Encyclopaedia Britannica 11th Edition


(1817-1856), Scottish chemist, poet and essayist, born at Haddington on the 23rd of February 1817, was the fourth son of Samuel Brown, the founder of [v.04 p.0662]itinerating libraries, and grandson of John Brown, author of the Self-Interpreting Bible. In 1832 he entered the university of Edinburgh, where, after studying in Berlin and St Petersburg, he graduated as M.D. in 1839. About 1840 he was engaged in experiments by which he sought to prove that "carbon in certain states of combination is susceptible of conversion into silicon," and his failure to establish this proposition had much to do with his want of success as a candidate for the chair of chemistry at Edinburgh in 1843. He held the doctrine that the chemical elements are compounds of equal and similar atoms, and might therefore possibly be all derived from one generic atom. In 1850 he published a tragedy, Galileo Galilei, and two volumes of his Lectures on the Atomic Theory and Essays Scientific and Literary appeared in 1858, with a preface by his kinsman Dr John Brown, the author of Horae Subsecivae. He died at Edinburgh on the 20th of September 1856.