Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Nicholson, Brinsley

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NICHOLSON, BRINSLEY, M.D. (1824–1892), Elizabethan scholar, born in 1824 at Fort George, Scotland, was the eldest son of B. W. Hewittson Nicholson, of the army medical staff. After a boyhood passed at Gibraltar, Malta, and the Cape, where his father was stationed, he entered Edinburgh University in 1841, in due time took his degree, and finished his medical studies in Paris. Becoming an army surgeon he spent some years in South Africa, and saw service in the Kafir wars in 1853 and 1854. His careful observation and knowledge of the native tribes were shown in the genealogical tables of Kafir chiefs contributed by him to a ‘Compendium of Kafir Laws and Customs’ printed by the government of British Kaffraria at Mount Coke in 1858. During his long rides and lonely hours in these years the study of Shakespeare proved a constant solace. He was in China during the war of 1860, and present at the famous loot of the Summer Palace at Pekin; and in New Zealand took part in the Maori war, which ended in 1864. About 1870 he retired from the army, and, settling near London, he devoted himself seriously to Elizabethan literature.

In 1875 he edited, for the then recently formed New Shakspere Society, the first folio and the first quarto of ‘Henry the Fifth,’ and began the preparation of the ‘Parallel Texts’ of the same play, issued in 1877. This he was prevented from completing by severe illness. He afterwards read several papers at meetings of the New Shakspere Society, and, encouraged by his friend and fellow-student, Professor W. T. Gairdner of Glasgow, he brought out in 1886 an excellent reprint of Reginald Scot's ‘Discoverie of Witchcraft’ (1584). He subsequently worked on editions of Jonson, Chapman, and Donne; but he succeeded in bringing near completion only his edition of ‘The Best Plays of Ben Jonson,’ which was published posthumously in 1893, with an introduction by Professor C. H. Herford, in the Mermaid Series (2 vols.). His edition of Donne's poems was completed for the Muses' Library in 1895. He was an occasional contributor to ‘Notes and Queries,’ the ‘Athenæum,’ ‘Antiquary,’ and ‘Shakespeariana.’ Without being brilliant, his habits of accuracy and his full acquaintance with the literature of the period gave value to his criticism, and he was always ready to help a fellow scholar. He died 14 Sept. 1892. He had married in 1875, and his wife survived him.

[Private information.]

L. T. S.