Alexander Blaine Brown

 

REV. ALEXANDER BLAINE BROWN, D. D. This eminent Presbyterian minister and educator is, alike by birthright and character, entitled to a prominent place in this volume.

He was the only son of Rev. Matthew Brown, D. D., LL. D., and was born in Washington, Penn., August 1, 1808. His mother's maiden name was Mary Blaine, daughter of Alexander Blaine, of Cumberland county, Penn., who was commissary-general of Pennsylvania in the time of the Revolution, and was distinguished for his self-sacrificing patriotism. In the son, Alexander B. Brown, were blended the mental talents and mental vigor of his father, and the mild, gentle disposition of his mother. In 1822 his father having been elected president of Jefferson College at Canonsburg, Penn., young Alexander became a student of that institution, from which he was graduated in 1825, at the age of seventeen years. While at college he represented the Philo-Literary Society as their champion in oratory at one of the annual contests. Having taught for some time in classical schools in Newark, Del., and Princeton, N. J., he entered, in 1828, the Western Theological Seminary at Allegheny, Penn., and was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Ohio, October 5, 1831. After two years of ministerial work in Virginia, where he declined several offers to settle as a pastor, he returned to his native State in 1833, and took charge of the Birmingham Church, now known as the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, South Side. Here he was successful in securing a commodious house of worship. A year later he became pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Niles, Mich., when he soon was recognized throughout the State as one who had an education and mind of a high order. In May, 1839, he was called to the Presbyterian Church of Portsmouth, Ohio, where he labored with great success until April, 1841, when, having accepted a professorship in Jefferson College, he came to Canonsburg. At the same time he took charge of the congregation of Centre Church, a few miles east of the town. To this congregation he ministered until 1845, when he was called to the pastorate of Chartiers Church, which is about one mile south of Canonsburg.

Rev. Dr. Robert J. Breckinridge, who had succeeded Dr. Matthew Brown as president, at the end of two years resigned his office. It became a grave question with the trustees as to who should be chosen to fill the place of that brilliant man. Several prominent names were suggested, but the trustees, appreciating the talents and worth of their modest professor, Alexander B. Brown unanimously elected him president of the college. When informed of his election, he was greatly surprised, and most earnestly remonstrated against it, as he entirely distrusted his own qualifications. But his love for the institution would not permit him to decline the trust so strongly pressed upon him, and he accepted the position. It was the desire of the trustees that he should be inaugurated the same evening while they were present, which gave him but an hour or two to prepare for the occasion. To a friend he said that when he was being escorted to the college, he felt like one going to the gallows rather than to a scene of triumph. The oath of office having been administered, he made an address which for eloquence and pathos was unequaled, during which there was scarcely a dry eye in the audience.

Many of the friends of Dr. A. B. Brown, knowing the sensitive delicacy of his disposition, and his habit of shrinking from publicity, feared that his fine qualifications as a professor would fall short of the more heroic and rugged demands of the presidency. But their mistake was most happily demonstrated in the actual development under pressure of duty, which soon showed him to be a model governor, as well as an instructor. His power over the students was wonderful. His mingled suavity and firmness, together with their unbounded confidence in him, as one who sought only their highest good, disposed them to heed his wishes; and if at any time he suddenly appeared among them in the midst of their youthful noise and riot, it was like the voice of Neptune amid the raging waves. His administration was a most remarkable one, during which the prosperity of the college continued to rapidly increase. The nine years of his presidency were peculiarly marked with peaceful relations in the college, and with its advancing reputation and usefulness. Four hundred and fifty-three diplomas bear his presidential signature, making an annual average of fifty graduates. At the time of his resignation the whole number of students was 230. He was also successful in raising an endowment fund of $60,000, which, in those days, before millionaires were known, was of itself a herculean task. His zeal in the cause of education caused him to be generous to a fault. When from year to year he witnessed the embarrassed financial condition of the college, he declined to draw his own salary in order that the other members of the faculty should be promptly paid, and in this way he freely gave $6,000 to the institution. His fine reputation, like that of his venerated father, has gone forth with the sons of Jefferson College into every part of our land, and into distant nations across the seas. It will ever widen, as the alumni of Washington and Jefferson College, in the coming generations, shall prove themselves worthy of the heritage of glory descended through both the old institutions into their consolidation and unity of achievement.

But honorable as was the career of Dr. A. B. Brown, as an educator, he ever felt himself consecrated to the Gospel ministry, and in this service he found his chief joy. And he was a model minister in the judgment alike of his brethren and the people. Referring to him in an address before an Alumni Association in Pittsburgh, Rev. Dr. D. A. Cunningham said: "He who holds the stars in His right hand, held no brighter one than Rev. A. B. Brown, D. D. We sat under his teaching with great delight, and were more than charmed with his eloquence in the pulpit. The flash of his keen eye, the tremulous tones of that sweet voice, and the heavenly light which beamed from his countenance as he led us to the Cross of Christ, can never be forgotten." Of him, the Hon. Thomas K. Ewing, a prominent judge in Pittsburgh, said: "He was the finest teacher and the most eloquent minister I ever knew." Unambitious of prominence, even to a fault, and habitually refusing audience to the approaches of most inviting pastorates seeking his services, he ever preferred the work of the Gospel without the stress of competition for human praise. The common people heard him gladly, while the most intelligent and fastidious received his messages with delight. His sermons were a happy combination of evangelistic truth, faultless taste, affectionate tenderness, and persuasive often thrilling eloquence. His public lectures and addresses were also widely sought and highly appreciated. It was a treat to listen to his recitations of poetry, especially of his favorite Cowper, and his quotations from the grander portions of inspiration.

Soon after Dr. Brown was inaugurated president of the college, it was necessary for him to sever his relations with the Chartiers Church, in order that he might become pastor of the Canonsburg congregation which worshiped with the students in the chapel. This position he retained, to the great joy of the congregation, until he resigned the presidency. In 1856 the trustees reluctantly yielded to his oft-repeated request to be relieved from the duties which were too arduous for his declining health, and accepted his resignation. He then retired to his country residence, "Mount Blaine," and being within the bounds of Centre Church, his former charge, he was induced to become its pastor. This relationship he held until the close of 1862, when failing health forced him to retire from active labors. Though afflicted with a painful disease, he patiently bore his sufferings until the eighth day of September, 1863, when God took him to the land of health. He was buried in the Centre Church graveyard, where a grateful and appreciative people erected a handsome monument to his memory. His death at the age of fifty-five left a void deeply felt and not easily filled. Religion and learning alike will long cherish his memory, and blend their tears over his grave.

Only a little space is yet claimed for the domestic and social relations of this "beloved disciple." He was married December 3, 1833, to Miss Elizabeth Finley Nevin, daughter of Mr. John Nevin, of Cumberland county, Penn., and sister of Rev. Dr. John W. Nevin, at one time the distinguished and scholarly professor of the Allegheny Theological Seminary, and afterward the successful president of Franklin and Marshall College at Lancaster, Penn. This estimable lady was well qualified to assume the high and responsible duties which her husband's position placed upon her, and her public services were crowned with blessings and honor, and by her pure and earnest life, her sweet and noble character, her unselfish nature, kind words and charitable deeds she will long be remembered as a bright example, worthy of imitation. Now, in the thirtieth year of her widowhood, she still lingers in venerable age to bless her children, while she gives witness of the matured experience of the Lord's faithfulness. Of the children, five sons and one daughter are now living. Two of the sons, having chosen the profession of their grandfather and father, are now prominent Presbyterian ministers.

[In the above sketch, which is from the pen of Rev. James I. Brownson, D. D., LL. D. free use has been made of all available material, especially of a memorial address by the late Rev. Aaron Williams, D. D., an associate in the college faculty, and an intimate friend of Dr. A. B. Brown.]

REV. W. F. BROWN, D. D., Canonsburg, Penn. In publishing a brief record of the life of Rev. Dr. W. F. Brown, we can furnish no better sketch than that written and read by Hon. John A. McIlvaine, Judge of the Washington County Court, at a college class reunion in 1830.

Born under the shadow of Jefferson College, of which both his father and grandfather were popular and beloved presidents, our classmate naturally began his classical course within its walls. He was enrolled a Senior "prep" in 1859, but at the end of his Freshman year he remained at home in order that his brother might enlist as a soldier. The next year, 1862, he entered our class as a Sophomore. Although descending from a long line of learned and pious ancestors, which drew toward him the respect of the class even before his acquaintance was fully made, his own innate qualities soon caused him to be very popular. While having reason to be proud of his parentage, he was extremely modest, and in his intercourse with his fellow-students he never by word or deed referred to the honorable connection with the college which his birth gave him. From all public performances he shrank, only assuming a prominent position when in the line of duty. At college he showed a preference for the classics and was especially fond of Latin, which accounts for the high compliment passed upon his Latin exegesis when he was licensed to preach. Rev. Dr. George Marshall, who was then chairman of the examining committee, pronounced it the best that had been presented in the Presbytery during the thirty years he had been a member. But while studying the ancient languages he spent much time with the goddess of music and the clear, melodious tones of his fine tenor voice were a source of delight to us all. Possessing this natural gift to a high degree, after his graduation he frequently aided his five brothers in giving vocal and instrumental concerts, which were highly appreciated by all who heard them, and which were given for the benefit of churches and educational institutions. Of the many patriotic songs he sang while at college there was one entitled "Wake Nicodemus," which he selected as the subject of his commencement oration. He was a member of the Philo Society, but never joined a secret fraternity, although often importuned so to do. In this matter he religiously adhered to and followed the request of his father, notwithstanding that at one time it left him the only student in the college who did not belong to a fraternity.

Three years from the time he left college he graduated at the Allegheny Theological Seminary, and was licensed as a Presbyterian minister to preach the Gospel. For several months he supplied the Fairview Church, and also the congregation then worshiping in the College Chapel. In 1870 the Canonsburg congregation desired his whole time, and he became the successor of Rev. Dr. Jonathan Edwards, who was its pastor while he was president of the college. Three other calls were at the same time offered to Brown; but, being strongly urged by the congregation he accepted the call to the "College Church" of which both his grandfather and father had for many years been pastors. Owing to the transfer of the college classes to Washington, the students' side of the chapel was left vacant, but in a short time the congregation so increased under his ministration that the hall on each Sabbath day was filled. While pastor of this church he taught in the Linnean Academy, and was afterward professor of Latin in Jefferson Academy for three years. While preaching and teaching here he secured, through the alumni of Jefferson College, a donation of $2,100 for their former beloved Greek professor, Dr. William Smith. In this labor of love he wrote and sent out some 1,700 letters.

After six years of labor in Canonsburg, he received a call to the Presbyterian Church in Charleston, W. Va., and also a call to the First Presbyterian Church of Newark Ohio. The latter he accepted, and, being duly installed there, he preached for the period of two years, when, on account of throat trouble, he resigned, and upon the advice of his physician he did not preach for one year. About the same time his wife's health demanded a change of climate, and for a number of years they spent their winters in the South, where he preached in some of the leading churches, his services always being in demand. For quite awhile, when in New Orleans, he supplied with great acceptance the First Presbyterian Church during the absence of their distinguished pastor, Rev. Dr. Palmer. In 1884, Rev. William Ewing, Ph. D., having resigned, our classmate was chosen principal of Jefferson Academy, at Canonsburg, which position he ably filled for four years, when he was compelled to abandon this work on account of the severe and protracted illness of his wife. As a teacher he was thorough and faithful, which the high rank taken afterward by his pupils in colleges and seminaries fully attest. His government in the academy was that of love, and by his gentlemanly and polished manners as well as by the quality of the work done, he won the respect and affection of his scholars. Under his administration the institution flourished, and he proved himself to be a most successful teacher. As a preacher, this brother is both able and eloquent. His sermons evidence deep thought and originality. He is especially strong in his descriptive powers. He has a fine presence and a good voice, and never fails to hold the attention of his audience. A year ago, 1889, he received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from Franklin and Marshall College, at Lancaster, Penn., and also from the University of Western Pennsylvania, in recognition of his ability as a preacher and a teacher. Referring to this degree a Pittsburgh paper says: "Upon no more worthy man has the highest honors of these time-honored institutions been conferred." But while our classmate has become prominent, he has not been able to respond to the many calls to come up higher. Within the past few years he has had more than one invitation to prominent churches and wider fields of labor and influence, but sickness in his family prevented him from accepting these positions. As intimated, Mrs. Brown has been a great sufferer for years, and in relieving her pains he has manifested a spirit similar to Wendell Phillips, who, when urged to accept the most tempting offers, replied that neither money nor glory could induce him to deprive his suffering wife of whatever assistance and comfort he could bestow. If, as one of our brightest stars, Dr. Brown's light has been for a time partly hid from the world, it has shone in his ministerial and educational work at home, and has also brightened the dark rooms of sickness in many houses, and has cheered the sad heart of one whose deepest sorrow has been that her feeble health and severe pains have caused clouds to surround the brilliancy of her devoted husband. His wife was Miss Mary Houston, one of Canonsburg's brightest and most attractive young ladies, who during her years of sickness has given sunshine and comfort to many by her deeds and words of charity and love.

During the years 1890 and 1891 Dr. and Mrs. Brown made an extensive tour through Europe, chiefly for the benefit of the latter's health. While visiting the principal foreign countries and cities they spent much time in Italy, lingering for many months in Rome, which gave the Doctor an opportunity of studying the interesting and historical objects of the Eternal City. Shortly after returning home he was frequently called upon to speak of his travels in public, and soon his name and fame spread over the lecture field, he having added to his scholastic learning the polish and distingue of the Continental tourist. His lectures are said to be highly literary, entertaining and instructive, and in this field he has won the reputation of being an original, magnetic and eloquent speaker.

But, successful as he might be in the lecture field, in which his eloquence, grace and wit could be displayed to great advantage, he still clings to the work of preaching and teaching, the professions he chose when he entered upon the active duties of life. He is, therefore, to be found every Sabbath in the pulpit, and during the week he gives instruction in Jefferson Academy, in which institution his services have again been called into requisition.

REV. ALEXANDER BLAINE BROWN, JR. As in the case of his brother (whose sketch is given above), Rev. A. B. Brown, Jr., was born amidst the classic scenes of Jefferson College, at Canonsburg, Penn., at the time when his father was the president of this renowned institution. In early life he manifested a decided taste for literary pursuits, and having adopted one of the mottoes of Jefferson College, "Inter silvas Academi quoerere verum" ("Among the groves of the Academy seek truth"), he spent a number of years at Jefferson Academy. Jefferson College having been removed from Canonsburg, he went to Lancaster, Penn., and entered the junior class of Franklin and Marshall College, of which his uncle, Rev. John W. Nevin, D. D., LL. D., was for many years the honored and successful president. Having completed his collegiate course at Lancaster, he was elected professor of Latin in Jefferson Academy, in which institution he taught for a year, when he entered the Western Theological Seminary, at Allegheny City, Penn., from which he was graduated in 1878. The following year he was unanimously called to the pastorate of the Centre Presbyterian Church, five miles east of Canonsburg, a church of which his father had also been pastor, and to which he ministered during the latter part of his life, and in the bounds of which he died. This call young Mr. Brown accepted, and December 15, 1879, he was ordained and installed the pastor of a people among whom he had grown up, and of a church which he had attended and with which he united in his earlier years. In this field he has labored faithfully for thirteen years, during which time his ministry has been greatly blessed, and his services highly appreciated by a people by whom he has always been dearly beloved. As a preacher Rev. Mr. Brown is earnest, impressive, instructive and eloquent. His sermons give evidence that he is a man of decided talents and a diligent student, who always brings beaten oil into the sanctuary. His reading of the Scriptures and hymns has won for him the reputation of being one of the best readers in the Presbytery. As a pastor he is faithful, devoted and sympathetic, whose bright, genial ways and pure, noble character cause him to be highly esteemed and greatly beloved by all who know him. A few days since (March 13, 1893), he received a unanimous call to the pastorate of the Fairview Presbyterian Church, which is situated a few miles south of Centre. So great was the desire and so urgent the request of the Fairview people to have him become their pastor that he felt it his duty to transfer his labors to this neighboring field, in which he has received a most cordial welcome.

BROWN BROTHERS. In addition to the two eloquent ministers mentioned above, there were four other sons in the family of Rev. Dr. and Mrs. A. B. Brown. While all of these sons enjoyed an enviable reputation, on account of their educational qualities and moral worth, they possessed extraordinary musical talents which gave them great celebrity. Without making it a specialty, these six brothers excelled in music, each one being a fine singer, and also a skillful performer on some musical instrument. They appeared in public for the first time when they exerted themselves to raise funds to carry on the suit for the recovery of Jefferson College, which had been consolidated with Washington College. By this act Jefferson College was removed from Canonsburg to the town of Washington, which caused a litigation that lasted for several years. Those who had contributed funds to Jefferson College, feeling that the trustees had violated their trust in transferring the College from its original location, brought suit for the recovery of the institution. Suit having been entered, the case was tried in both the State and the United States Supreme Courts, and this involved considerable expense. To help defray this the Brown Brothers, whose grandfather and father had contributed thousands of dollars, and devoted the greater part of their lives to the institution, offered their services as musicians. The proposition received a hearty response, and many churches and halls were offered free to these brothers, who took rank at once as distinguished vocalists and instrumentalists. Thus by their musical entertainments they succeeded in liquidating almost the entire cost of the suit, a part of the amount having previously been raised by subscription. In this way they became known as the "Brown Brothers." Up to that period, this was the first instance on record where the brothers of one family had given either a vocal or an instrumental concert. Referring to them as "A Band of Brothers," the Washington (Penn.) Advance said: "There are a few cases where the male and female members of one family appear as professional musicians, but we doubt very much if such an instance as this furnished by the Brown Brothers is to be found in our own or other countries."

Having, while invoking the aid of the muses in behalf of Jefferson College, acquired the reputation of being musicians of a high order, the Brown Brothers were frequently requested to give concerts for the benefit of churches, Sabbath-schools, educational institutions and various objects to which they generously devoted the proceeds of their entertainments. Frequently they appeared four or five times in one place, and on each occasion drew a large audience. The concerts of these brothers were characterized by a great variety of songs which were rendered with remarkably fine expression, clear and distinct articulation, intermingled in a most pleasing manner with many different kinds of instruments. From a Pittsburgh paper we give the following extract: "When either one or all of the brothers begin to sing, the audience is subdued into the most tender mood by the exquisite rendering of their pathetic songs, or breaks out into the most rapturous applause over their rendering of the sentimental and comic. But besides being remarkable as vocalists they are equally so as instrumentalists. Much of their music too is of their own composition and many of their songs are original with themselves. Such a combination of musical talent in one family is not, perhaps, to be found in this or any other country. It is a sight worth seeing, six noble young men, brother musicians, and all of them gentlemen of high personal worth." Although great inducements were offered the brothers to enter the public arena as professional musicians, they declined all such propositions, preferring only to appear in public when they could benefit some worthy object by the proceeds of their concerts. Being invited to sing at the centennial celebration of the Chartiers Presbyterian Church, of which the Rev. Dr. John McMillan, the religions and educational pioneer of western Pennsylvania was the first pastor, they composed and sang an appropriate ode, giving a brief history of that distinguished minister, which was so well received that its repetition was requested three times on that occasion. At the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the settlement of Rev. William Smith, D. D., at the Miller's Run Presbyterian Church, by special request they gave two concerts, in the afternoon and evening of the same day, when they donated the proceeds to a purse that was being raised as a token of respect for the honored Doctor. For this anniversary they also composed a special song which, having been rendered at their afternoon concert, was, at the request of the audience, sung again in the evening. The entertainments given by these brothers extended over a period of fourteen years, during which time they continued to pursue their regular occupations and professions.

By the death of Matthew, a young man of bright promise, the tuneful circle of the Brown Brothers was suddenly broken, and since then the voices of the rest are seldom heard together in public. The names of the six brothers are as follows: J. Nevin, Henry H., William F., Alexander B., Matthew B. and D. Finley Brown. At the last concert in which they all took part they sang an original ode entitled, "We're a Band of Brothers," in which their sentiments were portrayed. Of this ode we give the closing verse:

      "We'll keep the bells of freedom ringing,
       We'll keep the voice of Temperance singing;
       To the Bible we'll keep clinging,
       While upon this earth we stand.
       And when death has come before us,
       And the vesper stars shine o'er us,
       Let others swell the chorus,
       And shout it through our land."

Soon after this concert the Brown Brothers numbered but five on earth, Matthew having been called to join the Heavenly Choir.

Commemorative Biographical Record of Washington County, PA, page 89

 

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