John Brown (1715-1766), British divine and author, was born at Rothbury, Northumberland, on the 5th of November 1715. His father, a descendant of the Browns of Coalston, near Haddington, became vicar of Wigton in that year. Young Brown was educated at St John's College, Cambridge; and after graduating at the head of the list of wranglers in 1735, he took holy orders, and was appointed minor canon and lecturer at Carlisle. In 1745 he distinguished himself in the defence of Carlisle as a volunteer, and in 1747 was appointed chaplain to Dr Osbaldiston, on his admission to the bishopric of Carlisle. His poem, entitled "Honour" (1743), was followed by the "Essay on Satire." This gained for him the friendship of William Warburton, who introduced him to Ralph Allen, of Prior Park, near Bath. In 1751 Brown dedicated to Allen his Essay on the Characteristics of Lord Shaftesbury, containing an able defence of the utilitarian philosophy, praised later by John Stuart Mill (Westminster Review, vol. xxix. p. 477). In 1756 he was promoted by the earl of Hardwicke to the living of Great Horkesley in Essex, and in the following year he took the degree of D.D. at Cambridge. He was the author of two plays, Barbarossa (1754) and Athelstane (1756); Garrick played in both, and the first was a success.
The most popular of his works was the Estimate of the Manners and Principles of the Times (2 vols., 1757-1758), a bitter satire which pleased a public depressed by the ill-success in the conduct of the war, and ready to welcome an attack on luxury and kindred evils. Other works are the Additional Dialogue of the Dead between Pericles and Cosmo ... (1760), in vindication of Chatham's policy; and the Dissertation on the Rise, Union and Power, etc., of Poetry and Music (1763). He was consulted in connexion with a scheme of education which Catherine II. of Russia desired to introduce into her dominions. A memorandum on the subject by Dr Brown led to an offer on her part to entertain him at St Petersburg as her adviser on the subject. He had bought a postchaise and various other things for the journey, when he was persuaded to relinquish the design on account of his gout. He had been subject to fits of melancholy, and, influenced perhaps by disappointment, he committed suicide on the 23rd of September 1766.
There is a detailed account of John Brown by Andrew Kippis in Biographia Britannica (1780), containing the text of the negotiations for his journey to Russia, and of a long letter in which he outlines the principles of the scheme he would have proposed. See also T. Davies, Memoirs of ... David Garrick (1780), chap. xix.