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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

III. Critical and Miscellaneous Prose

§ 20. John Brown; Rab and his Friends

It was to Hugh Miller’s journal The Witness that John Brown contributed his first noteworthy paper. But, though Brown became a man of letters, he never ceased to be a physician. He is doctor in the medical sense as unalterably as Samuel Johnson is doctor in the academic sense. It seems to have been partly by accident, and partly through domestic insistence and encouragement, that Brown gradually became a writer as well as a physician. Hence, his entry was late and his production always remained leisurely. His earliest paper in The Witness appeared in 1846, and the total of his work fills only three small volumes. It is fortunate for Brown’s fame that the fact is so. His genius was beautiful and delicate rather than robust, and the characteristic charm of his essays is not of a sort that is susceptible of great expansion or of indefinite repetition. The essayists of the personal and confidential type are never voluminous writers. There is, nevertheless, considerable variety in Brown’s work. His papers on medical subjects afford pleasant and profitable reading; he is an excellent critic both of art and of literature; he shows great sensitiveness to natural beauty and great power of describing it. But he is happiest of all when he deals with the dog. Here, he is not only unsurpassed but unequalled. The most deservedly famous of all his writings is the beautiful story Rab and his Friends. But he has delineated many dogs besides Rab, and always admirably.