Letters From The Dead To The Living Quotes

Thomas Brown

"A Leap Into The Dark"

Context: The son of a well-to-do Shropshire farmer, Tom Brown, as he usually signed himself, was educated at Oxford. He learned five foreign languages, but it was for his audacity and wildness, rather than his ability to learn, that he became known. The Dean of Christ College, Dr. John Fell, once called him on the carpet to expel him, but because of the student's apparent contrition, agreed to let him stay if he could translate an epigram from Martial, beginning: "Non amo te, Sabidi." Brown's impromptu translation became famous.

"I do not love thee, Doctor Fell,
The reason why I cannot tell,
But this I know, and know full well,
I do not love thee, Doctor Fell."
He was allowed to remain. He and the dean became friends, and upon Dr. Fell's death, in 1686, Brown wrote his epitaph. Leaving Oxford without a degree, Brown became a political pamphleteer, one of the best of the Grub Street hacks, and the first to pretend to disguise his victims by replacing the vowels in their name by dashes, as in, Sir Th-m-s T-pt-n. Later he became the protégé of Charles Sackville, sixth Earl of Dorset. However, fonder of jokes than of friends, Brown estranged the earl and died in poverty at the age of forty-one, his last years spent largely in low taverns. Much of Brown's work comprised translations, but he also wrote London Amusements (1700) and just before his death published Letters from the Dead to the Living (1702), of which he composed only a portion. He revised other entries and translated some from the French. The volume begins with "A Letter of News from Mr. Joseph Haines, of Merry Memory, to his Friends at Will's Coffee House." Haines, who died in 1701, was a versatile person who served as Latin secretary to Sir Joseph Williamson, a seventeenth century British diplomat. Then he became a strolling player for whom Dryden and others wrote plays. He turned Catholic when to do so was expedient, during the reign of James II. Will's Coffee House, at the corner of Bow and Russell Streets, was a favorite with Dryden and his fellow wits. In his letter, Haines tells of his arrival in Hell, and his new job as astrologer and dancing teacher to the Devil's sister. He asks for news from the upper world. A reply "An Answer to Mr. Joseph Haines, High German Astrologer, at the Sign of the Urinal and Cassiopea's Chair," reports discussions in Parliament about a war with France, and the publication of The Life of the Famous Comedian Jo Haynes, of unknown authorship, in 1701.
. . . our Grub Street pamphleteers advise the shires and boroughs what sort of members to choose; the shires and boroughs advise their representatives what course to steer in parliament; and the senators, no doubt on't, will advise his majesty what ministers to rely on, and how to behave himself in this present conjuncture. . . . We forgot to tell you, Mr. Haines, that since you left this upper world, your life has been written by a brother player, who pretends he received all his memoirs from your own mouth, a little before you made a leap into the dark, and really you are beholden to the fellow, for he makes you a Master of Arts at the university, tho' you never took a degree there. That and a thousand stories of other people, he has fathered upon you, and the truth on't is, the adventures of thy life, if truly set down, are so romantic, that few besides thy acquaintance would be able to distinguish between the history and the fable.