1910 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Brown

Ralph Straus, in Robert Dodsley, Poet, Publisher, and Playwright (1910) 166-68.



Walpole's interest in Dodsley's publication The World will appear in another chapter. The second edition of his Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors appeared from the Tully's Head in 1759, and he seems to have been genuinely attached to its master. His good offices were sought, and given, in 1758, when John Brown behaved so badly to the publisher. Brown had lately come into prominence over the publication of his Estimate of the Times, a second part of which appeared this year. Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, but lately home from abroad, proposed to write a Reply, which Dodsley was to publish. Brown, who had occasional fits of madness, during which his behaviour resembled that of the typical bargee, feared personalities. The facts which followed are described by Walpole in a letter to George Montagu, dated May 4th, 1758.

"The history," he writes, "promised you of Dr. Brown is this. Sir Charles [Hanbury] Williams, had written an answer to his first silly volume of the Estimate, chiefly before he came over, but finished while he was confined at Kensington. Brown had lately lodged in the same house, not mad now, though he has been so formerly. The landlady told Sir Charles, and offered to make affidavit that Dr. Brown was the most profane curser and swearer that ever came to the house.... Well — in a great apprehension of Sir Charles divulging the story of his swearing, Brown went to Dodsley in a most scurrilous and hectoring manner, threatening Dodsley if he should publish anything personal against him; abusing Sir Charles for a coward and a most abandoned man, and bidding Dodsley tell the latter that he had a cousin in the army who would call Sir Charles to account, for any reflections on him, Brown. Stay; this Christian message from a divine, who, by the way has a chapter in his book against duelling, is not all: Dodsley refused to carry any such message, unless in writing. The Doctor enough in his senses to know the consequence of this, refused; and at last a short verbal message, more decently worded, was agreed on. To this Sir Charles made Dodsley write down this answer: 'that he could not but be surprised at Brown's message, after that he, Sir Charles, had at Ranby's desire sent Brown a written assurance that he intended to say nothing personal of him — nay, nor should yet, unless Brown's impertinence made it necessary.' This proper reply Dodsley sent: Brown wrote back, that he should send an answer to Sir Charles himself; but bid Dodsley take notice, that printing the works of a supposed lunatic might be imputed to the printer himself, and which he, the said Doctor, should chastise. Dodsley, after notifying this new and unprovoked insolence, to me, Fox, and Garrick, the one, friend of Sir Charles, the other of Brown, returned a very proper, decent, yet firm answer, with assurances of repaying chastisement of any sort. Is it credible? this audacious man sent only a card back, saying, 'Footman's language I never return, J. Brown.' You know how decent, humble, inoffensive a creature Dodsley is; how little apt to forget or disguise his having been a footman: but there is no exaggerating this behaviour by reflections. On the same card he tells Dodsley that he cannot now accept, but returns his present of the last two volumes of his Collection of Poems, and assures him that they are not soiled by the reading."

There was no possible excuse for Brown's behaviour. He was not at that time mad, although he died by his own hand in a fit of frenzy in 1766. It is a pity that Dodsley's letters, written on this occasion, have been lost, but it was something that he could appeal in his dilemma to such men as Henry Fox, David Garrick, and Horace Walpole.