa and Athelstan were well received; and the former still keeps possession of the theatre.
About the time that Dr. Brown published his Estimate, which drew upon him an envious host of critics and opponents, he was presented to the vicarage of Newcastle upon Tyne, and made chaplain to the king. But he rose no higher; and this circumstance, added to other malifications and disappointments, increased the natural dejection of his spirits, and unhappily plunged him into suicide. He died in 1765, in the 51st year of his age leaving an elaborate work on the Principles of Christian Legislation almost ready for the press, but which has never seen the light.
As a poet, his compositions are chiefly characterised by elegance of diction, manliness of sentiment, facility of expression, and harmony of numbers. The design of his poem entitled Honour, is to show that true honour can only be found in virtue; and in support of so just a doctrine, he advances many excellent sentiments, delivered in elegant and accurate versification.
With respect to his prose writings, they are all of them elegant. Even those which are of a more temporary nature, may most of them continue to be read with pleasure, as containing a variety of curious observations; and others of his works, being calculated for a more lasting duration, will transmit his name with considerable reputation to future times; and even his unhappy end, when some previous circumstances of his life are considered, will cast no stain on his character. He had a tendency to insanity in his constitution, and from his early life had been subject at times to some disorder in his brain, at least to melancholy, in its saddest excess.