John Keay

Hermit of the Himalayas

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

By Charles Allen

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.

Sara Stewart


Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Thomas Hardy's phrenologist tells him he will 'lead to no good' in a new book about his life in London ,
    • John Knox said that crowning a woman was akin to putting ‘a saddle upon the back of an unruly cow’. Tell that to Catherine de'Medici...,
    • RT : I 💕💕 the Pulpit article in September's about rereading books at different times of life.,
    • Interesting thread by Aki there on inclusivity in publishing. (Read her tweets for full thread.),
    • RT : A conference about inclusivity in publishing is a fantastic idea, but doesn't £200 seem a short-sighted undermining of, well, inclusivity?,
    • Calling all friends of bulbous salutations & the elfin grot: lots of entries to have already come in, but my door’s still open...,