Towards an autobiography
With friends Jim Warburton, Doreen Stack and Margaret Hall, Brasch spent time during late December 1950 tramping along the Routeburn Track. In between constant drizzle, a small snowstorm, sandflies and blowflies, and shelter at Deadmans, Hidden Falls, and Alabaster Huts, he found time to read. With hot billy tea and Ryvita biscuits, Brasch read this copy of Leigh Hunt's Autobiography. Warburton managed to finish Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility.
James K. Baxter was only 18 when he met Brasch. Brasch liked much of what the young Dunedin poet wrote – 'he is a natural phrase-maker' – and noted his 'clear-eyed directness' in contrast to his own 'complicated mesh of guilts.' Indeed, in Brasch's own 'Phrases and poems'(1966), he wrote: 'More than any other poet, James Baxter has succeeded in persuading New Zealanders today that poetry has something to say to all men.' On 31 March 1951, Brasch read the scarce Gollancz edition of Archibald Baxter's We Will Not Cease (1939), which he had not read before. It had an impact: 'I shall think of all the Baxters differently now.' This is the later reprint.
In a further attempt to gather ideas about his own autobiographical writings, Brasch read Nicolas Berdyaev's Dream and Reality: An Essay in Autobiography, which he finished on 2 December 1951. Berdyaev (1874-1948) was a Russian philosopher who advocated individualism and railed against the authoritarianism of the Bolshevik regime. In contrast to the philosopher's sentiment, 'The conquest of the deadly flux of time has always been the chief concern of my life', Brasch wrote: 'My concern is just the opposite of this: I want to steep myself in time, in the temporal, in its extraordinary richness, its endless variety.'
In between writing biographies on Catherine, Saint of Siena (1947) and St Francis(1962), the Jesuit-schooled author Michael de la Bedoyere (1900–1973) wrote a biography on the Catholic writer, Baron Von Hügel (1852-1925), which Brasch began on 2 December 1951, after finishing Berdyaev. It was not a good start: '(not a book that I much like the tone of; it opens with a decidedly distasteful piece of fancy reconstruction which is not the beginning of his life & only makes for confusion).' From this read, Brasch made one further comment on one of life's mysteries – at least to him: 'that the sexual act at its lowest, most brutal, most casual, can result in the birth or inarnation of a human soul.'