Browne, Simon

, an able and learned minister and writer among the protestant dissenters, and who was remarkable for a mental disorder of a most extraordinary kind, was born at Shepton-Mallet, in Somersetshire, about 1680. He was instructed in grammar by the rev. Mr. Cumming, who was pastor of a congregation in that town; from whence he was removed to Bridgewater, and finished Jiis studies under the care of the rev. Mr. Moor. As he possessed uncommon parts, which had been improved by the most assiduous application, he was very early thought qualified for the ministry; so that he began to preach some time before he was twenty years of age. His talents soon rendered him so conspicuous among the dissenters, that he was chosen minister of a considerable congregation at Portsmouth, in which situation he continued some years. In 1706, he published a small treatise, entitled “A caveat | against evil Company.” In 1709, he published, in one volume, 8vo, “The true character of the real Christian.” He discharged the duties of the pastoral office at Portsmouth with so much fidelity and diligence, as procured him universal esteem; but, in 1716, he removed to the great regret of his congregation, in consequence of his being invited to accept of the pastoral charge of the congregation of protestant dissenters in the Old Jewry, London, which was one of the most considerable in the kingdom. In 1720, he published, in one volume, 12mo, “Hymns and Spiritual Songs, in three books.” In 1722, he published a volume of “Sermons,” and about the same time a “Letter to the rev. Thomas Reynolds,” in which he censures that gentleman and other dissenters for requiring of their brethren explicit declarations of their belief in the doctrine of the Trinity. At the Old Jewry he continued to preach for about seven years with the greatest reputation, mid was much beloved and esteemed by his congregation: but, in 1723, a complicated domestic affliction, the loss of his wife, and of an only son, so deeply affected him, that he was at first in a state little different from distraction; and the disorder which his imagination had sustained from the shock that he had received, at length settled into a melancholy of a very extraordinary nature*. He desisted from the duties of his function, and could not be persuaded to join in any act of worship, either public or private. He imagined, " that Almighty God, by a singular instance of divine power, had, in a gradual manner, annihilated in him the thinking substance, and utterly divested him of consciousness: that though he retained the human shape, and the faculty of speaking, in a manner that appeared to others rational, he had all the while no more notion of what he said than a parrot. And, very consistently with this,


As the cause of Browne’s insanity has been thought by some, not adequate to the effect, the following story has been revived lately: “Mr. Browne being on a journey with a friend, they were attacked by a highwayman, who presented a pistol and demanded their money. Mr. B. being courageous, strong, and active, disarmed him, and seizing him by the collar, they both fell to the ground. In the struggle to overpower him, Mr. B. at length getting uppermost, placed his knee on the highwayman’s breast, and by that means confined him while his companion rode to town, at a distance, for help to secure him. After a considerable time, he returned with assistance; upon which Mr. B. arose from off the man to deliver him up to safe custody, but, to his unspeakable terror, the man was dead.” There seems but slender foundation for the story, but supposing it true, it will not account much more clearly for Mr B.‘s insanity, than the loss of his wife and son. Protestant Dissenters’ Magazine, vol. IV. p. 433.

| he looked upon himself as no longer a moral agent, a subject of reward or punishment. 7 ’ He continued in this persuasion to the end of his life, with very little variation. Nothing grieved him more, than that he could not persuade others to think of him as he thought of himself. He sometimes considered this as questioning his veracity, which affected him in the most sensible manner; and he often took pains, by the most solemn asseverations, to remove such an imputation. At other times, and in a more gloomy hour, he would represent the incredulity which was manifested towards him, as a judicial effect of the same divine power jhat had occasioned this strange alteration in him, as if God had determined to proceed against him in this way, and would have no application made in his behalf. Upon this account, for a long while, he was unwilling that any prayers should be made for him; which, he would say, could be warranted by nothing but a faith in miracles, and even refused to say grace at table, or if urged to it, appeared in the greatest distress. At the beginning of his disorder, he was so unhappy in himself, as to have frequent propensities to deprive himself of life; but he afterwards grew more serene, and appeared to have little or no terror upon his mind. He considered himself as one who, though he had little to hope, had no more to fear, and was therefore, for the most part, calm and composed; and when the conversation did not turn upon himself, as it was generally rational and very serious, so was it often cheerful and pleasant. But his opinion concerning himself occasionally led him into inconsistencies; and when these were pointed out to him, he sometimes appeared much puzzled.

Whilst he was under the influence of this strange frenzy, it was extremely remarkable, that his faculties appeared to be in every other respect in their full vigour. He continued to apply himself to his studies, and discovered the same force of understanding which had formerly distinguished him, both in his conversation and in his writings. Having, however, quitted the ministry, he retired into the country, to his native town of Shepton-Mallet. Here, for some time, he amused himself with translating several parts of the ancient Greek and Latin poets into English verse. He afterwards composed several little pieces for the use of children, an English grammar and spelling-book, an abstract of the scripture -history, and a collection of fables, | the two last both in metre. With great labour he also amassed together, in a short compass, all the themes of the Greek and Latin tongues, and compiled likewise a dictionary *


It is said, that a friend once called upon him, and asked him what he was doing? He replied, “I am doing nothing that requires a reasonable soul; I am making a dictionary: but you know thanks should be returned to God for every thing, and therefore for dictionary-naakers.

to each of these works, in order to render the learning of both those languages more easy and compendious. But neither of these pieces, nor several others which were written by him during his retirement, were ever printed. During the last two years of his life, he employed himself in the defence of the truth of Christianity, against some of the attacks which were then made against it; and also in recommending mutual candour to Christians of different sentiments concerning the doctrine of the Trinity. In 1732, he published, in 8vo, “A sober and charitable disquisition concerning the importance of the Doctrine of the Trinity; particularly with regard to Worship, and the doctrine of Satisfaction: endeavouring to shew, that those in the different schemes should bear with each other in their different sentiments; nor separate communions, and cast one another out of Christian-fellowship on this account.” The same year he published, “A fit Rebuke to a ludicrous Infidel, in some remarks on Mr. Woolston’s fifth Discourse on the Miracles of our Saviour. With a preface concerning the prosecution of such writers by the civil powers.” It was in the same year also that he published his “Defence of the Religion of Nature, and the Christian Revelation, against the defective account of the one, and the exceptions against the other, in a book, entitled, Christianity as old as the Creation.” In all these pieces, though written in his retirement, with little assistance from books, or learned conversation, he yet displayed considerable extent of knowledge, and of argumentative powers. But to the last of these performances, he prefixed a very singular dedication to queen Caroline, expressive of the unhappy delusion under which he laboured; and which his friends prudently suppressed, aU though it is too great a curiosity to be lost .

Dedication to queen Caroline. “Madam, Of all the extraordinary things that have been tendered to your royal hands, since your first happy arrival in Britain, it may be boldly” said, what now bespeaks your majesty’s acceptance is the chief. Not in itself indeed: it is, a


trifle unworthy your exalted rank, and what will hardly prove an entertaining amusement to one of your majest5‘’s deep penetration, exact judgment, and fine taste; but on account of the author, who is the first being of the kind, and yet without a name. He was once a man, and of some little name; but of no worth, as his present unparalleled case makes bat too manifest: for, by the immediate hand of an avenging God, his very thinking substance has for more than seven years been continually wasting away, till it is wholly perished out of him, if it be not utterly come to nothing. None, no, not the least remembrance of its very ruins remains j not the shadow of an idea is leftj nor any sense, so much as one single one, perfect or imperfect, whole or diminished, ever did appear to a mind within him, or was perceived by it. Such a present from such a thing, however worthless in itself, may not be wholly unacceptable to your majesty, the author being such as history cannot parallel; and if the fact, which is real and no fiction or wrong conceit, obtains credit, it must be recorded as the most memorable, and indeed astonishing, event in the reign of George II. that a tract, composed by such a thing, was presented to the illustrious Caroline: his royal consort needs not be added; fame, if I am not misinformed, will tell that with pleasure to all succeeding times. He has been informed, that your majesty’s piety is as genuine and eminent, as your excellent qualities are great and conspicuous. This can indeed be truly known to the great searcher of hearts only. He alone, who can look into them, can discern if they are sincere, and the main intention corresponds with the appearance; and your majesty cannot take it amiss if such an author hints, that his secret approbation is of infinitely greater value than the commendation of men, who may be easily mistaken, and are too apt to flatter their superiors. But, if he has been told the truth, such a case as his will certainly strike your majesty with astonishment; and may raise that commiseration in your royal breast, which he has in vain endeavoured to excite in those of his friends: who, by the most unreasonable and ill-founded conceit in the world, have imagined, that a thinking being could for seven years together live a stranger to its own powers, exercises, operations, and state; and to what the great God has been doing in it, and to it. If your majesty, in your most retired addressto the king of kings, should think of so singular a case, you may perhaps make it your devout request, that the reign of your beloved sovereign and consort may be renowned to all posterity by the recovery of a sou! now in the utmost ruin, the restoration of one utterly lost, at present, amongst men. And should this case affect your royal breast, you will recommend it to the piety and prayers of all the truly devout, who have the honour to be known to your majesty: many such doubtless there are, though courts are not usually the places where the devout resort, or where devotion reigns. And it is not improbable, that multitudes of the pious throughout the land may take a case to heart, that under your majesty’s patronage comes thus recommended. Could such a favour as this restoration be obtained from heaven by the prayers of your majesty, with what transport of gratitude would the recovered being throw himself at your majesty’s feet, and, adoring the divine power and grace, profess himself, Madam, your majesty’s most obliged and dutiful servant, Simon Browne. First printed by Dr. Hawkesworth in the Adventurer, No. 88.

| After his retirement into the country, he could not be prevailed upon to use any kind of exercise or recreation; so that a complication of disorders, contracted by his sedentary mode of living, at length brought on a mortification in his leg, which put a period to his life, at the close of the year 1732, in the fifty-second year of his age. He had several daughters, who survived him. He was a man | of extensive knowledge, and very considerable learning. He was well skilled in theology, his sentiments were liberal, and he was a zealous advocate for freedom of inquiry. He appears, from the general tenor of his life, and of his writings, to have been a man of distinguished virtue, and of the most fervent piety, and to have been animated by an ardent zeal for the interests of rational and practical religion. His abilities made him respected, and his virtues rendered him beloved: but such was the peculiarity of his case, that he lived a melancholy instance of the weakness of human nature.

After Mr. Browne’s death, in 1733, was published, in 8vo, as a separate piece, “The Close of the Defence of the Religion of Nature and the Christian Revelation: in answer to Christianity as old as the Creation. In an address to Christian ministers and the Christian people.” The author of Christianity as old as the Creation urges it as an argument against the truth of the Gospel revelation, that it has been productive of but little good effect in the lives of Christians, and that it does not appear that they have arrived at any higher state of perfection than the rest of mankind. This objection Mr. Browne answered in his Defence; and his Close of that Defence is an earnest and pathetic exhortation to Christian ministers and people, of all denominations, not to give so much ground by their conduct for such objections of the deists, but to regulate their lives in a more exact conformity to the precepts of the excellent religion which they professed. Besides the works of Mr. Browne which have been enumerated, he also published several single sermons; and was one of the authors of the “Occasional Paper,” a kind of periodical work, collected and published in 3 vols. 8vo. Some of his Mss. are in the British Museum, and among them a version of some of the Psalms. 1


Biog. Brit Atkey’s Funeral Sermon. Adventurer, No, 88.