Read MR. THOMAS BROWN of The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) Vol. III, free online book, by Theophilus Cibber, on

This humorous poet was the son of a considerable Farmer of Shiffnall, in Shropshire, and educated at Newport-school in that county, under the reverend and learned Dr. Edwards, a gentleman who had the honour to qualify many persons of distinction for the university.  Under the tuition of this master, he attained a knowledge of the Latin, Greek, French, Italian, and Spanish languages, and his exercises were generally so well performed, that the Dr. was filled with admiration of his parts.  From Newport school he removed to Christ’s-Church College in Oxford, and distinguished himself there for his easy attainments in literature; but some little irregularities of his life would not suffer him to continue long at the university.  It is probable he became sick of that discipline, which they who spend their life in the recluseness of a college, are in some measure obliged to submit to.  The father of Mr. Brown, who intended to have him educated to some profession, was not made acquainted with his design of quitting the university, and having remitted him a sum of money, to be appropriated for the promotion of his studies, his son thought proper to defeat his kind intentions.  With this money, our author plann’d a scheme of going to London, which he soon after executed, not very advantageously. ’My first business, says he, was to apply myself to those few friends I had there, who conjecturing I had left the university, exclusive of my father’s knowledge, gave but slender encouragement to a young beginner.  However, no whit daunted (my first resolution still standing by me) I launched forth into the world, committing myself to the mercy of fortune, and the uncertain temper of the town.  I soon acquired a new set of acquaintance; and began to have a relish of what I had only tasted before by hearsay; and indeed, every thing served to convince me, I had changed for the better, except that my slender subsistance began to waste extremely; and ruminating upon the difficulty of obtaining a supply, I was then laid under the necessity of thinking what course to steer.  I knew how justly I had incurred the displeasure of an indulgent father, and how far I had put myself from retrieving his favour.  Amidst this serious contemplation!  I resolved to go through stitch with my enterprize, let what will come on’t:  However, that I might use discretion, to palliate an unforeseen event, I determined ’twere better to trust to the flexibility of a father’s temper, than to lay too great a stress upon the humanity of fortune, who would let a man of morals starve if he depended on her favours.  Therefore, without more ado (having taken my sorrowful leave of my last guinea, and reduced Carolus Secundus, from a whole number, to decimal fractions) I dispatched a letter into the country, full of excuse, and penitence, baited with all the submissive eloquence imaginable.  In the mean time, I was no less sedulous to find out some employment, that might suit with my genius, and with my dependencies at home, render my life easy.’

Whether his father was touched by the epistle which our author in consequence of this resolution wrote to him, we cannot ascertain, as there is no mention made of it.  Soon after this, we find him school master of Kingston upon Thames, and happy for him, had he continued in that more certain employment, and not have so soon exchanged it for beggary and reputation.  Mr. Brown, impatient of a recluse life, quitted the school, and came again to London; and as he found his old companions more delighted with his wit, than ready to relieve his necessities, he had recourse to scribbling for bread, which he performed with various success.  Dr. Drake, who has written a defence of our author’s character, prefixed to his works, informs us, that the first piece which brought him into reputation, was an account of the conversion of Mr. Bays, in a Dialogue, which met with a reception suitable to the wit, spirit, and learning of it.  But though this raised his fame, yet it added very little to his profit:  For, though it made his company exceedingly coveted, and might have recommended him to the great, as well as to the ingenious, yet he was of a temper not to chuse his acquaintance by interest, and slighted such an opportunity of recommending himself to the powerful and opulent, as, if wisely improved, might have procured him dignities and preferments.  The stile of this dialogue, was like that of his ordinary conversation, lively and facetious.  It discovered no small erudition, but managed with a great deal of humour, in a burlesque way; which make both the reasoning and the extensive reading, which are abundantly shewn in it, extremely surprizing and agreeable.  The same manner and humour runs through all his writings, whether Dialogues, Letters, or Poems.

The only considerable objection, which the critics have made to his works is, that they want delicacy.  But in answer to this, it may be affirmed, that there is as much refinement in his works, as the nature of humorous satire, which is the chief beauty of his compositions, will admit; for, as satire requires strong ideas, the language will sometimes be less polished.  But the delicacy so much demanded, by softening the colours weakens the drawing.  Mr. Brown has been charged with inequality in his writings:  which is inseparable from humanity.

Our author’s letters, though written carelesly to private friends, bear the true stamp and image of a genius.  The variety of his learning may be seen in the Lacedaemonian Mercury, where abundance of critical questions of great nicety, are answered with much solidity and judgment, as well as wit, and humour.  But that design exposing him too much to the scruples of the grave and reserved, as well as to the censure, and curiosity of the impertinent, he soon discontinued it.  Besides, as this was a periodical work, he who was totally without steadiness, was very ill qualified for such an undertaking.  When the press called upon him for immediate supply, he was often found debauching himself at a tavern, and by excessive drinking unable to perform his engagements with the public, by which no doubt the work considerably suffered.

But there is yet another reason why Mr. Brown has been charged with inequality in his writings, viz. that most of the anonymous pieces which happened to please the town, were fathered upon him.  This, though in reality an injury to him, is yet a proof of the universality of his reputation, when whatever pleased from an unknown hand was ascribed to him; but by these means he was reputed the writer of many things unworthy of him.  In poetry he was not the author of any long piece, for he was quite unambitious of reputation of that kind.  They are generally Odes, Satires, and Epigrams, and are certainly not the best part of his works.  His Translations in Prose are many, and of various kinds.  His stile is strong and masculine; and if he was not so nice in the choice of his authors, as might be expected from a man of his taste, he must be excused; for he performed his translations as a talk, prescribed him by the Booksellers, from whom he derived his chief support.  It was the misfortune of our author to appear on the stage of the world, when fears, and jealousies had soured the tempers of men, and politics, and polemics, had almost driven mirth and good nature out of the nation:  so that the careless gay humour, and negligent chearful wit, which in former days of tranquility, would have recommended him to the conversation of princes, was, in a gloomy period, lost upon a people incapable of relishing genuine humour.

An anonymous author who has given the world some account of Mr. Brown, observes, ’that it was not his immorality that hindered him from climbing to the top of poetry, and preferment; but that he had a particular way of sinning to himself.  To speak in plain English (says he) Tom Brown had less the spirit of a gentleman than the rest of the Wits, and more of a Scholar.  Tom thought himself as happy with a retailer of damnation in an obscure hole, as another to have gone to the devil with all the splendour of a fine equipage.  ’Twas not the brightness of Caelia’s eyes, nor her gaudy trappings that attracted his heart.  Cupid might keep his darts to himself; Tom always carried his fire about him.  If he had but a mouth, two eyes, and a nose, he never enquired after the regularity of her dress, or features.  He always brought a good stomach with him, and used but little ceremony in the preface.  As of his mistresses, so he was very negligent in the choice of his companions, who were sometimes mean and despicable, a circumstance which never fails to ruin a man’s reputation.  He was of a lazy temper, and the Booksellers who gave him credit enough as to his capacity, had no confidence to put in his diligence.  The same gentleman informs us, that though Tom Brown was a good-natured man, yet he had one pernicious quality, which eternally procured him enemies, and that was, rather to lose his friend, than his joke.

One of his lampoons had almost cost him a procession at the cart’s tail; nor did he either spare friend or foe, if the megrim of abuse once seized him.  He had a particular genius for scandal, and dealt it out liberally when he could find occasion.  He is famed for being the author of a Libel, fixed one Sunday morning on the doors of Westminster-abbey, and many others, against the clergy and quality.  As for religion, Brown never professed any, and used to say, that he understood the world better than to have the imputation of righteousness laid to his charge:  and the world, to be even with him, really thought him an Atheist.  But though Brown never made any professions of religion, yet it proceeded more from affectation than conviction.  When he came upon his death-bed, he expressed remorse for his past life, and discovered at that period, sentiments which he had never before suffered to enter his mind.  This penitential behaviour, in the opinion of some, was the occasion why all his brethren neglected him, and did not bestow on his memory one elegiac song, nor any of the rites of verse.  We find no encomiums upon him, but what appeared in a Grubstreet Journal, which, however, are much superior to what was usually to be found there.

A mournful muse from Albion swains produce, Sad as the song a gloomy genius chuse, In artful numbers let his wit be shewn, And as he sings of Doron’s speak his own; Such be the bard, for only such is fit, To trace pale Doron thro’ the fields of wit.

Towards the latter end of our author’s life, we are informed by Mr. Jacob, that he was in favour with the earl of Dorset, who invited him to dinner on a Christmas-day, with Mr. Dryden, and some other gentlemen, celebrated for ingenuity, (according to his lordship’s usual custom) when Mr. Brown, to his agreeable surprize, found a Bank Note of 50 l. under his plate, and Mr. Dryden at the same time was presented with another of 100 l.  Acts of munificence of this kind were very common with that generous spirited nobleman.

Mr. Brown died in the year 1704, and was interred in the Cloyster of Westminster-abbey, near the remains of Mrs. Behn, with whom he was intimate in his life-time.  His whole works consisting of Dialogues, Essays, Declamations, Satires, Letters from the Dead to the Living, Translations, Amusements, &c. were printed in 4 vol. 12mo, 1707.  In order that the reader may conceive a true idea of the spirit and humour, as well as of the character of Tom Brown, we shall here insert an Imaginary Epistle, written from the Shades to his Friends among the Living; with a copy of Verses representing the Employment of his poetical Brethren in that fancied Region.

TomBrown to his Friends among the Living.


I bear it with no little concern to find myself so soon forgot among ye; I have paid as constant attendance to post-hours, in expectation to hear from ye, as a hungry Irish Man (at twelve) to a three-penny ordinary, or a decayed beau for nice eating to a roasting-cock’s.  No amorous-keeping fool, banished from his Chloris in town, to his country solitude, has waited with greater impatience for a kind epistle from her, than I for one from you.  I have searched all private packets, and examined every straggling ghost that came from your parts, without being able to get the least intelligence of your affairs.  This is the third since my arrival in these gloomy regions, and I can give myself no reason why I have received none in answer, unless the packet-boat has been taken by the French, or that so little time has quite excluded me from your memories.  In my first I gave you an account of my journey hither, and my reception among the ingenious in these gloomy regions.

I arrived on the Banks of Acheron, and found Charon scooping his wherry, who seeing me approach him, bid me sit down a little, for he had been hard worked lately, and could not go with a single passenger:  I was willing enough to embrace the proposal, being much fatigued and weary.  Having finished what he was about, he cast his rueful aspect up to the clouds, and demonstrating from thence (as I suppose) it was near dinner-time, he took from out a locker or cupboard in the stern of his pinnace, some provender pinned up in a clean linnen clout, and a jack of liquor, and fell too without the least shew of ceremony, unless indeed it were to offer me the civility of partaking with him.  He muttered something to himself, which might be grace as far as I know; but if it were, ’twas as short as that at an Auction-dinner, nor did he devour what was before him with less application than I have seen some there.  For my part, I could not but contemplate on his shaggy locks, his wither’d sun-burnt countenance, together with the mightiness and sanctity of his beard; but above all, his brawny chopt knuckles employed my attention:  In short, having satisfied the cormorant in his guts, he had time to ask me what country-man I was? to which I submissively answered, an English-man:  O, says he, those English-men are merry rogues, and love mischief; I have sometimes a diverting story from thence:  What news have you brought with you? truly I told his highness I came away a little dissatisfied, and had not made any remarks on the world for some time before my death; and for news I had not leisure to bring any thing of moment.  But ere we had talked much more, we saw two other passengers approach us, who, by their often turning to one another, and their laying down arguments with their hands, seemed to be in warm debate together; which was as we conjectured; for when they drew nearer to us, they proved to be a termagant High-Flyer, and a puritanical Scripturian, a fiery Scotchman:  Occasional Conformity was their subject; for I heard the Scot tell him ’twas all popery, downright popery, and that the inquisition in Spain was christianity to it, by retarding the sons of grace from partaking of the gifts of the Lord; he said it was the building of Babel, and they were confounded in the works of their hands by the confusion of tongues; such crys, says he, went forth before the desolation of the great city.

Thou the son of grace, says the other, thou art a son of Satan, and hast preached up iniquity; ye are the evil tares, and the land can never prosper ’till ye are rooted out from among the good corn.

Thou art an inventer of lies, said the disciple of John Calvin, and the truth is not in thee; ye are bloody minded wretches, and your fury is the only sign of your religion, as the steeple is to the church; your organs are the prophane tinkling of the cimbals of Satan, that tickle the ears with vanity.

Thus the dispute lasted till they came to us, and getting into the boat, they jostled for preeminence, which might have proved a sharp conflict, had not the old fellow took up a stretcher and parted them.  After which we parted peaceably over to the other side:  being-landed, the Scot and I took our way together, and left the furious churchman to vent his spleen by himself.  We had not travelled long before we came to a populous village, where, from the various multitude, our eyes encountered at a distance, we might easily conjecture that something more than ordinary had gathered them together in that manner; it resembled (as near as I can describe it) that famous place called Sherrick-fair, or a Staffordshire-Wake.  While we were applying our admiration that way, we arrived at a small hut erected for that purpose, where Nero the tyrant, like a blind fiddler, was surrounded by a confused tribe of all sorts and sexes, like another Orpheus among the beasts.

The various remarks I made (some dancing, some prancing; some clapping, some knapping; some drinking, some winking; some kissing, some pissing; some reeling, some stealing) urged my curiosity to enquire for what it was possible those noble sports might be ordained, and was soon satisfied it was the Anniversary Feast of their Great Lady Proserpine’s birth-day.  But these things that I took to be diverting, so elevated the spleen of my Puritan companion, that he began loudly to exclaim against those prophane exercises:  he said, they were impure, and lifted up the mind to lewdness; that those that followed them, were the sons of Belial, and wore the mark of the beast in their foreheads.  I endeavoured to pacify the sanctified brother, by putting him in mind where we were, and that his rashness might draw us into danger, being in a strange place; but all was in vain, I but stirred up his fury more; for, turning his rebukes upon me, he told me, I was myself one of the wicked, and did rejoice in my heart at the deeds of darkness:  no, says he, I will not be pacified, I will roar aloud to drown their incantations; yea, I will set out a throat even as the beast that belloweth! so that perceiving the mob gather about him, I thought it prudence to steal off, and leave him to the fury of those, whose displeasure he was about to incur.

I had not gone far, but I ’spied two brawney champions at a rubbers of cuffs, which by the dexterity of their head’s, hands, and heels, I judged could be no other than Englishmen:  nor were my sentiments groundless, for presently I heard the mob cry out, O! rare Jo!  O! rare Jo! and attentively Surveying the combatants, I found it to be the merry Jo Haynes, fallen out with Plowden the famous Lawyer, about a game at Nine-holes; and that shout had proclaimed Joe victorious.  I was something scrupulous of renewing my acquaintance, not knowing how the conqueror, in the midst of his success, might use me for making bold with his character in my letters from the read; though I felt a secret desire to discover myself, yet prudence withstood my inclination, ’till a more convenient season might so that I brushed off to a place where I saw a concourse of the better sort of people; there I found Millington the famous Auctioneer, among a crowd of Lawyers, Physicians, Scholars, Poets, Critics, Booksellers, &c. exercising his old faculty; for which, gentlemen, he is as particularly famed in these parts, as Herostratus for firing the famous Temple, or Barthol Swarts, for the invention of Gunpowder.  He is head journey-man to Ptolemy, who keeps a Bookseller’s shop here, and rivals even Jacob Tonson in reputation among the great wits.

But most of all I was obliged to admire my friend Millington, who, by his powerful knack of eloquence, to the wonder of the whole company, sold Cave’s Lives of the Fathers to Solomon the Magnificent, and the Scotch Directory to the Priests of the Sun; nay, he sold-Archbishop Laud’s Life to Hugh Peters, Hob’s Leviathan to Pope Boniface, and pop’d Bunyan’s Works upon Bellarmine for a piece of unrevealed Divinity; After the sale was over, I took an opportunity of making myself known to him, who caressed me with all the freedom imaginable, asking me, how long I had been in these parts? and what news from the other world? and a thousand particular questions about his old friends; to all which I responded as well as I could:  and having given me a caution to avoid some people, by whom I was threatened, for exposing them in my letters, we went to take a bottle together.

Now I presume, gentlemen, you will conclude it high time for me to take my leave; nor shall I tire your patience much longer, only permit me to give ye the trouble of some particular services to those honest gentlemen whose generosity gave me the reputation of a funeral above what I e’er expected, especially to Dr. S t for bestowing the ground I never frequented, to Dr. Garth and the rest for the charge of a hearse and mourning coaches, which I could not have desired, and to Dr. D ke for designing me a monument I know the world will reflect I never deserved; but for that, let my works testify for me.  And though ye are satisfied my genius was never over-fruitful in the product of verse, yet knowing these favours require something a little uncommon to make a suitable return, I shall take my leave in metre, and, if contrary to my opinion, it meets with a kind acceptance from the town, honest Sam. may clap it in the next edition of the State Poems, with Buckingham’s name to it.

  When a scurvy disease had lain hold of my carcase,
  And death to my chamber was mounting the stair-case. 
  I call’d to remembrance the sins I’d committed,
  Repented, and thought I’d for Heaven been fitted;
  But alas! there is still an old proverb to cross us,
  I found there no room for the sons of Parnassus;
  And therefore contented like others to fare,
  To the shades of Elizium I strait did repair;
  Where Dryden and other great wits o’ the town,
  To reward all their labours, are damn’d to write on. 
  Here Johnson may boast of his judgment and plot,
  And Otway of all the applause that he got;
  Loose Eth’ridge presume on his stile and his wit,
  And Shadwell of all the dull plays he e’r writ;
  Nat.  Lee here may boast of his bombast and rapture,
  And Buckingham rail to the end of the chapter;
  Lewd Rochester lampoon the King and the court,
  And Sidley and others may cry him up for’t;
  Soft Waller and Suckling, chaste Cowley and others,
  With Beaumont and Fletcher, poetical brothers,
  May here scribble on with pretence to the bays,
  E’en Shakespear himself may produce all his plays,
  And not get for whole pages one mouth full of praise.

  To avoid this disaster, while Congreve reforms,
  His muse and his morals fly to Bracegirdle’s arms;
  Let Vanbrugh no more plotless plays e’er impose,
  Stuft with satire and smut to ruin the house;
  Let Rowe, if he means to maintain his applause,
  Write no more such lewd plays as his Penitent was. 
  O Satire! from errors instruct the wild bard,
  Bestow thy advice to reclaim each lewd bard;
  Bid the Laureat sincerely reflect on the matter;
  Bid Dennis drink less, but bid him write better;
  Bid Durfey cease scribbling, that libelling song-ster;
  Bid Gildon and C n be Deists no longer;
  Bid B t and C r, those wits of the age,
  Ne’er expose a dull coxcomb, but just on the stage;
  Bid Farquhar (tho’ bit) to his consort be just,
  And Motteux in his office be true to his trust;
  Bid Duffet and Cowper no longer be mad,
  But Parsons and Lawyers mind each their own trade. 
  To Grubster and others, bold satire advance;
  Bid Ayliffe talk little, and P s talk sense;
  Bid K n leave stealing as well as the rest;
  When this can be done, they may hope to be blest.