Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Browne, Peter

BROWNE, PETER (d. 1735), divine, was born in co. Dublin soon after the Restoration; entered Trinity College in 1682; became fellow in 1692, and provost in August 1699. He was made bishop of Cork and Ross in January 1710. He became first known as a writer by an attack upon Toland, who had published in 1690 his 'Christianity not Mysterious.' Browne made one of the best known replies to this work; and Toland was in the habit of boasting that he had thus made Browne a bishop (Toland, Life prefixed to Collection of several Pieces, 1720, p. xx). Browne held that Toland was beyond the pale of toleration (Amory, Memoirs, &c., i. 85). He afterwards published a full elaboration of his argument in the 'Procedure, Extent, and Limits of Human Understanding,' 1728; and in ‘Things Supernatural and Divine conceived by Analogy with things Natural and Human,’ 1733. The argument in these books resembles one afterwards put forward by Dean Mansel. It is adopted from Archbishop King‘s sermon on predestination (1709, and republished with notes by Archbishop Whately, 1821). According to Browne we can have no direct knowledge at all of the real nature of the Divine attributes, though we may have an ‘analogical' knowledge through revelation. The doctrine was intended at first to upset Toland's argument against mystery as being equivalent to nonsense. Berkeley, in his ‘Alciphron' (third dialogue, 1732), urged that it really led to atheism. Browne replies to Berkeley at great length in the ‘Analogy.' Berkeley says (4 April 1734) that he did not answer the last attack, as the book had excited little notice in Ireland. Browne also took part in a controversy about the practice of drinking to the ‘glorious and immortal memory.' He maintained it to be a superstitious rite in various pamphlets: ‘Drinking in Remembrance of the dead, being the substance of a discourse delivered to the clergy of the diocese of Cork,’ 1713; second part, 1714; ‘An Answer to a Rt. Rev. Prelate's Defence of, &c.,’ 1715; a ‘Discourse of Drinking Healths, wherein the great evil of the custom is shown,’ 1716; and ‘A Letter to a Gentleman in Oxford on the subject of Health-drinking,' 1722. Swift refers to this in his letters to Sheridan (28 and 29 June 1725), and says that the bishop is a ‘whimsical gentleman,' Browne died 25 Aug. 1735, and was buried at Ballinaspic, near Cork, where he had spent 2,000l. on a house which he left to his successors in the bishopric. His body was exhumed 12 Jan. 1861, in consequence of a report that it had been stolen, and found so perfect that the resemblance to his portrait in the palace at Cork was recognisable. It was reinterred under the new cathedral church of St. Finbar, Cork. He is described as a man of austere and simple habits, lavish and secret in his charities, and a very impressive preacher. His sermons, in two volumes, were published in 1742. He left various writings in manuscript, including a third volume of the ‘Analogy,' a tract ‘On the Use and Abuse of Metaphysicks in Religion,' and some other tracts and sermons.

[Fraser's Berkeley, iv. is, 222, 234; Mants Church of Ireland, ii. 193, Amory's Memoirs of several Ladies, &c., i. 85; Ware's Bishops of Ireland (Harris), 571, 572; Ware's Writers of Ireland (Harris), 296, 297.]

L. S.