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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Justin W. Brierly Bookplate
On the Road to Kerouac

We’re in the midst of a record-setting heat wave here in Southeast Texas. Yesterday afternoon, in the shade of my back porch, the mercury stretched all the way to 102 on the Fahrenheit scale. In the shade! The humidity doesn’t help matters, either. Anyway, for some reason I decided to leave my cool, comfortable office and get out on the road to do a little book hunting. I’m glad I did.

I found a fair number of decent books for my two-hour effort, even if I had to leave my truck baking in the sun for awhile. But it wasn’t any particular title I found that initiated this post—it was what I found inside one of those books: A bookplate for one Justin W. Brierly of Denver, Colorado.


Name doesn't ring a bell? Didn't for me either, but I liked the look of the bookplate, which sports the family crest, name and the year 1615. So I bought the book for four bits (cheap French paperback art book from the 1930s) and took it home to research Brierly and see if he was anyone of import.

Turns out he was a lawyer and a member of the school board in Denver. I've also read accounts that assert he was a high school teacher and counselor and that he also owned rental properties around Denver. Whether all that is factual or not, it does appear that in 1941 Brierly did meet a troubled teen named Neal Cassady, possibly at one of his rental properties during an inspection. Yes, that Neal Cassady for some who may be asking the question.

Brierly took an interest in Cassady, as well as other troubled youth, and enjoyed a mentoring role to them in hopes of turning them around. That he was purported in various accounts to be homosexual, his motives for helping young men have been grist for the rumor mill.

Brierly was a Columbia graduate and often encouraged his proteges to attend college there. He saw in Cassady an exceptional mind in desperate need of cultivation and the right kind of influence. Cassady had indeed grown up in tough circumstances and seemed attracted to trouble and danger. Brierly did have an influence on Cassady, encouraging his interests in philosophy, literature, and the arts. With my imagination working overtime, I can even envision Brierly loaning this book with his bookplate to Cassady.

Despite Brierly's efforts, Cassady did wind up in jail for a short time, but the two maintained correspondence through letters. In 1946, at age twenty, out of jail, and married, Cassady and his sixteen-year-old bride set out for New York and the cultivated literary life he imagined for himself. They hooked up with another Brierly protege, Hal Chase, who Brierly had previously introduced to Cassady. Chase was attending Columbia with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and introduced Cassady to both. And both were soon in such awe of Cassady and his brilliant mind that, although Cassady never achieved the literary success he wanted, he had quite an influence on Ginsberg, Kerouac, and other writers in their circle that formed the genesis of the Beat Generation.

Their friendship and travels in the ensuing years were recounted with fictional characters in Kerouac's classic 1957 American novel, On the Road. Cassady was immortalized as Dean Moriarity, and his mentor, Justin Brierly, also made it into the novel under the name Denver B. Doll.
Had it not been for Justin Brierly's friendship with Neal Cassady back in Denver, Cassady would have never met Hal Chase and would have never been introduced to Jack Kerouac. Without Brierly in the picture, would there have even been an On the Road?


1957 First Edition with jacket of On the Road,
as offered by Manhattan Rare Books.



Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac on the cover of a reprint edition.

There's no way of knowing what Kerouac would have written without a Neal Cassady in his life. Nor what Ginsberg and others would have written, for Cassady held court with and influenced them as well. But Justin Brierly's desire to help truant teens make something of themselves indirectly influenced a literary movement.

4 comments:

  1. Which bookstore did you go to? I live in Kentucky, but when I travel, I try to fit in a few bookstores wherever I visit.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Visited several places that day including resale shops--not sure, off the top of my head, exactly where this one was found. When in Houston, though, for second-hand books, try Becker's, Kaboom, or any of the Half-Price Books bookstores. Directions can be found online. Happy hunting!

    ReplyDelete
  3. interesting stuff, thanks for the research. and Hello from berlin, germany.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hello, Berlin! This item was fun to research. Thanks for reading and for the comment.

    ReplyDelete

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