Brown, Thomas Edward (DNB01)

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BROWN, THOMAS EDWARD (1830–1897), the Manx poet, fifth son of Robert Brown (d. 1846), vicar of Kirk Braddan in the Isle of Man, a preacher of some repute and a poet as well, was born at Douglas in 1830. His mother's maiden name was Dorothy (Thomson). Hugh Stowell Brown [q. v. Suppl.], the well-known baptist minister of Myrtle Street, Liverpool, was an elder brother. After passing through King William's College, Isle of Man, Thomas obtained a servitorship at Christ Church, Oxford, matriculating on 17 Oct. 1849, and took a double first in classics and law and history in 1853. He obtained a fellowship at Oriel in 1854, when a fellowship there was still the highest distinction that Oxford could confer. Bishop Fraser, who examined, was fond of recapitulating the merits of Brown's fellowship essay. He was ordained in 1855, and graduated M.A., next year. He took a mastership at his old school, and vacated his fellowship by marriage in 1858, from which date until 1861 he was vice-principal of King William's College. During vacations he renewed his close touch with t he old salts of the Manx harbours. From September 1861 for a little over two years he was head-master of the Crypt School, Gloucester (where he had Mr. W. E. Henley as a pupil); early in 1864 Dr. Percival persuaded him to accept the post of second master (and head of the modern side) at Clifton, where he remained, a very powerful factor in the success of the school, for nearly thirty years. The first of his tales in verse, 'Betsy Lee,' appeared in 'Macmillan's Magazine' for April 1873. This was republished with three other Manx narrative poems as 'Fo'c'sle Yarns' in 1881, and a second edition appeared in 1889. 'The Doctor and other Poems' saw the light in 1887, 'The Manx Witch and other Poems' in 1889, and 'Old John' in 1893. A collective edition of the Poems (curante Mr. W. E. Henley) appeared in 1900, in which year his 'Letters' were also published in two volumes under the editorship of Mr. Irwin. The 'Yarns' were highly appreciated by such judges as George Eliot and Robert Browning; but the 'Manx dialect,' though quite the reverse of formidable, seems to have acted as a non-conductor, and the poems did not meet with a tithe of the recognition that they deserved. Once 'Tom Baynes' and the 'Old Pazon' gain the reader's affections, they will not easily be dislodged. In addition to his scholastic post Brown was curate of St. Barnabas, Bristol, from 1884 to 1893, Early in the latter year he left Bristol and returned to his old home in Ramsey.

For two or three years previously he had contributed occasional lyrics, marked by 'audacious felicities' of expression, to the 'Scots (afterwards 'National') Observer' and to the 'New Review' under the direction of his former pupil, Mr. Henley, and many of these pieces were republished in the volume entitled 'Old John.' In May 1895 he recommended as a genuine 'Mona Bouquet,' a little book of 'Manx Tales' by a young friend, Egbert Rydings. In the same year he was offered but refused the arch-deaconry of the Isle of Man. He retained to the end his early ideal of mirroring the Old Manx life and speech before it was submerged. He died suddenly at Clifton College while giving an address to the boys, from the bursting of a blood-vessel in the brain, on 30 Oct. 1897. He was buried at Redland Green, Bristol.

Brown married in 1857 Amelia, daughter of Dr, Thomas Stowell of Ramsay, by whom he had issue two sons and several daughters.

In character Brown was strong, almost rugged, but wholly lovable, and idolised by the Clifton boys, over whom his influence was remarkable. He had a dramatic gift and read his own poems with memorable effect. His 'Fo'c'sle Yarns' can hardly fail to obtain a steadily increasing circle of admirers. As with Crabbe's 'Tales,' the stories are good in themselves, the interest well sustained, and the insight into character profound, while descriptive passages abound that would be hard to match in modern poetry. Few readers of the 'Yarns' will detect any tendency to exaggeration in the portrait of their author, concentrated into a fine sonnet by Mr. Henley:

 You found him cynic, saint,
Salt, humourist, Christian, poet; with a free
Far-glancing, luminous utterance; and a heart
Large as St. Francis's: withal a brain
Stored with experience, letters, fancy, art.
And scored with runes of human joy and pain.

A portrait of Brown by Sir William Richmond is in the library at Clifton College.

[Times, 1 Nov. 1895; Academy, 6 and 13 Nov. 1897; Guardian, 3 and 24 Nov. 1897; Miles's Poets of the Nineteenth Century, v. 477; Letters of T. E. Brown, ed. S. T. Irwin, 1900; Monthly Review, October 1900; Macmillan's Magazine, October 1900, January 1901; Fortnightly Review, November 1900; Literature, 17 Nov. 1900; Brit. Mus. Cat., and two valuable articles in the New Review, December 1897, and Quarterly Review, April 1898.]

T. S.