Tom Brown (satirist)

Last updated

Tom Brown
Died18 June 1704 (aged 41)
Nationality English

Thomas Brown (1662 – 18 June 1704), also known as Tom Brown, was an English translator and satirist, largely forgotten today save for a four-line gibe that he wrote concerning John Fell.



Early life

Brown was born at either Shifnal or Newport in Shropshire; he is identified with the Thomas Brown, son of William and Dorothy Brown, who was recorded christened on 1 January 1663 at Newport. [1] His father, a farmer and tanner, died when Thomas was eight years old. [1] He took advantage of the free schooling offered in the county, attending Adams' Grammar School at Newport, before going up to Christ Church, Oxford and there meeting the college's dean, Dr Fell.

Fell was well known as a disciplinarian, and Brown throughout his life displayed a disdain for restrictions. The legend behind Brown's most recognised work is therefore plausible: it states that Brown got into trouble while at Oxford, and was threatened with expulsion, but that Dr Fell offered to spare Brown if he could translate an epigram from Martial (I, 32, 1):

Non amo te, Sabidi, nec possum dicere quare;
Hoc tantum possum dicere, non amo te.

According to the story, Brown replied extemporaneously:

I do not love thee, Dr Fell,
The reason why I cannot tell;
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not love thee, Dr Fell.

Fell is said to have stayed Brown's dismissal from the college in admiration of this translation. However, the story is of apocryphal provenance, and it is known that Brown left Christ Church without a degree, moving to Kingston upon Thames where he stayed three years as a schoolmaster, and later to London, where he took up residence on Aldersgate Street in the Grub Street district.


After some years spent as headmaster of the free school at Kingston upon Thames, Brown moved to London to live by his pen. Remembered now mainly for his witty political satires, he also wrote three stage plays, including The Dispensary (1697), and a large number of essays. A life-long friend of Aphra Behn, Brown assisted in her literary career. [2]

Brown made a modest living from his writing in Latin, French and English, in addition to offering services of translation. He translated copiously from Latin and Greek, French, Italian, and Spanish. The list of the translated authors includes, among others, Catullus, Cicero, Horace, Martial, Persius, Pliny, Petronius, and Lucian. [3] He refrained, however, from ever attaching himself to a patron, and expressed contempt toward those who did so. He pursued a libertine lifestyle, and his satirical works gained him several enemies in their subjects.

His best-known works, apart from the quatrain, are probably Amusements Serious and Comical, calculated for the Meridian of London (1700) and Letters from the Dead to the Living (1702), although his writings were quite prolific. Several works of the period whose author is unknown are suspected to be his.

Toward the end of his life he began to regret the licentiousness with which he had lived it, and on his deathbed he secured from his publisher (one Sam Briscoe) a promise that any posthumously published works would be censored of "all prophane, undecent passages". The promise was promptly reneged upon.

Many of Brown's works went unpublished until his death, and the publication date of many is in question, as is his stature as a writer. Contemporary opinion was mixed; Jonathan Swift spoke quite highly of Brown's work, and indeed parts of Gulliver's Travels and other of Swift's works may have been significantly influenced by Brown's writings. Henry Fielding, in Tom Jones , calls him (through the words of Benjamin the barber) "one of the greatest wits that ever the nation produced". [4] On the other hand, those whom Brown mercilessly lampooned during his lifetime understandably did nothing to further his good reputation after his demise.

The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica gives this verdict: "He was the author of a great variety of poems, letters, dialogues and lampoons, full of humour and erudition, but coarse and scurrilous. His writings have a certain value for the knowledge they display of low life in London." Presently the best description of Brown's legacy may be that of Joseph Addison, who accorded him the appellation "T-m Br-wn of facetious Memory". He was buried in the grounds of Westminster Abbey.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Samuel Butler (poet)</span> Poet and satirist

Samuel Butler was an English poet and satirist. He is remembered now chiefly for a long satirical poem titled Hudibras.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Joseph Hall (bishop)</span> British bishop and writer (1574–1656)

Joseph Hall was an English bishop, satirist and moralist. His contemporaries knew him as a devotional writer, and a high-profile controversialist of the early 1640s. In church politics, he tended in fact to a middle way.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Arbuthnot</span> Scottish physician, satirist and polymath in London; (1667–1735)

John Arbuthnot FRS, often known simply as Dr Arbuthnot, was a Scottish physician, satirist and polymath in London. He is best remembered for his contributions to mathematics, his membership in the Scriblerus Club, and for inventing the figure of John Bull.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Newport, Shropshire</span> Human settlement in England

Newport is a market town in the borough of Telford and Wrekin in Shropshire, England. It lies 7 miles (11 km) north-east of Telford town centre, 12 miles (19 km) west of Stafford, and is near the Shropshire-Staffordshire border. The 2001 census recorded 10,814 people living in the town's parish, which rose to 11,387 by the 2011 census.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Fell (bishop)</span> English churchman and influential academic

John Fell was an English churchman and influential academic. He served as Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and later concomitantly as Bishop of Oxford.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Philip Doddridge</span> English Congregationalist leader, educator, and hymnwriter (1702–1751)

Philip Doddridge D.D. was an English Nonconformist minister, educator, and hymnwriter.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thomas Percy (bishop of Dromore)</span> 18th/19th-century Irish Anglican bishop

Thomas Percy was Bishop of Dromore, County Down, Ireland. Before being made bishop, he was chaplain to George III of the United Kingdom. Percy's greatest contribution is considered to be his Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765), the first of the great ballad collections, which was the one work most responsible for the ballad revival in English poetry that was a significant part of the Romantic movement.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thomas James Mathias</span>

Thomas James Mathias, FRS was a British satirist and scholar.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Pierrepont (politician)</span> 17th-century English parliamentarian

William Pierrepont was an English politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1640 and 1660. He supported the Parliamentary cause in the English Civil War.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thomas Holland (translator)</span> English Calvinist scholar and theologian (1549–1612)

Thomas Holland was an English Calvinist scholar and theologian, and one of the translators of the King James Version of the Bible.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Jones (Jac Glan-y-gors)</span> Welsh poet and satirist (1766–1821)

John Jones, better known by his bardic name Jac Glan-y-gors, was a Welsh language satirical poet and radical pamphleteer, born in Cerrigydrudion, Denbighshire, north Wales.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Francis Newport, 1st Earl of Bradford</span> English soldier, courtier and Whig politician

Francis Newport, 1st Earl of Bradford PC, styled The Honourable between 1642 and 1651, was an English soldier, courtier and Whig politician.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Kenrick (writer)</span> 18th-century English novelist, playwright, translator, and satirist

William Kenrick was an English novelist, playwright, translator and satirist, who spent much of his career libelling and lampooning his fellow writers.

John Hamilton Reynolds was an English poet, satirist, critic, and playwright. He was a close friend and correspondent of poet John Keats, whose letters to Reynolds constitute a significant body of Keats' poetic thought. Reynolds was also the brother-in-law of the writer and humorist Thomas Hood, who was married to his sister Jane.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Burton (antiquary, died 1657)</span> English schoolmaster and antiquary

William Burton (1609–1657) was an English schoolmaster and antiquary, best known for his posthumously-published commentary on the Antonine Itinerary.

I do not likethee, Doctor Fell is an epigram, said to have been translated by satirical English poet Tom Brown in 1680. Later it has been recorded as a nursery rhyme and a proverb.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richard Kingston</span>

Richard Kingston was an English political pamphleteer, clerical impostor, and spy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kurt Tucholsky</span> German journalist, satirist and writer

Kurt Tucholsky was a German journalist, satirist, and writer. He also wrote under the pseudonyms Kaspar Hauser, Peter Panter, Theobald Tiger and Ignaz Wrobel.

The gens Sabidia was an obscure plebeian family at ancient Rome. Few members of this gens are mentioned in ancient writers, but a number are known from inscriptions.


  1. 1 2 Dickins, Gordon (1987). An Illustrated Literary Guide to Shropshire. Shropshire Libraries. pp. 11, 104. ISBN   0-903802-37-6.
  2. Fordoński, 2010. p. 112.
  3. Fordoński, 2010. p. 112.
  4. Tom Jones , Book VII, Chapter V.