Browne, Isaac Hawkins

, esq. F. R. S. and a very ingenious and elegant poet of the last century, was born at Burton-upon-Trent, January 21, 1705-6; and was the son of the rev. William Browne, minister of that parish, where he chiefly resided, vicar of Winge, in Buckinghamshire, and a prebendary of Litchfield, which last preferment was given him by the excellent bishop Hough. He was possessed, also, of a small paternal inheritance, which he greatly increased by his marriage with Anne, daughter of Isaac Hawkins, esq. all whose estate, at length, came to his only grandson and heir-at-law, the subject of this article. Our author received his grammatical education, first at Litchfield, and then at Westminster, where he was much distinguished for the brilliancy of his parts^ and the steadiness of his application. The uncommon rapidity with which he passed through the several forms or classes of Westminster school, attracted the notice, and soon brought him under the direction of the head master, Dr. Freind, with whom he was a peculiar favourite. Mr. Browne stayed above a year in the sixth, or head form, with a view of confirming and improving his taste for classical learning and composition, under so polite and able a scholar. When he was little more than sixteen years of age, he was removed to Trinity-college, Cambridge, of which college his father had been fellow. He remained at the university till he had taken his degree of M. A. and though during his residence there he continued his taste for classical literature, which through his whole life was his principal object and pursuit, he did not omit the peculiar studies of the place, but applied himself with vigour and success to all the branches of mathematical science, and the principles of the Newtonian philosophy. When in May 1724, king George the First established at both universities, a foundation for the study of modern history and languages, with the design of qualifying young men for employments at court, and foreign embassies, Mr. Browne was among the earliest of those who were selected | to be scholars upon this foundation. On the death of that prince, he wrote an university copy of verses, which was the first of his poems that had been printed, and was much admired. About the year 1727, Mr. Browne, who had been always intended for the bar, settled at Lincoln’s-inn. Here he prosecuted, for several years, with great attention, the study of the law, and acquired in it a considerable degree of professional knowledge, though he never arrived to any eminence in the practice of it, and entirely gave it up long before his death. He was the less solicitous about the practice of his profession, and it was of the less consequence to him, as he was possessed of a fortune adequate to his desires; which, by preserving the happy mean between extravagance and avarice, he neither diminished nor increased.

Mr. Browne’s application to the law did not prevent his occasionally indulging himself in the exercise of his poetical talents. It was not long after his settlement at Lincoln’s-inn that he wrote his poem on “Design and Beauty,” addressed to Highmore the painter, for whom he had a great friendship. In this, one of the longest of his poems, he shews an extensive knowledge of the Platonic philosophy; and pursues, through the whole, the idea of beauty advanced by that philosophy. By design is here meant, in a large and extensive sense, that power of genius which enables the real artist to collect together his scattered ideas, to range them in proper order, and to form a regular plan before he attempts to exhibit any work in architecture, painting, or poetry. He wrote several other poetical pieces during the interval between his fixing at LincolnVinn and his marriage one of the mostpleasing and popular of which was his “Pipe of Tobacco,” an imitation of Gibber, Ambrose Philips, Thomson, Young, Pope, and Swift, who were then all living; the peculiar manner of these several writers is admirably hit off by our author, who evidently possessed an excellent imitative genius. Indeed, nothing but a nice spirit of discrimination, and a happy talent at various composition, could have enabled him to have succeeded so well as he hath done in the “Pipe of Tobacco.” The imitation of Ambrose Philips was not written by our poet, but by an ingenious friend, the late Dr. John Hoaclly, chancellor of the diocese of Winchester, and second son of -the bishop. Dr. Hoadlyy however, acknowledged that his little imitation was altered | so much for the better by Mr. Browne, that he fairly made it his own.

On the 10th of February 1743-4, Mr. Browne married Jane, daughter of the rev. Dr. David Trimnell, archdeacon of Leicester, and precentor of Lincoln, and niece to the right rev. Dr. Charles Trimnell, bishop of Winchester, a woman of great merit, and of a very amiable temper. He was chosen twice to serve in parliament; first upon a vacancy in December 1744, and then at the general election in 1748, for the borough of Wenlock in Shropshire, near to which his estate lay. This was principally owing to the interest of William Forester, esq. a gentleman of great fortune and ancient family in Shropshire, who recommended Mr. Browne to the electors, from the opinion he entertained of his abilities, and the confidence he had in his integrity and principles. As Mr. Browne had obtained his seat in parliament without opposition or expence, and without laying himself under obligations to any party, he never made use of it to interested or ambitious purposes. The principles, indeed, in which he had been educated, and which were confirmed by reading and experience, and the good opinion he had conceived of Mr. Pelham’s administration, led him usually to support the measures of government; but he never received any favour, nor desired any employment. He saw with great concern the dangers arising from parliamentary influence, and was determined that no personal consideration should biass his public conduct. The love of his country, and an ardent zeal for its constitution and liberties, formed a distinguishing part of his character. In private conversation, Mr. Browne possessed so uncommon a degree of eloquence, that he was the admiration and delight of all who knew him. It must, therefore, have been expected that he should have shone in the house of commons, as a public speaker. But he had a modesty and delicacy about him, accompanied with a kind of nervous timidity, which prevented him from appearing in that character. His case, in this respect, was similar to that of the third earl of Shaftesbury, Mr. Addison, and other ingenious men. Dr. Johnson said of him, “I. H. Browne, one of the first witsof this country, got into parliament, and never opened hismouth.

In 1754 Mr. Browne published what may be called his. great work, his Latin poem “I}e Aiumi Immortalitate^ | in two books, the reception of which was such as its merit deserved. It immediately excited the applause of the most polite scholars, and has been praised by some of the most eminent and ingenious men of the age, by archbishop Herring, Dr. E. Barnard, R. O. Cambridge, Mr. Upton, bishop Hoadly, bishop Green, Mr. Harris, Dr. Beattie, &c. &c. Its popularity was so great, that several English translations of it appeared in a little time. The first was by Mr. Hay, author of an” Essay on Deformity,“and other pieces; and the second in blank verse, by Dr. Richard Grey, a learned clergyman, well known by his” Memoria Technica,“and his publications in scripture criticism. A third translation was published without a name, but with a laboured preface, containing some quotations from sir John Davies’s” Nosce Teipsum,“which were supposed to be analogous to certain passages in Mr. Browne. All these versions made their appearance in the course of a few months; and there was afterwards printed, by an unknown hand, a translation of the first book. Some years after Mr. Browne’s death, the” De Animi Immortalitate“was again translated by the rev. Mr. Crawley, a clergyman in Huntingdonshire, and more recently Dr. John Lettice published a translation in blank verse, with a commentary and annotations, 1795, 8vo. A close and literal version, of it in prose was inserted by Mr. Highmore the painter in his publication which appeared in 1766, entitled” Essays moral, religious, and miscellaneous," But the best translation is that by Soame Jenyns, esq. printed in his Miscellanies, and since published in Mr. Browne’s poems. These testimonies and attentions paid to our ingenious author’s principal production, are striking evidences of the high sense which was justly entertained of its merit. Not to mention the usefulness and importance of the subject, every man of taste must feel that the poem is admirable for its perspicuity, precision, and order; and that it unites the philosophical learning and elegance of Cicero, with the numbers, and much of the poetry, of Lucretius and Virgil. Mr. Browne intended to have added a third book. In these three books he proposed to carry natural religion as far as it would go, and in so doing, to lay the true foundation of Christianity, of which he was a firm believer. But he went no farther than to leave a fragment of the third book, enough to make us lament that he did not complete the whole.

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Though Mr. Browne was bred to a profession, and sat several years in parliament, he was not so shining or distinguished a character in public as in private life *. His private life was chiefly divided between his books and his friends. His reading took in a large compass; but he had the greatest delight in the Greek and Roman writers. Few men formed so early and lasting a taste, and acquired so familiar a knowledge of the ancient poets, philosophers, orators, and historians, particularly those of the purest ages; and hence it was that he derived the happy art of transfusing into the more serious of his compositions, the graces of their diction, and the strength of their sentiments, without servile imitation. He was very conversant likewise with the best English and Italian authors. His memory enabled him to retain every thing which he had heard or read; and he could repeat, with the greatest facility and gracefulness, the fine passages he had treasured up in his mind. Having a perfect ear for harmony and rhythm, he was an admirable reader both of prose and verse, and without having ever applied himself to the practice of music, his natural taste rendered him a good judge in that delightful art. With these various accomplishments, to which were added, a remarkably happy talent of telling a story, a genuine flow of wit, as well as eloquence, a peculiar vein of humour, and, indeed, an excellence in every species of conversation, it is not surprising that his company was almost universally sought for and desired. His acquaintance was so courted, that, though his private inclination would have led him to have lived retired, in the society of a few old friends, he became, at different periods of his life, intimate with all the distinguished men of the age, and with those especially, who were most


The following anecdote, which was related by Mr. James Close, a respectable solicitor of Lincoln’s-inn, is highly honourable to Mr. Browne. Dnring the time that Mr. Browne attended the chancery bar, the merits of a cause were argued before the lordchancellor Hardwicke, the decision of which depended upon ascertaining the rights and obligations of gavel-kind, The counsel employed on each side having rather perplexed than thrown much light upon the subject, the lord-chancellor said, “There sits a gentleman (meaning Mr. Browne), who, I believe, knows more of the matter than any of us;” at the same time requesting him to favour the court with his sentiments on the case in question, Mr. Browne, having first modestly excused himself, was prevailed upon to comply with the chancellor’s motion, and spoke for an hour on the rise and tenure of gavel-kind, with great learning, accuracy, and precision, and with a particular application to the matter in hand. The chancellor thanked him for the information himself and the audience had received, and expressed his concern that he had not the pleasure of hearing him oftener upon other subjects.

| eminent for their learning and parliamentary abilities. His particular friends were persons of distinguished merit and virtue. By these he was held in the highest esteem and respect, and his union with them was never broken by any thing but death. His fine feelings, his enlarged and exalted sentiments, and the general excellence of his character, continued to render any social connections with him as lasting as they were desirable and delightful. One great object of Mr. Browne’s attention, during the latter part of his life, was the education of his only son, to whom he was an excellent father and instructor. Our author, after having laboured a considerable time under a weak and infirm state of health, died, of a lingering illness, at his house in Great Russel-street, Bloomsbury-square, London, on the 14th of February, 1760, in the fifty-fifth year of his age. In 1768, the present Mr. Hawkins Browne published an elegant edition, in large octavo, of his father’s poems; upon which occasion he had the satisfaction of receiving fresh testimonies to their merit from many eminent men then living. To this edition is prefixed a very fine head by Ravenet from a picture by Highmore. 1

Biog. Brit, communicated by his son. Boswell’s Johnson. Nichols, Dodsley, and Pearch’s Poems. See an anecdote of one of his poenas in Warburton’s Letters, 4to edit. p. 31.