Robert Brown, an English Puritan theologian, founder of the sect of Brownists, born about 1550, died about 1630. His family was nearly connected with Cecil, afterward Lord Burleigh. He studied at Corpus Christi college, Cambridge, where he first imbibed his Puritan beliefs from Thomas Cartwright, then professor of divinity. Cartwright's views were, however, only the germs of the opinions soon developed by Brown, who on leaving Cambridge at once began a vigorous opposition to the whole discipline and liturgy of the established church. Acting as a schoolmaster, lecturer, and preacher at Islington, he nevertheless devoted much of his time to excursions about the country, delivering polemical addresses. For the agitation thus created he was for a short time imprisoned by the bishop of Norwich in 1580 or 1581; but on acknowledging that he had employed wrong means in the propagation of his theories, he was released. He next became pastor of a Dutch society of Anabaptists at Norwich, and made many converts to his doctrines. The virulence of his attacks on the Anglican hierarchy caused him to be summoned before an ecclesiastical commission, who again placed him in custody, but Lord Burleigh procured his release.
These and other imprisonments, censures, and persecutions caused many to look upon Brown as a martyr for conscience, and he gained a considerable following. But constant interference with his congregation now forced him to leave England, and he and his followers went to Holland and Zealand, where they established themselves. Their principal congregation was at Middelburg in Zealand; others were at Amsterdam and Leyden. Here they speedily became involved in dissensions with the sects about them, and finally quarrelled among themselves. Brown returned to England in 1585, and after preaching for a time at Norwich as before, and subjecting himself first to admonition by the bishop, and then, by his persistency, to excommunication, he suddenly announced his recantation, and begged for readmission into the established church. This was accorded him in 1590, and he was soon made rector of a small church near Thrapston, Northamptonshire. During the remainder of his life he is said to have been idle and dissolute, seldom entering his church.
He died in prison, whither he had been sent for resisting a constable who had demanded his taxes. - The views held by Brown and his followers were briefly these: Every religious congregation should constitute an independent, self-governing body, whose minister should be chosen by it. All members of such a congregation should be equal; and a layman might act as minister, or question the minister. There should be no fixed forms of prayer, but this should be extempore. Marriage should not be celebrated in the churches, but considered as a civil contract. The Brownists also desired change in many minor points. Brown's followers maintained these principles after his defection, and rapidly grew into the large and influential sect of Independents. Brown's principal writings are: "A Treatise of Reformation, without tarrying for any Man; " "A Treatise on the Trinity, third chapter of St. Matthew," etc.; and "A Book which showeth the Life and Manners of all True Christians." These were published together at Middelburg in 1582.
Robert Brown, a British botanist, born at Montrose, Dec. 21, 1773, died in London, June 10, 1858. He studied medicine at Edinburgh, and was appointed botanist in the Australian expedition of Capt. Flinders, which sailed in July, 1801. Accompanied by the flower painter Frederick Bauer, he visited the coasts of Australia, Tasmania, and many of the islands of Bass's strait, returning to England in 1805 with a rich collection of plants, comprising more than 4,000 different species. He was then appointed conservator of the botanical collections of Sir Joseph Banks and librarian of the Linnaean society, .and labored several years at the methodical arrangement of the numerous species of plants collected in New Holland. An outline of this labor was published in 1810, under the title of Prodromus Flora Novae Hollandiae. In 1814 he published his "General Remarks on the Botany of Terra Australis," as an appendix to Flinders's narrative, and in 1830 a Supplementum primum Florae Novae Hollandice. He also described and classified the different species of plants collected, between 1802 and 1815, by Horsfield in Java, and those collected by Salt in Abyssinia, by Oudney and Clapperton in the interior of Africa, and by Christian Smith at the mouth of the Congo. He was appointed in 1827 keeper of the botanical department of the British museum, and retained that position until his death.
Brown was the first English botanist to make an extensive application of the natural system of Jussieu. Vegetable physiology is indebted to him for several important discoveries. He first spoke of the peculiar movement of the molecules of pollen in plants, which is known by his name; and was the first to demonstrate that these molecules, on quitting the anthers, penetrate through the style down to the ovule below. On the death of Bishop Stanley in 1849, he was elected president of the Linnajan society. Humboldt styles him " the greatest botanist of our age".