Episodic Survey of the History of the Constellations

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P: Amateur Mesopotamian Constellation Studies

33: Robert Brown's Researches into the Origin of the Primitive Constellations


Volume II of Researches into the Origin of the Primitive Constellations of Greeks, Phoenicians and Babylonians by Robert Brown Junior. (2 Volumes, 1899-1900). Both these volumes are full of errors and should not be used. Volume II focuses on the Babylonian constellations.

Usually Robert Brown Junior, FSA (Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries), MRAS (Member of the Royal Astronomical Society), A.M., (1844-1912) is mistakenly described as an English Orientalist or Assyriologist. (As recently as 1965 he was misdescribed as an Assyriologist and Egyptologist (Myth: A Symposium, Volume 5, 1965).) Actually he was an English Solicitor in Barton-on-Humber. He was also a writer on archaic religion, mythology, and astronomy. (He lived at Priestgate House - inherited/purchased from his parents.) He was known (locally) as a writer on archaic religion, and was an amateur orientalist. In his day Brown Junior was quite highly regarded as a popular writer. He can also be regarded as a private scholar. He was educated at Cheltenham College, Gloucestershire (considered one of the greatest public schools of the Victorian period). He corresponded with William Gladstone (on Greek literature no doubt) when Gladstone was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1880. His father was Robert Brown F.R.S., Solicitor and Registrar of the County Court, Barton-on-Humber. (Robert Brown was admitted to the Queen's Bench as Attorney, in 1850. However, he was established as an Attorney at Burgate by at least 1841.) The business became Brown and Son, Solicitors, when Robert Brown Junior joined it. Some details for Robert Brown Junior for 1885 include: (1) is Clerk to the Magistrates Court, Priestgate; (2) County Court Office: is Registrar and High Bailiff of the County Court, Priestgate; (3) Public Office, Priestgate: is Steward of the Manors of Barton-on-Humber & of Winteringham.

Brown Junior was a member of the Society of Biblical Archæology, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and contributed to the journals Archæologia, the Academy, and other publications. On 26 July, 1909, he played host to a visit to St. Peter's Church, by members of the Society of Antiquities.

It appears that in 1852 his sister, Mary-Helen Brown, married (at Liskeard) William Spry, son of the Reverend W[?]. Spry, late Rector of Botusfleming, Cornwall. (However the following is also recorded: "At Liskeard, on Wednesday last, by the Rev. Prebendary Lyne, of Tywardreath, Albert Charles Lyne GLUBB, Esq., to Margaret Elizabeth, daughter of the late Robert BROWN, Esq., of Barton on Humber, Lincolnshire.")

The Law Times, Volume 42, December 8, 1866, Pages 109-110, notes: "Examinations at the Incorporated Law Society, Michaelmas Term, 1866. Final Examination. At the examination of candidates for admission on the roll of attorneys and solicitors of the superior courts .... the Examiners also certified that the following candidates, under the age of 26, whose names are placed in alphabetical order, passed examinations which entitle them to commendation:- Robert Brown, jun., who served his clerkship to Mr Robert Brown, of Barton-upon-Humber; and Messrs Hicks and Son, of London." By 1877 he was listed as ex-Registrar of the County Court, Barton-on-Humber. 

The following information was recorded at the 1891 Census for Priestgate: 866 - Robert Brown Junior, Married, 46 years, Head of house, Solicitor; Ann Eliza Brown, Married, 42 years, Janet E. Hogarth, Single, 25 years, Visitor, Literary author; Ann Everatt, Single, 35 years, Domestic servant; Ann Glover, Single, 35 years, Domestic servant. Janet Hogarth was the 'pen name' for Janet Courtney, a noted 19th-century scholar, writer, feminist, and freethinker, who was born in Barton-on-Humber, 1865, and died in London, 1954.

In 1871 Brown is listed in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London; "Brown, Robert, Jun. Esq. Priestgate House, Barton-on-Humber, Lincolnshire." In 1887 he is listed in the published Register of the Parish Church of Calverley. (He is earlier listed in the published Register of the Parish Church of Calverley in the West Riding of the County of York, 1883.) In the Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute, Volume 11, 1878, (under "Faith and Thought" ?) he (or his father) is also listed: "Brown, Robert, Esq. Solicitor and ex-Registrar of County court ...." Earlier, his father Robert Brown in listed in the Post Office Directory of Lincolnshire, 1855, Pages 20 & 21 as: Insurance Agent for Phœnix Fire & Pelican Life; clerk to the County court Office; public officer, "Clerk to the Magistrates [Court], Steward of the Manor of Winteringham, Perpetual Commissioner & Commissioner to administer Oaths in Chancery."

Brown Junior was thought to be the author of the privately printed humorous pamphlet/monograph titled Totemism (1887) (described as an admirable burlesque upon the current scientific absurdities on the subject of totemism).

In The Westminster Review, Volume 152, 1902, he was described as "a many-sided man ... a recognised authority on mythology and astronomical archaeology ...." The Medical Tribune (Volume 1, 1874/8?, Page 192) was quite unrestrained (and erroneous) in describing him as "a savant and orientalist of great merit, engaged upon the somewhat robust task of ascertaining the proper interpretation of the symbolism of the cuneiform characters ...." Another journal erroneously stated that Brown Junior had made himself a master of the cuneiform characters.

He was a Liberal in politics. The family crest (Fairbairn's Book of Crests of the Families of Great Britain & Ireland by James Fairbairn (1993)): "Brown, Robert, junior, F.S.A., Priestgate House, Barton-on-Humber, a demi- eagle displayed ppr. Fortitudine et prudentia."

It appears that for a time Robert Brown Junior practiced fraudulent physical mediumship (during at least 1890-1891) and his "séances" (mostly resulting in a table levitation trick) were investigated by officers of The Society for Psychical Research. (See: The Founders of Psychical Research by Alan Gauld (1968, Pages 221-222).)  His wife Ann was connected with - or a member of - the Society for Psychical Research (London). (See: Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Volume 21, Pages 539; "Brown, Mrs. Robert, Priestgate House, Barton-on-Huber, Hull.".) In his book Demonology and Witchcraft (1889) a Robert Brown (not Robert Brown Junior ) mentions a lecture and demonstration of mesmerism being held in the Temperance Hall in Barton-on-Humber (in 1889?). Also mentioned is a vicar of the parish practising mesmerism, with the object of curing disease.

Ann (or perhaps a daughter-in-law) may also have been a keen cyclist. A 1-page cycling log for a Mrs Brown of Barton, for 1909, records 1-day cycling journeys, one being 140 miles (Barton to Nottingham and return by the same route). (With the invention of the safety bicycle in 1885, women had taken to bicycle riding in great numbers. Cycling became a highly popular Edwardian hobby for ladies. Barton-upon-Humber was formerly an important centre for the manufacture of bicycles, Hopper's Cycles being established in the town in 1880 in the Hopper Building.)

It has been commented that if Brown Junior was right then it was often for the wrong reasons. As example: On the origin of the constellations he accepted the erroneous ideas of Fritz Hommel and Peter Jensen, and opposed the ideas of Georg Thiele. In spite of holding some peculiar positions Antike Himmelsbilder (1898) by Georg Thiele is still regarded by some as the standard work on the constellations. Books by Fritz Hommel and Peter Jensen are largely forgotten and their ideas discarded.

During the 1870s and 1880s he laboured to establish the influence of ancient Semitic cultures on Hellenic religious mythology. Along with George Cox and Abram Palmer he enthusiastically embraced and promoted the school of nature mythology originated by Max Müller. However, at this period when solar, lunar, and stellar interpretations of mythology were being linked to India and the Rig Veda Brown Junior argued for Semitic influences on Greek mythology. In doing this he showed he was not a complete disciple of Max Muller in the interpretation of mythology. (Rather, he applied Müller's approach to uncovering Semitic origins.) One of Brown's better books is Semitic Influence in Hellenic Mythology (1898), which is a critique of the views of Max Müller and Andrew Lang on mythology. (See the supportive (English-language) book review by George Goodspeed in The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Volume 15, Number 1, October, 1898, Pages 60-62.) Circa 1883 Brown Junior began working on the the origin of the extra-zodiacal constellations.

On ancient astronomy he corresponded/associated with – and relied upon for material and guidance – professional assyriologists such as Archibald Sayce, Theophilus Pinches and George Bertin. He was obviously frequently corresponding with Pinches - in his Primitive Constellations he frequently acknowledges assistance/advice given by Pinches. In a letter to the American Journal of Archaeology and of the History of the Fine Arts (1893) he acknowledges that Theophilus Pinches has called his attention to Babylonian tablet BM 85-4-30, 15 in the British Museum which gives the 12 months and month stars connected with each. A number of Brown's mistakes are their mistakes. However, he frequently ignored their expert guidance on a range of issues (such as philology and cultural transmission) and they frequently expressed their disappointment with Brown’s 'independent' (speculative and undisciplined) ideas on a range of issues (such as philology and cultural transmission). The eminent French historian of ancient astronomy, Paul Tannery, found Brown's work erudite and ingenious, but took issue with the method, and other issues. Both volumes of Researches into the Origin of the Primitive Constellations of Greeks, Phoenicians and Babylonians are (1) thoroughly dated and unreliable, and (2) still mistaken as important and the standard work.

It has been claimed that the British assyriologist Theophilus Pinches confirmed that Robert Brown Junior was the first to connect the "three stars" for each month in the Creation Epic Enuma Elish (tablet 5, lines 1-8) with the "three stars" for each month set out on a circular star calendar ("astrolabe") fragment. In Volume II, Chapter IX, of his Primitive Constellations, Brown certainly discusses and connects the "three stars" for each month in the Creation Epic Enuma Elish with the "three stars" for each month set out on a circular star calendar ("astrolabe") fragment. In Theophilus Pinches' review of Volume II of Primitive Constellations (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1900)), he writes: "There are, therefore, three stars or constellations for each month, corresponding with the statement in the Babylonian Creation-Story, and there is every probability that Mr Brown is right in regarding as those which are referred to in that Legend." Later, in his book The Religion of Babylon and Assyria (1906, Page 67) Pinches mentions that Brown junior has identified the "three stars" for each month on a circular planisphere fragment with "three stars" for each month in the 6th (sic) tablet of the Enuma Elish. Pinches does acknowledge that Brown Junior has made the connection but nowhere does Pinches actually acknowledge 'first.' It may indeed be that Brown Junior was 'first' to make a 'constellation connection.'  The assyriologist Wayne Horowitz has, since 1998 (Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography), clearly shown the close connection between tablet V, lines 1-8, of the Babylonian creation epic Enuma Elish (comprised of 7 tablets) and the astrolabes. ... The parallels between the Enuma Elish and the astrolabes .... demonstrates that the astrolabes are not only astronomical-calendrical works (presenting an astronomical-calendrical theory), but also have important religious and theological implications. Brown Junior made no such connection. Also: In Pinches' review of Volume 1 (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1900)) he states: "... it grieves me that I cannot follow him [Brown] in much of what says concerning the statements of the Assyro-Babylonian tablets bearing upon the subject." In Pinches' review of Volume 2 (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1900)) he states: "It is a matter of regret to me that I find myself unable to follow the author in all his conclusions, and that my readings, ... often differ greatly to his."

Professor Cornelius Tiele (not to be confused with Georg Thiele, the philologist), Leiden University, criticised Brown Junior for his etymology of Poseidon. (Tiele (1830-1902) was essentially a theologian and historian of religion (and not an assyriologist).)

Brown Junior was for many years reliant on the guidance given to him, amongst others, by the assyriologist George Bertin (1848-1891). In the pages of the late 19th-century journal The Academy it is clearly Robert Brown Junior who George Bertin is referring to for breaching trust and publishing some of Bertin's significant work unacknowledged - inferring it was Brown's own work. Trying to work out at this late stage what was Brown's own work and what was a copy of the help of others is impossible.

Brown Junior mistook the early circular "three stars each" texts (commonly called "planispheres," but actually functioning as star calendars) as representing the standard Mesopotamian scheme of constellations. On the basis of three small fragments of these circular "star calendars" (Sm. 162, Sm. 608, and Sm. 94) he attempted to re-establish what he believed was a complete standard Babylonian "planisphere." His speculative and erroneous reconstruction of such was based on his belief that the "planispheres" set out an ecliptic based scheme with the 12 stars in the Path of Ea (outer ring) marking southern constellations, the 12 stars in the Path of Enlil (inner ring) marking northern constellations, and the 12 stars in the Path of Anu (middle ring) marking the 12 zodiacal constellations along the ecliptic.

He was also led into error by the text of the Enuma Elish ("When on high") the 7 tablet series usually described as the Mesopotamian "Epic of Creation" He began Volume II of Researches into the Origin of the Primitive Constellations of Greeks, Phoenicians and Babylonians with a chapter setting out his analysis of the fifth tablet of the Enuma Elish series. In the fifth tablet there occurs a passage ("For the twelve months he placed three stars (constellations) each.") that is interpretable as pointing to the existence of a scheme of 36 constellations: 12 northern, 12 zodiacal, and 12 southern. These are 36 selected stars (constellations) to mark the progress of the months through the course of the schematic year and not the total number of constellations within the scheme of Mesopotamian uranography.

On the basis of his mistaken "planisphere" reconstruction Brown Junior believed the constellations, including a 12-constellation zodiac scheme, in something like their present form, originated in Mesopotamia in the late 3rd millennium BCE. He denied (quite incorrectly) that anyone in Mesopotamia was inventing the 12-constellation zodiac as late as circa 500 BCE.

Part of the problem was Brown Junior was unaware of the star lists of the Mul.Apin series. Mul.Apin tablet 1 (BM 86378) was not published until 1912 by Leonard King (CT 33, Plates 1-8) and it was perhaps first discussed by Franz Kugler in his Supplement 1 (1913) to his Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel. The first section of Mul.Apin tablet 1 lists considerably more stars in the Paths of Enlil, Anu, and Ea than are found in the "planispheres." Brown Junior was also misled by the limited listing of stars/constellations in the Paths of Enlil, Anu, and Ea through Tablet 82-5-22 512.

Interestingly, Brown Junior held the mistaken view that Aries (the Ram) is a Babylonian constellation - which we know it is not.

As late as 1932 Basil Brown in his Astronomical Atlases, Maps and Charts (unreliably) advised that Brown's Researches into the Origin of the Primitive Constellations of Greeks, Phoenicians and Babylonians "should certainly be consulted." The historian Mircea Eliade, in his The Encyclopedia of Religion (1987) also (unreliably) recommended use of Brown's Researches into the Origin of the Primitive Constellations of Greeks, Phoenicians and Babylonians.

According to the folklorist Richard Dorson (History of British Folklore (1999)) Brown Junior claimed to have converted Prime Minister Gladstone from an old-fashioned interpretation of Homer to his own viewpoint (involving Semitic influences). There is little doubt of the accuracy of Brown's claim (see: Homeric Synchronism: An Enquiry into the Time and Place of Homer by William Gladstone (1876)). In 1902 Brown Junior published the book, Mr Gladstone as I knew him, and other essays. Brown very much felt his isolation in Barton-on-Humber - and his distance from London to attend meetings. Eventually he became the only member of his family to remain living in Barton-on-Humber. (In 1930 the population of Barton-on-Humber was approximately 6,500 people.)

He wrote the well received history, Notes on the Earlier History of Barton-on-Humber (2 Volumes, 1906-1908). However, his adducement of a number of vernacular words as specimens of the Danish past of Barton-on-Humber was considered erroneous.

The Yorkshire Herald (21/02/1893) reported that on this day that Mr [William] Gladstone had conferred a Civic Service pension of £100 a year upon Mr Robert Brown F.S.A., of Barton upon Humber, in consideration of his service to literature.

Brown was frequently mistaken for other persons with the name Robert Brown. In his presidential address for 1896, the prominent folklorist Edward Clodd erroneously mentioned the death of Robert Brown the preceding year. Robert Brown Junior died at the age of 68 years. A short obituary appeared in Nature, Volume 90, 1913, Pages 227; and in the Annual Register, 1913, Page 123.

A (stained-glass) window by Archibald Nicholson (1872-1937) was placed in the Church of St. Peter in memory of Robert Brown Junior. It was removed in January, 2005 for conservation. (The (Saxon) Church of St. Peter was one of 2 great features of Barton-upon-Humber. The second was the (Norman) Church of St. Mary. Unusually for large mediaeval churches in a small town, they are located only some 150 metres apart. The construction of the Church of St. Peter is dated to the period between the period of King Edgar, 950 CE, and the Norman Conquest (1066 CE). The Church of St. Peter was an Anglican Church and Robert Brown Junior was a member of the Church of England.) The church window was only a small part of the memorial to Brown Junior. A large new school was built to his memory, by his parishioners and friends, at a cost of circa £1800 (including levelling the playground, and building boundary walls.

Robert Brown, his father, at one time lived at The Mansion, Barton-on-Humber. He wrote a  number of pamphlets on religious issues including: Jesuitism, or, The Devil's travesty of the Son of the Kingdom (92 pages); Ritualism at Barton on Humber (1867); Gospel Truths, and Reaping in due season (1875).

Appendix 1: Some Books and Monographs by Robert Brown Junior

Poseidôn: a Link between Semite, Hamite, and Aryan (1872)

The Great Dionysiak Myth (2 Volumes, 1877-1878) A third volume was contemplated but never published.

The Religion of Zoroaster, Considered in Connection with Archaic Monotheism (1879)

The Religion and Mythology of the Aryans of Northern Europe (1880)

Language, and Theories of its Origin (1881)

The Unicorn – A Mythological Investigation (1881)

The Law of Kosmic Order (1882)

Eridanus: River and Constellation. A Study of the Archaic Southern Asterisms (1883)

The Myth of Kirke (1883)

The Phainomena, or, ‘Heavenly Display’ of Aratos: Done into English Verse (1885)

Semitic Influence in Hellenic Mythology (1898)

Researches into the Origin of the Primitive Constellations of the Greeks, Phoenicians, and Babylonians (2 Volumes, 1899-1900)

Notes on the Earlier History of Barton-on-Humber (2 Volumes, 1906-1908)

Note: A criticism was the frequent brevity of his discussions results in a lack of sufficient evidence and discussion to enable a satisfactory judgment of his claims.

Appendix 2: 1871 England Census

The information retrieved from ancestry.com for the 1871 England Census shows evidence of scanning errors: Name: Robert Burumpan [= Robert Brown Junior]; Spouse: Ann E. Burumpan [= Ann E. Brown]; Birth: about 1845 - Barton, Lincolnshire, England; Residence: 1871 - Barton, St Mary, Lincolnshire, England.

Appendix 3: Barton-upon-Humber

Circa 1850 Barton-upon-Humber was a small, neat, well-built, market town, situated on ground gently rising from/spreading out from the southern bank of River Humber/Humber Estuary (which it was next to), 165 miles north from London. It is a town and 2 parishes in Glanford-Brigg district, Lincoln, in the northern division of the wapentake of Yarborough (North Lincolnshire). A branch of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincoln railway left the town and joined the Great Northern railway at Great Grimsby. Most railway traffic was to New Holland station. Steam boats belonging to the North Midland Company provided a ferry business to Hull and Hessle. (Also, Barton-upon-Humber was once a thriving port.) According to one source the chief trade of the town circa 1850 was tanning, malting; brick, tile rope, and whiting manufactures; and there were several corn mills. Another source states the trade was chiefly in corn and flour; and the manufacture of rope, sacking, starch, plaster of Paris, bricks, and tiles. The market was on Monday and every alternate Monday there was a larger cattle market. The town has great antiquity and dates back to the Roman occupation of Britain. There was a Saxon settlement there circa 400 CE (early Saxon times). In the Doomsday Survey the town is called Berton-upon-Humber. At the time of the Norman Conquest it was noted for its commerce. In 1851 the population was some 3900 persons (comprising the united parishes of St. Mary and St. Peter). Circa 1872 the population numbered 4300 persons. During the 19th-century Barton-upon-Humber was a petty sessional division and county court district. See: Notes on the Earlier History of Barton-on-Humber, by Robert Brown Junior (2 Volumes, 1906-1908). This book was considered a competent study, and well researched.

Appendix 4: Fairbairn's Book of Crests of the Families of Great Britain and Ireland (page 79)


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