01 October 2009

Dr. William Brydon, CB

Out for a trot. 

Before I again take up my tales of early American book-selling, I wish to relate to you, dear blogites, the most curious story of a certain Dr. William Brydon, British military doctor and, all in all, an interesting dude.

Encampment of the Kandahar Army, under General Nott, at Kabul, by Lieutenant James Rattray.

Brydon was a surgeon in the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1842), a conflict between the British and Russian Empires for the strategically important and blanket-laden territories that now comprise modern Afghanistan. The fine doctors claim to fame is that he was the only Briton from a 4,500-man army to make it back to British-held Jalalabad, a city infamous around the world for its great horde of a's, from the army's retreat from Kabul. The artist Lady Butler painted a recreation of Brydon's arrival at Jalalabad called Remnants of an Army, retitled from its original name, Perhaps Aesthetically Unpleasing Study of Gentleman That Be Astride a Horse. Here is a rendering more satisfying to my own tastes:

According to one observer of Brydon's return, he arrived at the city's gate "on a horse scarcely able to move another yard, wounded and bruised from head to foot with stones, and he, alone, has arrived to tell the fearful tale." His horse promptly dropped dead after entering Kabul.

The latest in ballistic protection.

Brydon was, he explained, only saved from the same gruesome fate as his fellow soldiers by a fortuitously placed copy of Blackwood's Magazine. He had put the esteemed Scottish gentleman's rag in his hat to stave off the biting cold of the the Afghan winter, a country seemingly with weather only slightly less horrible than that of our own Oklahoma. This literary padding kept Brydon's scalp from being removed by an Afghan warrior's sword. He was later heard to remark, "Never knew this old bit of Lolland drivel could come in so handy."

It is also posited by some that Brydon was the inspiration for the estimable Dr. John Watson, the brave, if easily befuddled, counterpart to the famous actual detective Sherlock Holmes (see picture ; "Dr. Watson" is on the right).

Unlike Watson, Brydon continued to think that army doctoring was a good career path and later fought in the Second Anglo-Burmese War of 1852. He later moved back to Scotland, but it is not known if he was able to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming the bumbling sidekick to a drug-addicted, asexual and emotionless amateur detective.

Well, that is all from the Cabinet for now. Sorry for being away so long, and I promise I shall return soon to the story of the man Weems and his book peddling (or, perhaps, meddling!).

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