Why “A Ready Man”?

Why is the biography of Hugh Stowell Brown called “A Ready Man”? Where does the title come from?

Good question. It comes from a quotation from the writer Francis Bacon that was used of Hugh in his lifetime. It refers to Hugh being a man who mixed with all kinds of people and had easy conversation with them.

The quotation that was applied to Hugh comes from the seventeeth-century writer Francis Bacon, a philospher, politician and scientist. In his essay “Of Studies” of 1625 he wrote, “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man”. Bacon means we learn things and fill up our minds by reading, and writing helps us to think precisely about what we know, but “conference”, that is talking to people, makes us alert to different points of view and able to argue our position more readily.

One of Hugh Stowell Brown’s friends, a man called Henry Young, owned a publishing and booksellers business in Liverpool. He wrote a review of Hugh’s published series of lectures. He praised the lectures for being straightforward, dealing with issues relevant to ordinary people and their lives. He said the lectures were timeless truth simply told. And he said Brown was able to do this because he knew the concerns of the people he was speaking to.

In was in this context Henry Young said Hugh was “A Ready Man” as well as a “full man”, not just full of book knowledge but honed by conversation and knowing what the ‘working man’ was concerned about. Hugh, he implied, was aware of popular culture and what concerned the people of his time, both poor and rich. This made him an excellent communicator, knowing both his subject matter and his audience.

I like the idea of the preacher and Christian communicator as the “ready” woman or man – we need to be down-to-earth and real. Not populist and “right-on” for its own sake, but grounded in the real-world concerns of people, the ones Christ died for. And that’s something I admire in Hugh Stowell Brown.

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