Brown, Thomas (1663-1704) (DNB00)

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BROWN, THOMAS (1663–1704), miscellaneous writer, son of a farmer, was born in 1663 at Shropshire in Shropshire. He was educated at Newport school, in the same county, whence he proceeded in 1678 to Christ Church, Oxford. Here his irregular habits brought him into trouble. The story goes that the dean of Christ Church, Dr. Fell, threatened to expel him, but, on receipt of a submissive letter, promised to forgive him if he would translate extempore the epigram of Martial (i. 32), 'Non amo te, Sabidi,' &c., which Brown promptly rendered by —

I do not love thee, Dr. Fell,
The reason why I cannot tell ;
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not love thee. Dr. Fell.

Brown afterwards made amends by writing the doctor's epitaph. Some English verses by Brown are prefixed to Creech's translation of Lucretius, 1682, and there is a copy of his Latin verses, entitled 'Soteria Ormondiana,' in 'Musæ Oxonienses.' He contributed some translations from Horace to 'Miscellany Poems by Oxford Hands,' 1685. Leaving the university without a degree, he came to London, and endeavoured to support himself by his pen; but, finding it difficult to procure employment, he reluctantly accepted the post of usher in a school at Kingston-on-Thames. Writing to a friend at this date, he says: 'I ventured once or twice to launch my little bark amongst the adventurous rovers of the pen, but with such little success that for the present I have abandoned all hopes of doing anything that way. . . . The prodigal son, when he was pressed by hunger and thirst, joined himself to a swineherd; and I have been driven by the same stimuli to join myself to a swine, an ignorant pedagogue about twelve miles out of town.' He was afterwards appointed head-master of the grammar school at Kingston-on-Thames. Having spent three years in school work, he settled in London, and devoted himself to the production of satirical poems and pamphlets, varying this employment with translations from Greek, Latin, French, and Spanish authors. In 1687 he contributed supplementary 'Reflections on the Hind and the Panther' to Matthew Clifford's 'Four Letters' on Dryden; and in the following years, assuming the pseudonym Dudley Tomkinson, he assailed Dryden in a spiteful, though not unamusing, pamphlet, entitled 'The Reasons of Mr. Bays' changing his religion, considered in a dialogue between Crites, Eugenius, and Mr. Bays,' 4to, of which a second part was published in 1690 under the title of 'The Reasons of the New Convert's taking the Oaths,' 4to, and a third part, 'The Reason of Mr. Hains the Player's Conversion and Reconversion,' in 1691, 4to. In 1691 he published 'The Weesils. A satiyrical Fable giving the account of some argumental passages happening in the lion's court about Weesilion's taking the oaths,' London, 1691, 4to, an attack on Dr. Sherlock. An anonymous satire on Durfey, 'Wit for Money', or Poet Stutter, a Dialogue,' 1691, 4to, may probably be assigned to Brown, who, in the same year, assailed two prominent clergymen in an anonymous pamphlet entitled, 'Novus Reformat or Vapulans, or the Welsh Levite tossed in a blanket. In a dialogue between Hick[eringill] of Colchester, David J[o]nes and the Ghost of Wil. Pryn,' 4to. About this time Brown started the 'Lacedæmonian Mercury,' in opposition to Dunton's 'Athenian Mercury;' but the paper had only a short run. In August 1693 he wrote a copy of satirical verses on the occasion of the marriage of Titus Oates ('The Salamancan Wedding; or a true Account of a swearing Doctor's Marriage with a Muggletonian Widow,' halfsheet), for which performance he is said to have been apprehended and punished. Many of Brown's humorous and satirical verses were published in 'A Collection of Miscellany Poems, Letters, &c., by Mr. Brown, &c.,' London, 1699, 8vo. On p. 49 of this collection is a bitter attack by Brown on Tom Durfey, beginning—

Thou cur, half French, half English breed,
Thou mongrel of Parnassus.

Elsewhere (Works, ed. 1719–21, v. 65) he has some amusing verses on a duel fought at Epsom in 1689 between Durfey and Bell, a musician. In a 'Session of the Poets' there is a mock trial of Durfey and Brown, held at the foot of Parnassus on 9 July 1696. Brown's satirical writings are more remarkable for coarseness than for wit. In worrying an adversary he was strangely pertinacious; he never would let a quarrel drop, but returned to the attack again and again. Sir Richard Blackmore was one of the special objects of his aversion; he edited in 1700 a collection of mock 'Commendatory Verses on the Author of the Two Arthurs and the Satyr against Wit by some of his particular Friends,' fol. For writing a 'Satyr upon the French King on the Peace of Keswick' (Works, i. 89, ed. 1707) he was committed to prison; and the story goes that he procured his release by addressing to the lords in council a Pindaric petition, which concludes thus:

The pulpit alone
Can never preach down
The fops of the town.
Then pardon Tom Brown
And let him write on :
But if you had rather convert the poor sinner.
His fast writing mouth may be stopped with a
Give him clothes to his back, some meat and
much drink,
Then clap him close prisoner without pen and ink.
And your petitioner shall neither pray, write,
nor think.

Tom Brown's life was as licentious as his writings. Much of his time was spent in a low taven in Gower's Row in the Minories. His knowledge of London was certainly 'extensive and peculiar,' and his humorous sketches of low life are both entertaining and valuable. An anonymous biographer says: 'Tom Brown had less the spirit of a gentleman than the rest of the wits, and more of a scholar. ... As of his mistresses, so he was very negligent in the choice of his companions, who were sometimes mean and despicable.' Brown died in Aldersgate Street on 16 June 1704, and was buried in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey, near his friend Mrs. Aphra Behn. The inscription (which has been lately recut) on his tombstone is, 'Thomas Brown, Author of 'The London Spy,' born 1663, died 1704,' but the author of 'The London Spy' was Ned Ward. Shortly after his death appeared a 'Collection of all the Dialogues of Mr. Thomas Brown,' 1704, 8vo, to which was appended a letter (the genuineness of which was attested by Thomas Wotton, curate of St. Lawrence Jewry) purporting to have been written by Brown on his deathbed. Li this letter Brown, after expressing regret for having written anything that would be likely to have a pernicious influence, protests against being responsible for 'lampoons, trips, London Spies,' in which he had no hand. He was too lazy, he tells us, to write much, and yet pamphlets good and bad of every kind has been fathered upon him. A whimsical description of Brown's experiences on his arrival in Hades was published under the title of 'A Letter from the dead Thomas Brown to the living Herodotus,' 1704, 8vo. An epitaph, written shortly after his death, contains the lines—

Each merry wag throughout the town
Will toast the memory of Brown,
Who laugh'd a race of rascals down.

Addison, in his essay on the 'Potency of Mystery and Innuendo' (Spectator, No. 567), after mentioning that some writers, 'when they would be more satirical than ordinary, omit only the vowels of a great man's name, and fall most mercifully upon all the consonants,' adds that Tom Brown, 'of facetious memory,' was the first to bring the practice into fashion.

A collected edition of Brown's works in three volumes, with a character of the author by James Drake, M.D., was published in 1707-8, 8vo. Vol. I. contains essays, poems, satires, and epigrams; original letters; translations of Aristænetus's letters, and of letters from Latin and French. Vol. II. is entirely occupied with ' Letters from the Dead to the Living' (which had been previously published in 1702). These are partly original and partly translated from the French. Brown wrote only a portion of the collection. The contents of vol. iii. are: 'Amusements Serious and Comical, calculated for the Meridian of London' (separately published in 1700); 'Letters Serious and Comical;' 'Pocket-book of Common Places;' 'A Walk round London and Westminster;' 'The Dispensary, a Farce;' 'The London and Lacedæmonian Oracles.' The fourth edition, in four volumes 8vo, is dated 1719; a supplementary volume of 'Remains' (incorporated in later editions) followed in 1721. The eighth and final edition was published in 1760, 4 vols. 8vo. Two (unacted) comedies aro not included in the collected editions:

  1. 'Physic lies a-bleeding, or the Apothecary turned Doctor,' 1697, 4to.
  2. 'The Stage-Beaux tossed in a Blanket, or Hypocrisy à-la-mode,' 1704, 4to, a comedy in three acts, satirising Jeremy Collier.

Among Brown's scattered writings are:

  1. 'Lives of all the Princes of Orange, from the French of Baron Mourier; to which is added the Life of King William the Third,' 1693, 8vo.
  2. 'Life of the famous Duke de Richelieu, from the French of Du Plessis,' 1696.
  3. 'France and Spain naturally Enemies, from the Spanish of C. Garoia.'
  4. 'Miscellanea Aulica; or a Collection of State Treatises,' 1702, with a preface of ten pages by Brown.
  5. 'Short Dissertation about the Mona in Caesar and Tacitus,' appended to Sacheverell's 'Account of the Isle of Man,' 1702, 12mo.
  6. 'Marriage Ceremonies as now used in all Parts of the World.' Written originally in Italian by Signor Gaya, third edition, 1704.
  7. 'Justin's History of the World made English by Mr. T. Brown,' second edition, 1712, 12mo.

Brown's name is found on the list of contributors to the variorum translations of Petronius (1708), Lucian (1711), and Scarron (1772). A collection of 'Beauties of Tom Brown,' with a preface by C. H. Wilson, and a coloured folding frontispiece by Thomas Rowlandson, was published in 1808, 8vo.

[Memoir by James Drake, prefixed to Brown's Collected Works; Wood's Athenæ, ed. Bliss, iv. 662-4; Cibber's Lives of the Poets, vol. iii.; Biographia Dramatica, ed. Stephen Jones; Scott's Swift, 2nd ed., ix. 375; Scott's Dryden, x. 102-3; Ebsworth's Bagford Ballads, i. 88; Notes and Queries, 6th ser. i. 316, 337, ii. 158, 210. 228; Works.]

A. H. B.