The Life of Sir Richard Burton
Part 5 out of 9
103. With Cameron at Venice, August 1881.
Burton had for several years been acquainted with the African
traveller V. Lovett Cameron,[FN#338] and in August 1881 they met
accidentally at Venice. A geographical conference was being held in
the city and representatives from all nations were assembled;
but, naturally, the first geographer of the day, Captain Burton,
was not invited either to speak or even to be present. On the
morning of the conference, Burton, Mrs. Burton and Cameron gave
themselves the treat of going over to the Lido for bathing and
breakfast; and being in puckish mood, the two men, notwithstanding
the great crowd of pleasure seekers, took off their shoes and
stockings, turned up their trousers, and made sand castles.
"Look, nurse," bawled Burton to his wife, "see what Cammy and I
have done!" "If you please, nursey," whined Cameron, "Dick's
snatched away my spade." At that moment Lord Aberdeen, President
of the Royal Geographical Society, and a party of grave antiquaries
and geographers, mostly run to nose, spectacles, and forehead,
arrived on the scene; with the result of infinite laughter,
in which Burton and Cameron joined heartily; and henceforward
Mrs. Burton answered to no name but "Nursey." Burton, however,
was justly indignant on account of his not having been invited to
the conference, and his revenge took the shape of a pungent squib
which he wrote on his card and left in the Congress Room. Next day,
while Burton and Cameron were strolling in front of St. Mark's,
a Portuguese gentleman came up and saluted them. To Burton's
delight it was his old friend Da Cunha, the Camoens enthusiast;
and then ensued a long argument, conducted in Portuguese, concerning
Burton's rendering of one of Camoens' sonnets, Burton in the end
convincing his friend of its correctness. Having parted from
Da Cunha, they ran against an Egyptian officer who had just visited
Mecca and brought back a series of photographs. The conversation
this time was conducted in Arabic, and Burton explained to the
Egyptian the meaning of much of the ritual of the pilgrimage.
"As a cicerone," says Cameron, "Burton was invaluable.
His inexhaustible stock of historical and legendary lore furnished
him with something to relate about even the meanest and commonest
buildings."[FN#339] There were trips about the green canals in
a long black gondola on the day and night of the regatta, when the
Grand Canal and St. Mark's were illuminated, all of which Burton
enjoyed thoroughly, for round him had gathered the elite of Venice,
and his brilliant personality, as usual, dazzled and dominated all
who listened to him.
104. John Payne, November 1881.
We now come to that absorbing period of Burton's life which is
connected principally with The Arabian Nights. Amazing as the
statement may seem, we feel ourselves compelled to say at once,
though regretfully, that Burton's own account of the history of the
translation, given in his Translator's Foreword to the Arabian
Nights, and Lady Burton's account, given in her life of her husband,
do not tally with the facts as revealed in his letters. In matters
relating to his own history Burton often spoke with amazing
recklessness,[FN#340] and perhaps he considered he was justified in
stating that his translation of The Arabian Nights was well advanced
by November 1881, seeing that it had for thirty years intermittently
occupied his thoughts. As regards Lady Burton, no doubt, of some of
the facts presently to be given, she was unaware. But she was one
who easily deceived herself. Whatever she wished, she was apt to
believe. The actual facts compiled from existing documentary
evidence--including Burton's own letters--will now be revealed for
the first time; and it will be found, as is generally the case,
that the unembroidered truth is more interesting than the romance.
The story is strangely paralleled by that of the writing of
The Kasidah; or in other words it recalls traits that were eminently
characteristic of Burton. As early as 1854, as we have seen,
Burton and Steinhauser had planned a translation of The Arabian
Nights, Steinhauser was to furnish the prose, Burton the poetry.
They corresponded on the subject, but made only trifling progress.
Steinhauser died in 1866, his manuscripts were scattered, and Burton
never heard of them again. Absolutely nothing more was done,
for Burton was occupied with other matters--travelling all over the
world and writing piles of voluminous books on other subjects.
Still, he had hoards of Eastern manuscripts, and notes of his own on
Eastern manners and customs, which had for years been accumulating
and an even greater mass of curious information had been stored in
his brain. Again and again he had promised himself to proceed,
but something every time hindered.
In November 1881, Burton, who was then at Trieste, noticed a
paragraph in The Athenaeum[FN#341] to the effect that Mr. John
Payne, the well-known author of The Masque of Shadows and of a
famous rendering of The Poems of Francois Villon, was about to issue
a Translation of The Book of the Thousand Nights and one Nights.
Burton, who was an enthusiastic admirer of the Villon and who,
moreover, had not relinquished his own scheme, though it had lain so
long quiescent, wrote at once to The Athenaeum a letter which
appeared on 26th November 1881. He said: "Many years ago,
in collaboration with my old and lamented friend,
Dr. F. Steinhauser, of the Bombay Army, I began to translate
the whole[FN#342] of The Thousand Nights and a Night. The book,
mutilated in Europe to a collection of fairy tales, and miscalled
the Arabian Nights, is unique as a study of anthropology. It is a
marvellous picture of Oriental life; its shiftings are those of the
kaleidoscope. Its alternation of pathos and bathos--of the boldest
poetry (the diction of Job) with the baldest prose (the Egyptian of
to-day) and finally, its contrast of the highest and purest morality
with the orgies of Apuleius and Petronius Arbiter, take away the
reader's breath. I determined to render every word with the
literalism of Urquhart's Rabelais, and to save the publisher trouble
by printing my translation at Brussels.
"Not non omnia possumus. Although a host of friends has been eager
to subscribe, my work is still unfinished, nor could it be finished
without a year's hard labour. I rejoice, therefore, to see that
Mr. John Payne, under the Villon Society, has addressed himself to
a realistic translation without 'abridgments or suppressions.'
I have only to wish him success, and to express a hope that he is
resolved verbum reddere verbo, without deference to any prejudice
which would prevent his being perfectly truthful to the original.
I want to see that the book has fair play; and if it is not treated
as it deserves, I shall still have to print my own version.[FN#343]
'Villon,' however, makes me hope for the best."
In this letter Burton oddly enough speaks of his own work as
"still unfinished." This was quite true, seeing that it was not
even begun, unless two or three pages which he once showed to
Mr. Watts-Dunton,[FN#344] and the pigeon-holing of notes be regarded
as a commencement. Still, the announcement of Mr. Payne's edition--
the first volume of which was actually in the press--must have
caused him a pang; and the sincere good wishes for his rival's
success testify to the nobility, unselfishness and magnanimity
of his character.
Mr. Payne, supposing from his letter that Burton had made
considerable progress with his translation, wrote on November 28th
to Burton, and, using the words Tantus labor non sit cassus,
suggested collaboration. Thus commenced one of the most interesting
friendships in the annals of literature. Before relating the story,
however, it will be helpful to set down some particulars of the
career of Mr. Payne. John Payne was born in 1842 of a Devonshire
family, descended from that breezy old sea-dog, Sir John Hawkins.
Mr. Payne, indeed, resembles Hawkins in appearance. He is an
Elizabethan transferred bodily into the 19th and 20th centuries,
his ruff lost in transit. Yet he not infrequently has a ruff even--
a live one, for it is no uncommon event to see his favourite Angora
leap on to his shoulders and coil himself half round his master's
neck, looking not unlike a lady's boa--and its name, Parthenopaeus,
is long enough even for that. For years Mr. Payne followed the law,
and with success, but his heart was with the Muses and the odorous
East. From a boy he had loved and studied the old English, Scotch
and Welsh writers, with the result that all his productions have a
mediaeval aroma. The Faerie Queene, Chaucer and his successors--the
Scottish poets of the 15th and 16th Centuries, The Morte d'Arthur,
the authorised version of the Bible and North's Plutarch have always
lain at his elbow. Then, too, with Dante, Shakespeare and Heine's
poems he is supersaturated; but the authorised version of the Bible
has had more influence on him than any other book, and he has so
loved and studied it from boyhood that he had assimilated its
processes and learned the secrets of the interior mechanism of its
style. It is not surprising that his first publication should have
been a book of poetry. The merits of The Masque of Shadows and
other Poems were acknowledged on all sides. It was seen that the
art of ballad writing--which Goethe calls the most difficult of
arts--was not, as some averred, a forgotten one. The Masque of
Shadows itself is melodious and vivid from the first line to the
end, but the captain jewel is the necromantic and thrilling Rime of
Redemption--the story of a woman who erred and of a man who prayed
and wrestled with God in prayer for her, and ultimately wrung her
salvation by self-sacrifice from Divine Justice. Here and there are
passages that we could have wished modified, but surely such a
terrific fantasy was never before penned! It is as harrowing as
The Ancient Mariner, and appeals to one more forcibly than
Coleridge's "Rime," because it seems actual truth. Other volumes,
containing impassioned ballads, lyrics, narrative poems and sonnets,
came from Mr. Payne's pen. His poems have the rush and bound of a
Scotch waterfall. This is explained by the fact that they are
written in moments of physical and mental exaltation. Only a mind
in a quasi-delirious state, to be likened to that of the pythoness
on the tripod, could have evolved the Rime of Redemption[FN#345]
or Thorgerda[FN#346]. No subject comes amiss to him. His chemic
power turns everything to gold. "He sees everything,"
as Mr. Watts-Dunton once said to the writer--"through the gauze
of poetry." His love for beautiful words and phrases leads him
to express his thoughts in the choicest language. He puts his
costliest wine in myrrhine vases; he builds his temple with the
lordliest cedars. Mr. Payne does not write for the multitude,
but few poets of the day have a more devoted band of admirers.
Some readers will express a preference for The Building of the
Dream,[FN#347] others for Lautrec[FN#348] or Salvestra[FN#349],
and others for the dazzling and mellifluous Prelude to Hafiz.
Mr. A. C. Swinburne eulogised the "exquisite and clear cut
Intaglios."[FN#350] D. G. Rossetti revelled in the Sonnets;
Theodore de Banville, "roi des rimes," in the Songs of Life and
Death, whose beauties blend like the tints in jewels.[FN#351]
Mr. Payne first took up the work of a translator in 1878,
his earliest achievement in the new province being his admirable
rendering of Villon, in which he gives the music of the thief poet,
and all his humour, and this reminds us that Mr. Payne, unlike most
poets, is a skilled musician. Of his life, indeed, music, in its
most advanced and audacious manifestations had always been as much
an essential a part as literature, hence the wonderful melodic
effects of the more remarkable of his poems. Already an excellent
Arabic scholar, he had as early as 1875 resolved upon a translation
of The Arabian Nights, and he commenced the task in earnest on
5th February 1877. He worked with exhausting sedulity and expended
upon it all the gifts in his power, with the result that his work
has taken its places as a classic. The price was nine guineas.
Imagining that the demand for so expensive a work would not be
large, Mr. Payne, unfortunately, limited himself to the publication
of only 500 copies. The demand exceeded 2,000, so 1,500 persons
It was at this moment that Mr. Payne became acquainted with Burton.
Mr. Payne admired Burton as a traveller, an explorer, and a
linguist, and recognised the fact that no man had a more intimate
knowledge of the manners and customs of the East; and Burton on his
part paid high tribute to Mr. Payne's gifts as a translator and
105. To the Gold Coast, 25th November 1881-20th May 1882.
When Mr. Payne's letter reached Trieste, Burton had just started
off, with Commander Verney Lovett Cameron, on an expedition to the
Gold Coast. In his Fernando Po period he had, as we have seen,
been deeply interested in the gold digging and gold washing
industries,[FN#353] had himself, indeed, to use his own words,
"discovered several gold mines on that coast." For years his mind
had turned wistfully towards those regions, and at last, early in
1881, he was able to enter into an arrangement with a private
speculator concerning the supposed mines. He and Cameron were to
have all their expenses paid, and certain shares upon the
formulation of the company. The travellers left Trieste on November
18th, being accompanied as far as Fiume by Mrs. Burton and Lisa,
who on the 25th returned to Trieste; and on December 17th they
reached Lisbon, whither Mr. Payne's letter followed them. Burton,
who replied cordially, said "In April, at the latest, I hope to have
the pleasure of shaking hands with you in London, and then we will
talk over the 1,000 Nights and a Night. At present it is useless
to say anything more than this--I shall be most happy to collaborate
with you. .... Do you know the Rev. G. Percy Badger (of the
Dictionary)? If not, you should make his acquaintance, as he is
familiar with the Persian and to a certain extent with the Egyptian
terms of the Nights. He is very obliging and ready to assist
Arabists[FN#354] ..... I am an immense admirer of your Villon."
Writing to Burton early in the year Payne observed that as his first
volume was in type, apparently it should at once go to press,
but that he would be pleased to submit subsequent volumes to Burton.
Terms were also suggested.
Burton's reply, addressed Axim, Gold Coast, and received by
Mr. Payne, 20th March, 1882, runs as follows: "I received your
welcome letter by the steamer of yesterday, and to-morrow morning my
companion Cameron and I again proceed to the 'bush.' Of course you
must go to press at once. I deeply regret it, but on arriving in
England my time will be so completely taken up by the Gold Coast
that I shall not have a moment's leisure. It would be a useless
expense to keep up the type. Your terms about the royalty,"
he said, "are more than liberal. I cannot accept them, however,
except for value received, and it remains to be seen what time is at
my disposal. I am working out a scheme for Chinese immigration to
the West African coast, and this may take me next winter to China.
I can only say that I shall be most happy to render you any
assistance in my power; at the same time I must warn you that I am a
rolling stone. If I cannot find time you must apply in the matter
of the introductory essay to the Rev. Percy Badger, Professor
Robertson Smith (Glasgow) and Professor Palmer (Trinity, Cambridge).
I have booked your private address and have now only to reciprocate
your good wishes."
On April 18th Mrs. Burton and Lisa set out for England in order to
rejoin Burton--Lisa, as usual, without any headgear--a condition of
affairs which in every church they entered caused friction with the
officials. When this began Mrs. Burton would explain the position;
and the officials, when they came to find that nothing they could
say or do make the slightest difference to Lisa, invariably
expressed themselves satisfied with the explanation.
Burton and Cameron reached Liverpool on May 20th, and were able to
report both "that there was plenty of gold, and that the mines could
easily be worked." The expedition, however, was unproductive of all
anticipated results and no profit accrued to Burton. Indeed it was
Iceland and Midian over again. "I ought," he says in one of his
letters to Payne, "to go down to history as the man who rediscovered
one Gold Country and rehabilitated a second, and yet lost heavily by
20th May 1882-July 1883
The Meeting of Burton and Payne
66. Lord Beaconsfield.
67. To the Gold Coast for Gold. 2 vols. 1883.
68. Stone Implements from the Gold Coast. Burton and Cameron.
106. Mrs. Grundy begins to roar. May 1882.
In May 1882, Burton called on Mr. Payne, and the matter of
The Arabian Nights was fully discussed. It then transpired that
Burton's project was still entirely in nubibus. He told Mr. Payne
that he had no manuscript of any kind beyond "a sheet or two of
notes,"[FN#356] and it was afterwards gathered from his words that
these notes were a mere syllabus of the contents of the Boulac
edition of the Nights--the only one of the four printed texts
(Calcutta, Macnaghten, Boulac and Breslau) used and combined by
Mr. Payne with which Burton was then acquainted.[FN#357]
Mr. Payne's first volume was completely in type and had for some
weeks been held over for Burton's return to England. Of the
remaining volumes three were ready for press, and the rest only
awaited fair copying. Burton's thoughts, however, were then
completely occupied with the Gold Coast, consequently the whole
project of collaboration fell through. Mr. Payne's first volume
duly appeared; and as the result of further conversations it was
arranged that Burton should read Mr. Payne's subsequent proofs,
though he declined to accept any remuneration unless it should turn
out that his assistance was necessary. In June, Mr. Payne submitted
the first proofs of Vol. ii. to Burton. Meantime the literalism of
Mr. Payne's translation had created extraordinary stir, and Burton
wrote thus forcefully on the matter (June 3rd): "Please send me a
lot of advertisements.[FN#358] I can place a multitude of copies.
Mrs. Grundy is beginning to roar; already I hear the voice of her.
And I know her to be an arrant w---- and tell her so, and don't care
a ----- for her."
The event at Trieste that summer was the opening of a Grand
International Exhibition--the hobby of the Governor of the town--
Baron de Pretis, and Burton thus refers to it in a letter written to
Mr. Payne, 5th August (1882). "We arrived here just in time for the
opening of the Exhibition, August 1st. Everything went off well,
but next evening an Orsini shell was thrown which killed one and
wounded five, including my friend Dr. Dorn, Editor of the Triester
Zeitung. The object, of course, was to injure the Exhibition,
and the effect will be ruinous. I expect more to come and dare not
leave my post. So while my wife goes to Marienbad, I must content
myself with the Baths at Monfalcone,[FN#359] distant only one hour
by rail" In the next letter (August 14th) Burton refers to a
proposed special quarto (large paper) edition of Mr. Payne's Nights,
the scheme for which, however, fell through. "I am delighted with
the idea," he says, "for though not a bibliophile in practice
(£ s. d. preventing) I am entirely in theory." There is also an
amusing reference to a clergyman who after giving his name for a
copy withdrew it. Says Burton, "If the Rev. A. miss this
opportunity of grace he can blame only himself. It is very sad but
not to be helped. ... And now good luck to the venture." Later he
observes, "The fair sex appears wild to get at the Nights.[FN#360]
I have received notes from two upon the nice subject, with no end of
complaints about stern parients, brothers and brothers-in-law."
In September Burton asks for the loan of Payne's copy of the
Calcutta Edition (Macnaghten) and enquires after Vol. i. He says
"What news of Vol. i.? I am very anxious to see it, and so are many
female correspondents. I look forward with great pleasure to
It was now understood that an attack was to be made on Payne's
volume in the press. Says Burton, September 29th (1882). "Perhaps
it will be best to let -------[FN#361] sing his song. -------- has
no end of enemies, and I can stir up a small wasp's nest without
once appearing in the matter. The best answer will be showing up a
few of Lane's mistakes, but this must be done with the greatest
care, so that no hole can be picked in the critique.[FN#362]
I enclose three sonnets, a specimen of my next volume of Camoens,
and should much like any suggestions from you. They are line for
line and mostly word for word. But that is nothing; the question
is, are they readable English? They'll be printed at my own
expense, so they will ruin nobody. Switzerland has set you up and
don't let the solicitor's office pull you down."
On October 2nd he says: "Glad to hear of a new edition of Lane:
it will draw attention to the subject. I must see what can be done
with reviewers. Saturday and I are at drawn daggers, and --------
of ------ is such a stiff young she-prig that I hardly know what to
do about him. However, I shall begin work at once by writing and
collecting the vulnerable points of the clique. ----- is a very
much hated man, and there will be no difficulty." On the 8th,
in reference to the opposing "clique," Burton writes: "In my own
case I should encourage a row with this bete noire; but I can
readily understand your having reasons for wishing to keep it
quiet." Naturally, considering the tactics that were being employed
against them, the Villon Society, which published Mr. Payne's works,
had no wish to draw the attention of the authorities to the moral
question. Indeed, of the possible action of the authorities,
as instigated by the clique, the Society stood in some fear.
Burton goes on: "I shall write to-day to T----- to know how ---- is
best hit. T----- hates me--so do most people. Meanwhile, you must
(either yourself or by proxy) get a list of Lane's laches. I regret
to say my copy of his Modern Egyptians has been lost or stolen,
and with it are gone the lists of his errata I had drawn up many
years ago. Of course I don't know Arabic, but who does? One may
know a part of it, a corner of the field, but all! Bah! Many
thanks for the notes on the three sonnets [Camoens]. Most hearty
thanks for the trouble you have taken. The remarks are those of a
scholar and a translator."
Later, Burton sent Payne other Camoens sonnets to look over.
Writing on 29th October 1882, he says, "Many thanks for the sonnet.
Your version is right good, but it is yourself, not me. In such a
matter each man expresses his own individuality. I shall follow
your advice about the quatrains and tercets. No. 19 is one of the
darkest on account of its extreme simplicity. I shall trouble you
The first proofs (pp. 1-144) of Vol. ii. were read by Burton in
October 1882, and returned by him October 21st. In his letter to
Mr. Payne of that date he says, "It will only be prudent to prepare
for an attack. I am perfectly ready to justify a complete
translation of the book. And if I am obliged to say what I think
about Lane's Edition there will be hard hitting. Of course I wish
to leave his bones in peace, but --- may make that impossible.
Curious to see three editions of the 1,000 Nights advertised at the
same time, not to speak of the bastard.[FN#363] I return you nine
sheets [of proofs] by parcels post registered. You have done your
work very well, and my part is confined to a very small amount of
scribble which you will rub out at discretion."
Subsequently Burton observed that Mr. Payne required no assistance
of any kind; and therefore he re-refused to accept remuneration for
reading the proofs. Naturally, they differed, as Arabists all do,
upon certain points, but on all subjects save two Burton allowed
that Mr. Payne's opinion was as good as his own.
The first concerned the jingles in the prose portions of the Nights,
such as "The trees are growing and the waters flowing and Allah all
good bestowing." Burton wanted them to be preserved, but to this
Mr. Payne could not consent, and he gives the reasons in his
Terminal Essay. The second exception was the treatment of the
passages referring to a particular subject; and this indicates to us
clearly the difference in the ideas and aims of the two men.
Of artistry, of what FitzGerald calls "sinking and reducing,"
Burton had no notion. "If anything is in any redaction of the
original, in it should go," he said. "Never mind how shocking it
may be to modern and western minds. If I sin, I sin in good
company--in the company of the authors of the Authorised Version of
the Bible, who did not hesitate to render literatim certain passages
which persons aiming simply at artistic effect would certainly have
Payne on the other hand was inclined to minimise these passages as
much as possible. Though determined that his translation should be
a complete one, yet he entirely omitted coarsenesses whenever he
could find excuse to do so--that is to say, when they did not appear
in all the texts. If no such excuse existed he clothed the idea in
skilful language.[FN#364] Nothing is omitted; but it is of course
within the resources of literary art to say anything without real
offence. Burton, who had no aptitude for the task; who, moreover,
had other aims, constantly disagreed with Payne upon this point.
Thus, writing 12th May 1883, he says: "You are drawing it very mild.
Has there been any unpleasantness about plain speaking? Poor Abu
Nuwas[FN#365] is (as it were) castrated. I should say 'Be bold or
audace,' &c., only you know better than I do how far you can go and
cannot go. I should simply translate every word."
"What I meant by literalism," he says, 1st October 1883, "is
literally translating each noun (in the long lists which so often
occur) in its turn, so that the student can use the translation."
This formed no part of Mr. Payne's scheme, in fact was directly
opposed to the spirit of his work, which was to make the
translation, while quite faithful to the original, a monument
of noble English prose and verse.
"I hold the Nights," continues Burton, the best of class books,
and when a man knows it, he can get on with Arabs everywhere.
He thus comments on Payne's Vol. iv., some of the tales of which,
translate them as you will, cannot be other than shocking.
"Unfortunately it is these offences (which come so naturally in
Greece and Persia, and which belong strictly to their fervid age)
that give the book much of its ethnological value. I don't know if
I ever mentioned to you a paper (unpublished) of mine showing the
geographical limits of the evil.[FN#366] I shall publish it some
day and surprise the world.[FN#367] I don't live in England, and I
don't care an asterisk for Public Opinion.[FN#368] I would rather
tread on Mrs. Grundy's pet corn than not, she may howl on her
*** *** to her heart's content." On August 24th (1883) Burton says,
"Please keep up in Vol. v. this literality in which you began.
My test is that every Arab word should have its equivalent English.
...Pity we can't manage to end every volume with a tidbit!
Would it be dishonest to transfer a tale from one night or nights
to another or others? I fancy not, as this is done in various
editions. A glorious ending for Vol. iv. Would have been The Three
Wishes or the Night of Power[FN#369] and The Cabinet with Five
107. The Search for Palmer, October 1882.
Burton was now to make what proved to be his last expedition.
All the year Egypt had been ablaze with the rebellion of Arabi
Pasha. Alexandria was bombarded by the English on July 11th,
Arabi suffered defeat at Tell-el-Kebir three months later.
On the commencement of the rebellion the British Government sent out
Burton's old friend Professor Palmer to the Sinaitic peninsula with
a view to winning the tribes in that part of the British side,
and so preventing the destruction of the Suez Canal. The expedition
was atrociously planned, and the fatal mistake was also made of
providing it with £3,000 in gold. Palmer landed at Jaffa at the end
of June, and then set out via Gaza across the "Short Desert,"
for Suez, where he was joined by Captain Gill and Lieutenant
Charrington. In fancy one hears him as he enters on his perilous
journey asking himself that question, which was so absurdly frequent
in his lips, "I wonder what will happen?"
It is customary for travellers, before entering the Arabian wastes,
to hire a Ghafir, that is, a guide and protector. Palmer, instead
of securing a powerful chief, as the case required, selected a man
of small account named Matr Nassar, and this petty shaykh and his
nephew were the expedition's only defence.
The doomed party left Suez on August 8th. On the 10th at midnight
they were attacked by the Bedawin. "Palmer expostulated with his
assassins; but all his sympathetic facility, his appeals to Arab
honour and superstition, his threats, his denunciations, and the
gift of eloquence which had so often prevailed with the wild men,
were unheeded." As vainly, Matr Nassar[FN#371] covered his proteges
with his aba[FN#372] thus making them part of his own family.
On the evening of August 11th the captives were led to the high bank
of the Wady Sudr, where it received another and smaller fiumara yet
unnamed, and bidden to prepare for death. Boldly facing his
enemies, Palmer cursed them[FN#373] in Biblical language, and in the
name of the Lord. But while the words were in his mouth, a bullet
struck him and he fell. His companions also fell in cold blood,
and the bodies of all three were thrown down the height[FN#374]--
a piteous denouement--and one that has features in common with the
tragic death scene of another heroic character of this drama--
The English Government still believed and hoped that Palmer has
escaped; and on October 17th it sent a telegram to Burton bidding
him go and assist in the search for his old friend.
Like the war horse in the Bible, the veteran traveller shouted
"Aha!" and he shot across the Mediterranean like a projectile from a
cannon. But he had no sooner reached Suez than he heard--his usual
luck--that Sir Charles Warren, with 200 picked men, was scouring the
peninsula, and that consequently his own services would not be
required. In six weeks he was back again at Trieste and so ended
Viator's[FN#375] last expedition. The remains of Palmer and his two
companions were discovered by Sir Charles and sent to England to be
interred in St. Paul's Cathedral. To Palmer's merits as a man
Burton paid glowing tributes; and he praised, too, Palmer's works,
especially The Life of Harun Al Raschid and the translations of
Hafiz,[FN#376] Zoheir and the Koran. Of the last Mr. Stanley
Lane-Poole says finely: It "has the true desert ring in it; ..
the translator has carried us among the Bedawin tents, and breathed
into us the strong air of the desert, till we fancy we can hear the
rich voice of the Blessed Prophet himself as he spoke to the
pilgrims on Akabah."
In his letter to Payne of 23rd December 1882, Burton adumbrates a
visit eastward. "After January," he says, "I shall run to the Greek
Islands, and pick up my forgotten modern Greek." He was unable,
however, to carry out his plans in their entirety. On January 15th
he thanks Payne for the loan of the "Uncastrated Villon,"[FN#377]
and the Calcutta and Breslau editions of the Nights, and says
"Your two vols. of Breslau and last proofs reached me yesterday.
I had written to old Quaritch for a loan of the Breslau edition.
He very sensibly replied by ignoring the loan and sending me a list
of his prices. So then the thing dropped. What is the use of
paying £3 odd for a work that would be perfectly useless to me. ...
But he waxes cannier every year."
July 1883-November 1883
108. Anecdotes of Burton.
In 1883 the Burtons removed from their eyrie near the Railway
Station and took up their abode in a palazzone[FN#378]--"the Palazzo
Gosleth"--situated in a large garden, on the wooded promontory that
divides the city from the Bay of Muggia. It was one of the best
houses in Trieste, and boasted an entrance so wide that one could
have driven a carriage into the hall, a polished marble staircase
and twenty large rooms commanding extensive and delightful views.
The garden, however, was the principal amenity. Here, in fez and
dressing-gown, Burton used to sit and write for hours with nothing
to disturb him except the song of birds and the rustle of leaves.
In the Palazzo Gosleth he spent the last eight years of his life,
and wrote most of his later works.
Perhaps this is the best place to introduce a sheaf of miscellaneous
unpublished anecdotes which have been drawn together from various
sources. We are uncertain as to their dates, but all are authentic.
To the ladies Burton was generally charming, but sometimes he
behaved execrably. Once when he was returning alone to Trieste,
a lady past her prime, being destined for the same place, asked
whether she might accompany him. Burton, who hated taking care of
anyone, frowned and shook his head. "There can be no scandal,
Captain Burton," pleaded the lady, "because I am old."
"Madame," replied Burton, "while fully appreciating your kindness,
I must decline. Had you been young and good-looking I would have
considered the matter."
109. Burton and Mrs. Disraeli.
But Burton could be agreeable enough even to plain ladies when he
wished. In one of his books or pamphlets he had said "There is no
difference except civilization between a very old woman and an ape."
Some time after its publication, when he was the guest of Mr. and
Mrs. Disraeli, Mrs. Disraeli, herself both elderly and very plain,
laid a plan to disconcert him. She seated herself close to a low
mirror, in the hopes that Burton would presently join her. He soon
fell into the trap and was observed a few minutes later leaning over
her and "doing the amiable."
"Captain Burton," said Mrs. Disraeli, with affected annoyance,
and pointing to her reflection, "There must be an ape in the glass.
Do you not see it?"
Burton instantly recalled the remark in his book, but without
exhibiting the least disconcertion, he replied, "Yaas, yaas, Madam,
quite plainly; I see myself."
It was altogether impossible for Burton to do anything or to be in
anything without causing a commotion of some kind. Generally it was
his own fault, but sometimes the Fates were to blame. Few scenes at
that period could have been more disgraceful than those at the
official receptions held in London by the Prime Minister. Far too
many persons were invited and numbers behaved more like untutored
Zulus than civilised human beings.
"Now darling," said Mrs. Burton to her husband, just before one of
these functions, "You are to be amiable, remember, and not lose your
temper." Burton readily promised compliance, but that day,
unfortunately, the crush on the staircase was particular
disgraceful. Apparently Burton, his wife on arm, was pushed on to
the train of a lady in front of him, but whatever he was doing the
crush had rendered him helpless.
"Oh dear!" cried the lady, "this horrid man is choking me."
"It's that blackguard of a Burton!" followed the lady's husband.
Burton's eyes flashed and his lips went livid, "I'll have you out
for this," he cried, "and if you won't fight I'll thrash you like
"That's how you keep your promise," said Mrs. Burton to him,
when they got home. "You don't get half a dozen steps up the
staircase before you have a row with someone." Then he burst out
with his "pebble on ice" laughter.
For Burton to overhear remarks uncomplimentary to himself was no
uncommon occurrence, but he rarely troubled to notice them. Now and
again, however, as the previous anecdote shows, he broke his rule.
Once at a public gathering a lady said, loudly, to a companion,
"There is that infamous Captain Burton, I should like to know that
he was down with some lingering and incurable illness."
Burton turned round, and fixing his eyes upon her, said with
gravity: "Madame, I have never in all my life done anything so
wicked as to express so shocking a wish as that."
The next anecdote shows how dangerous Burton could be to those who
offended him. When the Sultan of Zanzibar was paying a visit to
England, Burton and the Rev. Percy Badger were singled out to act as
interpreters. But Burton had quarrelled with Badger about something
or other; so when they approached the Sultan, Burton began
addressing him, not in Arabic, but in the Zanzibar patois.
The Sultan, after some conversation, turned to Badger, who,
poor man, not being conversant with the patois, could only stand
still in the dunce's cap which Burton, as it were, had clapped on
him and look extremely foolish; while the bystanders nodded to each
other and said, "Look at that fellow. He can't say two words.
He's a fraud." Burton revelled in Badger's discomfiture; but a
little later the two men were on good terms again; and when Badger
died he was, of course, Burton's "late lamented friend."
Another of Burton's aversions was "any old woman made up to look
very young." "Good gracious," he said, one day to a painted lady
of that category. "You haven't changed since I saw you forty years
ago. You're like the British flag that has braved a thousand years
of the battle and the breeze." But the lady heaped coals of fire on
"Oh, Captain Burton," she cried, "how could you, with that musical--
that lovely voice of yours--make such very unpleasant remarks."
110. "I am an Old English Catholic."
In England, whatever objections Protestants may make to Roman
Catholic services, they admit that everything is done decently and
in order. The laxity, however, in the Italian churches is, or was
until recently, beyond belief, and every traveller brought home some
queer tale. Mrs. Burton, who prided herself on being "an old
English Catholic," was frequently distressed by these
irregularities, and she never hesitated to reprove the offending
priests. One day a priest who had called at Burton's house was
requested to conduct a brief service in Mrs. Burton's private
chapel. But the way in which he went through the various ceremonies
so displeased Mrs. Burton that she called out to him, "Stop! stop!
pardon me, I am an old English Catholic--and therefore particular.
You are not doing it right--Stand aside, please, and let me show
you." So the astonished priest stood aside, and Mrs. Burton went
through all the gesticulations, genuflexions, etcetera, in the most
approved style. Burton, who was standing by, regarded the scene
with suppressed amusement. When all was over, he touched the priest
on the shoulder and said gravely and slowly, pointing to
Mrs. Burton: "Do you know who this is? It is my wife. And you know
she will some day die--We all must die--And she will be judged--
we must all be judged--and there's a very long and black list
against her. But when the sentence is being pronounced she will
jump up and say: 'Stop! stop! please pardon my interruption, but I
am an old English Catholic.'"
To one house, the hostess of which was one of the most fashionable
women in London, Burton, no matter how much pressed, had never been
prevailed upon to go. He disliked the lady and that was enough.
"Here's an invitation for all of us to Lady ----'s," said
Mrs. Burton to him one day in honied tones. "Now, Dick, darling,
this time you must go just for Lisa's sake. It's a shame she should
lose so excellent a chance of going into good society. Other people
go, why shouldn't we? Eh, darling?"
"What won't people do," growled Burton, "for the sake of a dinner!"
Eventually, however, after an explosion, and he'd be asterisked if
he would, and might the lady herself be asterisked, etcetera,
etcetera, etcetera, "Dick Darling" was coaxed over, and he,
Mrs. Burton and Lisa at the appointed time sallied forth in all
the glory of war paint, and in due course were ushered into the
As he approached the hostess she looked steadily at him through her
lorgnon, and then, turning to a companion, said with a drawl: "Isn't
it horrid, my dear! Every Dick, Tom and Harry's here to-night."
"That's what comes of being amiable," said Burton to his wife,
when they got home again--and he'd be asterisked, and might
everybody else be asterisked, if he'd enter that asterisked house
again. Then the humour of it all appealed to him; and his anger
dissolved into the usual hearty laughter.
One very marked feature of Burton's character was that, like his
father, he always endeavoured to do and say what he thought was
right, quite regardless of appearances and consequences. And we may
give one anecdote to illustrate our meaning.
On one occasion[FN#379] he and another Englishman who was known by
Burton to have degraded himself unspeakably, were the guests at a
country house. "Allow me, Captain Burton," said the host,
"to introduce you to the other principal guest of the evening,
Mr. ----" Looking Mr. ---- in the face, Burton said: "When I am in
Persia I am a Persian, when in India a Hindu, but when in England I
am an English gentleman," and then he turned his back on Mr. ----
and left him. As Mr. ----'s record was not at the time generally
known, those who were present at the scene merely shrugged their
shoulders and said: "Only another of Burton's eccentricities."
A few months, later, however, Mr. ---'s record received publicity,
and Burton's conduct and words were understood.
One of Burton's lady relations being about to marry a gentleman who
was not only needy but also brainless, somebody asked him what he
thought of the bridegroom-elect.
"Not much," replied Burton, drily, "he has no furniture inside
To "old maids" Burton was almost invariably cruel. He found
something in them that roused all the most devilish rancours in his
nature; and he used to tell them tales till the poor ladies did not
know where to tuck their heads. When reproved afterwards by
Mrs. Burton, he would say: "Yaas, yaas, no doubt; but they shouldn't
be old maids; besides, it's no good telling the truth, for nobody
ever believes you." He did, however, once refer complimentarily to
a maiden lady--a certain Saint Apollonia who leaped into a fire
prepared for her by the heathen Alexandrians. He called her
"This admirable old maid." Her chief virtue in his eyes, however,
seems to have been not her fidelity to her principles, but the fact
that she got rid of herself, and so made one old maid fewer.
"What shall we do with our old maids?" he would ask, and then answer
the question himself--"Oh, enlist them. With a little training they
would make first-rate soldiers." He was also prejudiced against
saints, and said of one, "I presume she was so called because of the
enormity of her crimes."
Although Mrs. Burton often reproved her husband for his barbed and
irritating remarks, her own tongue had, incontestibly, a very
beautiful edge on it. Witness her reply to Mrs. X., who declared
that when she met Burton she was inexpressibly shocked by his
Chaucerian conversation and Canopic wit.
"I can quite believe," commented Mrs. Burton, sweetly, "that on
occasions when no lady was present Richard's conversation might have
How tasteful is this anecdote, as they say in The Nights, "and how
enjoyable and delectable."
111. Burton begins his Translation, April 1884.
As we have already observed, Mr. Payne's 500 copies of the Thousand
Nights and a Night were promptly snapped up by the public and 1,500
persons had to endure disappointment. "You should at once," urged
Burton, "bring out a new edition." "I have pledged myself," replied
Mr. Payne, "not to reproduce the book in an unexpurgated form."
"Then," said Burton, "Let me publish a new edition in my own name
and account to you for the profits--it seems a pity to lose these
1,500 subscribers." This was a most generous and kind-hearted, but,
from a literary point of view, immoral proposition; and Mr. Payne at
once rejected it, declaring that he could not be a party to a breach
of faith with the subscribers in any shape or form. Mr. Payne's
virtue was, pecuniarily and otherwise, its punishment. Still,
he has had the pleasure of a clear conscience. Burton, however,
being, as always, short of money, felt deeply for these 1,500
disappointed subscribers, who were holding out their nine-guinea
cheques in vain; and he then said "Should you object to my making
an entirely new translation?" To which, of course, Mr. Payne
replied that he could have no objection whatever. Burton then set
to work in earnest. This was in April, 1884. As we pointed out in
Chapter xxii., Lady Burton's account of the inception and progress
of the work and Burton's own story in the Translator's Foreword
(which precedes his first volume) bristle with misstatements and
inaccuracies. He evidently wished it to be thought that his work
was well under weigh long before he had heard of Mr. Payne's
undertaking, for he says, "At length in the spring of 1879 the
tedious process of copying began and the book commenced to take
finished form." Yet he told Mr. Payne in 1881 that beyond notes and
a syllabus of titles nothing had been done; and in 1883 he says in a
letter, "I find my translation is a mere summary," that is to say,
of the Boulac edition, which was the only one familiar to him till
he met Mr. Payne. He admits having made ample use of the three
principal versions that preceded his, namely, those of Jonathan
Scott, Lane and Payne, "the whole being blended by a callida
junctura into a homogeneous mass." But as a matter of fact his
obligations to Scott and Lane, both of whom left much of the Nights
untranslated, and whose versions of it were extremely clumsy and
incorrect, were infinitesimal; whereas, as we shall presently prove,
practically the whole of Burton is founded on the whole of Payne.
We trust, however, that it will continually be borne in mind that
the warm friendship which existed between Burton and Payne was never
for a moment interrupted. Each did the other services in different
ways, and each for different reasons respected and honoured the
other. In a letter to Mr. Payne of 12th August, 1884, Burton gave
an idea of his plan. He says "I am going in for notes where they
did not suit your scheme and shall make the book a perfect
repertoire of Eastern knowledge in its most esoteric form." A paper
on these subjects which Burton offered to the British Association
was, we need scarcely say, courteously declined.
Writing to Payne on September 9th (1884) he says, "As you have been
chary of notes my version must by way of raison d'etre (amongst
others) abound in esoteric lore, such as female circumcision and
excision, etc. I answer all my friends that reading it will be a
liberal education, and assure them that with such a repertory of
esotericism at their finger ends they will know all the
Scibile[FN#380] requisite to salvation. My conviction is that all
the women in England will read it and half the men will cut me."
112. The Battle over the Nights.
Although, as we have seen, Burton's service to Mr. Payne's
translation was almost too slight to be mentioned, Burton was to
Mr. Payne in another way a tower of strength. Professional spite,
jealousy and other causes had ranged against his Nights whole
platoons of men of more or less weight. Jealousy, folly and
ignorance made common cause against the new translation--the most
formidable coterie being the group of influential men who for
various reasons made it their business to cry up the commonplace
translation of E. W. Lane, published in 1840, and subsequently
reprinted--a translation which bears to Payne's the relation of a
glow-worm to the meridian sun. The clique at first prepared to make
a professional attack on the work, but the appearance of Volume i.
proved it to be from a literary, artistic and philological point of
view quite unassailable. This tactic having failed, some of these
gentlemen, in their meanness, and we fear we must add, malevolence,
then tried to stir up the authorities to take action against
Mr. Payne on the ground of public morality.[FN#381] Burton had long
been spoiling for a fight--and now was his opportunity. In season
and out of season he defended Payne. He fell upon the Lane-ites
like Samson upon the Philistines. He gloried in the hurly-burly.
He wallowed, as it were, in blood. Fortunately, too, at that time
he had friends in the Government--straightforward, commonsense men--
who were above all pettinesses. Lord Houghton, F. F. Arbuthnot, and
others, also ranged themselves on the same side and hit out
Before starting on the Palmer expedition, Burton, in a letter of
October 29th, had written to Mr. Payne: "The more I read your
translation the more I like it. You have no need to fear the Lane
clique; that is to say, you can give them as good as they can give
you. I am quite ready to justify the moral point. Of course we
must not attack Lane till he is made the cheval de bataille against
us. But peace and quiet are not in my way, and if they want a
fight, they can have it." The battle was hot while it lasted,
but it was soon over. The Lane-ites were cowed and gradually
subsided into silence. Mr. Payne took the matter more coolly than
Burton, but he, too, struck out when occasion required.
For example, among the enemy was a certain reverend Professor of
Semitic languages, who held advanced opinions on religious matters.
He had fought a good fight, had suffered persecution on that
account, and is honoured accordingly. "It is usual," observed
Burton, "with the weak, after being persecuted to become
persecutors."[FN#382] Mr. ----- had the folly to put it about that
Payne's translation was made not direct from the Arabic but from
German translations. How he came to make so amazing a statement,
seeing that at the time no important German translation of the
Nights existed,[FN#383] it is difficult to say; but Mr. Payne sent
him the following words from the Nights, written in the Arabic
character: "I and thou and the slanderer, there shall be for us an
awful day and a place of standing up to judgment."[FN#384]
After this Mr. ----- sheathed his sword and the Villon Society heard
no more of him.
113. Completion of Mr. Payne's Translation.
Mr. Payne's first volume appeared as we have seen in 1882. The last
left the press in 1884. The work was dedicated to Burton,
who writes, "I cannot but feel proud that he has honoured me with
the dedication of 'The Book of the Thousand Nights and one Night.'
...He succeeds admirably in the most difficult passages, and he
often hits upon choice and special terms and the exact vernacular
equivalent of the foreign word so happily and so picturesquely that
all future translators must perforce use the same expression under
pain of falling far short."
Having finished the Nights, Mr. Payne commenced the translation of
other Eastern stories--which he published under the title of Tales
from the Arabic.[FN#385]
1883 to May 1885
The Kama Shastra Society
69. Publications of the Kama Shastra Society.
1. The Kama Sutra. 1883 Vatsyayana. Bhagvanlal Indraji.
2. The Ananga Ranga. 1885 Kullianmull. "
3. The Arabian Nights. 1885-1886. " Burton.
4. The Scented Garden
("My old version"). 1886. Nafzawi. Burton and others.
5. The Beharistan. 1887. Jami. Rehatsek.
6. The Gulistan 1888. Sadi. "
or Rose Garden.
Works still in Manuscript.
7. The Nigaristan Jawini. Rehatsek.
8. The Observances of the Zenanah "
9. Etiquette of eating and Drinking "
(A Persian Essay).
10. Physiognomies (A Persian MS.) Al-R'azy "
11. Anecdotes from the Nuzhat al Yaman. "
12. The Merzuban Namah. (Persian).
13. Extracts from Al Mostatraf. (Arabic). "
14. Extracts from Siraj-ul-moluk. (Arabic). "
15. Extracts from Tuhfat al akhwan us Safa.* "
* For further particulars respecting these works see Appendix.
114. The Azure Apollo.
If Payne's translation had been met by the wind, Burton anticipated
that his own, with its blunt faithfulness to the original and its
erotic notes, would be met by whirlwind. Considering the temper of
the public[FN#386] at the time he thought it not improbable that an
action would be brought against him, and in fancy he perceived
himself standing at bay with the Authorised Version of the Bible in
one hand as a shield, and Urquhart's Rabelais in the other as
But though a man of amazing courage, Burton was not one to
jeopardise himself unnecessarily. He was quite willing to take any
reasonable precautions. So he discussed the matter with his friend
F. F. Arbuthnot, who had recently returned from India,
married,[FN#387] and settled at a charming place, Upper House Court,
near Guildford. Mr. Arbuthnot, who, as we have seen, had for years
given his whole soul to Eastern literature, had already published a
group of Hindu stories[FN#388] and was projecting manuals of
Persian[FN#389] and Arabic[FN#390] literature and a series of
translations of famous Eastern works, some of which were purely
erotic. He now suggested that this series and Burton's Arabian
Nights should be published nominally by a society to which might be
given the appropriate name, "The Kama Shastra"--that is the
cupid-gospel--Society, Kama being the Hindu god of love. This deity
is generally represented as a beautiful youth riding on an
emerald-plumaged lorry or parrot. In his hand he holds a bow of
flowers and five arrows--the five senses; and dancing girls attend
him. His favourite resort is the country round Agra, where
Krishna[FN#391] the azure Hindu Apollo,
"Tunes harps immortal, and to strains divine
Dances by moonlight with the Gopia nine."[FN#392]
The books were to be translated by Rehatsek and a Hindu pundit named
Bhagvanlal Indraji, Burton and Arbuthnot were to revise and
annotate, and Arbuthnot was to find the money. Burton fell in with
the idea, as did certain other members of Arbuthnot's circle,
who had always been keenly interested in Orientalism, and so was
formed the famous Kama Shastra Society. That none of the
particulars relating to the history of the Society has before been
made public, is explained by the fact that Burton and Arbuthnot,
conversant with the temper of the public, took pains to shroud their
proceedings in mystery. It cannot, however, be too strongly
insisted upon that Arbuthnot's standpoint, like Burton's, was solely
for the student. "He wished," he said, "to remove the scales from
the eyes of Englishmen who are interested in Oriental literature."
These erotic books in one form or another are in the hands of
200,000,000 of Orientals. Surely, argued Arbuthnot, a few genuine
English students--a few, grave, bald-headed, spectacled, happily
married old gentlemen--may read them without injury.[FN#393]
The modern student seeks his treasure everywhere, and cares not
into what midden he may probe so long as he finds it. No writer on
18th century French History, for example, would nowadays make half
apologies, as Carlyle did, for having read Casanova. Indeed,
he would lay himself open to censure unless he admitted having
studied it carefully. Still, every genuine and right-minded student
regards it as a duty to keep books such as these, which are unsuited
for the general public, under lock and key--just as the medical man
treats his books of plates and other reference volumes. Then again
it is entirely a mistake to suppose that the works issued or
contemplated by the Kama Shastra Society were all of them erotic.
Two out of the six actually done: The Beharistan and The Gulistan,
and the whole of the nine still in manuscript, might, after a snip
or two with the scissors, be read aloud in almost any company.
We have the first hint of the Kama Shastra Society in a letter to
Payne, 5th August 1882. "I hope," says Burton, "you will not forget
my friend, F. F. Arbuthnot, and benefit him by your advice about
publishing when he applies to you for it. He has undertaken a
peculiar branch of literature--the Hindu Erotic, which promises
well." On Dec. 23th he writes: "My friend Arbuthnot writes to me
that he purposes calling upon you. He has founded a society
consisting of himself and myself." After further reference to the
idea he adds, "I hope that you will enjoy it." A few days later
Mr. Arbuthnot called on Mr. Payne. Mr. Payne did not "enjoy"
the unfolding of the Kama Shastra scheme, he took no interest in it
whatever; but, of course, he gave the information required as to
cost of production; and both then and subsequently assisted in other
matters of business. Moreover, to Mr. Arbuthnot himself, as a man
of great personal charm, Mr. Payne became sincerely attached, and a
friendship resulted that was severed only by death.
The arrangement about financing the books did not, of course,
apply to The Arabian Nights. That was Burton's own affair; for its
success was supposed to be assured from the first. Of the books
other than The Arabian Nights published by the Kama Shastra
Society--each of which purported, facetiously, to be printed at
Behares, the name which Burton chose to give to Stoke Newington,
we shall now give a brief account.
Several, we said, are erotic. But it should be clearly understood
what is here meant by the term. The plays of Wycherley and other
Caroline dramatists are erotic in a bad sense. We admit their
literary qualities, but we cannot hide from ourselves the fact that
they were written by libertines and that an attempt is made to
render vice attractive. The injured husband, for example,
is invariably ridiculed, the adulterer glorified. The Hindu books,
on the other hand, were written by professedly religious men whose
aim was "not to encourage chambering and wantonness, but simply and
in all sincerity to prevent the separation of husband and wife"--
not to make them a married couple look afield, but "to lead them to
love each other more by understanding each other better." Vatsyayan
and Kullianmull,[FN#394] indeed, though they poetized the pleasures
of the flesh, would have been horrified could they have read the
plays of Wycherley and Etheridge. The erotic books that Arbuthnot
wished to be translated were the following--all by Hindu poets more
or less famous:--
The Kama Sutra (Book of Love) by Vatsyayana.
Ananga Ranga (Stage of Love) by Kullianmull.
Ratirahasya (Secrets of Love) by Kukkoka.
Panchasakya (The Five Arrows) by Jyotirisha.
Smara Pradipa (Light of Love) by Gunakara.
Ratimanjari (Garland of Love) by Jayadeva.
Rasmanjari (Sprout of Love) by Bhanudatta.
Of these seven books two only were issued, namely the Kama Sutra and
the Ananga Ranga or Lila Shastra. The precise share that
Burton[FN#395] had in them will never be known. It is sufficient
to say that he had a share in both, and the second, according to
the title page, was "translated from the Sanskrit and annotated by
A. F. F. and B. F. R.," that is F. F. Arbuthnot and Richard Francis
Bacon--the initials being purposely reversed.
115. The Kama Sutra.
When commencing upon The Kama Sutra, Indraji--for he was the actual
translator--found his copy, which had been procured in Bombay, to be
defective, so he wrote to Benares, Calcutta and Jeypoor for copies
of the manuscripts preserved in the Sanskrit libraries of those
places. These having been obtained and compared with each other,
a revised copy of the entire work was compiled and from this Indraji
made his translation. "This work," he says, "is not to be used
merely as an instrument for satisfying our desires. A person
acquainted with the true principles of this science, who preserved
his Dharma (virtue or religious merit), his Artha (worldly wealth)
and his Kama (pleasure, or sensual gratification), and who has
regard to the customs of the people, is sure to obtain the mastery
over his senses. In short, an intelligent and knowing person,
attending to Dharma, and Artha and also to Kama, without becoming
the slave of his passions, will obtain success in everything that he
may do." According to Vatsyayana, Kama should be taught just as is
taught--say, hygiene or political economy. "A man practising
Dharma, Artha and Kama enjoys happiness both in this world and in
the world to come." It must not be supposed that the work is
entirely erotic. There are also directions for one's conduct at
religious festivals, especially that in honour of Saraswati,[FN#396]
picnics, drinking parties and other social gatherings. Still, the
erotic preponderates. The work is mainly a handbook on Love.
One is informed respecting what women are or are not worthy
of affection. There are full instructions respecting kissing,
an art which is not so easy to learn as some persons think. Still,
a man who could not kiss properly after reading the Kama Sutra would
be a dullard indeed. Some of the remarks are quaint enough.
Thus we are told that "nothing tends to increase love so much as
the effects of marking with the nails[FN#397] and biting."
Some girls when asked in marriage are slow to make up their minds.
With that situation there are, it seems, several ways of dealing.
The simplest is the following: "When the girl goes to a garden,
or to some village in the neigbourhood, the man should, with his
friends, fall on her guards, and having killed them, or frightened
them away, forcibly carry her off." Sometime it is the man who is
shy. In such cases the girl "should bring him to her house under
the pretence of seeing the fights of quails, cocks and rams,
of hearing the maina (a kind of starling) talk .... she should also
amuse him for a long time by telling him such stories and doing such
things as he may take most delight in."
For Edwin and Angelina when they get married there is also much
wholesome instruction. "The wife, whether she be a woman of noble
family or a virgin widow re-married,[FN#398] should lead a chaste
life." "When the man sets out on a journey she should make him
swear that he will return quickly.[FN#399] ... When the man does
return home she should worship the God Kama." Ladies will be
interested to learn that there are twenty-seven artifices by which a
woman can get money out of a man. One is "Praising his intelligence
to his face." Then there are useful directions for the personal
adornment of both sexes. "If the bone of a peacock or of a hyena
be covered with gold and tied to the right hand, it makes a man
lovely in the eyes of other people."
Of the essential portions of the book it is sufficient to say that
they are similar to those of the other avowedly erotic Eastern
works, the contents of the principal of which have been touched upon
by Burton in the Terminal Essay to his Arabian Nights and in some of
his notes. Finally we are told that the Kama Sutra was composed for
the benefit of the world by Vatsyayana, while leading the life of a
religious student, and wholly engaged in the contemplation of the
Deity. At the same time, the teaching of this holy man amounts to
very much the same as that of Maupassant, which is, to use Tolstoy's
words, "that life consists in pleasures of which woman with her love
is the chief, and in the double, again reflected delight of
depicting this love and exciting it in others."[FN#400]
The work lets a flood of light on Hindu manners and customs;
and it must be borne in mind that the translation was issued
privately at a high price and intended only for "curious students."
In the Preface, Burton and Arbuthnot observe that after a perusal of
the Hindoo work the reader will understand the subject upon which it
treats, "At all events from a materialistic, realistic and practical
point of view. If all science is founded more or less on a stratum
of facts, there can be no harm in making known to mankind generally
certain matters intimately connected with their private, domestic
and social life. Alas! complete ignorance of them has unfortunately
wrecked many a man and many a woman, while a little knowledge of a
subject generally ignored by the masses would have enabled numbers
of people to understand many things which they believed to be quite
incomprehensible, or which were not thought worthy of their
Writing to Payne, 15th January, 1883, Burton says, "Has Arbuthnot
sent you his Vatsyayana?[FN#401] He and I and the Printer have
started a Hindu Kama Shastra (Ars Amoris Society). It will make the
Brit(ish) Pub(lis) stare. Please encourage him." Later Arbuthnot,
in reply to a question put to him by a friend, said that the Society
consisted practically of himself, Sir Richard Burton and the late
The Ananga Ranga or Lila Shastra
70. The Book of the Sword. 1884.
116. The Ananga Ranga.[FN#403]
The title page of the second book, the Ananga Ranga, which was
issued in 1885, was as follows:
(Stage of the Bodiless One)
THE HINDU ART OF LOVE
(Ars Amoris Indica)
Translated from the Sanskrit
A. F. F. and B. F. R.
Cosmopoli MDCCCLXXXV, for the Kama Shastra Society of London and
Benares, and for private circulation only.
Dedicated to that small portion of the British Public which takes
enlightened interest in studying the manners and customs of the
We are told that this book was written about 1450 by the arch-poet
Kalyana Mull,[FN#404] that lithographed copies have been printed by
hundreds of thousands, that the book is in the hands of almost every
one "throughout the nearer East," and also that it is
"an ethnological treasure, which tells us as much of Hindu human
nature as The Thousand Nights and a Night of Arab manners and
customs in the cinquecento." In India the book is known as the
Kama Shastra or Lila Shastra, the Scripture of Play or Amorous
Sport. The author says quaintly, "It is true that no joy in the
world of mortals can compare with that derived from the knowledge of
the Creator. Second, however, and subordinate only to his are
the satisfaction and pleasure arising from the possession of a
"From the days of Sotades and Ovid," says the writer of the Preface,
who is certainly Burton, "to our own time, Western authors have
treated the subject either jocularly or with a tendency to hymn the
joys of immorality, and the gospel of debauchery. The Indian author
has taken the opposite view, and it is impossible not to admire the
delicacy with which he has handled an exceedingly difficult theme.
....Feeling convinced that monogamy is a happier state than
polygamy, he would save the married couple from the monotony and
satiety which follow possession, by varying their pleasures in every
conceivable way and by supplying them with the means of being
psychically pure and physically pleasant to each other."
There is a reference to this work in Burton's Vikram and the
Vampire, where we read:[FN#405] "As regards the neutral state,
that poet was not happy in his ideas who sang,
'Whene'er indifference appears, or scorn,
Then, man, despair! then, hapless lover, mourn!'
for a man versed in the Lila Shastra can soon turn a woman's
indifference into hate, which I have shown is as easily permuted
This curious book concludes: "May this treatise, Ananga Ranga,
be beloved of man and woman, as long as the Holy River Ganges,
springeth from Shiva with his wife Gauri on his left side;
as long as Lakshmi loveth Vishnu; as long as Brahma is engaged in
the study of the Vedas, and as long as the earth, the moon and the
The Kama Shastra Society also issued a translation of the first
twenty chapters of The Scented Garden.[FN#406] In reality it was a
translation of the French version of Liseux, but it was imperfect
and had only a few notes. It has been repeatedly denied that Burton
had anything to do with it. All we can say is that in a letter to
Mr. A. G. Ellis of 8th May 1887, he distinctly calls it "my old
version,"[FN#407] and he must mean that well-known edition of 1886,
because all the other impressions are like it, except in respect to
the title page.
117. The Beharistan, 1887.
The Society now determined to issue unexpurgated editions of the
three following great Persian classics:
The Gulistan or Rose Garden, by Sadi (A.D. 1258).
The Nigaristan or Picture Gallery, by Jawini (A.D. 1334).
The Beharistan or Abode of Spring, by Jami (A.D. 1487).
The first to appear was The Beharistan in 1887. Jami, the author,
is best known in England on account of his melodious poems Salaman
and Absal, so exquisitely rendered by Edward FitzGerald, and
Ysuf and Zuleika (Joseph and Potiphar's Wife), familiar
to Englishmen mainly through Miss Costello's fragrant
adaptation.[FN#408] To quote from the Introduction of the
translation of The Beharistan, which is written in Arbuthnot's bald
and hesitating style, "there is in this work very little indeed to
be objected to. A few remarks or stories scattered here and there
would have to be omitted in an edition printed for public use or for
public sale. But on the whole the author breathes the noblest and
purest sentiments, and illustrates his meanings by the most
pleasing, respectable, and apposite tales, along with numerous
extracts from the Koran." The work consists of stories and verses--
two or three of which will be found in our Appendix--pleasantly
intermingled; but as Rehatsek, the translator, made no attempt to
give the verses rhythmical form, only an inadequate idea is conveyed
of the beauty of the original. It would require an Edward
FitzGerald or a John Payne to do justice to Jami's jewelled verses.
118. The Gulistan, 1888.
The Gulistan of Sadi,[FN#409] which was the next book issued,
is best known in England from the translations by James Ross (1823)
and Edward B. Eastwick (1852). Sadi's aim was to make "a garden of
roses whose leaves the rude hand of the blast of Autumn could not
affect."[FN#410] "The very brambles and rubbish of this book," says
an ancient enthusiastic admirer, "are of the nature of ambergris."
Men treasured the scraps of Sadi's writing "as if they were gold
leaf," and The Gulistan has attained a popularity in the East "which
has never been reached in this Western world." The school-boy lisps
his first lessons in it, the pundit quotes it, and hosts of its
sayings have become proverbial. From end to end the "unity,
the unapproachable majesty, the omnipotence, the long-suffering
and the goodness of God" are nobly set forth--the burden of every
"The world, my brother! will abide with none,
By the world's Maker let thy heart be won."
119. The Nigaristan.
The third of the great trio, Jawini's Nigaristan, did not reach the
press owing to Arbuthnot's death. The manuscript, however,
in Rehatsek's hand-writing, is still in the possession of the Royal
Asiatic Society, 22, Albermarle Street, and we trust to see it some
day suitably edited and published. Arbuthnot, who contributes the
preface, points out that it contains 534 stories in prose and verse,
and that it abounds "in pure and noble sentiments, such as are to be
found scattered throughout the Sacred Books of the East, the Old and
New Testaments and the Koran." A few citations from it will be
found in our Appendix.
120. Letters to Payne, 19th January 1884.
On January 19th, Burton, after asking for the remaining volumes of
Mr. Payne's Nights, says "A friend here is reading them solemnly and
with huge delight: he would be much disappointed to break off
perforce half way. When do you think the 9 vols. will be finished?
Marvellous weather here. I am suffering from only one thing, a want
to be in Upper Egypt. And, of course, they won't employ me. I have
the reputation of 'independent,' a manner of 'Oh! no, we never
mention it, sir,' in the official catalogue, and the one
unpardonable Chinese Gordon has been sacked for being 'eccentric,'
which Society abominates. England is now ruled by irresponsible
clerks, mostly snobs. My misfortunes in life began with not being
a Frenchman. I hope to be in London next Spring, and to have a talk
with you about my translation of the 1001."
All the early months of 1884, Burton was seriously ill, but in April
he began to mend. He writes to Payne on the 17th: "I am just
beginning to write a little and to hobble about (with a stick).
A hard time since January 30th! Let me congratulate you on being
at Vol. ix. Your translation is excellent and I am glad to see in
Academy that you are working at Persian tales.[FN#411] Which are
they? In my youth I read many of them. Now that your 1001 are so
nearly finished I am working at my translation." He then asks what
arrangements Mr. Payne made with the publishers and the cost of the
printing. "All I want," he says, on April 27th, "is a guide in
dealing with that dragon the publisher;" and in later letters he
thanks Mr. Payne for answering his questions. On June 20th (1884)
writing from Marienbad he says, "I should much like to know what you
are doing with the three supplemental volumes, and I hope that each
will refer readers to the source whence you borrow it. This will be
a great aid to the students. The more I examine your translation
the better I like it. Mine will never be so popular because I stick
so much to the text.[FN#412] No arrangements yet make about it,
and MS. will not be all ready till end of January. We (my wife and
I) have enjoyed our ten days at Marienbad muchly, but the weather
has as yet prevented bathing; a raw wester with wind and rain.
Bad for poor people who can afford only the 21 days de rigueur.
Cuthbert Bede (Rev. Edward Bradley) is here and my friend
J. J. Aubertin is coming."
121. At Sauerbrunn, 12th August 1884.
The next letter to Payne, written from Sauerbrunn, in Austria,
is dated 12th August 1884. After enquiring concerning
"the supererogatory three vols." he says, "We left Marienbad last of
last month, and came to this place (a very pretty little spa utterly
clear of Britishers), where we shall stay till the end of the month
and then again for Trieste to make plans for the winter. Will you
kindly let me have the remaining volumes, and when you have a spare
quarter of an hour I want a little assistance from you. When you
sent me your Breslau you pencilled in each volume the places from
which you had taken matter for translation (How wretchedly that
Breslau is edited!) I want these notes scribbled out by way of
saving time. Of course I shall have to read over the whole series;
but meanwhile will content myself with your references. Have you
the Arabian Nights published in Turkish by Mr. Clermont Ganneau?
You will want it for the supererogatory. If you can't get it I have
it somewhere, and will look for it on return to Trieste. Have you a
copy of Trebutien? Cotton, of Academy has just sent me Clouston's
Book of Sindibad[FN#413] for review. I thought it was our old
friend the sailor, but find out my mistake. You will have no
objection to my naming (in my review) your style in the 1001 as
that he should have taken for a model."
He writes again on September 9th (1884): "On return here I found
Vol. ix., with the dedication which delighted me hugely. I did not
notice your fine work in reviewing the Clouston treatise. I had not
your express permission. Living so far from the world I am obliged
to be very careful in these matters: one never knows what harm one
may be doing unawares. Of course I shall speak of your translation
in my preface, as it deserves to be spoken of. Nothing would give
me greater pleasure than to look over your proofs; in fact, I should
be sorry not to do so. I have not yet found Ganneau's Nights,
but I hope to do so. My Turkish Edition was burnt many years ago
in a fire at Grindlay's; but you will easily find a copy. I suppose
you read Turkish;[FN#414] and if you do not you will in three
months; the literary style is a mass of Persian and Arabic.
You must find out which is the best Turkish Edition. My copy had
evidently been translated from a MS. very unlike the Calcutta and
Bulak. ... I have told Quartich to send you a cop of Camoens
(Lyrics), which will be out in a few days."
122. Burton's Circulars, September 1884.
By September 1884 the first volumes of Burton's Arabian Nights were
almost ready for print, and Burton asked himself how many copies
would suffice the public. He was aware that 1,500 persons were
disappointed of being able to obtain copies of Mr. Payne's Edition,
but it did not necessarily follow that all these 1,500 would
subscribe to his. Finally he decided upon 1,000, and he had
three circulars printed respecting the work.
The first began "Captain Burton, having neither agent nor publisher
for his forthcoming Arabian Nights, requests that all subscribers
will kindly send their names to him personally (Captain Burton,
Trieste, Austria), when they will be entered in a book kept for the
purpose." It was then mentioned that there would be ten volumes at
a guinea apiece,[FN#415] each to be paid for on delivery, that 1,000
copies would be printed, and that no cheaper edition would be
issued. The second dealt with the advantages of the work to
students of Arabic. The third consisted of an article welcoming the
work from The Daily Tribune, New York, written by G. W. S(malley).
Burton posted about 20,000 of these circulars at an expense of some
£80, but received only 300 favourable replies. Lady Burton,
in dismay, then wrote to Mr. Payne begging for advice.
Several letters passed between them, and Mr. Payne sent her the
names of the subscribers to his own book and lists of other likely
persons. A second shower of circulars effected the desired purpose.
Indeed it did far more, for the number of favourable replies
ultimately rose to 2,000. But as we have seen, Burton had
restricted himself to the issue of 1,000. So he found that he had
made precisely the same mistake as Mr. Payne. However, it could not
123. The Book of the Sword.
This year was published Burton's The Book of the Sword, which he
dedicated, appropriately, to the memory of his old friend Alfred
Bates Richards, who had died in 1876. It is a history of the sword
in all times and countries down to the Middle Ages,[FN#416] with
numerous illustrations, the interest being mainly archaeological.
Of "The Queen of Weapons" he ever spoke glowingly. "The best of
calisthenics," he says, "this energetic educator teaches the man
to carry himself like a soldier. A compendium of gymnastics,
it increases strength and activity, dexterity, and rapidity of
movement. The foil is still the best training tool for the
consensus of eye and hand, for the judgment of distance and
opportunity, and, in fact, for the practice of combat. And thus
swordsmanship engenders moral confidence and self-reliance, while it
stimulates a habit of resource."
124. The Lyrics of Camoens, 1884.
This same year, too, he published his translation of the Lyrics of
Camoens, in which, as will have been judged from the letters
already quoted, he had been assisted by Mr. John Payne, who was
also a Portuguese scholar and a lover of Camoens. "The learning and
research of your work," wrote Mr. A. C. Swinburne, in reference to
Burton's six Camoens volumes, "are in many points beyond all praise
of mine, but not more notable than the strength and skill that wield
them. I am hungrily anticipating the Arabian Nights."
125. More Letters to Payne, 1st October 1884.
On October 1st 1884, Burton wrote to thank Mr. Payne for a splendid
and complete set (specially bound) of his edition of the Nights.
He says, "I am delighted with it, especially with the
dedication.[FN#417] ... To my horror Quaritch sent me a loose vol.
of his last catalogue with a notice beginning, 'The only absolutely
true translation of the [Arabian Nights], &c.' My wife telegraphed
to him and followed with a letter ordering it not to be printed.
All in vain. I notice this only to let you know that the
impertinence is wholly against my will. Life in Trieste is not
propitious to work as in the Baths; yet I get on tolerably.
Egypt is becoming a comedy." Then follows the amazing remark:
"I expect to see Gordon (who is doubtless hand in hand with
the Mahdi) sent down to offer to guide Wolseley up to Khartum."
126. Death of Gordon, January 1885.
Burton little dreamt that the days of the heroic Englishman were
numbered. Sent by the English Government to the Soudan, Gordon had
been at Khartum hardly a month before it was invested by the Mahdi.
The relief expedition arrived just two days too late. Gordon was
slain! This was in January 1885. The shock to Burton was
comparable only to that which he received by the death of Speke.
In one of the illustrated papers there was a picture of Gordon lying
in the desert with vultures hovering around. "Take it away!"
said Burton. "I can't bear to look at it. I have had to feel like
127. W. F. Kirby,[FN#418] 25th March 1885.
Shortly after the announcement of his edition of the Nights,
Burton received a letter from Mr. W. F. Kirby,[FN#418] better known
as an entomologist, who had devoted much study to European editions
of that work, a subject of which Burton knew but little. Mr. Kirby
offered to supply a bibliographical essay which could be used as an
appendix. Burton replied cordially, and this was the beginning of a
very pleasant friendship. Mr. Kirby frequently corresponded with
Burton, and they often met at Mr. Kirby's house, the Natural History
Museum, South Kensington, or the British Museum. Says Mr. Kirby:
"At the British Museum, Burton seemed more inclined to talk than to
work. I thought him weak in German[FN#419] and when I once asked
him to help me with a Russian book, he was unable to do so."
Thus even a Burton has his limitations. "He told me," continues
Mr. Kirby, "that he once sat between Sir Henry Rawlinson and a man
who had been Ambassador at St. Petersburg, and he spoke to one in
Persian, and the other in Russian, but neither of them could
understand him. I have never, however, been able to make up my mind
whether the point of the story told against him or against
them.[FN#420] Although Burton was a student of occult science,
I could never lead him to talk about crystals or kindred subjects;
and this gave me the idea that he was perhaps pledged to secrecy.
Still, he related his experiences freely in print." Oddly, enough,
Burton used to call Mr. Kirby "Mr. Rigby," and he never could break
himself of the habit. "Apparently," says Mr. Kirby, "he associated
my name with that of his old opponent, Colonel, afterwards
Major-General Rigby,[FN#421] Consul at Zanzibar." In a letter of
25th March 1885, Burton asks Mr. Kirby to draw up "a full account of
the known MSS. and most important European editions, both those
which are copies of Galland and (especially) those which are not.
It will be printed in my terminal essay with due acknowledgment of
authorship."[FN#422] On April 8th (1885) he says, "I don't think my
readers will want an exhaustive bibliography, but they will expect
me to supply information which Mr. Payne did not deem necessary to
do in his excellent Terminal Essay. By the by, I shall totally
disagree with him about Harun al Rashid and the Barmecides,[FN#423]
who were pestilent heretics and gave rise to the terrible religious
trouble of the subsequent reigns. A tabular arrangement of the
principal tales will be exceedingly useful."
May 1885-5th February 1886
A Glance through "The Arabian Nights"
71. The Thousand Nights and a Night. 1st Vol. 12th September 1885.
10th Vol. 12th July 1886.
72. Il Pentamerone. (Translated--not published till 1893).
73. Iracema or Honey Lips; and Manoel de Moraes the Convert.
Translated from the Brazilian. 1886.
128. Slaving at the Athenaeum, May 1885.
In May 1885, Burton obtained leave of absence, and on arriving
in England he made various arrangements about the printing of
The Arabian Nights and continued the work of translation. When in
London he occupied rooms at the St. James's Hotel (now the Berkeley)
in Piccadilly. He used to say that the St. James's Hotel was the
best place in the world in which to do literary work, and that the
finest place in the whole world was the corner of Piccadilly.
Still, he spent most of his time, as usual, at the Athenaeum.
Mr. H. R. Tedder, the Secretary, and an intimate friend of Burton's,
tells me that "He would work at the round table in the library for
hours and hours--with nothing for refreshment except a cup of coffee
and a box of snuff, which always stood at his side;" and that he was
rarely without a heavy stick with a whistle at one end and a spike
at the other--the spike being to keep away dogs when he was
travelling in hot countries. This was one of the many little
inventions of his own. Mr. Tedder describes him as a man of great
and subtle intellect and very urbane. "He had an athletic
appearance and a military carriage, and yet more the look of a
literary man than of a soldier." In summer as usual he wore white
clothes, the shabby old beaver, and the tie-pin shaped like a sword.
Mr. Tedder summed him up as "as a compound of a Benedictine monk,
a Crusader and a Buccaneer."
The Hon. Henry J. Coke, looking in at the Athenaeum library one day,
and noticing the "white trousers, white linen coat and a very shabby
old white beaver hat," exclaimed, "Hullo Burton, do you find it
so very hot?"
"I don't want," said Burton, "to be mistaken for anyone else."
"There's not much fear of that, without your clothes,"
During this holiday Burton visited most of his old friends,
and often ran down to Norwood to see his sister and her daughter,
while everyone remarked his brightness and buoyancy. "It was
delightful," says Miss Stisted, "to see how happy he was over the
success of his venture." He had already resolved to issue six
additional volumes, to be called Supplemental Nights. He would then
take sixteen thousand pounds. He calculated printing and sundries
as costing four thousand, and that the remainder would be net
profit. As a matter of fact the expenses arose to £6,000,
making the net profit £10,000[FN#425] Burton had wooed fortune
in many ways, by hard study in India, by pioneering in Africa,
by diplomacy at Court, by gold-searching in Midian and at Axim,
by patent medicining. Finally he had found it in his inkstand;
but as his favourite Jami says, it requires only a twist of the pen
to transmute duvat into dulat[FN#426]--inkstand into fortune.
Except when his father died, Burton had never before possessed
so large a sum, and, at the time, it appeared inexhaustible.
Bubbling over with fun, he would pretend to make a great mystery
as to the Kama Shastra Society at Benares, where he declared the
Nights were being printed.
129. A Visit to Mr. Arbuthnot's.
Of all the visits to be made during this holiday Burton had looked
forward to none with so much pleasure as those to Mr. Arbuthnot,
or "Bunny,"[FN#427] as he called him, and Mr. Payne. Mr. Arbuthnot
was still living at Upper House Court, Guildford, studying, writing
books, and encouraging struggling men of letters with a generosity
that earned for him the name of "the English Mecaenas;" and it was
there the friends discussed the publications of the Kama Shastra
Society and made arrangements for the issue of fresh volumes.
While the roses shook their odours over the garden, they talked
of Sadi's roses, Jami's "Aromatic herbs," and "Trees of
Liberality,"[FN#428] and the volume Persian Portraits,[FN#429]
which Arbuthnot, assisted by Edward Rehatsek, was at the moment
preparing for the press. Among the objects at Mr. Arbuthnot's
heart was, as we have said, the resuscitation of the old Oriental
Translation fund, which was originally started in 1824, the Society
handling it having been established by Royal Charter. A series of
works had been issued between 1829 and 1879, but the funds were
completely exhausted by the publication of Al Biruni's Memoirs of
India, and there were no longer any subscribers to the Society.
Mr. Arbuthnot now set himself assiduously to revive this fund,
he contributed to it handsomely himself and by his energy induced
a number of others to contribute. It is still in existence, and in
accordance with his suggestion is worked by the Royal Asiatic
Society, though the subscriptions and donations to the Translation
Fund are kept entirely separate, and are devoted exclusively to the
production of translations of Oriental works, both ancient and
modern. Thanks to the fund, a number of translations of various
Oriental works has been issued, including volumes by Professor
Cowell, Rehatsek, Miss C. M. Ridding, Dr. Gaster and Professor Rhys
Davids. Its most important publication, however, is the completion
of the translation of Hariri's Assemblies,[FN#430] done by
130. Dr. Steingass.
Born in 1825, Dr. Steingass came to England in 1873, and after five
years as Professor of Modern Languages at Wakefield Grammar School,
Birmingham, was appointed Professor at the Oriental Institute,
Woking. Though entirely self-taught, he was master of fourteen
languages.[FN#432] His Arabic Dictionary (1884) and his Persian
English Dictionary (1892) are well known, the latter being the best
extant, but he will, after all, be chiefly remembered by his
masterly rendering of Hariri. Dr. Steingass presently became
acquainted with Burton, for whom he wrote the article "On the Prose
Rhyme and the Poetry of the Nights."[FN#433] He also assisted
Burton with the Notes,[FN#434] supervised the MSS. of the
Supplemental Volumes and enriched the last three with results of his
wide reading and lexicographical experience.[FN#435] The work of
transcribing Burton's manuscript and making the copy for the press
fell to a widow lady, Mrs. Victoria Maylor, a Catholic friend of
Mrs. Burton. Mrs. Maylor copied not only The Arabian Nights,
but several of Burton's later works, including The Scented Garden.
When asked why he spent so much time and money on Orientalism,
Arbuthnot gave as excuse his incompetency to do anything else.
He admitted, indeed, that for the higher walks of life, such as
whist and nap, he had no aptitude. Occasionally at Upper House
Court, politics were introduced, and Arbuthnot, a staunch Liberal
in a shire of Tories, was sometimes rallied upon his opinions by the
Conservative Burton and Payne. He took it all, however, as he took
everything else, good humouredly, and even made some amiable
attempts to convert his opponents. "His Radicalism," says
Mr. Payne, amusingly, "was entirely a matter of social position and
connection. He was good enough for a Tory." As usual, Burton paid
a visit to Fryston, and he occasionally scintillated at Lord
Houghton's famous Breakfasts in London. Once the friends were the
guests of a prosperous publisher, who gave them champagne in silver
goblets. "Doesn't this," said Lord Houghton, raising a bumper to
his lips, "make you feel as if you were drinking out of the skulls
of poor devil authors?" For reply Burton tapped his own forehead.
About this time an anonymous letter of Burton's appeared in The
World, but we forget upon what subject. It excited wide interest,
however, and hundreds of persons wrote to Mr. Yates, the editor,
for the name of the author.
"Did you see my letter in The World?" enquired Burton of Mrs. E. J.
"The Christian World?" asked Mrs. Burton innocently.
"No," replied Burton, sharply, "The Unchristian World."
Once when Burton was present at some gathering, a missionary caused
a shudder to run through the company by saying that he had had the
dreadful experience of being present at a cannibal feast.
The cannibals, he said, brought in their prisoner, butchered him,
cut him up, and handed the pieces round smoking hot. With his
curious feline laugh, Burton enquired, "Didn't they offer you any?"
"They did," replied the missionary, "but of course I refused."
"What a fool you were," cried Burton, "to miss such a unique
132. The Pentameron. Burton and Gladstone.
We must next record a visit to Mr. Payne, who then resided in
London. Burton talked over his projects, and said that he had been
wondering what book to take up after the completion of The Nights.
"I think," said he, "I shall fix upon Boccaccio next."
"My dear boy," followed Mr. Payne, "I've just done him."[FN#436]
As his poem "Salvestra" shows, Mr. Payne's mind had for long been
running on "that sheaf of flowers men call Decameron."
His brilliant translation was, indeed, already in the press,
and it appeared the following year in three volumes.
"You are taking the bread out of my mouth," commented Burton
"But," continued Mr. Payne, "there is another work that I thought of
doing--The Pentameron,[FN#437] by Giambattista Basile, and if you
care to take my place I will not only stand aside but lend you the
materials collected for the purpose." Burton, who had some
knowledge of the Neapolitan dialect but had never met with the work
referred to, welcomed the idea; and as soon as he had finished the
Nights he commenced a translation of The Pentameron, which, however,
was not published until after his death. His rendering,
which cannot be praised, was aptly described by one of the critics
as "an uncouth performance." Burton also told Payne about the
proposed Ariosto translation, and they discussed that too,
but nothing was done.
On July 19th 1885, the Burtons lunched with Lord Houghton--"our
common Houghton," as Mr. Swinburne used to call him; and found his
lordship unwell, peevish, and fault-finding. He had all the trials
of the successful man who possesses everything that wealth can
purchase or the mind conceive.
"Good-bye, my dear old friend," cried Burton, when parting,
"Would that I could share your troubles with you!"[FN#438]
But poor Lord Houghton was too far gone to appreciate the jest.
Indeed, he was on the brink of the grave. A few days later he left
for Vichy, where he died on August 11th. His remains were brought
to Fryston, and Burton and Arbuthnot were present at his funeral.
In October, while he was the guest of Lord Salisbury at Hatfield,
Burton solicited the consulate of Morocco, and as his application
was supported by fifty men of prominence he felt almost certain of
Apparently, it was during this visit to England, too, that Burton
committed the frightful sin of contradicting Mr. Gladstone. At some
great house after dinner, Mr. Gladstone, who was the guest of the
evening, took it upon himself, while every one listened in
respectful silence, to enlarge on Oriental matters.
After he had finished, Burton, who had been fidgeting considerably,
turned to him and said, "I can assure you, Mr. Gladstone,
that everything you have said is absolutely and entirely opposite
The rest of the company were aghast, could scarcely, indeed,
believe their ears; and one of them, as soon as he had recovered
from the shock, was seen scribbling like mad on a menu card.
Presently Burton felt the card tucked into his hand under the table.
On glancing at it he read "Please do not contradict Mr. Gladstone.
Nobody ever does."
133. A Brief Glance through the Nights.
By this time Burton had finished the first volume of his translation
of The Arabian Nights, which left the press 12th September 1885.
The book was handsomely bound in black and gold, the colours of the
Abbaside caliphs; and contained a circular "earnestly requesting
that the work might not be exposed for sale in public places or
permitted to fall into the hands of any save curious students of
Moslem manners." The last volume was issued in July 1886. Let us
turn over the pages of this remarkable work, surrender ourselves for
a few moments to its charms, and then endeavour to compare it calmly
and impartially with the great translation by Mr. Payne.
What a glorious panorama unfolds itself before us! Who does not
know the introduction--about the king who, because his wife was
unfaithful, vowed to take a new wife every evening and slay her
in the morning! And all about the vizier's daughter, the beautiful
Shahrazad, who, with a magnificent scheme in her head, voluntarily
came forward and offered to take the frightful risk.
Did ever tale-teller compare with Shahrazad? Who does not
sympathise with the Trader who killed the invisible son of the
jinni? Who has not dreamt of the poor fisherman and the pot that
was covered with the seal of King Solomon? The story of Duban,
who cured King Yunon of leprosy and was sent home on the royal steed
reads like a verse out of Esther,[FN#439] and may remind us that
there is no better way of understanding the historical portions of
the Bible than by studying The Arabian Nights. King Yunan richly
deserved the death that overtook him, if only for his dirty habit of
wetting his thumb when turning over the leaves of the book.[FN#440]
What a rare tale is that of the Ensorcelled Prince, alias The Young
King of the Black Isles, who though he sat in a palace where
fountains limbecked water "clear as pearls and diaphanous gems,"
and wore "silken stuff purfled with Egyptian gold," was from his
midriff downwards not man but marble! Who is not shocked at the
behaviour of the Three Ladies of Baghdad! In what fearful peril
the caliph and the Kalendars placed themselves when, in spite of
warning, they would ask questions! How delightful are the verses of
the Nights, whether they have or have not any bearing upon the text!
Says the third Kalendar, apropos of nothing:
"How many a weal trips on the heels of ill
Causing the mourner's heart with joy to thrill."
What an imbecile of imbeciles was this same Kalendar when he found
himself in the palace with the forty damsels, "All bright as moons
to wait upon him!" It is true, he at first appreciated his snug
quarters, for he cried, "Hereupon such gladness possessed me that
I forgot the sorrows of the world one and all, and said, 'This is
indeed life!'" Then the ninny must needs go and open that fatal
fortieth door! The story of Nur al-Din Ali and his son Badr al-Din
Hasan has the distinction of being the most rollicking and the most
humorous in the Nights. What stupendous events result from a tiff!
The lines repeated by Nur al-Din Ali when he angrily quitted his
brother must have appealed forcibly to Burton:
Travel! and thou shalt find new friends for old ones left behind;
toil! for the sweets of human life by toil and moil are found;
The stay at home no honour wins nor ought attains but want; so
leave thy place of birth and wander all the world around.[FN#441]
As long as time lasts the pretty coquettish bride will keep on
changing her charming dresses; and the sultan's groom (poor man!
and for nothing at all) will be kept standing on his head.
The moribund Nur al-Din turns Polonius and delivers himself of
sententious precepts. "Security," he tells his son, "lieth in
seclusion of thought and a certain retirement from the society of
thy fellows.... In this world there is none thou mayst count upon.
...so live for thyself, nursing hope of none. Let thine own faults
distract thine attention from the faults of other men.[FN#442]
Be cautious, kind, charitable, sober, and economical." Then the
good old man's life "went forth." This son, when, soon after,
confronted with misfortune, gives utterance to one of the finest
thoughts in the whole work:
"It is strange men should dwell in the house of abjection, when
the plain of God's earth is so wide and great."[FN#443]
But there is another verse in the same tale that is also well worth
remembering--we mean the one uttered by Badr al-Din Hasan (turned
tart merchant) when struck by a stone thrown by his son.
Unjust it were to bid the world be just; and blame her not: She
ne'er was made for justice:
Take what she gives thee, leave all griefs aside, for now to
Then to foul her lust is.[FN#444]
We need do no more than mention the world-famous stories of the
unfortunate Hunchback and the pragmatical but charitable Barber.
Very lovely is the tale of Nur al-Din and the Damsel Anis al
Jalis[FN#445] better known as "Noureddin and the Beautiful Persian."
How tender is the scene when they enter the Sultan's garden!
"Then they fared forth at once from the city, and Allah spread over
them His veil of protection, so that they reached the river bank,
where they found a vessel ready for sea." Arrived at Baghdad they
enter a garden which turns out to be the Sultan's. "By Allah,"
quoth Nur al-Din to the damsel, "right pleasant is this place."
And she replied, "O my lord, sit with me awhile on this bench,
and let us take our ease. So they mounted and sat them down ... and
the breeze blew cool on them, and they fell asleep, and glory be to
Him who never sleepeth." Little need to enquire what it is that
entwines The Arabian Nights round our hearts.
When calamity over took Nur al-Din he mused on the folly of heaping
"Kisra and Caesars in a bygone day stored wealth; where is it,
and ah! where are they?"[FN#446]
But all came right in the end, for "Allah's aid is ever near
at hand." The tale of Ghanim bin Ayyub also ends happily.
Then follows the interminable history of the lecherous and bellicose
King Omar. Very striking is its opening episode--the meeting of
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