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FOR OCTOBER, 1842.
MEMOIR OF MR. JOHN EDWARD BROWN:
BY IIS FATHER, THE REV. JOIN BROWN.
WHEN a father writes memoirs of his own son, there is ground for suspicion lest his affections should bias his judgment, and the character he produces be the beau ideal of his own mind, rather than a description according to truth and reality. To avoid this, as far as I can, I shall confine myself chiefly to simple narrative. My son's religious experience will be seen by extracts from his letters; and his literary attainments from the testimonies of his masters and examiners. Self-distrust, I am conscious, is necessary, whilst I dwell on this affecte ing subject. I will not attempt to describe how deeply I feel my loss. Assisted by divine grace, I do not murmur ; but, instructed by this example of the vanity of earthly expectations, even of those that may be innocently indulged, I purpose to think less of this world, and more of heaven, till I rejoin my departed son in the kingdom of God.
My dear son, John Edward, was born at Perrier, in Normandy, September 29th, 1821. His growth, from infancy, was rapid ; he always looked older than he was; and his understanding was in advance of his years. At eleven months from his birth he ran alone; and when we returned to England, in June, 1823, he spoke fluently both French and English. He acquired a knowledge of the rudiments of English literature, and of the French tongue, under the domestic roof. His elder sister was the companion of his studies. Ordinarily he then showed but little application to his lessons: his sister toiled, and he, seemingly without effort, reaped the fruit of her labours; for whenever the lesson was called for, what she had learned he also knew. IIis desire for knowledge early appeared in the questions he would put; and, when he could read, in the eagerness with which he would welcome any book that offered him information on subjects within the reach of his comprehension. Ile conned over, I believe, every recipe in the book of domestic cookery; and, on more occasions than one, amusingly intruded his knowledge of kitchen science. On one of my nightly visits to his dormitory, before I retired to rest, I found, as his pillow-companions, Parkes's “ Chemical Catechism," and VOL. XXI. Third Series. OCTOBER, 1842.
Buchan's “Domestic Medicine.” Bunyan’s “ Pilgrim's Progress" was long a great favourite. He was deeply interested with Scripture narratives, and early acquired an extensive knowledge of Bible history, and of facts. I may mention an instance, showing the ease with which he caught up and retained what he read. One evening, at a time when his mother was confined to her chamber, on returning from an appointment in the country, I found him up; and whilst I took some refreshment he sat down on the hearth-rug at my feet, and proceeded to inform me, that, in my absence, he had been reading the Book of Esther. He then went through the entire narrative, in his own style ; recollecting accurately the order of facts, the names of persons, and the substance of their discourses. Apparently forgetful of his age, he entered unhesitatingly into company; and when he could engage the attention of an individual, and find out in what his knowledge lay, he seized upon this as his topic, and question followed question.
There was one feature of his mind strikingly prominent,—his love of truth. Truth in history and science was the object at which he aimed. “But is it true?” was a question which he proposed when he took up a book. Unconscious of the moral character of works of fiction, or their injurious effects upon the reader, he passed them by, solely because the figments of imagination afforded no food for thoughts bent on the acquisition of a knowledge of realities. Nor did he read every book from beginning to end, as if for the mere gratification of reading; but usually fixing on those parts which contained the information he wished to have, and having satisfied himself, he laid it aside, and went on to some other subject of inquiry. This practice was not the result of any previous plan which he himself had formed, or which was pointed out to him by others; but arose from the natural dictate of his own peculiar character of mind. At a later period, however, he laid down plans for the regulation of his studies, which no doubt materially aided his progress; indeed, he used to task himself when there was no necessity for it beyond his own purpose, and to keep, it is to be feared, his powerful mind in activity too great and too long continued for his bodily frame. And yet, from what appeared in his conduct, he would scarcely have been considered a hard student. The result of his application, however, often created surprise.
Possessing a mind which was in constant activity, he was not only inquisitive and observant, but very communicative, and always seemed to have a peculiar tact for teaching others. His feelings were extremely acute, which was often a source of great suffering to him. A look or a word, from either his mother or me, which indicated our displeasure, seemed almost to break his heart; and he was restless and unhappy till a reconciliation was effected. The openness of his disposition, and the rapidity of his movements, bore sometimes the appearance of precipitancy; and, on more occasions than one, exposed him to suspicions of what never existed. On all matters of importance he made
his mother his great counsellor; under her guidance his general course was directed. His affection for her scarcely knew any bounds. Her control over him, both before and after his conversion, was, perhaps, I may say, entire: he lent a willing ear to her advice; and any departure from it, of which he became conscious, he confessed in terms of deep sorrow, and sincere desire for forgiveness.
On our removal to Canterbury, at the Conference of 1831, we were desirous of finding a good classical school for him. Such a one presented itself in the King's Grammar School of that city, founded by Archbishop Cranmer, and endowed by King Henry VIII., for fifty pupils. Here he was entered, and at the usual time passed on the foundation. The statutes of the school require that all pupils shall attend cathedral service on Saints' days, Saturday afternoons, and on Sabbath-days. It was, however, a sine quâ non with me, that he never should, for the sake of any learning whatever, be placed in circumstances which would prevent his regular attendance on the Wesleyan ministry; and he entered the school under a special agreement with the then Head-Master, that he should be excused from cathedral service on the Sabbath, to be present at our own chapel, which he always continued to attend.
From the time that he entered school, the developement of his mental powers became more apparent: he fixed his heart on learning ; and towards its acquisition he directed all his energies. If any subject which engaged his attention presented itself to him as peculiarly desirable, he pursued it with an eagerness amounting to passion, and sometimes manifested a quickness of apprehension almost resembling intuition. The composition of Latin verses was a branch of study that at first gave him some trouble ; but his success in conquering his difficulties on this head, may be seen by the judgment of Dr. R--delivered on a copy presented by my son, at one of the school examinations. “They are," said he, “an extremely elegant and creditable copy. Since I have been Examiner, I do not remember to have read verses like these. They give me a high opinion of Brown."
For the last two years of his life, his attendance at school was often interrupted by illness. He contrived, however, to keep up in the studies assigned to his class; engaging, when confined at home, some good-natured schoolmate to bring to him the lessons of the day. To his school-duties he added private readings in both classics and mathematics. It was his custom in private reading, on taking up a fresh author, to fix the time when he should finish it. If a poet, he observed the number of lines which it contained ; if a prose writer, the number of chapters or sections; and, dividing these by the number of days in the given time, he allotted to each day its portion. This he was careful to accomplish; and if thrown back by indisposition, returning health was taxed, it is feared, too severely, to bring up the arrears. Lists of this description, in his own neat handwriting, are now by me.