The Life of Sir Richard Burton
Part 6 out of 9
Prince Sharrkan with the lovely Abrizah. "Though a lady like the
moon at fullest, with ringleted hair and forehead sheeny white,
and eyes wondrous wide and black and bright, and temple locks like
the scorpion's tail," she was a mighty wrestler, and threw her
admirer three times. The tender episode of the adventures of the
two forlorn royal children in Jerusalem is unforgettable; while the
inner story of Aziz and Azizah, with the touching account of
Azizah's death, takes perhaps the highest place in the Nights.
The tale of King Omar, however, has too much fighting, just as that
of Ali bin Bakkar and Shams al Nahar, the amourist martyrs,
as Burton calls them, has too much philandering. Then comes the
Tale of Kamar al Zaman I--about the Prince and the Princess whose
beauty set the fairy and the jinni disputing. How winning were the
two wives of Kamar al Zaman in their youth; how revolting after!
The interpolated tale of Ni'amah and Naomi is tender and pretty,
and as the Arabs say, sweet as bees' honey.[FN#447] All of us as
we go through life occasionally blunder like Ni'amah into the wrong
room--knowing not what is written for us "in the Secret Purpose."
The most interesting feature of the "leprosy tale" of Ala-al-Din
is the clairvoyance exhibited by Zubaydah, who perceived that even
so large a sum as ten thousand dinars would be forthcoming--
a feature which links it with the concluding story of the Nights--
that of Ma'aruf the cobbler; while the important part that the
disguised Caliph Haroun Al-Rashid, Ja'afar and Masrur play in it
reminds us of the story of the Three Ladies of Baghdad. On this
occasion, however, there was a fourth masker, that hoary sinner
and cynical humorist the poet Abu Nowas.
One of the most curious features of the Nights is the promptitude
with which everyone--porters, fishermen, ladies, caliphs--recites
poetry. It is as if a cabman when you have paid him your fare were
to give you a quatrain from FitzGerald's rendering of Omar Khayyam,
or a cripple when soliciting your charity should quote Swinburne's
Atalanta. Then in the midst of all this culture, kindliness,
generosity, kingliness, honest mirth,--just as we are beginning
to honour and love the great caliph, we come upon a tale[FN#448]
with the staggering commencement "When Harun al Rashid crucified
Ja'afar;" and if we try to comfort ourselves with the reflection
that we are reading only Fiction, History comes forward and tells us
bluntly that it is naked truth. Passing from this story, which
casts so lurid a light over the Nights, we come to Abu Mohammed,
Lazybones, the Arab Dick Whittington, whose adventures are succeeded
by those of Ali Shar, a young man who, with nothing at all,
purchases a beautiful slave girl--Zumurrud. When, after a time,
he loses her, he loses also his senses, and runs about crying:
"The sweets of life are only for the mad."
By and by Zumurrud becomes a queen, and the lovers are re-united.
She is still very beautiful, very sweet, very pious, very tender,
and she flays three men alive.
We need do no more than allude to "The Man of Al Yaman and his six
Slave Girls," "The Ebony Horse," and "Uns al Wujud and Rose
The tale of the blue-stocking Tawaddud[FN#449] is followed by a
number of storyettes, some of which are among the sweetest in the
Nights. "The Blacksmith who could handle Fire without Hurt,"
"The Moslem Champion," with its beautiful thoughts on prayer,
and "Abu Hasn and the Leper" are all of them fragrant as musk.
Then comes "The Queen of the Serpents" with the history of Janshah,
famous on account of the wonderful Split Men--the creatures already
referred to in this work, who used to separate longitudinally.
The Sindbad cycle is followed by the melancholy "City of Brass,"
and a great collection of anecdotes illustrative of the craft and
malice of woman.
In "The Story of Judar"[FN#450] we find by the side of a character
of angelic goodness characters of fiendish malevolence--Judar's
brothers--a feature that links it with the stories of Abdullah bin
Fazil[FN#451] and Abu Sir and Abu Kir.[FN#452] Very striking is the
account of the Mahrabis whom Judar pushed into the lake, and who
appeared with the soles of their feet above the water and none can
forget the sights which the necromancy of the third Maghrabi put
before the eyes of Judar. "Oh, Judar, fear not," said the Moor,
"for they are semblances without life." The long and bloody romance
of Gharib and Ajib is followed by thirteen storyettes,
all apparently historical, and then comes the detective work of
"The Rogueries of Dalilah," and 'the Adventures of Mercury Ali."
If "The Tale of Ardashir" is wearisome, that of "Julnar the Sea Born
and her son King Badr," which like "Abdullah of the Land,
and Abdullah of the Sea,"[FN#453] concerns mer-folk, amply atones
for it. This, too, is the tale of the Arabian Circe, Queen Lab,
who turns people into animals. In "Sayf al Muluk," we make the
acquaintance of that very singular jinni whose soul is outside his
body, and meet again with Sindbad's facetious acquaintance, "The Old
Man of the Sea."
"Hasan of Bassorah" is woven as it were out of the strands of the
rainbow. Burton is here at his happiest as a translator, and the
beautiful words that he uses comport with the tale and glitter like
jewels. It was a favourite with him. He says, "The hero, with his
hen-like persistency of purpose, his weeping, fainting, and
versifying, is interesting enough, and proves that 'Love can find
out the way.' The charming adopted sister, the model of what the
feminine friend should be; the silly little wife who never knows
that she is happy till she loses happiness, the violent and
hard-hearted queen with all the cruelty of a good woman;
and the manners and customs of Amazon-land are outlined with a
Then follow the stories of Kalifah, Ali Nur al Din and Miriam the
Girdle Girl[FN#454]; the tales grouped together under the title of
"King Jalead of Hind;" and Abu Kir and Abu Sir, memorable on account
of the black ingratitude of the villain.
"Kamar al Zaman II." begins with the disagreeable incident of the
Jeweller's Wife--"The Arab Lady Godiva of the Wrong Sort"--and the
wicked plot which she contrived in concert with the depraved Kamar
al Zaman. However, the storyteller enlists the reader's sympathies
for the Jeweller, who in the end gains a wife quite as devoted to
him as his first wife had been false. The unfaithful wife gets a
reward which from an Arab point of view precisely meets the case.
Somebody "pressed hard upon her windpipe and brake her neck."
"So," concludes the narrator, "he who deemeth all women alike there
is no remedy for the disease of his insanity." There is much sly
humour in the tale, as for example when we are told that even the
cats and dogs were comforted when "Lady Godiva" ceased to make her
rounds. "Abdullah bin Fazil" is simply "The Eldest Lady's Tale"
with the sexes changed.
The last tale in the Nights, and perhaps the finest of all, is that
of "Ma'aruf the Cobbler."[FN#455] Ma'aruf, who lived at Cairo,
had a shrewish wife named Fatimah who beat him, and hauled him
before the Kazi because he had not been able to bring her "kunafah
sweetened with bees' honey." So he fled from her, and a
good-natured Marid transported him to a distant city. Here he
encounters an old playfellow who lends him money and recommends him
to play the wealthy merchant, by declaring that his baggage is on
the road. This he does with a thoroughness that alarms his friend.
He borrows money right and left and lavishes it upon beggars.
He promises to pay his creditors twice over when his baggage comes.
By and by the king--a very covetous man--hears of Ma'aruf's amazing
generosity, and desirous himself of getting a share of the baggage,
places his treasury at Ma'aruf's disposal, and weds him to his
daughter Dunya. Ma'arfu soon empties the treasury, and the Wazir,
who dislikes Ma'aruf, suspects the truth. Ma'aruf, however,
confesses everything to Dunya. She comes to his rescue, and her
clairvoyance enables her to see his future prosperity. Having fled
from the king, Ma'aruf discovers a magic "souterrain" and a
talismanic seal ring, by the aid of which he attains incalculable
wealth. Exclaims his friend the merchant when Ma'aruf returns as a
magnifico, "Thou hast played off this trick and it hath prospered to
thy hand, O Shaykh of Imposters! But thou deservest it."
Ma'aruf ultimately succeeds to the throne. Then occurs the death
of the beautiful and tender Dunya--an event that is recorded with
simplicity and infinite pathos. The old harridan Fatimah next
obtrudes, and, exhibiting again her devilish propensities,
receives her quietus by being very properly "smitten on the neck."
So ends this fine story, and then comes the conclusion of the
whole work. This is very touching, especially where the
story-telling queen, who assumes that death is to be her portion,
wants to bid adieu to the children whom she had borne to the king.
But, as the dullest reader must have divined, the king had long
before "pardoned" her in his heart, and all ends pleasantly with
the marriage of her sister Dunyazad to the king's brother.
What an array of figures--beautiful, revolting, sly, fatuous, witty,
brave, pusillanimous, mean, generous--meets the eye as we recall one
by one these famous stories; beautiful and amorous, but mercurial
ladies with henna scented feet and black eyes--often with a
suspicion of kohl and more than a suspicion of Abu Murreh[FN#456]
in them--peeping cautiously through the close jalousies of some
lattice; love sick princes overcoming all obstacles; executioners
with blood-dripping scimitars; princesses of blinding beauty and
pensive tenderness, who playfully knock out the "jaw-teeth" of their
eunuchs while "the thousand-voiced bird in the coppice sings
clear;"[FN#457] hideous genii, whether of the amiable or the
vindictive sort, making their appearance in unexpected moments;
pious beasts--nay, the very hills--praising Allah and glorifying
his vice-gerent; gullible saints, gifted scoundrels; learned men
with camel loads of dictionaries and classics, thieves with camel
loads of plunder; warriors, zanies, necromancers, masculine women,
feminine men, ghouls, lutists, negroes, court poets, wags--
the central figure being the gorgeous, but truculent, Haroun Al
Rashid, who is generally accompanied by Ja'afer and Masrur,
and sometimes by the abandoned but irresistible Abu Nowas.
What magnificent trencher-folk they all are! Even the love-lorn
damsels. If you ask for a snack between meals they send in a trifle
of 1,500 dishes.[FN#458] Diamonds and amethysts are plentiful as
blackberries. If you are a poet, and you make good verses, it is
likely enough that some queen will stuff your mouth with balass
rubies. How poorly our modern means of locomotion compare with
those of the Nights. If you take a jinni or a swan-maiden you can
go from Cairo to Bokhara in less time than our best expresses could
cover a mile. The recent battles between the Russians and the
Japanese are mere skirmishes compared with the fight described in
"The City of Brass"--where 700 million are engaged. The people who
fare worst in The Arabian Nights are those who pry into what does
not concern them or what is forbidden, as, for example, that
foolish, fatuous Third Kalendar, and the equally foolish and fatuous
Man who Never Laughed Again;[FN#459] and perhaps The Edinburgh
Review was right in giving as the moral of the tales: "Nothing is
impossible to him who loves, provided"--and the proviso is of
crucial importance--"he is not cursed with a spirit of curiosity."
Few persons care, however, whether there is any moral or not--
most of us would as soon look for one in the outstretched pride of
a peacock's tale.
Where the dust of Shahrazad is kept tradition does not tell us.
If we knew we would hasten to her tomb, and in imitation of the
lover of Azizeh[FN#460] lay thereon seven blood-red anemones.
The Two Translations Compared
134. The Blacksmith Who, etc.
Having glanced through the Nights, let us now compare the two famous
translations. As we have already mentioned, Burton in his
Translator's Foreword did not do Mr. Payne complete justice,
but he pays so many compliments to Mr. Payne's translation elsewhere
that no one can suppose that he desired to underrate the work of his
friend. In the Foreword he says that Mr. Payne "succeeds admirably
in the most difficult passages and 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." Still this does not go far enough, seeing that, as we said
before, he made his translation very largely a paraphrase of
Payne's. Consequently he was able to get done in two broken years
(April 1884 to April 1886) and with several other books in hand,
work that had occupied Mr. Payne six years (1876-1882). Let us now
take Mr. Payne's rendering and Burton's rendering of two short tales
and put them in juxtaposition. The Blacksmith who could handle Fire
without Hurt and Abu Al Hasan and Abu Ja'afar the Leper will suit
our purpose admirably.
The portion taken by Burton from Payne are in italics.
Vol. V. p. 25 Vol. V. p. 271
(Lib. Ed., vol. iv., p. 220)
THE BLACKSMITH WHO THE BLACKSMITH WHO
COULD HANDLE FIRE COULD HANDLE FIRE
WITHOUT HURT WITHOUT HURT
A certain pious man It reached the ears of
once heard that there a certain pious man that
abode in such a town a there abode in such a town
blacksmith who could a blacksmith who could
put his hand into the fire put his hand into the fire
and pull out the red-hot and pull out the iron red-hot,
iron, without its doing without the flames
him any hurt. So he set doing him aught of hurt.
out for the town in question So he set out for the town in
and enquiring for the question and asked for
blacksmith, watched him the blacksmith; and when
at work and saw him do the man was shown to
as had been reported to him; he watched him at
him. He waited till he work and saw him do as
had made an end of his had been reported to him.
day's work, then going He waited till he had made
up to him, saluted him an end of his day's work;
and said to him, "I then, going up to him,
would fain be thy guest saluted him with the salam
this night." "With all and said, "I would be thy
my heart," replied the guest this night." Replied
smith, and carried him to the smith, "With gladness
his house, where they and goodly gree!" and
supped together and lay carried him to his place,
down to sleep. The guest where they supped together
watched his host, but and lay down to sleep.
found no sign of [special] The guest watched but saw
devoutness in him and no sign in his host of praying
said to himself. "Belike through the night or
he concealeth himself from of special devoutness, and
me." So he lodged with said in his mind, "Haply
him a second and a third he hideth himself from
night, but found that he me." So he lodged with
did no more than observe him a second and a third
the ordinary letter of the night, but found that he
law and rose but little did not exceed the devotions
in the night [to pray]. At prescribed by the
last he said to him, "O law and custom of the
my brother, I have heard Prophet and rose but little
of the gift with which in the dark hours to pray.
God hath favoured thee At last he said to him, "O
and have seen the truth of my brother, I have heard
it with mine eyes. Moreover, of the gift with which
I have taken note of Allah hath favoured thee,
thine assiduity [in and have seen the truth of
religious exercises], but it with mine eyes. Moreover,
find in thee no special I have taken note
fervour of piety, such as of thine assiduity in
distinguisheth those in religious exercises, but find
whom such miraculous in thee no such piety as
gifts are manifest. distinguished those who work
"Whence, then, cometh saintly miracles; whence,
this to thee?" "I will then cometh this to thee?"
tell thee," answered the "I will tell thee,"
smith. answered the smith.
"Know that I was once "Know that I was once
passionately enamoured of passionately enamoured
a certain damsel and of a slave girl and oft-times
required her many a time sued her for loveliesse,
of love, but could not but could not prevail
prevail upon her, for upon her, because she
that she still clave fast still held fast by her
unto chastity. Presently chastity. Presently there
there came a year of came a year of drought and
drought and hunger and hunger and hardship, food
hardship; food failed and failed, and there befell a
there befell a sore famine sore famine. As I was
in the land. I was sitting sitting one day at home,
one day in my house, somebody knocked at the
when one knocked at the door; so I went out, and,
door; so I went out and behold, she was standing
found her standing there; there; and she said to
and she said to me, 'O me, 'O my brother, I am
my brother, I am stricken sorely an hungered and I
with excessive hunger, and lift mine eyes to thee,
I lift mine eyes to thee, beseeching thee to feed me,
beseeching thee to feed for Allah's sake!' Quoth
me for God's sake!' I, 'Wottest thou not how
Quoth I, 'Dost thou not I love thee and what I have
know how I love thee suffered for thy sake? Now
and what I have suffered I will not give thee one
for thy sake! I will give bittock of bread except
thee no whit of food, thou yield thy person
except thou yield thyself to me.' Quoth she,
to me.' But she said, 'Death, but not
'Better death than disobedience to the Lord!'
disobedience to God.' Then Then she went away and
she went away and returned after two days with
returned after two days the same prayer for food
with the same petition as before. I made her a
for food. I made her a like like answer, and she
answer, and she entered entered and sat down in my
and sat down, being nigh house, being nigh upon
upon death. I set food death. I set food before
before her, whereupon her her, whereupon her eyes
eyes ran over with tears, brimmed with tears, and
and she said, 'Give me she cried, 'Give me meat
to eat for the love of God, for the love of Allah, to
to whom belong might whom belong Honour and
and majesty!' 'Not so, Glory!' But I answered
by Allah,' answered I, 'Not so, by Allah, except
'except thou yield thyself thou yield thyself to me.'
to me.' Quoth she, Quoth she, 'Better is
'Better is death to me death to me than the wrath
than the wrath of God and wreak of Allah the
the Most High.' And Most Highest; and she
she left the food rose and left the food untouched
untouched[FN#461] and went away [FN#461] and went away
repeating the following repeating these couplets:
O, Thou, the only God, whose O, Thou, the One, whose grace
grace embraceth all that be, doth all the world embrace;
Thine ears have heard my Thine ears have heard, Thine
moan, Thine eyes have seen eyes have seen my case!
Indeed, privation and distress Privation and distress have dealt
are heavy on my head; I me heavy blows; the woes
cannot tell of all the woes that weary me no utterance
that do beleaguer me. can trace.
I'm like a man athirst, that I am like one athirst who eyes
looks upon a running stream, the landscape's eye, yet may
yet may not drink a single not drink a draught of
draught of all that he doth streams that rail and race.
My flesh would have me buy its My flesh would tempt me by the
will, alack, its pleasures sight of savoury food whose
flee! The sin that pays their joys shall pass away and
price abides to all eternity. pangs maintain their place.
[The girl, "worn out with want," came a third time, and met with the
same answer. But then remorse seized upon the blacksmith and he
bade her, "eat, and fear not."]
"When she heard this "Then she raised her eyes
she raised her eyes to to heaven and said,
heaven and said,
"'O my God, if this "'O my God, if this man
man be sincere, I pray say sooth, I pray thee
Thee forbid fire to do forbid fire to harm him
him hurt in this world in this world and the
and the next, for Thou art next, for Thou over all
He that answereth prayer things art Omnipotent and
and art powerful to do Prevalent in answering the
whatsoever Thou wilt!' prayer of the penitent!'
"Then I left her and Then I left her and went
went to put out the fire to put out the fire in
in the brasier. Now the the brazier. Now the
time was the winter-cold, season was winter and the
and a hot coal fell on weather cold, and a live
my body; but by the coal fell on my body, but
ordinance of God (to by the decree of Allah (to
whom belong might and whom be Honour and
majesty), I felt no pain Glory!) I felt no pain, and
and it was born in upon it became my conviction
me that her prayer had that her prayer had been
been answered." answered."
[The girl then praised God, who "straightway took her soul to Him."
The story finishes with some verses which are rendered by Payne and
Burton each according to his wont.]
135. Abu al-Hasan.
We will next take "Abu al-Hasan and Abu Ja'afar the Leper."
V. 49 V. 294
(Lib. Ed., iv., 242)
ABOULHUSN ED DURRAJ ABU AL-HASAN
AND ABOU JAAFER THE AND
LEPER ABU JA'AFAR THE LEPER
Quoth Aboulhusn ed I had been many times
Durraj, I had been many to Mecca (Allah increase
times to Mecca (which its honour!) and the folk
God increase in honour) used to follow me for my
and the folk used to follow knowledge of the road and
me by reason of my knowledge remembrance of the water
of the road and stations. It happened one
the watering-places. It year that I was minded to
chanced one year that I make the pilgrimage to
was minded to make the the Holy House and visitation
pilgrimage to the Holy of the tomb of His
House of God and visit the Prophet (on whom be
tomb of His prophet (on blessing and the Peace!)
whom be peace and blessing), and I said in myself. "I
and I said to myself, well know the way and
"I know the road and will will fare alone." So I
go alone." So I set out set out and journeyed till I
and journeyed till I came came to Al-Kadisiyah, and
to El Cadesiyeh, and entering entering the Mosque there,
the Mosque there, saw saw a man suffering from
a leper seated in the black leprosy seated in
prayer-niche. When he the prayer-niche. Quoth he
saw me, he said to me, on seeing me, "O Abu
"O Aboulhusn, I crave al-Hasan, I crave thy company
thy company to Mecca." to Meccah." Quoth I
Quoth I to myself, "I to myself, "I fled from all
wished to avoid companions, my companions and how
and how shall I shall I company with lepers."
company with lepers?" So I said to him, "I will
So I said to him, "I will bear no man company,"
bear no one company," and he was silent at my
and he was silent. words.
Next day I continued Next day I walked on
my journey alone, till I alone, till I came to
came to Acabeh, where Al-Akabah, where I entered
I entered the Mosque and the mosque and found the
was amazed to find the leper seated in the prayer
leper seated in the prayer- niche. So I said to myself,
niche. "Glory be to God," "Glory be to Allah!
said I in myself. "How how hath this fellow preceded
hath this fellow foregone me hither." But
me hither?" But he he raised his head to me
raised his eyes to me and said with a smile, "O
and said, smiling, "O, Abu al-Hasan, He doth
Aboulhusn, He doth for for the weak that which
the weak that which the surpriseth the strong!"
strong wonder at." I I passed that night confounded
passed that night in at what I had
perplexity, confounded at seen; and, as soon as
what I had seen, and in morning dawned, set out
the morning set out again again by myself; but
by myself; but when I when I came to Arafat
came to Arafat and entered and entered the mosque,
the mosque, behold, behold! there was the leper
there was the leper seated seated in the niche. So I
in the niche! So I threw threw myself upon him
myself upon him and kissing and kissing his feet said,
his feet, said, "O my "O my lord, I crave thy
lord, I crave thy company." company." But he answered,
But he said, "This may in no
"This may nowise be." way be." Then I began
Whereupon I fell a-weeping weeping and wailing at
and lamenting, and the loss of his company
he said: "Peace: weeping when he said, "Spare thy
will avail thee nothing," tears, which will avail thee
And he recited the naught!" and he recited
following verses: these couplets:
For my estrangement dost thou Why dost thou weep when I
weep,--whereas it came depart and thou didst parting
from thee,--And restoration claim; and cravest union
dost implore, when none, when we ne'er shall re-unite
alas! may be? the same?
Thou sawst my weakness and Thou lookedest on nothing save
disease, as it appeared, and my weakness and disease;
saidst, "He goes, nor comes, and saidst, "Nor goes, nor
or night, or day, for this his comes, or night, or day, this
malady." sickly frame."
Seest not that God (exalted be Seest not how Allah (glorified
His glory) to His slave His glory ever be!) deigneth
vouchsafeth all he can conceive to grant His slave's petition
of favour fair and free! wherewithal he came.
If I, to outward vision, be as If I, to eyes of men be that and
it appears and eke in body, for only that they see, and this
despite of fate, e'en that my body show itself so full
which thou dost see. of grief and grame.
And eke no victual though I And I have nought of food that
have, unto the holy place shall supply me to the place
where crowds unto my Lord where crowds unto my Lord
resort, indeed, to carry me. resort impelled by single aim.
I have a Maker, hidden are His I have a high Creating Lord
bounties unto me; yea, whose mercies aye are hid;
there's no parting me from a Lord who hath none equal
Him, and without peer is He. and no fear is known to Him.
Depart from me in peace and So fare thee safe and leave me
leave me and my strangerhood; lone in strangerhood to wone.
For with the lonely For He the only One, consoles
exile still the One shall my loneliness so lone.
So I left him and continued Accordingly I left him,
my journey; and but every station I came
every stage I came to, I to, I found he had foregone
found him before me, till me, till I reached Al-Madinah,
I came to Medina, where where I lost sight
I lost sight of him and of him, and could hear
could hear no news of no tidings of him. Here
him. Here I met Abou I met Abu Yazid
Yezid el Bustani and Abou al-Bustami and Abu Bakr
Beker es Shibli and a al-Shibli and a number of
number of other doctors, other Shaykhs and learned
to whom I told my case, men to whom with many
and they said, "God complaints I told my case,
forbid that thou shouldst and they said, "Heaven
gain his company after forbid that thou shouldst
this! This was Abou gain his company after
Jaafer the leper, in whose this! He was Abu Ja'afar
name, at all tides, the folk the leper, in whose name
pray for rain, and by whose folk at all times pray for
blessings prayers are answered." rain and by whose blessing
When I heard prayers their end attain."
this, my longing for his When I heard their words,
company redoubled and my desire for his company
I implored God to reunite redoubled and I implored
me with him. Whilst I the Almighty to reunite me
was standing on Arafat, with him. Whilst I was
one plucked me from behind, standing on Arafat one
so I turned and pulled me from behind, so
behold, it was Abou Jaafer. I turned and behold, it
At this sight I gave a loud was my man. At this
cry and fell down in a sight I cried out with a
swoon; but when I came loud cry and fell down in
to myself, he was gone. a fainting fit; but when I
came to myself he had disappeared
from my sight.
This increased my yearning This increased my yearning
for him and the ways for him and the
were straitened upon ceremonies were tedious to
me and I prayed God to me, and I prayed Almighty
give me sight of him; Allah to give me sight of
nor was it but a few days him; nor was it but a few
after when one pulled me days after, when lo! one
from behind, and I turned, pulled me from behind,
and behold, it was he and I turned and it was
again. Quoth he, "I conjure he again. Thereupon he
thee, ask thy desire said, "Come, I conjure
of me." So I begged him thee, and ask thy want of
to pray three prayers to me." So I begged him to
God for me; first, that pray for me three prayers:
He would make me love first, that Allah would make
poverty; secondly, that I me love poverty; secondly,
might never lie down to that I might never lie down
sleep upon known provision, at night upon provision
and thirdly, that assured to me; and
He, the Bountiful One, thirdly, that he would
would vouchsafe me to vouchsafe me to look upon
look upon His face. So he His bountiful face. So
prayed for me, as I wished, he prayed for me as I
and departed from me. wished, and departed from
And, indeed, God hath me. And indeed Allah
granted me the first two hath granted me what the
prayers; for He hath devotee asked in prayer;
made me in love with to begin with he hath made
poverty, so that, by Allah, me so love poverty that, by
there is nought in the the Almighty! there is
world dearer to me than nought in the world dearer
it, and since such a year, to me than it, and secondly
I have never lain down since such a year I have
upon assured provision; never lain down to sleep
yet hath He never let me upon assured provision,
lack of aught. As for the withal hath He never let
third prayer, I trust that me lack aught. As for the
He will vouchsafe me that third prayer, I trust that
also, even as He hath he will vouchsafe me that
granted the two others, also, even as He hath
for He is bountiful and granted the two precedent,
excellently beneficient. And for right Bountiful and
may God have mercy on Beneficient is His Godhead,
him who saith: and Allah have mercy on
him who said;
Renouncement, lowliness, the Garb of Fakir, renouncement,
fakir's garments be; In lowliness;
patched and tattered clothes His robe of tatters and of rags
still fares the devotee. his dress;
Pallor adorneth him, as on their And pallor ornamenting brow
latest nights, The moons as though
with pallor still embellished 'Twere wanness such as waning
thou mayst see. crescents show.
Long rising up by night to pray Wasted him prayer a-through
hath wasted him; And from the long-lived night,
his lids the tears stream down. And flooding tears ne'er cease
as 'twere a sea. to dim his sight.
The thought of God to him his Memory of Him shall cheer his
very housemate is; For lonely room;
bosom friend by night, th' Th' Almighty nearest is in
Omnipotent hath he. nightly gloom.
God the Protector helps the fakir The Refuge helpeth such Fakir
in his need; And birds and in need;
beasts no less to succour him Help e'en the cattle and the
agree. winged breed;
On his account, the wrath of Allah for sake of him of wrath
God on men descends, And is fain,
by his grace, the rains fall And for the grace of him shall
down on wood and lea. fall the rain;
And if he pray one day to do And if he pray one day for plague
away a plague, The oppressor's to stay,
slain and men from 'Twill stay, and 'bate man's
tyrants are made free; wrong and tyrants slay.
For all the folk are sick, While folk are sad, afflicted one
afflicted and diseased, And he's and each,
the pitying leach withouten He in his mercy's rich, the
stint or fee. generous leach;
His forehead shines; an thou Bright shines his brow; an thou
but look upon his face, Thy regard his face
heart is calmed, the lights of Thy heart illumined shines by
heaven appear to thee. light of grace.
O thou that shunnest these, their O thou that shunnest souls of
virtues knowing not, Woe's worth innate,
thee! Thou'rt shut from Departs thee (woe to thee!) of
them by thine iniquity. sins the weight.
Thou think'st them to o'ertake, Thou thinkest to overtake them,
for all thou'rt fettered fast; while thou bearest
Thy sins from thy desire Follies, which slay thee whatso
do hinder thee, perdie. way thou farest.
Thou wouldst to them consent Didst not their worth thou hadst
and rivers from thine eyes all honour showed
Would run from them, if thou And tears in streamlets from
their excellence could'st see. thine eyes had flowed.
Uneath to him to smell, who's To catarrh-troubled men flowers
troubled with a rheum, Are lack their smell;
flowers; the broker knows And brokers ken for how much
what worth the garments be. clothes can sell;
So supplicate thy Lord right So haste and with thy Lord
humbly for His grace And re-union sue,
Providence, belike, shall And haply fate shall lend thee
help thy constancy; aidance due.
And thou shalt win thy will and Rest from rejection and
from estrangement's stress estrangement stress,
And eke rejection's pains And joy thy wish and will shall
shall be at rest and free. choicely bless.
The asylum of His grace is wide His court wide open for the
enough for all That seek; The suer is dight:--
one true God, the One, very God, the Lord, th'
Conqueror, is He! Almighty might.
We may also compare the two renderings of that exquisite and tender
little poem "Azizeh's Tomb"[FN#462] which will be found in the
"Tale of Aziz and Azizeh."
I passed by a ruined tomb in the I past by a broken tomb amid
midst of a garden way, Upon a garth right sheen, Whereon
whose letterless stone seven on seven blooms of Nu'aman
blood-red anemones lay. glowed with cramoisie.
"Who sleeps in this unmarked Quoth I, "Who sleepeth in this
grave?" I said, and the tomb?" Quoth answering
earth, "Bend low; For a earth, "Before a lover
lover lies here and waits for Hades-tombed bend reverently."
the Resurrection Day."
"God keep thee, O victim of Quoth I, "May Allah help thee,
love!" I cried, "and bring O thou slain of love, And
thee to dwell In the highest grant thee home in heaven
of all the heavens of Paradise, and Paradise-height to see!
"How wretched are lovers all, "Hapless are lovers all e'en
even in the sepulchre, tombed in their tombs,
For their very tombs are Where amid living folk the
covered with ruin and decay! dust weighs heavily!
"Lo! if I might, I would plant "Fain would I plant a garden
thee a garden round about, blooming round thy grave
and with my streaming tears And water every flower with
the thirst of its flowers tear-drops flowing
136. The Summing Up.
The reader will notice from these citations:
(1) That, as we have already said, and as Burton himself partly
admitted, Burton's translation is largely a paraphrase of Payne's.
This is particularly noticeable in the latter half of the Nights.
He takes hundreds--nay thousands--of sentences and phrases from
Payne, often without altering a single word.[FN#464] If it be urged
that Burton was quite capable of translating the Nights without
drawing upon the work of another, we must say that we deeply regret
that he allowed the opportunity to pass, for he had a certain rugged
strength of style, as the best passages in his Mecca and other books
show. In order to ensure originality he ought to have translated
every sentence before looking to see how Payne put it, but the
temptation was too great for a very busy man--a man with a hundred
irons in the fire--and he fell.[FN#465]
(2) That, where there are differences, Payne's translation is
invariably the clearer, finer and more stately of the two. Payne is
concise, Burton diffuse.[FN#466]
(3) That although Burton is occasionally happy and makes a pat
couplet, like the one beginning "Kisras and Caesars," nevertheless
Payne alone writes poetry, Burton's verse being quite unworthy of so
honourable a name. Not being, like Payne, a poet and a lord of
language; and, as he admits, in his notes, not being an initiate
in the methods of Arabic Prosody, Burton shirked the isometrical
rendering of the verse. Consequently we find him constantly
annexing Payne's poetry bodily, sometimes with acknowledgement,
oftener without. Thus in Night 867 he takes half a page. Not only
does he fail to reproduce agreeably the poetry of the Nights,
but he shows himself incapable of properly appreciating it. Notice,
for example, his remark on the lovely poem of the Fakir at the end
of the story of "Abu Al-Hasan and Abu Ja'afer the Leper," the two
versions of which we gave on a preceding page. Burton calls it
"sad doggerel," and, as he translates it, so it is. But Payne's
version, with its musical subtleties and choice phrases, such as
"The thought of God to him his very housemate is," is a delight to
the ear and an enchantment of the sense. Mr. Payne in his Terminal
Essay singles out the original as one of the finest pieces of
devotional verse in the Nights; and worthy of Vaughan or Christina
Rossetti. The gigantic nature of Payne's achievement will be
realised when we mention that The Arabian Nights contains the
equivalent of some twenty thousand decasyllabic lines of poetry,
that is to say more than there are in Milton's Paradise Lost,
and that he has rendered faithfully the whole of this enormous mass
in accordance with the intricate metrical scheme of the original,
and in felicitous and beautiful language.
(4) That Burton, who was well read in the old English poets,
also introduces beautiful words. This habit, however, is more
noticeable in other passages where we come upon cilice,[FN#467]
egromancy,[FN#468] verdurous,[FN#469] vergier,[FN#470]
rondure,[FN#471] purfled,[FN#472] &c. Often he uses these words
with excellent effect, as, for example, "egromancy,"[FN#473] in the
sentence: "Nor will the egromancy be dispelled till he fall from the
horse;" but unfortunately he is picturesque at all costs. Thus he
constantly puts "purfled" where he means "embroidered" or "sown,"
and in the "Tale of the Fisherman and the Jinni," he uses
incorrectly the pretty word "cucurbit"[FN#474] to express a brass
pot; and many other instances might be quoted. His lapses, indeed,
indicate that he had no real sense of the value of words. He uses
them because they are pretty, forgetting that no word is attractive
except in its proper place, just as colours in painting owe their
value to their place in the general colour scheme. He took most of
his beautiful words from our old writers, and a few like
ensorcelled[FN#475] from previous translators. Unfortunately, too,
he spoils his version by the introduction of antique words that are
ugly, uncouth, indigestible and yet useless. What, for example,
does the modern Englishman make of this, taken from the "Tale of the
Wolf and the Fox," "Follow not frowardness, for the wise forbid it;
and it were most manifest frowardness to leave me in this pit
draining the agony of death and dight to look upon mine own doom,
whereas it lieth in thy power to deliver me from my stowre?"[FN#476]
Or this: "O rare! an but swevens[FN#477] prove true," from
"Kamar-al-Zalam II." Or this "Sore pains to gar me dree," from
"The Tale of King Omar," or scores of others that could easily be
Burton, alas! was also unscrupulous enough to include one tale
which, he admitted to Mr. Kirby, does not appear in any redaction
of the Nights, namely that about the misfortune that happened to
Abu Hassan on his Wedding day.[FN#479] "But," he added, "it is too
good to be omitted." Of course the tale does not appear in Payne.
To the treatment meted by each translator to the coarsenesses of the
Nights we have already referred. Payne, while omitting nothing,
renders such passages in literary language, whereas Burton speaks
out with the bluntness and coarseness of an Urquhart.
In his letter to Mr. Payne, 22nd October 1884, he says of
Mr. Payne's translation, "The Nights are by no means literal
but very readable which is the thing." He then refers to
Mr. Payne's rendering of a certain passage in the "Story of Sindbad
and the Old Man of the Sea," by which it appears that the complaint
of want of literality refers, as usual, solely to the presentable
rendering of the offensive passages. "I translate," he says
**********. "People will look fierce, but ce n'est pas mon affaire."
The great value of Burton's translation is that it is the work of a
man who had travelled in all the countries in which the scenes are
laid; who had spent years in India, Egypt, Syria, Turkey and the
Barbary States, and had visited Mecca; who was intimately acquainted
with the manners and customs of the people of those countries,
and who brought to bear upon his work the experience of a lifetime.
He is so thoroughly at home all the while. Still, it is in his
annotations and not in his text that he really excells.
The enormous value of these no one would now attempt to minimize.
All over the world, as Sir Walter Besant says, "we have English
merchants, garrisons, consuls, clergymen, lawyers, physicians,
engineers, living among strange people, yet practically ignorant
of their manners and thoughts. .... it wants more than a knowledge
of the tongue to become really acquainted with a people."
These English merchants, garrisons, consults and others are
strangers in a strange land. It is so very rare that a really
unprejudiced man comes from a foreign country to tell us what its
people are like, that when such a man does appear we give him our
rapt attention. He may tell us much that will shock us, but that
cannot be helped.
137. Burton's Notes.
These Notes, indeed, are the great speciality of Burton's edition of
the Nights. They are upon all manner of subjects--from the necklace
of the Pleiades to circumcision; from necromancy to the
characteristics of certain Abyssinian women; from devilish rites
and ceremonies to precious stones as prophylactics. They deal not
only with matters to which the word erotic is generally applied,
but also with unnatural practices. There are notes geographical,
astrological, geomantic, bibliographical, ethnological,
anthropomorphitical; but the pornographic, one need hardly say,
hugely predominate. Burton's knowledge was encyclopaedic.
Like Kerimeddin[FN#480] he had drunk the Second Phial of the Queen
of the Serpents. He was more inquisitive than Vathek. To be sure,
he would sometimes ask himself what was the good of it all or what
indeed, was the good of anything; and then he would relate the
rebuke he once received from an indolent Spaniard whom he had found
lying on his back smoking a cigarette. "I was studying the
thermometer," said Burton, and I remarked, "'The glass is unusually
high.' 'When I'm hot, it's hot,' commented the Spaniard, lazily,
'and when I'm cold it's cold. What more do I want to know?'"
Burton, as we have seen, had for a long time devoted himself
particularly to the study of vice and to everything that was bizarre
and unnatural: eunuchs, pederasts, hermaphrodites, idiots,
Augustus-the-Strongs, monstrosities. During his travels he never
drank anything but green tea, and if Le Fanu's ideas[FN#481] in
In a Glass Darkly are to be respected, this habit is partly
responsible for his extraordinary bias. He deals with subjects that
are discussed in no other book. He had seen many lands, and,
like Hafiz, could say:
"Plunder I bore from far and near,
From every harvest gleaned an ear;"
and blighted ears some of them were. No other man could have
written these notes; no other man, even if possessed of Burton's
knowledge, would have dared to publish them. Practically they are
a work in themselves. That they were really necessary for the
elucidation of the text we would not for a moment contend. At times
they fulfil this office, but more often than not the text is merely
a peg upon which to hang a mass of curious learning such as few
other men have ever dreamt of. The voluminous note on
circumcision[FN#482] is an instance in point. There is no doubt
that he obtained his idea of esoteric annotation from Gibbon, who,
though he used the Latin medium, is in this respect the true father
of Burton. We will give specimens of the annotations, taken
haphazard--merely premising that the most characteristic of them--
those at which the saints in heaven knit their brows--necessarily in
a work of this kind exclude themselves from citations:
"Laughter. 'Sweetness of her smile'(Abu al Husn and Tawaddud).
Arab writers often mention the smile of beauty, but rarely, after
European fashion, the laugh, which they look upon as undignified.
A Moslem will say 'Don't guffaw (kahkahah) in that way; leave
giggling and grinning to monkeys and Christians.' The Spaniards,
a grave people, remark that Christ never laughed."[FN#483]
"Swan-maidens. 'And became three maidens' (Story of
Janshah).[FN#484] We go much too far for an explanation of the
legend; a high bred girl is so much like a swan[FN#485] in many
points that the idea readily suggests itself. And it is also aided
by the old Egyptian (and Platonic) belief in pre-existence, and by
the Rabbinic and Buddhistic doctrine of Ante-Natal sin, to say
nothing of metempsychosis. (Josephus' Antiq., xvii., 153)."
"The Firedrake. 'I am the Haunter of this place' (Ma'aruf the
Cobbler).[FN#486] Arab, Amir=one who inhabiteth. Ruins and impure
places are the favourite homes of the Jinn."
"Sticking Coins on the Face. 'Sticks the gold dinar' (Ali Nur
al-Din).[FN#487] It is the custom for fast youths in Egypt, Syria,
and elsewhere to stick small gold pieces, mere spangles of metal,
on the brows, cheeks and lips of the singing and dancing girls, and
the perspiration and mask of cosmetics make them adhere for a time,
till fresh movement shakes them off."
"Fillets hung on trees. 'Over the grave was a tall tree, on which
hung fillets of red and green' (Otbah and Rayya).[FN#488] Lane and
many others are puzzled about the use of these articles. In many
cases they are suspended to trees in order to transfer sickness from
the body to the tree and to whoever shall touch it. The Sawahili
people term such articles a Keti (seat or vehicle) for the
mysterious haunter of the tree, who prefers occupying it to the
patient's person. Briefly the custom, still popular throughout
Arabia, is African and Fetish."
The value of the notes depends, of course, upon the fact that they
are the result of personal observation. In his knowledge of Eastern
peoples, languages and customs Burton stands alone. He is first and
there is no second. His defence of his notes will be found in the
last volume of his Supplemental Nights. We may quote a few
sentences to show the drift of it. He says "The England of our day
would fain bring up both sexes and keep all ages in profound
ignorance of sexual and intersexual relations; and the consequences
of that imbecility are particularly cruel and afflicting. How often
do we hear women in Society lamenting that they have absolutely no
knowledge of their own physiology. ... Shall we ever understand that
ignorance is not innocence. What an absurdum is a veteran officer
who has spent a quarter of a century in the East without knowing
that all Moslem women are circumcised, and without a notion of how
female circumcision is effected," and then he goes on to ridicule
what the "modern Englishwoman and her Anglo-American sister have
become under the working of a mock modesty which too often acts
cloak to real devergondage; and how Respectability unmakes what
Mr. Payne's edition contains notes, but they were intended simply
to elucidate the text. Though succinct, they are sufficient for the
general reader. Here and there, however, we come upon a more
elaborate note, such as that upon the tuning of the lute
(Vol. viii., 179), where Mr. Payne's musical knowledge enables him
to elucidate an obscure technical point. He also identified
(giving proper chapter and verse references), collated, and where
needful corrected all the Koranic citations with which the text
swarms, a task which demanded great labour and an intimate knowledge
of the Koran. The appropriate general information bearing on the
work he gave in a succinct and artistic form in his elaborate
Terminal Essay--a masterpiece of English--in which he condensed the
result of erudition and research such as might have furnished forth
several folio volumes.
138. The Terminal Essay.
Finally there is the Terminal Essay, in which Burton deals at great
length not only with the origin and history of the Nights and
matters erotic, but also with unnatural practices. This essay,
with the exception of the pornographic portions, will be found,
by those who take the trouble to make comparisons, to be under large
obligations to Mr. Payne's Terminal Essay, the general lines and
scheme of which it follows closely. Even Mr. Payne's special
phrases such as "sectaries of the god Wunsch,"[FN#490] are freely
used, and without acknowledgement. The portions on sexual matters,
however, are entirely original. Burton argues that the "naive
indecencies of the text of The Arabian Nights are rather gaudisserie
than prurience." "It is," he says, "a coarseness of language,
not of idea. ... Such throughout the East is the language of every
man, woman and child, from prince to peasant." "But," he continues,
"there is another element in the Nights, and that is one of absolute
obscenity, utterly repugnant to English readers, even the least
prudish." Still, upon this subject he offers details, because it
does not enter into his plan "to ignore any theme which is
interesting to the Orientalist and the Anthropologist. To assert
that such lore is unnecessary is to state, as every traveller knows,
That these notes and the Terminal Essay were written in the
interests of Oriental and Anthropological students may be granted,
but that they were written solely in the interests of these students
no one would for a moment contend. Burton simply revelled in all
studies of the kind. Whatever was knowledge he wanted to know;
and we may add whatever wasn't knowledge. He was insatiable.
He was like the little boy who, seeing the ocean for the first time,
cried, "I want to drink it all up." And Burton would have drunk it
all. He would have swallowed down not only all the waters that were
under the firmament but also all the creatures, palatable and
unpalatable--especially the unpalatable--that sported therein.
139. Final Summing up.
To sum up finally: (1) Both translations are complete, they are the
only complete translations in English, and the world owes a deep
debt of gratitude to both Payne and Burton.
(2) According to Arabists, Payne's Translation is the more accurate
of the two.[FN#491]
(3) Burton's translation is largely a paraphrase of Payne's.
(4) Persons who are in love with the beauty of restraint as regards
ornament, and hold to the doctrine which Flaubert so well understood
and practised, and Pater so persistently preached will consider
Payne's translation incomparably the finer.
(5) Burton's translation is for those who, caring nothing for this
doctrine, revel in rococo work, a style flamboyant at all costs,
and in lawless splendours; and do not mind running against
expressions that are far too blunt for the majority of people.
(6) Payne's rendering of the metrical portions is poetry;
Burton's scarcely verse.
(7) Burton's Terminal Essay, with the exception of the pornographic
sections, is largely indebted to Payne's.
(8) The distinctive features of Burton's work are his notes and the
pornographic sections of his Terminal Essay--the whole consisting of
an amazing mass of esoteric learning, the result of a lifetime's
study. Many of the notes have little, if any, connection with the
text, and they really form an independent work.
Burton himself says: "Mr. Payne's admirable version appeals to the
Orientalist and the Stylist, not to the many-headed; and mine to
the anthropologist and student of Eastern manners and customs."
Burton's Arabian Nights has been well summed up as "a monument of
knowledge and audacity."[FN#492]
Having finished his task Burton straightway commenced the
translation of a number of other Arabic tales which he eventually
published as Supplemental Nights[FN#493] in six volumes, the first
two of which correspond with Mr. Payne's three volumes entitled
Tales from the Arabic.
140. Mr. Swinburne on Burton.
Congratulations rained in on Burton from all quarters; but the
letters that gave him most pleasure were those from Mr. Ernest A.
Floyer and Mr. A. C. Swinburne, whose glowing sonnet:
"To Richard F. Burton
On his Translation of the Arabian Nights"
is well known. "Thanks to Burton's hand," exclaims the poet
"All that glorious Orient glows
Defiant of the dusk. Our twilight land
Trembles; but all the heaven is all one rose,
Whence laughing love dissolves her frosts and snows."
In his Poems and Ballads, 3rd Series, 1889, Mr. Swinburne pays yet
another tribute to the genius of his friend. Its dedication runs:--
"Inscribed to Richard F. Burton. In redemption of an old pledge and
in recognition of a friendship which I must always count among the
highest honours of my life."
If private persons accorded the work a hearty reception, a large
section of the press greeted it with no les cordiality.
"No previous editor," said The Standard, "had a tithe of Captain
Burton's acquaintance with the manners and customs of the Moslem
East. Apart from the language, the general tone of the Nights is
exceptionally high and pure. The devotional fervour ... often rises
to the boiling point of fanaticism, and the pathos is sweet and
deep, genuine and tender, simple and true. ... In no other work is
Eastern life so vividly pourtrayed. This work, illuminated with
notes so full of learning, should give the nation an opportunity for
wiping away that reproach of neglect which Captain Burton seems to
feel more keenly than he cares to express." The St. James's Gazette
called it "One of the most important translations to which a great
English scholar has ever devoted himself."
Then rose a cry "Indecency, indecency! Filth, filth!" It was said,
to use an Arabian Nights expression, that he had hauled up all the
dead donkeys in the sea. The principal attack came from
The Edinburgh Review (July 1886). "Mr. Payne's translation,"
says the writer, "is not only a fine piece of English, it is also,
save where the exigencies of rhyme compelled a degree of looseness,
remarkably literal. ... Mr. Payne translates everything, and when a
sentence is objectionable in Arabic, he makes it equally
objectionable in English, or, rather, more so, since to the Arabs
a rude freedom of speech is natural, while to us it is not."
Then the reviewer turns to Burton, only, however, to empty out all
the vials of his indignation--quite forgetting that the work was
intended only for "curious students of Moslem manners," and not for
the general public, from whom, indeed, its price alone debarred
it.[FN#494] He says: "It is bad enough in the text of the tales to
find that Captain Burton is not content with plainly calling a spade
a spade, but will have it styled a dirty shovel; but in his notes
he goes far beyond this, and the varied collection of abominations
which he brings forward with such gusto is a disgrace and a shame
to printed literature. ... The different versions, however,
have each its proper destination--Galland for the nursery, Lane for
the library, Payne for the study and Burton for the sewers."[FN#495]
Burton's spirited reply will be found in the last volume of his
Supplemental Nights. Put compendiously, his argument is: "I had
knowledge of certain subjects such as no other man possessed.
Why should it die with me? Facts are facts, whether men are
acquainted with them or not." "But," he says, "I had another
object while making the notes a Repertory of Eastern knowledge in
its esoteric form. Having failed to free the Anthropological
Society[FN#496] from the fetters of mauvaise honte and the
mock-modesty which compels travellers and ethnographical students
to keep silence concerning one side of human nature (and that side
the most interesting to mankind) I proposed to supply the want in
these pages. ... While Pharisee and Philistine may be or may pretend
to be 'shocked' and 'horrified' by my pages, the sound commonsense
of a public, which is slowly but surely emancipating itself from the
prudish and prurient reticences and the immodest and immoral
modesties of the early 19th century, will in good time do me,
I am convinced, full and ample justice."
In order to be quite ready, should prosecution ensue, Burton
compiled what he called The Black Book, which consisted of
specimens, of, to use his own expression, the "turpiloquium" of the
Bible and Shakespeare. It was never required for its original
purpose, but he worked some portions into the Terminal Essay to
The Arabian Nights.[FN#497] And here it may be said that when
Burton attacks the Bible and Christianity he is inconsistent and
requires to be defended against himself. The Bible, as we have seen
was one of the three books that he constantly carried about with
him, and few men could have had greater admiration for its more
splendid passages. We know, too, that the sincere Christian had his
respect. But his Terminal Essay and these notes appeared at a
moment when the outcry was raised against his Arabian Nights;
consequently, when he fires off with "There is no more immoral work
than the Old Testament," the argument must be regarded as simply one
of Tu quoque. Instead of attacking the Bible writers as he did,
he should, to have been consistent, have excused them, as he excused
the characters in The Arabian Nights, with: "Theirs is a coarseness
of language, not of idea, &c., &c. ... Such throughout the East is
the language of every man, woman and child,"[FN#498] and so on.
The suggestion, for example, that Ezekiel and Hosea are demoralizing
because of certain expressions is too absurd for refutation.
The bloodshed of the Bible horrified him; but he refused to believe
that the "enormities" inflicted by the Jews on neighbouring nations
were sanctioned by the Almighty.[FN#499] "The murderous vow of
Jephthah," David's inhuman treatment of the Moabites, and other
events of the same category goaded him to fury.
If he attacks Christianity, nevertheless, his diatribe is not
against its great Founder, but against the abuses that crept into
the church even in the lifetime of His earliest followers;
and again, not so much against Christiantiy in general as against
Roman Catholicism. Still, even after making every allowance,
his article is mainly a glorification of the crescent at the expense
of the cross.
21st November 1885-5th June 1886
K. C. M. G.
74. Six Months at Abbazia. 1888.
75. Lady Burton's Edition of the Arabian Nights. 1888.
141. In Morocco, 21st November 1885.
On October 28th the Burtons went down to Hatfield, where there was a
large party, but Lord Salisbury devoted himself chiefly to Burton.
After they had discussed the Eastern Question, Lord Salisbury said
to Burton "Now go to your room, where you will be quiet, and draw up
a complete programme for Egypt."
Burton retired, but in two or three minutes returned with a paper
which he handed to Lord Salisbury.
"You've soon done it," said his Lordship, and on unfolding the paper
he found the single word "Annex."
"If I were to write for a month," commented Burton, on noticing Lord
Salisbury's disappointment, "I could not say more."
However, being further pressed, he elaborated his very simple
programme.[FN#500] The policy he advocated was a wise and humane
one; and had it been instantly adopted, untold trouble for us and
much oppression of the miserable natives would have been avoided.
Since then we have practically followed his recommendations,
and the present prosperous state of Egypt is the result.
On 21st November 1885, Burton left England for Tangier, which he
reached on the 30th, and early in January he wrote to the Morning
Post a letter on the Home Rule question, which he thought might be
settled by the adoption of a Diet System similar to that which
obtained in Austro-Hungary. On January 15th he wants to know how
Mr. Payne's translation of Boccaccio[FN#501] is proceeding and
continues: "I look forward to Vol. i. with lively pleasure.
You will be glad to hear that to-day I finished my translation and
to-morrow begin with the Terminal Essay, so that happen what may
subscribers are safe. Tangier is beastly but not bad for work. ...
It is a place of absolute rascality, and large fortunes are made by
selling European protections--a regular Augean stable."
Mrs. Burton and Lisa left England at the end of January, and Burton
met them at Gibraltar.
142. K.C.M.G., 5th February 1886.
When the first volume of The Arabian Nights appeared Burton was
sixty-four. So far his life had been a long series of
disappointments. His labours as an explorer had met with no
adequate recognition, the Damascus Consulship could be remembered
only with bitterness, his numerous books had sold badly.
Every stone which for forty years he had rolled up proved to be only
a Sisyphus stone. He was neglected, while every year inferior men--
not to be mentioned in the same breath with him--were advanced to
high honours. Small wonder that such treatment should have soured
him or that--a vehement man by nature--he should often have given
way to paroxysms of anger. Still he kept on working. Then all of
a sudden the transplendent sun sailed from its clouds and poured
upon him its genial beams. He had at last found the golden
Chersonese. His pockets, so long cobwebbed, now bulged with money.
Publishers, who had been coy, now fought for him. All the world--
or nearly all--sang his praises.[FN#502] Lastly came the K.C.M.G.,
an honour that was conferred upon him owing in large measure to the
noble persistency of the Standard newspaper, which in season and out
of season "recalled to the recollection of those with whom lay the
bestowal of ribbons and crosses the unworthy neglect with which he
had been so long treated."
Lady Burton thus describes the reception of the news. "On the 5th
of February 1886, a very extraordinary thing happened[FN#503]--
it was a telegram addressed 'Sir Richard Burton!' He tossed it over
to me and said, 'Some fellow is playing me a practical joke, or else
it is not for me. I shall not open it, so you may as well ring the
bell and give it back again.' 'Oh no,' I said, 'I shall open it if
It was from Lord Salisbury, conveying in the kindest terms that the
queen had made him K.C.M.G. in reward for his services. He looked
very serious and quite uncomfortable, and said, "Oh, I shall not
accept it."[FN#504] His wife told him, however, that it ought to be
accepted because it was a certain sign that the Government intended
to give him a better appointment. So he took it as a handsel.
143. Burton at 65.
Having accompanied Sir Richard Burton to the meridian of his fame,
we may fitly pause a moment and ask what manner of a man he was at
this moment. Though sixty-five, and subject to gout, he was still
strong and upright. He had still the old duskened features, dark,
piercing eyes, and penthouse brows, but the long and pendulous
Chinaman moustaches had shrunk till they scarcely covered his mouth.
The "devil's jaw" could boast only a small tuft of hair. There were
wrinkles in "the angel's forehead." If meddlesome Time had also
furrowed his cheeks, nevertheless the most conspicuous mark there
was still the scar of that great gash received in the ding-dong
fight at Berbera. His hair, which should have been grizzled,
he kept dark, Oriental fashion, with dye, and brushed forward.
Another curious habit was that of altering his appearance. In the
course of a few months he would have long hair, short hair,
big moustache, small moustache, long beard, short beard, no beard.
Everyone marked his curious, feline laugh, "made between his teeth."
The change in the world's treatment of him, and in his
circumstances, is noticeable to his countenance. In photographs
taken previous to 1886 his look betrays the man who feels that he
has been treated neglectfully by an ungrateful world for which he
had made enormous sacrifices. Indeed, looking at the matter merely
from a pecuniary standpoint, he must have spent at least £20,000 of
his own money in his various explorations. He is at once injured,
rancorous, sullen, dangerous. All these pictures exhibit a scowl.
In some the scowl is very pronounced, and in one he looks not unlike
a professional prize-fighter. They betray a mind jaundiced,
but defiant. A restless, fiery soul, his temper, never of the best,
had grown daily more gnarled and perverse. Woe betide the imprudent
human who crossed him! What chance had anybody against a man who
had the command of all the forcible words in twenty-eight languages!
His peremptory voice everywhere ensured obedience. To all save his
dearest friends he was proud and haughty. Then came the gold
shower. There was actually a plethora of money. The world, so long
irreconcilable, had acknowledged his merits, and the whole man
softened. The angelical character of the forehead gradually spread
downwards, and in time tempered even the ferocity of the terrible
jaw. It was the same man, but on better terms with himself and
everybody else. We see him sitting or strolling in his garden with
quite a jaunty air--and when there is a cigar in his mouth,
the shadow of which modifies still more the characteristics of that
truculent region, it is hard to believe that we are looking at the
same man. He has a youthful vigour, an autumnal green. In one
photograph Lady Burton, devoted as ever to her husband, is seen
nestling at his side and leaning her head against his shoulder.
She had grown uncomfortably stout and her tight-fitting dress was
hard put to it to bear the strain. Her glorious hair was now grown
gray and thin, and it was generally hidden by a not very becoming
big yellowish wig with curls, which made her look like a magnified
Burton's chief pleasure in his garden was feeding the birds.
They used to wait for him in flocks on an almond tree, and became
"quite imperious in their manners if he did not attend to them
properly." He loved the sparrow especially, for Catullus' sake.
His gigantic personality impressed all who met him. Conversation
with him reduced the world from a sphere to a spherule. It shrank
steadily--he had traversed so much of it, and he talked about
out-of-the-way places so familiarly. As of old, when friends stayed
with him he never wanted to go to bed, and they, too, listening to
his learned, animated and piquant talk, were quite content to
outwatch the Bear. As an anthropologist his knowledge was truly
amazing. "He was also a first-rate surgeon and had read all the
regular books."[FN#505] People called him, for the vastness of his
knowledge, the Encyclopaedia Britannica. He looked to the past and
the future. To the past, for no one was more keenly interested in
archaeology. He delighted to wander on forlorn moors among what
Shelley calls "dismal cirques of Druid stones." To the future,
for he continued to study spiritualism, and to gaze into crystals.
He longed to make himself master of the "darkling secrets of
Eternity."[FN#506] Both he and Lady Burton were, to use Milton's
expression, "struck with superstition as with a planet." She says:
"From Arab or gipsy he got. ... his mysticism, his superstition
(I am superstitious enough, God knows, but he was far more so),
his divination."[FN#507] Some of it, however, was derived from his
friendship in early days with the painter-astrologer Varley. If a
horse stopped for no ascertained reason or if a house martin fell
they wondered what it portended. They disliked the bodeful chirp of
the bat, the screech of the owl. Even the old superstition that the
first object seen in the morning--a crow, a cripple, &c.--determines
the fortunes of the day, had his respect. "At an hour,"
he comments, "when the senses are most impressionable the aspect of
unpleasant spectacles has a double effect."[FN#508] He was
disturbed by the "drivel of dreams," and if he did not himself
search for the philosopher's stone he knew many men who were so
engaged (he tells us there were a hundred in London alone) and he
evidently sympathised with them.
Fear of man was a feeling unknown to him, and he despised it in
others. "Of ten men," he used to say, quoting an Osmanli proverb,
"nine are women." Behind his bed hung a map of Africa, and over
that a motto in Arabic which meant:
"All things pass."
This saying he used to observe, was always a consolation to him.
If he had been eager for money, it was only for what money would
buy. He wanted it because it would enable him to do greater work.
"I was often stopped, in my expeditions," he told Dr. Baker,
"for the want of a hundred pounds." He was always writing:
in the house, in the desert, in a storm, up a tree, at dinner,
in bed, ill or well, fresh or tired,--indeed, he used to say that
he never was tired. There was nothing histrionic about him, and he
never posed, except "before fools and savages." He was frank,
straightforward, and outspoken, and his face was an index of his
mind. Every thought was visible just "as through a crystal case the
figured hours are seen." He was always Burton, never by any chance
any one else. As. Mr. A. C. Swinburne said of him: "He rode life's
lists as a god might ride." Of English Literature and especially of
poetry he was an omnivorous reader. He expressed warm admiration
for Chaucer, "jolly old Walter Mapes," Butler's Hudibras, and Byron,
especially Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, with its allusions to his
beloved Tasso, Ariosto and Boccaccio. Surely, however, he ought not
to have tried to set us against that tender line of Byron's,
"They keep his dust in Arqua, where he died,"[FN#509]
by pointing out that the accent of Arqua is rightly on the second
syllable, and by remarking: "Why will not poets mind their
quantities in lieu of stultifying their lines by childish
ignorance."[FN#510] Then, too, he savagely attacked Tennyson for
his "rasher of bacon line"--"the good Haroun Alraschid,"[FN#511]
Raschid being properly accented on the last syllable. Of traveller
authors, he preferred "the accurate Burckhardt." He read with
delight Boswell's Johnson, Johnson's Journey to the Western Islands,
Renan's Life of Jesus, Gibbon, whom he calls "our great
historian"[FN#512] and the poems of Coleridge. At Cowper he never
lost an opportunity of girding, both on account of his Slave
Ballads[FN#513] and the line:
"God made the country and man made the town."[FN#514]
"Cowper," he comments, "had evidently never seen a region untouched
by the human hand." It goes without saying that he loved "his great
namesake," as he calls him, "Robert Burton, of melancholy and merry,
of facete and juvenile memory." Of contemporary work he enjoyed
most the poems of D. G. Rossetti, Mr. Swinburne, Mr. John Payne and
FitzGerald's Rubaiyat, and we find him praising Mr. Edmund Gosse's
lyrics. Of novelists Dickens was his favourite. He called Darwin
"our British Aristotle." Eothen[FN#515] was "that book of books."
He never forgave Carlyle for denouncing The Arabian Nights as
"downright lies" and "unwholesome literature;" Miss Martineau,
as an old maid, was, of course, also out of court. If she had
written Shakespeare, it would have been all the same. He enjoyed
a pen and ink fight, even as in those old Richmond School days he
had delighted in fisticuffs. "Peace and quiet are not in my way."
And as long as he got his adversary down he was still not very
particular what method he employed.
Unlike so many of his fellow-countrymen, he was a lover or art,
and had visited all the galleries in Europe. "If anyone," he used
to say, "thinks the English have the artistic eye, let him stand in
the noblest site in Europe, Trafalgar Square, and look around."
On another occasion he described the square as "the nation's last
phase of artistic bathos." The facade of the National Gallery was
his continual butt.
A fine handwriting, he said, bespoke the man of audacity and
determination; and his own might have been done with a pin. Then he
used to split his words as if they were Arabic; writing,
for example, "con tradict" for contradict. When young ladies teased
him to put something in their albums he generally wrote:
"Shawir hunna wa khalif hunna,"
which may be translated:
"Ask their advice, ye men of wit
And always do the opposite."
Another of his favourite sayings against women was the Persian
"Agar nek budi zan u Ray-i-Zan
Zan-ra Ma-zan nam budi, na Zan,"[FN#516]
which may be rendered:
"If good were in woman, of course it were meeter
To say when we think of her, Beat not, not Beat her."
Zan meaning "woman" and also "beat," and ma-zan "beat not."
There was in Burton, as in most great men, a touch of the
Don Quixote, derived, no doubt, in his case, from his father.
He was generous and magnanimous, and all who knew him personally
spoke of him with affection. He was oftenest referred to as "a dear
chap." Arbuthnot regarded him as a paladin, with no faults
whatever. When younger he had, as we have noticed,
never undervalued a good dinner, but as he advanced in years,
everything--food, sleep, exercise--had to give way before work.
144. More Anecdotes.
For silver he had a conspicuous weakness. "Every person," he used
to say, "has some metal that influences him, and mine is silver."
He would have every possible article about him of that metal--
walking-stick knobs, standishes, modern cups, ancient goblets--
all of gleamy silver. Had he been able to build an Aladdin's palace
it would have been all of silver. He even regarded it as a
prophylactic against certain diseases. If his eyes got tired
through reading he would lie on his back with a florin over each.
When the gout troubled him, silver coins had to be bound to
his feet; and the household must have been very thankful for this
supposed panacea, for when in pain, Burton, never a placid creature,
had tremendous outbursts of anger. One of these scenes, which
occurred at an hotel, is thus described by a witness. "The dinner
had been ordered at six. At half-past the hour it was not ready.
The waiter was summoned. He made excuse. "Mille tonnerres!
Ventrebleu!" roared Burton with a volley of unutterable language
which he only could translate. The waiter literally flew before the
storm, looking back at the witness with "Mais, mon Dieu, l'Anglais!"
The dinner quickly arrived, and with the soup, Burton recovered his
equanimity, though inveighing against all waiters, and the Triestine
Another anecdote of this period reveals Burton doing a little
smuggling. One day, we are told, Lady Burton invited the consular
chaplain to accompany her to the quay. Stopping her cab just in
front of the Custom House, she induced her companion to talk to the
Custom house officer while she herself went on board a vessel to see
about a case of wine for her husband. Presently a porter came with
the case and some loose bottles, the later being placed by the
chaplain's orders in the bottom of the carriage. No sooner had this
been done than Lady Burton followed, and stepping into the cab bade
the coachman drive off. Up to this moment the chaplain had kept
watch, smoking a cigar, at the window of the carriage. The officer
seeing a case being placed in the carriage was about to make inquiry
just as the coachman whipped up the horse. Lady Burton smilingly
saluted the officer from the window and thus allayed his suspicions.
He returned her nod with a military salute, and was soon invisible.
The speed, however, was too much for the loose bottles, and the duty
was paid in kind, as the wine flowed freely at the bottom of the
cab, while Burton pretended to rate his wife for exposing him to
the charge of smuggling and damaging the reputation of the
At Trieste Burton was always popular. The people appreciated his
genius and sympathised with his grievances, and he could truly say
of them in the words of his prototype, Ovid:
"They wish, good souls, to keep me, yet I know
They wish me gone, because I want to go."[FN#519]
Not that he pleased everyone. Far from it, and hereby hangs a
delectable anecdote. Some Englishman at Trieste, who took umbrage
on account of the colossal muddle Burton made with his accounts and
the frequency of his absence, wrote to the Foreign Office something
to this effect. "As Sir Richard Burton is nearly always away from
his post and the Vice-Consul has to do the greater portion of the
work, why on earth don't you get rid of Sir Richard and let the
Vice-Consul take his place? I wonder the Foreign Office can put up
with him at all."
To which came the following graceful reply. "Dear Sir,--We look
upon the consulship of Trieste as a gift to Sir Richard Burton for
his services to the nation, and we must decline to interfere with
him in any way."[FN#520]
145. Burton's Religion.
As regards religion, Burton had in early life, as we have seen,
leaned to Sufism; and this faith influenced him to the end. For a
little while he coquetted with Roman Catholicism; but the journey to
Mecca practically turned him into a Mohammedan. At the time of his
marriage he called himself an agnostic, and, as we have seen, he was
always something of a spiritualist. Lady Burton, charmingly mixing
her metaphors,[FN#521] says "he examined every religion, and picked
out its pear to practise it." The state of his mind in 1880 is
revealed by his Kasidah. From that time to his death he was half
Mohammedan and half Agnostic. His wife pressed him in season and
out of season to become a Catholic, and, as we shall see, he did at
last so far succumb to her importunities as to sign a paper in
which, to use Lady Burton's expression, "he abjured the Protestant
heresy," and put himself in line with the Catholics.[FN#522]
But, as his opinions do not seem to have changed one iota,
this "profession of faith" could have had little actual value.
He listened to the prayers that his wife said with him every night,
and he distinctly approved of religion in other persons. Thus,
he praised the Princess of Wales[FN#523] for hearing her children
say their "little prayers,"[FN#524] every night at her knee, and he
is credited with the remark: "A man without religion may be excused,
but a woman without religion is unthinkable." Priests, ceremonials,
services, all seemed to him only tinkling cymbals. He was always
girding at "scapularies and other sacred things." He delighted to
compare Romanism unfavourably with Mohammedanism. Thus he would say
sarcastically, "Moslems, like Catholics, pray for the dead; but as
they do the praying themselves instead of paying a priest to do it,
their prayers, of course, are of no avail." He also objected to the
Church of Rome because, to use his own words, "it has added a fourth
person to the Trinity."[FN#525] He said he found "four great
Protestant Sommites: (1) St. Paul, who protested against St. Peter's
Hebraism; (2) Mohammed, who protested against the perversions of
Christianity; (3) Luthur, who protested against the rule of the
Pope; (4) Sir Richard Burton, who protested against the whole
business." The way in which he used to ridicule the Papal religion
in his wife's presence often jarred on his friends, who thought that
however much he might disapprove of it, he ought, for her sake,
to have restrained his tongue. But he did not spare other religious
bodies either. He wanted to know, for instance, what the clergy of
the Church of England did for the £3,500,000 a year "wasted on them,"
while he summed up the Nonconformists in the scornful phrase:
"Exeter Hall!" He considered anthropomorphism to explain
satisfactorily not only the swan maiden, and the other feathered
ladies[FN#526] of the Nights, but also angel and devil.
Both Arbuthnot and Payne regarded him as a Mohammedan. Another
friend described him as a "combination of an Agnostic, a Theist
and an Oriental mystic." Over and over again he said to his cousin,
St. George Burton, "The only real religion in the world is that of
Mohammed. Religions are climatic. The Protestant faith suits
England." Once he said "I should not care to go to Hell, for I
should meet all my relations there, nor to Heaven, because I should
have to avoid so many friends." Lady Burton, who prayed daily "that
the windows of her husband's soul might be opened," relied
particularly on the mediation of "Our Lady of Dale"--the Dale
referred to being a village near Ilkestone, Derbyshire, which
once boasted a magnificent Premonstratensian monastery,[FN#527]
and she paid for as many as a hundred masses to be said
consecutively in the little "Church of Our Lady and
St. Thomas,"[FN#528] at Ilkeston, in order to hasten that event.
"Some three months before Sir Richard's death," writes
Mr. P. P. Cautley, the Vice-Consul at Trieste, to me, "I was seated
at Sir Richard's tea table with our clergy man, and the talk turning
on religion, Sir Richard declared, 'I am an atheist, but I was
brought up in the Church of England, and that is officially my
church.'[FN#529] Perhaps, however, this should be considered to
prove, not that he was an atheist, but that he could not resist the
pleasure of shocking the clergyman."
146. Burton as a Writer.
On Burton as a writer we have already made some comments. One goes
to his books with confidence; in the assurance that whatever ever he
saw is put down. Nothing is hidden and there is no attempt to
Munchausenize. His besetting literary sin, as we said,
was prolixity. Any one of his books reduced to one-quarter,
or better, one-sixth the size, and served up artistically would have
made a delightful work. As it is, they are vast storehouses filled
with undusted objects of interest and value, mingled with heaps of
mere lumber. His books laid one on the top of another would make
a pile eight feet high!
He is at his best when describing some daring adventure, when making
a confession of his own weaknesses, or in depicting scenery.
Lieutenant Cameron's tribute to his descriptive powers must not be
passed by. "Going over ground which he explored," says Cameron,
"with his Lake Regions of Central Africa in my hand, I was
astonished at the acuteness of his perception and the correctness of
his descriptions." Stanley spoke of his books in a similar strain.
Burton owed his success as a narrator in great measure to his habit
of transferring impressions to paper the moment he received them--
a habit to which he was led by reading a passage of Dr. Johnson's
Journey to the Western Islands. "An observer deeply impressed by
any remarkable spectacle," says Johnson, "does not suppose that the
traces will soon vanish from his mind, and having commonly no great
convenience for writing, defers the description to a time of more
leisure and better accommodation. He who has not made the
experiment or is not accustomed to require vigorous accuracy from
himself, will scarcely believe how much a few hours take from
certainty of knowledge and distinctness of imagery; how the
succession of objects will be broken, how separate parts will be
confused, and how many practical features and discriminations will
be found compressed and conglobated into one gross and general
idea."[FN#530] "Brave words," comments Burton, "somewhat pompous
and diffused, yet worthy to be written in letters of gold."[FN#531]
Very many of Burton's books, pamphlets and articles in the journals
of the learned societies appeal solely to archaeologists, as, for
example Etruscan Bologna,[FN#532] an account of the Etrurian people,
their sharp bottomed wells, the pebble tombs of the poor and the
elegant mausoleums of the wealthy with their figures of musicians
and dancing girls "in garments of the most graceful form, finest
texture and brilliant hues;" reminding us of the days when Veii
fell, and its goddess, who "was light and easily removed, as though
she followed willingly," as Livy, with his tongue in his cheek,
says, was conveyed to Rome; and of the later days when "Lars Porsena
of Clusium" poured southward his serried host, only, according to
the Roman historians, to meet with defeat and discomfiture.
Of Burton's carelessness and inaccuracies, we have already spoken.
We mentioned that to his dying day he was under a wrong impression
as to his birthplace, and that his account of his early years and
his family bristles with errors. Scores of his letters have passed
through my hands and nearly all are imperfectly dated. Fortunately,
however, the envelopes have in almost every case been preserved;
so the postmark, when legible, has filled the lacuna. At every turn
in his life we are reminded of his inexactitude--especially in
autobiographical details. And yet, too, like most inexact men,
he was a rare stickler for certain niceties. He would have defended
the "h" in Meccah with his sword; and the man who spelt "Gypsy" with
an "i" for ever forfeited his respect.
Burton's works--just as was his own mind--are vast, encyclopaedic,
romantic and yet prosaic, unsystematic; but that is only repeating
the line of the old Greek poet:
"Like our own selves our work must ever be."[FN#533]
5th June 1886-15th April 1888
Burton and Social Questions: Anecdotes
147. The Population Question.
In social questions Burton took a keen interest. Indeed he was in
many respects a man far in advance of his age. In denouncing
various evils he betrays the earnestness of a Carlyle, and when
propounding plans for the abolition of the Slave Trade in "that
Devil's Walk and Purlieu," East Africa, Saul becomes one of the
prophets. That he was no saint we should have known if he himself
had not told us; but he had, as he believed, his special work to do
in the world and he did it with all his might. Though a whirlwind
of a man, he had, as we have seen, the tenderest of hearts,
he thought with sorrow of the sufferings of the poor, and he often
said to his wife: "When I get my pension we'll spend the rest of our
lives in helping the submerged tenth." Although sympathising warmly
with the efforts of General Booth and other men who were trying to
grapple with social evils, he could see, nevertheless, that they
touched only the fringe of the difficulty. He was, broadly
speaking, what is now known as a Neo-Mathusian, that is to say,
he held that no man had a right to bring into the world a larger
number of children than he could support with comfort, that the poor
ought to be advised to limit their families, and that persons
suffering from certain terrible diseases ought not to be allowed
to marry, or at any rate to have children.
Himself a man of splendid physique, Burton wanted to see every man
in England physically healthy and strong. He considered it
abominable that infant monstrosities or children born blind should
be allowed to live, and held that showmen and others who exhibit
monstrosities should be promptly jailed. "Indeed," he says, "it is
a question if civilisation may not be compelled to revive the law of
Lycurgus, which forbade a child, male or female, to be brought up
without the approbation of public officers appointed ad hoc. One of
the curses of the 19th century is the increased skill of the midwife
and the physician, who are now able to preserve worthless lives and
to bring up semi-abortions whose only effect upon the breed is
increased degeneracy."[FN#534] He thought with Edward FitzGerald and
many another sympathiser with the poor, that it is the height of
folly for a labouring man living in a cottage with only two small
bedrooms and earning twelve shillings a week to burden himself with
a family of from ten to a dozen. Three or four children he
considered enough for anybody. At the same time he perceived that
the Neo-Malthusian system might be abused--that is to say,
rich persons who could well afford to bring up respectable-sized
families might be tempted to restrict the number to one or
two.[FN#535] Consequently, in the Terminal Essay to the Arabian
Nights, we find him recommending the study of an Arabic work,
Kitab al Bah not only to the anthropologist but also to the million.
He says, "The conscientious study would be useful to humanity by
teaching the use and unteaching the abuse of the Malthusian
system,[FN#536] whereby the family is duly limited to the
necessities of society." At the present time--with the
diminishing birth-rate and when the subject is discussed freely in
every upper and middle class home in England--these ideas cause no
wonderment; but in those days they were novel.
148. New Projects.
We left the Burtons, it will be remembered, at Gibraltar. After a
short stay there, they crossed over to Morocco in a cattle tug.
Neither of them liked Tangiers, still, if the Consulate had been
conferred upon Sir Richard, it would have given them great
happiness. They were, however, doomed to disappointment.
Lord Salisbury's short-lived administration of 1886 had been
succeeded by a Liberal Government with Lord Rosebery as Premier; and
Tangiers was given to Mr. (afterwards Sir) W. Kirby Green.[FN#537]
The Burtons were back in Trieste at the end of March.
The success of The Arabian Nights, which was owing entirely to its
anthropological and pornographic notes, was for Sir Richard Burton
both good and bad. It was good because it removed for the remainder
of his life all pecuniary anxieties; it was bad because it led him
to devote himself exclusively to subjects which certainly should not
occupy exclusively the attention of any man. Henceforth every
translation was to be annotated from a certain point of
view.[FN#538] One can but regret this perversity, for the old Roman
and other authors have unpleasantnesses enough without accentuating
them. Thus in reading some sweet poem of Catullus, spoilt by
perhaps a single objectionable line, we do not want our attention
drawn particularly to the blemish. Unfortunately, Sir Richard now
made this kind of work his speciality, and it would be idle--
or rather it would be untrue--to deny that he now chose certain
books for translation, not on account of their beautiful poetry and
noble thoughts, but because they lent themselves to pungent
annotation. Indeed, his passion for this sort of literature had
become a monomania.[FN#539] He insisted, however, and he certainly
believed, that he was advancing the interests of science; nor could
any argument turn him. We wish we could say that it was chiefly for
their beauties that he now set himself to translate Catullus,
Ausonius,[FN#540] and Apuleius. He did appreciate their beauties;
the poets and the classic prose writers were to him as the milk of
paradise; and some of his annotations would have illuminated the
best passages, but the majority of them were avowedly to be
consecrate to the worst. Having in The Arabian Nights given the
world the fruits of his enquiries in Eastern lands, and said his
say, he might with advantage have let the subject rest. He had
certainly nothing new to tell us about the manners and customs of
the Romans. Then again, for the translating of so delicate,
so musical and so gracious a poet as Catullus he was absolutely and
entirely unqualified. However, to Catullus he now turned.
Sirmio and Rome succeeded to Baghdad and Damascus; jinni and ghoul
fled before hoofed satyrs and old Silenus shaking his green stick of
lilies. As we shall see, however, he did not begin the translation
in earnest till January 1890.[FN#541]
149. Mr. A. G. Ellis and Professor Blumhardt. 5th June 1886-5th
On June 5th the Burtons and their "Magpie Trunk" again left Trieste
and travelled via Innsbruck, Zurich, Bale and Boulogne to England.
After a short stay at Folkestone with Lady Stisted and her daughter,
they went on to London, whence Burton memorialized the
vice-chancellor and the curators of the Bodleian Library for the
loan of the Wortley Montagu manuscripts of the Arabian Nights.
Not a private loan, but a temporary transference to the India Office
under the charge of Dr. R. Rost. On November 1st came a refusal,
and Burton, at great inconvenience to himself, had to go to Oxford.
"The Bodleian," he says, "is the model of what a reading library
should not be, and the contrast of its treasures with their mean and
miserable surroundings is a scandal." He did not know in which he
suffered most, the Bodleian, the Radcliffe or the Rotunda. Finally,
however, the difficulty was got over by having the required pages
He now wrote to the Government and begged to be allowed, at the age
of sixty-six, to retire on full pension. His great services to the
country and to learning were set down, but though fifty persons of
importance in the political and literary world supported the
application, it was refused. It is, however, only just to the
Government to say that henceforward Burton was allowed "leave"
whenever he wanted it. An easier post than that at Trieste it would
have been impossible to imagine, still, he was in a measure tied,
and the Government missed an opportunity of doing a graceful act to
one of its most distinguished servants, and to one of the most
brilliant of Englishmen.
Then followed a holiday in Scotland, where the Burtons were the
guests of Mr. (now Sir) Alexander Baird of Urie. Back in London,
they lunched at different times with F. F. Arbuthnot, G. A. Sala,
A. C. Swinburne, and "dear old Larkin"--now 85--in whose house at
Alexandria, Burton had stayed just before his Mecca journey.
It was apparently during this visit that Burton gave to his cousin
St. George Burton a seal showing on one side the Burton crest,
on another the Burton Arms, and on the third a man's face and a hand
with thumb to the nose and fingers spread out. "Use it," said
Burton, "when you write to a d-----d snob." And he conveyed the
belief that it would be used pretty often.
On 16th September 1886, writing to Mr. Kirby[FN#542] from "United
Service Club," Pall Mall, Burton says, "We here have been enjoying
splendid weather, and a really fine day in England (I have seen only
two since May) is worth a week anywhere else. ... You will find your
volumes[FN#543] sent to you regularly. No. 1 caused big sensation.
A wonderful leader about it in Standard (Mrs. Gamp, of all people!)
followed by abuse in Pall Mall. I have come upon a young woman
friend greedily reading it in open drawing-room, and when I warned
another against it, she answered: 'Very well, Billy [her husband]
has a copy, and I shall read it at once.'"
Later Burton's curiosity was aroused by the news that Mr. A. G.
Ellis, of the British Museum, had shown Mr. Kirby an edition of
Alaeddin in Malay.[FN#544] "Let me know," he says, "when you go
to see Mr. Ellis. I especially want to accompany you, and must get
that Malay version of Alaeddin. Lord Stanley of Alderley could
It was about this time that Burton decided to make a new and
lavishly annotated translation of The Scented Garden. To the Kama
Shastra edition of 1886 we have already referred, and we shall deal
fully with the whole subject in a later chapter.
On October 6th the Burtons heard Mr. Heron Allen lecture on
palmistry at Hampstead. For some weeks Burton was prostrated again
by his old enemy, the gout, but Lord Stanley of Alderley,
F. F. Arbuthnot, and other friends went and sat with him, so the
illness had its compensations. A visit to Mr. John Payne, made,
as usual, at tea time, is next recorded, and there was to have been
another visit, but Burton, who was anxious to get to Folkestone to
see his sister, had to omit it.
On January 10th 1887, he writes to Mr. Payne as follows:
"That last cup of tea came to grief, I ran away from London
abruptly, feeling a hippishness gradually creep over my brain;
longing to see a sight of the sun and so forth. We shall cross over
next Thursday (if the weather prove decent) and rush up to Paris,
where I shall have some few days' work in the Bibliotheque
Nationale. Thence to Cannes, the Riviera, &c. At the end of my 5th
Vol. (Supplemental) I shall walk in to Edin[burgh] Review.[FN#545]
... I hope you like Vol. x. and its notices of your work. I always
speak of it in the same terms, always with the same appreciation
On January 13th 1887, the Burtons reached Paris, where Sir Richard
had the pleasure of meeting Herr Zotenberg, discoverer of the Arabic
originals of Alaeddin and Zayn al Asnam; and thence they proceeded
to Cannes, where the state of Burton's health gave his wife great
uneasiness. She says, "I saw him dripping his pen anywhere except
into the ink. When he tried to say something he did not find his
words." An awful fit of "epileptiform convulsions," the result of
suppressed gout, followed, and the local doctors who were called in
came to the conclusion that Burton could not recover. They thought
it better, however, that their opinion should be conveyed to him by
a perfect stranger, so they deputed Dr. Grenfell Baker, a young man
who was then staying at Cannes, to perform the painful duty.
Dr. Baker entered the sick room and broke the news to Burton as best
"Then you suppose I am going to die?" said Burton.
"The medical men who have been holding a consultation are of that
Shrugging his shoulders, Burton said, "Ah, well!--sit down,"
and then he told Dr. Baker a story out of The Arabian Nights.
Dr. Baker remained a fortnight, and then Sir Richard, who decided
to have a travelling medical attendant, sent to England for
Dr. Ralph Leslie, who a little later joined him at Trieste.
To his circle of friends Burton now added Mr. A. G. Ellis, already
referred to, Professor James F. Blumhardt, of the British Museum,
and Professor Cecil Bendall, of University College, London.[FN#546]
His first communication with Mr. Ellis seems to have been a
post-card dated Trieste, 8th May 1887. He says "The Perfumed Garden
is not yet out nor will it be for six months. My old version is to
be had at ---'s, Coventry Street, Haymarket. The Supplemental
Nights you can procure from the agent, -----, Farleigh Road,
As we have seen, Burton's first and second supplemental volumes of
the Nights correspond with Mr. Payne's three volumes of Tales from
the Arabic. He also wished to include the eight famous Galland
Tales:--"Zayn Al-Asnam," "Alaeddin," "Khudadad and his Brothers,"
"The Kaliph's Night Adventure," "Ali Baba," "Ali Khwajah and the
Merchant of Baghdad," "Prince Ahmad and the Fairy Peri-Banu,"
and "The Two Sisters who Envied their Cadette;" but the only
Oriental text he could find was a Hindustani version of Galland's
tales "Orientalised and divested of their inordinate Gallicism."
As Burton was at this time prostrated by illness, Professor
Blumhardt kindly undertook "to English the Hindustani for him.
While the volume was going forward, however, M. Zotenberg, of Paris,
discovered a MS. copy of The Nights containing the Arabic originals
of 'Zayn Al-Asnam' and 'Alaeddin,' and Burton, thanks to the
courtesy of Zotenberg, was able to make use of it."
150. Dr. Leslie and Dr. Baker: Anecdotes. April 1887.
From June 19th to 22nd there were rejoicings at Trieste on account
of Queen Victoria's Jubilee. At the banquet, which took place at
the Jager, Sir Richard occupied the chair, and he and the
Rev. C. F. Thorndike, the chaplain, made speeches. During the
summer Sir Richard's health continued to cause grave anxiety,
but he was well enough by July 15th to set out for the usual summer
holiday. Accompanied by Lady Burton, Dr. Leslie and Lisa, he first
visited Adelsburg, and then Sauerbrunn, where he got relief by
drinking daily a cup of very hot water. In a letter to Mr. Ellis
written from Sauerbrunn, 14th September 1887, Burton refers to
Professor Blumhardt's contribution to his Supplementary Nights, and
finishes: "Salute for me Mr. Bendall and tell him how happy I shall
be to see him at Trieste if he pass through that very foul part."
After the Burtons' return to Trieste (at the end of September)
Dr. Leslie obtained another post, and Dr. Baker was invited to
take his place.
Dr. Baker consented to do so, only on the condition that Sir Richard
would not dispute his medical orders. This, Dr. Baker explained to
me, was a very necessary stipulation, for Sir Richard now looked
upon the time spent over his meals as so many half-hours wasted.
He never ate his food properly, but used to raven it up like an
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