Brownson, Orestes Augustus Lld
Brownson, Orestes Augustus. Ll.D.
an eminent writer and lay theologian, was born at Stockbridge, Vermont, September 16, 1803. In consequence of his father's death and his mother's poverty, he was adopted at an early age by an old couple at Royaltown, who brought him up in the most rigid form of the New England orthodoxy of that period. The entire atmosphere of his youth was chilling to the last degree; and to a nature such as his — buoyant, impulsive, generous, and lighthearted — the memory of these early impressions and this cold and severe discipline hung darkly over him all his life, and had much to do, no doubt, with his later conversion to extreme and contrary principles, and his uncompromising warfare against Protestantism. In October 1822, he united with the Presbyterian Church as one claiming divine authority, his deeply religious nature asking for guidance and help out of the darkness into which his questionings had led him; but the restraint under which he there found himself, and the surveillance to which he was subjected by a hard discipline, which has now largely passed away, at length induced him to break. loose from what he came to consider an unwarrantable tyranny.. In the rebound he became a Universalist, was accepted as a minister in that body, and at the age of twenty-two became editor of the Gospel Advocate. He was afterwards editor of the Philanthropist, a contributor to the Christian Examiner, the Democratic Review, and many other periodicals. In 1836, having advanced in his views to a grand theory of the Church of the future, "which would embody the most-advanced ideas and sentiments of the race," he thought, to prepare for it by organizing a "society for Christian union and progress" in Boston. "He was at this time full of enthusiasm of youth, with a magnificent physique, a powerful voice, unconquerable energy, fiery, fearless, and terribly in earnest . . . While honestly preaching a religion of love of the race, he was overbearing in argument, arrogant in assertion, and crushing in denunciation, so that innumerable anecdotes were told of his impatience of contradiction" (N.Y. Catholic Almanac, 1877, page 40). In. 1838, while still preaching and writing for various periodicals, Dr. Brownson established a review of his own-the Boston Quarterly Review which he continued for five years, and then merged it in the Democratic Review. He wrote powerfully upon almost ever. literary, political, and religious subject, making a profound impression upon his readers. He also advocated his radical, political, and religious views in lectures. On October 20, 1844, Dr. Brownson was received into the Roman Catholic Church in Boston. He had become more and more rationalistic, and this sudden conversion occasioned much comment. He was accused of inexplicable inconsistency and contradiction, and it was attempted to break the force of his conversion by representing him as eccentric and variable. There was much, of course, in the previous history of Dr. Brownson to justify these charges a man who had passed from Presbyterianism through various phases of liberal Christianity almost to the verge of atheism. But a profounder view of human nature and of the stirring history of the times will serve, we think, to justify Brownson from these charges. No one who read his essays or listened to him could doubt the honesty, the intense earnestness and conscientiousness with which he held and defended his opinions, whatever they might be. And now that, after study and struggles, he gave them over, and sought refuge to his disturbed mind in that Church which has so often proved a refuge — whether safe or not — to human questionings, doubts, and longings, and did so in the midst of derision and harsh accusations, it is not reasonable to suppose that this earnestness and conscientiousness was wanting here. Such changes and reactions are not infrequent in the history of the human mind. It must also be remembered that the English' Catholic movement was then at its height, and the following year Newman himself received absolution. At any rate, Brownson became an enthusiastic advocate of the Roman Catholic Church, and so continued throughout the rest of his life. The same dogmatism and fervor he had previously manifested was now transferred to an uncompromising advocacy of his new-found faith, imbittered doubtless by the remembrances of his boyhood. In 1844 he changed the title of his review into that of Brownmson's Quarterly Review, which he made the medium of his powerful pen. All sorts of questions were here discussed with a vigor acknowledged by all. In 1864, owing to impaired health, he discontinued it. He revived it in 1873, but finally gave it up in October 1875, and went to live with his son in Detroit, Mich., where he died, April 17, 1876. According to Roman Catholic authorities, his wife (Miss Sallie Healy, of Eldridge, N.Y.), although not at that time a member of the Roman Catholic Church, was always a Catholic at heart, and her assent and encouragement had much to do with his avowing himself a Catholic.
Brownson's pen was never idle. Besides his Review and his contributions to the periodicals, he wrote, The Spirit-rapper, an investigation of the question of spiritualism: — The American Republic, of which he was an ardent defender, and gave a son to its defence, who was killed at the battle of Ream's Station, Virginia, in August, 1864: — Liberalism and the Church, in which he controverted the liberalists, although he was at one time — and when a Roman Catholic — a firm defender of the liberal section in the Roman Church. When the Syllabus of 1865 was published, he questioned its propriety and effect, but afterwards accepted and defended it in the Catholic World and Tablet. He also cordially accepted the definition of infallibility. His Review was the first American periodical reprinted in England, which was done for about twelve years. An edition of his works and essays, collected by his son, is proposed to be published in Detroit (1882). Lord Brougham is reported to have called Brownson one of the first thinkers and writers of the present age. With Girres. Rossi, De Maistre, Lamorcibre, Montalembert, Dechamps; Lucas, Ward, Mallinkrodt, Maline, and others, Brownson has taken his place among the eminent laymen of this century in the Roman Catholic Church. Brownson also wrote Charles Elwood; or, The Infidel Converted (1840): — The
Convert; or, Leaves from my Experience (N.Y. 1857). He was a great admirer of the philosophy of M. Comte. Blakey, in his Hist. of the Philosophy of Mind, assigns Brownson a high place among the critics of mental philosophy. See Duyckinck. Cyclop. of Amer. Literature, 2:144; Allibone, Dict. of Brit. and Amer. Authors, s.v.; Appleton's Amer. Cyclop. s.v.