1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Brown

Thomas Campbell, in Specimens of the British Poets (1819; 1845) 473-74.



DR. BROWN, author of the tragedies of Athelstan and Barbarossa, and of several other works, was born at Rothbury, in Northumberland, where his father was curate. He studied at Cambridge, obtained a minor canonry and lectureship in the cathedral of Carlisle, and was afterward preferred to the living of Morland, in Westmoreland. The latter office he resigned in disgust at being rebuked for an accidental omission of the Athanasian creed. He remained for some years in obscurity at Carlisle, till the year of the Rebellion, when he distinguished himself by his intrepidity as a volunteer at the siege of the castle. His Essay on Satire introduced him to Warburton, who exhorted him to write his Remarks on Shaftesbury's Characteristics, as well as to attempt an epic poem on the plan which Pope had sketched. Through Warburton's influence he obtained the rectory of Horkesly, near Colchester; but his fate was to be embroiled with his patrons, and having quarrelled with those who had given him the living in Essex, he was obliged to retire upon the vicarage of St. Nicholas, at Newcastle. A latent tint of derangement had certainly made him vain and capricious; but Warburton seems not to have been a delicate doctor to his mind's disease. In one of his letters he says, "Brown in here, rather perter than ordinary, but no wiser. You cannot imagine how tender they are all of his tender places, and with how unfeeling a hand I probe them." The writer of this humane sentence was one whom Brown had praised in his Estimate as the Gulliver and Colossus of a degenerate age. When his Barbarossa came out, it appears that some friends, equally tender with the Bishop of Gloucester, reproved him for having any connection with players. The players were not much kinder to his sore feelings. Garrick offended him deeply by a line in the prologue which he composed for this Barbarossa, alluding to its author, "Let the poor devil eat — allow him that."

His poetry never obtained, or indeed deserved much attention; but his Estimate of the Manners and Principles of the Times passed through seven editions, and threw the nation into a temporary ferment. Voltaire alleges that it roused the English from lethargy by the imputation of degeneracy. and made them put forth a vigour that proved victorious in the war with France. Dr. Brown was preparing to accept of an invitation from the Empress of Russia to superintend her public plans of education, when he was seized with a fit of lunacy, and put a period to his existence.