Obituary: New York Times 1876
The death of this distinguished writer and controversaialist is announced by telegraph from Detroit. Dr. Brownson last Fall, on account of failing health, suspended the Quarterly Review that so long had borne his name and the traces of his vigorous intellect, and went to Detroit to reside with his son, a lawyer of that city. In January last he had an attack of inflammation of the bowels, from which he partially recovered; but last Saturday he suffered a relapse, and, failing rapidly, died yesterday morning at 4 o'clock. He will be buried to-morrow in the Catholic Cemetary there.
Orestes Augustus Brownson was born near Stockbridge, Vt., Sept. 16, 1803, and was left to the care of distant relatives by the death of his parents at an early age. His guardians were aged people, of the rigid orthodoxy that at that period was a characteristic of New-England people, and being childless, the lad's position was one of complete isolation from companions of his own age. Visitors were rare, and amusements were prohibited. In this seclusion a hungering for books was felt by the boy until he dreamed of them. The library of the house contained the Freedom of the Will and Original Sin, of Jonathan Edwards, only, and these Orestes read over and over until he could repeat chapters from memory and, with the Assembly's Catechism, they formed the only literature with which his boyhood was familiar. He heard and read nothing but theology, and that not the most cheerful. He has related to himself that when he was only nine years old he attended a military muster, and thought he would relish it greatly from its novelty. He did not understand himself, however. He chanced to be near two aged clergymen who fell to discussing the doctrine of divine election and free will. He was absorbed at once and took part himself. The preachers were profoundly impressed by the reasoning of the little fellow--asked his name and belongings, and predicted that he was destined for the pulpit. He went home happy, although he had seen nothing of the muster, and resolved to become a minister. He was sent to the Ballston Academy, in this State, at the age of nineteen, but he was filled with doubts of the best creed to adopt, so morbid had his mind become in his isolation in brooding over the fearful question of his election. He joined the Presbyterian Church, however, but after his association with men of other beliefs he went to the opposite extreme and became a Universalist, and in 1825 he preached in various towns in his native State, writing for newspapers and periodicals on theological subjects. These latter attracted more attention than his sermons, being marked by vigor and ingenuity, but singular inconsistency. He seemed scarcely to know which side he was on, and his thoughts frequently led him in one article to the opposite side of the question he first espoused. About this period he formed the acquaintance of Robert Dale Owen, the reformer and socialist, became interested in theories of reform and the elevation of the laboring class, and to this end organized a workingman's party, to influence legislation in their interest. The failure of this movement was discouraging, and, still unsettled in his theological views, he began reading Channing's writings, and was thus led into Unitarianism, the study of the French and German philosphers, and from this to the conclusion that a new religious organization was needed. In 1836 he organized the "Society for Christian Union and Progress," of which he was Pastor until 1843, when he retired from the pulpit. During this period he published New Views of Chrisitanity, Society, and the Church, remarkable chiefly as a protest against Protestantism, and established the Boston Quarterly Review, for which he was almost the sole writer for a period of five years. It was afterward merged in the Democratic Review, of this City. He also published a "religious novel" called Charles Elwood; or, The Infidel Converted, which the authore suppressed after selling the first edition in this country, his views on the subject treated in the book having undergone another change. Five editions of it, however, were sold in England, The uncertainty with which he held any opinions seemed to have wearied him, and his theological inconsistencies having become almost notorious, he appears to have desired something outside of himself to make fast to in his driftings. From the extreme of religious radicalism he went to the opposite extreme of Catholicism and would in Europe have been classed among the Ultramontanes. To this communion he remained attached through the rest of life, becoming one of the famous writers of the day on the theology of that church, and in defense of its most extreme dogmatism. He published and edited Brownson's Quarterly Review, which was mainly devoted to defending the Roman Catholic Church, although also discussing political and literary subjects from Dr. Brownson's new point of view with acknowledged ability. The later publications of Dr. Brownson were The Spirit Rapper, published in 1854; The Convert; or, Leaves from My Experience, in 1857, and The American Republic published in 1865. His zeal and enthusiasm in advocation Roman Catholicism attracted the attention of Dr. John H. Newman, then interested in the new University in Dublin, and he was invited to accept a professorship. He chose, however, to continue his labors in his native country. The American Cyclopedia says of Dr. Brownson: "The method which he adopts in his philosophical system is the distinction between intention (direct perception) and reflection (indirect, or reflex knowledge.) The mind is unconscioiusly intutive; it does not, in intention, know that it has intution of this or that truth, because as soon as it knows, or is conscious of the intuition, it has reflex knowledge. Reflection can contain nothing which is not first in intutition. In order to reflect on that which we know intuitively, we must have some sensible sign by which the mind may apprehend or take hold of it. Such a sign is language, both in the ordinary and figurative senses of the word, which thus holds in the metaphysics of Mr. Brownson a place corresponding to that which tradition holds in his religious system. The knowledge of God, he maintains, is intuitive. The ideal element of every intellectual act is God creating creatures."
-The New York Times, April 18, 1876.