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Browne
Browne
60

release, and actually interceded for him in a letter to his father, who was still alive. Browne returned to Tolethorpe much broken in health by his long imprisonment. On recovering his strength his former habits and temper returned, and old Anthony Browne, vexed and provoked by his son's contumacy, applied to Burghley and obtained his sanction for his son's removal to Stamford, possibly under the eye of some relatives, members of the Browne or Cecil families. But such men as this are incorrigible. In the spring of 1586 he had left Stamford and was preaching as diligently as ever at Northampton—as diligently and as offensively—and on being cited by Howland, bishop of Peterborough, to appear before him, Browne took no notice of the citation, and was excommunicated for contempt accordingly.

This seems to have been the turning-point of his strange career. Whether it was that Browne was prepared to suffer in his person all sorts of hardships, but had never thought of being cast out of the church from which he gloried in urging others to go out, and thus was startled and confused by the suddenness and unexpected form of the sentence that had been pronounced; whether his disordered imagination began to conjure up some vague, mysterious consequences which might possibly ensue, and on which he had never reflected before; or whether his fifteen years of restless onslaught upon all religions and all religious men who would not follow nor be led by him, had almost come to be regarded by himself as a conspicuous failure, and he had given up hope and lost heart, it is impossible to say. Certain it is that from this time he ceased to be a disturber of the order of things established, and his ‘church’ or ‘churches’ were compelled to seek elsewhere for their ‘pastors’ and guides. In November 1586 Browne was elected to be master of Stamford grammar school, certain pledges being exacted from him for good behaviour, and certain conditions being extorted for the restraining him from troubling the world with the expression of his peculiar views. To these conditions he affixed his signature, and he began at once to discharge his new duties. He continued master of Stamford school for five years, and resigned his mastership only on his being presented to the rectory of Achurch in Northamptonshire, a benefice which was in the gift of Lord Burghley, who two years before had made interest, but to no purpose, with the Bishop of Peterborough to obtain some preferment for his kinsman. At Achurch Browne continued to reside for more than forty years, doing his duty in his parish with scrupulous fidelity and preaching frequently and earnestly to his people; and though doubtless many unfriendly eyes were watching him, he never again brought upon himself the charge of nonconformity or of being a disturber of the peace of the church. His end was a sad one; it must be read in the words of Thomas Fuller, the facts of the narrative having never been disputed or disproved: ‘… As I am credibly informed, being by the constable of the parish (who chanced also to be his godson) somewhat roughly and rudely required the payment of a rate, he happened in passion to strike him. The constable (not taking it patiently as a castigation from a godfather, but in anger as an affront to his office) complained to Sir Rowland St. John, a neighbouring justice of the peace, and Browne is brought before him. The knight, of himself, was prone rather to pity and pardon, than punish his passion; but Browne's behaviour was so stubborn, that he appeared obstinately ambitious of a prison, as desirous (after long absence) to renew his familiarity with his ancient acquaintance. His mittimus is made; and a cart with a feather-bed provided to carry him, he himself being too infirm (above eighty) to go, too unwieldy to ride, and no friend so favourable as to purchase for him a more comely conveyance. To Northampton gaol he is sent, where, soon after, he sickened, died, and was buried in a neighbouring churchyard; and it is no hurt to wish that his bad opinions had been interred with him’ (Fuller, Church History, bk. ix. sect. vi.). Fuller is wrong in the date of Browne's death; an entry in his hand is still to be seen in the parish register of Achurch, made on 2 June 1631, and his successor in the living was not instituted till 8 Nov. 1633. His burial-place is unknown.

Browne's wife was Alice Allen, a Yorkshire lady; by her he had four sons and three daughters. The hateful story that he ill-used his wife in her old age is in all probability an infamous slander. Browne was very fond of music, and besides being himself ‘a singular good lutenist,’ he taught his children to become performers. On Sundays ‘he made his son Timothy bring his viol to church and play the bass to the psalms that were sung.’ Browne's issue eventually inherited the paternal estate at Tolethorpe, and his last descendant died on 17 Sept. 1839, as widow of George, third earl Pomfret.

That so powerful and intelligent a body as the congregationalists should desire to affiliate themselves on to so eccentric a person as Browne, and to claim him as the first enunciator of the principles which are distinctive