The Life of Sir Richard Burton
Part 2 out of 9
20th February 1847-1849
Under the Spell of Camoens
1. Grammar of the Jataki Dialect, 1849.
2. Remarks on Dr. Dorn's Chrestomathy of the Afghan Tongue, 1849.
3. Reports on Sind addressed to the Bombay Government.
4. Grammar of the Mooltanee Language.
15. Goa and Camoens.
He left Goa on 20th February 1847, taking as usual a pattymar,
his mind vibrant with thoughts of his great hero, the "Portingall"
Camoens, with whose noble epic all Western India, from Narsinga and
Diu to Calicut is intimately associated. Passages from Camoens were
frequently in his mouth, and in bitterest moments, in the times of
profoundest defection, he could always find relief in the pages of
him whom he reverently calls "my master." Later in life he could
see a parallel between the thorny and chequered career of Camoens
and his own. Each spent his early manhood on the West Coast of
India [FN#74], each did his country an incalculable service: Camoens
by enriching Portugal with The Lusiads, Burton by his travels and by
presenting to England vast stores of Oriental lore. Each received
insult and ill-treatment, Camoens by imprisonment at Goa, Burton by
the recall from Damascus. There was also a temperamental likeness
between the two men. The passion for travel, the love of poetry and
adventure, the daring, the patriotism of Camoens all find their
counterpart in his most painstaking English translator. Arrived at
Panjim, Burton obtained lodgings and then set out by moonlight in a
canoe for old Goa. The ruins of churches and monasteries fascinated
him, but he grieved to find the once populous and opulent capital of
Portuguese India absolutely a city of the dead. The historicity of
the tale of Julnar the Sea Born and her son King Badr [FN#75] seemed
established, Queen Lab and her forbidding escort might have appeared
at any moment. On all sides were bowing walls and tenantless
houses. Poisonous plants covered the site of the Viceregal Palace,
and monster bats hung by their heels at the corners of tombs.
Thoughts of Camoens continued to impinge on his mind, and in
imagination he saw his hero dungeoned and laid in iron writing his
Lusiads. A visit to the tomb of St. Francis Xavier also deeply
moved him. To pathos succeeded comedy. There was in Panjim an
institution called the Caza da Misericordia, where young ladies,
for the most part orphans, remained until they received suitable
offers of marriage The description of this place piqued Burton's
curiosity, and hearing that it was not unusual for persons to
propose themselves as suitors with a view to inspecting the
curiosities of the establishment, he and some companions repaired
to the Caza. Having seen the chapel and the other sights he
mentioned that he wanted a wife. A very inquisitive duenna
cross-examined him, and then he was allowed to interview one of the
young ladies through a grating, while several persons, who refused
to understand that they were not wanted, stood listening. Burton at
once perceived that it would be an exhausting ordeal to make love in
such circumstances, but he resolved to try, and a dialogue commenced
"Should you like to be married, senorita?"
"Yes, very much, senor."
"And why, if you would satisfy my curiosity?"
"I don't know."
The rest of the conversation proved equally wooden and
unsatisfactory, and quotations from poets were also wasted.
"The maid, unused to flowers of eloquence,
Smiled at the words, but could not guess their sense."
Burton then informed the duenna that he thought he could get on
better if he were allowed to go on the other side of the grating,
and be left alone with the demure senorita. But at that the old
lady suddenly became majestic. She informed him that before he
could be admitted to so marked a privilege he would have to address
an official letter to the mesa or board explaining his intentions,
and requesting the desired permission. So Burton politely tendered
his thanks, "scraped the ground thrice," departed with gravity,
and in ten minutes forgot all about the belle behind the grille.
It was while at Panhim, that, dissatisfied with the versions of
Camoens by Strangford [FN#76], Mickle and others, Burton commenced
a translation of his own, but it did not reach the press for
thirty-three years. [FN#77]
We next find him at Panany, whence he proceeded to Ootacamund,
the sanitarium on the Neilgherries, where he devoted himself to
the acquisition of Telugu, Toda, Persian and Arabic, though often
interrupted by attacks of ophthalmia. While he was thus engaged,
Sir Charles Napier returned to England (1847) [FN#78] and Sind was
placed under the Bombay Government "at that time the very sink of
In September Burton visited Calicut--the city above all others
associated with Camoens, and here he had the pleasure of studying on
the spot the scenes connected with the momentous landing of Da Gama
as described in the seventh and most famous book of the Lusiads.
In imagination, like Da Gama and his brave "Portingalls," he greeted
the Moor Monzaida, interviewed the Zamorim, and circumvented the
sinister designs of the sordid Catual; while his followers
trafficked for strange webs and odoriferous gums. On his return
to Bombay, reached on October 15th, Burton offered himself for
examination in Persian, and gaining the first place, was presented
by the Court of Directors with a thousand rupees. In the meantime
his brother Edward, now more Greek-looking than ever, had risen to
be Surgeon-Major, and had proceeded to Ceylon, where he was
quartered with his regiment, the 37th.
16. "Would you a Sufi be?"
Upon his return to Sind, Burton at first applied himself sedulously
to Sindi, and then, having conceived the idea of visiting Mecca,
studied Moslem divinity, learnt much of the Koran by heart and made
himself a "proficient at prayer." It would be unjust to regard this
as mere acting. Truth to say, he was gradually becoming
disillusioned. He was finding out in youth, or rather in early
manhood, what it took Koheleth a lifetime to discover, namely,
that "all is vanity." This being the state of his mind it is not
surprising that he drifted into Sufism. He fasted, complied with
the rules and performed all the exercises conscientiously. The idea
of the height which he strove to attain, and the steps by which he
mounted towards it, may be fathered from the Sufic poet Jami.
Health, says Jami, is the best relish. A worshipper will never
realise the pure love of the Lord unless he despises the whole
world. Dalliance with women is a kind of mental derangement.
Days are like pages in the book of life. You must record upon them
only the best acts and memories.
"Would you a Sufi be, you must
Subdue your passions; banish lust
And anger; be of none afraid,
A hundred wounds take undismayed." [FN#80]
In time, by dint of plain living, high thinking, and stifling
generally the impulses of his nature, Burton became a Master Sufi,
and all his life he sympathised with, and to some extent practised
Sufism. Being prevented by the weakness of his eyes from continuing
his survey work, he made a number of reports of the country and its
people, which eventually drifted into print. Then came the stirring
news that another campaign was imminent in Mooltan, his heart leaped
with joy, and he begged to be allowed to accompany the force as
interpreter. As he had passed examinations in six native languages
and had studied others nobody was better qualified for the post or
seemed to be more likely to get it.
17. Letter to Sarah Burton, 14th Nov. 1848.
It was while his fate thus hung in the balance that he wrote to his
cousin Sarah [FN#81] daughter of Dr. Francis Burton, who had just
lost her mother. [FN#82] His letter, which is headed Karachi,
14th November 1848, runs as follows:--"My dear cousin, I lose no
time in replying to your note which conveyed to me the mournful
tidings of our mutual loss. The letter took me quite by surprise.
I was aware of my poor aunt's health having suffered, but never
imagined that it was her last illness. You may be certain that I
join with you in lamenting the event. Your mother had always been
one of my best relations and kindest friends; indeed she was the
only one with whom I kept up a constant correspondence during the
last six years. I have every reason to regret her loss; and you,
of course, much more. Your kind letter contained much matter of a
consolatory nature; it was a melancholy satisfaction to hear that my
excellent aunt's death-bed was such a peaceful one--a fit conclusion
to so good and useful a life as hers was. You, too, must derive no
small happiness from the reflection that both you and your sister
[FN#83] have always been dutiful daughters, and as such have
contributed so much towards your departed mother's felicity in
this life. In my father's last letter from Italy he alludes to the
sad event, but wishes me not to mention it to my mother, adding that
he has fears for her mind if it be abruptly alluded to.
"At the distance of some 1,500 [FN#84] miles all we can do is resign
ourselves to calamities, and I confess to you that judging from the
number of losses that our family has sustained during the last six
years I fear that when able to return home I shall find no place
capable of bearing that name. I hope, however, dear cousin,
that you or your sister will occasionally send me a line, informing
me of your plans and movements, as I shall never leave to take the
greatest interest in your proceedings. You may be certain that
I shall never neglect to answer your letters and shall always look
forward to them with the greatest pleasure. Stisted [FN#85] is not
yet out: his regiment is at Belgaum [FN#86], but I shall do my best
to see him as soon as possible. Edward [FN#87] is still in Ceylon
and the war [FN#88] has ceased there. I keep this letter open for
ten or twelve days longer, as that time will decide my fate.
A furious affair has broken out in Mooltan and the Punjaub and I
have applied to the General commanding to go up with him on his
personal staff. A few days more will decide the business--and I am
not a little anxious about it, for though still suffering a little
from my old complaint--ophthalmia--yet these opportunities are too
far between to be lost."
Unfortunately for Burton, his official respecting his investigations
at Karachi in 1845 was produced against him [FN#89], and he was
passed over [FN#90] in favour of a man who knew but one language
besides English. His theory that the most strenuous exertions lead
to the most conspicuous successes now thoroughly broke down, and the
scarlet and gold of his life, which had already become dulled,
gave place to the "blackness of darkness." It was in the midst of
this gloom and dejection that he wrote the postscript which he had
promised to his cousin Sarah. The date is 25th November, 1848.
He says, "I am not going up to the siege of Mooltan, as the General
with whom I had expected to be sent is recalled. Pray be kind
enough to send on the enclosed to my father. I was afraid to direct
it to him in Italy as it contains papers of some importance.
You are welcome to the perusal, if you think it worth the trouble.
I have also put in a short note for Aunt Georgiana. Kindly give my
best love to your sister, and believe me, my dear cousin, your most
affectionate R. Burton."
Chagrin and anger, combined with his old trouble, ophthalmia, had by
this time sapped Burton's strength, a serious illness followed,
and the world lost all interest for him.
He returned to Bombay a complete wreck, with shrunken, tottering
frame, sunken eyes, and a voice that had lost its sonority. "It is
written," said his friends, "that your days are numbered, take our
advice and go home to die." They carried him to his ship,
"The Elisa," and as there seemed little hope of his reaching
England, he at once wrote a farewell letter to his mother. With him
as servant, however, he had brought away a morose but attentive and
good-hearted native named Allahdad, and thanks in part to Allahdad's
good nursing, and in part to the bland and health-giving breezes of
the ocean, he gradually regained his former health, strength,
and vitality. At the time he regarded these seven years spent in
Sind as simply seven years wasted, and certainly his rewards were
incommensurate with his exertions. Still, it was in Sind that the
future became written on his forehead; in Sind that he began to
collect that mass of amazing material which made possible his
edition of The Arabian Nights.
1849 to 3rd April, 1853
5. Goa and the Blue Mountains, 1851.
6. Scinde; or the Unhappy Valley, 2 vols., 1851.
7. Sindh, and the Races that Inhabit the Valley of the Indus, 1851.
8. Falconry in the Valley of the Indus, 1852.
9. Commencement with Dr. Steinhauser of The Arabian Nights, 1852.
10. A complete System of Bayonet Exercise, 1853.
19. A Motto from Ariosto.
When "The Elisa" approached Plymouth, with its "turfy hills, wooded
parks and pretty seats," Allahdad opened his eyes in wonderment.
"What manner of men must you English be," he said, "to leave such
a paradise and travel to such a pandemonium as ours without
compulsion?" On arriving in London, Burton called on his Aunt
Georgiana,[FN#91] flirted with his pretty cousins Sarah and Elisa,
attended to business of various kinds, and then, in company with
Allahdad, set out for Italy to see his father and mother, who were
still wandering aimlessly about Europe, and inhaling now the breath
of vineyard and garden and now the odours of the laboratory.
He found them, his sister, and her two little daughters, Georgiana
and Maria (Minnie) at Pisa, and the meeting was a very happy one.
Burton's deep affection for his parents, his sister and his brother,
is forced upon our notice at every turn; and later he came to regard
his nieces just as tenderly. Quoting Coleridge, he used to say:
"To be beloved is all I need,
And whom I love I love indeed."[FN#92]
If Burton was thus drawn to those nearest of kin to him, so also his
warm heart welled with affection for his friends, and for those who
did him kindnesses. "If you value a man or his work," he said,
"don't conceal your feelings." The warmth of his affection for his
friends Drake, Arbuthnot, and others, will be noticed as this book
proceeds. On one occasion, after a spontaneous outburst of
appreciation, he said in palliation of his enthusiasm, "Pardon me,
but this is an asthenic age--and true-hearted men are rare."
Presently we find him revisiting some of his old haunts. In his
youth he had explored Italy almost from end to end; but the literary
associations of the various towns were their principal charm.
To him, Verona stood for Catullus, Brindisi for Virgil, Sorrento
for Tasso, Florence for "the all Etruscan three,"[FN#93] Dante,
Petrarch, and Boccaccio, Reggio and Ferrara for Ariosto. It was
from Ariosto, perhaps through Camoens, who adopted it, that he took
his life motto, "Honour, not honours"--
"'Tis honour, lovely lady, that calls me to the field,
And not a painted eagle upon a painted shield."[FN#94]
All the Burton servants obtained some knowledge of Italian, even
Allahdad being soon able to swear fluently in it, and his aptitude,
joined to a quarrelsome temper and an illogical prejudice against
all Italians, caused innumerable broils.
By and by the family returned to England and Miss Stisted thus
describes the progress: "One of the earliest pictures in my memory
is of a travelling carriage crossing snow-covered Alps. A carriage
containing my mother and uncle, sister and self, and English maid,
and a romantic but surly Asiatic named Allahdad. Richard Burton,
handsome, tall and broad-shouldered, was oftener outside the
carriage than in it, as the noise made by his two small nieces
rendered pedestrian exercise, even in the snow, an agreeable and
almost necessary variety." Now and then he gave them bits of snow
to taste, which they hoped might be sugar.[FN#95] On reaching
England he sent Allahdad back to Bombay.
Much of the year 1850 was spent at Leamington and Dover, and in
1851, Burton, accompanied by his brother Edward, crossed to
Boulogne, where he prepared for publication his books, Goa, Scinde,
Falconry in the Valley of the Indus, and Bayonet Exercise. Love of
a sort mingled with literature, for he continued various
flirtations, but without any thought of marriage; for he was still
only a lieutenant in the service of John Company, and his prospects
were not rosy. We said "love of a sort," and advisedly, for we
cannot bring ourselves to believe that Burton was ever frenziedly
in love with any woman. He was, to use his own expression,
no "hot amortist." Of his views on polygamy, to which he had
distinct leanings, we shall speak later. He said he required two,
and only two qualities in a woman, namely beauty and affection.
It was the Eastern idea. The Hindu Angelina might be vacuous, vain,
papilionaceous, silly, or even a mere doll, but if her hair hung
down "like the tail of a Tartary cow,"[FN#96] if her eyes were
"like the stones of unripe mangoes," and her nose resembled the beak
of a parrot, the Hindu Edwin was more than satisfied. Dr. Johnson's
"unidead girl" would have done as well as the blue-stocking
20. Isabel Arundell & "My Dear Louisa." 1851.
It was during Burton's stay at Boulogne that he saw the handsome
girl who ten years later became his wife--Isabel, daughter of
Mr. Henry Raymond Arundell. She was the eldest of a very large
family. Just twenty, fair, "with yards of golden hair," dark blue
eyes and a queenly manner, Isabel Arundell everywhere attracted
attention. No portrait, it was said, ever did justice to her
virginal beauty. "When she was in any company you could look at
no one else," the charm of her manner exceeded even the graces of
her person, but her education was defective, and she was amusingly
superstitious. She could be heard saying at every turn: "This is
a good omen; that a bad one; oh, shocking! the spoons are crossed;
By the pricking of my thumbs
Something wicked this way comes."
Though not themselves wealthy, the Arundells were of noble lineage,
and had rich and influential relations who prided themselves on
being "old English Catholics." Among Miss Arundell's ancestors was
Henry, 6th Lord Arundell of Wardour; her grandfather and the 9th
Lord were brothers; and her mother was sister to Lord Gerard.
Isabel Arundell and Burton could have conducted their first
conversation just as well had they been deaf and dumb. Strolling on
the ramparts he noticed a bevy of handsome girls, one of whom,
owing to her exceptional looks, particularly fired him, and having
managed to attract her attention, he chalked on a wall, "May I speak
to you," and left the piece of chalk at the end of the sentence.
She took it up and wrote under it, "No, mother will be angry."
She had, however, long pictured to herself an ideal husband, and on
seeing Burton, she exclaimed under her breath: "That is the man!"
She describes him as "five feet eleven inches in height, very broad,
thin and muscular, with very dark hair, black, clearly defined,
sagacious eyebrows, a brown, weather-beaten complexion, straight
Arab features, a determined-looking mouth and chin, nearly covered
by an enormous moustache; two large, black, flashing eyes, with long
lashes," and a "fierce, proud, melancholy expression."[FN#98] In the
words of one of his friends, he had the eye of an angel, the jaw of
a devil. Also staying at Boulogne was a young lady for whom Burton
entertained a sincere affection, and whom he would probably have
married but for the poorness of his outlook. "My dear
Louisa,"[FN#99] as he called her, was a relative of Miss Arundell,
and hearing what had occurred, she did Burton and Miss Arundell the
kindness of formally introducing them to each other, Miss Arundell
never tried to attract Burton's attention--we have her word for
that--but wherever he went she went too; and she never lost an
opportunity of accidentally crossing his path. She considered
sacred a sash which she wore when dancing with him, and she
remembered him specially in her prayers. Henceforward,
one devouring desire occupied her mind. She wished--and
praiseworthily--to be Burton's wife. To him, on the other hand,
she was but an ephemeral fancy--one of the hundred and fifty women--his
fair cousins in England and the softer and darker beauties of
France and Italy--to whom he had said tender nothings. Later,
when Miss Arundell saw him flirting with another girl, a certain
"Louise"[FN#100] (not to be confused with "my dear Louisa"),
she bridled up, coloured to her brow-locks, called "Louise" "fast"
and Louise's mother "vulgar." Naturally they would be.[FN#101]
With "myosotis eyes," peachy cheeks and auburn hair, rolling over
ivory shoulders[FN#102], "Louise" was progressing admirably, when,
unfortunately for her, there came in view a fleshy, vinous matron of
elephantine proportions, whom she addressed as "mother." The sight
of this caricature of the "Thing Divine," to use Burton's
expression, and the thought that to this the "Thing Divine" would
some day come, instantly quenched his fires, and when the mother
tried to bring him to a decision, by inquiring his intentions
regarding her daughter, he horrified her by replying: "Strictly
dishonourable, madam." "Englishmen," he reflected, "who are
restricted to one wife, cannot be too careful." Miss Arundell
was also jealous of "My dear Louisa," though unwarrantably, for
that lady presently became Mrs. Segrave; but she and Burton long
preserved for each other a reminiscitory attachment, and we shall
get several more glimpses of her as this book proceeds.[FN#103]
Isabel Arundell was herself somewhat cheered by the prophecy of a
gipsy of her acquaintance--one Hagar Burton--who with couched eyes
and solemn voice not only prognosticated darkly her whole career,
but persistently declared that the romance would end in marriage;
still, she fretted a good deal, and at last, as persons in love
sometimes do, became seriously indisposed. Without loss of time
her parents called in a skilful physician, who, with his experienced
eye, saw at once that it was indigestion, and prescribed
accordingly. Residing at Boulogne in 1851, was a French painter
named Francois Jacquand, who had obtained distinction by his
pictures of monks, and "a large historical tableau representing the
death chamber of the Duc d'Orleans." In an oil painting which he
made of Burton and his sister, and which is here reproduced for the
first time, Burton appears as a pallid young military man, heavily
moustached, with large brown eyes[FN#104]; and his worn and somewhat
melancholy face is a striking contrast to the bright and cheerful
looks of his comely sister. Our portraits of the Misses Stisted are
also from paintings by Jacquand. Burton's habit of concealing his
ailments which we noticed as a feature of his boyhood was as
conspicuous in later life. "On one occasion," says Miss Stisted,
"when seized with inflammation of the bladder, a fact he tried to
keep to himself, he continued to joke and laugh as much as usual,
and went on with his reading and writing as if little were the
matter. At last the agony became too atrocious, and he remarked
in a fit of absence 'If I don't get better before night, I shall
be an angel.' Questions followed, consternation reigned around,
and the doctor was instantly summoned."
21. Forster FitzGerald Arbuthnot 1853.
When Burton first became acquainted with Forster FitzGerald
Arbuthnot is uncertain; but by 1853, they were on terms of intimacy.
Burton was then 32, Arbuthnot 20. Of this enormously important fact
in Burton's life--his friendship with Arbuthnot--no previous writer
has said a single word, except Lady Burton, and she dismisses the
matter with a few careless sentences, though admitting that
Arbuthnot was her husband's most intimate friend. Of the strength
of the bond that united the two men, and the admiration felt by
Arbuthnot for Burton, she had little idea. F. F. Arbuthnot,
born in 1833, was second son of Sir Robert Keith Arbuthnot and Anne,
daughter of Field-Marshal Sir John Forster FitzGerald, G.C.B.
Educated at Haileybury, he entered in 1852 the Bombay Civil Service,
and rose subsequently to the important position of "collector."
A man of a quiet and amiable disposition, Arbuthnot never said an
unkind word either to or about anyone. The sweetness and serenity
of his manner were commented upon by all his friends; but like so
many of your quiet men, he had a determination--a steady heroism,
which made everything give way. Oppose Burton, and you would
instantly receive a blow aimed straight from the shoulder,
oppose Arbuthnot and you would be pushed quietly and amiably
aside--but pushed aside nevertheless. A great idea had early possessed
him. He wanted to see as much attention paid to the literatures of
India, Persia and Arabia as to those of ancient Greece and Rome.
All the famous books of the East, he said, should be translated into
English--even the erotic, and he insisted that if proper precautions
were taken so that none but scholars could obtain them, no possible
harm could ensue.[FN#105]
"England," he wrote long after (1887), "has greater interests in the
East than any other country in Europe, and ought to lead the way in
keeping the world informed on all subjects connected with Oriental
literature. Surely the time has not arrived for her to take a back
seat on that coach, and to let other nations do a work which she
ought to do herself."[FN#106] The expression "on that coach,"
by the by, was eminently characteristic of a man who plumed himself
on being a Jehu of Jehus. Hundreds of invaluable manuscripts
written by poets and sages, he said, require to be translated into
English, and the need of the day is an Oriental Translation Fund.
A man of means, Arbuthnot was sometime later to apply his money to
the cause he had at heart; and year in, year out, we shall find him
and Burton striking at the self-same anvil. Though there was a
considerable difference in their ages, and though thousands of miles
often separated them, their minds were ever united, and they went
down the stream of life together like two brothers.
3rd April 1853 to 29th October 1854
Pilgrimage to Mecca
11. The Kasidah (commenced).
12. El Islam (commenced).
22. The Man Wants to Wander.
Much of his time at Boulogne Burton devoted to fencing; and to his
instructor, M. Constantin, he paid glowing tributes. He thoroughly
mastered the art, defeated all antagonists, whether English or
French, earned his "brevet de pointe for the excellence of his
swordsmanship, and became a Maitre d' Armes." As horseman,
swordsman, and marksman, no soldier of his day surpassed him,
and very few equalled him. But of fencing, flirting and
book-writing, he soon got heartily tired. Like his putative
ancestors, the gipsies, he could never be happy long in one place.
He says, "The thoroughbred wanderer's idiosyncrasy, I presume to be
a composition of what phrenologists call inhabitiveness and locality
equally and largely developed. After a long and toilsome march,
weary of the way, he drops into the nearest place of rest to become
the most domestic of men. For a while he smokes the pipe of
permanence with an infinite zest, he delights in various siestas
during the day, relishing withal a long sleep at night; he enjoys
dining at a fixed dinner hour, and wonders at the demoralisation of
the mind which cannot find means of excitement in chit-chat or small
talk, in a novel or a newspaper. But soon the passive fit has
passed away; again a paroxysm on ennui coming on by slow degrees,
viator loses appetite, he walks bout his room all night, he yawns
at conversations, and a book acts upon his as a narcotic. The man
wants to wander, and he must do so, or he shall die."[FN#107]
23. Haji Wali, 1853.
As we have seen, Burton, even before he had left Sind, had burned to
visit Mecca. Four years had since elapsed, and his eyes still
turned towards "Allah's holy house." Having obtained another twelve
months' furlough, in order that he "might pursue his Arabic studies
in lands where the language is best learned," he formed the bold
plan of crossing Arabia from Mecca to the Persian Gulf. Ultimately,
however, he decided, in emulation of Burckhardt, the great traveler,
to visit Medina and Mecca in the disguise of a pilgrim, a feat that
only the most temerarious of men would have dared even to dream of.
He made every conceivable preparation, learning among other
usefulnesses how to forge horse shoes and to shoe a horse. To his
parents and Lady Stisted and her daughters, who were then residing
at Bath, he paid several visits, but when he last parted from them
with his usual "Adieu, sans adieu," it did not occur to them that
he was about to leave for good; for he could not--he never could--
muster up sufficient courage to say a final "Good-bye." Shortly
after his departure his mother found a letter addressed to her and
in his handwriting. It contained, besides an outline of his
dangerous plans, the instruction that, in case he should be killed,
his "small stock of valuables" was to be divided between her and
Once more Burton had the keen pleasure of putting on disguise.
Richard F. Burton ceased to be, and a muscular and powerful Mirza
Abdullah, of Bushire, took his place. "I have always wished to
see," he explained to a friend, "what others have been content to
hear of." He wore long hair and Oriental costume, and his face and
limbs were stained with henna. Accompanied by Captain Henry
Grindlay of the Bengal Cavalry, he left London for Southampton,
3rd April 1853, and thence took steamer for Egypt, without ever a
thought of Isabel Arundell's blue eye or Rapunzel hair, and utterly
unconscious of the sighs he had evoked. At Alexandria he was the
guest of Mr. John Thurburn and his son-in-law, Mr. John
Larking[FN#108], at their residence "The Sycamores," but he slept in
an outhouse in order the better to delude the servants. He read the
Koran sedulously, howled his prayers with a local shaykh who
imparted to him the niceties of the faith, purified himself, made
an ostentatious display of piety, and gave out that he was a hakim
or doctor preparing to be a dervish. As he had some knowledge of
medicine, this role was an easy one, and his keen sense of humour
made the experience enjoyable enough. On the steamer that carried
him to Cairo, he fraternized with two of his fellow-passengers,
a Hindu named Khudabakhsh and an Alexandrian merchant named
Haji Wali. Haji Wali, whose connection with Burton lasted some
thirty years[FN#109], was a middle-aged man with a large round head
closely shaven, a bull neck, a thin red beard, handsome features
which beamed with benevolence, and a reputation for wiliness and
cupidity. Upon their arrival at Boulak, the port of Cairo.
Khudabakhsh, who lived there, invited Burton to stay with him.
Hindu-like, Khudabakhsh wanted his guest to sit, talk, smoke,
and sip sherbet all day. But this Burton could not endure.
Nothing, as he says, suits the English less than perpetual society,
"an utter want of solitude, when one cannot retire into one self an
instant without being asked some puerile questions by a companion,
or look into a book without a servant peering over one's shoulder."
At last, losing all patience, he left his host and went to a khan,
where he once more met Haji Wali. They smoked together the
forbidden weed hashish, and grew confidential. Following Haji
Wali's advice, Burton, having changed his dress, now posed as an
Afghan doctor, and by giving his patients plenty for their money and
by prescribing rough measures which acted beneficially upon their
imaginations, he gained a coveted reputation. He always commenced
his prescriptions piously with: "In the name of Allah,
the compassionate, the merciful, and blessings and peace be upon
our Lord the Apostle"; and Haji Wali vaunted him as "the very
phoenix of physicians." According to his wont, he never lost an
opportunity of learning the ways and customs of the various people
among whom he was thrown, or of foisting himself on any company in
which he thought he could increase his knowledge. His whole life
indeed was a preparation for "The Arabian Nights." Thus at Cairo
he had the good fortune to cure some Abyssinian slave-girls of
various complaints, including the "price-lowering habit of snoring,"
and in return he made the slave dealer take him about the town and
unfold the mysteries of his craft. He also visited the
resting-place of his hero, Burckhardt;[FN#110] indeed, in whatever
town he sojourned, he sought out the places associated with the
illustrious dead. It was now the Ramazan, and he observed it by
fasting, reading the Koran, and saying countless prayers with his
face turned devoutly to the Kiblah.[FN#111] He heartily rejoiced,
however, with the multitude when the dreary month was over, and he
describes[FN#112] amusingly the scenes on the first day following
it: "Most people," he says, "were in fresh suits of finery; and so
strong is personal vanity in the breast of Orientals ... that from
Cairo to Calcutta it would be difficult to find a sad heart under a
handsome coat. The men swaggered, the women minced their steps,
rolled their eyes, and were eternally arranging, and coquetting with
their head-veils." In the house of a friend he saw an Armenian
wedding. For servant he now took a cowardly and thievish lad named
Nur, and, subsequently, he made the acquaintance of a Meccan youth,
Mohammed, who was to become his companion throughout the pilgrimage.
Mohammed was 18, chocolate brown, short, obese, hypocritical,
cowardly, astute, selfish and affectionate. Burton not only
purchased the ordinary pilgrim garb, but he also took the precaution
to attach to his person "a star sapphire," the sight of which
inspired his companions with "an almost reverential awe," and even
led them to ascribe to him thaumaturgic power.[FN#113] His further
preparations for the sacred pilgrimage reads rather like a page out
of Charles Lever, for the rollicking Irishman was as much in
evidence as the holy devotee. They culminated in a drinking bout
with an Albanian captain, whom he left, so to speak, under the
table; and this having got noised abroad, Burton, with his
reputation for sanctity forfeited, found it expedient to set off at
once for Mecca. He sent the boy Nur on to Suez with his baggage and
followed him soon after on a camel through a "haggard land infested
with wild beasts and wilder men." At Suez he made the acquaintance
of some Medina and Mecca folk, who were to be his fellow-travellers;
including "Sa'ad the Demon," a negro who had two boxes of handsome
apparel for his three Medina wives and was resolved to "travel
free;" and Shaykh Hamid, a "lank Arab foul with sweat," who never
said his prayers because of the trouble of taking clean clothes out
of his box. "All these persons," says Burton, "lost no time in
opening the question of a loan. It was a lesson in Oriental
metaphysics to see their condition. They had a twelve days' voyage
and a four days' journey before them; boxes to carry, custom houses
to face, and stomachs to fill; yet the whole party could scarcely,
I believe, muster two dollars of ready money. Their boxes were full
of valuables, arms, clothes, pipes, slippers, sweetmeats, and other
'notions,' but nothing short of starvation would have induced them
to pledge the smallest article."[FN#114] Foreseeing the advantage
of their company, Burton sagaciously lent each of them a little
money at high interest, not for the sake of profit, but with a view
to becoming a Hatim Tai,[FN#115] by a "never mind" on settling day.
This piece of policy made "the Father of Moustaches," as they called
him, a person of importance among them. During the delay before
starting, he employed himself first in doctoring, and then in
flirting with a party of Egyptian women the most seductive of whom
was one Fattumah,[FN#116] a plump lady of thirty "fond of flattery
and possessing, like all her people, a voluble tongue." The refrain
of every conversation was "Marry me, O Fattumah! O daughter!
O female pilgrim." To which the lady would reply coquettishly,
"with a toss of the head and a flirting manipulation of her head
veil," "I am mated, O young man." Sometimes he imitated her
Egyptian accent and deprecated her country women, causing her to get
angry and bid him begone. Then, instead of "marry me, O Fattumah,"
he would say, "O old woman and decrepit, fit only to carry wood to
market." This would bring a torrent of angry words, but when they
met again all was forgotten and the flirtations of the day before
24. The Pilgrim Ship, 6th July 1853.
Burton and his party now embarked on the sambuk which was to take
them to Yambu, the port of Medina. As ninety-seven pilgrims were
crowded on a vessel constructed to carry only sixty, most
extraordinary scenes occurred. Thanks to the exertions of Sa'ad
the Demon, Burton and his friends secured places on the poop,
the most eligible part of the vessel. They would not be very
comfortable anywhere, Sa'ad explained, but "Allah makes all things
easy." Sa'ad himself, who was blessed with a doggedness that always
succeeds, managed to get his passage free by declaring himself an
able seaman. Disturbances soon commenced. The chief offenders were
some Maghrabis, "fine looking animals from the deserts about
Tripoli," the leader of whom, one Maula Ali, "a burly savage,"
struck Burton as ridiculously like his old Richmond schoolmaster,
the Rev. Charles Delafosse. These gentry tried to force their way
on to the poop, but Sa'ad distributed among his party a number of
ash staves six feet long, and thick as a man's wrist. "He shouted
to us," says Burton, "'Defend yourself if you don't wish to be the
meat of the Maghrabis!' and to the enemy 'Dogs and sons of dogs!
now shall you see what the children of the Arab are.' 'I am Omar of
Daghistan!' 'I am Abdullah the son of Joseph!' 'I am Sa'ad the
Demon![FN#117]' we exclaimed." And, Burton, with his turbulent
blood well stirred, found himself in the seventh heaven. "To do our
enemies justice," he continues, "they showed no sign of flinching;
they swarmed towards the poop like angry hornets, and encouraged
each other with cries of 'Allaho Akbar!' But we had a vantage
ground about four feet above them, and their short daggers could do
nothing against our terrible quarter staves. Presently a thought
struck me. A large earthen jar full of drinking water, in its heavy
frame of wood stood upon the edge of the poop. Seeing an
opportunity, I crept up to the jar and rolled it down upon the swarm
of assailants. Its fall caused a shriller shriek to rise above the
ordinary din, for heads, limbs and bodies were sorely bruised by the
weight, scratched by the broken potsherds, and wetted by the sudden
discharge.[FN#118] The Maghrabis then slunk off towards the end of
the vessel, and presently solicited peace."
The beauties of the sunrise baffled description. The vessel sailed
over a violet sea, and under a sky dappled with agate-coloured
clouds. At noon the heat was terrible and all colour melted away,
"with the canescence from above." The passengers were sympathetic
with one another, notwithstanding their recent factiousness,
and were especially kind to a poor little brown baby, which they
handed round and nursed by turns, but the heat, the filth, and the
stench of the ship defied description. At Mahar, one of the places
where they landed, Burton injured his foot with a poisonous thorn,
which made him lame for the rest of the pilgrimage. Presently the
welcome profile of Radhwa came in view, the mountain of which the
unfortunate Antar[FN#119] sang so plaintively:
"Did Radhwa strive to support my woes,
Radhwa itself would be crushed by the weight,"
and on July 17th, after twelve days of purgatory, Burton sprang on
shore at Yambu.
He now dressed himself as an Arab, that is to say, he covered his
head with a red kerchief bordered with yellow, his body with a
cotton shirt and a camel's hair cloak, while a red sash, a spear
and a dagger completed the outfit. Then, having hired some camels,
he joined a caravan, consisting of several hundred men and beasts,
which was bound for Medina; but his injured foot still incommoded
him. Determined, however, to allow nobody to exceed him in piety,
he thrice a day or oftener pounded the sand with his forehead like
a true Mussulman.
While passing through one of the mountain gorges the pilgrims were
attacked by a number of predatory Bedouin, led by a ferocious chief
named Saad, who fired upon them from the rocks with deadly effect,
but, at last, after a journey of 130 miles, they reached Medina,
with the great sun-scorched Mount Ohod towering behind it--the holy
city where, according to repute, the coffin of Mohammed swung
between heaven and earth.[FN#120] Medina consisted of three parts,
a walled town, a large suburb, with ruinous defences, and a fort.
Minarets shot up above the numerous flat roofs, and above all
flashed the pride of the city, the green dome that covered the tomb
of Mohammed. Burton became the guest of the dilatory and dirty
Shaykh Hamid. The children of the household, he says, ran about in
a half nude state, but he never once set eyes upon the face of
woman, "unless the African slave girls be allowed the title.
Even these at first attempted to draw their ragged veils over their
sable charms." Having dressed themselves in white, Burton and Hamid
sallied out for the Prophet's Tomb, Burton riding on a donkey
because of his lameness. He found the approach to the Mosque choked
up by ignoble buildings, and declares that as a whole it had neither
beauty nor dignity. Upon entering, he was also disillusioned,
for its interior was both mean and tawdry. After various prayers
they visited first the "Hujrah," where they saw the tombs of
Mohammed, Abu Bakr, Omar and Fatimah; and afterwards El Rauzah,
the Garden situated between the Hujrah and the Prophet's Pulpit,
both very celebrated spots. Of the latter, Mohammed said: "Between
my house and my pulpit is a garden of the gardens of
paradise."[FN#121] After more prayers they wandered round to the
other sights, including the fine Gate of Salvation, the five
minarets, and the three celebrated pillars, called respectively,
Al-Mukhallak, the Pillar of Ayishah, and the Pillar of Repentance.
They then made their way to the Mosque of Kuba, some two miles out
of the town, and witnessed the entry into Medina of the great
caravan from Damascus, numbering 7,000 souls--grandees in gorgeous
litters of green and gold, huge white Syrian dromedaries, richly
caparisoned horses and mules, devout Hajis, sherbet sellers,
water carriers, and a multitude of camels, sheep and goats.[FN#122]
Lastly Burton and his friends pilgrimaged to the holy Mount Ohod
with its graves of "the martyrs;" and to the celebrated Al-Bakia,
or Saints' Cemetery, where lie ten thousand of the Prophet's
companions. On entering the latter they repeated the usual
salutation: "Peace be upon ye, O People of Al-Bakia," and then
sought out the principal tombs--namely those of the Caliph
Othman,[FN#123] "Our Lady Halimah,"[FN#124] the Infant
Ibrahim,[FN#125] and about fourteen of Mohammed's wives.[FN#126]
The cemetery swarmed with clamorous beggars, who squatted with dirty
cotton napkins spread on the ground before them for the reception of
coins. Some of the women promised to recite Fatihahs for the
donors, and the most audacious seized the visitors by their skirts.
Burton laid out three dollars in this way, but though the recipients
promised loudly to supplicate Allah in behalf of his lame foot,
it did not perceptibly benefit. Burton's companions hinted that he
might do worse than settle in Medina. "Why not," said one, "open a
shop somewhere near the Prophet's Mosque? There thou wilt eat bread
by thy skill, and thy soul will have the blessing of being on holy
ground." Burton, however, wanted to be going forward.
On 31st August, after praying "a two-bow prayer," he bade adieu to
Shaykh Hamid, and with Nur and the boy Mohammed, joined the caravan
bound for Mecca, the route taken being the celebrated road through
the arid Nejd made by Zubaydah, wife of Harun al Rashid. The events
of the journey were not remarkable, though Mohammed very nearly
killed himself by feeding too liberally on clarified butter and
dates mashed with flour. Sometimes Burton cheered the way and
delighted his companions by singing the song of Maysunah, the Arab
girl who longed to get back from the Caliph's palace to the black
tents of her tribe. Everybody got into good humour when he began:
"Oh take these purple robes away,
Give back my cloak of camel's hair,"
and they laughed till they fell on their backs when he came to the
line where the desert beauty calls her Royal husband a "fatted ass."
In truth, they needed something to cheer them, for the sky was
burnished brass, and their goats died like flies. Simoon and
sand-pillar threw down the camels, and loathsome vultures ready
for either beast or man hovered above or squabbled around them.
To crown their discomforts they were again attached by the Bedouin,
whom they dispersed only after a stubborn fight and with the loss of
several dromedaries. After passing the classic Wady Laymun, sung by
the Arab poet Labid[FN#127] in lines suggestive of Goldsmith's
Deserted Village, they very piously shaved their heads and donned
the conventional attire, namely two new cotton cloths with narrow
red stripes and fringes; and when the Holy City came in view,
the whole caravan raised the cry, "Mecca! Mecca! the Sanctuary!
O the Sanctuary! Labbayk! Labbayk!"[FN#128] the voices being not
infrequently broken by sobs.
On entering the gates, Burton and Nur crossed the famous hill Safa
and took up their abode with the lad Mohammed. Early next morning
they rose, bathed, and made their way with the crowd to the
Prophet's Mosque in order to worship at the huge bier-like erection
called the Kaaba, and the adjacent semi-circular Hatim's wall.
The famous Kaaba, which is in the middle of the great court-yard,
looked at a distance like an enormous cube, covered with a black
curtain, but its plan is really trapeziform. "There at last it
lay," cries Burton, "the bourn of my long and weary pilgrimage,
realising the plans and hopes of many and many a year,"--the Kaaba,
the place of answered prayer, above which in the heaven of heavens
Allah himself sits and draws his pen through people's sins.
"The mirage of fancy invested the huge catafalque and its gloomy
pall with peculiar charms." Of all the worshippers who clung
weeping to the curtain,[FN#129] or who pressed their beating hearts
to the sacred black stone built into the Kaaba, none, thought
Burton, felt for the moment a deeper emotion than he. But he had to
confess the humbling truth that while theirs was the high feeling of
religious enthusiasm, his was but the ecstasy of gratified pride.
Bare-headed and footed and in company with Mohammed, he first
proceeded to the holy well, Zem-Zem, said to be the same that was
shown by God to Hagar.[FN#130] They found the water extremely
unpleasant to the taste, and Burton noticed that nobody drank it
without making a wry face. It was impossible at first to get near
the Black Stone owing to the crush of pilgrims. However,
they occupied the time in various prayers, blessed the Prophet,
and kissed the finger tips of the right hand. They then made the
seven Ashwat or circuits, and from time to time raised their hands
to their ears, and exclaimed, "In the name of Allah and Allah is
omnipotent!" The circuits finished, and it was deemed advisable to
kiss the Black Stone. For some minutes Burton stood looking in
despair at the swarming crowd of Bedouin and other pilgrims that
besieged it. But Mohammed was equal to the occasion. Noticing that
most of those near the Stone were Persians, against whom the Arabs
have an antipathy, he interpolated his prayers with insults directed
against them--one of the mildest being "O hog and brother of a
hoggess." This having small effect he collected half-a-dozen
stalwart Meccans, "with whose assistance," says Burton, "by sheer
strength, we wedged our way into the thin and light-legged crowd.
...After reaching the stone, despite popular indignation testified
by impatient shouts, we monopolised the use of it for at least ten
minutes. While kissing it and rubbing hands and forehead upon it,
I narrowly observed it, and came away persuaded that it was an
aerolite." Burton and his friends next shouldered and fought their
way to the part of the Kaaba called Al Multazem, at which they asked
for themselves all that their souls most desired. Arrived again at
the well Zem-Zem, Burton had to take another nauseous draught and
was deluged with two skinfuls of the water dashed over his head.
This causes sins to fall from the spirit like dust. He also said
the customary prayers at the Makam Ibrahim or Praying Place of
Abraham[FN#131] and other shrines. At last, thoroughly worn out,
with scorched feet and a burning head, he worked his way out of the
Mosque, but he was supremely happy for he had now seen:
"Safa, Zem-Zem, Hatim's wall,
And holy Kaaba's night-black pall."[FN#132]
The next day he journeyed to the sacred Mount of Arafat, familiar to
readers of The Arabian Nights from the touching story of Abu Hasan
and Abu Ja'afar the Leper and[FN#133] he estimated that he was but
one of 50,000 pilgrims. The mountain was alive with people, and the
huge camp at its foot had booths, huts and bazaars stocked with all
manner of Eastern delicacies, and crowded with purchasers. Instead,
however, of listening to the sermons, Burton got flirting with a
Meccan girl with citrine skin and liquescent eyes.
On the third day, mounted on an ass, he made for Muna and took part
in the ceremony called Stoning the Devil. He was, however, but one
of a multitude, and, in order to get to the stoned pillar a good
deal of shouldering and fighting was necessary. Both Burton and the
boy Mohammed, however, gained their end, and like the rest of the
people, vigorously pelted the devil, saying as they did so, "In the
name of Allah--Allah is Almighty." To get out of the crowd was as
difficult as it had been to get in. Mohammed received a blow in the
face which brought the blood from his nose, and Burton was knocked
down; but by "the judicious use of the knife" he gradually worked
his way into the open again, and piously went once more to have his
head shaved and his nails cut, repeating prayers incessantly.
Soon after his return to Mecca, Mohammed ran up to him in intense
excitement. "Rise, Effendi," he cried, "dress and follow me;
the Kaaba is open." The pair then made their way thither with
alacrity, and, replies to the officials in charge being
satisfactory, Mohammed was authoritatively ordered to conduct Burton
round the building. They entered. It was a perilous moment;
and when Burton looked at the windowless walls and at the officials
at the door, and thought of the serried mass of excited fanatics
outside, he felt like a trapped rat. However safe a Christian might
have been at Mecca, nothing could have preserved him from the ready
knives of the faithful if detected in the Kaaba. The very idea was
pollution to a Moslem. "Nothing," says Burton, "is more simple than
the interior of this sacred building. The pavement is composed of
slabs of fine and various coloured marbles. The upper part of the
walls, together with the ceiling, are covered with handsome red
damask, flowered over with gold. The flat roof is upheld by three
cross beams, supported in the centre by three columns. Between the
columns ran bars of metal supporting many lamps said to be of gold."
The total expense was eight dollars, and when they got away, the boy
Mohammed said, "Wallah, Effendi! thou has escaped well! some men
have left their skins behind."
The fifty-five other wonders of the city having been visited,
Burton sent on Nur with his heavy boxed to Jeddah, the port of
Mecca, and he himself followed soon after with Mohammed. At Jeddah
he saw its one sight, the tomb of Eve, and then bade adieu to
Mohammed, who returned to Mecca. Having boarded the "Dwarka,"
an English ship, he descended to his cabin and after a while emerged
with all his colouring washed off and in the dress of an English
gentleman. Mirza Abdullah of Bushire, "Father of Moustaches,"
was once more Richard Francis Burton. This extraordinary exploit
made Burton's name a household word throughout the world, and turned
it into a synonym for daring; while his book, the Pigrimage to
Al-Madinah and Meccah, which appeared the following year, was read
everywhere with wonder and delight. Had he been worldly-wise he
would have proceeded straight to England, where, the lion of the
hour, he might have obtained a reward more substantial than mere
praise. But he did not show himself until the commotion caused by
his exploit had been half-forgotten, and we shall find him making
a similar mistake some years later, after his return from
It seems that Burton was known in the army as "Ruffian Dick"--not by
way of disparagement, but because of this demonic ferocity as a
fighter, and because he had "fought in single combat more enemies
than perhaps any other man of his time." One evening soon after his
return from Mecca, a party of officers, including a friend of
Burton's named Hawkins, were lounging outside Shepherd's Hotel at
Cairo. As they sat talking and smoking, there passed repeatedly in
front of them, an Arab, in his loose flowing robes, with head
proudly erect, and the peculiar swinging stride of those sons of the
desert. As he strode backwards and forwards he drew nearer and
nearer to the little knot of officers, till at last, as he swept by,
the flying folds of his burnous brushed against one of the officers.
"D---- that nigger's impudence!" said the officer; "if he does that
again, I'll kick him." To his surprise the dignified Arab suddenly
halted, wheeled round, and exclaimed, "Well, d---- it, Hawkins,
that's a fine way to welcome a fellow after two year's absence."
"It's Ruffian Dick!" cried the astonished officer.[FN#135]
Perhaps to this period must be assigned the bastinado incident.
Burton used to tell the tale[FN#136] as follows: "Once, in Egypt,
another man and I were out duck shooting, and we got separated.
When I next came in sight of the other man some Turkish soldiers had
tied him up and were preparing to administer the bastinado. As I
hurried to his assistance he said something to the Turks which I
could not catch, and pointed to me. Instantly they untied him and
pouncing upon me, tried to put me in his place, while my companion
took to his heels. As they were six to one, they succeeded, and I
had the very unpleasant experience of being bastinadoed. The first
dozen or two strokes I didn't mind much, but at about the ninetieth
the pain was too excruciating for description. When they had
finished with me I naturally enquired what it was all for. It seems
that my companion when firing at a duck had accidentally shot an
Egyptian woman, the wife of one of the soldiers. Upon my appearance
he had called out in Turkish to the soldiers: 'It was not I who
fired the shot, it was that other fellow,' pointing to me.
The blackguard has taken good care to keep out of my way ever
27. Burton's Delight in Shocking.
The story of Burton's adventures having spread abroad, people now
took the trouble to invent many incidents that were untrue.
They circulated, for example, a grisly tale of a murder which he was
understood to have committed on a man who had penetrated his
disguise,[FN#137] and, the tale continuing to roll, the murder
became eventually two murders. Unfortunately, Burton was cursed
with a very foolish habit, and one that later did him considerable
harm. Like Lord Byron, he delighted to shock. His sister had often
reproved him for it after his return from India, but without
effecting a change. Kindly listeners hardly knew how to take him,
while the malicious made mischief. One day, in England, when,
in the presence of his sister and a lady friend, he had thought fit
to enlarge on a number of purely fictitious misdeeds, he was put to
some shame. His sister having in vain tried by signs to stop him,
the friend at last cut him short with: "Am I to admire you,
Mr. Burton?" And he accepted the reproof. Still, he never broke
himself of this dangerous habit; indeed, when the murder report
spread abroad he seems to have been rather gratified than not;
and he certainly took no trouble to refute the calumny.
On another occasion he boasted of his supposed descent from
Louis XIV. "I should have thought," exclaimed a listener, "that you
who have such good Irish blood in your veins would be glad to forget
your descent from a dishonourable union."
"Oh, no," replied Burton vehemently, "I would rather be the bastard
of a king than the son of an honest man."
Though this was at the time simply intended to shock, nevertheless
it illustrated in a sense his real views. He used to insist that
the offspring of illicit or unholy unions were in no way to be
pitied if they inherited, as if often the case, the culture or
splendid physique of the father and the comeliness of the mother;
and instanced King Solomon, Falconbridge, in whose "large
composition," could be read tokens of King Richard,[FN#138] and the
list of notables from Homer to "Pedro's son," as catalogued by
Camoens[FN#139] who said:
"The meed of valour Bastards aye have claimed
By arts or arms, or haply both conjoined."
The real persons to be pitied, he said, were the mentally or
physically weak, whatever their parentage.
28. El Islam.
Burton now commenced to write a work to be called El Islam, or the
History of Mohammedanism; which, however, he never finished.
It opens with an account of the rise of Christianity, his attitude
to which resembled that of Renan.[FN#140] Of Christ he says:
"He had given an impetus to the progress of mankind by systematizing
a religion of the highest moral loveliness, showing what an
imperfect race can and may become." He then dilates on St. Paul,
who with a daring hand "rent asunder the ties connecting
Christianity with Judaism." "He offered to the great family of man
a Church with a Diety at its head and a religion peculiarly of
principles. He left the moral code of Christianity untouched in its
loveliness. After the death of St. Paul," continues Burton,
"Christianity sank into a species of idolatry. The acme of
stupidity was attained by the Stylites, who conceived that mankind
had no nobler end than to live and die upon the capital of a column.
When things were at their worst Mohammed first appeared upon the
stage of life." The work was published in its unfinished state
after Burton's death.
With The Kasidah we shall deal in a later chapter, for though Burton
wrote a few couplets at this time, the poem did not take its present
shape till after the appearance of FitzGerald's adaptation of
The Rubaiyat Oman Khayyam.
Having spent a few weeks in Egypt, Burton returned to Bombay,
travelling in his Arab dress. Among those on board was an English
gentleman, Mr. James Grant Lumsden, senior member of the Council,
Bombay, who being struck by Burton's appearance, said to a friend,
"What a clever, intellectual face that Arab has!" Burton,
overhearing the remark, made some humorous comment in English,
and thus commenced a pleasant friendship.
29th October 1854--9th February 1855
13. Pilgrimage to Al-Madimah and Meccah. 3 vols. 1855-1856.
29. At Aden. The Arabian Nights. Oct. 1854.
It was while staying at Bombay as Mr. Lumsden's guest that Burton,
already cloyed with civilization, conceived the idea of
journeying, via Zeila in Somaliland, to the forbidden and therefore
almost unknown city of Harar, and thence to Zanzibar.
His application to the Bombay Government for permission and
assistance having been received favourably, he at once set out for
Aden, where he stayed with his "old and dear friend," Dr. John
Steinhauser, who had been appointed civil surgeon there.
Steinhauser, a stolid man, whose face might have been carved out of
wood, was, like Burton, an enthusiastic student of The Arabian
Nights, and their conversation naturally drifted into this subject.
Both came to the conclusion that while the name of this wondrous
repertory of Moslem folk-lore was familiar to almost every English
child, no general reader could form any idea of its treasures.
Moreover, that the door would not open to any but Arabists.
But even at the present day, and notwithstanding the editions of
Payne and Burton, there are still persons who imagine that
The Arabian Nights is simply a book for the nursery. Familiar only
with some inferior rendering, they are absolutely ignorant of the
wealth of wisdom, humour, pathos and poetry to be found in its
pages.[FN#141] Writing in 1856, Burton says: "The most familiar
book in England, next to the Bible, it is one of the least known,
the reason being that about one-fifth is utterly unfit for
translation, and the most sanguine Orientalist would not dare to
render more than three-quarters of the remainder,[FN#142]
consequently the reader loses the contrast--the very essence of the
book--between its brilliancy and dulness, its moral putrefaction and
such pearls as:
'Cast the seed of good works on the least fit soil;
Good is never wasted, however it may be laid out.'
And in a page or two after such divine sentiment, the ladies of
Baghdad sit in the porter's lay, and indulge in a facetiousness
which would have killed Pietro Aretino before his time."[FN#143]
When the work entitled A Thousand Nights and a Night was commenced,
no man knows. There were Eastern collections with that title four
centuries ago, laboured by the bronzed fingers of Arab scribes;
but the framework and some of the tales must have existed prior even
to the Moslem conquest. It has been noticed that there are
resemblances between the story of Shahryar and that of Ahasuerus as
recorded in Esther. In both narratives the King is offended with
his Queen and chooses a new wife daily. Shahryar has recourse to
the scimitar, Ahasuerus consigns wife after wife to the seclusion of
his harem. Shahryar finds a model consort in Shahrazad, Ahasuerus
in Esther. Each queen saves a multitude from death, each king lies
awake half the night listening to stories.[FN#144] While many of
the stories in The Arabian Nights are ancient, some, as internal
evidence proves, are comparatively recent. Thus those of Kamar-al-
Zaman II. and Ma'aruf the Cobbler belong to the 16th century;
and no manuscript appears to be older than 1548. The most important
editions are the Calcutta, the Boulac[FN#145] and the Breslau,
all of which differ both in text and the order of the stories.
The Nights were first introduced into Europe by Antoine Galland,
whose French translation appeared between 1704 and 1717. Of the
Nights proper, Galland presented the public with about a quarter,
and he added ten tales[FN#146] from other Eastern manuscripts.
An anonymous English edition appeared within a few years.
The edition published in 1811 by Jonathan Scott is Galland with
omissions and additions, the new tales being from the Wortley
Montague MS. now in the Bodleian. In 1838, Henry Torrens began a
translation direct from the Arabic, of which, however, he completed
only one volume, and in 1838-40 appeared the translation direct from
the Arabic, of which, however, he completed only one volume, and in
1838-40 appeared the translation of Edward William Lane,[FN#147]
made direct from the Boulac edition. This work, which contains
about one third of the entire Arabian Nights, was a great step
forward, but unfortunately, Lane, who afterwards became an excellent
Arabic scholar, was but a poor writer, and having no gift of verse,
he rendered the poetical portions, that is to say, some ten thousand
lines "in the baldest and most prosaic of English."[FN#148]
So Burton and Steinhauser said to themselves, As the public have
never had more than one-third of the Nights, and that translated
indifferently, we will see what we can do. "We agreed," says
Burton, "to collaborate and produce a full, complete, unvarnished,
uncastrated, copy of the great original, my friend taking the prose
and I the metrical part; and we corresponded upon the subject for
years."[FN#149] They told each other that, having completed their
task, they would look out for a retreat as a preparation for
senility, some country cottage, perhaps, in the South of France,
where, remote from books, papers, pens, ink and telegrams,
they could spend their nights in bed and their days in hammocks.
Beyond planning the translation, however, nothing was done.
Steinhauser died fourteen years later (1866), and whatever notes
he made were dispersed, while Burton, even as late as 1883, had done
nothing beyond making a syllabus of the Boulac edition.[FN#150]
Still, the scheme was never for very long absent from his thoughts,
and during his wanderings in Somaliland, the Tanganyika country and
elsewhere, he often delighted the natives by reciting or reading
some of the tales. The history of Burton's translation of
The Arabian Nights is, as we shall subsequently show, curiously
analogous to that of The Kasidah.
30. From Zeila to Harar, 27th November 1854 to 2nd January 1855.
Burton now found that, as regards the projected expedition,
his plans would have to be modified, and he finally decided to
confine his explorations to "the great parched horn" of Somaliland.
His plan was now to visit Harar via Zeila, and then make for
Berbera, in order to join Lieutenant Speke, Herne and Stroyan,
who had been authorised to assist him and had arranged to await him
there. The presence at Berbera of Speke and his companions, would,
it was supposed, "produce a friendly feeling on the part of Somali,"
and facilitate Burton's egress from Harar, should he ever, as was by
no means certain, enter alive that dangerous and avoided city.
Sir James Outram, then Political Resident at Aden, called the
expedition a tempting of Providence, and tried hard to stop it,
but in vain. Burton left Aden for Zeila on October 29th, taking
with him a managing man called "The Hammal," a long, lean Aden
policeman, nicknamed "Long Gulad" and a suave but rascally Moslem
priest dubbed "The End of Time."[FN#151] They landed on October
31st, and found Zeila a town of white-washed houses and minaretted
mosques, surrounded by a low brown wall with round towers. Burton,
who called himself a Moslem merchant, spent three weeks buying
camels and mules and interviewing guides, while he kept up his
reputation for piety with the customary devotions. According to his
wont, he carefully studied the customs of the people. "One of the
peculiar charms," he says, of the Somali girls, is "a soft, low and
plaintive voice," and he notices that "in muscular strength and
endurance the women of the Somal are far superior to their lords."
The country teems with poets, who praise the persons of the belles
very much in the style of Canticles, declaring prettily,
for example, that their legs are as straight as the "Libi Tree,"
and that their hips swell out "like boiled rice." The marriage
ceremonies, he tells us, are conducted with feasting, music and
flogging. On first entering the nuptial hut the bridegroom draws
forth his horsewhip and inflicts chastisement upon his bride,
with the view of taming any lurking propensity to shrewishness.
As it is no uncommon event to take four wives at once, this
horsewhipping is naturally rather exhausting for the husband.
Burton considered polygamy to be indispensable in countries like
Somaliland, "where children are the principal wealth;" but he saw
less necessity for it "among highly civilised races where the sexes
are nearly equal, and where reproduction becomes a minor duty."
However, he would have been glad to see polygamy allowed even in
England, "if only to get rid of all the old maids," a class that he
regarded with unbounded pity. He longed "to see these poor,
cankered, angular ladies transformed into cheerful, amiable wives
with something really to live for." "Man," it was a favourite
saying with him, "is by nature polygamic, whereas woman, as a rule,
is monogamic, and polyandrous only when tired of her lover. The man
loves the woman, but the love of the woman is for the love of the
man." He also agreed with the 18th century Rev. Martin Madan,
author of Thelyphthora, a treatise on female ruin, who insisted that
polygamy would go far to remove one of the great reproaches of the
streets of London and other large cities. "Except in books,"
says Burton, "seduction in Mohammedan countries is almost unknown,
adultery difficult." That polygamy, however, is no panacea,
the following remarks will show. "Both sexes," he says, speaking of
the Somali, "are temperate from necessity." Drunkenness is unknown.
Still, the place is not Arcady. "After much wandering,"
he continues, "we are almost tempted to believe that morality is a
matter of geography;[FN#152] that nations and races have,
like individuals, a pet vice; and that by restraining one,
you only exasperate another. As a general rule Somali women prefer
flirtations with strangers, following the well-known Arabian
proverb, 'The new comer filleth the eye.'" Burton was thoroughly
at home in Zeila "with the melodious chant of the muezzin" and the
loudly intoned "Amin" and "Allaho Akbar" daily ringing in his ear.
He often went into the Mosque, and with a sword and a rosary before
him, read the "cow chapter"[FN#153] in a loud twanging voice.
Indeed, he had played the role of devout Mohammedan so long, that he
had almost become one. The people of Zeila tried to persuade him to
abandon his project. "If," said they, "you escape the desert hordes
it will only be to fall by the hands of the truculent Amir of
Harar." Nothing, however, could dash Burton's confidence in his
star, and like Dante, he applied to Fear no epithets but "vile"
One Raghi, a petty Eesa chief, having been procured as protector of
the party, and other arrangements having been made, Burton on
November 27th (1854) set out for his destination by a circuitous
route. Raghi rode in front. Next, leading camels, walked two
enormously fat Somali women; while by the side of the camels rode
Burton's three attendants, the Hammal, Long Gulad, and "The End of
Time," "their frizzled wigs radiant with grease," and their robes
splendidly white with borders dazzlingly red. Burton brought up the
rear on a fine white mule with a gold fringed Arab pad and
wrapper-cloth, a double-barrelled gun across his lap, and in this
manner the little caravan pursued its sinuous course over the
desert. At halting places he told his company tales from
The Arabian Nights; they laughed immoderately at the adventures of
the little Hunchback; tears filled their eyes as they listened to
the sad fate of Azizah;[FN#154] and the two fat Somali women were
promptly dubbed Shahrazad and Dunyazad. Dunyazad had been as far as
Aden and was coquettish. Her little black eyes never met Burton's,
and frequently with affected confusion she turned her sable cheek
the clean contrary way. Attendant on the women was a Zeila lad,
who, being one-eyed, was pitilessly called "The Kalandar." At their
first halting place, Burton astonished the natives by shooting a
vulture on the wing. "Lo!" cried the women, "he bringeth down the
birds from heaven." On their way through an ochreish Goban,
or maritime plain, they passed huge hills made by white ants,
Gallas graves planted with aloe,[FN#155] and saw in the distance
troops of gazelles. They were now in the Isa country, "Traitorous
as an Isa" being a Zeila proverb. Though the people were robbers
and murderers, Burton, by tact, got on excellently with them,
and they good-naturedly offered him wives. At every settlement
the whole population flocked to see him, the female portion loudly
expressing their admiration for him. "Come girls, "they cried one
to another, "come and look at this white stranger." According to
Raghi, the fair face of a French lady who had recently landed at
Berbera, "made every man hate his wife, and every wife hate
herself." Once they were attacked by Bedouin, who, however,
on hearing the report of Burton's revolver, declared that they
were only in fun. Others who tried to stop them were shown the star
sapphire, and threatened with "sorcery, death, wild beasts,"
and other unpleasantnesses. At a place called Aububah, Raghi
relinquished the charge of the caravan to some men of the
Gudabirsi tribe, who led the way to the village of Wilensi, where
they were the guests of the household of a powerful chief called
Jirad Adan. Here Burton left Shahrazad, Dunyazad and the Kalandar,
and proceeded to Sagharrah, where he met and formed a friendship
with Jirad Adan. For several days he was prostrated by fever,
and some Harar men who looked in tried to obtain him as a prisoner.
The Jirad acted honourably, but he declined to escort Burton to
Harar. "No one," he said, "is safe in the Amir's clutches, and I
would as soon walk into a crocodile's mouth as set foot in the
city." "Nothing then remained," says Burton, "but payer
d'audace,[FN#156] and, throwing all forethought to the dogs, to rely
upon what has made many a small man great, the good star.
I addressed my companions in a set speech, advising a mount without
delay."[FN#157] The End of Time, having shown the white feather,
was left behind, but the rest courageously consented to accompany
their leader. "At 10 a.m. on the 2nd January," says Burton,
"all the villagers assembled, and recited the Fatihah, consoling us
with the information that we were dead men." The little company,
carrying their lives in their hands, then set forward, and presently
came in sight of Harar, "a dark speck upon a tawny sheet of
stubble." Arrived at the gate of the town, they accosted the
warder, sent their salaams to the Amir, and requested the honour
31. At Harar.
They were conducted to the palace, a long, single-storied,
windowless barn of rough stone and reddish clay. Says Burton:
"I walked into a vast hall between two long rows of Galla spearmen,
between whose lines I had to pass. They were large, half-naked
savages, standing like statues with fierce, movable eyes, each one
holding, with its butt end on the ground, a huge spear, with a head
the size of a shovel. I purposely sauntered down them coolly with a
swagger, with my eyes fixed upon their dangerous-looking faces.
I had a six-shooter concealed in my waist-belt, and determined,
at the first show of excitement, to run up to the Amir, and put it
to his head, if it were necessary, to save my own life." The Amir
was an etiolated young man of twenty-four or twenty-five, plain and
thin-bearded, with a yellow complexion, wrinkled brows and
protruding eyes. He wore a flowing robe of crimson cloth,
edged with snowy fur, and a narrow white turban tightly twisted
round a tall, conical cap of red velvet. On being asked his errand,
Burton replied politely in Arabic that he had come from Aden in
order to bear the compliments of the governor, and to see the light
of his highness's countenance. On the whole, the Amir was gracious,
but for some days Burton and his party were in jeopardy, and when he
reflected that he was under the roof of a bigoted and sanguinary
prince, whose filthy dungeons resounded with the moans of heavily
ironed, half-starved prisoners; among a people who detested
foreigners; he, the only European who had ever passed over their
inhospitable threshold, naturally felt uncomfortable. The Amir,
it seems, had four principal wives, and an army of 200 men armed
chiefly with daggers. Burton describes the streets of Harar as
dirty narrow lanes heaped with garbage, and the houses as situated
at the bottom of courtyards, closed by gates of holcus stalks.
The town was proud of its learning and sanctity, and venerated the
memory of several very holy and verminous saints. Neither sex
possessed personal attractions, and the head-dresses of the women
seen from behind resembled a pawnbroker's sign, except that they
were blue instead of gilt. The people lived chiefly on holcus,
and a narcotic called "jat," made by pounding the tender twigs of a
tree of the same name. "It produced in them," says Burton,
"a manner of dreamy enjoyment, which exaggerated by time and
distance, may have given rise to that splendid myth the Lotos and
the Lotophagi.[FN#158] Their chief commodity was coffee, their
favourite drink an aphrodisiac made of honey dissolved in hot water,
and strained and fermented with the bark of a tree called kudidah."
Although unmolested, Burton had no wish to remain long at Harar,
and when on 13th January he and his party took their departure it
was with a distinct feeling of relief.
32. From Harar to Berbera. 13th Jan. 1855-5th Feb. 1855.
At Sagharrah they found again the pusillanimous "End of Time,"
and at Wilensi they were rejoined by Shahrazad, Dunyazad and the
one-eyed Kalandar. Persons who met Burton and his friends enquired
Irish-like if they were the party who had been put to death by the
Amir of Harar. Everyone, indeed, was amazed to see them not only
alive, but uninjured, and the Frank's temerity became the talk of
the desert. Burton now put the two women, the Kalandar, the camels,
and the baggage, under the care of a guide, and sent them to Zeila,
while he himself and the men made straight for Berbera.
The journey, which led them past Moga's tooth[FN#159] and Gogaysa,
was a terrible one, for the party suffered tortures from thirst,
and at one time it seemed as though all must perish. By good
fortune, however, they ultimately came upon some pools. Any fear
that might have haunted them, lest the water should be poisonous,
was soon dispelled, for it contained a vast number of tadpoles and
insects, and was therefore considered quite harmless and suitable
for drinking. For many hours they again plodded on beneath a brazen
sky. Again thirst assailed them; and, like Ishmael in the desert of
Zin, they were ready to cast themselves down and die. This time
they were saved by a bird, a katta or sand grouse, which they saw
making for some hills; and having followed it, they found, as they
had anticipated, a spring of water, at which they frenziedly slaked
their thirst. Many other difficulties and troubles confronted them
in their subsequent march, but at last they heard (delightful
sound!) the murmur of the distant sea. Every man was worn out,
with the exception of the Hammal, who, to Burton's delight, not only
talked, but sang and shouted. Finally they reached Berbera,
where they found Speke, Herne and Stroyan, and on 5th February,
Burton in company with the Hammal, Long Gulad, and The End of Time,
set sail for Aden, calling on their way at Siyaro and Anterad,
east of Berbera.
The first news Burton had on arriving there was of the death of his
mother, which had occurred 18th December 1854, at the time he lay
ill at Sagharrah. Always immersed in him, she used to say, when he
left her, "It seems as if the sun itself has disappeared." He,
on his part, often bore witness to the unselfishness and
blamelessness of her life, generally adding, "It is very pleasant
to be able to feel proud of one's parents."
33. The Fight at Berbera, 22nd April, 1855.
Unable to let well alone, Burton now wanted to make a new
expedition, this time to the Nile, via Berbera and Harar, and on a
larger and more imposing scale. On 7th April he was back again at
Berbera, taking with him Speke, Stroyan, Herne and 42 assistants,
and his first care was to establish an agency on the coast, so as to
have the protection of the English gunboat, the "Mahi," which had
brought them. Unfortunately, the Government drew off the gunboat,
and this had scarcely been done before Burton and his party were
attacked by 300 natives, who swarmed round them during the night,
and tried to entrap and entangle them by throwing down the tents.
A desperate hand-to-hand fight then ensued. Javelins hissed,
war-clubs crashed. The forty-two coloured auxiliaries promptly took
to their heels, leaving the four Englishmen to do as they could.
Stroyan fell early in the fight. Burton, who had nothing but a
sabre, fought like a demon; Speke, on his left near the entrance
of the tent, did deadly execution with a pair of revolvers; Herne on
his right emptied into the enemy a sixshooter, and then hammered it
with the butt end. Burton, while sabreing his way towards the sea,
was struck by a javelin, which pierced both cheeks, and struck out
four of his teeth. Speke received eleven wounds, from which,
however, he took no harm--a touching proof, comments Burton, of how
difficult it is to kill a man in sound health. Eventually the
survivors, stained with blood, and fearfully exhausted, but
carrying, nevertheless, the corpse of poor Stroyan, managed to
reach a friendly native craft, which straightway took them back
9th February 1855-October 1856
14. First Footsteps in East Africa, 1856.
34. The Crimea.
Owing to his wounds Burton had to return to England, and, on his
first opportunity, he gave an account of his explorations before
the Royal Geographical Society. Little, however, was now talked of
except the Crimean War, which had commenced, it will be remembered
in March 1854. The Allies landed in the Crimea in September,
Inkermann was fought on the 5th of November, and then followed the
tedious siege of Sebastopol. Burton had not long been home before
he applied for and obtained leave to join the besieging army; and
his brother Edward also went out as surgeon, about the same time.
Emulous of the deeds of Napier and Outram, Burton now thought he saw
a career of military glory awaiting him. Soon after his arrival at
the seat of war he was appointed chief of the staff to General
Beatson, and in his "gorgeous uniform blazing with gold" he set
vigorously to work to re-organize and drill his contingent of
Bashi-Bazouks. He had great difficulties with Beatson, a brave,
but passionate and undiplomatic old warrior; but he succeeded
marvellously with his men, and his hope of winning fame rose higher
than ever. The war, however, was crawling to an end, and the troops
he had drilled so patiently had little to do beside look on.
At this conjuncture he thought he saw a road to success in the
relief of Kars, which had been persistently besieged by the
Russians. Elated at the prospect of taking part in a great military
feat, he hurried to Constantinople, obtained an interview with the
British Ambassador, Lord Stratford, and submitted a plan for
approval. To his amazement, Lord Stratford broke into a towering
passion, and called him "the most impudent man in the Bombay Army."
Later Burton understood in what way he had transgressed. As the war
was closing, it had been arranged by the Allies that Kars should be
allowed to fall as a peace offering to Russia.
Burton now began to suffer from the untrue tales that were told
about him, still he never troubled to disprove them. Some were
circulated by a fellow officer of his--an unmitigated scoundrel
whose life had been sullied by every species of vice; who not only
invented calumniating stories but inserted particulars that gave
them a verisimilitude. Two of this man's misdeeds may be mentioned.
First he robbed the Post Office at Alexandria, and later he
unblushingly unfolded to Lord Stanley of Alderley his plan of
marrying an heiress and of divorcing her some months later with a
view to keeping, under a Greek law, a large portion of her income.
He seemed so certain of being able to do it that Lord Stanley
consulted a lady friend, and the two together succeeded in
frustrating the infamous design. This sordid and callous rascal
tried hard to lead people to suppose that he and Burton were hand
and glove in various kinds of devilry, and a favourite phrase in his
mouth was "I and Burton are great scamps." Percy Smythe[FN#161]
then an official under Lord Stratford, commented on hearing the
saying: "No, that won't do, ---- is a real scamp, but Burton is only
wild." One story put abroad apparently by the same scoundrel is
still in circulation. We are told that Burton was once caught in a
Turkish harem, and allowed to escape only after suffering the usual
indescribable penalty. As this was the solitary story that really
annoyed Burton, we think it our duty to say that conclusive
documentary evidence exists proving that, whether or not he ever
broke into a harem, he most certainly underwent no deprivation.
Other slanders of an even more offensive nature got abroad.
Pious English mothers loathed Burton's name, and even men of the
world mentioned it apologetically. In time, it is true, he lived
all this down, still he was never--he is not now--generally regarded
as a saint worthy of canonization.
With the suspension of General Beatson--for the machinations of
enemies ultimately accomplished the old hero's fall--Burton's
connection with the Crimean army abruptly ceased. Having sent in
his resignation, he returned to England and arrived here just in
time to miss, to his disappointment, his brother Edward, who had
again left for Ceylon. Edward's after career was sad enough to draw
tears from adamant. During an elephant hunt a number of natives set
upon him and beat him brutally about the head. Brain trouble
ensued, and he returned home, but henceforth, though he attained
a green old age, he lived a life of utter silence. Except on one
solitary occasion he never after--and that is to say for forty
years--uttered a single word. Always resembling a Greek statue,
there was now added to him the characteristic of all statues,
rigid and solemn silence. From a man he had become aching marble.
To Burton, with his great, warm, affectionate heart, Edward's
affliction was an unceasing grief. In all his letters he enquires
tenderly after his "dear brother," and could truly say, with the
enemy of his boyhood, Oliver Goldsmith:
"Where'er I roam, whatever realms to see,
My heart untravelled fondly turns to thee:
Still to my Brother turns."[FN#162]
Arrived in England, General Beatson promptly instituted civil
proceedings against his enemies; and Burton was in constant
expectation of being subpoenaed. He thoroughly sympathized with
Beatson, but he had no wish to be forced to remain in London, just
as he had no wish at any time in his life to be mewed up anywhere.
Consequently he disguised himself by wearing green spectacles and
tying a pillow over his stomach to simulate corpulence. To one
friend who met him, he made himself known. "Are you really Burton?"
inquired his friend. "I shall be," replied Burton, "but just now
I'm a Greek doctor." Burton's conscience, however, finally had the
mastery. He did attend the trial and he corroborated the statements
of his late chief. The verdict of the jury went against Beatson,
but it was generally felt that the old war dog had fully vindicated
35. Engaged to Isabel Arundell, August 1856.
In August, after a lapse of four years, Burton renewed acquaintance
with Isabel Arundell, who one day met him, quite by accident, in the
Botanical Gardens, and she kept meeting him there quite by accident
every day for a fortnight. He had carried his life in his hand to
Mecca and to Harar, he had kept at bay 200 Somalis, but like the man
in Camoens, he finally fell by "a pair of eyes."[FN#163] According
to Lady Burton,[FN#164] it was Burton who made the actual proposal;
and it is just possible.
"You won't chalk up 'Mother will be angry' now I hope," said Burton.
"Perhaps not," replied Miss Arundell, "but she will be all
Mrs. Arundell, indeed, like so many other English mothers,
was violently prejudiced against Burton. When her daughter broached
the subject she replied fiercely: "He is not an old English
Catholic, or even a Catholic, he has neither money nor prospects."
She might also have added that he was apt to respect mere men of
intellect more than men of wealth and rank, an un-English trait
which would be sure to militate against his advancement.
Miss Arundell bravely defended her lover, but without effect.
A few days later she again met her old gipsy crone Hagar Burton,
who repeated her sibylline declaration. As Miss Arundell never,
by any chance, talked about anything or anybody except Burton,
and as she paid liberally for consulting the Fates, this declaration
necessarily points to peculiar acumen on the part of the gipsy.
At one of their meetings Miss Arundell put round Burton's neck a
steel chain with a medal of the Virgin Mary and begged him to wear
it all his life. Possessing a very accommodating temperament in
matters that seemed to himself of no vital importance, he consented;
so it joined the star-sapphire and other amulets, holy and unholy,
which, for different purposes, he carried about the world.
That this medal had often acted as a preservative to Burton she was
in after life thoroughly convinced.
The Unveiling of Isis
December 1856-21st May 1859
15. Lake Regions of Equatorial Africa.
16. Vol. 33 of the Royal Geographical Society.
36. To Fuga. January to March 1857.
The fame of a soldier having been denied him, Burton now turned his
thoughts once more to exploration; and his eagerness for renown is
revealed conspicuously in some verses written about this time.
"I wore thine image, Fame,
Within a heart well fit to be thy shrine!
Others a thousand boons may gain;
One wish was mine."
He hoped to obtain one of its smiles and then die. A glorious hand
seemed to beckon him to Africa. There he was to go and find his
destiny. The last stanza runs:
"Mine ear will hear no other sound,
No other thought my heart will know.
Is this a sin? Oh, pardon, Lord!
Thou mad'st me so."
He would obtain the fame of a great traveller; the earth should roll
up for him as a carpet. Happy indeed was Isabel Arundell when he
placed the verses in her hand, but melancholy to relate, he also
presented copies to his "dear Louisa," and several other dears.
He now read greedily all the great geographers, ancient and modern,
and all the other important books bearing on African exploration.
If he became an authority on Herodotus, Pliny, Ptolemy, Strabo,
and Pomponious Mela, he became equally an authority on Bruce,
Sonnini, Lacerda, the Pombeiros, Monteiro and Gamitto.
From Ptolemy downwards writers and travellers had prayed for the
unveiling of Isis, that is to say, the discovery of the sources of
the Nile; but for two thousand years every effort had proved
fruitless. Burning to immortalize himself by wresting from the
mysterious river its immemorial secret, Burton now planned an
expedition for that purpose. Thanks to the good offices of Lord
Clarendon, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the Royal
Geographical Society promised him the necessary funds; while
Cardinal Wiseman, ever his sincere friend, gave him a passport to
all Catholic missionaries.[FN#165] To Burton, as we have seen,
partings were always distressing, and in order to avoid bidding
adieu to Miss Arundell he adopted his usual course, leaving a letter
which mentioned love and that he was gone.
He quitted England for Bombay in October 1856, and crossed to
Zanzibar in the Elphinstone sloop of war, Speke, who was to be his
companion in the expedition, sailing with him. Burton was in the
highest spirits. "One of the gladdest moments in human life," he
wrote, "is the departing upon a distant journey into unknown lands.
Shaking off with one effort the fetters of habit, the leaden weight
of routine, the slavery of civilisation,[FN#166] man feels once more
happy. The blood flows with the fast circulation of youth,
excitement gives a new vigour to the muscles and a sense of sudden
freedom adds an inch to the stature." Among the crew was a
midshipman, C. R. Low, who became a life-long friend of Burton.
Says Mr. Low, "We used to have bouts of single-stick in the pleasant
evening sin the poop, and many's the time he has blacked my arms and
legs with his weapons. ... Though a dangerous enemy, he was a warm
and constant friend."[FN#167] On reaching Zanzibar, Burton, finding
the season an unsuitable one for the commencement of his great
expedition, resolved to make what he called "a preliminary canter."
So he and Speke set out on a cruise northward in a crazy old Arab
"beden" with ragged sails and worm-eaten timbers. They carried with
them, however, a galvanised iron life-boat, "The Louisa," named
after Burton's old love, and so felt no fear.
They passed the Island of Pemba, and on the 22nd reached Mombasa,
which Burton was glad to visit on account of its associations with
Camoens, who wrote
So near that islet lay along the land,
Nought save a narrow channel stood atween;
And rose a city throned on the strand,
Which from the margent of the seas was seen;
Fair built with lordly buildings tall and grand
As from its offing showed all its sheen,
Here ruled a monarch for long years high famed,
Islet and city are Mombasa named.[FN#168]
Indeed he never missed an opportunity of seeing spots associated
with his beloved "Master." Then they turned southward and on
February 3rd reached Pangany, whence, in company with a facetious
fellow named Sudy Bombay, they set out on a canoe and foot journey
to Fuga, which they found to be "an unfenced heap of hay cock huts."
Though a forbidden city to strangers they managed to get admittance
by announcing themselves as "European wizards and Waganga of
peculiar power over the moon, the stars, the wind and the rain."
They found the sultan of the place, an old man named Kimwere, sick,
emaciated and leprous. He required, he said, an elixir which would
restore him to health, strength, and youth. This, however, despite
his very respectable knowledge of medicine, Burton was not able to
compound, so after staying two days he took his leave. "It made me
sad," says Burton, "to see the wistful, lingering look with which
the poor old king accompanied the word Kuahery! (Farewell!)" On the
return journey Speke shot a hippopotamus which he presented to the
natives, who promptly ate it. By the time Pangany was again reached
both travellers were in a high fever; but regarding it simply as a
seasoning, they felt gratified rather than not. When the Zanzibar
boat arrived Speke was well enough to walk to the shore, but Burton
"had to be supported like a bedridden old woman."
37. Zanzibar to Tanganyika, 26th June 1857 to 26th May 1858.
Burton left Zanzibar on his great expedition at the end of June,
carrying with him various letters of introduction from the Sultan of
Zanzibar, a diploma signed by the Shaykh El Islam of Mecca, and the
passport already mentioned of Cardinal Wiseman. To his
star-sapphire he added some little canvas bags containing horse
chestnuts which he carried about "against the Evil Eye, and as a
charm to ward off sickness."[FN#169] Beside Burton and Speke,
the party consisted of two Goa boys, two negro gun-carriers,
Sudy Bombay, and ten Zanzibar mercenaries. Dr. Steinhauser,
who had hoped to join them, was restrained by illness. "My desire,"
says Burton, "was to ascertain the limits of Tanganyika Lake,
to learn the ethnography of its tribes, and to determine the export
of the produce of the interior." He held the streams that fed
Tanganyika to be the ultimate sources of the Nile; and believed that
the glory of their discovery would be his. Fortune, however,
the most fickle of goddesses, thought fit to deprive him of this
ardently coveted boon.
The explorers landed at Wale Point on June 26th, and on July 14th
reached K'hutu. At Dug'humi Burton, despite his bags of chestnuts,
fell with marsh fever, and in his fits he imagined himself to be
"two persons who were inimical to each other," an idea very suitable
for a man nursing the "duality" theory. When he recovered, fresh
misfortunes followed, and finally all the riding asses died.
Burton, however, amid it all, managed to do one very humane action.
He headed a little expedition against a slave raider, and had the
satisfaction of restoring five poor creatures to their homes.
The tropical vegetation and the pleasant streams afforded delightful
vistas both by daylight and moonlight, but every mile the travellers
were saddened by the sight of clean-picked skeletons or swollen
corpses. Sometimes they met companies of haggard, heavy-gaited men
and women half blind with small-pox--the mothers carrying on their
backs infants as loathsome as themselves. Near every kraal stood
detached huts built for the diseased to die in. They passed from
this God-forsaken land to a district of springs welling with sweet
water, calabashes and tamarinds, and circlets of deep, dew-fed
verdure. The air was spicy, and zebras and antelopes browsed in the
distance. Then the scene again changed, and they were in a slimy,
malarious swamp. They were bitten by pismires an inch long, and by
the unmerciful tzetze fly. The mercenaries, who threatened to
desert, rendered no assistance, and the leader, one Said bin Salim,
actually refused to give Burton a piece of canvas to make a tent.
Sudy Bombay then made a memorable speech, "O Said," he said, "if you
are not ashamed of your master, be at least ashamed of his servant,"
a rebuke that had the effect of causing the man to surrender at once
the whole awning. At other times the star-sapphire which Burton
carried on his person proved a valuable auxiliary--and convinced
where words failed. But the mercenaries, mistaking Burton's
forbearance for weakness, became daily bolder and more insolent,
and they now only awaited a convenient opportunity to kill him.
One day as he was marching along, gun over shoulder and dagger in
hand, he became conscious that two of his men were unpleasantly
near, and after a while one of them, unaware that Burton understood
his language, urged the other to strike. Burton did not hesitate a
moment. Without looking round, he thrust back his dagger,
and stabbed the man dead on the spot.[FN#170] The other, who fell
on his knees and prayed for mercy, was spared. This, however, did
not cure his followers of their murderous instincts, and a little
later he discovered another plot. The prospective assassins having
piled a little wood where they intended to kindle a fire, went off
to search for more. While they were gone Burton made a hole under
the wood and buried a canister of gunpowder in it. On their return
the assassins lighted the fire, seated themselves comfortably round,
and presently there weren't any assassins. We tell these tales just
as Burton told them to his intimate friends. The first may have
been true, the second, we believe, simply illustrates his inveterate
habit of telling tales against himself with the desire to shock.
In any circumstances, his life was in constant peril; but he and the
majority of the party, after unexampled tortures from thirst,
arrived footsore and jaded in a veritable land of Goshen--Kazeh or
Unyanyembe, where they met some kindly Arab merchants.
"What a contrast," exclaims Burton, "between the open-handed
hospitality and the hearty good-will of this noble race--the Arabs--
and the niggardliness of the savage and selfish African. It was
heart of flesh after heart of stone." Burton found the Arabs of
Kazeh living comfortably and even sybaritically. They had large,
substantial houses, fine gardens, luxuries from the coast and
"troops of concubines and slaves." Burton gallantly gives the
ladies their due. "Among the fair of Yombo," he says, "there were
no fewer than three beauties--women who would be deemed beautiful in
any part of the world. Their faces were purely Grecian; they had
laughing eyes their figures were models for an artist with--
"Turgide, brune, e ritondette mamme."
like the 'bending statue' that delights the world. The dress--
a short kilt of calabash fibre--rather set off than concealed their
charms, and though destitute of petticoat they were wholly
unconscious of indecorum. These beautiful domestic animals
graciously smiled when in my best Kenyamwezi I did my devoir to
the sex; and the present of a little tobacco always secured for me
a seat in the undress circle."
Of the native races of West Africa Burton gave a graphic account
when he came to write the history of this expedition.[FN#171]
All, it seems, had certain customs in common. Every man drank
heavily, ate to repletion and gambled. They would hazard first
their property and then themselves. A negro would stake his aged
mother against a cow. As for morality, neither the word nor the
thing existed among them. Their idea of perfect bliss was total
intoxication. When ill, they applied to a medicine man, who having
received a fee used it for the purpose of getting drunk, but upon
his return to sobriety, he always, unless, of course, the patient
took upon himself to die, instead of waiting, attended
conscientiously to his duties. No self-respecting chief was ever
sober after mid-day. Women were fattened for marriage just as pigs
are fattened for market--beauty and obesity being interchangeable
terms. The wearisome proceedings in England necessary to a divorce,
observes Burton, are there unknown. You turn your wife out of
doors, and the thing is done.
The chief trouble at Kazeh, as elsewhere, arose from the green
scorpion, but there were also lizards and gargantuan spiders.
Vermin under an inch in length, such as fleas, ants, and mosquitoes,
were deemed unworthy of notice. The march soon began again,
but they had not proceeded many miles before Burton fell with
partial paralysis brought on my malaria; and Speke, whom Burton
always called "Jack," became partially blind. Thoughts of the elmy
fields and the bistre furrows of Elstree and the tasselled coppices
of Tours crowded Burton's brain; and he wrote:
"I hear the sound I used to hear,
The laugh of joy, the groan of pain,
The sounds of childhood sound again
Death must be near."
At last, on the 13th February they saw before them a long streak of
light. "Look, master, look," cried Burton's Arab guide, "behold the
great water!" They advanced a few yards, and then an enormous
expanse of blue burst into sight. There, in the lap of its
steel-coloured mountains, basking in the gorgeous tropical sunshine,
lay the great lake Tanganyika. The goal had been reached; by his
daring, shrewdness and resolution he had overcome all difficulties.
Like the soldiers in Tacitus, in victory he found all things--
health, vigour, abundance.
No wonder Burton felt a marvellous exultation of spirits when he
viewed this great expanse of waters. Here, he thought, are the
sources of that ancient river--the Nile. Now are fulfilled the
longing of two thousand years. I am the heir of the ages! Having
hired "a solid built Arab craft," the explorers made their way first
to Ujiji and then to Uvira, the northernmost point of the lake,
which they reached on April 26th. On their return voyage they were
caught in a terrible storm, from which they did not expect to be
saved, and while the wild tumbling waves threatened momentarily to
engulf them a couplet from his fragmentary Kasidah kept running in
"This collied night, these horrid waves, these gusts that sweep
the whirling deep;
What reck they of our evil plight, who on the shore securely
However, they came out of this peril, just as they had come out of
so many others. Burton also crossed the lake and landed in
Kazembe's country,[FN#173] in which he was intensely interested,
and some years later he translated into English the narratives of
Dr. Lacerda[FN#174] and other Portuguese travellers who had visited
its capital, Lunda, near Lake Moero.
38. The Return Journey, 26th May 1858 to 13th February 1859.
The explorers left Tanganyika for the return journey to Zanzibar on
May 26th. At Yombo, reached June 18th, Burton received a packet of
letters, which arrived from the coast, and from one he learnt of the
death of his father, which had occurred 8 months previous. Despite
his researches, Colonel Burton was not missed in the scientific
world, but his son sincerely mourned a kind-hearted and indulgent
parent. At Kazeh, Fortune, which had hitherto been so favourable,
now played Burton a paltry trick. Speke having expressed a wish to
visit the lake now called Victoria Nyanza, a sheet of water which
report declared to be larger than Tanganyika, Burton, for various
reasons, thought it wiser not to accompany him. So Speke went alone
and continued his march until he reached the lake, the dimensions of
which surpassed his most sanguine expectations. On his return to
Kazeh he at once declared that the Victoria Nyanza and its affluents
were the head waters of the Nile, and that consequently he had
discovered them. Isis (he assured Burton) was at last unveiled.
As a matter of fact he had no firmer ground for making that
statement than Burton had in giving the honour to Tanganyika,
and each clung tenaciously to his own theory. Speke, indeed, had a
very artistic eye. He not only, by guess, connected his lake with
the Nile, but placed on his map a very fine range of mountains which
had no existence--the Mountains of the Moon. However, the fact
remains that as regards the Nile his theory turned out to be the
correct one. The expedition went forward again, but his attitude
towards Burton henceforth changed. Hitherto they had been the best
of friends, and it was always "Dick" and "Jack," but now Speke
became querulous, and the mere mention of the Nile gave him offence.
Struck down with the disease called "Little Irons," he thought he
was being torn limb from limb by devils, giants, and lion-headed
demons, and he made both in his delirium and after his recovery all
kinds of wild charges against Burton, and interlarded his speech
with contumelious taunts--his chief grievance being Burton's refusal
to accept the Victoria Nyanza-Nile theory. But Burton made no
retort. On the contrary, he bore Speke's petulance with infinite
patience. Perhaps he remembered the couplet in his favourite
"True friend is he who bears with all
His friend's unkindness, spite and gall."[FN#175]
There is no need for us to side either with Speke or Burton.
Both were splendid men, and their country is proud of them. Fevers,
hardships, toils, disappointments, ambition, explain everything, and
it is quite certain that each of the explorers inwardly recognised
the merit of the other. They reached Zanzibar again 4th March 1859.
Had Burton been worldly wise he would have at once returned home,
but he repeated the mistake made after the journey to Mecca and was
again to suffer from it.
Speke, on the other hand, who ever had an eye to the main chance,
sailed straight for England, where he arrived 9th May 1859. He at
once took a very unfair advantage of Burton "by calling at the Royal
Geographical Society and endeavouring to inaugurate a new
exploration" without his old chief. He was convinced, he said,
that the Victoria Nyanza was the source of the Nile, and he wished
to set the matter at rest once and for every by visiting its
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