Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brown, William Laurence
BROWN, WILLIAM LAURENCE (1755–1830), theological writer, was born at Utrecht in Ilolland, where his father was minister of the English church, 7 Jan. 1756. His father having been appointed professor of ecclesiastical history at St. Andrews, Scotland, the son studied at the university; but afterwards he proceeded to Utrecht, where, after completing his theological studies, he was in 1778 ordained minister of the English church. He obtained in 1783 the Stolpian prize at Leyden for an essay on the origm of evil, and various prizes from the Teylerian Society at Haarlem, the subject of one being 'On the natural Equality of Man.' In 1784 the university of St. Andrews conferred on him the degree of D.D. In 1788 he was appointed professor of moral philosophy and ecclesiastical history at Utrecht, and two years after he became rector of the university, hereafter there was added to his duties the professorship of the law of nature.
Driven from Holland in 1796 by the French invasion, Brown with his wife and five children crossed the Channel in mid winter in an open boat, and after a stormy passage landed at London. The magistrates of Aberdeen appointed him to the chair of divinity in Marischal College on the resignation of Dr. George Campbell, and in 1796 he also succeeded Campbell as principal of the university.
Brown soon became a conspicuous and influential member of the general assembly, sympathising mainly with the reforming party in the church. He made several contributions to literature after his arrival in Scotland, the most important being 'An Essay on the Existence of a Supreme Creator,' written in response to the offer of valuable prizes by the trustees of the late Mr. Burnett of Dens, Aberdeen, 2 vols. 8vo, 1816. Brown's essay obtained the first prize, amounting to 1,250l., the second being awarded to the Rev. John Bird Sumner, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury. Another elaborate work was entitled 'A Comparative View of Christianity, and of the ether forms of religion which have existed, and still exist, in the world, particularly with regard to their moral tendency,' 2 vols. 8vo, 1826. He died 11 May 1830.
Brown's works were written from the point of view of the time, and were marked Dy considerable ability; but the standpoint of discussion has altered so completely that now they have little more than an antiquarian interest.
[Catalogue of the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh; Hew Scott's Fasti, iii. 475; R. Chambers's Eminent Scotsmen.]