From the Stacks: "The Prison" by H.B. Brewster

Tue, 09/10/2013 - 12:47pm -- anonymous


One of the small joys of library collection development is that of coming across interesting, older odd volumes stored away on shelves ready for the picking yet often overlooked for the newer or the more familiar.

In this weekly blog, I will highlight selected titles from our basement-level "Cutter" collection, so named after the non-fiction classification scheme used by the Redwood Library for over 100 years before we adopted the more familiar "Library of Congress” classification in the mid-1990’s. The books in our basement-level are still arranged using this seldom recognized and, in the most practical aspects, obsolete system. Unfortunately, due to prior funding priorities most of these titles have not been electronically cataloged as of 2013; indeed, the only record of their extant existence remains obscured from the wider public and scholarly view, nestled in our card catalog.

We invite members to travel though the basement-level stacks to find their own gems. Please stop by the circulation desk for more information.   

Week 1

The Prison: A Dialogue by H.B. Brewster (with a memoir of the author by Ethel Smyth). Heinemann: London, 1930   | Cutter Number 1AE .B75

Henry (H.B.) Brewster (1850-1908), son of noted American anesthesiologist, Christopher Starr Brewster, was raised and educated in France and married Julia von Stockhausen, great-granddaughter of the infamous story-teller Baron von Munchausen, in the mid-1870s. After marriage they settled in Florence and lived in almost total seclusion until a move to Rome in the 1880s. A friend of Henry James (begun during James’ early travels through Italy and reflected in the copious letters between the two), Brewster was known for his literary aspirations in philosophy, criticism and the creation of librettos with his long-time lover and confidant, noted British composer and early suffragist, Ethyl Smyth.  It is this later friendship that provoked a lovely biographical (indeed, hagiographical?) sketch of this little-known writer by Smyth in the 1930 edition of Brewster’s philosophical treatise, The Prison. This ethical and moralistic investigation of the individual-type Colin Wilson would later term “The Outsider”, is written in the Classically-inspired tradition of the dialogue and highlights Brewster’s metaphysical interests. This donation from Mrs. William Greenough and written by, according to James, a “strange, handsome, questioning cosmopolite ghost”, has been borrowed on three occassions at the Redwood, most recently in October of 1935.