Historical Period: The 18th Century
John Brown studied at Cambridge and took orders shortly thereafter. He defended the Whig cause both in the battle of Carlisle in 1745 and in published sermons, was made chaplain to the dean of York in 1747, and wrote an essay in 1751 on Shaftesbury’s Characteristics.
John Brown, the son of a parish priest, was born in 1715. He went to Cambridge in 1732, where he passed with distinction in 1735. He took orders shortly thereafter and was made a minor canon and lecturer. He defended the Whig cause both in the battle of Carlisle in 1745 and in published sermons, and he was made chaplain to the dean of York in 1747. In a eulogistic essay, he praised Pope’s literary executor, Warburton, who then became a sort of literary patron to him. At Warburton’s suggestion, he wrote an essay in 1751 on Shaftesbury’s Characteristics, which was later admired by Mill for its utilitarian bent; it went through five editions by 1764. He also wrote tragedies and works on music, poetry, dialogues, and literary histories, and he announced an eight-volume Principles of Christian Legislation that never appeared. Toward the end of his life, he was approached by advisers to Catherine II of Russia about establishing an educational system there. Catherine invited him to St. Petersburg; he prepared to go, but doctors and friends prevailed upon him to spare his fragile health the rigors of a Russian winter. On September 23, 1766, he committed suicide by cutting his own throat, an act feared by his friends for many years.