AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A SOLDIER TURNED BOOKSELLER

The life and adventures of a soldier; or, Struggles through real life: comprising a faithful history of the late war in Spain. By John Brown, of the –th Light Dragoons, and late of the 67th Foot.

London, E. Cornish, 1855.

8vo, pp. iv, 318, [1]; a few wood-engraved illustrations in the text; slightly toned, some marginal spotting and foxing (particularly at beginning and end of volume), closed tear at gutter of title; original dark blue cloth; rubbed and soiled, cloth split along joints, head of spine chipped; from the library of Ian Robertson (1928–2020).

£750

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The life and adventures of a soldier; or, Struggles through real life: comprising a faithful history of the late war in Spain. By John Brown, of the –th Light Dragoons, and late of the 67th Foot.

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First edition; very rare. A vivid account of the Carlist War as experienced by a rank and file soldier in the British Legion. John Brown’s regiment marched into Spain on 5 June 1835 and reached ‘St. Ander’ on the 10th, whence it sailed to San Sebastian. On 11 August he married the daughter of a flour merchant of San Sebastian, and on 26 September sailed for besieged Bilbao, where his division remained until the middle of October. During the subsequent march to Vitoria, Brown was incapacitated by severely frostbitten feet and spent three weeks convalescing at Miranda de Ebro. After the fierce battle to raise the siege of San Sebastian on 5 May 1836 he was left in charge of three captured officers, two of whom he killed in self-defence when they set upon him, Brown subduing the third after a struggle on a nearby dung-heap. He received a bullet through the thigh during a skirmish on 1 August, and a few weeks later he was court-martialled after becoming heavily intoxicated on wine from the army’s stores. At Hernani (15 March 1837) his horse was shot from under him and he had a ‘hair-breadth escape’ from the enemy. On returning to San Sebastian shortly afterwards Brown was informed of the death of the child he had fathered with his Spanish wife.

‘The object of this work is to lay before the public a true and faithful account of the life of a soldier, at home, abroad, in camp, in barracks, and on the battle-field; minutely describing the many perilous adventures and hair-breath [sic] escapes through which I passed during the war in Spain, between the present Queen and the late Don Carlos. It also exhibits the many hardships to which a soldier is exposed by the petty tyranny of the arbitrary and ambitious non-commissioned officers’ (p. [iii]).

As related on p. 312, in 1851 Brown ‘commenced the business of a bookseller and stationer, and continued to carry it on for some considerable time’. Following the funeral of Wellington, several of Brown’s friends challenged him to write ‘a poetical effusion on the Life and Death of Wellington in one hour, equal to any written in commemoration of Napoleon Bonaparte’. The resulting effusion of eight stanzas (‘Attend, ye warriors of renown, / Who have fought beneath the British Crown . . .’), supposedly completed in fifty-five minutes, is printed on pp. 312–4.

Library Hub records a single copy (British Library). OCLC adds two copies (Calgary and Toronto Public Library).

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