At the end of the nineteenth century there died an English schoolmaster and clergyman whose life had spanned most of it. He was born in 1810. Two books in my father's library made me familiar, at an early age, with the Englishman's name. They were Brewer A Dictionary of Phrase and Fable and Brewer The Reader's Handbook. His full name was Ebenezer Cobham Brewer. Years later, when I was asked to edit a Reader's Encyclopedia, using Crowell's Handbook for Readers and Writers as nucleus, I discovered that according to the preface of the first editor of that volume, it had originally owed much to the fascinating books of Dr. Brewer. (I always imagined him with a delightful beard--something like Edward Lear's--in which nested all the oddities of learning. Alas, I can boast no such receptaculum!) However, the Handbook for Readers and Writers had given his material extremely detailed revision, to say nothing of supplying a great deal that was new, relating to the Victorian era and to subsequent years, with especial attention to American literature and allusion. Since that time, of course, almost as many changes in taste, viewpoint, and interest have occurred as the handbook's editor found to have taken place between 1897 (when Dr. Brewer died) and 1925 (when the Crowell Handbook appeared). Twenty or more recent years have shown as many alterations as the previous thirty. And now, in the midst of the new Atomic Age, there are changes that even a modern editor could not have anticipated several years ago!
I wish immediately to acknowledge my indebtedness, not only to the editor of Crowell's Handbook for Readers and Writers, MissHenrietta Gerwig, but also to an intermediate reviser, Miss Irene Hendry, whose knowledge of modern literature has proved indispensable to the present volume. Miss Gerwig's handbook was designed as "a dictionary of famous characters and plots in legend, fiction, drama, opera, and poetry, together with dates and principal works of important authors, literary and journalistic terms and familiar allusions." Miss Hendry's work, never before appearing in print, is incorporated here. But the original handbook is only one of several ancestors of the present work. Since the handbook's publication, so many people have contributed ideas and suggestions that the present volume has, in a sense, been composed for you by inquiring readers from all parts of the country. It is no mere revision, but veritably a new book.
Original entries on established authors of the past have been enlarged with modern treatment. Full advantage has been taken of all the most modern reference books. (A complete list of all books consulted will be found below.) More attention has been given to obscure works and figures in literature both of the distant and recent past. And, in line with the methodological advance in literary criticism of the past fifteen years or so, "whereby an author is interpreted not only in terms . . .