City Readers Digital Historic Collections at the New York Society Library
John Brown (1715-1766)
John Brown (5 November 1715 – 23 September 1766) was an English Anglican priest, playwright and essayist.
Brown was born in Rothbury, Northumberland. His father, a descendant of the Browns of Coalston, near Haddington, became Vicar of Wigton in that year. Young Brown was educated at St John's College, Cambridge; after graduating at the head of the list of wranglers in 1735, he took holy orders, and was appointed minor canon and lecturer at Carlisle. In 1745 he distinguished himself in the defence of Carlisle as a volunteer, and in 1747 was appointed chaplain to Richard Osbaldiston, on his admission to the bishopric of Carlisle.
His poem, entitled Honour (1743), was followed by the Essay on Satire. This gained for him the friendship of William Warburton, who introduced him to Ralph Allen, of Prior Park, near Bath. In 1751 Brown dedicated to Allen his Essays on the Characteristics of Lord Shaftesbury, containing an able defence of the utilitarian philosophy, praised later by John Stuart Mill (Westminster Review, vol. xxix. p. 477).
In 1756 he was promoted by the earl of Hardwicke to the living of Great Horkesley in Essex, and in the following year he took the degree of D.D. at Cambridge. He was the author of two plays, Barbarossa (1754) and Athelstane (1756); Garrick played in both, and the first was a success. Brown's revision of Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair was rejected by Garrick the year before Brown's death.
The most popular of his works was the Estimate of the Manners and Principles of the Times (2 vols., 1757–1758), a bitter satire which pleased a public depressed by the ill-success in the conduct of the war, and ready to welcome an attack on luxury and kindred evils. Other works are the Additional Dialogue of the Dead between Pericles and Cosmo (1760), in vindication of Chatham's policy; and the Dissertation on the Rise, Union and Power, etc., of Poetry and Music (1763).
Brown was responsible for the first attempt to reform Handelian oratorio, in 1763. Concerned about the waning popularity and literary flaws of Handel's works, he launched a campaign through his own oratorio The Cure of Saul, performed at Covent Garden Theatre, and the publication of A Dissertation on […] Poetry and Music, and he almost certainly produced the first monograph of oratorio criticism, An Examination of the Oratorios which have been performed this Season, at Covent-Garden Theatre (1763). Published within weeks of one another, the three works shaped an intellectual offensive with aesthetic and moral goals mounted on an educational platform. Although a failure, Brown's attempt reflected Britain's national anxiety in the wake of the Seven Years' War.
Brown was consulted in connection with a scheme of education which Catherine II of Russia desired to introduce into her dominions. A memorandum on the subject by Dr Brown led to an offer on her part to entertain him at St Petersburg as her adviser on the subject. He had bought a postchaise and various other things for the journey, when he was persuaded to relinquish the design on account of his gout. He had been subject to fits of melancholy, and, influenced perhaps by disappointment, he committed suicide on 23 September 1766.
There is a detailed account of John Brown by Andrew Kippis in Biographia (1780), containing the text of the negotiations for his journey to Russia, and of a long letter in which he outlines the principles of the scheme he would have proposed. See also L. Davies, Memoirs of . . . David Garrick (1780), chap. xix.