The Life of Sir Richard Burton
Part 4 out of 9
"Our orgie was great fun. The Bird and I wore Arab dresses. I went
in the dress of an Arab lady of Damascus, but as myself, accompanied
by Khamoor in her village dress and introducing Hadji Abdullah,
a Moslem shaykh of Damascus. We then spoke only Arabic to each
other, and the Bird broken French to the company present. We were
twenty-eight at supper. The Prince of Wales and the Duke of
Edinburgh were there. We let them into the joke, and they much
enjoyed it, but all the rest were quite taken in half the evening.
Even Lord Lyons and many of our old friends. The house was perfect
and the fountain part[FN#250] quite like Damascus. After supper we
made Turkish coffee and narghilihis, and Khamoor handed them to the
Princes on her knees, the tray on her head in Eastern fashion.
They were delighted and spoke to her very kindly. They talked for
long to Richard, and afterwards to me, and asked when we were going
back to Syria before Lord Granville's brother." This letter,
like most of Mrs. Burton's letters to Miss Stisted, is signed "Z,"
short for "Zoo."
In February (1872) Mrs. Burton's mother, who had for years been
paralysed, grew rapidly worse. Says Mrs. Burton, writing to
Miss Stisted (29th February), "My time is divided between her and
Richard's concerns. She did rally a little and I took advantage of
it to go one to one dinner and to the Thanksgiving Day[FN#251] which
we saw to perfection, and enjoyed enormously; and last night to a
very large gathering at Lady Margaret Beaumont's. .. Everybody was
there and it gave me an opportunity of saying 'How d'ye do?' to the
world after my return from Syria. .. I am working tooth and nail at
the Bird's[FN#252] case, and have got our ambassador (Elliott) to
see me at twelve next Saturday." At this time everyone was talking
about Livingstone, the story of the meeting of him and Stanley being
still fresh in men's minds. It was thought that another expedition
ought to be sent out with Burton to lead, and a grand luncheon was
got up for the express purpose of bring Burton and a certain great
personage together. When the soup was being served, the great
personage, turning to Burton, said: "You are the man to go out
to Livingstone. Come, consent, and I will contribute £500 to
Mrs. Burton, who sat next to her husband, looked up with beaming
eyes, and her heart beat with joy. The object of the luncheon had
been achieved, and Fortune was again bestowing her smiles; but as
ill luck would have it, Burton happened just then to be in one of
his contrary moods. He went on spooning up his soup, and, without
troubling to turn his head, said, "I'll save your Royal Highness
Poor Mrs. Burton almost fainted. The Livingstone expedition was
subsequently undertaken by Cameron.
67. The Tichborne Trial.
Another event of this period was the Tichborne trial, but though
Burton was subpoenaed by the claimant, his evidence really assisted
the other side.
"I understand," began his interlocutor, "that you are the Central
"I have been to Africa," modestly replied Burton.
"Weren't you badly wounded?"[FN#253]
"Yes, in the back, running away."
His identity being established, Burton gave his evidence without
further word fence. "When I went out to Brazil," he said, "I took a
present from Lady Tichborne for her son, but being unable to find
him,[FN#254] I sent the present back. When returning from America,
I met the claimant, and I recognise him simply as the man I met.
That is all." Burton, like others, always took it for granted that
the claimant obtained most of his information respecting the
Tichbornes from Bogle, the black man, who had been in the service
of the family.
68. Khamoor at the Theatre.
In some unpublished letters of Mrs. Burton, written about this time,
we get additional references to Khamoor, and several of them are
amusing. Says Mrs. Burton in one of them,[FN#255] "Khamoor was
charming at the theatre. I cried at something touching, and she,
not knowing why, flung herself upon my neck and howled. She nearly
died with joy on seeing the clown, and said, 'Oh, isn't this
delightful. What a lovely life!' She was awfully shocked at the
women dancing with 'naked legs,' and at all the rustic swains and
girls embracing each other."
In January 1872, the Burtons were at Knowsley,[FN#256] the Earl of
Derby's, whence Mrs. Burton wrote an affectionate letter to
Miss Stisted. She says,[FN#257] "I hope you are taking care of
yourself. Good people are scarce, and I don't want to lose my
little pet." Later, Burton visited Lady Stisted at Edinburgh,
and about that time met a Mr. Lock, who was in need of a trusty
emissary to report on some sulphur mines in Iceland, for which he
had a concession. The two came to terms, and it was decided that
Burton should start in May. He spent the intervening time at
Lord Gerard's,[FN#258] and thence Mrs. Burton wrote to
Miss Stisted[FN#259] saying why she did not accompany Burton
in his visit to his relatives. She says, "I hope you all understand
that no animosity keeps me from Edinburgh. I should have been quite
pleased to go if Richard had been willing, but I think he still
fancies that Maria (Lady Stisted) would rather not see me, and I am
quite for each one doing as he or she likes. .. The Bird sends his
fond love and a chirrup."
4th June 1872-24th October 1872
36. Zanzibar: City, Island and Coast. 2 vols., 1872.
37. Unexplored Syria. 2 vols., 1872.
38. On Human Remains, etc., from Iceland, 1872.
69. In Edinburgh Again, 4th June 1872.
In May, Burton was back again in Edinburgh, preparing for the
Iceland journey. He took many walks down Princes Street and up
Arthur's Seat with Lady Stisted and his nieces, and "he was
flattered," says Miss Stisted, "by the kindness and hospitality
with which he was received. The 93rd Highlanders, stationed at the
Castle, entertained in genuine Highland fashion; and at our house he
met most of the leading Scotch families who happened to be lingering
in the northern capital." Lord Airlie, the High Commissioner, held
brilliant receptions at Holyrood. There were gay scenes--women in
their smartest gowns, men wearing their medals and ribands.
General Sir H. Stisted was there in his red collar and cross and
star of the Bath. Burton "looked almost conspicuous in unadorned
simplicity." On 4th June[FN#260] Burton left for Iceland.
The parting from his friends was, as usual, very hard. Says Miss
Stisted, "His hands turned cold, his eyes filled with tears."
Sir W. H. Stisted accompanied him to Granton, whence, with new hopes
and aspirations, he set sail. Spectacularly, Iceland--Ultima
Thule--as he calls it--was a disappointment to him. "The giddy, rapid
rivers," were narrow brooks, Hecla seemed but "half the height of
Hermon," the Great Geyser was invisible until you were almost on the
top of it. Its voice of thunder was a mere hiccough. Burton,
the precise antithesis of old Sir John de Mandeville, was perhaps
the only traveller who never told "travellers' tales." Indeed,
he looked upon Sir John as a disgrace to the cloth; though he
sometimes comforted himself with the reflection that most likely
that very imaginative knight never existed. But he thoroughly
enjoyed these Icelandic experiences, for, to use one of his own
phrases, the power of the hills was upon him. With Mr. Lock he
visited the concession, and on his way passed through a village
where there was a fair, and where he had a very narrow escape.
A little more, we are told, and a hideous, snuffy, old Icelandic
woman would have kissed him. In respect to the survey, the mass of
workable material was enormous. There was no lack of sulphur,
and the speculation promised to be a remunerative one. Eventually,
however, it was found that the obstacles were insuperable, and the
scheme had to be abandoned. However, the trip had completed the
cure commenced by Camoens, and at the end of it everybody said
"he looked at least fifteen years younger."
Burton had scarcely left Granton for Iceland before Mrs. Arundell
died, and the letters which Mrs. Burton wrote at this time throw an
interesting light on the relations between her and Burton's family.
To Miss Stisted she says (June 14th), "My darling child. My dear
mother died in my arms at midnight on Wednesday 5th. It was like
a child going to sleep, most happy, but quite unexpected by us,
who thought, though sinking, she would last till August or October.
I need not tell you, who know the love that existed between her and
me, that my loss is bitter and irreparable, and will last for life.
May you never know it! I have written pages full of family detail
to darling Nana, and I intended to enclose it to you to read
en route, but I thought perhaps our religious views and observances
might seem absurd to the others, and I felt ashamed to do so.
You know when so holy a woman as dear mother dies, we do not admit
of any melancholy or sorrow except for ourselves Your dear little
letter was truly welcome with its kind and comforting messages.
I am glad that our darling [Burton] was spared all the sorrow we
have gone through, and yet sorry he did not see the beauty and
happiness of her holy death. .. She called for Richard twice before
her death. Do write again and often, dear child. Tell me something
about the Iceland visits. ... Your loving Zooey."
What with the unsatisfactory condition of their affairs, and the
death of her mother, Mrs. Burton was sadly troubled; but the long
lane was now to have a turning. One day, while she was kneeling
with wet cheeks before her mother's coffin, and praying that the
sombrous overhanging cloud might pass away, a letter arrived from
Lord Granville offering her husband the Consulate of Trieste[FN#261]
with a salary of £700 a year. This was a great fall after Damascus,
but in her own words, "better than nothing," and she at once
communicated with her husband, who was still in Iceland.
70. Wardour Castle, 5th July 1872.
She then made a round of country house visits, including one to
Wardour Castle.[FN#262] In an unpublished letter to Miss Stisted,
she says: "My pet, I came here on Tuesday... I have never cried nor
slept since mother died (a month to-morrow) I go up again on Monday
for final pack-up--to my convent ten days--....then back to town
in hopes of Nana in August, about the 7th. Then we shall go to
Spain, and to Trieste, our new appointment, if he [Burton] will take
it, as all our friends and relations wish, if only as a stop-gap for
the present. Arundell has done an awfully kind thing. There is a
large Austrian honour in the family with some privileges, and he has
desired me to assume all the family honours on arriving, and given
me copies of the Patent, with all the old signatures and attested by
himself. This is to present to the Herald's College at Vienna.
He had desired my cards to be printed Mrs. Richard Burton, nee
Countess Isabel Arundell of Wardour of the most sacred Roman Empire.
This would give us an almost royal position at Vienna or any part of
Austria, and with Nana's own importance and fame we shall (barring
salary) cut out the Ambassador. She wants a quiet year to learn
German and finish old writings. ... I should like the tour round the
world enormously, but I don't see where the money is to come from. ..
This is such a glorious old place. .. The woods and parks are
splendid, and the old ruin of the castle defended by Lady Blanche
is the most interesting thing possible. Half the other great places
I go to are mushroom greatness, but this is the real old thing of
Druid remains and the old baronial castle of knights in armour and
fair Saxon-looking women, and with heavy portcullises to enter by,
and dungeons and subterranean passages, etc. There is a statue of
our Saviour over the door, and in Cromwell's siege a cannon ball
made a hole in the wall just behind it and never took off its head.
...Your loving Zoo."
A few days later Mrs. Burton received a letter from her husband,
who expressed his willingness to accept Trieste. He arrived at
Edinburgh again on September 5th, and his presence was the signal
for a grand dinner, at which all the notables of the neighbourhood,
including many people of title, were present. But, unfortunately,
Burton was in one of his disagreeable moods, and by the time dinner
was half over, he found that he had contradicted with acerbity every
person within earshot. While, however, he was thus playing the
motiveless ogre, his brother-in-law, Sir Henry Stisted, at the other
end of the table, was doing his utmost to render himself agreeable,
and by the extraordinary means of rolling out anecdote after
anecdote that told against the Scotch character. The Mackenzies,
the Murrays, the MacDonalds, the McQueens, looked black as thunder,
and Stisted's amiability gave even more offence than Burton's
ill-temper. Noticing that something was amiss opposite him,
Burton stopped his own talk to listen. Then Stisted's innocence
and the ludicrousness of the whole scene dawned upon him, and
leaning back in his chair he roared with uncontrollable laughter.
When he met his wife again one of her first questions was about this
dinner, at which she had hoped her husband would dazzle and delight
the whole company, and which she supposed might lead to his
promotion. He then told her the whole story, not omitting his
ill-humour. She listened with dismay, and then burst into tears.
"Come," he commented, "I wasn't so bad as Stisted, anyhow."
71. St. George and Frederick Burton.
Upon his return to London, Burton renewed his acquaintance with his
cousins Dr. and Mrs. Edward John Burton. He and Dr. Burton, whom he
thought fit to call after a character in The Arabian Nights,
"Abu Mohammed Lazybones,"[FN#263] had long known each other,
but Dr. Burton had also for some time resided in distant lands.
The notes that brought about the meeting--and they could not be
briefer--now lie before me. They run:
"Sept. 20 '72
"My dear Cousin,
"When and where can I see you? Yours truly,
"R. F. Burton."
"Junior United Service Club.
"My dear Richard,
"Any day at 4 p.m.
"E. J. Burton."
A few days later, Burton dined with Edward John, and made the
acquaintance of his young cousins, St. George and Frederick.
Of St. George, a dark-haired lad, who was particularly clever and
had a humorous vein, Burton from the first thought highly.
One day, happening to turn over some of the leaves of the boy's
exercise book, he stumbled upon the following lines:
"The map of Africa was dark as night,
God said, 'Let Burton live,' and there was light."
He laughed heartily and thanked his little cousin for the
compliment, while the couplet became a stock quotation in the
family. Later, when St. George went to a French school, he was
very proud to find that the boys were conversant not only with the
exploits of his famous uncle, but also with the history of the
Dr. Francis Burton who had made Napoleon's death mask.
Frederick Burton was a plump, shy, fair-haired little fellow,
and Burton, who loved to tease, did not spare his rotundity.
In one of Frederick's copy-books could be read, in large hand,
"Life is short."
"I," commented Burton, "find life very long."
Subsequently he advised his cousin to go to the River Plate.
"Well," he would ask, when he entered the house, "has Frederick
started for the River Plate yet? I see a good opening there."
As Dr. Burton was born in the house of his father's brother,
the Bishop of Killala, Burton used to affect jealousy. "Hang it
all, Edward," he would say, "You were born in a bishop's palace."
Apparently it was about this time that the terrible silence of
Burton's brother was for a moment broken. Every human device had
been tried to lead him to conversation, and hitherto in vain.
It seems that some years previous, and before Edward's illness,
Dr. E. J. Burton had lent his cousin a small sum of money, which was
duly repaid. One day Dr. Burton chose to assume the contrary,
and coming upon Edward suddenly he cried:
"Edward, you might just as well have paid me that money I lent you
at Margate. I call it shabby, now."
Edward raised his head and fixing his eyes on Dr. Burton said,
with great effort, and solemnly, "Cousin, I did pay you, you must
remember that I gave you a cheque."
Thrilled with joy, Dr. Burton attempted to extend the conversation,
but all in vain, and to his dying day Edward Burton never uttered
72. At the Athenaeum.
Of all the spots in London, none was so dear to Burton as his club,
The Athenaeum. When in England, he practically lived there, and its
massive portico, its classic frieze, and the helmeted statue of
Minerva were always imaged on his heart. He wrote a number of his
books there, and he loved to write his letters on its notepaper
stamped with the little oval enclosing Minerva's head. He used to
make his way to the Athenaeum early in the day[FN#264] and go
straight to the library. Having seated himself at the round table
he would work with coralline industry, and without a single break
until six or seven in the evening. It was a standing joke against
him in Dr. Burton's family that when at the club he was never at
home to anybody except a certain Mrs. Giacometti Prodgers.
This lady was of Austrian birth, and, according to rumour, there was
a flavour of romance about her marriage. It was said that while the
laws of certain countries regarded her as married, those of other
countries insisted that she was still single. However, married or
not, she concentrated all her spleen on cab-drivers, and was
continually hauling some luckless driver or other before the London
magistrates. Having a profound respect for Burton's judgment,
she often went to him about these cab disputes, and, oddly enough,
though nobody else could get at him, he was always at the service
of Mrs. Prodgers, and good-naturedly gave her the benefit of his
wisdom.[FN#265] To the London magistrates the good lady was a
perpetual terror, and Frederick Burton, a diligent newspaper reader,
took a pleasure in following her experiences. "St. George,"
he would call across the breakfast table, "Mrs. Giacometti Prodgers
again: She's had another cab-man up."
One evening, says a London contributor to the New York
Tribune[FN#266] referring to this period, "there was a smoking party
given by a well-known Londoner. I went in late, and on my way
upstairs, stumbled against a man sitting on the stairs, with a book
and pencil in his hands, absorbed in his reading, and the notes he
was making. It was Burton. When I spoke to him he woke up as if
from a dream with the dazed air of one not quite sure where he is.
I asked him what he was reading. It proved to be Camoens, and he
told me he was translating the Portuguese poet. It seemed an odd
place for such work, and I said as much. "Oh," answered Burton,
"I can read anywhere or write anywhere. And I always carry Camoens
about with me. You see, he is a little book, and I have done most
of my translating in these odd moments, or, as you say, in this odd
fashion." And he added, with a kind of cynical grin on his face,
'You will find plenty of dull people in the rooms above.' He had
been bored and this was his refuge."
73. Jane Digby Again.
Report now arrived that Jane Digby was dead; and paragraphs
derogatory to her character appeared in the press. Mrs. Burton not
only answered them, but endeavoured to throw a halo over her
friend's memory. She said also that as she, Mrs. Burton, had Jane
Digby's biography, nobody else had any right to make remarks.
Comically enough, news then came that Jane was still alive.
She had been detained in the desert by the fighting of the tribes.
Says Mrs. Burton, "her relatives attacked her for having given me
the biography, and she, under pressure, denied it in print, and then
wrote and asked me to give it back to her; but I replied that she
should have had it with the greatest pleasure, only she having
'given me the lie' in print, I was obliged for my own sake to keep
it, and she eventually died." This very considerate act of Jane's
saved all further trouble.
74. His Book on Zanzibar.
On his expedition with Speke to Tanganyika, Burton had already
written four volumes,[FN#267] and it was now to be the subject of
another work, Zanzibar, which is chiefly a description of the town
and island from which the expedition started. The origin of the
book was as follows. With him on his way home from Africa he had
brought among other MSS. a bundle of notes relating both to his
"preliminary canter" and to Zanzibar, and the adventures of these
notes were almost as remarkable as those of the Little Hunchback.
On the West Coast of Africa the bundle was "annexed" by a skipper.
The skipper having died, the manuscripts fell into the hands of his
widow, who sold them to a bookseller, who exposed them for sale.
An English artillery officer bought them, and, in his turn,
lost them. Finally they were picked up in the hall of a Cabinet
Minister, who forwarded them to Burton. The work contains an
enormous mass of geographical, anthropological and other
information, and describes the town so truthfully that nobody,
except under compulsion, would ever dream of going there.
The climate, it seems, is bad for men, worse for women. "Why,"
he asks, "should Englishmen poison or stab their wives when a few
months at Zanzibar would do the business more quietly and
effectually?" The expense of getting them over there may be one
objection. But whoever goes to Zanzibar, teetotallers, we are
told, should keep away. There it is drink or die. Burton
introduces many obsolete words, makes attacks on various persons,
and says fearlessly just what he thinks; but the work has both the
Burtonian faults. It is far too long, and it teems with
There also left the press this year (1871) a work in two volumes
entitled Unexplored Syria, by Burton and Tyrwhitt Drake.[FN#268]
It describes the archaeological discoveries made by the authors
during their sojourn in Syria, and includes an article on Syrian
Proverbs (Proverba Communia Syriaca) which had appeared the year
before in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. Some of the
sayings have English analogues, thus:
"He who wants nah
Mustn't say ah;"
"nah" being wealth or honour; "ah," the expression of fear or
At one of the meetings of the Royal Geographical Society, at which
Burton had been billed to speak, there were present among the
audience his wife, Mr. Arundell, and several other members of the
family. Considerable hostility was shown towards Burton;
and Colonel Rigby[FN#270] and others flatly contradicted some of
his statements respecting Zanzibar. Then Burton flew into a temper
such as only he could fly into. His eyes flashed, his lips
protruded with rage, and he brandished the long map pointer so
wildly that the front bench became alarmed for their safety.
Old Mr. Arundell, indignant at hearing his son-in-law abused, then
tried to struggle on to the platform, while his sons and daughters,
horrified at the prospect, hung like bull-dogs to his coat tails.
Says Burton, "the old man, who had never been used to public
speaking, was going to address a long oration to the public about
his son-in-law, Richard Burton. As he was slow and very prolix,
he would never have sat down again, and God only knows what he would
have said." The combined efforts of the Arundell family however,
prevented so terrible a denouement, Burton easily proved his
enemies' statements to be erroneous, and the order was eventually
24th October 1872-12th May 1875
39. Medinah and Meccah. 3 vols. in one, 1873.
40. Minas Geraes. 7th January 1873. J. A. I.
41. The Lands of the Cazembe. 1873.
42. The Captivity of Hans Stadt, 1874.
43. Articles on Rome. Macmillan's Mag. 1874-5.
44. The Castellieri of Istria.
45. Gerber's Province of Minas Geraes.
46. New System of Sword Exercise.
47. Ultima Thule, or a Summer in Iceland. 2 vols. 1875.
48. Two Trips to Gorilla Land. 2 vols. 1875.
49. The Inner Life of Syria. 2 vols., 1875, by Mrs. Burton.
50. The Long Wall of Salona.
75. Burton at Trieste, 24th October 1872.
Burton left England for Trieste 24th October 1872,[FN#271] but the
popular belief that he entered the town with a fighting cock under
his arm and a bull-terrier at his heels lacks foundation. He was
fifty-one, the age of the banished Ovid, to whom he often compared
himself, and though the independent and haughty Burton bears no
resemblance to the sycophantic and lachrymose yet seductive Sulmoan,
nevertheless his letters from Trieste are a sort of Tristia--or as
the flippant would put it--Triestia. Indeed, he read and re-read
with an almost morbid interest both the Tristia and the
Ex Ponto.[FN#272] Ovid's images seemed applicable to himself.
"I, too," he said, "am a neglected book gnawed by the moth,"
"a stream dammed up with mud," "a Phalaris, clapped, for nothing in
particular, into the belly of a brazen bull." Like Ovid, too,
he could and did pronounce his invective against the Ibis, the cause
of all his troubles, that is to say, Rashid Pasha, whose very name
was as gall and wormwood. His fate, indeed, was a hard one.
The first linguist of his day, for he spoke twenty-eight languages
and dialects, he found himself relegated to a third-rate port,
where his attainments were absolutely valueless to anybody.
The greatest of travellers, the most indefatigable of
anthropologists, the man who understood the East as no other
Englishman had understood it--was set to do work that could in those
days have been accomplished with ease by any raw and untravelled
government official possessed of a smattering of German and Italian.
But the truth is, Burton's brilliant requirements were really a
hindrance to him. The morbid distrust of genius which has ever been
incidental to ordinary Government officialism, was at that time
particularly prevalent. The only fault to be found with Burton's
conduct at Damascus, was that, instead of serving his own interest,
he had attempted to serve the interests of his country and humanity.
By trimming, temporizing, shutting his eyes to enormities,
and touching bribes, he might have retained his post, or have been
passed on to Constantinople.
When time after time he saw incompetent men advanced to positions of
importance, his anger was unrestrainable, "Why," he asked bitterly,
"are the Egyptian donkey-boys so favourable to the English?"
Answer, "Because we hire more asses than any other nation."
Trieste is a white splash between high wooded mountains and a dark
precipice rising from a sea intense as the blue of the gentian.
The population was about 140,000, mostly Italian speaking.
Nominally they were Catholics, and of genuine Catholics there might
have been 20,000, chiefly women. "Trieste," said Burton, "is a town
of threes--three quarters, three races (Italian, Slav and Austrian),
and three winds (Sirocco, Bora, and Contraste)." One brilliant man
of letters had been connected with the town, namely Marie-Henry
Beyle, better known by his pen name, Stendhal,[FN#273] who, while he
was French Counul here, pumice polished and prepared for the press
his masterpiece, La Chartreuse de Parme, which he had written at
Padua in 1830. To the minor luminary, Charles Lever, we have
already alluded. Such was the town in which the British Hercules
was set to card wool. The Burtons occupied ten rooms at the top of
a block of buildings situated near the railway station.
The corridor was adorned with a picture of our Saviour, and
statuettes of St. Joseph and the Madonna with votive lights burning
before them. This, in Burton's facetious phrase, was "Mrs. Burton's
joss house;" and occasionally, when they had differences,
he threatened "to throw her joss house out of the window."
Burton in a rage, indeed, was the signal for the dispersal of
everybody. Furniture fell, knick-knacks flew from the table,
and like Jupiter he tumbled gods on gods. If, however, he and his
wife did not always symphonize, still, on the whole, they continued
to work together amicably, for Mrs. Burton took considerable pains
to accommodate herself to the peculiarities of her husband's
temperament, and both were blessed with that invaluable oil for
troubled waters--the gift of humour. "Laughter," Burton used to
say, and he had "a curious feline laugh," "animates the brain and
stimulates the lungs." To his wife's assumption of the possession
of knowledge, of being a linguist, of being the intellectual equal
of every living person, saving himself, he had no objection; and the
pertinacity with which she sustained this role imposed sometimes
even on him. He got to think that she was really a genius in a way,
and saw merit even in the verbiage and rhodomontade of her books.
But whatever Isabel Burton's faults, they are all drowned and
forgotten in her devotion to her husband. It was more than love--
it was unreasoning worship. "You and Mrs. Burton seem to jog along
pretty well together," said a friend. "Yes," followed Burton, "I am
a spoilt twin, and she is the missing fragment."
Burton, of course, never really took to Trieste, his Tomi,
as he called it. He was too apt to contrast it with Damascus:
the wind-swept Istrian hills with the zephyr-ruffled Lebanon,
the dull red plains of the Austrian sea-board with the saffron of
the desert, the pre-historic castellieri or hill-forts, in which,
nevertheless, he took some pleasure, with the columned glories of
Baalbak and Palmyra. "Did you like Damascus?" somebody once
carelessly asked Mrs. Burton.
"Like it!" she exclaimed, quivering with emotion, "My eyes fill,
and my heart throbs even at the thought of it."
Indeed, they always looked back with wistful, melancholy regret upon
the two intercalary years of happiness by the crystalline
Chrysorrhoa, and Mrs. Burton could never forget that last sad ride
through the beloved Plain of Zebedani. Among those who visited the
Burtons at Trieste, was Alfred Bates Richards. After describing
Mrs. Burton's sanctuary, he says: "Thus far, the belongings are all
of the cross, but no sooner are we landed in the little
drawing-rooms than signs of the crescent appear. These rooms,
opening one into another, are bright with Oriental hangings, with
trays and dishes of gold and burnished silver, fantastic goblets,
chibouques with great amber mouth-pieces, and Eastern treasure made
of odorous woods." Burton liked to know that everything about him
was hand-made. "It is so much better," he used to say, than the
"poor, dull work of machinery." In one of the book-cases was Mrs.
Burton's set of her husband's works, some fifty volumes.[FN#274]
Mr. Richards thus describes Burton himself, "Standing about five
feet eleven, his broad, deep chest and square shoulders reduce his
apparent height very considerably, and the illusion is intensified
by hands and feet of Oriental smallness. The Eastern and distinctly
Arab look of the man is made more pronounced by prominent
cheek-bones (across one of which is the scar of a javelin cut),
by closely-cropped black hair, just tinged with grey, and a pair of
piercing, black, gipsy-looking eyes." Out of doors, in summer,
Burton wore a spotlessly white suit, a tie-pin shaped like a sword,
a pair of fashionable, sharply-pointed shoes, and the shabbiest old
white beaver hat that he could lay his hands upon. On his finger
glittered a gold ring, engraved with the word "Tanganyika."[FN#275]
In appearance, indeed, he was a compound of the dandy,
the swash-buckler and the literary man. He led Mr. Richards through
the house. Every odd corner displayed weapons--guns, pistols,
boar-spears, swords of every shape and make. On one cupboard was
written "The Pharmacy." It contained the innocuous medicines for
Mrs. Burton's poor--for she still continued to manufacture those
pills and drenches that had given her a reputation in the Holy Land.
"Why," asked Richards, "do you live in a flat and so high up?"
"To begin with," was the reply, "we are in good condition, and run
up and down the stairs like squirrels. If I had a great
establishment, I should feel tied and weighed down. With a flat and
two or three servants one has only to lock the door and go out."
The most noticeable objects in the rooms were eleven rough deal
tables, each covered with writing materials.[FN#276] At one sat
Mrs. Burton in morning neglige, a grey choga--the long, loose Indian
dressing-gown of soft camel's hair--topped by a smoking cap of the
same material. She observed, "I see you are looking at our tables.
Dick likes a separate table for each book, and when he is tired of
one he goes to another." He never, it seems, wrote more than eleven
books at a time, unless stout pamphlets come under that category.
Their life was a peaceful one, except on Fridays, when Mrs. Burton
received seventy bosom and particular friends, and talked to them at
the top of her voice in faulty German, Italian, which she spoke
fluently, or slangy English.[FN#277] In the insipid conversation of
this "magpie sanhedrin," "these hen parties," as he called them,
Burton did not join, but went on with his work as if no one was
present. Indeed, far from complaining, he remarked philosophically
that if the rooms had been lower down probably 140 visitors instead
of 70 would have looked in. The Burtons usually rose at 4 or 5,
and after tea, bread and fruit, gave their morning to study.
At noon they drank a cup of soup, fenced, and went for a swim in
the sea. Burton then took up a heavy iron stick with a silver
knob[FN#278] and walked to the Consulate, which was situated in the
heart of the town, while Mrs. Burton, with her pockets bulging with
medicines, and a flask of water ready for baptism emergencies
hanging to her girdle, busied herself with charitable work,
including the promotion of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty
to Animals. They generally dined at the table d'hote of the Hotel
de la Ville, and dined well, for, as Burton says used to "Only fools
and young ladies care nothing for the carte."[FN#279] Having
finished their coffee, cigarettes, and kirsch, outside the hotel,
they went home to bed, where, conscious of a good day's work done,
they took their rest merrily. Sometimes they interrupted the
routine with excursions into the surrounding country, of which they
both knew every stock and stone, pre-historic or modern.
Of business ability, Burton had never possessed one iota, and his
private affairs were constantly mis-managed. As at Fernando Po,
Santos and Damascus, he promptly looked out for a sanitarium,
his choice finally resting upon a loftily-situated village
Reviewing Burton's career, Mr. Alfred Bates Richards says: "He has
done more than any other six men, and is one of the best, noblest
and truest that breathes. While not on active service or on sick
leave he has been serving his country, humanity, science, and
civilisation in other ways, by opening up lands hitherto unknown,
and trying to do good wherever he went. He was the pioneer for all
other living African travellers."
If Trieste was not an ideal post for him, still it had the patent
advantage of being practically a sinecure. He and his wife seem to
have been able to get away almost at any time. They sometimes
travelled together, but often went in different directions, and as
Burton was as restless as a hyena, he never stayed in any one place
many hours. Occasionally they met unexpectedly. Upon one of these
meetings in a Swiss hotel, Burton burst out affectionately with,
"And what the devil brought you here?" To which she replied,
promptly but sweetly, "Ditto, brother." For study, Burton had
almost unlimited time, and nothing came amiss to him. He lost
himself in old sacramentaries, Oriental manuscripts, works on the
prehistoric remains of Istria, Camoens, Catullus, The Arabian
Nights, Boccaccio. His knowledge was encyclopaedic.
76. At the Vienna Exhibition, 1873.
Early in 1873 the Burtons visited Vienna chiefly in order to see the
great Exhibition. The beauty of the buildings excited their
constant admiration, but the dearness of everything at the hotels
made Burton use forcible language. On one occasion he demanded--
he never asked for anything--a beefsteak, and a waiter hurried up
with an absurdly small piece of meat on a plate. Picking it up with
the fork he examined it critically, and then said, quite amiably for
him, "Yaas, yaas,[FN#280] that's it, bring me some." Next he
required coffee. The coffee arrived in what might have been either
a cup or a thimble. "What's this?" demanded Burton. The waiter
said it was coffee for one. "Then," roared Burton, with several
expletives, "bring me coffee for twenty." Their bill at this hotel
came to £163 for the three weeks.
77. A Visit from Drake, June 1873.
On their return from Vienna, they had the pleasure of meeting again
Lady Marion Alford, Aubertin, and that "true-hearted Englishman,
staunch to the backbone," Charles Tyrwhitt Drake, who "brought with
him a breath from the desert and stayed several weeks." The three
friends went to a fete held in the stalactite caverns of Adelsberg,
from which Burton, who called them the eighth wonder of the world,
always assumed that Dante got his ideas of the Inferno. Lighted by
a million candles, and crowded with peasants in their picturesque
costumes, which made wondrous arabesques of moving shadows,
the caves presented a weird and unearthly appearance, which the
music and dancing subsequently intensified. Shortly afterwards
Drake left for Palestine. In May (1874), Burton was struck down
by a sudden pain, which proved to arise from a tumour. An operation
was necessary, and all was going on well when a letter brought the
sad news of Drake's death. He had succumbed, at Jerusalem,
to typhoid fever, at the early age of twenty-eight.[FN#281]
Burton took the news so heavily, that, at Mrs. Burton says,[FN#282]
it "caused the wound to open afresh; he loved Drake like a brother,
and few know what a tender heart Richard has." To use
Dr. Baker's[FN#283] phrase, he had "the heart of a beautiful woman."
78. Khamoor returns to Syria, 4th December 1874.
In the meantime Mrs. Burton was reaping the fruits of her
injudicious treatment of Khamoor. Thoroughly spoilt, the girl now
gave herself ridiculous airs, put herself on a level with her
mistress, and would do nothing she was told. As there was no other
remedy, Mrs. Burton resolved philanthropically to send her back to
Syria, "in order that she might get married and settled in life."
So Khamoor was put on board a ship going to Beyrout, with nine boxes
of clothes and a purse of gold. "It was to me," says Mrs. Burton,
"a great wrench." Khamoor's father met her, the nine boxes, and the
purse of gold at Beyrout, and by and by came to the news that she
was married and settled down in the Buka'a. Such was the end of
Chico the Second.
12th May 1875-18th June 1876
The Trip to India
51. The Port of Trieste.
52. The Gypsy. Written in 1875.
53. Etruscan Bologna. 1876.
54. New System of Sword Exercise for Infantry. 1876.
79. Visit to England, 12th May 1875.
On 8th December 1874, Burton sent his wife to England to arrange
for the publication of various of his works, and in May 1875, having
obtained leave, he followed her, arriving in London on the 12th.
He took with him "a ton or so of books" in an enormous trunk painted
one half black the other white--"the magpie chest" which henceforth
always accompanied him on his travels. At the various stations in
England there were lively scenes, the company demanding for luggage
excess, and Burton vigorously protesting but finally paying.
He then took the value out by reeling off a spirited address to the
railway clerk, punctuated with expletives in twenty odd African or
Asiatic languages, on the meanness of the clerk's employers.
80. Tonic Bitters.
Always suffering from impecuniosity, the Burtons were perpetually
revolving schemes for increasing their income. One was to put on
the market a patent pick-me-up, good also for the liver, to be
called, "Captain Burton's Tonic Bitters," the recipe of which had
been "acquired from a Franciscan monk." "Its object," observed
Burton facetiously, to a friend, "is to make John Bull eat more beef
and drink more beer." Mrs. Burton imagined naively that if it were
put into a pretty bottle the demand would exceed the supply.
They had hopes, too, for the Camoens, which had taken many years of
close application and was now approaching completion. Still, it was
argued that a Translation of Camoens, however well done, could not
hope for the success of a well-advertised liver tonic, seeing that
while most people have a liver, it is only here and there one who
has a taste for Camoens. The tonic was placed on the market,
but the scheme, like so many others, proved a fiasco. Nobody seemed
to want to be picked up, and the indifference of a Christian nation
to the state of its liver, was to Burton extremely painful.
So he abandoned philanthropy, and took to lecturing before the
Anthropological and other societies, dining out, and calling on old
friends. One Sunday he visited the Zoo; but when he asked for a
glass of beer at the refreshment bar, the girl declined to serve him
because he was "not a bona-fide traveller!"
In 1875, Burton's portrait, painted by the late Lord Leighton,
was exhibited in the Academy; and on July 6th of the same year,
Burton started off on a second trip to Iceland, which occupied him
six weeks, but he and his wife did not meet again till October 6th.
On December 4th (1875) they left London for the Continent.
The morning was black as midnight. Over the thick snow hung
a dense, murky fog, while "a dull red gleam just rendered the
"It looks," said Burton, "as if London were in mourning for some
great national crime."
To which Mrs. Burton replied, "Let us try to think, darling,
that our country wears mourning for our departure into exile."
On reaching Boulogne they sought out some of their old
acquaintances, including M. Constantin, Burton's fencing master.
After a brief stay in Paris, they proceeded to Trieste, ate their
Christmas dinner, and then set out for India, partly for pleasure
and partly for the purpose of collecting information about the
abandoned diamond mines of Golconda.
81. A Trip to India, December 1875, 18th June 1876.
The Suez Canal, which had been finished some five years previous,
gave them much pleasure, and it was like living life over again to
see the camels, the Bedawin in cloak and kuffiyyah, the women in
blue garments, and to smell the pure air of the desert. On reaching
Yambu, Burton enquired whether Sa'ad the robber chief, who had
attacked the caravan in the journey to Mecca days, still lived;
and was told that the dog long since made his last foray,
and was now safe in Jehannum.[FN#284] They landed at Jiddah,
where Burton was well received, although everyone knew the story
of his journey to Mecca, and on rejoining their ship they found on
board eight hundred pilgrims of a score of nationalities. Then a
storm came on. The pilgrims howled with fright, and during the
voyage twenty-three died of privation, vermin, hunger and thirst.
Says Mrs. Burton:[FN#285] "They won't ask, but if they see a kind
face they speak with their eyes as an animal does." At Aden Burton
enquired after his old Harar companions. Shahrazad was still in
Aden, the coquettish Dunyazad in Somaliland, the Kalandar had been
murdered by the Isa tribe, and The End of Time had "died a natural
death"--that is to say, somebody had struck a spear into
him.[FN#286] Bombay was reached on February 2nd.
82. Arbuthnot Again. Rehatsek.
The first person Burton called on was his old friend, Forster
FitzGerald Arbuthnot, who now occupied there the important position
of "Collector." Arbuthnot, like other people, had got older,
but his character had not changed a tittle. Business-like and
shrewd, yet he continued to be kindly, and would go out of his way
to do a philanthropic action, and without fuss of parade. A friend
describes him as "a man of the world, but quite untainted by it."
He used to spend the winter in Bombay, and the summer in his
charming bungalow at Bandora. In a previous chapter we referred to
him as a Jehu. He now had a private coach and team--rather a wonder
in that part of the world, and drove it himself. Of his skill with
the ribbons he was always proud, and no man could have known more
about horses. Some of the fruits of his experience may be seen in
an article[FN#287] which he contributed to Baily's Magazine
(April 1883) in which he ranks driving with such accomplishments
as drawing, painting and music. His interest in the languages and
literatures of the East was as keen as ever, but though he had
already collected material for several books he does not seem to
have published anything prior to 1881. He took his friends out
everywhere in his four-in-hand, and they saw to advantage some of
the sights of Burton's younger days. With the bungalow Mrs. Burton
was in raptures. On the eve of the Tabut feast, she tells us,
the Duke of Sutherland (formerly Lord Stafford) joined the party;
and a number of boys dressed like tigers came and performed some
native dancing with gestures of fighting and clawing one another,
"which," she adds oddly, "was exceedingly graceful."
The principal event of this visit, however, was Burton's
introduction to that extraordinary and Diogenes-like scholar,
Edward Rehatsek. Lady Burton does not even mention Rehatsek's name,
and cyclopaedias are silent concerning him; yet he was one of the
most remarkable men of his time, and henceforward Burton was in
constant communication with him. Born on 3rd July 1819, at Illack,
in Austria, Edward Rehatsek was educated at Buda Pesth, and in 1847
proceeded to Bombay, where he settled down as Professor of Latin and
mathematics at Wilson College. He retired from his professorship
in 1871, and settled in a reed-built native house, not so very much
bigger than his prototype's tub, at Khetwadi. Though he had amassed
money he kept no servants, but went every morning to the bazaar,
and purchased his provisions, which he cooked with his own hand.
He lived frugally, and his dress was mean and threadbare,
nevertheless, this strange, austere, unpretentious man was one of
the greatest linguists of his time. Not only could he speak most
of the languages of the East, including Arabic and Persian, but he
wrote good idiomatic English. To his translations, and his
connection with the Kama Shastra Society, we shall refer later.
He was visited in his humble home only by his principal friend,
Mr. Arbuthnot, and a few others, including Hari Madhay Parangpe,
editor of Native Opinion, to which he was a contributor.
The conversation of Rehatsek, Burton, and Arbuthnot ran chiefly
on Arbuthnot's scheme for the revival of the Royal Asiatic
Translation fund, and the translation of the more important
Eastern works into English; but some years were to elapse before
it took shape.
On February 4th, Burton wrote to his cousin, St. George Burton--
addressing his letter, as he was continually on the move,
from Trieste. He says:
"My Dear Cousin,
"You need not call me 'Captain Burton.' I am very sorry that you
missed Woolwich--and can only say, don't miss the Line. I don't
think much of Holy Orders, however, chacun a son gout. Many thanks
for the details about the will. Assist your mother in drawing up
a list of the persons who are heirs, should the girl die without
a will.[FN#288] Let 'the party' wash his hands as often as he
pleases--cleanliness is next to godliness. As the heir to a
baronetcy[FN#289] you would be worth ten times more than heir to an
Esquireship--in snobby England. Write to me whenever you think that
I can be of any service and let me be
"Yr. aff. cousin,
"R. F. Burton."
83. In Sind.
From Bombay, the Burtons journeyed to Karachi, which had grown from
3,000 to 45,000[FN#290] and could now boast fine streets and noble
houses. Here Burton regaled his eyes with the sights familiar to
his youth; the walks he had taken with his bull-terrier, the tank or
pond where he used to charioteer the "ghastly" crocodile,[FN#291]
the spot where he had met the beautiful Persian, and the shops which
had once been his own; while he recalled the old familiar figures
of hook-nosed Sir Charles Napier, yellow-bearded Captain Scott,
and gorgeously-accoutred General J-J-J-J-J-J-Jacob. His most
amusing experience was with a Beloch chief, one Ibrahim Khan,
on whom he called and whom he subsequently entertained at dinner
spread in a tent.[FN#292] The guests, Sind fashion, prepared for
the meal by getting drunk. He thoroughly enjoyed it, however, and,
except that he made impressions with his thumb in the salt, upset
his food on the tablecloth, and scratched his head with the
corkscrew, behaved with noticeable propriety. Having transferred
from the table to his pocket a wine-glass and some other little
articles that took his fancy, he told his stock stories, including
the account of his valour at the battle of Meeanee, where at
imminent risk of his life, he ran away. Tea he had never before
tasted, and on sampling a cup, he made a wry face. This, however,
was because it was too strong, for having diluted it with an equal
quantity of brandy, he drank it with relish.
After a visit to the battlefield of Meeanee[FN#293] the Burtons
returned to Bombay in time for the feast of Muharram, and saw the
Moslem miracle play representing the martyrdom and death of Hassan
and Hossein, the sons of Ali. Then Mirza Ali Akbar, Burton's old
munshi, called on them. As his visiting card had been printed Mirza
Ally Akbar, Burton enquired insultingly whether his old friend
claimed kin with Ally Sloper. In explanation the Mirza said that
the English were accustomed to spell his name so, and as he did not
in the least mind what he was called, he had fallen in with
On February 21st the Burtons left Bombay and journeyed by way of
Poona to Hyderabad, where they were hospitably entreated by Major
Nevill, the Commander-in-Chief of the Nizam's troops, and Sir Salar
Jung, the Prime Minister. They rode through the town on elephants,
saw the Nizam's palace, which was "a mile long and covered with
delicate tracery," an ostrich race, an assault-at-arms, and fights
between cocks and other creatures. At "Hyderabad," says
Mrs. Burton, "they fight every kind of animal." "A nautch,"
which Sir Salah gave in their honour, Mrs. Burton found tame,
for the girls did nothing but eat sweetmeats and occasionally
run forward and twirl round for a moment with a half-bold,
Then followed the visit to Golconda and its tombs of wax-like Jaypur
marble, with their arabesqued cupolas and lacery in stone.
Here Burton accumulated a good deal of miscellaneous information
about diamond mining, and came to the conclusion that the industry
in India generally, and especially in Golconda, had been prematurely
abandoned; and endeavoured by means of letters to the press and in
other ways to enlist the sympathies of the British capitalists.
But everything that he wrote on the subject, as on kindred subjects,
has a distinctly quixotic ring, and we fear he would not have been a
very substantial pillar for the British capitalist to lean against.
He was always, in such matters, the theorist rather than the
practical man--in other words, the true son of his own father.
The Burtons then returned to Bombay, which they reached in time to
take part in the celebrations in honour of the Prince of Wales,
who had just finished his Indian tour. Honouring the Guebres--
the grand old Guebres, as he used to call them--and their modern
representatives, the Parsees, Burton paid a visit to the Parsee
"burying place"--the high tower where the dead are left to be picked
by vultures, and then he and his wife left for Goa, where they
enjoyed the hospitality and company of Dr. Gerson Da Cunha,[FN#295]
the Camoens student and enthusiast.
Mrs. Burton was as disgusted with Goa as she had been charmed with
Dr. Da Cunha. She says, "Of all the God-forgotten, deserted holes,
one thousand years behind the rest of creation, I have never seen
anything equal it." They left India at the end of April, and were
back again at Trieste on June 18th.
18th June 1876-31st March 1877
Shortly after his return from India, Burton commenced a translation
of the Orlando Furioso[FN#296] of Ariosto, a poet, to whom, as we
have seen, he had been drawn ever since those far-off days when with
his father and the rest of the family he had meandered about Italy
in the great yellow chariot. Reggio, the poet's birthplace,
and Ferrara, where the Orlando Furioso was written and Ariosto died,
were sacred spots to him; while the terrific madness of the hero,
the loves of Ruggiero and Bradamante and the enchanted gardens with
their Arabian Nights atmosphere, lapped him in bliss much as they
had done in the old days. Only a small portion of this translation
was ever finished, but he had it in mind all the rest of his life,
and talked about it during his last visit to England.
86. Death of Rashid Pasha, 24th June 1876.
In June came the news of the murder of Rashid Pasha; and a thousand
memories, sweet and bitter, thrilled the Burtons. Mrs. Burton
recalled that "cool and aromatic housetop," the jewel-blue
Chrysorrhoa, the saffron desert, and then it was "Oh, Rashid Pasha!
Oh, Rashid Pasha!" Still she found it in her woman's heart to
forgive the detested old enemy, now that he was gone, but Burton
could not restrain a howl of triumph such as might have become some
particularly vindictive Bible hero.
Writing on 24th June to his cousin, Dr. Edward John Burton, he says,
"We returned here on the 18th inst., and the first thing I heard was
the murder of my arch-enemy, Rashid Pasha. Serve the scoundrel
right. He prevented my going to Constantinople and to Sana'a,
in Arabia. I knew the murderous rascal too well to trust him.
Maria wrote to me about poor Stisted's death.[FN#297] A great loss
for Maria and the chicks. I suppose you never see Bagshaw.[FN#298]
What news are there of him? Is Sarah (What's her name?
Harrison?)[FN#299] still to the fore. It is, I fear, useless to
write anything about poor Edward[FN#300] except to thank you most
heartily for your disinterested kindness to him. I will not bother
you about our journey, which was very pleasant and successful.
You will see it all, including my proposals for renewed diamond
digging, written in a book or books."
"United best love to my cousin and the cousinkins."
Burton made frequent enquiries after Edward, "Many thanks,"
he writes on a post card, "for the news of my dear brother," and all
his letters contain tender and warm-hearted references to him.
87. Colonel Gordon 1877.
In July 1875, Burton heard from Colonel (afterwards General) Gordon,
who wanted some information about the country south of the Victoria
Nyanza; and the friendship which then commenced between these
brilliant men was terminated only by death. In every letter Gordon
quoted Burton's motto, "Honour, not honours," and in one he
congratulated his friend on its happy choice. For several years
Gordon had been occupied under the auspices of the Khedive,
in continuing the work of administering the Soudan, which had been
begun by Sir Samuel Baker. He had established posts along the Nile,
placed steamers on the Albert Nyanza, and he nursed the hope of
being able to put an end to the horrid slave trade. In January
1877, he was appointed by the Khedive Governor of the entire Soudan.
There were to be three governors under him, and he wrote to Burton
offering him the governor-generalship of Darfur, with £1,600 a year.
Said Gordon, "You will soon have the telegraph in your capital,
El Fasher. ... You will do a mint of good, and benefit those poor
people. ... Now is the time for you to make your indelible mark in
the world and in these countries."[FN#301]
Had such an offer arrived eight years earlier, Burton might have
accepted it, but he was fifty-seven, and his post at Trieste,
though not an agreeable one, was a "lasting thing," which the
governor-generalship of Darfur seemed unlikely to be. So the offer
was declined. Gordon's next letter (27th June 1877) contains a
passage that brings the man before us in very vivid colours.
"I dare say," he observed, "you wonder how I can get on without an
interpreter and not knowing Arabic. I do not believe in man's free
will; and therefore believe all things are from God and
pre-ordained. Such being the case, the judgments or decisions
I give are fixed to be thus or thus, whether I have exactly hit off
all the circumstances or not. This is my raft, and on it I manage
to float along, thanks to God, more or less successfully."[FN#302]
On another occasion Gordon wrote, "It is a delightful thing to be a
fatalist"--meaning, commented Burton, "that the Divine direction and
pre-ordination of all things saved him so much trouble of
forethought and afterthought. In this tenet he was not only a
Calvinist but also a Moslem."[FN#303]
88. Jane Digby the Second.
The patent Pick-me-up having failed, and the Burtons being still in
need of money, other schemes were revolved, all more or less
chimerical. Lastly, Burton wondered whether it would be possible to
launch an expedition to Midian with a view to searching for gold.
In ancient times gold and other metals had been found there in
abundance, and remains of the old furnaces still dotted the country.
Forty cities had lived by the mines, and would, Burton averred,
still be living by them but for the devastating wars that had for
centuries spread ruin and destruction. He, reasoned, indeed,
much as Balzac had done about the mines of Sardinia as worked by the
Romans, and from no better premises; but several of his schemes had
a distinctly Balzacian aroma,[FN#304] as his friend Arbuthnot,
who was writing a life of Balzac, might have told him. Burton
himself, however, had no misgivings. His friend, Haji Wali,
had indicated, it seems, in the old days, the precise spot where
the wealth lay, and apparently nothing remained to be done except
to go and fetch it.
Haji Wali had some excellent points. He was hospitable and
good-natured, but he was also, as Burton very well knew, cunning
and untrustworthy. The more, however, Burton revolved the scheme in
his mind, the more feasible it seemed. That he could persuade the
Khedive to support him he felt sure; that he would swell to bursting
the Egyptian coffers and become a millionaire himself was also taken
for granted, and he said half in earnest, half in jest, that the
only title he ever coveted was Duke of Midian. There were very
eager ears listening to all this castle building. At Trieste,
Mrs. Burton had taken to her bosom another Jane Digby--a creature
with soft eyes, "bought blushes and set smiles." One would have
thought that former experiences would have made her cautious.
But it was not so. Mrs. Burton though deplorably tactless, was
innocence itself, and she accepted others at their own valuation.
Jane Digby the Second, who went in and out of the Burton's house as
if she belonged to it, was in reality one of the most abandoned
women in Trieste. She was married, but had also, as it transpired,
an acknowledged lover.
Like women of that class she was extravagant beyond belief,
and consequently always in difficulties. Hearing the everlasting
talk about Midian and its supposed gold, the depraved woman[FN#305]
made up her mind to try to detach Burton's affections from his wife
and to draw them to herself. To accomplish this she relied not only
on the attractions of her person, but also on glozing speeches and
other feminine artifices. Having easy access to the house she
purloined private letters, papers and other writings, and after all
hope of recovery was over, she would put them back. She slipped
love letters, purporting to be from other women, into Burton's
pockets; and whenever Mrs. Burton brushed his coat or dried his
clothes she was sure to come upon them. Mrs. Burton also received
But whatever Mrs. Burton's faults, she, as we have seen,
passionately loved, trusted and even worshipped her husband;
and whatever Burton's faults, he thoroughly appreciated her
devotion. They were quite sufficient for each other, and the
idea of anyone trying to come between them seemed ludicrous.
Consequently Mrs. Burton carried her letters to her husband and
he brought his to her. Amazing to say, neither of them suspected
the culprit, though Burton thought it must be some woman's intrigue,
and that need of money was the cause of it.
The real truth of it did not come out till after Burton's death,
and then the unhappy woman, who was near her end, made Lady Burton
a full confession, adding, "I took a wicked pleasure in your perfect
trust in me."
89. The Old Baronetcy. 18th January 1877.
Repeated enquiry now took place respecting the old baronetcy in the
Burton family, and Mrs. Burton in particular made unceasing efforts,
both in the columns of Notes and Queries and elsewhere, in order to
obtain the missing links. Several of Burton's letters at this
period relate to the subject. To Mrs. E. J. Burton, 18th January
1877, he writes: "My dear cousin, I write to you in despair:
That 'party,' your husband, puts me off with a post-card to this
effect, 'Have seen W-----ll, no chance for outsiders,' and does not
tell me a word more. I wish you would write all you know about it.
Another matter. Had the old man left me his money or any chance
of it, I should have applied for permission to take up the old
baronetcy. But now I shall not. Your husband is the baronet and he
can if he likes assume the "Sir" at once. Why the devil doesn't he?
Of course I advise him to go through the usual process, which will
cost, in the case of a baronetcy, very few pounds. Neither he nor
you may care for it, but think of the advantage it will be to your
children. Don't blink the fact that the British public are such
snobs that a baronet, even in the matrimonial market, is always
worth £50,000, and it is one of the oldest baronetcies in the
kingdom. Do take my advice and get it for your eldest son
[St. George Burton]. As I said before, your husband might assume
it even without leave, but he had better get 'the Duke' to
sanction it. And don't fail to push the man, who won't even claim
what is his right. Que diable! Am I the only article named Burton
that has an ounce of energy in his whole composition."
31st March 1877 to 27th December 1879
55. Sind Revisited. 1877.
56. The Gold Mines of Midian. 1878.
57. A.E.I. (Arabia, Egypt, India) by Isabel Burton. 1879.
58. Ogham Runes. 1879.
59. The Land of Midian Revisited. 2 vols., 1879.
90. "The New Joseph." 31st March 1877-21st April 1877. 19th October
1877-20th April 1878.
Burton now felt that the time was ripe to broach his views
concerning the golden Chersonese to the Khedive (Ismail), and having
easily obtained leave from the home authorities, he proceeded
straight to Cairo. The Khedive, impressed with his representations
and enthusiasm, promptly consented to supply funds, and "the New
Joseph," as Burton was now called, began preparations for the
expedition that was to make both Egypt and himself rich beyond
computation. Then followed a conversation with Haji Wali,
whom age--he was 77--"had only made a little fatter and a little
greedier," and the specious old trickster promised to accompany
the expedition. As usual Burton began with a preliminary canter,
visiting Moilah, Aynunah Bay, Makna and Jebel Hassani, where he
sketched, made plans, and collected metalliferous specimens.
He returned to Egypt with native stories of ruined towns evidencing
a formerly dense population, turquoise mines and rocks veined with
gold. The Khedive in idea saw himself a second Croesus. These were
the quarries, he held, whence Solomon derived the gold for the walls
of the house of his God, his drinking vessels and his lion throne,
but Colonel Gordon, when afterwards told of his scheme, smiled
incredulously. As the hot season necessitated a delay of six
months, Burton returned to Trieste, where life seemed hum-drum
enough after so many excitement, and spangled visions. He spent the
time writing a book The Gold Mines of Midian and the Ruined
Midianite Cities, and the sluggish months having at last crawled by,
he again left Trieste for Cairo.
91. More Advice to "Lazybones." 8th May 1877.
In a letter to Mrs. E. J. Burton, headed "At Sea, 8th May 1877,"
he again touches on the old baronetcy. "Next Saturday I expect
to be at Trieste, whence this letter will start. The Times has
probably told you the story of my last adventure, and this will
probably have explained to you why yours of March 8th has remained
so long unanswered. That document informed me that 'Lazybones'
was going to make himself useful. I hope he has done so. If not,
he can learn all about his grandfather from papers published by the
late Admiral Burton, and I do not think that Miss Eruli would object
to letting him have copies. Of course, don't speak about the
baronetcy. That failing, all he has to do is to put the matter
(after making an agreement) into the hands of a professional man,
who will visit Shap (Westmoreland) and Galway, and who will find no
difficulty in establishing direct descent. Please write to me
again. I shall be heard of in Trieste for some time. Many thanks
to the boys, and salute 'Lazybones' according to his merits."
In due time Burton arrived at Cairo, and the curious expedition set
forth for wild, mysterious Midian. He himself knew nothing of
engineering, but he had the services of a practical engineer--
one M. Marie; and some artists, and a number of Egyptian officers
and Soudanese soldiers accompanied the expedition. The party
included neither metallurgist nor practical prospector[FN#306]
but Burton carried a divining rod, and seems really to have believed
that it would be a help. The expenses, it was ascertained,
would amount to one thousand nine hundred and seventy-one pounds
twelve shillings and sixpence--no very extravagant sum for
purchasing all the wealth of Ophir.
92. Haji Wali Again.
At Zagazig they were joined by the venerable wag and trickster,
Haji Wali, and having reached Suez they embarked on the gunboat,
the "Mukhbir," for Moilah, which they reached on December 19th.
Burton landed with studied ceremony, his invariable plan when in the
midst of savage or semi-civilised people. The gunboat saluted,
the fort answered with a rattle and patter of musketry. All the
notables drew up in line on the shore. To the left stood the
civilians in tulip-coloured garb, next were the garrison, a dozen
Bashi-Bazouks armed with matchlocks, then came Burton's quarry men;
and lastly the escort--twenty-five men--held the place of honour on
the right; and as Burton passed he was received with loud hurrahs.
His first business was to hire three shaykhs and 106 camels and
dromedaries with their drivers. The party was inclined to be
disorderly, but Burton, with his usual skill in managing men,
soon proved who was master.
Nothing if not authoritative, he always spoke in the commanding
voice of a man who brooks no denial, and, as he showed plainly that
acts would follow words, there was thenceforward but trifling
trouble. He himself was in ecstasies. The Power of the Hills was
The exploration was divided into three journeys, and between each
and the next, the expedition rested at Moilah. The first or
northward had scarcely begun, indeed, they had not no further than
Sharma, before Haji Wali found it convenient to be troubled with
indigestion in so violent a form as to oblige him to return home,
which he straightway did with great alacrity. His object in
accompanying the expedition even thus far is not clear, but he
evidently got some payment, and that the expedition was a hopeless
one he must have known from the first. The old rogue lived till
3rd August 1883, but Burton never again met him.
Even in Midian, Burton was dogged by Ovid, for when he looked round
at the haggard, treeless expanse he could but exclaim, quoting the
"Rara neque haec felix in apertis eminet arvis
Arbor, et in terra est altera forma maris."
["Dry land! nay call it, destitute of tree,
Rather the blank, illimitable sea."][FN#307]
The expedition then made for Maghair Shu'ayb, the Madiama of Ptolemy
and the old capital of the land. Here they spent a "silly
fortnight, searching for gold," which refused to answer even to
the diving rod. They saw catacombs--the Tombs of the Kings--some of
which were scrawled with graffiti, laboured perhaps by some idle
Nabathaean boy in the time of Christ. They found remains of
furnaces, picked up some coins, and saw undoubted evidences of
ancient opulence. That was all. Thence they made for Makna,
passing on their way a catacombed hill called "the Praying Place
of Jethro," and a shallow basin of clay known as Moses' Well.
From Makna, where they found their gunboat waiting for them,
they then cruised to El Akabah, the ancient Eziongeber, in whose
waters had ridden the ships of Solomon laden with the merchandise
of India and Sheba. They reached Moilah again on February 13th.
The second journey, which took them due East as far as the arid
Hisma, lasted from February 17th to March 8th. Burton considered
the third journey the most important, but as they found nothing of
any consequence it is difficult to understand why. First they
steamed to El Wijh, in the "Sinnar," which had taken the place of
the Mukhbir, and then marched inland to the ancient mines of Abul
Maru. But Burton now saw the futility of attempting to proceed
further. On April 10th they were back again at El Wijh, on the
18th at Moilah and on the 20th at Suez.
In the meantime, Mrs. Burton had left Trieste, in order to join her
husband. She stayed a week at Cairo, where she met General Gordon,
who listened smilingly to her anticipations respecting the result of
the expedition, and then she went on to Suez. Writing to her
nieces, the Misses Stisted, 23rd March 1878, she said: "I have taken
a room looking across the Red Sea and desert towards Midian,
and hope at last to finish my own book [A.E.I., Arabia, Egypt and
India]. What on earth Paul is doing with Richard's Midian[FN#308]
God only knows. I have written and telegraphed till I am black in
the face, and telegrams cost 2s. 6d. a word." At last on 20th
April, while Mrs. Burton was in church, a slip of paper was put
into her hand: "The 'Sinnar' is in sight."
Determined that the Khedive should have something for his money,
Burton and his company had, to use Mrs. Burton's expression,
"returned triumphantly," with twenty-five tons of minerals and
numerous objects of archaeological interest. The yield of the
argentiferous and cupriferous ores, proved, alas! to be but poor.
They went in search of gold, and found graffiti! But was Burton
really disappointed? Hardly. In reading about every one of his
expeditions in anticipation of mineral wealth, the thought forces
itself upon us that it was adventure rather than gold, sulphur,
diamonds and silver that he really wanted. And of the lack of that
he never had reason to complain.
An exhibition of the specimens, both mineralogical and
archaeological, was held at the Hippodrome, and all Cairo flocked to
see "La Collection," as the announcement expressed it, "rapportee
par le Capitaine Burton."[FN#309] The Khedive opened the exhibition
in person, and walked round to look at the graffiti, the maps, the
sketches of ruins and the twenty-five tons of rock, as nobody had
more right; and Burton and M. Marie the engineer accompanied him.
"Are you sure," enquired the Khedive, pointing to some of the rocks,
"that this and this contain gold?"
"Midian," replied M. Marie, blandly, "is a fine mining country."
And that information was all the return his Highness got for his
little outlay of one thousand nine hundred and seventy one pounds
twelve shillings and sixpence.
94. Letter to Sir Henry Gordon, 4th July 1878.
Returned to Trieste, Burton once more settled down to his old
dull life. The most interesting letter of this period that has come
to our hands is one written to Sir Henry Gordon,[FN#310] brother of
Colonel, afterwards General Gordon.
It runs: "Dear Sir, I am truly grateful to you for your kind note of
June 30th and for the obliging expressions which it contains.
Your highly distinguished brother, who met my wife at Suez, has also
written me a long and interesting account of Harar. As you may
imagine, the subject concerns me very nearly, and the more so as I
have yet hopes of revisiting that part of Africa. It is not a
little curious that although I have been in communication with
Colonel Gordon for years, we have never yet managed to meet.
Last spring the event seemed inevitable, and yet when I reached
Suez, he had steamed south. However, he writes to me regularly,
scolding me a little at times, but that is no matter. I hope to be
luckier next winter. I expect to leave Trieste in a few
days[FN#311] and to make Liverpool via long sea. Both Mrs. Burton
and I want a medicine of rest and roast beef as opposed to rosbif.
Nothing would please me more than to meet you and talk over your
brother's plans. My direction is Athenaeum Club, and Woolwich is
not so difficult to explore as Harar was. Are we likely to meet at
the British Association?"
95. Death of Maria Stisted, 12th November 1878.
Burton and his wife reached London on July 27th (1878). Presently
we hear of them in Ireland, where they are the guests of Lord Talbot
of Malahide, and later he lectured at various places on "Midian" and
"Ogham Runes." Again Gordon tried to draw him to Africa, this time
with the offer of £5,000 a year, but the answer was the same as
before. Then came a great blow to Burton--the death of his beloved
niece--"Minnie"--Maria Stisted. Mrs. Burton, who was staying at
Brighton, wrote to Miss Georgiana Stisted a most kind, sympathetic
and beautiful letter--a letter, however, which reveals her
indiscreetness more clearly, perhaps, than any other that we have
seen. Though writing a letter of condolence--the sincerity of which
is beyond doubt--she must needs insert remarks which a moment's
consideration would have told her were bound to give offence--
remarks of the kind that had already, indeed, made a gulf between
her and Burton's relations.
She says: "My poor darling Georgy, I do not know how to write or
what to say to you in such poignant grief. I think this is the most
terrible blow that could have happened to Maria (Lady Stisted)
and you. I do not grieve for Minnie, because, as I told Dick in my
letter, her pure soul has known nothing but religion and music,
and is certainly in its own proper place among the angels, but I do
grieve for you with all my heart. ... It is no use to talk to you
about 'Time healing the wound,' or 'resigning oneself to what is
inevitable,' but I have so long studied the ways of God, that I know
He has taken the angel of your house as He always does, that this is
a crisis in your lives, there is some change about to take place,
and some work or new thing you have to do in which Minnie was not
to be. I can only pray for you with all my heart, as I did at
communion this morning." So far, so good, but then comes: "and have
masses said to create another gem upon Minnie's crown."
Yet Mrs. Burton knew that she was writing to staunch Protestants
whom such a remark would make positively to writhe. Still, in spite
of her indiscretions, no human being with a heart can help loving
her. She then goes on: "Please know and feel that though the world
looks dark, you have always a staunch friend in me. Dick feels
Minnie's death fearfully. He telegraphed to me and writes every day
about it. I don't think he is in a state of health to bear many
shocks just now, he is so frightfully nervous. He so little
expected it, he always thought it was only one of the little
ailments of girls, and Maria (Lady Stisted) was over anxious; so it
has come like a sledge-hammer upon him. I feel what a poor letter
this is, but my heart is full, and I do not know how to express
myself. Your attached and sympathising Aunt Zoo."
Burton was just then engaged upon his work The Land of Midian
Revisited, and he dedicated it to the memory of his "much loved
96. Burton's "Six Senses."
On 2nd December 1878, Burton lectured at 38, Great Russell Street
before the British National Association of Spiritualists--taking as
his subject, "Spiritualism in Foreign Lands." His ideas on
Spiritualism had been roughly outlined some time previous in a
letter to The Times.[FN#312] He said that the experience of twenty
years had convinced him: (1) that perception is possible without the
ordinary channels of the senses, and (2) that he had been in the
presence of some force or power which he could not understand.
Yet he did not believe that any spirits were subject to our calls
and caprices, or that the dead could be communicated with at all.
He concluded, "I must be contented to be at best a spiritualist
without the spirits." The letter excited interest. The press
commented on it, and street boys shouted to one another, "Take care
what you're doing! You haven't got Captain Burton's six senses."
At Great Russell Street, Burton commenced by defending materialism.
He could not see with Guizot that the pursuit of psychology is as
elevating as that of materialism is degrading. What right,
he asked, had the theologian to limit the power of the Creator.
"Is not the highest honour His who from the worst can draw the
best?"[FN#313] He then quoted his letter to The Times, and declared
that he still held the same opinions. The fact that thunder is in
the air, and the presence of a cat may be known even though one
cannot see, hear, taste, smell or feel thunder or the cat.
He called this force--this sixth sense--zoo-electricity. He then
gave an account of spiritualism, thaumaturgy, and wizardry,
as practised in the East, concluding with a reference to his Vikram
and the Vampire. "There," said he, "I have related under a
facetious form of narrative many of the so-called supernaturalisms
and preternaturalisms familiar to the Hindus."[FN#314] These studies
will show the terrible 'training,' the ascetic tortures, whereby men
either lose their senses, or attain the highest powers of magic,
that is, of commanding nature by mastering the force, whatever it
may be, here called zoo-electric, which conquers and controls every
modification of matter.[FN#315] His lecture concluded with an
account of a Moorish necromancer, which reminds us of the Maghrabi
incident in "the Story of Judar." When Burton sat down, Mrs. Burton
asked to be allowed to speak. Indeed, she never hesitated to speak
upon any subject under the sun, whether she did not understand it,
as was almost invariably the case, or whether she did; and she
always spoke agreeably.[FN#316] She pointed out to the
spiritualists that they had no grounds to suppose that her husband
was one of their number, and stated her belief that the theory of
zoo-electricity would suit both spiritualists and non-spiritualists.
Then, as a matter of course, she deftly introduced the "one Holy
Catholic and Apostolic Church" to which it was her "glory to
belong," and which this theory of Burton's "did not exactly offend."
As regards the yogis and the necromancers she insisted that her
husband had expressed no belief, but simply recounted what is
practised in the East, and she concluded with the remark, "Captain
Burton is certainly not a spiritualist." Some good-humoured
comments by various speakers terminated the proceedings. It is
quite certain, however, that Burton was more of a spiritualist than
Mrs. Burton would allow, and of Mrs. Burton herself in this
connection, we shall later have a curious story to tell.[FN#317]
During the rest of her holiday Mrs. Burton's thoughts ran chiefly on
philanthropic work, and she arranged gatherings at country houses in
support of the society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
These were well attended and some enthusiasm was shown, except when
there happened to be a meet of the fox hounds in the district,
or when rabbit coursing was going on.
97. Still thinking of Midian. April-December 1879.
The Burtons remained in London until after the publication of
Mrs. Burton's book "A.E.I.," [FN#318] and then Burton set out alone
on a tour through Germany. Mrs. Burton, who was to meet him at
Trieste, left London 27th April; and then followed a chapter of
accidents. First she fell with influenza, and next, at Paris,
when descending the stairs, which had been waxed, she "took one
header from the top to the bottom," and so damaged herself that she
had to be removed in a coupe lit.[FN#319] She reached Trieste after
"an agonizing sixty hours" and was seriously ill for several weeks.
All the while, Burton, whose purse, like that of one of his
favourite poets, Catullus, was "full of cobwebs," had been turning
his thoughts to Midian again. He still asseverated that it was a
land of gold, and he believed that if he could get to Egypt the rest
would be easy. Says Mrs. Burton, writing to Miss Stisted,
12th December 1879: "Darling Dick started on Friday 5th, a week ago,
in high spirits. My position is singular, no child, no relative,
and all new servants." She then speaks of her Christmas book,
which had just gone to the publishers. She says, "It is for boys
from 12 to 16, culled from ten volumes: Dick's three books on Sind,
his Goa, Falconry, Vikram, Bayonet and Sword Exercise, and my
A.E.I." and she was in hopes it would revive her husband's earliest
works, which by that time were forgotten. The fate of this work was
a melancholy one, for the publisher to whom the manuscript was
entrusted went bankrupt, and no more was every heard of it.[FN#320]
Burton's hope that he would be able to lead another expedition to
Midian was not realised. Ismail was no longer Khedive, and Tewfik,
his successor, who regarded the idea as chimerical, declined to be
bound by any promise of his father's. His Excellency Yacoub Artin
Pasha[FN#321] and others of Burton's Egyptian friends expressed
sympathy and tried to expedite matters, but nothing could be done.
To make matters worse, Burton when passing through Alexandria was
attacked by thieves, who hit him on the head from behind.
He defended himself stoutly, and got away, covered however,
with bruises and blood.
27th December 1879-August 1881
60. Camoens, 6 vols. 1 and 2, the Lusiads. 1880. 3 and 4, Life of
Camoens and Commentary. 1882. 5 and 6, The Lyrics. 1884.
61. The Kasidah. 1880.
62. Visit to Lissa and Pelagoza. 1880.
63. A Glance at the Passion Play. 1881.
64. How to deal with the Slave Trade in Egypt. 1881.
65. Thermae of Montfalcone. 1881.
98. The Lusiads.
Burton had brought with him to Egypt his translation of The Lusiads,
which had been commenced as early as 1847, and at which, as we have
seen, he had, from that time onward, intermittently laboured.
At Cairo he gave his work the finishing touches, and on his return
to Trieste in May it was ready for the press. There have been many
English translators of Camoens, from Fanshawe, the first, to Burton
and Aubertin; and Burton likens them to the Simoniacal Popes in
Dante's Malebolge-pit--each one struggling to trample down his elder
brother.[FN#322] Burton's work, which appeared in 1882,
was presently followed by two other volumes consisting of a Life
of Camoens and a Commentary on The Lusiads, but his version of
The Lyrics did not appear till 1884.
Regarded as a faithful rendering, the book was a success, for
Burton had drunk The Lusiads till he was super-saturated with it.
Alone among the translators, he had visited every spot alluded to in
the poem, and his geographical and other studies had enabled him to
elucidate many passages that had baffled his predecessors. Then,
too, he had the assistance of Aubertin, Da Cunha and other able
Portuguese scholars and Camoens enthusiasts. Regarded, however,
as poetry, the book was a failure, and for the simple reason that
Burton was not a poet. Like his Kasidah, it contains noble lines,
but on every page we are reminded of the translator's defective ear,
annoyed by the unnecessary use of obsolete words, and disappointed
by his lack of what Poe called "ethericity." The following stanza,
which expresses ideas that Burton heartily endorsed, may be regarded
as a fair sample of the whole:
"Elegant Phormion's philosophick store
see how the practised Hannibal derided
when lectured he with wealth of bellick lore
and on big words and books himself he prided.
Senhor! the soldier's discipline is more
than men may learn by mother-fancy guided;
Not musing, dreaming, reading what they write;
'tis seeing, doing, fighting; teach to fight."[FN#323]
The first six lines contain nothing remarkable, still, they are
workmanlike and pleasant to read; but the two concluding lines are
atrocious, and almost every stanza has similar blemishes. A little
more labour, even without much poetic skill, could easily have
produced a better result. But Burton was a Hannibal, not a
Phormion, and no man can be both. He is happiest, perhaps, in the
stanzas containing the legend of St. Thomas,[FN#324] or Thome,
as he calls him,
"the Missioner sanctified
Who thrust his finger in Lord Jesu's side."
According to Camoens, while Thorme was preaching to the potent Hindu
city Meleapor, in Narsinga land[FN#325] a huge forest tree floated
down the Ganges, but all the king's elephants and all the king's men
were incompetent to haul it ashore.
"Now was that lumber of such vasty size,
no jot it moves, however hard they bear;
when lo! th' Apostle of Christ's verities
wastes in the business less of toil and care:
His trailing waistcord to the tree he ties,
raises and sans an effort hales it where
A sumptuous Temple he would rear sublime,
a fit example for all future time."
This excites the jealousy and hatred of the Brahmins, for
"There be no hatred fell and fere, and curst
As by false virtue for true virtue nurst."
The chief Brahmin then kills his own son, and tries to saddle the
crime on Thome, who promptly restores the dead youth to life again
and "names the father as the man who slew." Ultimately, Thome,
who is unable to circumvent the further machinations of his enemies,
is pierced to the heart by a spear; and the apostle in glory is
"Wept Gange and Indus, true Thome! thy fate,
wept thee whatever lands thy foot had trod;
yet weep thee more the souls in blissful state
thou led'st to don the robes of Holy Rood.
But angels waiting at the Paradise-gate
meet thee with smiling faces, hymning God.
We pray thee, pray that still vouchsafe thy Lord
unto thy Lusians His good aid afford."
In a stanza presented as a footnote and described as "not in
Camoens," Burton gives vent to his own disappointments, and expends
a sigh for the fate of his old friend and enemy, John Hanning Speke.
As regards himself, had he not, despite his services to his country,
been relegated to a third-rate seaport, where his twenty-nine
languages were quite useless, except for fulminating against the
government! The fate of poor Speke had been still more lamentable:
"And see you twain from Britain's foggy shore
set forth to span dark Africk's jungle-plain;
thy furthest fount, O Nilus! they explore,
and where Zaire springs to seek the Main,
The Veil of Isis hides thy land no more,
whose secrets open to the world are lain.
They deem, vain fools! to win fair Honour's prize:
This exiled lives, and that untimely dies."
Burton, however, still nursed the fallacious hope that his merits
would in time be recognised, that perhaps he would be re-instated
in Damascus or appointed to Ispahan or Constantinople.
99. At Ober Ammergau, August 1880.
In August (1880) the Burtons paid a visit to Ober Ammergau, which
was just then attracting all eyes on account of its Passion Play.
Burton's object in going was "the wish to compare, haply to trace
some affinity between, this survival of the Christian 'Mystery' and
the living scenes of El Islam at Mecca," while Mrs. Burton's object
may be gauged by the following prayer which she wrote previous to
their departure from Trieste: "O Sweet Jesu. .. Grant that I,
all unworthy though I be, may so witness this holy memorial of thy
sacrificial love, Thy glorious victory over death and hell, that I
may be drawn nearer to Thee and hold Thee in everlasting
remembrance. Let the representation of Thy bitter sufferings on
the cross renew my love for Thee, strengthen my faith, and ennoble
my life, and not mine only, but all who witness it." Then follows
a prayer for the players.
Burton found no affinity between the scenes at Ober Ammergau and
those at Mecca, and he was glad to get away from "a pandemonium of
noise and confusion," while Mrs. Burton, who was told to mind her
own business by a carter with whom she remonstrated for cruelly
treating a horse, discovered that even Ober Ammergau was not all
holiness. Both Burton and his wife recorded their impressions in
print, but though his volume[FN#326] appeared in 1881, hers[FN#327]
was not published till 1900.
100. Mrs. Burton's Advice to Novelists. 4th September 1880.
The following letter from Mrs. Burton to Miss Stisted, who had just
written a novel, A Fireside King,[FN#328] gives welcome glimpses of
the Burtons and touches on matters that are interesting in the light
of subsequent events. "My dearest Georgie, On leaving you I came on
to Trieste, arriving 29th May, and found Dick just attacked by a
virulent gout. We went up to the mountains directly without waiting
even to unpack my things or rest, and as thirty-one days did not
relieve him, I took him to Monfalcone for mud baths, where we passed
three weeks, and that did him good. We then returned home to change
our baggage and start for Ober Ammergau, which I thought glorious,
so impressive, simple, natural. Dick rather criticises it.
However, we are back. ... I read your book through on the journey
to England. Of course I recognised your father, Minnie,[FN#329]
and many others, but you should never let your heroine die so
miserably, because the reader goes away with a void in his heart,
and you must never put all your repugnances in the first volume,
for you choke off your reader. ... You don't mind my telling the
truth, do you, because I hope you will write another, and if you
like you may stand in the first class of novelists and make money
and do good too, but put your beasts a little further in towards
the end of the first volume. I read all the reviews that fell in my
way, but though some were spiteful that need not discourage ...
Believe me, dearest G., your affectionate Zookins."
Miss Stisted's novel was her first and last, but she did write
another book some considerable time later, which, however, would not
have won Mrs. Burton's approval.[FN#330]
101. The Kasidah, 1880.
This year, Burton, emulous of fame as an original poet, published
The Kasidah of Haji Abdu El-Yezdi, A Lay of the Higher Law,
which treats of the great questions of Life, Death and Immortality,
and has certain resemblances to that brilliant poem which is the
actual father of it, Edward FitzGerald's rendering of The Rubaiyat
of Oman Khayyam. Lady Burton tells us that The Kasidah was written
about 1853, or six years before the appearance of FitzGerald's poem.
Nothing, however, is more certain than that, with the exception of a
few verses, it was written after FitzGerald's poem. The veriest
tyro in literature, by comparing the two productions, would easily
understand their relationship.[FN#331] The facts are these. About
1853, Burton, in a time of dejection, caused by the injustice done
him in India, planned a poem of this nature, wrote a few stanzas,
and then put it by and forgot all about it. FitzGerald's version
of Omar Khayyam appeared in 1859, and Burton no sooner read than he
burned to rival it. So he drew from the pigeon-hole what he called
his Lay, furbished up the few old verses, made a number of new ones,
reconstructed the whole, and lo, The Kasidah! Burton calls it a
translation of a poem by a certain Haji Abdu. There may have been a
Haji Abdu who supplied thoughts, and even verses, but the production
is really a collection of ideas gathered from all quarters.
Confucius, Longfellow, Plato, the FitzGeraldian Oman Khayyam,
Aristotle, Pope, Das Kabir and the Pulambal are drawn upon;
the world is placed under tribute from Pekin to the Salt Lake City.
A more careless "borrower" to use Emerson's expression, never lifted
poetry. Some of his lines are transferred bodily, and without
acknowledgment, from Hafiz;[FN#332] and, no doubt, if anybody were
to take the trouble to investigate, it would be found that many
other lines are not original. It is really not very much to
anyone's credit to play the John Ferriar to so careless a Sterne.
He doesn't steal the material for his brooms, he steals the brooms
ready-made. Later, as we shall see, he "borrowed" with a
ruthlessness that was surpassed only by Alexandre Dumas. Let us
say, then, that The Kasidah is tesselated work done in Burton's
usual way, and not very coherently, with a liberal sprinkling of
obsolete works. At first it positively swarmed with them, but
subsequently, by the advice of a friend, a considerable number such
as "wox" and "pight" was removed. If the marquetry of The Kasidah
compares but feebly with the compendious splendours of FitzGerald's
quatrains; and if the poem[FN#333] has undoubted wastes of sand,
nevertheless, the diligent may here and there pick up amber. But it
is only fair to bear in mind that the Lay is less a poem than an
enchiridion, a sort of Emersonian guide to the conduct of life
rather than an exquisitely-presented summary of the thoughts of an
Eastern pessimist. FitzGerald's poem is an unbroken lament.
Burton, a more robust soul than the Woodbridge eremite, also has his
misgivings. He passes in review the great religious teachers,
and systems and comes to the conclusion that men make gods and Gods
after their own likeness and that conscience is a geographical
accident; but if, like FitzGerald, he is puzzled when he ponders the
great questions of life and afterlife, he finds comfort in the fact
that probity and charity are their own reward, that we have no need
to be anxious about the future, seeing that, in the words of Pope,
"He can't be wrong, whose life is in the right." He insists that
self-cultivation, with due regard for others, is the sole and
sufficient object of human life, and he regards the affections and
the "divine gift of Pity" as man's highest enjoyments. As in
FitzGerald's poem there is talk of the False Dawn or Wolf's Tail,
"Thee and Me," Pot and Potter, and here and there are couplets which
are simply FitzGerald's quatrains paraphrased[FN#334]--as,
for example, the one in which Heaven and Hell are declared to be
mere tools of "the Wily Fetisheer."[FN#335] Like Omar Khayyam,
Haji Abdu loses patience with the "dizzied faiths" and their
disputatious exponents; like Omar Khayyam too, Haji Abdu is
not averse from Jamshid's bowl, but he is far less vinous than
the old Persian.
Two of the couplets flash with auroral splendour, and of all the
vast amount of metrical work that Burton accomplished, these are the
only lines that can be pronounced imperishable. Once only--and only
momentarily--did the seraph of the sanctuary touch his lips with the
"Do what thy manhood bids thee do, from none but self expect
He noblest lives and noblest dies who makes and keeps his
"All other life is living death, a world where none but
A breath, a wind, a sound, a voice, a tinkling of the
We are also bidden to be noble, genuine and charitable.
"To seek the true, to glad the heart, such is of life the Higher
Neglecting the four really brilliant lines, the principal attraction
of The Kasidah is its redolence of the saffron, immeasurable desert.
We snuff at every turn its invigorating air; and the tinkle of the
camel's bell is its sole and perpetual music.
At first Burton made some attempt to create the impression that
there was actually a Haji Abdu, and that the verses were merely a
translation. Indeed, he quotes him, at the end of his Supplemental
Nights, vol. ii., and elsewhere, as an independent author. Later,
however, the mask which deceived nobody was removed. Not only was
The Kasidah written in emulation of FitzGerald's Omar, but Burton
made no secret that such was the case. To further this end
Mr. Schutz Wilson, who had done so much for the Rubaiyat,
was approached by one of Burton's friends; and the following letter
written to Burton after the interview will be read with some
amusement. "Dear Richard," it runs, "'Wox' made me shudder! If you
give more specimens do be good and be sparing of the 'pights,'
'ceres' and 'woxes.' I showed the Lay to Schutz Wilson. He seemed
absorbed in the idea of Omar, and said 'Oh! I am the cause of its
going through five editions.' I told him this was even more
striking than Omar, but he didn't seem able to take in the new idea!
When you want people's minds they are always thinking of something
else."[FN#336] Although the critics as a body fell foul of
The Kasidah, still there were not wanting appreciators, and its four
great lines have often been quoted.
By this time Mrs. Burton had provided herself with another Chico.
Chico the Third (or Chica the Second) was a tall and lank,
but well-built Italian girl, daughter of a baron. Lisa had
Khamoor's ungovernable temper, but to the Burtons she at first
exhibited the faithfulness of a dog. Her father lived formerly at
Verona, but in the war of 1866, having sided with Austria,[FN#337]
he fell upon evil days; and retired to Trieste on a trifling
pension. Mrs. Burton and Lisa had not been long acquainted before
Lisa became a member of the Burton household as a kind of lady's
maid, although she retained her title of Baroness, and Mrs. Burton
at once set about Anglicising her new friend, though her attempt,
as in Khamoor's case, was only partially successful. For instance,
Lisa, would never wear a hat, "for fear of losing caste." She was
willing, however, to hang out her stocking on Christmas eve; and on
finding it full next morning said, "Oh, I like this game. Shall we
play it every night!" Just however, as a petted Khamoor had made a
spoilt Khamoor; so a petted Lisa very soon made a spoilt Lisa.
With Mrs. Burton, her Jane Digbys, her Chicos, and her servants,
Burton rarely interfered, and when he did interfere, it was only to
make matters worse; for his judgment was weaker even than hers.
On one occasion, however, he took upon himself to dismiss the cook
and to introduce another of his own finding. On being requested to
prepare the dinner the new acquisition set about it by drinking two
bottles of wine, knocking down the housemaid, and beating the
kitchenmaid with the saucepan. Burton, who flew to their rescue,
thought he must be in Somali-land once more.
August 1881-May 1882
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