Rev. John Brown of Haddington
We set off on a boon to find out what we could for the Dalziel family in Canada, on their esteemed ancestor the Rev. John Brown of Haddington. The Twa Eddies came up with this modest information about Haddington's amazing linguist.
Reverend John Brown's place of rest is in his loved St Mary's Church Haddington.
Three monoliths stand by each other facing the entrance of the church. The one in the middle carries the names of Janet Thomson and Violet Croumbie the wives of Haddington's celebrated Minister of thirty years.
Above and nearly unreadable is the name of John Brown covered in a light moss. It is unassuming, as the character of this man, as if he would not have liked to take away the recognition of others.
John Brown was born in 1722 at a time of Drummers War in North America and the death of great Emperor Kangxi of China.
The year heralded the noble Scot, born in the village of Carpow near Abernethy on the banks of the River Earn where it meets the Tay in 'Bonny Perth'. It is where the first Christian Church was established in 460AD resorted in the next century by St Columba. Abernethy had the earned reputation of a centre of learning.
John was the son of a weaver and charged with a humble faith in Christian belief given by his parents. Not being people of wealth John had to content himself with the basics of learning and love of the bible.
At the age of eleven his father died and not long after, his mother. Fortunately a Shepherd named John Ogilvie looked after him and taught him his trade. While tending the sheep on the banks of the river he taught himself Latin and the fundamentals of Greek.
It seemed, he heard of a book in Greek - Latin Parallel a New Testament being sold in a town over twenty miles away. His friend took over the flock as John strode off in the late evening. Next morning at the opening of the shop he asked for the Book, the shop owner asked, what good would it would do him?
Others of learning entered the shop and listened to the conversation. One gentleman asked John to read the words of the Book aloud to prove he was able to understand Greek. This he did and was given the book as a reward for his learning capabilities.
Hebrew and many other languages were added to his skills. His notoriety as an interpreter of the old languages caused some jealousy and earned him the reputation of a follower of Satan. On being so charged, he was examined and found to be innocent of the allegations.
He carried with him his clear and happy optimism of Christian belief as he travelled as a packman. At the onset of Jacobite rebellion in 1745 he served on the side of the King as a member of the garrison at Edinburgh Castle. In 1748 he advanced, to become a teacher and found many a young man ready to follow his example into the Church.
John entered the Ministry and became a Pastor of Haddington in 1751 but the appreciation of his preaching in Stow made him a parson in both Churches. He married Janet Thomson of Mussleburgh and had two sons to be managed on a stipend of £50 per year.
Rising early each morning he added to his knowledge in reading whatever he could. Now excelling in languages covering Persian, French, Italian and German to name only a few, while reaching into Philosophy and History.
He was elected as a Professor of Divinity by the Synod in 1768 and taught classes including 30 students in his own Haddington. Two of the most popular books he wrote were the Dictionary of the Holy Bible and the Self Interpreting Bible. Typical of this selfless man he only received a minimal amount of money and wrote the sought after copies out by himself.
His fame spread far and wide yet he seemed to find peace in his home town. America beckoned, the Dutch Reform Church offered the post of Professor of Divinity, which he refused presumably for a multiple of reasons. It may be he held a love of his parish, a concern for his children or his failing health.
Two years after the death of his first wife Janet in 1771 he married Violent Croumbie having four sons and two daughters. Two sons following him into ecclesiastics and began a line of distinguished People.
John Brown died on 19th June 1787 and left a heritage of hope and devotion. He also left a trail of modern admirers, some his descendants who desire information on his life and achievements.
What was John Brown like as a person? :-
He loved the Pentland Hills for their clearness and stillness, once on seeing them he quoted Coleridge of Ottery St. Mary.
Winter slumbers in the open air,He was a keen observer and sensitive in nature, quick in joy and sorrow. John tended to greet acquaintances heartily, but he had no set mood and met them according to his latest expression of character. He was quick to introduce new found friends to everyone he knew.
He would often, in his reflections close his eyes. Sitting by a burning fire on a cold winter afternoon in the dim gaslight glancing at the Newspaper not deeply interested. Adjusting his spectacles to recognise a visiting friend say, "Its you is it?"
Then John would listen to the summery of local news and take in the multi shades of opinions.
Reading aloud short passages for a favoured book, listening to music and chatting in the smoking room of the latest event.
BE OF GOOD CHEER. As John Brown would say.
Acknowledgments to Haddinton Local History Centre.
In particular Dr John Brown and his sister Isobella, by E. Mclaren.
Published by Edinburgh David Douglas -1889.