Thomas Edward Brown

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Thomas Edward Brown
T. E. Brown (young).jpg
Born(1830-05-05)5 May 1830
Died29 October 1897(1897-10-29) (aged 67)
Occupationpoet, scholar, theologian

Thomas Edward Brown (5 May 1830 – 29 October 1897), commonly referred to as T. E. Brown, was a late-Victorian scholar, schoolmaster, poet, and theologian from the Isle of Man.

Having achieved a double first at Christ Church, Oxford, and election as a fellow of Oriel in April 1854, Brown served first as headmaster of the Crypt School, Gloucester, then as a young master at the fledgling Clifton College, near Bristol (inspiring, among others, nascent poet W.E. Henley at Crypt School[not verified in body]). Writing throughout his teaching career, Brown developed a poetry corpus—with Fo'c's'le Yarns (1881), The Doctor (1887), The Manx Witch (1889), and Old John (1893)—of narrative poetry in Anglo-Manx, the historic dialect of English spoken on the Isle of Man that incorporates elements of Manx Gaelic, it was Brown's role in creating the verse, with scholarly use of language shaping a distinct regional poetic form—featuring a fervour of patriotism and audacious and naturally pious philosophy of life unique to the islands, and interspersing pauses and irregularity of rhythm, an emotive admixture of mirth and sorrow, and a tenderness described by Quiller-Couch as rugged—that earned him the appellation of "Manx national poet." Retiring in 1892 to focus on writing, Brown died in 1897 (age 67), while again at the rostrum during a return visit to Clifton.


Bronze statue of the Manx poet T. E. Brown at the top of Prospect Hill in Douglas, Isle of Man.

Brown was born on 5 May 1830 at Douglas, Isle of Man,[1] his older brother was the Baptist preacher, pastor and reformer Hugh Stowell Brown (10 August 1823 – 24 February 1886).

As Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch notes, T.E. Brown's father, the Rev. Robert Brown, had decided to collaborate:

"with the parish schoolmaster in tutoring the clever boy until, at the age of fifteen, he was entered at King William's College [on the Isle of Man]. Here his abilities soon declared themselves, and hence he proceeded to Christ Church, Oxford, where his position (as a servitor) cost him much humiliation, which he remembered to the end of his life, he won a double first, however, and was elected a fellow of Oriel in April 1854, Dean [Thomas] Gaisford having refused to promote him to a senior studentship of his own college, on the ground that no servitor had ever before attained to that honor. Although at that time an Oriel fellowship conferred a deserved distinction, Brown never took kindly to the life, but, after a few terms of private pupils, returned to the Isle of Man as vice-principal of his old school, he had been ordained deacon but did not proceed to priest's orders for many years. In 1857, he married his cousin, Miss Stowell, daughter of Dr Stowell of Ramsey…".[1]

Brown left the Isle soon afterward, ca. 1857, to accept the position of headmaster of The Crypt School, in Gloucester, where a commission had, through the hiring and other efforts, been attempting to revive the school.[2]:31 Brown was viewed as brilliant and academically distinguished; while his tenure at the school was relatively brief (ca. 1857–1863)—he reportedly found the burden of administration at the school intolerable[citation needed]—Brown made a profound impact in this period, including on William Ernest Henley with whom he overlapped from 1861 to 1863. Years later, after becoming a successful published poet (e.g., of Invictus and other works), Henley would recall Headmaster Brown as a "revelation" and "a man of genius... the first I'd ever seen," and would eulogize his passing as one "singularly kind… at a moment… I needed kindness even more than I needed encouragement."[2]:31[3]

Quiller-Couch continues:

"From Gloucester [Brown] was summoned by the Rev. John Percival (afterwards bishop of Hereford), who had recently been appointed to the struggling young foundation of Clifton College, which he soon raised to be one of the great public schools. Percival wanted a master for the modern side, and made an appointment to meet Brown at Oxford; 'and there,' he writes, 'as chance would have it, I met him standing at the corner of St Mary's Entry, in a somewhat Johnsonian attitude, four-square, his hands deep in his pockets to keep himself still, and looking decidedly volcanic. We very soon came to terms, and I left him there under promise to come to Clifton as my colleague at the beginning of the following term. …Brown remained [at Clifton College] from September 1863 to July 1892, when he retired—to the great regret of boys and masters alike, who had long since come to regard 'T.E.B.'s' genius, and even his eccentricities, with a peculiar pride—to spend the rest of his days on the island he had worshipped from childhood and often celebrated in song.

His poem 'Betsy Lee' appeared in Macmillan's Magazine (April and May 1873) and was published separately in the same year, it was included in Fo'c's'le Yarns (1881), which reached a second edition in 1889. This volume included at least three other notable poems—"Tommy Big-eyes," "Christmas Rose," and "Captain Tom and Captain Hugh." It was followed by The Doctor and other Poems (1887), The Manx Witch and other Poems (1889), and Old John and other Poems—a volume mainly lyrical (1893). Since his death all these and a few additional lyrics and fragments have been published in one volume by Messrs Macmillan under the title of The Collected Poems of T. E. Brown (1900). His familiar letters (edited in two volumes by an old friend, Mr S.T. Irwin, in 1900) bear witness to the zest he carried back to his native country, although his thoughts often reverted to Clifton. In October 1897 he returned to the school on a visit, he was the guest of one of the house-masters, and on a Friday evening, 29th October, he gave an address to the boys of the house. He had spoken for some minutes with his usual vivacity when his voice grew thick and he was seen to stagger, he died in less than two hours. [Seccombe notes, "He died suddenly at Clifton College while giving an address to the boys, from the bursting of a blood vessel in the brain, on 30 Oct. 1897. He was buried at Redland Green, Bristol."[4]]

Brown's more important poems are narrative, and written in the Manx dialect, with a free use of pauses, and sometimes with daring irregularity of rhythm. A rugged tenderness is their most characteristic note; but the emotion, while almost equally explosive in mirth and in tears, remains an educated emotion, disciplined by a scholar's sense of language, they breathe the fervour of an island patriotism (humorously aware of its limits) and of a simple natural piety. In his lyrics he is happiest when yoking one or the other of these emotions to serve a philosophy of life, often audacious, but always genial."[1]

Hence, Brown created a distinct regional poetic form close to its native language, with scholarly use of the language, unique pacing and irregularity of rhythm, and a ruggedly tender admixture of mirth and sorrow that exhibited a fervent island patriotism and an audacious, naturally pious philosophy of life,[1] a combination of man and art that earned T.E. Brown the appellation of "Manx national poet."[5][6]



  • The Doctor, and Other Poems, 1887, contains the title poem, as well as "Kitty of the Sherragh Vane" and "The Schoolmasters."[7]:1,247,352 The title poem is the source of the humorous doublet "Money is honey—my little sonny! / And a rich man's joke is allis funny!"[7]:62
  • Poems of T. E. Brown, 1922, a compilation of many of Brown's most important poetic works.[8]
  • Old John: And Other Poems. Including the poem "Indwelling" – "If thou couldst empty all thyself of self, Like to a shell dishabited, Then might He find thee on the Ocean shelf, And say—" This is not dead,"— ..."

Further reading[edit]

  • Anon., 2015, "T E Brown – The Manx National Poet," at Medium (online), see [4], accessed 9 May 2015.
  • Neil Hultgren, 2014, Melodramatic Imperial Writing: From the Sepoy Rebellion to Cecil Rhodes, Athens, OH:Ohio University Press, pp. 5–7, 16, 24, and 93–127 passim, and corresponding notes, pp. 213–259 passim, ISBN 0821444832, see [5], accessed 12 May 2015.
  • MNHL, 2007, "The Manx National Poet: Thomas Edward Brown," at Manx National Heritage Library [Eiraght Ashoonagh Vannin], Public Information Sheet No.10, March 2007 [RS: 03.07], see [6], accessed 9 May 2015.
  • Joanne Shattock, 1999, "Thomas Edward Brown 1830–97," in The Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature: 1800–1900, pp. 543f, 1989, Cambridge, U.K.:CUP, ISBN 0521391008 (Volume 4 of The Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, ISBN 0521391016), see [7], accessed 9 May 2015.
  • Max Keith Sutto, 1991, The Drama of Storytelling in T.E. Brown's Manx Yarns, Newark, DE:University of Delaware Press, ISBN 0874134099, see [8], accessed 9 May 2015.
  • Frederick Wilse Bateson, Ed., 1966 [1940], "Thomas Edward Brown (1830–1897)," in The Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, Volume 2, p. 282, Cambridge, U.K.:CUP, see [9], accessed 9 May 2015.
  • Arthur Quiller-Couch, Ed., 2015 [1930], "Thomas Edward Brown, Volumes 1830–1930," Cambridge, U.K.:Cambridge University Press, ISBN 1107458765, see [10], accessed 9 May 2015. [Quote: "Originally published in 1930, this book contains recollections from the friends of the Manx poet and theologian Thomas Edward Brown on the occasion of the centenary of his birth. The volume includes a preface from the then Lieutenant Governor of the Isle of Man, Sir Claude Hill, as well as some unpublished letters written by Browne and a brief biography written by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch."]
  • Selwyn George Simpson, 1906, "Thomas Edward Brown, the Manx Poet: An Appreciation," London, U.K.:Walter Scott Publishing, see [11], accessed 9 May 2015.
  • Brown, Theron & Hezekiah Butterworth, 1906, "Thomas E. Brown, 'Three Kings from out of the Orient'," in The Story of the Hymns and Tunes, New York, NY:American Tract Society, pp. 1555, 1616, see [12] and [13], accessed 9 May 2015.
  • Brown, T. E. & Irwin, Sidney Thomas, (Ed.), 1900, "Letters of Thomas Edward Brown, author of 'Fo'c'sle yarns,'" Vol. 1, Westminster:A. Constable and Co., see [14], accessed 9 May 2015.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Brown, Thomas Edward". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. [Until further work is performed, the body of this article's section, "Life," actually consists almost entirely of the Encyclopædia Britannica article, see ref. 1 below.]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Brown, Thomas Edward" . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  2. ^ a b John Connell, 1949, W. E. Henley, London:Constable, page numbers as indicated inline.
  3. ^ This quote is from an admiring obituary of Brown that Henley wrote for the December 1897 issue of the New Review,[full citation needed] see Connell, op. cit.
  4. ^ Thomas Seccombe, 1901, "Brown, Thomas Edward," in Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement (Sidney Lee, Ed.), Vol. 1, Project Gutenberg pp. 303f, see [1] and s:Brown, Thomas Edward (DNB01), accessed 9 May 2015.
  5. ^ MNHL, 2007, "The Manx National Poet: Thomas Edward Brown," at Manx National Heritage Library [Eiraght Ashoonagh Vannin], Public Information Sheet No.10, March 2007 [RS: 03.07], see "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 July 2014. Retrieved 10 May 2015.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link), accessed 9 May 2015.
  6. ^ Anon., 2015, "T E Brown – The Manx National Poet," at Medium (online), see [2], accessed 9 May 2015.
  7. ^ a b T.E. Brown, 1887, The Doctor, and Other Poems, London, England:Swan Sonnenschein, Lowrey, see [3], accessed 10 May 2015, page numbers as indicated inline.
  8. ^ T. E. Brown, 1922, Poems of T. E. Brown, London, England:MacMillan, page numbers as indicated inline.

External links[edit]