Brown, Robert (d.1760) (DNB00)

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BROWN, Sir ROBERT (d. 1760), diplomatist, is said when a young man to have gone out to Venice with no other capital than a large second-hand wig which he sold for 5l. At Venice he amassed a fortune by successful trading, and for some years held the office of British resident in the republic. He received a baronetcy from George II in 1782. Writing to the Earl of Essex, then ambassador at Turin, in May 1734, he says that he is about to be returned to parliament, that he is glad to say that his election will entail little expense or trouble on him, thong; he does not know for what place he will put up. Two letters from him, and several from Colonel Niel Brown, the consul, who was probably his kinsman, are in the British Museum. Some of these letters contain references to Turkish affairs, and to the progress of the Polish succession war. Brown came back to England, and was returned as one of the members for Ilchester 30 Aug. 1731, retaining his seat during that parliament and the succeeding one summoned in 1741. From 1741 to 1743 he held the office of paymaster of the king’s works. He married Margaret Cecil, granddaughter of the third Earl of Salisbury, and sister of Charles, bishop first of Bangor and then of Bristol, a lady of wit and fashion. ‘Lady Brown,’ Burney tells us, ‘gave the first private concerts under the direction of the Count of Germain; she held them on Sunday evenings, at the risk of her windows. She was an enemy of Handel and a patroness of the Italian style.’ Horace Walpole records a bitter retort she made on Lady Townshend (Menoires of George II, ii. 358), and sneers at her ‘Sunday nights,’ as ‘the great mart for all travelling and travelled calves’ (Letters, i. 229). By her Brown had two, or, according to Wa1pole, three daughters, who died before him. It was with reference to these daughters that the avarice for which he was notorious appears to have chiefly displayed itself. When the eldest, who at the age of eighteen fell into a decline, was ordered to ride for the benefit of her health, he made the servant who attended her carry a map he drew out marking all the by-lanes, so as to avoid the turnpikes; and when she was dying, he bargained with the undertaker about her funeral, on the principle apparently of a Wager, for he is said to have urged the man to name a low sum by representing that she might recover. These stories rest on the authority of H. Walpole. If they are not literally true, they at least serve to show Brown's character. He died on 5 Oct. 1760, leaving everything, even, Walpole believes, his avarice, to his widow. Lady Brown died in 1782.

[Brit. Mus. Add. MSS. 27732-5 (correspondence of Lord Essex), 23797 (Correspondence of Thomas Rohinson, first, baron Grantham); Burney's History of Music, iv. 671, ed. 1789; Walpole’s Memoirs of George II, 4to, 1822; Walpole‘s Letters, i. 187, 229, ii. 398, 450, iii. 351, iv. 70, viii. 176, ix. 221 (ed. Cunningham); Collins’s Baronetage, iv. 235; Bethams Baronetage, iii. 219; Return of Members of Parliament, ii. 78, 90.]

W. H.