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Significant Scots
William Lawrence Brown

BROWN, WILLIAM LAWRENCE, D. D., an eminent theological and miscellaneous writer, was born, January 7, 1755, at Utrecht, where his father, the reverend William Brown, was minister to the English congregation. In 1757, his father removed with his family to St Andrews, in order to undertake the duties of professor of ecclesiastical history; and the subject of our memoir, having commenced his education under his father’s care, was placed successively at the grammar-school and university of that city, entering the latter at the early age of twelve. His native abilities, favoured by the fostering care of his father, enabled him, notwithstanding his immature years, to pass through his academical course with distinction; classical literature, logic, and ethics, being the branches of study to which he chiefly devoted his attention. After studying divinity for two years at St Andrews, he removed to Utrecht, where he prosecuted the same study, and also that of civil law. In 1778, having previously been licensed by the presbytery of St Andrews, he succeeded his uncle as minister of the English church at Utrecht; a field of exertion too narrow for his abilities, but which he, nevertheless, cultivated with the same zeal and application which a conscientious clergyman might be expected to bestow upon one more extensive. Such spare time as his duties left to him, he employed in attention to a few pupils whom he received into his house. He at the same time enlarged his range of study, and occasionally made excursions into France, Germany, and Switzerland. In 1786, he married his cousin, Anne Elizabeth Brown, by whom he had five sons and four daughters.

The first literary effort of Mr Brown, was an essay on the origin of evil, written for a prize offered by the curators of the Holpian legacy at Utrecht, and which was adjudged the second honour among the essays of twenty-five competitors, that of being published at the expense of the trust. Soon after this, namely, in 1784, the university of St Andrews conferred upon him the degree of Doctor in Divinity. Dr Brown was successful in several other prize essays, two of which were published, under the titles of "An Essay on the Folly of Scepticism," London, 1788; and "An Essay on the Natural Equality of Man," Edinburgh, 1793. The latter took a more sober view of the subject than was generally adopted at the time of its publication; and it accordingly became the means of introducing Dr Brown to the notice of the British government. Previously to the armed interposition of the Prussians in 1788, Dr Brown was exposed to so much annoyance on account of his attachment to the dynasty of Nassau, that he found it necessary to proceed to London, in quest of another situation. The event alluded to, not only enabled him to retain his former office, but caused his elevation to a professorship, newly erected in the university of his native city, for moral philosophy and ecclesiastical history. He unfortunately was not allowed sufficient time to prepare the two elaborate courses of lectures required in this new situation; and, by his extraordinary exertions to accomplish what was expected of him, laid the foundation of ailments, from which he never afterwards recovered. His inaugural discourse was published under the title of "Oratio de Religionis et Philosophiae Societate et Concordia maxime Salutari." Two years afterwards, he was nominated rector of the university; and on depositing his temporary dignity, he pronounced an "Oratio de Imaginatione in Vitae Institutione regenda," which was published in 1790. Though offered the Greek professorship at St Andrews, he continued in Utrecht, till the invasion of Holland by the French, in the beginning of 1795, when he was obliged to leave the country in an open boat, with his wife and five children, besides some other relations. Notwithstanding the severity of the season, the roughness of the weather, and the frail nature of the bark to which so many lives were committed, he reached the English coast in safety. In London, to which he immediately proceeded, he met with a friendly reception from lord Auckland, to whom he had become known during his lord ship’s residence as ambassador at the Hague, and who now exerted himself so warmly in his favour, that he was, in the course of a few months, appointed to succeed Dr Campbell, as professor of divinity in the Marischal college, Aberdeen; to which honourable appointment was soon after added, that of principal of the same college.

We are informed by the writer of the life of Dr Brown, in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, that "this new professorship imposed upon him a very serious task, that of composing a course of theological lectures, extending over five sessions. After a review of the different systems of religion which lay claim to a divine origin, he discussed most amply the evidences and doctrines of natural religion. He then proceeded to the evidences of revealed religion, of which he gave a very full and learned view. The christian scheme formed the next subject of an inquiry, in which the peculiar doctrines of Christianity were very extensively unfolded. Christian ethics were also explained; and it formed part of his original plan, to treat of all the great controversies that have agitated the religious world. This portion of the course was not, however, completed." Besides attending to the duties of his chair, and of his principality, Dr Brown officiated as one of the ministers of the West church in Aberdeen. A volume of his sermons appeared in 1803. He also occasionally attended the General Assembly, where his manly eloquence and impressive mode of speaking, caused him to be listened to with great respect, though he never arrived at the character of a leader. While discharging every public duty with zeal and efficacy, he did not neglect his favourite pursuits of literature. In 1809, he published "Philemon, or the Progress of Virtue, a poem," Edinburgh, 2 vols. octavo; and in 1816, appeared his greatest literary effort, "An Essay on the Existence of a Supreme Creator," Aberdeen, 2 vols. octavo. The latter was the successful competing essay, among fifty, for Burnet’s first prize of 1250; the second, of 400, being awarded to Dr Sumner, afterwards bishop of Chester. Dr Brown also wrote a few pamphlets upon passing occurrences, political and otherwise; and one or two articles in Latin, relating to formalities in the university over which he presided. His last considerable work was "A Comparative View of Christianity, and of the other Forms of Religion which have existed, and still exist in the World, particularly with regard to their Moral Tendency," Edinburgh, 2 vols. octavo, 1826.

In addition to the preferments already mentioned, Dr Brown was honoured, in 1800, with the appointment of chaplain in ordinary to the king; and, in 1804, was nominated dean of the Chapel-royal, and of the order of the Thistle. He was, last of all, in 1825, appointed to read the Gordon course of lectures on practical religion, in the Marischal college. Though thus bearing such a multiplicity of offices, Dr Brown was, upon principle, opposed to pluralities, and was, perhaps, only tempted to transgress the rule in his own case, by the want of adequate endowments for his two chief offices, those of divinity professor and of principal.

Dr Brown died, May 11, 1830, in the seventy-sixth year of his age. Besides his great talents and acquirements, he was characterized by many excellent personal qualities. His mind was altogether of a manly cast; and, though honoured with the regards of a court, he was incapable of cowering to mere rank and station. With some warmth of temper, he was open, sincere, and generous, and entertained sentiments of unbounded liberality towards his fellow creatures, of all ranks, and of all countries.

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