John Brown (1722–87)
A famous and influential figure in the history of Haddington, the Reverend John Brown was born in Carpow by Abernethy, Perthshire. Orphaned at the age of 11, he educated himself while working as a shepherd. Not only did he pick up reading and writing, but he also went on to learn Greek, Latin and Hebrew. He worked as a schoolmaster and was a soldier in the defence against the Jacobites before becoming a preacher. He was the first student of divinity for the Burgher branch of the Secessionist Church and he was ordained and preached at Haddington, where he lived until his death.
A prolific author as well as being an inspirational preacher, he wrote several texts on religion which were widely popular and it was said that there was hardly a house that did not have a copy of his most famous work – the Self-interpreting Bible. Robert Burns himself makes mention of Brown’s literary talent in his poem ‘An Epistle to James Tennant’ when he says:
‘My shins, my lane, I sit here roastin’
Perusing Bunyan, Brown and Boston’
As well as Burns, Brown is also said to have met and influenced two further famous Scots – the poet Robert Fergusson, whom he met in Haddington cemetery, and the philosopher David Hume, who said Brown preached ‘as though Christ were at his elbow’.
East Lothian Archives hold a large collection of his original manuscripts, including the ‘Dictionary of the Holy Bible’, ‘Scripture Key Part 2 – A View of the Prophecies therein contained concerning Adam and Noah and their families’ and ‘Tracts for Self-improvement’.
Like a lot of our records, the manuscripts found their way to the archives by accident. Deposited with a local solicitor some time ago they were only found recently, when the firm closed down. East Lothian Archives were given a large black metal box stamped with ‘Manuscripts of the Reverend John Brown’ on the lid which contained the original handwritten drafts of several of Browns works –including the ‘The Dictionary of the Holy Bible’, ‘Scripture Key Part 2 A View of the Prophecies therein contained concerning Adam and Noah and their families’ and ‘Tracts for Self Improvement’. See our blog on Lothian Lives for some images from this deposit.