John Brown (physician)

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John Brown
John Brown b1810d.jpg
Born (1810-09-22)22 September 1810
Biggar, South Lanarkshire
Died 11 May 1882(1882-05-11) (aged 71)
Nationality Scottish
Occupation physician, essayist
John Brown

John Brown FRSE FRCPE (22 September 1810 – 11 May 1882) was a Scottish physician and essayist. He is best known for his 3 volume collection Horae Subsecivae—"Leisure Hours" (1858), including essays and papers on art, medical history and biography. Among the former, his dog story, Rab and his Friends (1859), and his essays Pet Marjorie (1863)—on Marjorie Fleming, the ten-year-old prodigy and "pet" of Walter Scott,[1] Our Dogs, Minchmoor, and The Enterkine are especially notable.

He was the half-brother of the organic chemist Alexander Crum Brown.

Biography[edit]

He was the son of the clergyman John Brown (1784–1858), and was born in Biggar, Scotland. His mother, Jane Nimmo, died when he was only six.[2]

Brown was educated at the Edinburgh High School and graduated as M.D. at the University of Edinburgh in 1833, and practised as a physician in that city. He was descended from eminent Presbyterian clergymen. After graduating MD in 1833 he was apprenticed, to James Syme. Brown subsequently acquired a very large medical practice in Edinburgh at a time when infectious diseases took a heavy toll of life. He was a very sociable man, and his house at 23 Rutland Street was the scene of many social gatherings. In 1840 he married Catherine Scott McKay. They had three children, a baby who died shortly after birth (a girl), a daughter, Helen, who was to marry Captain Alexander Laws, and a son 'Jock' Brown. Helen Laws moved to Ireland but outlived her father. However, Jock was to survive into the 20th century and worked hard to pay tribute to his father, collecting all his letters, and working to erect a plaque on his house[3] which remains to this day.[4] In 1847 Dr Brown became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, and for a while was Honorary Librarian. He held strong views on the inappropriateness of examinations to evaluate student progress and was unimpressed by the view that scientific advances were in patients' best interests.

Brown was the friend of many contemporaries, including Thackeray and Mark Twain; his reputation is based on the two volumes of essays, Horae Subsecivae (Leisure Hours) (1858, 1861), John Leech and Other Papers (1882), Rab and His Friends (1859), and Marjorie Fleming: a Sketch (1863) (generally called Pet Marjorie). His first writing was in response to a request for contributions to the notices of paintings exhibited by the Royal Scottish Academy. The editor of the Scotsman newspaper then asked him to write regularly for the paper. He was 48 years old when he published Rab and His Friends. His writings were philosophical, classical, artistic, medical, of rural life, the Jacobite Rebellion, notable characters, humble folk and canine friends. These were published as a collection in 1858 as Horæ Subsecivæ, which ran to many editions. The first volume deals mainly with the equipment and duties of a physician, the second with subjects outside his profession.

Brown was revered and beloved to uncommon degree, and he was the cherished friend of many of his most distinguished contemporaries, including Thackeray. Among those whose writing he encouraged was Henrietta Keddie, then a schoolgirl in Leith, who would become a prolific novelist and writer for children.[5] In the mingling of tenderness and delicate humour Brown has much in common with Lamb; in his insight into dog-nature he is unique. He wrote comparatively little; but all he did write is good, some of it perfect, of its kind.

Brown suffered during the latter years of his life from attacks of melancholy.

He died at 23 Rutland Street in Edinburgh[6] on 11 May 1882, and was buried in his father’s plot in New Calton Cemetery.

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