Character sketches of romance, fiction and the drama.

Rev. Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, Character sketches of romance, fiction, drama
Character sketches of romance, fiction and the drama by Rev. Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, 1892. A revised American edition of the readers handbook. Edited by Marion Harland.

Character sketches of romance, fiction and the drama by Rev. Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, 1892. A revised American edition of the readers handbook. Edited by Marion Harland. 

Dr. Ebenezer Cobham Brewer (May 10, 1810, Norwich – March 6, 1897, Edwinstowe, Nottinghamshire) was the compiler of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable and The Reader’s Handbook, Victorian reference works.

E. Cobham Brewer was the son of a Norwich schoolteacher. He was educated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge University (Cambridgeshire) and graduated with a law degree in 1836.

He was ordained in 1838, and then returned to Norwich to work in his father’s school. It was there that he compiled his first major work, A Guide to the Scientific Knowledge of Things Familiar, first published around 1838-1841. The book contains 1973 questions and answers on everyday scientific phenomena in different fields (heat, meteorology, acoustics, optics, inorganic or mineral chemistry, metalloids and metals, organic chemistry, animal chemistry and physiology). It had an immense popularity (in 1866, the 22nd edition appeared), and sales; probably financed his later great trips to Europe.

Upon his return to England in 1856, he began working on what would become Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. This dictionary comes, in part, from his correspondence with the readers of his previous book. The first edition was published in 1870, and a revised edition was published in 1894.

Brewer’s Reader’s Handbook was reprinted by Marion Harland (1830-1922), and published in the United States, with numerous illustrations, as Character Sketches of Romance, Fiction and the Drama: A Revised American Edition of the Reader’s Handbook, 4 vols. in New York 1892.

Regarding his methodology, Brewer wrote, in the preface to the Historic Note-Book: “I was an author for sixty years, wrote many books, and, of course, was a very eclectic reader.