1795 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Brown

Robert Anderson, in Works of the British Poets (1795) 10:873-74.



With regard to the general character of Brown, it will be easily discerned that he was a man of uncommon ingenuity, and that it was unfortunately tinctured with an undue degree of self-opinion. Perhaps the bias of his mind to insanity will assign the best cause, as well as form the best excuse for the errors he has been charged with in this respect. His genius was extensive; for, besides his being so elegant a prose writer in various kinds of composition, he was a poet, a musician, and a painter. He bequeathed, by his will, the pictures of his father and mother, painted in crayons by himself. He played well on several instruments. His learning does not appear to have been equal to his genius. His invention was indeed inexhaustible; which led him to form magnificent plans, which required a greater extent of erudition than he was possessed of, fully to execute. In divinity, properly so called, as including an extensive knowledge of the controverted points of theology, and a critical acquaintance with the scriptures, he was not so deeply conversant. However, it appears from his Sermons, that his ideas of this kind were liberal, and that he did not lay much stress on the disputed doctrines of Christianity. His temper, it is said, was suspicious, and sometimes threw him into disagreeable altercations with his friends. But this arose in a great measure, if not entirely, from his constitutional disorder; for which it has been observed, that a very suspicious turn of mind is one of the surest prognostics of lunacy. He has been charged with shifting about too speedily with a view to preferment; and it must be acknowledged, that his Thoughts on Civil Liberty, Licentiousness, and Faction, seemed to have something of that appearance. He has, however, in that performance, endeavoured to remove any charge of that nature, by observing, that if he had indirectly censured those whom he had formerly applauded, he never was attached to men but measures. At the conclusion, likewise, of his Letter to Dr. Lowth, he says, "I am, and ever have been, conscious of the independence of my mind, and I hope I may without vanity add, the integrity of my heart." Such, too, is the testimony given of him by his surviving friends. Upon the whole, his defects, which chiefly arose from too sanguine a temperament of constitution, were compensated by many excellencies and virtues.

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 observation; and others of his works, being calculated for a more lasting duration, will transmit his name with considerable reputation to future times.

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 intituled 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. His Essay on Satire is very properly printed with Pope's works, as it is written, in many parts, with an elegance, correctness, spirit, and harmony, which rival the best performances of that celebrated poet.