John Brown was born in the parish of Buncle, Berwickshire (Scotland) and died in London in October 1788. His family was poor and at the age of ten he was taken from the grammar school at Dunse and apprenticed to a weaver. His schoolmaster, recognizing the boy's talents, took him back and taught him free of charge and in return he acted as an unpaid teacher. In 1755, Brown briefly held the post of tutor in the household of a local laird before travelling to Edinburgh to study divinity. For some unknown reason he abandoned his studies when they were near completion and returned to Dunse, but moved back to Edinburgh in 1759 to study medicine. Brown attached himself to the medical school; he was allowed to attend lectures free of charge and supported himself as a ‘grinder’, coaching medical students in Latin for the final oral examinations and translating or composing theses for five or ten guineas. From 1765 he also ran a boarding house for students. The boarding house eventually collapsed under the strain of his extravagances – which included his favourite stimulants, alcohol and opium – and he was jailed for debt. In 1786 he quit Edinburgh for London only to be imprisoned again. He died in bed two years later after taking a huge dose of opium.
From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.