Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Browne, Moses

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BROWNE, MOSES (1704–1787), poet, born in 1704, was originally a pen-cutter. His earliest production in print was a weak tragedy called 'Polidus, or Distress'd Love,' and an equally weak farce 'All Bedevil'd, or the House in a Hurry,' neither of which was ever performed by regular actors or in a licensed theatre. His earliest studies were patronised by Robert, viscount Molesworth, and his poems of 'Piscatory Eclogues,' 1729, were dedicated to Dodington, afterwards Lord Melcombe. They were reissued with other works in 1739 under the title of 'Poems on various Subjects,' and again in 1773 as 'Angling Sports, in nine Piscatory Eclogues.' Browne found a kind friend in Cave, the proprietor of the 'Gentleman's Magazine,' and for a long time he was the principal poetical contributor to that periodical. The prize of 50l. offered by Cave for the best theological poem was awarded to Browne by Dr. Birch; it is printed, with other prize poems of his composition, in the 'Poems on various Subjects.' Browne was an enthusiastic angler, and in 1750, at the suggestion of Dr. Johnson, brought out an edition of Walton and Cotton's 'Compleat Angler,' adding to it 'a number of occasional notes.' These were of value, but unfortunately the original text was altered to suit the taste of the age. Other editions appeared in 1759 and 1772, the former giving rise to a controversy with Sir John Hawkins, who was also an editor of that work. Browne's volume, 'Works and Rest of the Creation, containing (1) an Essay on the Universe, (2) Sunday Thoughts,' was published in 1752, and was several times reprinted, the last edition being in 1806. Through the encouragement of the Rev. James Hervey he took orders in the English church and became curate to Hervey at Collingtree in 1753. The small living of Olney was given to Browne by Lord Dartmouth in the same year, but as the poet had a large family—Cowper says 'ten or a dozen' children, Hervey with greater precision 'thirteen'-he was forced to accept in 1763 the chaplaincy of Morden College, and to be non-resident at Olney. At a still later date he became the vicar of Sutton in Lincolnshire. Browne died at Morden College 13 Sept. 1787, his wife, Ann, having predeceased him on 24 March 1783, aged 65. A tablet to his memory is in Olney Church. John Newton was his curate there from 1764 to 1780, when Thomas Scott succeeded him.

He was the author of several sermons and the translator of 'The Excellency of the Knowledge of Jesus Christ, by John Liborius Zimmermann,' which passed through three editions (1772, 1773, and 1801). At the command of the Duke and Duchess of Somerset he wrote in 1749 a poem on their seat of 'Percy Lodge,' but it was not given to the world until 1755. Had they lived, this poor poet would have been better provided for.

[Gent. Mag. 1736, pp. 69-60, 1787 pp. 286, 840, 932; Biog. Dram. (1812), i. 75; Westwood's Bibl. Piscatoria (1883), pp. 43-4, 221-2; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ii. 21, 436, v. 36-7, 51-3; Hawkins's Johnson, p. 46; Hervey's Letters, i. and ii.; Southey's Cowper, i. 243-4, iv. 154; Abbey and Overton's English Church, ii. 331.]

W. P. C.