John Keay

Hermit of the Himalayas

The Prisoner of Kathmandu: Brian Hodgson in Nepal 1820–43


Haus Publishing 288pp £20 order from our bookshop

Of all those ‘orientalist’ British officials who spent as much time studying India as ruling it, none was more elusive than Brian Hodgson. Like some of the hundred or more bird species Hodgson was the first to identify, sightings of him were rare, though his call was often heard from afar. Indeed, so numerous were his contributions to the learned journals of the day, so wide-ranging were the subjects they addressed and so broad was the period of time they spanned that it was easily supposed there must be more than one B H Hodgson in the field. How could ‘the father of Indian zoology’ also be ‘the highest living authority on the native races of India’? Or ‘the founder of the true study of Buddhism’ be the same man who induced the British Indian army to recruit Gurkhas? Or the leading exponent of Lamaism’s esoteric doctrines be the individual who took on Thomas Babington Macaulay in the matter of Indian education? It was all a bit too much – too much for Hodgson’s career-obsessed contemporaries, too much for most would-be biographers, and too much, in the end, for Hodgson himself, who died in London, embittered and largely forgotten, aged ninety-four.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,
    • 'Munch’s later works show us a man liberated from the torments that gave rise to some of the best-known early works… ,
    • 'We read from left to right and from start to finish. Or do we?' Stuart Hannabus considers the merits of reading i… ,
    • Domestic scandal, sexual abuse and serial killers are on the menu in April's crime round-up. revie… ,
    • What did Samuel Johnson, Joshua Reynolds, James Boswell and Edmund Burke all have in common? Clare Bucknell reveal… ,