Short, nasty, and brutish

The title of this blog article is the modern adaptation of the phrase originally coined by Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), "the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Such, advanced Hobbes, would be the natural state of the human condition without the imposition, or overlayment, of political modalities. However, impose or overlay governmental powers by which the electors agree a social contract, and presumably the life of man would become communal, cultured, and commodious.

The original intent of this significant 17th century English philosopher seems to have been diluted in the modern interpretation of the now abbreviated phrase. Still, it manages to convey a life terminated before its time by want of necessary, familial, and collegial comforts. And who should die so attenuated, but for the specific actions, or inactions, of others?

Our subject is William Henry Huggins, born in 1859, the second son of a career soldier in the British Army. William endeavoured with all his might to acquit himself in the creditable manner which his father had modelled. While his talents were recognized by the Army through the rapidity of his promotions through the ranks of Lance Corporal and Corporal to Sergeant, his undoing was the frailty of his body. Wracked by successive bouts of bronchitis, phthisis (tuberculosis), and epilepsy, William's was an abbreviated career of five years and 204 days—205 of which were spent in hospital.

When he found himself discharged, due to medical unfitness, on the streets of Colchester, William had one last salvo to lob in a world where he had been discarded, in a society that had no safety nets to catch him. He paid for a ship's passage to Canada, where he parlayed his experience in the Imperial Army into a position with the Royal School of Artillery in Kingston. He must have arrived on the threshold of Fort Henry a shadow of his former self. Yet, at a time when the Dominion of Canada was developing its armed forces, and manufactured shells were not yet available, the Commandant must have recognized William's leadership talents and experience in the battlefield in India, military qualities which were then in scant supply. And so, William was retained to teach the Officers of the Royal Military College how to position and load artillery.

By the time his body forsake him when he was just thirty years old, William's family had dispersed, to England, to Chicago, and to Manitoba. His brother, Samuel John, laboured on under the British government's dogged determination to subdue the East Indies. William would have died alone, but for the fraternity of his lately discovered military brethren at Fort Henry.

Link to biographical sketch for William Henry Huggins (1859-1889).

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© Alison Kilpatrick, 2015. All rights reserved.
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"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."—Lesley Poles Hartley (1895–1972), The Go-Between (1953).

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