Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 07.djvu/21

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Brown
Brown
15

superiors in position. Before he was ten he was head of the school; but he was then taken away and put to his stepfather's trade. This made him miserable, and Cruickshank soon persuaded the parents to let him have the boy back to continue his schooling free of charge. Brown made himself generally useful in the school, and at thirteen he became pupil-teacher. He had fought his way to respect in the school no less by his superior intelligence than by his physical prowess. He was a stout thickset boy, with a ruddy face and a strong voice, and he was among the foremost at wrestling, boxing, and football. In a note to one of his books he says that he once, when fifteen, walked fifty miles in a day. His memory was prodigious ; one of his old pupils tells of him that on one occasion, after going through two pages of Cicero with the class, he closed the book and repeated the whole passage word for word. The country people found out that he was a prodigy, and it was popularly believed that ' he could raise the devil.'

When he was eighteen his master found him a tutorship which proved irksome, and he went to Edinburgh to support himself by private tuition, and to attend the lectures in philosophy and divinity. After several years of Edinburgh he came back to Dunse, and resumed his place as usher in the school. A year after, being then twenty-four, he went again to Edinburgh, and applied fruitlessly for a vacant mastership in the high school. He then bethought himself of the medical profession, and obtained leave from Monro, the professor of anatomy, to attend his lectures free. The other professors gave him a like privilege, and he continued to attend the medical classes for five years, supporting himself by giving private lessons in the classics during the first year or two, and afterwards by preparing medical students for their examinations. He was in great request among the students for his convivial qualities. Meanwhile Cullen employed him as tutor to his children, and afterwards as a kind of assistant to himself, the precise nature of his duties being a matter of dispute between Cullen's apologists and Brown's biographers. In 1765 ho married the daughter of an Edinburgh citizen named Lamond, and set up a boarding-house for students. Cullen encouraged him to look forward to a professor's chair. He took an extra course of dissections for nearly a year, and studied botany in order to qualify himself for a new chair in the American colonies to which Cullen had the presentation. However he remained a private tutor in Edinburgh ; and it became clear after a few years that he was somehow not likely to gain academical Promotion. His varied powers were well known, and there can be no question that his technical knowledge of medical subjects was adequate. Unfortunately he had an unconscious art of putting his respectable colleagues irretrievably in the wrong. He had some venial faults ; he became involved in debt, and had to compound with his creditors ; high feeding gave him the gout at five-and-thirty. His society was mostly composed of admirers, and he took no pains to make interest with men of infiuence. He put off taking his degree of M.D. for years after his medical course was done. When he sought to graduate in 1779, the Edinburgh degree had become impossible, and he got one at St. Andrews. At an earlier period he might as a matter of course have joined the society for publishing medical essays and observations (afterwards the Royal Society of Edinburgh), but when he resolved to seek admission in 1778, Cullen privately advised him not to try; but he tried and was rejected. The antagonism to him had probably grown up in connection with his influence as a private tutor. Brown had to the last a large following of young men in Edinburgh. In 1776 the students had made him president of their Royal Medical Society, and they made him presiaent again four years later, when the rupture between him and the professors was complete. His divergence from the teaching of Cullen had probably found expression in his private prelections. He afterwards exposed Cullen's errors in his trenchant criticism, 'Observations on the Present System of Spasm as taught in the University of Edinburgh ' (1787). The first formal indication of Brown's emendations on the basis of Cullen is said to have been given in a draft of his future 'Elementa Medicinee,' which he had written with a view to a vacant chair, and had shown to his patron. Then came his formal ostracism in 1 778, and Brown at once took up the cudgels for his own doctrines. He began a course of public lectures on the practice of physic, in which the errors of all former systems of medicine, and of Cullen's in particular, were very freely handled. In two years' time he had got ready a temperate exposition of his doctrine, the celebrated 'Elementa Medicinae' (1780). The purity of his Latin style at once insured for him an attentive reading abroad, especially in Italy and Germany ; and the practical good sense of much of brown's teaching at length obtained for it an enormous vogue. That the great majority of diseases were expressions of debility and not of redundant strength, and that consequently the time-honoured practice