“Hack work” by the nephew of Trinity’s founder


 

This is my first post as the newly appointed Head Curator & Librarian of the Watkinson, and I hope to post regularly about things I find in the stacks, as a nice way of giving a rolling report, as it were, to the literally tens of thousands of fabulous items we have here at Trinity, tucked safely in the bowels of the library (sorry for the imagery there).

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The People’s Book of Ancient and Modern History, by Henry Howard Brownell. (Hartford, 1851).

Dismissed by one scholar as “strictly hack work and, though conscientiously composed, derivative and prolix,” this sort of book (created and updated by a subscription house) was bread-and-butter work for writers like Brownell, and enjoyed popularity with readers who embarked on their adventures from the armchair. Henry Howard Brownell (1820-1872) was a writer and a naval officer, born in Providence, RI. His uncle (on his father’s side) was Thomas Church Brownell (1779-1865), the principal founder and first president of Trinity College (1824-1831), as well as the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut. Nephew Henry graduated Trinity in 1841, moved south for his health (taught in Alabama for a short time), returned to Hartford and was admitted to the bar in 1844, but left law to return to teaching. Brownell was an abolitionist, and in April of 1862 he was so moved by the orders to carry the fight into rebel waters (sent by Captain David G. Farragut to the fleet) that he published a rhymed version (“General Orders”) in the Hartford Evening Press (we do not, alas, have this issue). Farragut was so pleased by the poem, and Brownell was so willing to serve, that the former swore in the latter under his command aboard his flagship Hartford. Brownell saw action in the attack at Mobile Bay (August 5, 1864), and went on to become a minor literary light. Brownell’s papers are at the Huntington Library in California.

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