Rev. John Brown

Thomas Gray to William Mason, 5 October 1766; Correspondence of Thomas Gray and William Mason, ed. John Mitford (1853) 359-62.

P. Hall, 5th Oct. 1766.


I was going to write to you when I received your letter, and on the same subject. The first news I had was from Stonhewer on the 23rd September, in these words: "This morning Dr. Brown dispatched himself. He had been for several days past very low-spirited, and within the last two or three talked of the necessity of dying, in such a manner as to alarm the people about him. They removed, as they thought, every thing that might serve his purpose; but he had contrived to get at a razor unknown to them, and took the advantage of a minute's absence of his servants to make use of it." I wrote to him again (I suspect he knows our secret, though not from me) to make farther inquiries, and he says, 27th September, "I have tried to find out whether there was any appearance or cause of discontent in Brown, but can hear of none. A bodily complaint of the gouty kind, that fell upon the nerves and affected his spirits in a very great degree, is all that I can get any information of; and I am told besides, that he was some years ago in the same dejected way, and under the care of proper attendants." Mr. W. too, in answer to a letter I had written to inquire after his health, after giving an account of himself while under the care of Pringle, adds, "He (Pringle) had another patient at the same time, who has ended very unhappily — that poor Dr. Brown. The unfortunate man apprehended himself going mad, and two nights after cut his throat in bed." This is all I know at present of the matter. I have told it you literally, and I conceal nothing. As I go to town to-morrow, if I learn anything more you shall soon hear from me; in the mean time, I think we may fairly, conclude that, if he had had any other cause added to his constitutional infirmity, it would have been uppermost in his mind. He would have talked or raved about it, and the first thing we should have heard of would have been this, which, I do assure you, I have never heard from anybody. There is in this neighbourhood a Mr. Wall, who once was in the Russian trade, and married a woman of that country. He always maintained that Dr. Brown would never go thither, whatever he might pretend, and that, though fond of the glory of being invited thither, he would certainly find or make a pretence for staying at home; very possibly, therefore, he might have engaged himself so far that he knew not how to draw back with honour, or might have received rough words from the Russian minister, offended with his prevarication. This supposition is at least as likely as yours, added to what I have said before; much more so, if it be necessary to suppose any other cause than the lunatic disposition of the man; and yet I will not disguise to you that I felt as you do on the first news of this sad accident, and had the same uneasy ideas about it.

I am sorry the cause you mention should be the occasion of your coming to London, though, perhaps, change of air may do more than medicine. In this length of time I should think you must be fully apprised whether her [Mrs. Mason's] looks, or strength, or embonpoint have suffered by this cough; if not, surely there is no real danger; yet I do not wonder she should wish to get rid of so troublesome a companion.

When I can meet with the book I will transcribe what you mention from Mallet. I shall write again soon. Do you know of any great or at least rich, family that want a young man worth his weight in gold, to take care of their eldest hope. If you do, remember I have such a one, or shall have (I fear) shortly to sell; but they must not stand haggling about him; and besides, they must be very good sort of people too, or they shall not have him. Adieu. My respects to Mrs. Mason.

I am ever sincerely yours,


Mr. Brown desires his best compliments to you both.