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The Reverend Dr. Ebenezer Cobham Brewer (10 May 1810, Norwich – 6 March 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 schoolmaster. He attended Trinity Hall, Cambridge,[1] graduating in Law in 1836. He was ordained in 1838 and then returned to Norwich to work at his father's school. While there he compiled his first major work, A Guide to the Scientific Knowledge of Things Familiar, first published around 1838-41. The book was immensely popular, and the sales may have funded his later extensive travels in Europe.

On returning to England in 1856, he started on the work that was to become Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. The dictionary was derived in part from correspondence with readers of his previous book. The first edition was published in 1870, and a revised edition appeared in 1894.

Brewer's Reader's Handbook was re-edited 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., New York 1892. Other works by Brewer include A Dictionary of Miracles: Imitative, Realistic and Dogmatic (1884?), and The Historic Notebook, With an Appendix of Battles.

Of his methodology, Brewer wrote in the preface to the Historic Note-Book: "I have been an author for sixty years, have written many books, and of course have been a very miscellaneous reader. In my long experience I have remarked how little the range of "literary" reading has varied, and how doubt still centres on matters which were cruces (ital) in my early years. So that a work of this kind is of as much usefulness in 1891 as it would have been in 1830. I have always read with a slip of paper and a pencil at my side, to jot down whatever I think my be useful to me, and these jottings I keep sorted in different lockers. This has been a life-habit with me..."

The Reader's Handbook has had an extended subsequent history. With detailed revisions by editor Henrietta Gerwig[2] it formed the nucleus of Crowell's Handbook for Readers and Writers[3] which in turn provided the nucleus of William Rose Benet's The Reader's Encyclopedia,[4] "veritably a new book", as Benet remarked; in revised form, it is still in print.


  1. ^ Brewer, Ebenezer Cobham in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  2. ^ William Rose Benet, The Reader's Encyclopedia, 1948, Preface.
  3. ^ New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1925
  4. ^ New York: Crowell, 1948

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