John Brown (physician)

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John Brown
John Brown b1810d.jpg
Born(1810-09-22)22 September 1810
Died11 May 1882(1882-05-11) (aged 71)
Occupationphysician, essayist
John Brown
23 Rutland Street, Edinburgh
The grave of Dr John Brown, New Calton Cemetery, Edinburgh

John Brown FRSE FRCPE (22 September 1810 – 11 May 1882) was a Scottish physician and essayist best known for his three-volume collection Horae Subsecivae (Leisure Hours, 1858), which included essays and papers on art, medical history and biography. Of the first, his dog story "Rab and his Friends" (1859), and his essays "Pet Marjorie" (1863), on Marjorie Fleming, the ten-year-old prodigy and alleged "pet" of Walter Scott, "Our Dogs", "Minchmoor", and "The Enterkine" are best known.[1] are best known. Brown was half-brother to the organic chemist Alexander Crum Brown.


Memorial for Dr. John Brown in St. Giles' Cathedral

Brown was the son of the clergyman John Brown (1784–1858), and was born in Biggar, Scotland. His mother, Jane Nimmo, died when he was six years old.[1]

Brown, who was descended from eminent Presbyterian clergy, was educated at the Edinburgh High School. He graduated with an M. D. from the University of Edinburgh in 1833, and practised as a physician in the city. After qualifying, he was apprenticed to James Syme. Brown subsequently acquired a large medical practice in Edinburgh at a time when infectious diseases took a heavy toll of life.

Brown was a sociable man: 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 and 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.[2] which remains to this day.[3] In 1847 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 for evaluating 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 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.[4] 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 wrote 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 home at 23 Rutland Street in Edinburgh.[5] on 11 May 1882, and was buried in his father's plot in New Calton Cemetery The grave lies on the western side on the edge of one of the terraces. The inscription to John and the base and are largely obscured, but it is confirmed by his mother's name above.


Brown was married to Catherine Scott McKay (1819–1864).[6]



In 1923 a plaque was erected to Brown in the south-west corner of St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. It was sculpted by Pilkington Jackson.


  1. ^ a b Waterston, Charles D; Macmillan Shearer, A (July 2006). Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002: Biographical Index (PDF). I. Edinburgh: The Royal Society of Edinburgh. ISBN 978-0-902198-84-5. Retrieved 13 January 2016.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Letters of Dr John Brown, edited by his son and U.W. Forrest, with biography by ET McLaren (1907).
  4. ^ Henrietta Keddie (1827–1914) – Novelist.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Grave of Dr John Brown, New Calton.
  7. ^ [1].

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