The Life of Sir Richard Burton
Part 3 out of 9
northern shores. The Society joined with him Captain James A.
Grant[FN#176] and it was settled that this new expedition should
immediately be made. Speke also lectured vaingloriously at
Burlington House. When Burton arrived in London on May 21st it was
only to find all the ground cut from under him. While Speke,
the subordinate, had been welcomed like a king, he, Burton,
the chief of the expedition, had landed unnoticed. But the
bitterest pill was the news that Speke had been appointed to lead
the new expedition. And as if that was not enough, Captain Rigby,
Consul at Zanzibar, gave ear to and published the complaints of some
of Burton's dastardly native followers. Although Fortune cheated
Burton of having been the actual discoverer of the Source of the
Nile, it must never be forgotten that all the credit of having
inaugurated the expedition to Central Africa and of leading it
are his. Tanganyika--in the words of a recent writer, "is in a
very true sense the heart of Africa." If some day a powerful state
spring up on its shores, Burton will to all time be honoured as its
indomitable Columbus. In his journal he wrote proudly, but not
untruly: "I have built me a monument stronger than brass."
The territory is now German. Its future masters who shall name!
but whoever they may be, no difference can be made to Burton's
glory. Kingdoms may come and kingdoms may go, but the fame of
the truly great man speeds on for ever.
22nd January 1861-to August 1861
Mormons and Marriage
17. The City of the Saints, 1861.
39. We rushed into each other's arms. 22nd May, 1860.
During Burton's absence Isabel Arundell tortured herself with
apprehensions and fears. Now and again a message from him reached
her, but there were huge deserts of silence. Then came the news of
Speke's return and lionization in London. She thus tells the story
of her re-union with Burton. "On May 22nd (1860), I chanced to call
upon a friend. I was told she had gone out, but would be in to tea,
and was asked to wait. In a few minutes another ring came to the
door, and another visitor was also asked to wait. A voice that
thrilled me through and through came up the stairs, saying, 'I want
Miss Arundell's address.' The door opened, I turned round,
and judge of my feelings when I beheld Richard! ..... We rushed into
each other's arms. .... We went down-stairs and Richard called a
cab, and he put me in and told the man to drive about anywhere.
He put his arm round my waist, and I put my head on his
shoulder."[FN#177] Burton had come back more like a mummy than
a man, with cadaverous face, brown-yellow skin hanging in bags,
his eyes protruding and his lips drawn away from this teeth--
the legacy of twenty-one attacks of fever.
When the question of their marriage was brought before her parents,
Mr. Arundell not only offered no impediment, but remarked: "I do not
know what it is about that man, I cannot get him out of my head.
I dream of him every night," but Mrs. Arundell still refused
consent. She reiterated her statement that whereas the Arundells
were staunch old English Catholics, Burton professed no religion at
all, and declared that his conversation and his books proclaimed him
an Agnostic. Nor is it surprising that she remained obdurate,
seeing that the popular imagination still continued to run riot over
his supposed enormities. The midnight hallucinations of De Quincey
seemed to be repeating themselves in a whole nation. He had
committed crimes worthy of the Borgias. He had done a deed which
the ibis and the crocodile trembled at. Miss Arundell boldly
defended him against her mother, though she admitted afterwards
that, circumstances considered, Mrs. Arundell's opposition was
"As we cannot get your mother's consent," said Burton, "we had
better marry without it."
"No," replied Miss Arundell, "that will not do," nor could any
argument turn her.
"You and your mother have certainly one characteristic in common,"
was the comment. "You are as obstinate as mules."
Burton was not without means, for on the death of his father he
inherited some £16,000, but he threw his money about with the
recklessness of an Aladdin, and 16 million would have gone the same
way. It was all, however, or nearly all spent in the service of the
public. Every expedition he made, and every book he published left
him considerably the poorer. So eager for exploration was he that
before the public had the opportunity to read about one expedition,
he had started on another. So swiftly did he write, that before one
book had left the binders, another was on its way to the printers.
Systole, diastole, never ceasing--never even pausing. Miss Arundell
being inflexible, Burton resolved to let the matter remain nine
months in abeyance, and, inactivity being death to him, he then shot
off like a rocket to America. One day in April (1860) Miss Arundell
received a brief letter the tenor of which was as follows:--
"I am off to Salt Lake City, and shall be back in December.
Think well over our affair, and if your mind is then made up we will
Being the first intimation of his departure--for as usual there had
been no good-bye--the message gave her a terrible shock. Hope fled,
and a prostrating illness followed. The belief that he would be
killed pressed itself upon her and returned with inexplicable
insistence. She picked up a newspaper, and the first thing that met
her eye was a paragraph headed "Murder of Captain Burton."
The shock was terrible, but anxious enquiry revealed the murdered
man to be another Captain Burton, not her Richard.
40. Brigham Young. April 1860 to November 1860.
It was natural that, after seeing the Mecca of the Mohammedans,
Burton should turn to the Mecca of the Mormons, for he was always
attracted by the centres of the various faiths, moreover he wished
to learn the truth about a city and a religion that had previously
been described only by the biassed. One writer, for instance--
a lady--had vilified Mormonism because "some rude men in Salt Lake
City had walked over a bridge before her." It was scarcely the most
propitious moment to start on such a journey. The country was torn
with intestine contentions. The United States Government were
fighting the Indians, and the Mormons were busy stalking one another
with revolvers. Trifles of this kind, however, did not weigh with
Burton. After an uneventful voyage across the Atlantic, and a
conventional journey overland, he arrived at St. Joseph, popularly
St. Jo, on the Missouri. Here he clothed himself like a
backwoodsman, taking care, however, to put among this luggage a
silk hat and a frock coat in order to make an impression among the
saints. He left St. Jo on August 7th and at Alcali Lake saw the
curious spectacle of an Indian remove. The men were ill-looking,
and used vermilion where they ought to have put soap; the squaws and
papooses comported with them; but there was one pretty girl who had
"large, languishing eyes, and sleek black hair like the ears of a
King Charles Spaniel." The Indians followed Burton's waggon for
miles, now and then peering into it and crying "How! How!"
the normal salutation. His way then lay by darkling canons, rushing
streams and stupendous beetling cliffs fringed with pines.
Arrived at his destination, he had no difficulty, thanks to the good
offices of a fellow traveller, in mixing in the best Mormon Society.
He found himself in a Garden City. Every householder had from five
to ten acres in the suburbs, and one and a half close at home;
and the people seemed happy. He looked in vain, however, for the
spires of the Mormon temple which a previous writer had described
prettily as glittering in the sunlight. All he could find was
"a great hole in the ground," said to be the beginning of a
baptismal font, with a plain brick building, the Tabernacle, at a
little distance. After a service at the "Tabernacle" he was
introduced to Brigham Young, a farmer-like man of 45, who evinced
much interest in the Tanganyika journey and discussed stock,
agriculture and religion; but when Burton asked to be admitted as a
Mormon, Young replied, with a smile, "I think you've done that sort
of thing once before, Captain." So Burton was unable to add
Mormonism to his five or six other religions. Burton then told with
twinkling eyes a pitiful tale of how he, an unmarried man, had come
all the way to Salt Lake City, requiring a wife, but had found no
wives to be had, all the ladies having been snapped up by the
Saints. A little later the two men, who had taken a stroll
together, found themselves on an eminence which commanded a view
both of the Salt Lake city and the Great Salt Lake. Brigham Young
pointed out the various spots of interest, "That's Brother Dash's
house, that block just over there is occupied by Brother X's wives.
Elder Y's wives reside in the next block and Brother Z's wives in
that beyond it. My own wives live in that many-gabled house in
Waving his right hand towards the vastness of the great Salt Lake,
Burton exclaimed, with gravity:
"Water, water, everywhere"
and then waving his left towards the city, he added, pathetically:
"But not a drop to drink."
Brigham Young, who loved a joke as dearly as he loved his seventeen
wives, burst out into hearty laughter. In his book, "The City of
the Saints," Burton assures us that polygamy was admirably suited
for the Mormons, and he gives the religious, physiological and
social motives for a plurality of wives then urged by that people.
Economy, he tells us, was one of them. "Servants are rare and
costly; it is cheaper and more comfortable to marry them.
Many converts are attracted by the prospect of becoming wives,
especially from places like Clifton, near Bristol, where there are
64 females to 36 males. The old maid is, as the ought to be,
an unknown entity."[FN#178]
Burton himself received at least one proposal of marriage there;
and the lady, being refused, spread the rumour that it was the other
way about. "Why," said Burton, "it's like
A certain Miss Baxter,
Who refused a man before he'd axed her."[FN#179]
As regards the country itself nothing struck him so much as its
analogy to Palestine. A small river runs from the Wahsatch
Mountains, corresponding to Lebanon, and flows into Lake Utah,
which represents Lake Tiberias, whence a river called the Jordan
flows past Salt Lake City into the Great Salt Lake, just as the
Palestine Jordan flows into the Dead Sea.
From Salt Lake City, Burton journeyed by coach and rail to San
Francisco, whence he returned home via Panama.
41. Marriage. 22nd January 1861.
He arrived in England at Christmas 1860, and Miss Arundell, although
her mother still frowned, now consented to the marriage. She was 30
years old, she said, and could no longer be treated as a child.
Ten years had elapsed since Burton, who was now 40, had first become
acquainted with her, and few courtships could have been more
"I regret that I am bringing you no money," observed Miss Arundell.
"That is not a disadvantage as far as I am concerned," replied
Burton, "for heiresses always expect to lord it over their
lords."--"We will have no show," he continued, "for a grand marriage
ceremony is a barbarous and an indelicate exhibition." So the
wedding, which took place at the Bavarian Catholic Church,
Warwick Street, London, on 22nd January 1861, was all simplicity.
As they left the church Mrs. Burton called to mind Gipsy Hagar,
her couched eyes and her reiterated prophecy. The luncheon was
spread at the house of a medical friend, Dr. Bird, 49, Welbeck
Street, and in the midst of it Burton told some grisly tales of his
adventures in the Nedj and Somaliland, including an account of the
fight at Berbera.
"Now, Burton," interrupted Dr. Bird, "tell me how you feel when you
have killed a man." To which Burton replied promptly and with a sly
look, "Quite jolly, doctor! how do you?" After the luncheon Burton
and his wife walked down to their lodgings in Bury Street,
St. James's, where Mrs. Burton's boxes had been despatched in a
four-wheeler; and from Bury Street, Burton, as soon as he could pick
up a pen, wrote in his fine, delicate hand as follows to
"January 23 1861,[FN#180]
"My dear Father,
"I have committed a highway robbery by marrying your daughter
Isabel, at Warwick Street Church, and before the Registrar--
the details she is writing to her mother.
"It only remains to me to say that I have no ties or liaisons of any
sort, that the marriage is perfectly legal and respectable. I want
no money with Isabel: I can work, and it will be my care that Time
shall bring you nothing to regret.
"Richard F. Burton."
"There is one thing," said Burton to his wife, "I cannot do,
and that is, face congratulations, so, if you are agreeable, we will
pretend that we have been married some months." Such matters,
however, are not easy to conceal, and the news leaked out. "I am
surprised," said his cousin, Dr. Edward J. Burton, to him a few days
later, "to find that you are married." "I am myself even more
surprised than you," was the reply. "Isabel is a strong-willed
woman. She was determined to have her way and she's got it."
With Mr. Arundell, Burton speedily became a prime favourite, and his
attitude towards his daughter was Metastasio's:
"Yes, love him, love him,
He is deserving even of such infinite bliss;"
but Mrs. Arundell, poor lady, found it hard to conquer her
prejudice. Only a few weeks before her death she was heard to
exclaim, "Dick Burton is no relation of mine." Let us charitably
assume, however, that it was only in a moment of irritation.
Isabel Burton, though of larger build than most women, was still
a dream of beauty; and her joy in finding herself united to the man
she loved gave her a new radiance. Her beauty, however, was of a
rather coarse grain, and even those most attached to her remarked
in her a certain lack of refinement. She was a goddess at a
Her admiration of her husband approached worship. She says, "I used
to like to sit and look at him; and to think 'You are mine,
and there is no man on earth the least like you.'" Their married
life was not without its jars, but a more devoted wife Burton could
not have found; and he, though certainly in his own fashion,
was sincerely and continuously attached to her. If the difference
in their religious opinions sometimes led to amusing skirmishes,
it was, on the other hand, never allowed to be a serious difficulty.
The religious question, however, often made unpleasantness between
Mrs. Burton and Lady Stisted and her daughters--who were staunch
Protestants of the Georgian and unyielding school. When the old
English Catholic and the old English Protestant met there were
generally sparks. The trouble originated partly from Mrs. Burton's
impulsiveness and want of tact. She could not help dragging in her
religion at all sorts of unseasonable times. She would introduce
into her conversation and letters remarks that a moment's reflection
would have told her could only nauseate her Protestant friends.
"The Blessed Virgin," or some holy saint or other was always
intruding on the text. Her head was lost in her heart. She was
once in terrible distress because she had mislaid some trifle that
had been touched by the Pope, though not in more distress, perhaps,
than her husband would have been had he lost his sapphire talisman,
and she was most careful to see that the lamps which she lighted
before the images of certain saints never went out. Burton himself
looked upon all this with amused complacency and observed that she
was a figure stayed somehow from the Middle Ages. If the mediaeval
Mrs. Burton liked to illuminate the day with lamps or camphorated
tapers, that, he said, was her business; adding that the light of
the sun was good enough for him. He objected at first to her going
to confession, but subsequently made no further reference to the
subject. Once, even, in a moment of weakness, he gave her five
pounds to have masses said for her dead brother; just as one might
give a child a penny to buy a top. He believed in God, and tried to
do what he thought right, fair and honourable, not for the sake of
reward, as he used to say, but simply because it was right, fair and
honourable. Occasionally he accompanied his wife to mass, and she
mentions that he always bowed his head at "Hallowed by Thy Name,"
which "shows," as Dr. Johnson would have commented, "that he had
good principles." Mrs. Burton generally called her husband "Dick,"
but frequently, especially in letters, he is "The Bird," a name
which he deserved, if only on account of his roving propensities.
Often, however, for no reason at all, she called him "Jimmy,"
and she was apt in her admiration of him and pride of possession,
to Dick and Jimmy it too lavishly among casual acquaintances.
Indeed, the tyranny of her heart over her head will force itself
upon our notice at every turn. It is pleasant to be able to state
that Mrs. Burton and Burton's "dear Louisa" (Mrs. Segrave) continued
to be the best of friends, and had many a hearty laugh over bygone
petty jealousies. One day, after calling on Mrs. Segrave, Burton
and his wife, who was dressed in unusual style, lunched with Dr. and
Mrs. E. J. Burton. "Isabel looks very smart to-day," observed
Mrs. E. J. Burton. "Yes," followed Burton, "she always wears her
best when we go to see my dear Louisa."
Burton took a pleasure in sitting up late. "Indeed," says one of
his friends, "he would talk all night in preference to going to bed,
and, in the Chaucerian style, he was a brilliant conversationalist,
and his laugh was like the rattle of a pebble across a frozen pond."
"No man of sense," Burton used to say, "rises, except in mid-summer,
before the world is brushed and broomed, aired and sunned." Later,
however, he changed his mind, and for the last twenty years of his
life he was a very early riser.
Among Burton's wedding gifts were two portraits--himself and his
wife--in one frame, the work of Louis Desanges, the battle painter
whose acquaintance he had made when a youth at Lucca. Burton
appears with Atlantean shoulders, strong mouth, penthouse eyebrows,
and a pair of enormous pendulous moustaches, which made him look
very like a Chinaman. Now was this an accident, for his admiration
of the Chinese was always intense. He regarded them as "the future
race of the East," just as he regarded the Slav as the future race
of Europe. Many years later he remarked of Gordon's troops, that
they had shown the might that was slumbering in a nation of three
hundred millions. China armed would be a colossus. Some day Russia
would meet China face to face--the splendid empire of Central Asia
the prize. The future might of Japan he did not foresee.
Says Lady Burton: "We had a glorious season, and took up our
position in Society. Lord Houghton (Monckton Milnes) was very much
attached to Richard, and he settled the question of our position by
asking his friend, Lord Palmerston, to give a party, and to let me
be the bride of the evening, and when I arrived Lord Palmerston gave
me his arm. ... Lady Russell presented me at Court 'on my
Mrs. Burton's gaslight beauty made her the cynosure of all eyes.
42. At Lord Houghton's.
At Fryston, Lord Houghton's seat, the Burtons met Carlyle, Froude,
Mr. A. C. Swinburne, who had just published his first book,
The Queen Mother and Rosamund,[FN#182] and Vambery, the Hungarian
linguist and traveller. Born in Hungary, of poor Jewish parents,
Vambery had for years a fierce struggle with poverty. Having found
his way to Constantinople, he applied himself to the study of
Oriental languages, and at the time he visited Fryston he was
planning the most picturesque event of his life--namely, his journey
to Khiva, Bokhara and Samarcand, which in emulation of Burton he
accomplished in the disguise of a dervish.[FN#183] He told the
company some Hungarian tales and then Burton, seated cross-legged on
a cushion, recited portions of FitzGerald's adaptation of Omar
Khayyam,[FN#184] the merits of which he was one of the first to
recognise. Burton and Lord Houghton also met frequently in London,
and they corresponded regularly for many years.[FN#185] "Richard
and I," says Mrs. Burton, writing to Lord Houghton 12th August 1874,
"would have remained very much in the background if you had not
taken us by the hand and pulled us into notice." A friendship also
sprang up between Burton and Mr. Swinburne, and the Burtons were
often the guests of Mrs. Burton's uncle, Lord Gerard, who resided
at Garswood, near St. Helens, Lancashire.
August 1861-November 1863
18. Wanderings in West Africa. 2 vols. 1863.
19. Prairie Traveller, by R. B. Marcy. Edited by Burton 1863.
20. Abeokuta and the Cameroons. 2 vols. 1863.
21. A Day among the Fans. 17th February 1863.
22. The Nile Basin, 1864.
43. African Gold.
As the result of his exceptional services to the public Burton had
hoped that he would obtain some substantial reward; and his wife
persistently used all the influence at her disposal to this end.
Everyone admitted his immense brain power, but those mysterious
rumours due to his enquiries concerning secret Eastern habits and
customs dogged him like some terrible demon. People refused to
recognise that he had pursued his studies in the interest of
learning and science. They said, absurdly enough, "A man who
studies vice must be vicious." His insubordination at various
times, his ungovernable temper, and his habit of saying out bluntly
precisely what he thought, also told against him. Then did
Mrs. Burton commence that great campaign which is her chief title to
fame--the defence of her husband. Though, as we have already shown,
a person of but superficial education; though, life through,
she never got more than a smattering of any one branch of knowledge;
nevertheless by dint of unremitting effort she eventually prevailed
upon the public to regard Burton with her own eyes. She wrote
letters to friends, to enemies, to the press. She wheedled,
she bullied, she threatened, she took a hundred other courses--
all with one purpose. She was very often woefully indiscreet,
but nobody can withhold admiration for her. Burton was scarcely a
model husband--he was too peremptory and inattentive for that--
but this self-sacrifice and hero worship naturally told on him,
and he became every year more deeply grateful to her. He laughed at
her foibles--he twitted her on her religion and her faulty English,
but he came to value the beauty of her disposition, and the goodness
of her heart even more highly than the graces of her person.
All, however, that his applications, her exertions, and the
exertions of her friends could obtain from the Foreign Secretary
(Lord Russell)[FN#186] was the Consulship of that white man's grave,
Fernando Po, with a salary of £700 a year. In other words he was
civilly shelved to a place where all his energies would be required
for keeping himself alive. "They want me to die," said Burton,
bitterly, "but I intend to live, just to spite the devils." It is
the old tale, England breeds great men, but grudges them
opportunities for the manifestation of their greatness.
The days that remained before his departure, Burton spent at various
Society gatherings, but the pleasures participated in by him and his
wife were neutralised by a great disaster, namely the loss of all
his Persian and Arabic manuscripts in a fire at Grindley's where
they had been stored. He certainly took his loss philosophically;
but he could never think of the event without a sigh.
Owing to the unwholesomeness of the climate of Fernando Po,
Mrs. Burton was, of course, unable to accompany him. They separated
at Liverpool, 24th August 1861. An embrace, "a heart wrench;"
and then a wave of the handkerchief, while "the Blackbird" African
steam ship fussed its way out of the Mersey, having on board the
British scape-goat sent away--"by the hand of a fit man"--
one "Captain English"--into the wilderness of Fernando Po.
"Unhappily," commented Burton, "I am not one of those independents
who can say ce n'est que le premier pas qui coute." The stoic,
however, after a fair fight, eventually vanquished the husband.
Still he did not forget his wife; and in his Wanderings in West
Africa, a record of this voyage, there is a very pretty compliment
to her which, however, only the initiated would recognise.
After speaking of the black-haired, black-eyed women of the South
of Europe, and giving them their due, he says, "but after a course
of such charms, one falls back with pleasure upon brown, yellow or
what is better than all, red-auburn locks and eyes of soft, limpid
blue." How the blue eyes of Mrs. Burton must have glistened when
she read those words; and we can imagine her taking one more look
in the glass to see if her hair really was red-auburn, as,
of course, it was.
Burton dedicated this work to the "True Friends" of the Dark
Continent, "not to the 'Philanthropist' or to Exeter Hall."[FN#187]
One of its objects was to give a trustworthy account of the negro
character and to point out the many mistakes that well-intentioned
Englishmen had made in dealing with it. To put it briefly, he says
that the negro[FN#188] is an inferior race, and that neither
education nor anything else can raise it to the level of the white.
After witnessing, at the Grand Bonny River, a horrid exhibition
called a Juju or sacrifice house, he wrote, "There is apparently in
this people [the negroes] a physical delight in cruelty to beast as
well as to man. The sight of suffering seems to bring them an
enjoyment without which the world is tame; probably the wholesale
murderers and torturers of history, from Phalaris and Nero
downwards, took an animal and sensual pleasure in the look of blood,
and in the inspection of mortal agonies. I can see no other
explanation of the phenomena which meet my eye in Africa. In almost
all the towns on the Oil Rivers, you see dead or dying animals in
some agonizing position."[FN#189]
Cowper had written:
"Skins may differ, but affection
Dwells in white and black the same;"
"which I deny," comments Burton, "affection, like love, is the fruit
of animalism refined by sentiment." He further declares that the
Black is in point of affection inferior to the brutes. "No humane
Englishman would sell his dog to a negro."[FN#190] The phrase
"God's image in ebony" lashed him to a fury.
Of his landing at Sierra Leone he gives the following
anecdote:[FN#191] "The next day was Sunday, and in the morning I had
a valise carried up to the house to which I had been invited.
When I offered the man sixpence, the ordinary fee, he demanded an
extra sixpence, 'for breaking the Sabbath.' I gave it readily,
and was pleased to find that the labours of our missionaries had
not been in vain." At Cape Coast Castle, he recalled the sad fate
of "L.E.L."[FN#192] and watched the women "panning the sand of the
shore for gold." He found that, in the hill region to the north,
gold digging was carried on to a considerable extent. "The pits,"
he says, "varying from two to three feet in diameter, and from
twelve to fifty feet deep, are often so near the roads that loss of
life has been the result. Shoring up being little known, the miners
are not infrequently buried alive. ... This Ophir, this California,
where every river is a Tmolus and a Pactolus, every hillock a
gold-field--does not contain a cradle, a puddling-machine, a quartz
crusher, a pound of mercury." That a land apparently so wealthy
should be entirely neglected by British capitalists caused Burton
infinite surprise, but he felt certain that it had a wonderful
future. His thoughts often reverted thither, and we shall find him
later in life taking part in an expedition sent out to report upon
certain of its gold fields.[FN#193]
By September 26th the "Blackbird" lay in Clarence Cove, Fernando Po;
and the first night he spent on shore, Burton, whose spirits fell,
wondered whether he was to find a grave there like that other great
African traveller, the Cornish Richard Lander.[FN#194]
Fernando Po,[FN#195] he tells us, is an island in which man finds it
hard to live and very easy to die. It has two aspects.
About Christmas time it is "in a state deeper than rest":
"A kind of sleepy Venus seemed Dudu."
But from May to November it is the rainy season. The rain comes
down "a sheet of solid water, and often there is lightning
accompanied by deafening peals of thunder." The capital,
Sta. Isabel, nee Clarence, did not prepossess him. Pallid men--
chiefly Spaniards--sat or lolled languidly in their verandahs,
or crawled about the baking-hot streets. Strangers fled the place
like a pestilence. Fortunately the Spanish colony were just
establishing a Sanitarium--Sta. Cecilia--400 metres above sea level;
consequently health was within reach of those who would take the
trouble to seek it; and Burton was not slow to make a sanitarium
of his own even higher up. To the genuine natives or Bubes he was
distinctly attracted. They lived in sheds without walls, and wore
nothing except a hat, which prevented the tree snakes from falling
on them. The impudence of the negroes, however, who would persist
in treating the white man not even as an equal, but as an inferior,
he found to be intolerable. Shortly after his arrival "a nigger
dandy" swaggered into the consulate, slapped him on the back in a
familiar manner, and said with a loud guffaw, "Shake hands, consul.
How d'ye do?" Burton looked steadily at the man for a few moments,
and then calling to his canoe-men said, "Hi, Kroo-boys, just throw
this nigger out of window, will you?" The boys, delighted with the
task, seized the black gentleman by his head and feet, and out of
the window he flew. As the scene was enacted on the ground floor
the fall was no great one, but it was remarked that henceforward the
niggers of Fernando Po were less condescending to the Consul.
When night fell and the fire-flies began to glitter in the orange
trees, Burton used to place on the table before him a bottle of
brandy, a box of cigars, and a bowl containing water and a
handkerchief and then write till he was weary;[FN#196] rising now
and again to wet his forehead with the handkerchief or to gaze
outside at the palm plumes, transmuted by the sheen of the moon into
lucent silver--upon a scene that would have baffled the pen even of
an Isaiah or a Virgil.
The captains of ships calling at Sta. Isabel were, it seems, in the
habit of discharging their cargoes swiftly and steaming off again
without losing a moment. As this caused both inconvenience and loss
to the merchants from its allowing insufficient time to read and
answer correspondence, they applied to Burton for remedy. After the
next ship had discharged, its captain walked into the Consulate and
exclaimed off-handedly, "Now, Consul, quick with my papers; I want
to be off." Burton looked up and replied unconcernedly: "I haven't
finished my letters." "Oh d----- your letters," cried the captain,
"I can't wait for them." "Stop a bit," cried Burton, "let's refer
to your contract," and he unfolded the paper. "According to this,
you have to stay here eighteen hours' daylight, in order to give the
merchants an opportunity of attending to their correspondence."
"Yes," followed the captain," but that rule has never been
enforced." "Are you going to stay?" enquired Burton. "No," replied
the captain, with an oath. "Very good," followed Burton. "Now I am
going straight to the governor's and I shall fire two guns. If you
go one minute before the prescribed time expires I shall send the
first shot right across your bows, and the second slap into you.
Good-day."[FN#197] The captain did not venture to test the threat;
and the merchants had henceforth no further trouble under his head.
45. Fans and Gorillas.
During his Consulship, Burton visited a number of interesting spots
on the adjoining African coasts, including Abeokuta[FN#198] and
Benin, but no place attracted him more than the Cameroon country;
and his work Two Trips to Gorilla Land[FN#199] is one of the
brightest and raciest of all his books. The Fan cannibals seem to
have specially fascinated him. "The Fan," he says "like all inner
African tribes, with whom fighting is our fox-hunting, live in a
chronic state of ten days' war. Battles are not bloody; after two
or three warriors have fallen their corpses are dragged away to be
devoured, their friends save themselves by flight, and the weaker
side secures peace by paying sheep and goats." Burton, who was
present at a solemn dance led by the king's eldest daughter,
Gondebiza, noticed that the men were tall and upright, the women
short and stout. On being addressed "Mbolane," he politely replied
"An," which in cannibal-land is considered good form. He could not,
however, bring himself to admire Gondebiza, though the Monsieur
Worth of Fanland had done his utmost for her. Still, she must have
looked really engaging in a thin pattern of tattoo, a gauze work of
oil and camwood, a dwarf pigeon tail of fan palm for an apron,
and copper bracelets and anklets. The much talked of gorilla Burton
found to be a less formidable creature than previous travellers had
reported. "The gorilla," he, says, in his matter-of-fact way, "is a
poor devil ape, not a hellish dream creature, half man, half beast."
Burton not only did not die at Fernando Po, he was not even ill.
Whenever langour and fever threatened he promptly winged his way to
his eyrie on the Pico de Sta. Isabel, where he made himself
comfortable and listened with complaisance to Lord Russell and
friends three thousand miles away fuming and gnashing their teeth.
46. The Anthropological Society, 6th Jan. 1863.
After an absence of a year and a half, Burton, as the result of his
wife's solicitation at the Foreign Office, obtained four months'
leave. He reached England in December 1862 and spent Christmas with
her at Wardour Castle, the seat of her kinsman, Lord Arundell.
His mind ran continually on the Gold Coast and its treasures.
"If you will make me Governor of the Gold Coast," he wrote to Lord
Russell, "I will send home a million a year," but in reply, Russell,
with eyes unbewitched[FN#200] observed caustically that gold was
getting too common. Burton's comment was an explosion that
terrorised everyone near him. He then amused himself by compiling
a pamphlet on West African proverbs, one of which, picked up in the
Yorubas country, ran, oddly enough: "Anger draweth arrows from the
quiver: good words draw kolas from the bag."
The principal event of this holiday was the foundation, with the
assistance of Dr. James Hunt, of the Anthropological Society of
London (6th January 1863). The number who met was eleven.
Says Burton, "Each had his own doubts and hopes and fears touching
the vitality of the new-born. Still, we knew that our case was
good. ... We all felt the weight of a great want. As a traveller
and a writer of travels I have found it impossible to publish those
questions of social economy and those physiological observations,
always interesting to our common humanity, and at times so
valuable." The Memoirs of the Anthropological Society,[FN#201]
met this difficulty. Burton was the first president, and in two
years the Society, which met at No. 4, St. Martin's Place, had 500
members. "These rooms," Burton afterwards commented, "now offer a
refuge to destitute truth. There any man, monogenist, polygenist,
eugenestic or dysgenestic, may state the truth as far as is in him."
The history of the Society may be summed up in a few words. In 1871
it united with the Enthnological Society and formed the
Anthropological Institute of Great Britain. In 1873 certain members
of the old society, including Burton, founded the London
Anthropological Society, and issued a periodical called
Anthropologia, of which Burton wrote in 1885, "My motive was to
supply travellers with an organ which would rescue their
observations from the outer darkness of manuscript and print their
curious information on social and sexual matters out of place in the
popular book intended for the Nipptisch, and indeed better kept from
public view. But hardly had we begun when 'Respectability,'
that whited sepulchre full of all uncleanness, rose up against us.
'Propriety' cried us down with her brazen, blatant voice, and the
weak-kneed brethren fell away.[FN#202] Yet the organ was much
wanted and is wanted still."[FN#203] Soon after the founding of the
Society Burton, accompanied by his wife, took a trip to Madeira and
then proceeded to Teneriffe, where they parted, he going on to
Fernando Po and she returning to England; but during the next few
years she made several journeys to Teneriffe, where, by arrangement,
they periodically met.
29th November 1863 to 15th September 1865
23. A Mission to the King of Dahome. 2 vols., 1864.
24. Notes on Marcy's Prairie Traveller. Anthropological Review,
47. Whydah and its Deity. 29th November 1863.
In November 1863 the welcome intelligence reached Burton that the
British Government had appointed him commissioner and bearer of a
message to Gelele, King of Dahomey. He was to take presents from
Queen Victoria and to endeavour to induce Gelele to discontinue both
human sacrifices and the sale of slaves. Mrs. Burton sadly wanted
to accompany him. She thought that with a magic lantern and some
slides representing New Testament scenes she could convert Gelele
and his court from Fetishism to Catholicism.[FN#204] But Burton,
who was quite sure that he could get on better alone, objected that
her lantern would probably be regarded as a work of magic, and that
consequently both he and she would run the risk of being put to
death for witchcraft. So, very reluctantly, she abandoned the idea.
Burton left Fernando Po in the "Antelope" on 29th November 1863,
and, on account of the importance attached by savages to pageantry,
entered Whydah, the port of Dahomey, in some state. While waiting
for the royal permit to start up country he amused himself by
looking round the town. Its lions were the Great Market and the Boa
Temple. The latter was a small mud hut, with a thatched roof;
and of the 'boas,' which tuned out to be pythons, he counted seven,
each about five feet long. The most popular deity of Whydah,
however, was the Priapic Legba, a horrid mass of red clay moulded
into an imitation man with the abnormalities of the Roman deity.
"The figure," he tells us, "is squat, crouched, as it were, before
its own attributes, with arms longer than a gorilla's. The head is
of mud or wood rising conically to an almost pointed poll; a dab of
clay represents the nose; the mouth is a gash from ear to ear.
This deity almost fills a temple of dwarf thatch, open at the sides.
...Legba is of either sex, but rarely feminine.... In this point
Legba differs from the classical Pan and Priapus, but the idea
involved is the same. The Dahoman, like almost all semi-barbarians,
considers a numerous family the highest blessing." The peculiar
worship of Legba consisted of propitiating his or her
characteristics by unctions of palm oil, and near every native door
stood a clay Legba-pot of cooked maize and palm oil, which got eaten
by the turkey-buzzard or vulture. This loathsome fowl, perched upon
the topmost stick of a blasted calabash tree, struck Burton as the
most appropriate emblem of rotten and hopeless Dahomey.
48. The Amazons.
Gelele's permit having arrived, the mission lost no time in
proceeding northward. Burton was accompanied by Dr. Cruikshank
of the "Antelope," a coloured Wesleyan minister of Whydah, named
Bernisco, and a hundred servants. At every halting place the
natives capered before them and tabored a welcome, while at Kama,
where Gelele was staying, they not only played, but burst out with
an extemporaneous couplet in Burton's honour:
"Batunu[FN#205]he hath seen the world with its kings and caboceers,
He now cometh to Dahomey, and he shall see everything here."
Burton presently caught sight of Gelele's body-guard of 1,000 women--the
famous Amazons, who were armed with muskets, and habited in
tunics and white calottes. With great protruding lips, and no chin
to speak of, they were surely the ugliest women in the world.
Of their strength, however, there was no question, and Burton says
that all the women of Dahomey are physically superior to the men,
which accounts for the employment of so many of them as soldiers.
The Amazons were bound to celibacy, and they adhered to it so
scrupulously that when Burton arrived, there were only 150 under
confinement for breaking their vow. Gelele who was 45 years of age,
and six feet high, sat under the shade of a shed-gate, smoking a
pipe, with a throng of his wives squatted in a semi-circle round
him. All were ugly to a wonder, but they atoned for their
deplorable looks by their extreme devotion to, or rather adulation
of their master. When perspiration appeared upon the royal brow,
one of them at once removed it with the softest cloth, if his dress
was disarranged it was instantly adjusted, when he drank every lip
uttered an exclamation of blessing. Gelele, drowsy with incense,
received Burton kindly, and treated him during the whole of his stay
with hospitality. He also made some display of pageantry, though it
was but a tawdry show. At the capital, Abomey, "Batunu" was housed
with a salacious old "Afa-diviner"[FN#206] called Buko-no, who was
perpetually begging for aphrodisiacs.
49. "The Customs."
Upon Gelele's arrival at Abomey the presents from the Queen were
delivered; and on December 28th what was called "The Customs" began,
that is the slaughtering of criminals and persons captured in war.
Burton begged off some of the victims, and he declared that he would
turn back at once if any person was killed before his eyes.
He tells us, however, that in the case of the King of Dahomey,
human sacrifice is not attributable to cruelty. "It is a touching
instance of the King's filial piety, deplorably mistaken,
but perfectly sincere." The world to come is called by the Dahomans
"Deadland." It receives the 'nidon' or soul; but in "Deadland"
there are no rewards or punishments. Kings here are kings there,
the slave is a slave for ever and ever; and people occupy themselves
just the same as on earth. As the Dahoman sovereign is obliged to
enter Deadland, his pious successor takes care that the deceased
shall make this entrance in royal state, "accompanied by a ghostly
court of leopard wives, head wives, birthday wives, Afa wives,
eunuchs, singers, drummers, bards and soldiers." Consequently when
a king dies some 500 persons are put to death, their cries being
drowned by the clangour of drums and cymbals. This is called the
"Grand Customs." Every year, moreover, decorum exacts that the
firstfruits of war and all criminals should be sent as recruits to
swell the king's retinue. Hence the ordinary "Annual Customs,"
at which some 80 perish. Burton thus describes the horrors of the
approach to the "palace"--that is to say, a great thatched shed--
on the fifth day of the "Customs." "Four corpses, attired in their
criminal's shirts and night-caps, were sitting in pairs upon Gold
Coast stools, supported by a double-storied scaffold, about forty
feet high, of rough beams, two perpendiculars and as many connecting
horizontals. At a little distance on a similar erection, but made
for half the number, were two victims, one above the other.
Between these substantial structures was a gallows of thin posts,
some thirty feet tall, with a single victim hanging by the heels
head downwards." Hard by were two others dangling side by side.
The corpses were nude and the vultures were preying upon them, and
squabbling over their hideous repast. All this was grisly enough,
but there was no preventing it. Then came the Court revels.
The king danced in public, and at his request, Burton and
Dr. Cruikshank also favoured the company. Bernisco, when called
upon, produced a concertina and played "O, let us be joyful, when
we meet to part no more." The idea, however, of getting to any
place where he would never be separated from Gelele, his brutish
court, his corpses and his vultures severely tried Burton's gravity.
Gelele, who was preparing for an unprovoked attack upon Abeokuta,
the capital of the neighbouring state of Lagos, now made some
grandiose and rhapsodical war speeches and spoke vauntingly of the
deeds that he and his warriors meant to perform, while every now and
then the younger bloods, eager to flesh their spears, burst out
"When we go to war we must slay men,
And so must Abeokuta be destroyed."
The leave-taking between Gelele and "Batunu" was affecting. Burton
presented his host with a few not very valuable presents, and Gelele
in return pressed upon his guest a cheap counterpane and a slave boy
who promptly absconded.
Whydah was reached again on 18th February 1864, and within a week
came news that Gelele, puffed up with confidence and vainglory,
had set out for Abeokuta, and was harrying that district. He and
his Amazons, however, being thoroughly defeated before the walls of
the town, had to return home in what to any other power would have
been utter disgrace. They manage things differently, however,
in Dahomey, for Gelele during his retreat purchased a number of
slaves, and re-entered his capital a triumphing conqueror. Burton
considered Gelele, despite his butcherings and vapourings, as,
on the whole, quite a phoenix for an African. Indeed, some months
after his mission, in conversations with Froude, the historian,
he became even warm when speaking of the lenity, benevolence and
enlightenment of this excellent king. Froude naturally enquired
why, if the king was so benevolent, he did not alter the murderous
"Customs." Burton looked up with astonishment. "Alter the
Customs!" he said, "Would you have the Archbishop of Canterbury
alter the Liturgy!"
To a friend who observed that the customs of Dahomey were very
shocking, Burton replied: "Not more so than those of England."
"But you admit yourself that eighty persons are sacrificed every
"True, and the number of deaths in England caused by the crinoline
alone numbers 72."[FN#207]
50. Death of Speke, 15th September 1864.
In August 1864 Burton again obtained a few months' leave, and before
the end of the month he arrived at Liverpool. It will be remembered
that after the Burton and Speke Expedition of 1860 Speke was to go
out to Africa again in company with Captain J. Grant.
The expedition not only explored the western and northern shores of
the Victoria Nyanza, but followed for some distance the river
proceeding northwards from it, which they held, and as we now know,
correctly, to be the main stream of the Nile. Burton, however,
was still of the opinion that the honour of being the head waters of
that river belonged to Tanganyika and its affluents. The subject
excited considerable public interest and it was arranged that at the
approaching Bath meeting of the British Association, Speke and
Burton should hold a public disputation upon the great question.
Speke's attitude towards Burton in respect to their various
discoveries had all along been incapable of defence, while Burton
throughout had exhibited noble magnanimity. For example, he had
written on 27th June 1863 from the Bonny River to Staff-Commander
C. George, "Please let me hear all details about Captain Speke's
discovery. He has performed a magnificent feat and now rises at
once to the first rank amongst the explorers of the day."[FN#208]
Though estranged, the two travellers still occasionally
communicated, addressing each other, however, not as "Dear Dick"
and "Dear Jack" as aforetime--using, indeed, not "Dear" at all,
but the icy "Sir." Seeing that on public occasions Speke still
continued to talk vaingloriously and to do all in his power to
belittle the work of his old chief, Burton was naturally incensed,
and the disputation promised to be a stormy one. The great day
arrived, and no melodramatic author could have contrived a more
startling, a more shocking denouement. Burton, notes in hand,
stood on the platform, facing the great audience, his brain heavy
with arguments and bursting with sesquipedalian and sledge-hammer
words to pulverize his exasperating opponent. Mrs. Burton, who had
dressed with unusual care, occupied a seat on the platform.
"From the time I went in to the time I came out," says one who was
present, "I could do nothing but admire her. I was dazed by her
beauty." The Council and other speakers filed in. The audience
waited expectant. To Burton's surprise Speke was not there.
Silence having been obtained, the President advanced and made the
thrilling announcement that Speke was dead. He had accidentally
shot himself that very morning when out rabbiting.
Burton sank into a chair, and the workings of his face revealed the
terrible emotion he was controlling and the shock he had received.
When he got home he wept like a child. At this point the grotesque
trenches on the tragic. On recovering his calmness, Burton
expressed his opinion, and afterwards circulated it, that Speke had
committed suicide in order to avoid "the exposure of his
misstatements in regard to the Nile sources." In other words,
that Speke had destroyed himself lest arguments, subsequently proved
to be fundamentally correct, should be refuted. But it was
eminently characteristic of Burton to make statements which rested
upon insufficient evidence, and we shall notice it over and over
again in his career. That was one of the glorious man's most
noticeable failings. It would here, perhaps, be well to make a
brief reference to the expeditions that settled once and for ever
the questions about Tanganyika and the Nile. In March 1870,
Henry M. Stanley set out from Bagamoro in search of Livingstone,
whom he found at Ujiji. They spent the early months of 1872
together exploring the north end of Tanganyika, and proved
conclusively that the lake had no connection with the Nile basin.
In March 1873, Lieutenant Verney Lovett Cameron, who was appointed
to the command of an expedition to relieve Livingstone, arrived at
Unyanyembe, where he met Livingstone's followers bearing their
master's remains to the coast. Cameron then proceeded to Ujiji,
explored Tanganyika and satisfied himself that this lake was
connected with the Congo system. He then continued his way across
the continent and came out at Banguelo, after a journey which had
occupied two years and eight months, Stanley, who, in 1874, made his
famous journey from Bagamoro via Victoria Nyanza to Tanganyika and
then followed the Congo from Nyangwe, on the Lualaba, to the sea,
verified Cameron's conjecture.
At the end of the year 1864 the Burtons made the acquaintance of the
African traveller Winwood Reade; and we next hear of a visit to
Ireland, which included a day at Tuam, where "the name of Burton was
big," on account of the Rector and the Bishop,[FN#209] Burton's
grandfather and uncle.
September 1865-October 1869
Santos: Burton's Second Consulate
25. Speech before the Anthropological Society. 4th April 1865.
26. Wit and Wisdom from West Africa. 1865.
27. Pictorial Pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina.
28. Psychic Facts, by Francis Baker (Burton). 1865.
29. Notes ... connected with the Dahoman. 1865.
30. On an Hermaphrodite. 1866.
31. Exploration of the Highland of the Brazil. 2 vols. 1869.
51. To Santos.
Owing mainly to Mrs. Burton's solicitation, Burton was now
transferred from Fernando Po to Santos, in Brazil, so it was no
longer necessary for him and his wife to live apart. He wrote
altogether upon his West African adventures, the enormous number of
9 volumes! namely: Wanderings in West Africa (2 vols.), Abeokuta and
the Cameroons (2 vols.), A Mission to the King of Dahome (2 vols.),
Wit and Wisdom from West Africa (1 vol.), Two Trips to Gorilla Land
and the Cataracts of the Congo (2 vols.). Remorselessly condensed,
these nine might, with artistry, have made a book worthy to live.
But Burton's prolixity is his reader's despair. He was devoid of
the faintest idea of proportion. Consequently at the present day
his books are regarded as mere quarries. He dedicated his Abeokuta
"To my best friend," my wife, with a Latin verse which has been
"Oh, I could live with thee in the wild wood
Where human foot hath never worn a way;
With thee, my city, and my solitude,
Light of my night, sweet rest from cares by day."
In her own copy Mrs. Burton wrote close to the lines, "Thank you,
Burton and his wife now set out for Lisbon, where they saw a bull-
fight, because Burton said people "ought to see everything once,"
though this did not prevent them from going to several other bull-
fights. Mrs. Burton was not at all afraid of the bulls, but when
some cockroaches invaded her apartment she got on a chair and
screamed, though even then they did not go away. More than that,
numbers of other cockroaches came to see what was the matter;
and they never left off coming. After "a delightful two months"
at Lisbon, Burton set out for Brazil, while his wife returned to
England "to pay and pack." She rejoined him some weeks later at Rio
Janeiro, and they reached Santos on 9th October 1865. They found it
a plashy, swampy place, prolific in mangroves and true ferns,
with here and there a cultivated patch. Settlers, however, became
attached to it. Sandflies and mosquitoes abounded, and the former
used to make Burton "come out all over lumps." Of the other vermin,
including multitudinous snakes, and hairy spiders the size of toy
terriers they took no particular notice. The amenities of the place
were wonderful orchids, brilliantly coloured parrots and gigantic
butterflies with great prismy wings. The Burtons kept a number of
slaves, whom, however, they paid "as if they were free men,"
and Mrs. Burton erected a chapel for them--her oratory--where the
Bishop "gave her leave to have mass and the sacraments." Her chief
convert, and he wanted converting very badly, was an inhuman,
pusillanimous coal-black dwarf, 35 years of age, called
Chico,[FN#211] who became her right-hand man. Just as she had made
him to all appearance a good sound Catholic she caught him roasting
alive her favourite cat before the kitchen fire. This was the
result partly of innate diablery and partly of her having spoilt
him, but wherever she went Mrs. Burton managed to get a servant
companion whom her lack of judgment made an intolerable burden
to her. Chico was only the first of a series. Mrs. Burton also
looked well after the temporal needs of the neighbourhood, but if
she was always the Lady Bountiful, she was rarely the Lady
52. Aubertin. Death of Steinhauser, 27th July 1866.
The Burtons resided sometimes at Santos and sometimes at Sao Paulo,
eight miles inland. These towns were just then being connected by
railway; and one of the superintendents, Mr. John James Aubertin,
who resided at Sao Paulo, became Burton's principal friend there.
Aubertin was generally known as the "Father of Cotton," because
during the days of the cotton famine, he had laboured indefatigably
and with success to promote the cultivation of the shrub in those
parts. Like Burton, Aubertin loved Camoens, and the two friends
delighted to walk together in the butterfly-haunted forests and talk
about the "beloved master," while each communicated to the other his
intention of translating The Lusiads into English. Thirteen years,
however, were to elapse before the appearance of Aubertin's
translation[FN#212] and Burton's did not see print till 1880.
In 1866 Burton received a staggering blow in the loss of his old
friend Dr. Steinhauser, who died suddenly of heart disease, during a
holiday in Switzerland, 27th July 1866. It was Steinhauser, it will
be remembered, with whom he had planned the translation of
The Arabian Nights, a subject upon which they frequently
53. The Facetious Cannibals.
Wherever Burton was stationed he invariably interested himself in
the local archaeological and historical associations. Thus at
Santos he explored the enormous kitchen middens of the aboriginal
Indians; but the chief attraction was the site of a Portuguese
fort, marked by a stone heap, where a gunner, one Hans Stade,
was carried off by the cannibals and all but eaten. Burton used to
visit the place by boat, and the narrative written by Hans Stade so
fascinated him that he induced a Santos friend, Albert Tootal,
to translate it into English. The translation was finished in 1869,
and five years later Burton wrote for it an introduction and some
valuable notes and sent it to press. Though Burton scarcely shines
as an original writer, he had a keen eye for what was good in
others, and he here showed for the first time that remarkable gift
for annotating which stood him in such stead when he came to handle
The Arabian Nights.
Hans Stade's story is so amusing that if we did not know it to be
fact we should imagine it the work of some Portuguese W. S. Gilbert.
Never were more grisly scenes or more captivating and facetious
cannibals. When they told Stade that he was to be eaten,
they added, in order to cheer him, that he was to be washed down
with a really pleasant drink called kawi. The king's son then tied
Stade's legs together in three places. "I was made," says the
wretched man, "to hop with jointed feet through the huts; at this
they laughed and said 'Here comes our meat hopping along,'"
Death seemed imminent. They did Stade, however, no injury beside
shaving off his eyebrows, though the younger savages, when hungry,
often looked wistfully at him and rubbed their midriffs. The other
prisoners were, one by one, killed and eaten, but the cannibals took
their meals in a way that showed indifferent breeding. Even the
king had no table manners whatever, but walked about gnawing a meaty
bone. He was good-natured, however, and offered a bit to Stade,
who not only declined, but uttered some words of reproof. Though
surprised, the king was not angry; he took another bite and observed
critically, with his mouth full, "It tastes good!"
Life proceeds slowly, whether at Santos or Sao Paulo, almost the
only excitement being the appearance of companies of friendly
Indians. They used to walk in single file, and on passing Burton's
house would throw out their arms as if the whole file were pulled by
a string. Burton did not confine himself to Santos, however.
He wandered all over maritime Brazil, and at Rio he lectured before
the king[FN#214] and was several times invited to be present at
banquets and other splendid gatherings. On the occasion of one of
these notable functions, which was to be followed by a dinner,
one room of the palace was set apart for the ministers to wait in
and another for the consuls. The Burtons were told not to go into
the consular room, but into the ministers' room. When, however,
they got to the door the officials refused to let them pass.
"This is the ministers' room," they said, "You cannot come here."
"Well, where am I to go?" enquired Burton.
Mrs. Burton stood fuming with indignation at the sight of the stream
of nonentities who passed in without question, but Burton cried,
"Wait a moment, my darling. I've come to see the Emperor, and see
the Emperor I will."
So he sent in his card and a message.
"What!" cried the Emperor, "a man like Burton excluded. Bring him
to me at once." So Burton and his wife were conducted to the
Emperor and Empress, to whom Burton talked so interestingly,
that they forgot all about the dinner. Meanwhile flunkeys kept
moving in and out, anxiety on their faces--the princes, ambassadors
and other folk were waiting, dinner was waiting; and the high
functionaries and dinner were kept waiting for half an hour. "Well,
I've had my revenge," said Burton to his wife when the interview was
over. "Only think of those starving brutes downstairs; but I'm
sorry on your account I behaved as I did, for it will go against all
your future 'at homes.'" At dinner the Emperor and the Empress were
most attentive to the Burtons and the Empress gave Mrs. Burton a
beautiful diamond bracelet.[FN#215]
Among Burton's admirers was a Rio gentleman named Cox, who had a
mansion near the city. One day Mr. Cox arranged a grand dinner
party and invited all his friends to meet the famous traveller.
Burton arrived early, but presently disappeared. By and by the
other guests streamed in, and after amusing themselves for a little
while about the grounds they began to enquire for Burton. But no
Burton was to be seen. At last someone happened to look up the
highest tree in the compound and there was the guest of the day high
among the branches squatting like a monkey. He had got up there,
he said, to have a little peace, and to keep on with the book he was
writing about Brazil. He came down, however, when the lunch bell
rang, for though he grumbled at all other noises, he maintained
that, somehow that sound always had a peculiar sweetness.
Wit and humour, wherever found, never failed to please Burton, and a
remark which he heard in a Brazilian police court and uttered by the
presiding magistrate, who, was one of his friends, particularly
"Who is this man?" demanded the magistrate, in reference to a
"Un Inglez bebado" (a drunken Englishman), replied the constable.
"A drunken Englishman," followed the magistrate, "What a pleonasm!"
A little later Burton and his wife went down a mine which ran three
quarters of a mile into the earth. "The negret Chico," says Burton,
"gave one glance at the deep, dark pit, wrung his hands and fled the
Tophet, crying that nothing in the wide, wide world would make him
enter such an Inferno. He had lately been taught that he is a
responsible being, with an 'immortal soul,' and he was beginning to
believe it in a rough, theoretical way: this certainly did not look
like a place 'where the good niggers go.'" However, if Chico turned
coward Burton and his wife did not hesitate. But they had moments
of fearful suspense as they sank slowly down into the black abysm.
The snap of a single link in the long chain would have meant
instantaneous death; and a link had snapped but a few days previous,
with fatal results. Arrived at the bottom they found themselves in
a vast cave lighted with a few lamps--the walls black as night or
reflecting slender rays from the polished watery surface.
Distinctly Dantesque was the gulf between the huge mountain sides
which threatened every moment to fall. One heard the click and thud
of hammers, the wild chants of the borers, the slush of water.
Being like gnomes and kobolds glided hither and thither--half naked
figures muffled up by the mist. Here dark bodies, gleaming with
beaded heat drops, hung in what seemed frightful positions;
"they swung like Leotard from place to place." Others swarmed up
loose ropes like Troglodytes. It was a situation in which "thoughts
were many and where words were few."
Burton and his wife were not sorry when they found themselves above
ground again and in the sweet light of day.
54. Down the Sao Francisco.
The next event was a canoe journey which Burton made alone down the
river Sao Francisco from its source to the falls of Paulo Affonso--
and then on to the sea, a distance of 1500 miles--an astounding feat
even for him. During these adventures a stanza in his own
unpublished version of Camoens constantly cheered him:
"Amid such scenes with danger fraught and pain
Serving the fiery spirit more to flame,
Who woos bright honour, he shall ever win
A true nobility, a deathless fame:
Not they who love to lean, unjustly vain,
Upon the ancestral trunk's departed claim;
Nor they reclining on the gilded beds
Where Moscow's zebeline downy softness spreads."[FN#216]
Indeed he still continued, at all times of doubt and despondency, to
turn to this beloved poet; and always found something to encourage.
55. In Paraguay. August 15th to September 15th 1868. April 4th to
April 18th 1869.
The year before his arrival in Santos a terrible war had broken out
between Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina on the one side and Paraguay
on the other; the Paraguayan dictator Lopez II. had been defeated in
many battles and Paraguay so long, thanks to the Jesuits and
Dr. Francia, a thriving country, was gradually being reduced
to ruin. Tired of Santos, which was out of the world and led to
nothing, Burton in July 1868 sent in his resignation. Mrs. Burton
at once proceeded to England, but before following her, Burton at
the request of the Foreign Office, travelled through various parts
of South America in order to report the state of the war.
He visited Paraguay twice, and after the second journey made his way
across the continent to Arica in Peru, whence he took ship to London
via the Straits of Magellan.[FN#217] During part of the voyage he
had as fellow traveller Arthur Orton, the Tichborne claimant.
As both had spent their early boyhood at Elstree they could had they
so wished have compared notes, but we may be sure Mr. Orton
preserved on that subject a discreet silence. The war terminated in
March 1870, after the death of Lopez II. at the battle of Aquidaban.
Four-fifths of the population of Paraguay had perished by sword
October 1869-16th August 1871
"Emperor and Empress of Damascus."
32. Vikram and the Vampire.
33. Letters from the Battlefields of Paraguay. 1870.
34. Proverba Communia Syriaca. 1871.
35. The Jew. Written 1871, published 1898.
56. Archbishop Manning and the Odd Fish.
Mrs. Burton had carried with her to England several books written
by her husband in Brazil, and upon her arrival she occupied herself
first in arranging for their publication, and secondly in trying to
form a company to work some Brazilian mines for which Burton had
obtained a concession. The books were The Highlands of Brazil
(2 vols. 1869), The Lands of the Cazembe (1873) and Iracema,
or Honey Lips, a translation from the Brazilian (1886).
We hear no more of the mines, but she was able to send her husband
"the excellent news of his appointment to the Consulate of
Damascus." He heard of it first, however, not from her letter,
but casually in a cafe at Lima, just as he was preparing to return
home. On arriving in England almost his first business was to
patent a pistol which he had invented especially for the use of
travellers, and then he and Mrs. Burton gave themselves the pleasure
of calling on old friends and going into society. To this date
should, perhaps, be assigned the story[FN#218] of Archbishop,
afterwards Cardinal Manning, and the Odd Fish. Burton had just
presented to the Zoological Gardens a curious fish which lived out
of water, and took but little nourishment. He had often presented
different creatures to the Zoo, though nobody had ever thanked him,
but this gift created some commotion, and "Captain Burton's Odd
Fish" became the talk of London.
In the midst of its popularity Burton one day found himself seated
at a grand dinner next to his good friend the long, lean and
abstemious Archbishop Manning. But much as Burton liked Manning,
he could never bear to be near him at meal times. Manning always
would eat little and talk much; so Burton, who was a magnificent
trencherman, suffered serious inconvenience, and the present
occasion proved no exception. It was in vain that Burton urged the
Archbishop to mortify himself by eating his dinner. After a while
Mrs. Burton, who sat on the other side of the Archbishop, remarked
"Richard must take you to the Zoo and show you his famous fish."
"I'll certainly go," said Manning, turning to Burton, "I am really
curious to see it." "Then my Lord," followed Burton, "there will be
a pair of odd fish. You know, you neither eat nor drink, and that's
the peculiarity of the other fish."
As usual when in England, Burton spoke at several public meetings,
and Mrs. Burton, of whose appearance he continued to be justifiably
proud, generally accompanied him on the platform. Before speaking
he always ate sparingly, saying "No" to almost everything. On one
of such evenings he was the guest of Dr. Burton, and by chance,
hot curry, his favourite dish, was placed on the table. "Now this
is real wickedness, cousin," he exclaimed, "to have hot curry when
I can't eat it." When dinner was nearly over somebody came in with
a basket of damask roses. "Ask for two of them," whispered Burton
to his wife. She did, and appeared with them in her bosom on the
platform, "And oh," added my informer, "how handsome she looked!"
Having visited Uriconium, the English Pompeii, the Burtons made for
Vichy, where they met Mr. Swinburne, (Sir) Frederick Leighton and
Mrs. Sartoris. His companions on this journey, as on so many
others, were two books--one being the anodynous Camoens, the other
a volume consisting of the Bible, Shakespeare and Euclid bound
together, which looked, with its three large clasps, like a
congested Church Service. Mrs. Burton then returned to England
"to pay and pack," while Burton, "being ignorant" as they say in
the Nights, "of what lurked for him in the secret purpose of God,"
proceeded to Damascus, with two bull-terriers, descendants,
no doubt, of the Oxford beauty.
57. 3rd Consulate, Damascus.
Mrs. Burton followed in December, with her entire fortune--a modest
£300 in gold, and life promised to be all labdanum. Disliking the
houses in Damascus itself, the Burtons took one in the suburb
El Salahiyyah; and here for two years they lived among white domes
and tapering minarets, palms and apricot trees. Midmost the court,
with its orange and lemon trees, fell all day the cool waters of a
fountain. The principal apartments were the reception room,
furnished with rich Eastern webs, and a large dining room, while a
terrace forming part of the upper storey served as "a pleasant
housetop in the cool evenings." The garden, with its roses,
jessamine, vines, citron, orange and lemon trees, extended to that
ancient river, the jewel-blue Chyrsorrhoa. There was excellent
stabling, and Mrs. Burton kept horses, donkeys, a camel, turkeys,
bull-terriers, street dogs, ducks, leopards, lambs, pigeons, goats,
and, to use Burton's favourite expression, "other notions." They
required much patient training, but the result was satisfactory,
for when most of them had eaten one another they became a really
If Mrs. Burton went abroad to the bazaar or elsewhere she was
accompanied by four Kawwasses in full dress of scarlet and gold,
and on her reception day these gorgeous attendants kept guard.
Her visitors sat on the divans cross-legged or not according to
their nation, smoked, drank sherbet and coffee, and ate sweetmeats.
For Ra'shid Pasha, the Wali or Governor-General of Syria, both
Burton and his wife conceived from the first a pronounced antipathy.
He was fat and indolent, with pin-point eyes, wore furs, walked on
his toes, purred and looked like "a well-fed cat." It did not,
however, occur to them just then that he was to be their evil
"Call him Ra'shid, with the accent on the first syllable," Burton
was always careful to say when speaking of this fiendish monster,
"and do not confound him with (Haroun al) Rashi'd, accent on the
second syllable--'the orthodox,' the 'treader in the right
58. Jane Digby el Mezrab.
At an early date Burton formed a friendship with the Algerine hero
and exile Abd el Kadir, a dark, kingly-looking man who always
appeared in snow white and carried superbly-jewelled arms;
while Mrs. Burton, who had a genius for associating herself with
undesirable persons, took to her bosom the notorious and polyandrous
Jane Digby el Mezrab.[FN#220] This lady had been the wife first of
Lord Ellenborough, who divorced her, secondly of Prince
Schwartzenberg, and afterwards of about six other gentlemen.
Finally, having used up Europe, she made her way to Syria, where she
married a "dirty little black"[FN#221] Bedawin shaykh. Mrs. Burton,
with her innocent, impulsive, flamboyant mind, not only grappled
Jane Digby with hoops of steel, but stigmatised all the charges
against her as wilful and malicious. Burton, however, mistrusted
the lady from the first. Says Mrs. Burton of her new friend,
"She was a most beautiful woman, though sixty-one, tall, commanding,
and queen-like. She was grande dame jusqu' au bout des doights,
as much as if she had just left the salons of London and Paris,
refined in manner, nor did she ever utter a word you could wish
unsaid. She spoke nine languages perfectly, and could read and
write in them. She lived half the year in Damascus and half with
her husband in his Bedawin tents, she like any other Bedawin woman,
but honoured and respected as the queen of her tribe, wearing one
blue garment, her beautiful hair in two long plaits down to the
ground, milking the camels, serving her husband, preparing his food,
sitting on the floor and washing his feet, giving him his coffee;
and while he ate she stood and waited on him: and glorying in it.
She looked splendid in Oriental dress. She was my most intimate
friend, and she dictated to me the whole of her biography."[FN#222]
Both ladies were inveterate smokers, and they, Burton, and Abd el
Kadir spent many evenings on the terrace of the house with their
narghilehs. Burton and his wife never forgot these delightsome
causeries. Swiftly, indeed, flew the happy hours when they
"Nighted and dayed in Damascus town."[FN#223]
59. To Tadmor.
Burton had scarcely got settled in Damascus before he expressed his
intention of visiting the historic Tadmor in the desert. It was an
eight days' journey, and the position of the two wells on the way
was kept a secret by Jane Digby's tribe, who levied blackmail on all
visitors to the famous ruins. The charge was the monstrous one of
£250; but Burton--at all times a sworn foe to cupidity--resolved to
go without paying. Says Mrs. Burton, "Jane Digby was in a very
anxious state when she heard this announcement, as she knew it was
a death blow to a great source of revenue to the tribe. .. She did
all she could to dissuade us, she wept over our loss, and she told
us that we should never come back." Finally the subtle lady dried
her crocodile eyes and offered her "dear friends" the escort of one
of her Bedawin, that they might steer clear of the raiders and be
conducted more quickly to water, "if it existed." Burton motioned
to his wife to accept the escort, and Jane left the house with
ill-concealed satisfaction. The Bedawi[FN#224] in due time arrived,
but not before he had been secretly instructed by Jane to lead the
Burtons into ambush whence they could be pounced upon by the tribe
and kept prisoners till ransomed. That, however, was no more than
Burton had anticipated; consequently as soon as the expedition was
well on the road he deprived the Bedawi of his mare and
accoutrements, and retained both as hostages until Damascus should
be reached again. Appropriately enough this occurred on April the
First.[FN#225] Success rewarded his acuteness, for naturally the
wells were found, and the travellers having watered their camels
finished the journey with comfort. Says Mrs. Burton, "I shall never
forget the imposing sight of Tadmor. There is nothing so deceiving
as distance in the desert. ... A distant ruin stands out of the sea
of sand, the atmosphere is so clear that you think you will reach it
in half an hour; you ride all day and you never seem to get any
nearer to it." Arrived at Tadmor they found it to consist of a few
orchards, the imposing ruins, and a number of wretched huts
"plastered like wasps' nests within them." Of the chief ruin,
the Temple of the Sun, one hundred columns were still standing and
Burton, who set his men to make excavations, found some statues,
including one of Zenobia. The party reached Damascus again after an
absence of about a month. The Bedawi's mare was returned; and Jane
Digby had the pleasure of re-union with her dear Mrs. Burton,
whom she kissed effusively.
Both Burton and his wife mingled freely with the people of Damascus,
and Burton, who was constantly storing up knowledge against his
great edition of The Arabian Nights, often frequented the Arabic
library.[FN#226] Their favourite walk was to the top of an adjacent
eminence, whence they could look down on Damascus, which lay in the
light of the setting sun, "like a pearl." Then there were
excursions to distant villages of traditionary interest, including
Jobar, where Elijah is reputed to have hidden, and to have anointed
Hazael.[FN#227] "The Bird," indeed, as ever, was continually on the
wing, nor was Mrs. Burton less active. She visited, for example,
several of the harems in the city, including that of Abd el Kadir.
"He had five wives," she says, "one of them was very pretty.
I asked them how they could bear to live together and pet each
other's children. I told them that in England, if a woman thought
her husband had another wife or mistress, she would be ready to kill
her. They all laughed heartily at me, and seemed to think it a
great joke."[FN#228] She also took part in various social and
religious functions, and was present more than once at a
circumcision--at which, she tells us, the victim, as Westerns must
regard him, was always seated on richest tapestry resembling a bride
throne, while his cries were drowned by the crash of cymbals.
Burton's note-books, indeed, owed no mean debt to her zealous
60. Palmer and Drake. 11th July 1870.
The Burtons spent their summer in a diminutive Christian village
called B'ludan, on the Anti-Lebanon, at the head of the Vale of
Zebedani, Burton having chosen it as his sanitarium. A beautiful
stream with waterfalls bubbled through their gardens, which
commanded magnificent views of the Lebanon country. As at Santos,
Mrs. Burton continued her role of Lady Bountiful, and she spent many
hours making up powders and pills. Although in reality nobody was
one jot the better or the worse for taking them, the rumour
circulated that they were invariably fatal. Consequently her
reputation as a doctor spread far and wide. One evening a peasant
woman who was dying sent a piteous request for aid, and Mrs. Burton,
who hurried to the spot, satisfied the poor soul by the
administration of some useless but harmless dose. Next morning
the woman's son appeared. He thanked Mrs. Burton warmly for her
attentions, said it was his duty to report that his mother was dead,
and begged for a little more of the efficacious white powder,
as he had a bedridden grandmother of whom he was also anxious
to be relieved.
One piping hot morning[FN#229] when walking in his garden Burton
noticed a gipsy tent outside, and on approaching it found two
sun-burnt Englishmen, a powerful, amiable-looking giant, and a
smaller man with a long beard and silky hair. The giant turned out
to be Charles Tyrwhitt Drake and the medium-sized man Edward Henry
Palmer, both of whom were engaged in survey work. Drake, aged 24,
was the draughtsman and naturalist; Palmer,[FN#230] just upon 30,
but already one of the first linguists of the day,
the archaeologist. Palmer, like Burton, had leanings towards
occultism; crystal gazing, philosopher's stone hunting.
After making a mess with chemicals, he would gaze intently at it,
and say excitedly: "I wonder what will happen"--an expression that
was always expected of him on such and all other exciting occasions.
A quadruple friendship ensued, and the Burtons, Drake and Palmer
made several archaeological expeditions together. To Palmer's
poetical eyes all the Lebanon region was enchanted ground. Here the
lovely Shulamite of the lovelier Scripture lyric fed her flocks by
the shepherd's tents. Hither came Solomon, first disguised as a
shepherd, to win her love, and afterwards in his royal litter
perfumed with myrrh and frankincense to take her to his Cedar House.
This, too, was the country of Adonis. In Lebanon the wild boar
slew him, and yonder, flowing towards "holy Byblus," were
"the sacred waters where the women of the ancient mysteries came to
mingle their tears."[FN#231] Of this primitive and picturesque but
wanton worship they were reminded frequently both by relic and place
name. To Palmer, viewing them in the light of the past, the Cedars
of Lebanon were a poem, but to Burton--a curious mixture of the
romantic and the prosaic--with his invariable habit of underrating
famous objects, they were "a wretched collection of scraggy
Christmas trees." "I thought," said Burton, "when I came here that
Syria and Palestine would be so worn out that my occupation as an
explorer was clean gone." He found, however, that such was not the
case--all previous travellers having kept to the beaten tracks;
Jaydur, for example, the classical Ituraea, was represented on the
maps by "a virgin white patch." Burton found it teeming with
interest. There was hardly a mile without a ruin--broken pillars,
inscribed slabs, monoliths, tombs. A little later he travelled as
far northward as Hamah[FN#232] in order to copy the uncouth
characters on the famous stones, and Drake discovered an altar
adorned with figures of Astarte and Baal.[FN#233] Everywhere
throughout Palestine he had to deplore the absence of trees.
"Oh that Brigham Young were here!" he used to say, "to plant
a million. The sky would then no longer be brass, or the face
of the country a quarry." Thanks to his researches, Burton has made
his name historical in the Holy Land, for his book Unexplored
Syria--written though it be in a distressingly slipshod style--throws,
from almost every page, interesting light on the Bible. "Study of
the Holy Land," he said, "has the force of a fifth Gospel, not only
because it completes and harmonises, but also because it makes
intelligible the other four. Oh, when shall we have a reasonable
version of Hebrew Holy Writ which will retain the original names
of words either untranslatable or to be translated only by guess
work!"[FN#234] One of their adventures--with a shaykh named
Salameh--reads like a tale out of The Arabian Nights. Having led
them by devious paths into an uninhabited wild, Salameh announced that,
unless they made it worth his wile to do otherwise, he intended to
leave them there to perish, and it took twenty-five pounds to
satisfy the rogue's cupidity. Palmer, however, was of opinion that
an offence of this kind ought by no means to be passed over, so on
reaching Jerusalem he complained to the Turkish governor and asked
that the man might receive punishment. "I know the man," said the
Pasha, "he is a scoundrel, and you shall see an example of the
strength and equity of the Sultan's rule;" and of course, Palmer,
in his perpetual phrase, wondered what would happen. After their
return to Damascus the three friends had occasion to call on Rashid
Pasha. "Do you think," said the Wali, with his twitching moustache
and curious, sleek, unctuous smile, "do you think you would know
your friend again?" He then clapped his hands and a soldier brought
in a sack containing four human heads, one of which had belonged to
the unfortunate Salameh. "Are you satisfied?" enquired
Having been separated from "that little beast of a Brazilian"--
the cat-torturing Chico--Mrs. Burton felt that she must have another
confidential servant companion. Male dwarfs being so unsatisfactory
she now decided to try a full-sized human being, and of the other
sex. At Miss Ellen Wilson's Protestant Mission in Anti-Lebanon
she saw just her ideal--a lissom, good-looking Syrian maid,
named Khamoor, or "The Moon." Chico the Second (or shall we say
Chica[FN#236] the First.) had black plaits of hair confined by a
coloured handkerchief, large, dark, reflulgent eyes, pouting lips,
white teeth, of which she was very proud, "a temperament which was
all sunshine and lightning in ten minutes," and a habit of
discharging, quite unexpectedly, a "volley of fearful oaths."
She was seventeen--"just the time of life when a girl requires
careful guiding." So Mrs. Burton, or "Ya Sitti," as Khamoor called
her, promptly set about this careful guiding--that is to say she
fussed and petted Khamoor till the girl lost all knowledge of her
place and became an intolerable burden. Under Mrs. Burton's
direction she learnt to wear stays[FN#237] though this took a good
deal of learning; and also to slap men's faces and scream when they
tried to kiss her. By dint of practice she in time managed this
also to perfection. Indeed, she gave up, one by one, all her
heathenish ways, except swearing, and so became a well-conducted
young lady, and almost English. Mrs. Burton was nothing if not a
woman with a mission, and henceforward two cardinal ideas swayed her
namely, first to inveigle the heathen into stays, and secondly,
to induce them to turn Catholics. Her efforts at conversion were
more or less successful, but the other propaganda had, to her real
sorrow, only barren results.
In March 1871, Charles Tyrwhitt Drake, who had spent some months in
England, arrived again in Damascus, and the Burtons begged him to be
their permanent guest. Henceforth Mrs. Burton, Burton and Drake
were inseparable companions, and they explored together "almost
every known part of Syria." Mrs. Burton used to take charge of the
camp "and visited the harems to note things hidden from mankind,"
Drake sketched and collected botanical and geological specimens,
while Burton's studies were mainly anthropological and
archaeological. They first proceeded to Jerusalem, where they spent
Holy Week, and after visiting Hebron, the Dead Sea, and other
historical spots, they returned by way of Nazareth. But here they
met with trouble. Early in his consulate, it seems, Burton had
protested against some arbitrary proceedings on the part of the
Greek Bishop of Nazareth, and thus made enemies among the Greeks.
Unhappily, when the travellers appeared this ill-feeling led a posse
of Nazarenes to make an attack on Burton's servants; and Burton and
Drake, who ran half dressed out of their tents to see what was the
matter, were received with a shower of stones, and cries of "Kill
them!" Burton stood perfectly calm, though the stones hit him right
and left, and Drake also displayed cool bravery. Mrs. Burton then
hastened up with "two six shot revolvers," but Burton, having waved
her back--snatched a pistol from the belt of one of his servants and
fired it into the air, with the object of summoning his armed
companions, whereupon the Greeks, though they numbered at least a
hundred and fifty, promptly took to their heels. Out of this
occurrence, which Burton would have passed over, his enemies, as we
shall see, subsequently made considerable capital. The party then
proceeded to the Sea of Galilee, whence they galloped across "their
own desert" home. During these travels Burton and Drake made some
valuable discoveries and saw many extraordinary peoples, though none
more extraordinary than the lazy and filthy Troglodytes of the
Hauran,[FN#238] who shared the pre-historic caves with their cows
and sheep, and fed on mallows just as their forefathers are
represented as having done in the vivid thirtieth chapter of
Job,[FN#239] and in the pages of Agatharchides.[FN#240]
62. The Shazlis.
Mrs. Burton now heard news that fired her with joy. A sect of the
Mohammedans called Shazlis used to assemble in the house of one of
their number of Moslem prayer, reading and discussion. One day they
became conscious of a mysterious presence among them. They heard
and saw things incommunicably strange, and a sacred rapture diffused
itself among them. Their religion had long ceased to give them
satisfaction, and they looked anxiously round in search of a better.
One night when they were overcome by sleep there appeared to each a
venerable man with a long white beard, who said sweetly, "Let those
who want the truth follow me," and forthwith they resolved to search
the earth until they found the original of the vision. But they had
not to go far. One of them chancing to enter a monastery in
Damascus noticed a Spanish priest named Fray Emanuel Forner.
Hurrying back to his comrades he cried "I have seen the oldster of
the dreams." On being earnestly requested to give direction,
Forner became troubled, and with a view to obtaining advice,
hurried to Burton. Both Burton and his wife listened to the tale
with breathless interest. Mrs. Burton naturally wanted to sweep
the whole sect straightway into the Roman Church, and it is said
that she offered to be sponsor herself to 2,000 of them. In any
circumstances, she distributed large numbers of crucifixes and
rosaries. Burton, who regarded nine-tenths of the doctrines of her
church as a tangle of error, was nevertheless much struck with the
story. He had long been seeking for a perfect religion, and he
wondered whether these people had not found it. Here in this city
of Damascus, where Our Lord had appeared to St. Paul, a similar
apparition had again been seen--this time by a company of earnest
seekers after truth. He determined to investigate. So disguised
as a Shazli, he attended their meetings and listened while Forner
imparted the principal dogmas of the Catholic faith. His common
sense soon told him that the so-called miraculous sights were merely
hallucinations, the outcome of heated and hysterical imagination.
He sympathised with the Shazlis in that like himself they were
seekers after truth, and there, as far as he was concerned,
the matter would have ended had the scenes been in any other
country. But in Syria religious freedom was unknown, and the cruel
Wali Rashid Pasha was only too delighted to have an opportunity to
use his power. He crushed where he could not controvert. Twelve of
the leading Shazlis--the martyrs, as they were called--were seized
and imprisoned. Forner died suddenly; as some think, by poison.
This threw Burton, who hated oppression in all its forms, into a
towering rage, and he straightway flung the whole of his weight into
the cause of the Shazlis. Persecution gave them holiness. He wrote
to Lord Granville that there were at least twenty-five thousand
Christians longing secretly for baptism, and he suggested methods by
which they might be protected. He also recommended the Government
to press upon the Porte many other reforms. Both Burton and his
wife henceforward openly protected the Shazlis, and in fact made
themselves, to use the words of a member of the English Government,
"Emperor and Empress of Damascus."
That Rashid Pasha and his crawling myrmidons were rascals of the
first water and that the Shazlis were infamously treated is very
evident. It is also clear that Burton was more just than
diplomatic. We cannot, however, agree with those who lay all the
blame on Mrs. Burton. We may not sympathise with her religious
views, but, of course, she had the same right to endeavour to extend
her own church as the Protestants at Beyrout, who periodically sent
enthusiastic agents to Damascus, had to extend theirs.
The Shazli trouble alone, however, would not have shaken seriously
Burton's position; and whatever others may have thought, it is
certain Burton himself never at any time in his life considered that
in this matter any particular blame attached to his wife.
But unfortunately the Shazli trouble was only one of a series.
Besides embroiling himself with the truculent Rashid Pasha and his
underlings, Burton contrived to give offence to four other bodies
of men. In June, 1870, Mr. Mentor Mott, the kind and
charitable[FN#241] superintendent of the British Syrian School
at Beyrout, went to Damascus to proselytize, and acted, in Burton's
opinion, with some indiscretion. Deeming Damascus just then to be
not in a temper for proselytising, Burton reprimanded him, and thus
offended the Protestant missionaries and Mr. Jackson Eldridge,
the Consul-General at Beyrout. In Burton's opinion, but for
Mrs. Mott the storm would have gradually subsided. That lady,
however, took the matter more to heart than her husband, and was
henceforth Burton's implacable enemy. Then arose a difficulty with
the Druzes, who had ill-treated some English missionaries. As they
were Turkish subjects the person to act was Rashid Pasha, but Burton
and he being at daggers drawn, Burton attempted to fine the Druzes
himself. He was reminded, however, that his power was limitary,
and that he would not be allowed to exceed it. To the trouble with
the Greeks we have already referred. But his chief enemies were the
Jews, or rather the Jewish money-lenders, who used to go to the
distressed villages, offer money, keep all the papers, and allow
their victims nothing to show. Interest had to be paid over and
over again. Compound interest was added, and when payment was
impossible the defaulters were cast into prison. Burton's
predecessor had been content to let matters alone, but Burton's
blood boiled when he thought of these enormities. Still, when the
money-lenders came to him and stated their case, he made for a time
an honest attempt to double; but ultimately his indignation got the
better of his diplomacy, and with an oath that made the windows
rattle, he roared, "Do you think I am going to be bum-bailiff to a
parcel of blood-suckers!" And yet these gentlemen had sometimes,
in their moderation, charged as little as sixty per cent.
Henceforward Burton looked evil upon the whole Jewish race,
and resolved to write a book embodying his researches respecting
them and his Anti-Semite opinions. For the purpose of it he made
minute enquiries concerning the death of one Padre Tommaso, whom the
Jews were suspected of having murdered in 1840. These enquiries
naturally have his foes further umbrage, and they in return angrily
discharge their venom at him. In his book The Jew, published after
his death,[FN#242] he lashes the whole people. He seems in its
pages to be constantly running up and down with a whip and saying:
"I'll teach you to be 'an Ebrew Jew,' I will." His credulity and
prejudice are beyond belief. He accepts every malicious and
rancorous tale told against the Jews, and records as historical
facts even such problematical stories as the murder of Hugh of
Lincoln. Thus he managed to exasperate representatives of almost
every class. But perhaps it was his championship of the Shazlis
that made the most mischief. Says Lady Burton, "It broke his
career, it shattered his life, it embittered him towards religion."
Complaints and garbled stories reached London from all sides,
and Burton was communicated with. He defended himself manfully,
and showed that in every question he had been on the side of
righteousness and equity, that he had simply fought systematically
against cruelty, oppression and nefariousness. He could not and
would not temporize. An idea of the corruption prevalent at
Damascus may be fathered from the fact that on one occasion £10,000
was promised him if he would "give an opinion which would have
swayed a public transaction." Says Lady Burton, "My husband let the
man finish, and then he said, 'If you were a gentleman of my own
standing, and an Englishman, I would just pitch you out of the
window; but as you are not, you may pick up your £10,000 and walk
down the stairs.'"[FN#243]
63. The Recall. 16th August 1871.
Accusations, many of them composed of the bluest gall; and manly
letters of defence from Burton now flew almost daily from Damascus
to England. The Wali, the Jews and others all had their various
grievances. As it happened, the British Government wanted,
just then, above all things, peace and quiet. If Burton could have
managed to jog along in almost any way with the Wali, the Druzes,
the Greeks, the Jews and the other factors in Syria, there would
have been no trouble. As to whether Burton was right or wrong in
these disputes, the Government seems not to have cared a straw or
to have given a moment's thought. Here, they said, is a man who
somehow has managed to stir up a wasp's nest, and who may embroil us
with Turkey. This condition of affairs must cease. Presently came
the crash. On August 16th just as Burton and Tyrwhitt Drake were
setting out for a ride at B'ludan, a messenger appeared and handed
Burton a note. He was superseded. The blow was a terrible one, and
for a moment he was completely unmanned. He hastened to Damascus in
the forlorn hope that there was a mistake. But it was quite true,
the consulship had been given to another.
To his wife he sent the message, "I am superseded. Pay, pack,
and follow at convenience." Then he started for Beirut, where she
joined him. "After all my service," wrote Burton in his journal,
"ignominiously dismissed at fifty years of age." One cry only kept
springing from Mrs. Burton's lips, "Oh, Rashid Pasha! Oh, Rashid
At Damascus Burton had certainly proved himself a man of
incorruptible integrity. Even his enemies acknowledged his probity.
But this availed nothing. Only two years had elapsed since he had
landed in Syria, flushed with high premonitions; now he retired a
broken man, shipwrecked in hope and fortune. When he looked back on
his beloved Damascus--"O, Damascus, pearl of the East"--it was with
the emotion evinced by the last of the Moors bidding adieu to
Granada, and it only added to his exasperation when he imagined the
exultation of the hated Jews, and the sardonic grin on the sly,
puffy, sleek face of Rashid Pasha.
Just before Mrs. Burton left B'ludan an incident occurred which
brings her character into high relief. A dying Arab boy was brought
to her to be treated for rheumatic fever. She says, "I saw that
death was near. ... 'Would you like to see Allah?' I said, taking
hold of his cold hand. ... I parted his thick, matted hair,
and kneeling, I baptised him from the flask of water I always
carried at my side. 'What is that?' asked his grandmother after
a minute's silence. 'It is a blessing,' I answered, 'and may do
him good!'"[FN#244] The scene has certain points in common with
that enacted many years after in Burton's death chamber. Having
finished all her "sad preparations at B'ludan," Mrs. Burton "bade
adieu to the Anti-Lebanon with a heavy heart, and for the last time,
choking with emotion, rode down the mountain and through the Plain
of Zebedani, with a very large train of followers."--"I had a
sorrowful ride," says she, "into Damascus. Just outside the city
gates I met the Wali, driving in state, with all his suite.
He looked radiant, and saluted me with much empressement. I did not
return his salute."[FN#245]
It is satisfactory to know that Rashid Pasha's triumph was
short-lived. Within a month of Burton's departure he was recalled
by the Porte and disgraced. Not only so but every measure which
Burton had recommended during his consulship was ordered to be
carried out, and "The reform was so thorough and complete, that Her
Majesty's Ambassador at Constantinople was directed officially to
compliment the Porte upon its newly initiated line of progress."
But nobody thanked, or even though of Burton. On the occasion of
his departure Burton received shoals of letters from prominent men
of "every creed, race and tongue," manifesting sorrow and wishing
him God-speed. Delightful, indeed, was the prologue of that from
Abd El Kadir: "Allah," it ran, "favour the days of your far-famed
learning, and prosper the excellence of your writing. O wader of
the seas of knowledge, O cistern of learning of our globe, exalted
above his age, whose exaltation is above the mountains of increase
and our rising place, opener by his books of night and day,
traveller by ship and foot and horse, one whom none can equal in
travel." The letter itself was couched in a few simple, heartfelt
words, and terminated with "It is our personal friendship to you
which dictates this letter." "You have departed," wrote a Druze
shaykh, "leaving us the sweet perfume of charity and noble conduct
in befriending the poor and supporting the weak and oppressed,
and your name is large on account of what God has put into
Some of the authorities at home gave out that one of the reasons for
Burton's recall was that his life was in danger from the bullets of
his enemies, but Burton commented drily: "I have been shot at,
at different times, by at least forty men who fortunately could not
shoot straight. Once more would not have mattered much."
16th August 1871-4th June 1872
"The Blackness of Darkness"
64. With Sir H. Stisted at Norwood. August 1871.
Arrived in England Burton went straight to his sister's at Norwood.
His dejection was abysmal. Says Miss Stisted, "Strong, brave man
though he was, the shock of his sudden recall told upon him cruelly.
Not even during his last years, when his health had all but given
way, was he so depressed. Sleep being impossible, he used to sit
up, sometimes alone, sometimes with Sir H. Stisted, until the small
hours of the morning, smoking incessantly. Tragedy was dashed with
comedy; one night a terrible uproar arose. The dining-room windows
had been left open, the candles alight, and the pug asleep under the
table forgotten. A policeman, seeing the windows unclosed, knocked
incessantly at the street door, the pug awoke and barked himself
hoarse, and everyone clattered out of his or her bedroom to
ascertain the cause of the disturbance. My uncle had quite
forgotten that in quiet English households servants retire to rest
before 3 a.m."[FN#246] Subsequently Lady Stisted and her daughters
resided at Folkestone, and thenceforth they were "the Folky Folk."
Burton also took an early opportunity to visit his brother,
and tried to lead him into conversation; but nothing could break
that Telamonian silence.
65. Reduced to £15.
Mrs. Burton, who had returned to Damascus "to pay and pack,"
now arrived in England, bringing with her very imprudently her
Syrian maid Khamoor. The £16,000 left by Burton's father, the £300
Mrs. Burton took out with her, and the Damascus £1,200 a year,
all had been spent. Indeed, Mrs. Burton possessed no more than the
few pounds she carried about her person. In these circumstances
prudence would have suggested leaving such a cipher as Khamoor in
Syria, but that seems not to have occurred to her. It is probable,
however, that the spendthrift was not she but her husband, for when
she came to be a widow she not only proved herself an astute
business woman, but accumulated wealth. On reaching London she
found Burton "in one room in a very small hotel." His pride had not
allowed him to make any defence of himself; and it was at this
juncture that Mrs. Burton showed her grit. She went to work with
all her soul, and for three months she bombarded with letters both
the Foreign Office and outside men of influence. She was not
discreet, but her pertinacity is beyond praise. Upon trying to
learn the real reason of his recall, she was told only a portion of
the truth. Commenting on one of the charges, namely that Burton
"was influenced by his Catholic wife against the Jews," she said,
"I am proud to say that I have never in my life tried to influence
my husband to do anything wrong, and I am prouder still to say that
if I had tried I should not have succeeded."
For ten months the Burtons had to endure "great poverty and official
neglect," during which they were reduced to their last £15. Having
been invited by Mrs. Burton's uncle, Lord Gerard,
to Garswood,[FN#247] they went thither by train. Says Mrs. Burton,
"We were alone in a railway compartment, when one of the fifteen
sovereigns rolled out of my pursed, and slid between the boards of
the carriage and the door, reducing us to £14. I sat on the floor
and cried, and he sat by me with is arm round my waist trying to
comfort me."[FN#248] The poet, as Keats tells us, "pours out a balm
upon the world," and in this, his darkest hour, Burton found relief,
as he had so often found it, in the pages of his beloved Camoens.
Gradually his spirits revived, and he began to revolve new schemes.
Indeed, he was never the man to sit long in gloom or to wait
listlessly for the movement of fortune's wheel. He preferred to
seize it and turn it to his purpose.
66. An Orgie at Lady Alford's. 2nd November 1871.
If the Burtons lacked money, on the other hand they had wealthy
relations with whom they were able to stay just as long as they
pleased; and, despite their thorny cares, they threw themselves
heartily into the vortex of society. Among their friends was Lady
Marion Alford, a woman of taste, talent and culture. The first
authority of the day on art needlework, she used to expound her
ideas on the looms of the world from those of Circe to those of
Mrs. Wheeler of New York. At one of Lady Alford's parties in her
house at Princes Gate, October 1871, the Prince of Wales and the
Duke of Edinburgh being present, Burton appeared dressed as a Syrian
shaykh, and Mrs. Burton as a Moslem lady of Damascus. Burton was
supposed not to understand English, and Mrs. Burton gave out that
she had brought him over to introduce him to English society.
She thus described the occurrence in an unpublished letter to
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