The Life of Sir Richard Burton
Part 7 out of 9
animal in order to get back quickly to his books. So a treaty was
made, and Dr. Baker remained a member of the household the rest
of Burton's life.
To this period belong the following unpublished anecdotes.
Of Burton's interest in Ancient Etruria and especially in the
archaeological discoveries at Bologna[FN#547] we have already
spoken. Once when he and Dr. Baker were visiting Bologna they took
a long walk outside the town and quite lost their bearings.
Noticing a working man seated on the roadside, Burton asked him
in French the way back. In reply the man "only made a stupid noise
in his throat." Burton next tried him with the Bolognese[FN#548]
dialect, upon which the man blurted out, "Je don't know savez."
Sir Richard then spoke in English, and the man finding there was no
further necessity for Parisian, explained in his own tongue that he
was an English sailor who had somehow got stranded in that part.
To Burton's delight in shocking people we have already alluded.
Nor did age sober him. He would tell to open-mouthed hearers
stories of his hair-breadth escapes, and how some native plotted
against his life. "Another moment," he would say, "and I should
have been a dead man, but I was too quick for my gentleman.
I turned round with my sword and sliced him up like a lemon."
Dr. Baker, who had heard many tales about the Austrians and
duelling, was exercised in his mind as to what ought to be done
if he were "called out." "Now," said Burton, "this is one of the
things in life worthy of remembrance. Never attack a man, but if he
attacks you, kill him." Sometimes the crusted tale about the Arab
murder would come up again. "Is it true, Sir Richard," a young
curate once innocently inquired, "that you shot a man near Mecca?"
"Sir," replied Burton, tossing his head haughtily, "I'm proud to say
that I have committed every sin in the Decalogue."
In after years Dr. Baker was often asked for reminiscences
of Burton. "Can you remember any of his sayings?" enquired
one interlocutor. "Yes," replied Dr. Baker. "He once said,
'Priests, politicians and publishers will find the gate of Heaven
extremely narrow.'" "I'm sorry for that," followed the
interlocutor, "for I've just been elected M.P. for the ---- Division
For Mrs. Lynn Linton, the novelist, whom he described as a "sweet,
womanly woman," Burton had a sincere regard, but he used to say that
though she was an angel in the drawing-room, she was a raging,
blood-thirsty tigress on the platform. One day, while Sir Richard,
Mrs. Linton and Dr. Baker were chatting together, a lady to whom
Mrs. Linton was a stranger joined the group and said "Sir Richard,
why don't you leave off writing those heavy books on Bologna and
other archaeological subjects, and do something lighter? Couldn't
you write some trash--novels, I mean?" Sir Richard look sideways
at Mrs. Linton, and kept his countenance as well as he could.
On another occasion when Sir Richard, Lady Burton, Dr. Baker and
an aged Cambridge Professor were chatting together, Burton
unconsciously glided into Latin--in which he asked the professor
a question. The old man began a laboured reply in the same
language--and then, stopping suddenly, said, "If you don't mind,
Sir Richard, we'll continue the conversation in English."
Believing that Burton was overworking himself, Dr. Baker recommended
him to order "a little rubbish in the shape of novels," from London,
and so rest his brain for an hour just before bedtime. Burton
demurred, but the novels were ultimately sent for, they duly
arrived, and Burton went through a course of "chou-chou," as he
called it. After a while, however, he gave up what he had never
taken to kindly, and henceforward he nightly "rested his brain,"
by reading books in the modern Greek dialects.
151. Three Months at Abbazia. 1st Dec. 1887-5th March 1888.
On the 1st of December 1887, in order to avoid the fearful boras of
Trieste, and to shelter in the supposed mild climate of
"the Austrian Riviera," Burton, accompanied, as always, by his wife,
Dr. Baker, and Lisa, went to stay at Abbazia. The subscriptions for
his Supplemental Nights were now pouring in, and they put him in
great jollity. Jingling his money in his pockets, he said to
Dr. Baker, "I've always been poor, and now we'll enjoy ourselves."
Henceforth he spent his money like a dissipated school-boy at a
statute fair. Special trains, the best rooms in the best hotels,
anything, everything he fancied--and yet all the while he worked at
his books "like a navvy." Abbazia was a disappointment. Snow fell
for two months on end, and all that time they were mewed up in their
hotel. Burton found the society agreeable, however, and he read
German with the Catholic priest. Most of his time was spent in
finishing the Supplemental Nights, and Lady Burton was busy
preparing for the press and expurgated edition of her husband's work
which, it was hoped, would take its place on the drawing-room table.
Mr. Justin Huntly McCarthy, son of the novelist, gave her
considerably assistance, and the work appeared in 1888. Mr. Kirby's
notes were to have been appended to Lady Burton's edition of the
Nights as well as to Sir Richard's, but ultimately the idea was
abandoned. "My wife and I agreed," writes Burton, "that the whole
of your notes would be far too learned for her public,"[FN#549]
so only a portion was used. Lady Burton's work consisted of six
volumes corresponding with Burton's first ten, from which 215 pages
Owing to the stagnation of Abbazia, and the martyrdom which he
endured from the gout, Burton was very glad to get back to Trieste,
which was reached on March 5th. When his pain was acute he could
not refrain from groaning, and at such times, Lady Burton, kneeling
by his bedside, use to say "Offer it up, offer it up"--meaning that
prayer alone would bring relief.
To Mr. Payne, 14th March 1888, Burton writes, "I have been moving
since yours of March 5th reached me, and unable to answer you. ...
Delighted to hear that in spite of cramp,[FN#550] Vo. V.[FN#551] is
finished, and shall look forward to the secret[FN#552] being
revealed. You are quite right never to say a word about it. There
is nothing I abhor so much as a man intrusting me with a secret."
On March 19th, Sir Richard finished his last volume of the
Supplemental Nights, and in May he was visited at Trieste by his
old friend, F. F. Arbuthnot.
On the 15th of April (1888) occurred the death of Matthew Arnold,
who had for some years enjoyed a Civil List pension of £250 a year;
and the event had scarcely been announced before Lady Burton,
without consulting her husband,[FN#553] telegraphed to the
Government to "give Burton Arnold's pension." This step,
characteristic as it was indiscreet, naturally did not effect its
19th March 1888-15th October 1888
The Last Visit to England
"The Supplemental Nights"
76. 1st Vol. Supplemental Nights, 1st December 1886. 6th Vol.
1st August 1888.
152. Meeting with Mr. Swinburne and others, 18th July 1888-15th
Burton's health continuing weak, he again endeavoured to induce
the Government to release him from his duties. Instead of that,
they gave him what he calls "an informal sick certificate," and from
the following letter to his sister (26th May 1888) we may judge that
it was not given gracefully.
"Yesterday," he says, "I got my leave accompanied by some
disagreeable expressions which will be of use to me when retiring.
We leave Trieste in June and travel leisurely over the St. Gothard
and expect to be in England about the 10th. ... The meteorologists
declare that the heat is going to equal the cold. Folky[FN#554]
folk are like their neighbours, poor devils who howl for
excitement--want of anything better to do. The dreadful dull life
of England accounts for many British madnesses. Do you think of the
Crystal Palace this year? We have an old friend, Aird, formerly the
Consul here, who has taken up his abode somewhere in Sydenham. I don't
want cold water bandages, the prospect of leave makes me sleep quite
well. With love and kisses to both,[FN#555]
Your affectionate brother, R. F. B."
Burton and his wife reached Folkestone on July 18th. Next day they
went on to London, where they had the pleasure of meeting again
Commander Cameron, Mr. Henry Irving, M. Du Chaillu, Mr. A. C.
Swinburne, and Mr. Theodore Watts[-Dunton]. What Burton was to
Mr. Swinburne is summed up in the phrase--"the light that on earth
153. H. W. Ashbee.
His principal place of resort, however, during this visit was the
house of Mr. H. W. Ashbee, 54, Bedford Square, where he met not only
Mr. Ashbee, but also Dr. Steingass, Mr. Arbuthnot, Sir Charles
Wingfield and Mr. John Payne, all of whom were interested,
in different ways, in matters Oriental. Ashbee, who wrote under the
name of Pisanus Fraxi (Bee of an ash), was a curiously
matter-of-fact, stoutish, stolid, affable man, with a Maupassantian
taste for low life, its humours and laxities. He was familiar with
it everywhere, from the sordid purlieus of Whitechapel to the
bazaars of Tunis and Algiers, and related Haroun Al-Raschid-like
adventures with imperturbably, impassive face, and in the language
that a business man uses when recounting the common transactions of
a day. This unconcernedness never failed to provoke laughter,
even from those who administered rebukes to him. Of art and
literature he had absolutely no idea, but he was an enthusiastic
bibliophile, and his library, which included a unique collection
or rare and curious books, had been built up at enormous expense.
Somebody having described him as "not a bad old chap," Mr. Payne
added characteristically, "And he had a favourite cat, which says
something for him."
154. A Bacon Causerie.
The serenity of these gatherings, whether at Mr. Ashbee's or at
Mr. Arbuthnot's, was never ruffled unless somebody happened to
introduce politics or the Shakespere-Bacon Question. Arbuthnot the
Liberal was content to strike out with his back against the wall,
so to speak, when attacked by the Conservative Burton, Ashbee and
Payne; but Arbuthnot the Baconian frequently took the offensive.
He would go out of his way in order to drag in this subject.
He could not leave it out of his Life of Balzac even.
These controversies generally resolved themselves into a duel
between Mr. Arbuthnot and Mr. Payne--Burton, who loved a fight
between any persons and for any reasons, looking on approvingly.
Mr. Ashbee and Dr. Steingass were inclined to side with Mr. Payne.
On one of these occasions Mr. Payne said impatiently that he could
not understand "any sensible man taking the slightest interest in
the sickening controversy," and then he pointed out one by one the
elements that in his opinion made the Baconian theory ridiculous.
"But," followed Mr. Arbuthnot, "Shakespere had no education, and no
person without an extremely good education could have written the
play erroneously published under the name of William Shakespere."
"If," retorted Mr. Payne, "Shakespere had been without education,
do you think the fact would have escaped the notice of such bitter
and unscrupulous enemies as Nash, Greene, and others, who hated him
for his towering superiority?"
Upon Mr. Arbuthnot admitting that he studies Shakespere merely from
a "curio" point of view, and that for the poetry he cared nothing,
Mr. Payne replied by quoting Schopenhauer: "A man who is insensible
to poetry, be he who he may, must be a barbarian."
Burton, who regarded himself as a poet, approved of the sentiment;
Dr. Steingass, who wrote execrable verses in English which neither
rhymed nor scanned, though they were intended to do both, was no
less satisfied; Mr. Ashbee, who looked at matters solely from a
bibliographical point of view, dissented; and Mr. Arbuthnot sweetly
changed the conversation to Balzac; with the result, however,
of another tempest, for on this subject Burton, who summed up Balzac
as "a great repertory of morbid anatomy," could never see eye to eye
with Balzac's most enthusiastic English disciple.
At Oxford, Burton met Professor Sayce, and did more literary work
"under great difficulties" at the Bodleian, though he escaped all
the evil effects; but against its wretched accommodation for
students and its antediluvian methods he never ceased to inveigh.
Early in August he was at Ramsgate and had the amusement of mixing
with a Bank Holiday crowd. But he was amazingly restless, and
wanted to be continually in motion. No place pleased him more than
a day or two.
155. The Gypsy, August 1888.
Among the deal tables in Burton's rooms at Trieste was one devoted
to a work on the Gypsies, a race concerning whom, as we have seen,
he had long been curious. He had first proposed to himself to write
on the subject when he was in Sind, where he had made investigations
concerning the affinity between the Jats and the Gypsies; and now
with abundance of leisure he set about the work in earnest. But it
was never finished, and the fragment which was published in
1898[FN#557] contains, Mr. Watts-Dunton[FN#558] assures me,
many errors. Burton's idea was to describe the Gypsy in all lands.
Perhaps he is happiest in his account of the Spanish Gypsy woman.
"Their women," he says, "sell poultry and old rags. ... and find in
interpreting dreams, in philter selling, and in fortune-telling the
most lucrative industries. They sing, and play various instruments,
accompanying the music with the most voluptuous and licentious
dances and attitudes; but woe to the man who would obtain from these
Bayaderes any boon beyond their provocative exhibition. From the
Indus to Gibraltar, the contrast of obscenity in language and in
songs with corporal chastity has ever been a distinctive
characteristic. ... Gypsy marriages, like those of the high caste
Hindus, entail ruinous expense; the revelry lasts three days,
the 'Gentile' is freely invited, and the profusion of meats and
drinks often makes the bridgegroom a debtor for life. The Spanish
Gypsies are remarkable for beauty in early youth; for magnificent
eyes and hair, regular features, light and well-knit figures.
Their locks, like the Hindus, are lamp black, and without a sign
of wave:[FN#559] and they preserve the characteristic eye. I have
often remarked its fixity and brilliance, which flashes like
phosphoric light, the gleam which in some eyes denotes madness.
I have also noticed the 'far-off look' which seems to gaze at
something beyond you and the alternation from the fixed stare to a
glazing or filming of the pupil."[FN#560]
This peculiarity of the gypsy's eyes, Burton had himself, for which
reason alone, some writers, as we have already observed, have
claimed him for the tribe. But he shared other peculiarities with
them. For example, there was his extraordinary restlessness--
a restlessness which prevented him from every settling long in any
one place. Then, like the gypsies, he had an intense horror of a
corpse--even of pictures of corpses. Though brave to temerity he
avoided churchyards, and feared "the phosphorescence of the dead."
Many of his letters testify to his keen interest in the race.
For example, he tells Mr. J. Pincherle, author of a Romani version
of Solomon's Song,[FN#561] the whole story of his wife and Hagar
Burton. In 1888 he joined the newly-founded "Gypsy Lore Society,"
and in a letter to Mr. David MacRitchie (13th May 1888) he says in
reference to the Society's Journal: "Very glad to see that you write
'Gypsy.' I would not subscribe to 'Gipsy.'" In later letters he
expresses his appreciation of Mr. MacRitchie's article "The Gypsies
of India," and wishes the Society "God speed," while in that of 13th
August 1888, he laments the trifling results that followed his own
and Arbuthnot's efforts in behalf of Orientalism. "We [The Gypsy
Lore Society]" he says, "must advance slowly and depend for success
upon our work pleasing the public. Of course, all of us must do our
best to secure new members, and by Xmas I hope that we shall find
ourselves on the right road. Mr. Pincherle writes to me hopefully
about his practical studies of Gypsy life in Trieste. As regards
Orientalism in England generally I simply despair of it. Every year
the study is more wanted and we do less. It is the same with
anthropology, so cultivated in France, so stolidly neglected in
England. I am perfectly ashamed of our wretched "Institution"
in Hanover Square when compared with the palace in Paris.
However, this must come to an end some day."
On 13th August 1888, Burton writes to Mr. A. G. Ellis from "The
Langham," Portland Place, and sends him the Preface to the last
Supplemental Volume with the request that he would run his eye over
it. "You live," he continues, "in a magazine of learning where
references are so easy, and to us outsiders so difficult.
Excuse this practical proof that need has no law." On September
26th he sent a short note to Mr. Payne. "Arbuthnot," he said,
"will be in town on Tuesday October 2nd. What do you say to meeting
him at the Langham 7 p.m. table d'hote hour? .... It will be our
last chance of meeting."
Sir Richard and Lady Burton, Dr. Baker, Arbuthnot, and Payne dined
together on the evening appointed; and on October 15th Burton left
London, to which he was never to return alive.
156. The Supplemental Nights. 1st December 1886-1st August 1888.
The translation of the Supplemental Nights, that is to say,
the collection of more or less interesting Arabian tales not
included in the Nights proper, was now completed. The first volume
had appeared in 1886, the last was to be issued in 1888. Although
containing old favourites such as "Alaeddin," "Zayn Al Asnam,"
"Ali Baba," and the "Story of the Three Princes," the supplemental
volumes are altogether inferior to the Nights proper. Then, too,
many of the tales are mere variants of the versions in the more
important work. Burton's first two supplemental volumes are from
the Breslau text, and, as we said, cover the same ground as
Mr. Payne's Tales from the Arabic. In both he followed Mr. Payne
closely, as will be seen from his notes (such as "Here I follow
Mr. Payne, who has skilfully fine-drawn the holes in the original
text")[FN#562] which, frequent as they are, should have been
multiplied one hundred-fold to express anything like the real
obligation he owed to Mr. Payne's translation. "I am amazed,"
he once said to Mr. Payne, "at the way in which you have
accomplished what I (in common with Lane and other Arabists)
considered an impossibility in the elucidation and general
re-creation from chaos of the incredibly corrupt and garbled Breslau
Text. I confess that I could not have made it out without your
previous version. It is astonishing how you men of books get to the
bottom of things which are sealed to men of practical experience
like me." And he expressed himself similarly at other times.
Of course, the secret was the literary faculty and intuition which
in Burton were wanting.
Burton's Third Volume [FN#563] consists of the tales in Galland's
edition which are not in the Nights proper. All of them, with the
exception of "Alaeddin" and "Zayn Al Asnam," are reproductions, as we
said, from a Hindustani translation of the French text--the Arabic
originals of the tales being still (1905) undiscovered.
His Fourth and Fifth Volumes [FN#564] are from the Wortley-Montague
Text. His sixth and last [FN#565] contains the Chavis and Cazotte
Text--the manuscript of which is reputed to have been brought to
France by a Syrian priest named Shawish (Frenchlifted into Chavis),
who collaborated with a French litterateur named Cazotte. The work
appeared in 1788. "These tales," says Mr. Payne, "seem to me very
inferior, in style, conduct, and diction, to those of 'the old
Arabian Nights,' whilst I think 'Chavis and Cazotte's continuation'
utterly unworthy of republication whether in part or 'in its
entirety.' It is evident that Shawish (who was an adventurer of
more than doubtful character) must in many instances have utterly
misled his French coadjutor (who had no knowledge of Arabic), as to
the meaning of the original."--Preface to Alaeddin, &c., xv., note.
Mr. Payne adds, "I confess I think the tales, even in the original
Arabic, little better than rubbish, and am indeed inclined to
believe they must have been, at least in part, manufactured by
Burton's supplementary volume containing "Alaeddin" and "Zayn Al
Asnam," appeared, as we have seen, in 1887; and in 1889 Mr. Payne
issued a Translation from Zotenberg's text. When dealing with the
Nights proper we gave the reader an opportunity of comparing
Burton's translation with Payne's which preceded it. We now purpose
placing in juxtaposition two passages from their supplemental
volumes, and we cannot do better than choose from either "Alaeddin"
or "Zayn Al Asnam," as in the case of both the order is reversed,
Burton's translation having preceded Payne's. Let us decide on the
latter. Any passage would do, but we will take that describing the
finding of the ninth image:
Then he set out and Then he set out nor
gave not over journeying ceased travelling till such
till he came to Bassora, time as he reached Bassorah,
and entering his palace, when he entered
saluted his mother and his palace; and after
told her all that had saluting his mother, he
befallen him; whereupon apprized her of all things
quoth she to him "Arise, that had befallen him.
O my son, so thou mayst She replied, "Arise, O
see this ninth image, for my son, that we may look
that I am exceedingly upon the Ninth statue,
rejoiced at its presence with for I rejoice with extreme
us. So they both joy at its being in our
descended into the underground possession." So both
hall wherein were descended into the pavilion
the eight images, and where stood the eight
found there a great marvel; images of precious gems,
to wit, instead of the and here they found a
ninth image, they beheld mighty marvel. 'Twas
the young lady resembling this: In lieu of seeing the
the sun in her loveliness. Ninth Statue upon the
The prince knew her golden throne, they found
when he saw her, and seated thereon the young
she said to him, "Marvel lady whose beauty suggested
not to find me here in the sun. Zayn
place of that which thou al-Asnam knew her at
soughtest; me thinketh first sight and presently
thou wilt not repent thee she addressed him saying,
an thou take me in the "Marvel not for that
stead of the ninth image." here thou findest me
"No, by Allah, Oh my in place of that wherefor
beloved!" replied Zein thou askedst; and I
ul Asnam. "For that thou deem that thou shalt not
art the end of my seeking, regret nor repent when
and I would not exchange thou acceptest me instead
thee for all the jewels in of that thou soughtest."
the world. Didst thou Said he, "No, verily,
but know the grief which thou art the end of every
possessed me for thy wish of me nor would
separation, thou whom I I exchange thee for all the
took from thy parents gems of the universe.
by fraud and brought thee Would thou knew what
to the King of the Jinn!" was the sorrow which
surcharged me on account of
our separation and of my
reflecting that I took thee
from thy parents by fraud
and I bore thee as a present
to the King of the Jinn.
Indeed I had well nigh
determined to forfeit all
my profit of the Ninth
Statue and to bear thee
away to Bassorah as my
own bride, when my comrade
and councillor dissuaded
me from so doing lest
I bring about my death."[FN#567]
Scarce had the prince Nor had Zayn al Asnam
made an end of his speech ended his words ere they
when they heard a noise heard the roar of thunderings
of thunder rending the that would rend a
mountains and shaking mount and shake the
the earth, and fear gat earth, whereat the Queen
hold upon the queen, the Mother was seized with
mother of Zein ul Asnam, mighty fear and affright.
Yea and sore trembling; But presently appeared
but, after a little, the the King of the Jinn,
King of the Jinn who said to her, "O my
appeared and said to her, lady, fear not! Tis I, the
"O Lady, fear not, it is protector of thy son, whom
I who am thy son's I fondly affect for the
protector and I love him affection borne to me by
with an exceeding love his sire. I also am he who
for the love his father manifested myself to him
bore me. Nay, I am he in his sleep, and my object
who appeared to him in therein was to make trial
his sleep and in this I of his valiance and to learn
purposed to try his an he could do violence to
fortitude, whether or not his passions for the sake
he might avail to subdue of his promise, or whether
himself for loyalty's the beauty of this lady
sake." would so tempt and allure
him that he could not
keep his promise to me
with due regard."
Here, again, Payne is concise and literal, Burton diffuse and
gratuitously paraphrastic as appears above and everywhere, and the
other remarks which we made when dealing with the Nights proper also
apply, except, of course, that in this instance Burton had not
Payne's version to refer to, with the consequence that in these two
tales ("Alaeddin" and "Zayn Al Asnam") there are over five hundred
places in which the two translators differ as to the rendering,
although they worked from the same MS. copy, that of M. Houdas,
lent by him to Burton and afterwards to Payne. Arabists tell us
that in practically every instance Payne is right, Burton wrong.
The truth is that, while in colloquial Arabic Burton was perfect,
in literary Arabic he was far to seek,[FN#568] whereas Mr. Payne had
studied the subject carefully and deeply for years. But Burton's
weakness here is not surprising. A Frenchman might speak excellent
English, and yet find some difficulty in translating into French a
play of Shakespeare or an essay of Macaulay. Burton made the
mistake of studying too many things. He attempted too much.
But in the Supplemental Nights, as in the Nights proper, his great
feature is the annotating. Again we have a work within a work,
and the value of these notes is recognised on all sides. Yet they
are even less necessary for elucidating the text than those in the
Nights proper. Take for example the tremendous note in Vol. i. on
the word "eunuchs." As everybody knows what a eunuch is, the text
is perfectly clear. Yet what a mass of curious knowledge he
presents to us! If it be urged that the bulk of Burton's notes,
both to the Nights proper and the Supplemental Nights, are out of
place in a work of this kind--all we can say is "There they are."
We must remember, too, that he had absolutely no other means of
"The Scented Garden"
77. The Scented Garden. "My new Version," translated 1888-1890.
As we learn from a letter to Mr. Payne, 8th November 1888,
Burton began his "new version" of The Scented Garden, or as it
is sometimes called, The Perfumed Garden, in real earnest early
in that month, and Lady Burton tells us that it "occupied him
seriously only six actual months,"[FN#569] that is, the last six
months of his life.
The Scented Garden, or to give its full title, "The Scented Garden
for the Soul's Recreation" was the work of a learned Arab Shaykh and
physician named Nafzawi, who was born at Nafzawa, a white,[FN#570]
palm-encinctured town which gleamed by the shore of the Sebkha--that
is, salt marsh--Shot al Jarid; and spent most of his life in Tunis.
The date of his birth is unrecorded, but The Scented Garden seems to
have been written in 1431.[FN#571] Nafzawi, like Vatsyayana,
from whose book he sometimes borrows, is credited with having been
an intensely religious man, but his book abounds in erotic tales
seasoned to such an extent as would have put to the blush even the
not very sensitive "Tincker of Turvey."[FN#572] It abounds in
medical learning,[FN#573] is avowedly an aphrodisiac, and was
intended, if one may borrow an expression from Juvenal, "to revive
the fire in nuptial cinders."[FN#574] Moslems read it, just as they
took ambergrised coffee, and for the same reason. Nafzawi, indeed,
is the very antithesis of the English Sir Thomas Browne, with his
well-known passage in the Religio Medici,[FN#575] commencing
"I could be content that we might procreate like trees."
Holding that no natural action of a man is more degrading than
another, Nafzawi could never think of amatory pleasures without
ejaculating "Glory be to God," or some such phrase. But "Moslems,"
says Burton, "who do their best to countermine the ascetic idea
inherent in Christianity,[FN#576] are not ashamed of the sensual
appetite, but rather the reverse."[FN#577] Nafzawi, indeed,
praises Allah for amorous pleasures just as other writers have
exhausted the vocabulary in gratitude for a loaded fruit tree or an
iridescent sunset. His mind runs on the houris promised to the
faithful after death, and he says that these pleasures are "part of
the delights of paradise awarded by Allah as a foretaste of what is
waiting for us, namely delights a thousand times superior, and above
which only the sight of the Benevolent is to be placed." We who
anticipate walls of jasper and streets of gold ought not, perhaps,
to be too severe on the Tunisian. It must also be added that
Nafzawi had a pretty gift of humour.[FN#578]
159. Origin of The Scented Garden.
The origin of the book was as follows: A small work, The Torch of
the World,[FN#579] dealing with "The Mysteries of Generation,"
and written by Nafzawi, had come into the hands of the Vizier of
the Sultan of Tunis. Thereupon the Vizier sent for the author and
received him "most honourably." Seeing Nafzawi blush, he said,
"You need not be ashamed; everything you have said is true; no one
need be shocked at your words. Moreover, you are not the first who
has treated of this matter; and I swear by Allah that it is
necessary to know this book. It is only the shameless boor and
the enemy of all science who will not read it, or who will make fun
of it. But there are sundry things which you will have to treat
about yet." And he mentioned other subjects, chiefly of a medical
"Oh, my master," replied Nafzawi, "all you have said here is not
difficult to do, if it is the pleasure of Allah on high."
"I forthwith," comments Nafzawi, "went to work with the composition
of this book, imploring the assistance of Allah (May He pour His
blessing on the prophet)[FN#580] and may happiness and pity be
The most complete text of The Scented Garden is that now preserved
in the library at Algiers, and there are also manuscripts in the
libraries of Paris, Gotha and Copenhagen. In 1850 a manuscript
which seems to have corresponded practically with The Torch of the
World was translated into French by a Staff Officer of the French
Army in Algeria, and an edition of thirty-five copies was printed by
an autographic process in Algiers in the year 1876.[FN#581] In 1886
an edition of 220 copies was issued by the French publisher Isidore
Liseux, and the same year appeared a translation of Liseux's work
bearing the imprint of the Kama Shastra Society. This is the book
that Burton calls "my old version,"[FN#582] which, of course,
proves that he had some share in it.[FN#583]
There is no doubt that the average Englishman[FN#584] would be both
amazed and shocked on first opening even the Kama Shastra Society's
version; unless, perchance, he had been prepared by reading Burton's
Arabian Nights or the Fiftieth Chapter of Gibbon's Decline and Fall
with the Latin Notes, though even these give but a feeble idea of
the fleshiness of The Scented Garden. Indeed, as Ammianus
Marcellinus, referring to the Arabs, says: "Incredible est quo
ardore apud eos in venerem uterque solvitur sexus."
160. Contents of The Scented Garden.
Nafzawi divided his book into twenty one-chapters "in order to make
it easier reading for the taleb (student)." It consists of
descriptions of "Praiseworthy Men" and "Praiseworthy Women" from a
Nafzawin point of view, interpretations of dreams, medical recipes
for impotence, &c., lists of aphrodisiacs, and stories confirmatory
of Ammianus's remark. Among the longer tales are those of Moseilma,
"Bahloul[FN#585] and Hamdonna," and "The Negro Al Dhurgham"[FN#586]--all
furiously Fescinnine. The story of Moseilema, Lord of Yamama,
is familiar in one form or another to most students of Arab History.
Washington Irving epitomises it in his inexpressibly beautiful
"Successors" of Mahomet[FN#587] and Gibbon[FN#588] tells it more
fully, partly in his text and partly in his Latin footnotes.
Moseilema was, no doubt, for some years quite as influential a
prophet as his rival Mohammed. He may even have been as good a
man,[FN#589] but Nafzawi--staunch Mohammedan--will not let "the Whig
dogs have the best of the argument." He charges Moseilema with
having perverted sundry chapters in the Koran by his lies and
impostures, and declares that he did worse than fail when he
attempted to imitate Mohammed's miracles. "Now Moseilema (whom may
Allah curse!), when he put his luckless hand on the head of some one
who had not much hair, the man was at once quite bald ... and when
he laid his hand upon the head of an infant, saying, 'Live a hundred
years,' the infant died within an hour." As a matter of fact,
however, Moseilema was one of the most romantic figures in Arabic
history.[FN#590] Sedja, Queen and Prophetess, went to see him in
much the same spirit that the Queen of Sheba visited Solomon.
Moseilema, who outlived Mohammed about a year, was defeated and
slain near his capital Yamama, by the Mohammedan hero Khalid,
and Sedjah subsequently embraced Islamism.
In the tale entitled "Djoaidi and Fadehat el Djemal"[FN#591] appears
that hoary poet, philosopher and reprobate, Abu Nowas[FN#592] of
The Arabian Nights. Like the Nights, The Scented Garden has a cycle
of tales illustrative of the cunning and malice of women. But all
the women in those days and countries were not bad, just as all were
not plain. Plumpness seems to have been the principal attraction of
sex, and the Kama Shastra version goes so far as to assure us that a
woman who had a double chin,[FN#593] was irresistible. If so, there
were probably no words in the language good enough to describe a
woman with three chins. According, however, to the author of the
recent Paris translation[FN#594] this particular rendering is a
mistake. He considers that the idea Nafzawi wished to convey was
the tower-like form of the neck,[FN#595] but in any circumstances
the denizens of The Scented Garden placed plumpness in the forefront
of the virtues; which proves, of course, the negroid origin of at
any rate some of the stories,[FN#596] for a true Arab values
slenderness. Over and over again in the Nights we are told of some
seductive lady that she was straight and tall with a shape like the
letter Alif or a willow wand. The perfect woman, according to
Mafzawi, perfumes herself with scents, uses ithmid[FN#597]
(antimony) for her toilet, and cleans her teeth with bark of the
walnut tree. There are chapters on sterility, long lists of the
kind to be found in Rabelais, and solemn warnings against excess,
chiefly on account of its resulting in weakness of sight, with other
"observations useful for men and women."
While chapters i. to xx. concern almost entirely the relations
between the opposite sexes, Chapter xxi.[FN#598] which constitutes
more than one-half of the book, treats largely of those unspeakable
vices which as St. Paul and St. Jude show, and the pages of
Petronius and other ancient authors prove, were so common in the
pagan world, and which, as Burton and other travellers inform us,
are still practised in the East.
"The style and language in which the Perfumed Garden is written
are," says the writer of the Foreword to the Paris edition of 1904,
"of the simplest and most unpretentious kind, rising occasionally to
a very high degree of eloquence, resembling, to some extent, that of
the famous Thousand Nights and a Night; but, while the latter
abounds in Egyptian colloquialisms, the former frequently causes the
translator to pause owing to the recurrence of North African idioms
and the occasional use of Berber or Kabyle words, not generally
known." In short, the literary merits or the work are trifling.
Although Nafzawi wrote his extended Scented Garden for scholars
only, he seems afterwards to have become alarmed, and to have gone
in fear lest it might get into the hands of the ignorant and do
harm. So he ended it with:
"O you who read this, and think of the author
And do not exempt him from blame,
If you spare your good opinion of him, do not
At least fail to say 'Lord forgive us and him.'"[FN#599]
161. Sir Richard Burton's Translation.
It was in the autumn of 1888, as we have seen, that Sir Richard
Burton, who considered the book to take, from a linguistic and
ethnological point of view, a very high rank, conceived the idea
of making a new translation, to be furnished with annotations of a
most elaborate nature. He called it at first, with his fondness
for rhyming jingle, The Scented Garden-Site for Heart's Delight,
and finally decided upon The Scented Garden--Man's Heart to Gladden.
Sir Richard's Translation was from the Algiers manuscript, a copy of
which was made for him at a cost of eighty pounds, by M. O. Houdas,
Professor at the Ecole des Langues Orientales Vivantes. This was of
the first twenty chapters. Whether a copy of the 21st Chapter ever
reached Sir Richard we have not been able to ascertain. On 31st
March 1890, he wrote in his Journal: "Began, or rather resumed,
Scented Garden,"[FN#600] and thenceforward he worked at it
sedulously. Now and again the Berber or Kabyle words with which the
manuscript was sprinkled gave him trouble, and from time to time he
submitted his difficulties to M. Fagnan, "the erudite compiler of
the Catalogue of Arabic books and MSS. in the Bibliotheque Nationale
d'Alger" and other Algerian correspondents. Lady Burton describes
her husband's work as "a translation from Arabic manuscripts very
difficult to get in the original" with "copious notes and
explanations" of Burton's own--the result, indeed, of a lifetime of
research. "The first two chapters were a raw translation of the
works of Numa Numantius[FN#601] without any annotations at all,
or comments of any kind on Richard's part, and twenty chapters,
translations of Shaykh el Nafzawi from Arabic. In fact, it was all
translation, except the annotations on the Arabic work."[FN#602]
Thus Burton really translated only Chapters i. to xx., or one-half
of the work. But it is evident from his remarks on the last day of
his life that he considered the work finished with the exception of
the pumice-polishing; and from this, one judges that he was never
able to obtain a copy of the 21st Chapter. Lady Burton's statement
and this assumption are corroborated by a conversation which the
writer had with Mr. John Payne in the autumn of 1904. "Burton,"
said Mr. Payne, "told me again and again that in his eyes the
unpardonable defect of the Arabic text of The Scented Garden was
that it altogether omitted the subject upon which he had for some
years bestowed special study." If Burton had been acquainted with
the Arabic text of the 21st Chapter he, of course, would not have
made that complaint; still, as his letters show, he was aware that
such a manuscript existed. Having complained to Mr. Payne in the
way referred to respecting the contents of The Scented Garden,
Burton continued, "Consequently, I have applied myself to remedy
this defect by collecting all manner of tales and of learned
material of Arab origin bearing on my special study, and I have been
so successful that I have thus trebled the original manuscript."
Thus, as in the case of The Arabian Nights, the annotations were to
have no particular connection with the text. Quite two-thirds of
these notes consisted of matter of this sort.
Mr. Payne protested again and again against the whole scheme, and on
the score that Burton had given the world quite enough of this kind
of information in the Nights. But the latter could not see with his
friend. He insisted on the enormous anthropological and historical
importance of these notes--and that the world would be the loser
were he to withold them; in fact, his whole mind was absorbed in
15th October 1888 to 21st July 1890
Working at the "Catullus" and "The Scented Garden"
78. Catullus translated 1890, printed 1894.
79. The Golden Ass and other works left unfinished.
162. Switzerland 15th October 1888.
From London the Burtons proceeded first to Boulogne where
Sir Richard visited the haunts of his early manhood and called
upon his old fencing master, Constantin, who was hale and well,
though over eighty; and then to Geneva, where he delivered before
the local Geographical Society what proved to be his last public
lecture. From Geneva he wrote several letters to Mr. Payne.
In that of November 21st, his mind running on the Bandello, he says,
"You would greatly oblige me by jotting down when you have a moment
to spare the names of reverends and ecclesiastics who have written
and printed facetious books.[FN#603] In English I have Swift and
Sterne; in French Rabelais, but I want one more, also two in Italian
and two in German."
In reply, Mr. Payne sent him some twenty or thirty names in half a
dozen literatures. From Geneva the Burtons made their way first to
Vevey, where Sir Richard revelled in its associations with Ludlow,
the English regicide, and Rousseau; and then to Lausanne for the
sake of his great hero, Edward Gibbon; and on 12th March (1889)
they were back again at Trieste.
Writing to Mr. A. G. Ellis on May 8th, Burton enquires respecting
some engravings in the Museum brought over from Italy by the Duke
of Cumberland, and he finished humorously with, "What news of
Mr. Blumhardt? And your fellow-sufferer from leather emanations,
the Sanskiritist?"[FN#604]--an allusion to the Oriental Room, under
which, in those days, was the book-binding department.
163. Mr. Letchford, August and September 1889.
In July, for Burton found it impossible to content himself long in
any place, the Burtons made another journey, this time through
Western Austria, being accompanied as usual by Dr. Baker and Lisa.
After their return, on September 13th, it was necessary for Burton
to undergo two operations; and Lady Burton, racked with anxiety and
fearing the worst, seemed, when all was successfully over, to have
recovered from a horrible nightmare. Then followed acquaintance
with the gifted young artist, Mr. Albert Letchford, and his
beautiful and winning sister, Daisy. Mr. Letchford became the
Burtons' Court Painter, as it were--frequently working in their
house--and both he and his sister admired--nay, worshipped
Sir Richard down to the ground. Even as a child, Albert Letchford
was remarkable for his thoughtful look, and his strong sense of
beauty. In church one day he begged his mother to let him run home
and get his little sword, as there was such an ugly woman there and
he wished to cut her head off. As a youth he drew and studied from
morning to night, living in a world of his own creation--a world of
books and pictures. His letters were those of a poet and an artist.
Beauty of the mind, however, attracted him even more than beauty of
the body. Thus, he fell in love with his cousin Augusta, "though
she had the toothache, and her head tied up in a handkerchief."
At seventeen he studied art in Venice. From Venice he went to
Florence, where he met the Burtons and got from them introductions
to all the best people, including the Countess Orford and Mlle. de
la Ramee (Ouida). We then find him in Paris, in London, in Egypt,
where he acquired that knowledge of the East which helped him later
when he illustrated The Arabian Nights. Finally he settled at
Trieste. "That wonderful man, Sir Richard Burton, with the eyes of
a tiger and the voice of an angel," writes Miss Letchford, "loved my
brother, for he found something more in him than in others--he found
a mind that could understand his own, and he often said that
Mr. Albert Letchford was about the only man that he was pleased to
see--the only one who never jarred on his nerves. To him did Sir
Richard, proud and arrogant to most people, open his soul, and from
his lips would come forth such enchanting conversation--such a
wonderful flow of words and so marvellous in sound that often I have
closed my eyes and listened to him, fancying, thus--that some
wonderful learned angel had descended from Heaven unto Earth."
Among the friends of the Burtons was the Princess of Thurn and
Taxis, who with her husband became one of Letchford's best patrons.
The princess won Sir Richard's heart by her intelligence, her beauty
and grace; and "his conversation was never so brilliant, and his
witticisms were never so sparkling as in her presence." One day
another princess--a foolish, vain woman--after making a number of
insipid remarks, shook hands with Sir Richard, lifting high her arm
and elbow in the fashion which was then just coming into vogue, but
which has now lost acceptance.[FN#605] Sir Richard, while giving
her his right hand, quietly with his left put down her arm and
elbow. The princess turned scarlet, but she never after practised
"the high shake." Miss Letchford sums up Lady Burton as "a most
beautiful and charming woman, with many lovely ideas, but many
foolish ones." Unfortunately she was guided entirely by her
confessor, a man of small mental calibre. One of the confessor's
ideas was to convert Sir Richard by dropping small charms into his
pockets. Sir Richard got quite used to finding these little images
about him; but they invariably made their way out of the window into
the garden. One of Lady Burton's little failings was the fear lest
anybody should come to the house in order to steal, and the servants
had special commands to admit none who did not look "a perfect
gentleman or lady," with the result that one day they slammed the
door in the face of the Archduke Louis Salvator, simply because he
did not happen to have a card with him. After that Lady Burton's
orders were less strict.
Mr. Letchford's paintings include views of the neighbourhood,
a portrait of Burton which was exhibited in the Stanley Gallery,
and a full-length portrait of Burton fencing,[FN#606] but he is best
known by his series of illustrations to The Arabian Nights.
164. To Dr. Tuckey.
On April 24th we find Burton writing to thank Dr. Charles Tuckey for
the gift of a copy of his Psycho-Therapeutics. "An old pupil of
Dr. Elliotson,"[FN#607] he says, "I am always interested in these
researches, and welcome the appearance of any addition to our scanty
knowledge of an illimitable field. Suggestion (what a miserable
name!) perfectly explains the stigmata of St. Francis and others
without preter-natural assistance, and the curative effect of a dose
of Koran (a verset written upon a scrap of paper, and given like a
pill of p.q.). I would note that the "Indian Prince"[FN#608] was no
less a personage than Ranjit Singh, Rajah of the Punjab, that the
burial of the Fakir was attested by his German surgeon-general,
and that a friend and I followed Colonel Boileau's example
in personally investigating the subject of vivi-sepulture.
In p. 10: The throngs of pilgrims to Mecca never think of curing
anything but their 'souls,' and the pilgrimage is often fatal to
their bodies. I cannot but take exception to such terms as
'psychology,' holding the soul (an old Egyptian creation unknown
to the early Hebrews) to be the ego of man, what differentiates him
from all other men, in fact, like the 'mind,' not a thing but a
state or condition of things. I rejoice to see Braid[FN#609]
duly honoured and think that perhaps a word might be said of
'Electro-biology,' a term ridiculous as 'suggestion' and more so.
But Professor Yankee Stone certainly produced all the phenomena you
allude to by concentrating the patient's sight upon his
'Electro-magnetic disc'--a humbug of copper and zinc, united, too.
It was a sore trial to Dr. Elliotson, who having been persecuted for
many years wished to make trial in his turn of a little persecuting--a
disposition not unusual."[FN#610]
165. To Mr. Kirby 15th May 1889.
In a letter to Mr. W. F. Kirby, 15th May 1889, Burton,
after referring to a translation of the Kalevala,[FN#611] upon which
Mr. Kirby was then engaged, says: "We shall not be in England this
year. I cannot remove myself so far from my books, and beside,
I want a summer in Austria, probably at Closen or some place north
of Vienna. We had a long ten months' holiday and must make up for
time lost. The Scented Garden is very hard work, and I have to pay
big sums to copyists and so forth. Yet it will, I think, repay the
reader. What a national disgrace is this revival of Puritanism with
its rampant cant and ignoble hypocrisy! I would most willingly
fight about it, but I don't see my way." Writing again on 6th
November (1889) he says, "I like very much your idea of visiting
Sweden in the interests of the Kalevala. Perhaps you might date the
Preface from that part of the world. The Natural History of
The Nights would be highly interesting. Have you heard that
Pickering and Chatto, of Haymarket, London, are going to print 100
(photogravure) illustrations of the Nights? When last in London I
called on them. On Friday week, 15th November, we start upon our
winter's trip. From here to Brindisi, await the P. and O., then to
Malta (ten days), Tunis (month), Tripoli and Algiers, where I hope
at last to see the very last of The Scented Garden."
166. Tunis and Algiers, November 1889 to March 1890.
At the time stated, Burton, Lady Burton, Dr. Baker and Lisa took
steamer for Brindisi, where they visited Virgil's house, and then
made for Malta. On December 20th they were at Tunis, and
Sir Richard ransacked the bazaar and button-holed people generally
in order to get manuscripts of The Scented Garden, but without
success. Nobody had ever heard of it.[FN#612] At Carthage
he recalled that rosy morning when Dido in "flowered cymar with
golden fringe" rode out with Aeneas to the hung, read Salammbo,
and explored the ruins; but Lady Burton had no eyes for anything but
convents, monks and nuns, though she certainly once took Lisa to a
harem, where they learnt how to make Tunisian dishes. The biblical
appearance of everything reminded Burton of his Damascus days.
Seeing a man in a burnous ploughing with oxen and a wooden plough
on a plain where there was no background, he said, "Look, there's
Abraham!" At Constantine, Sir Richard and Lady Burton celebrated
their 29th, and as it proved, their last wedding day. With Algiers,
the next stopping place, which boasted a cardinal's Moorish palace
and a Museum, Burton was in ecstasies, and said he wanted to live
there always; but in less than three weeks he was anxious to get as
far away from it as possible.
From Algiers he wrote to Mr. Payne (28th January 1890).
After recording his failure to obtain manuscripts of The Scented
Garden at Tunis he says: "To-day I am to see M. Macarthy, of the
Algiers Bibliotheque Musee; but I am by no means sanguine.
This place is a Paris after Tunis and Constantine, but like all
France (and Frenchmen) in modern days dirty as ditchwater. The old
Gaulois is dead and damned, politics and money getting have made the
gay nation stupid as Paddies. In fact the world is growing vile and
bete, et vivent les Chinois![FN#613] A new Magyar irruption would
do Europe much good."
In a letter to Mr. A. G. Ellis, dated 12th February, 1890, he refers
to the anecdote of the famous Taymor al Wahsh, who, according to a
Damascus tradition, played polo with the heads of his conquered
enemies. "Every guide book," he continues, "mentions my Lord Iron's
nickname 'The Wild Beast,' and possibly the legend was invented by
way of comment. He drove away all the Persian swordsmiths, and from
his day no 'Damascus blade' has been made at Damascus. I have found
these French colonies perfectly casual and futile. The men take
months before making up their minds to do anything. A most
profligate waste of time! My prime object in visiting Tunis was
to obtain information concerning The Scented Garden, to consult
MSS. &c. After a month's hard work I came upon only a single copy,
the merest compendium, lacking also Chapter 21, my chief Righah
(the absurd French R'irha) for a week or ten days [for the sake of
the baths] then return to Algiers, steam for Marseilles and return
to Trieste via the Riviera and Northern Italy--a route of which I am
dead sick. Let us hope that the untanned leather bindings have
spared you their malaria. You will not see me in England next
summer, but after March 1891, I shall be free as air to come and
go." At Hammam R'irha, Burton began in earnest his translation
of Catullus, and for weeks he was immersed in it night and day.
The whole of the journey was a pleasurable one, or would have been,
but for the cruelty with which animals were treated; and Burton,
who detested cruelty in all forms, and had an intense horror of
inflicting pain, vented his indignation over and over again against
the merciless camel and donkey drivers.
As the party were steaming from Algiers to Toulon, a curious
incident occurred. Burton and Dr. Baker having sauntered into the
smoke room seated themselves at a table opposite to an old man and
a young man who looked like, and turned out to be, an Oxford don.
Presently the don, addressing the old man, told him with dramatic
gesticulations the venerable story about Burton killing two Arabs
near Mecca, and he held out his hand as if he were firing a pistol.
Burton, who had long known that the tale was in circulation but had
never before heard anyone relate it as fact, here interrupted with,
"Excuse me, but what was the name of that traveller?"
"Captain Burton," replied the don, "now Sir Richard Burton."
"I am Burton," followed Sir Richard, "and I remember distinctly
every incident of that journey, but I can assure you I do not
remember shooting anybody."
At that, the don jumped up, thanked him for giving the story denial,
and expressed his happiness at being able to make the great
On March 26th (1890) a week after his return to Trieste,
Burton wrote to Mr. A. G. Ellis: "It is very kind and friendly of
you to write about The Scented Garden MSS. I really rejoice to hear
that you and Mr. Bendall have escaped alive from those ground floor
abominations stinking of half rotten leather. I know the two Paris
MSS. [of The Scented Garden] (one with its blundering name):
they are the merest abridgments, both compressing Chapter 21 of 500
pages (Arabic) into a few lines. I must now write to Gotha and
Copenhagen in order to find out if the copies there be in full.
Can you tell me what number of pages they contain? Salam to
Mr. Bendall, and best wishes to you both. You will see me in
England some time after March 19th 1891."
At no work that he had ever written did Sir Richard labour so
sedulously as at The Scented Garden. Although in feeble health and
sadly emaciated, he rose daily at half-past five, and slaved at it
almost incessantly till dusk, begrudging himself the hour or two
required for meals and exercise. The only luxury he allowed himself
while upon his laborious task was "a sip of whiskey," but so
engrossed was he with his work that he forgot even that. It was no
uncommon remark for Dr. Baker to make: "Sir Richard, you haven't
drunk your whiskey." One day, as he and Dr. Baker were walking in
the garden he stopped suddenly and said: "I have put my whole life
and all my life blood into that Scented Garden, and it is my great
hope that I shall live by it. It is the crown of my life."
"Has it ever occurred to you, Sir Richard," enquired Dr. Baker,
"that in the event of your death the manuscript might be burnt?
Indeed, I think it not improbable."
The old man turned to the speaker his worn face and sunken eyes and
said with excitement, "Do you think so? Then I will at once write
to Arbuthnot and tell him that in the event of my death the
manuscript is to be his."
He wrote the letter the same day. Arbuthnot duly received it,
and several letters seem to have passed between them on the subject;
but we do not know whether Lady Burton was aware of the arrangement.
All we can say is that Arbuthnot believed she knew all about it.
It seems to have been at this time that Lady Burton prevailed upon
her husband to range himself nominally among the Catholics.
"About a year before her death," Mr. T. Douglas Murray writes to me,
"Lady Burton showed me a paper of considerable length, all of it in
Sir R. Burton's writing and signed by himself, in which he declared
that he had lived and would die a Catholic, adhering to all the
rites and usages of the Church."[FN#615] Curiously enough,
while bringing forward all the evidence she could adduce to prove
that Burton was a Christian, Lady Burton makes no reference in her
book to this paper. Perhaps it was because Sir Richard continued to
gibe at the practices of her church just as much after his
"conversion" as before. However, it gratified her to know that if
he was not a good Catholic, he was, at any rate, the next best
thing--a Catholic. An intimate friend of Burton to whom I mentioned
this circumstance observed to me, "I am sure, that Burton never in
any way accepted the idea of a personal God; but, rather than be
perpetually importuned and worried, he may have pretended to give in
to Lady Burton, as one does to a troublesome child."
Lady Burton tells us that during the last few years of his life he
used to lock the outer doors of his house twice a day and then
engage in private prayer; on the other hand, friends of Burton who
knew him and were with him almost to the last have received this
statement with skepticism.
Lady Burton's happiness was further increased by the present of a
very beautiful oil painting representing the Virgin Mary, done by
Miss Emily Baker, Dr. Baker's sister. It was generally known by the
Burtons, from the colour of its drapery, as "the Blue
167. Visit of Arbuthnot, Last Letter to Mr. Payne, May 1890.
On May 11th Mr. Arbuthnot paid a second visit to Trieste, and the
pleasure that the vent gave to Sir Richard is reflected in a letter
to Mr. Payne written the same month. "At last!" he says, "Arbuthnot
has brought the volume [Payne's Alaeddin] and the MS. [Zotenberg's
MS. of Zayn al-Asnam which Burton had lent to Mr. Payne]." He then
goes on to say that he has kicked up "an awful shindy with the
Athenaeum Club," about something, just as if he had not been kicking
up awful shindies with all sorts of people ever since his schoolboy
days at Tours. "I am delighted," he goes on, "with the volume
[Payne's Alaeddin] and especially with the ascription,[FN#617] so
grateful in its friendly tone. I have read every word with the
utmost pleasure. We might agree to differ about Cazotte.[FN#618]
I think you are applying to 1750 the moralities of 1890.
Arbuthnot's visit has quite set me up, like a whiff of London in
the Pontine marshes of Trieste. He goes to-day, d---- the luck! but
leaves us hopes of meeting during the summer in Switzerland or
thereabouts. He is looking the picture of health and we shall
return him to town undamaged. Best of good fortune to
Burton and Arbuthnot had spent many a delightful hour sitting out on
Burton's verandah, smoking, listening to the nightingales,
and enjoying sea and landscape. It must not be supposed that erotic
literature was the only subject upon which they conversed, though as
hierarchs of the Kama Shastra Society they naturally bestowed upon
that and curious learning considerable attention. Religion was also
discussed, and Arbuthnot's opinions may be gathered from the
following citation from his unpublished Life of Balzac which is now
in my hands. "The great coming struggle of the 20th century,"
he says, "will be the war between Religion and Science. It will be
a war to the death, for if Science wins it will do away with the
personal God of the Jews, the Christians and the Muhammedans,
the childish doctrine or dogma of future rewards and punishments,
and everything connected with the supernatural. It will be shown
that Law reigns supreme. The police representing Law and Order will
be of more importance than the clergy. Even now we might do away
with the latter, everybody becoming his own priest--a great economy.
None of us knows what happens to us after death, all we can do is to
hope for the best, and follow the three great Laws, viz.,
1. Instruct your mind. 2. Preserve your health. 3. Moderate your
passions and desires." Thus spake the Founder of the Kama Shastra
On May 15th, Burton told Mr. Kirby all about the Algiers trip.
"Plenty to see and do," he says, "but I was not lucky about my MS.
The Scented Garden. No one seemed to know anything about it.
Never advise any one to winter in Algiers. All the settled English
are selling their villas. French mismanagement beats ours holler,
and their hate and jealousy of us makes their colonies penal
settlements to us. We stay here [at Trieste] till the weather
drives us away--about the end of June." The letter concludes with
kindly enquiries respecting Professor Bendall,[FN#620] Mr. A. G.
Ellis and Dr. Kirby (Mr. Kirby's son).
80. Priapeia. 1890.
168. The Priapeia.
The share that Sir Richard Burton had in the translation of the
Priapeia has been the subject of dispute; but we are able to state
positively that he was the author of the metrical portion. Indeed,
he made no secret of it among his intimates. For some reason or
other, however, he did not wish to have his name publicly associated
with it; so the following passage was inserted in the preface:
"The name of Sir Richard Burton has been inadvertently connected
with the present work. It is, however, only fair to state that
under the circumstances he distinctly disclaims having taken any
part in the issue." We have no other ground for the assumption,
but this passage seems to point to a quarrel of some kind.
It certainly does not alter the fact that every page bears evidence
of Burton's hand. The preface then goes on to say that "a complete
and literal translation of the works of Catullus, on the same lines
and in the same format as the present volume, is now in
preparation." A letter, however, written[FN#621] by Burton to
Mr. W. F. Kirby, sets the matter entirely at rest. "I am at
present," he says, "engaged in translating the Priapeia,
Latin verse, which has never appeared in English, French,
or German garb; it will have the merit of novelty."
The Priapeia, in its Latin form Priapeia sine Diversoreun poetarum
in Priapum Lusus, is a work that has long been well known to
scholars, and in the 16th and 17th centuries editions were common.
The translation under consideration is entitled "Priapeia, or the
Sportive Epigrams of divers Poets on Priapus: the Latin text now for
the first time Englished in verse and prose (the metrical version by
Outidanos) [Good for Nothing], with Introduction, Notes, Explanatory
and Illustrative and Excursus, by Neaniskos [a young man],"
whose name, we need hardly say, is no secret.
The image of Priapus, the god of fruitfulness, was generally a
grotesque figure made of rough wood painted red and carrying a
gardener's knife and a cornucopia. Placed in a garden it was
supposed to be a protection against thieves. "In the earliest
ages," observes the writer of the preface, "the worship of the
generative energy was of the most simple and artless character ...
the homage of man to the Supreme Power, the Author of Life. ...
Afterwards the cult became depraved. Religion became a pretext for
libertinism." Poets wrote facetious and salacious epigrams and
affixed them to the statues of the god--even the greatest writers
lending their pens to the "sport"--and eventually some nonentity
collected these scattered verses and made them into a book.
Everybody knows Catullus's contribution, which begins:
"A log of oak, some rustic's blade
Hewed out my shape; grotesquely made
I guard this spot by night and day,
Scare every vagrant knave away,
And save from theft and rapine's hand
My humble master's cot and land."
The chief complaint to be made against the writers of these verses
is that they so rarely strayed from their subject. The address
entitled "A Word to the Reader," is padded with citations from
Burton's Camoens and his Supplemental Nights, including the
well-known passage concerning his estimate of a translator's
office,[FN#622] and the whole work bears evidence of extreme haste.
We are assured that it will be "most interesting to anthropologists
169. Catullus and the Last Trip, July--September 1890.
Burton, as we have seen, had commenced his translation of Catullus,
18th February 1890, at Hammam R'irha. He finished the first rough
copy of Trieste March 31st, and commenced a second copy on May 23rd.
"He would bring his Latin Catullus," says Lady Burton, "down to the
table d'hote with him, and he used to come and sit by me, but the
moment he got a person on the other side who did not interest him he
used to whisper to me 'Talk, that I may do my Catullus.'"
"Sir Richard," says Mr. Leonard Smithers, upon whom had devolved the
task of making the prose translation that was to accompany it,
"laid great stress on the necessity of thoroughly annotating each
translation from an erotic and especially pederastic point of
On July 1st the Burtons, accompanied as usual by Dr. Baker, Lisa and
the magpie trunk, set out on what proved to be their last trip--
a journey through the Tyrol and Switzerland. They arrived at Zurich
just in time for "the great Schiefs-Statte fete, the most important
national function of Switzerland," which was held that year at the
neighbouring town of Frauenfeld. Seven thousand pounds had been set
aside for prizes for shooing, and forty thousand persons were
present. Next day there was a grand Consular dinner, to which
Burton was invited. Dr. Baker having expressed regret that he also
had not been included, Burton remarked, "Oh, I'll manage it.
Write a letter for me and decline." So a letter was written to the
effect that as Sir Richard Burton made it a rule not to go anywhere
without his medical attendant he was obliged to decline the honour,
&c., &c. Presently, as had been expected, came another invitation
with Dr. Baker's name added. Consequently they went, and a very
grand dinner it proved--lasting, by Lady Burton's computation,
six hours on end. At St. Mortiz-Kulm, and often after, they met
Canon Wenham of Mortlake, with whom both Sir Richard and Lady Burton
had long been on terms of friendship.
170. At Maloja, July 1890.
At Davos they found John Addington Symonds, and at Maloja
Mr. Francis R. S. Wyllie, Mr. and Mrs. (Sir and Lady) Squire
Bancroft, the Rev. Dr. Welldon and Mr. and Mrs. (Sir and Lady) Henry
Stanley. Mrs. Stanley, apparently at Lady Burton's suggestion,
took a sheet of paper and wrote on it, "I promise to put aside all
other literature, and, as soon as I return to Trieste, to write my
autobiography." Then doubling the paper she asked for Burton's
autograph; and her request having been complied with, she showed him
what he had put his hand to. The rest of the company signed as
For some days, though it was early autumn, the party was snow-bound,
and Burton relieved the wearisomeness of the occasion by relating
some of his adventures. Mrs. Bancroft told him many amusing stories
as they walked together in a sheltered covered way.
"He had interested me so greatly," writes Lady Bancroft to
me,[FN#624] "that I felt myself in his debt, and so tried by that
means to make it up to him. He laughed heartily at them. Indeed,
I never knew anyone who more enjoyed my stories. One morning early
I played a practical joke upon him. He politely raised his hat and
said: 'I will forgive you, dear friend, on one condition. Play the
same trick on Stanley when he comes down and I will watch.'
I agreed, and fortunately brought down my second bird. Both victims
forgave me. One day I posed the Burtons, the Stanleys, Captain
Mounteney Jephson (Stanley's friend and companion), with Salah
(Stanley's black servant) for a photograph, which was taken by a
young clergyman. I have the delightful result in my possession.
I remember on a splendid morning, when the weather had mended and
the sun was dancing over a neighbouring glacier, my husband saying
to the black boy, 'Salah, isn't this a lovely day--don't you like to
see the beautiful sun again?' 'No, sir,' was the answer, 'ice makes
him cold.' Both Stanley and Sir Richard interested me more than I
can say; they were wonderful personalities, and those were, indeed,
Almost every day during the trip Sir Richard brought the Catullus to
the table d'hote, and on 21st July he had finished his second copy.
He then wrote in the margin, "Work incomplete, but as soon as I
receive Mr. Smithers' prose, I will fill in the words I now leave in
stars, in order that we may not use the same expressions, and I will
then make a third, fair and complete copy."[FN#625] During this
trip, too, Burton very kindly revised the first half of Dr. Baker's
work The Model Republic. The second half was revised by John
Addington Symonds after Burton's death.
Burton was back again at Trieste on 7th September. He and the
magpie trunk were never again to make a journey together.
The melancholy fate of the Catullus, which Burton had put aside in
order that he might finish The Scented Garden, will be recorded in
a later chapter.
171. The Golden Ass.
Another work that Burton left unfinished was a translation of
The Golden Ass of Apuleius--a work known to Englishmen chiefly by
Bohn's edition,[FN#626] and the renderings of the episode of Cupid
and Psyche by Adlington and Walter Pater (in Marius the Epicurean).
The manuscript of Burton's translation is now in the possession of
M. Charles Carrington, the Paris publisher, who is arranging for its
completion by a competent hand. The portions due to Burton will,
of course, be indicated. These consist of "The Author's Intent,"
about two pages small 4to; nearly all the story of Cupid and Psyche;
and fragments of Books 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10 and 11.[FN#627]
On 30th September Burton wrote again to Mr. W. F. Kirby.
"Your collaboration," he says, "has been most valuable to me.
Your knowledge of Folk Lore is not only ample, it is collected and
controlled by the habit of accuracy which Science gives and which I
find in all your writings upon imaginative subjects. ... Let me hope
that new scenes will not cause you to forget old subjects,
and remind you of the infinite important fact that I am a subscriber
to the Kalevala."
Death of Sir Richard Burton
173. Death. 20th October 1890.
As we have seen, Burton had for some months shown signs of bodily
decay; and he now daily grew weaker. His eyes, though still fierce
and penetrating, were sunk into hollow cavities. His body was
emaciated, his hands were thin to transparency, his voice was
sometimes inarticulate, and he could hardly walk without support.
Still, there seemed no immediate cause for anxiety, and, as will be
seen from the following letter[FN#628] (15th October 1890) to
Mr. David MacRitchie, he was busy evolving new plans, including
a visit to Greece, to be made in the company of
Dr. Schliemann,[FN#629] the archaeologist. "In the spring of next
year (Inshallah!) there will be a total disruption of my Lares and
Penates. I shall be 'retired for age,' and leave Trieste for ever
with my mental eye upon a flat in London which can be locked up at
a moment's notice when the renter wants to go abroad. Meanwhile we
are off to Athens about mid-November. All luck to the [Gypsy]
Society." On the same day he wrote to Mr. W. F. Kirby: "Excuse
post-card. We have no secrets. Please don't forget to keep me
au courant of your movements in re Jan., &c. We shall not be in
London before early September 1891, I imagine, but then it will be
for good." Elsewhere he says, almost in the words of Ovid,
"My earnest wish is somehow to depart from these regions." He was
to depart, very soon, but in a manner little expected.
Sir Richard as we have noticed, would never say "Good-bye." It was
always "Au revoir." One day in this October Miss Letchford went to
see him with her little sister. It was tea-time, but Lady Burton
was in another room with a visitor. Never had he appeared so bright
or affectionate. He laughed and joked and teased the child and
would not let them go for two hours. At last he shook hands and
said, "Come and see me again very soon. I like you and your
sister.---Good-bye, Daisy." "I was so startled," comments Miss
Letchford, "by that 'Good-bye' that a shiver passed over me. I felt
at that moment that I should never see him again." Two days later
Mr. Albert Letchford called on Sir Richard, who seemed fairly well,
but he remarked "The good Switzerland did me ended this evening."
Dr. Baker, though himself just then a great sufferer from neuralgic
headache, watched with anxious solicitude over his patient. On the
last day of his life Sir Richard seemed better than usual, and all
the household remarked his excellent spirits. It was Sunday October
29th. After returning from mass and communion at eight in the
morning Lady Burton found him engaged upon the last page of the
twentieth chapter of The Scented Garden.[FN#630] The work was
therefore almost half done. She kissed him, and he said, "To-morrow
I shall have finished this, and then I will begin our biography."
She commented "What happiness that will be!" Her mind, however,
was not quite at ease that morning, for a bird had pecked for the
third time at a window that was never opened, and Sir Richard
remarked "This is a sign of death."
The day was fine, and after breakfast Burton took his usual two
hours' walk with Dr. Baker. On the way out through the garden he
noticed a robin drowning in the basin of a fountain.[FN#631] At his
request Dr. Baker rescued it, and Burton, opening his coat and
vest--for he never wore a waistcoat--warmed the bird at his breast,
and then carried it to the house to be cared for by the porter.
The incident carries us back to those old days at Tours, when,
as a boy, he often laid himself out to revive unfortunate birds
and small beasts. In the afternoon he wrote some letters and
discussed gaily the proposed visit to Greece. They dined at
half-past seven, and talked and laughed as usual, though Burton
seemed tired. As usual, too, he shocked his wife by jesting about
scapularies and other sacred things, but the conversation ran
chiefly on General Booth's scheme for relieving the Submerged Tenth;
and Burton, who entered into the subject with zest, observed:
"When you and I get to England and are quite free we will give our
spare time to that."[FN#632]
In the course of the day Mrs. Victoria Maylor came in with the
manuscript of The Scented Garden and the copy of it which she had
made for the printers,[FN#633] and from this we may deduce that
Sir Richard intended to go to press at once with the first twenty
chapters of the work. He may have intended to publish the
twenty-first chapter later as a second volume. At half-past nine
he retired to his bedroom. Lady Burton then repeated "the night
prayers to him," and while she was speaking "a dog," to use her own
words, "began that dreadful howl which the superstitious regard as
the harbinger of death."
After prayers, Burton asked for "chou-chou;" she game him a
paper-covered copy in two volumes of the Martyrdom of
Madeline[FN#634] by Robert Buchanan, and he lay in bed reading it.
At midnight he complained of pain in his foot, but said he believed
it was only a return of the gout--the "healthy gout," which troubled
him about every three months.
"Let me call Dr. Baker," said Lady Burton.
"No," replied Sir Richard, "don't disturb him poor fellow, he has
been in frightful pain with his head; and has at last got a little
At four, however, Lady Burton paid no heed to her husband's
remonstrances, but called up Dr. Baker, who, however, saw no cause
for alarm, and after administering some medicine he returned to bed.
Half an hour later Burton complained that there was no air, and
Lady Burton, again thoroughly alarmed, rose to call in Dr. Baker
Although Burton was then dying, he said, "Poor chap, don't disturb
But Lady Burton instantly summoned Dr. Baker, who on entering
pronounced the situation grave. Lady Burton at once roused the
servants and sent in all directions for a priest; while, assisted
by Dr. Baker and Lisa, she "tried every remedy and restorative,"
but in vain.
"Oh, Puss," cried Burton, "chloroform--ether--quick!"
"My darling," replied Lady Burton in anguish. "Dr. Baker says it
would kill you. He is doing everything possible."
His breathing then became laboured, and after a brief struggle for
air he cried, "I am dying, I am dead." Lady Burton held him in her
arms, but he got heavier, and presently became insensible. Dr Baker
applied an electric battery to the heart, and Lady Burton kneeling
at the bedside, and holding her husband's hand, prayed her "heart
out to God to keep his soul there (though he might be dead in
appearance) till the priest arrived." But it was in vain.
The priest, a Slavonian, named Pietro Martelani, came in about
half-past six. We may regret what followed, but no one would judge
harshly the actions of an agonised woman. Pity for human suffering
must drown all other feelings. The priest looked at the dead but
warm body and asked whether there was still any life. That the
heart and pulsed had ceased to beat, Lady Burton herself afterwards
admitted to her relations, but deceiving herself with the belief
that life still continued in the brain, she cried: "He is alive,
but I beseech you, lose not a moment, for the soul is passing away."
"If," said the Priest, "he is a Protestant, he cannot receive the
Holy Sacrament in this way."
Lady Burton having declared that her husband "had abjured the heresy
and belonged to the Catholic Church," the priest at once
administered "the last comforts."
It was certainly a kind of consolation to the poor lady to feel that
her husband had not departed unhouselled; but it is equally evident
that her mind had given way, for the scenes that presently followed
can be explained only on this assumption.[FN#635]
Dr. Baker at once sent a brief note to Mr. Letchford. Singularly
enough the night before--that is the terrible Sunday night--
Miss Daisy Letchford experienced "a strange instance of telepathy."
"My brother," she says, "had gone out, and I waited alone for him.
Suddenly I fancied I heard footsteps in the passage and stopping at
the door of the room where I was reading. I felt drops of cold
sweat on my forehead. I was afraid, yet I knew that no one was
about at that time of the night. The door opened slowly, and I felt
the impression of some one looking at me. I dared not raise my
eyes. The footsteps seemed to approach. In a fit of fear I looked
up and saw Sir Richard standing before me. He started, waved his
hand and disappeared. Early in the morning came a ring at the bell.
I jumped out of bed and burst into tears as I said, 'This is to tell
us that Sir Richard is dead.' At that moment the maid brought in
the letter for my brother from Dr. Baker. I ran with it into his
room. 'Albert, Albert,' I cried, 'Sir Richard is dead.' He opened
the letter. It was only too true."
The same morning, Mr. P. P. Cautley, the Vice Consul, was called up
to the house.
The undertaker, who was already there, asked in Mr. Cautley's
presence to what religion Sir Richard belonged.
Turning to Mr. Cautley, Lady Burton asked: "What religion shall
"Tell him Sir Richard's true religion," replied Mr. Cautley.[FN#636]
She then said, "Catholic."
"But!" interjected Mr. Cautley.
"YES," followed Lady Burton, "he was a Catholic."
Lady Burton still nursed the hope that Sir Richard was not quite
dead. There was life in the brain, she persisted in saying.
Would he revive? "For forty-eight hours," she tells us, "she knelt
watching him." She could not shed a tear. Then she "had the ulnar
nerve opened and strong electricity applied to make sure of his
Some months after, when her mind had regained its equilibrium,
she observed to Major St. George Burton.[FN#637] "To a Protestant,
Dick's reception into the Holy Church must seem meaningless and
void. He was dead before extreme unction was administered; and my
sole idea was to satisfy myself that he and I would be buried
according to the Catholic rites and lie together above ground in the
Catholic cemetery. He was not strictly received, for he was dead,
and the formula Si es capax, &c., saved the priest's face and
satisfied the church." When mortification began to set in,
the body, which was found to be covered with scars, the witnesses of
a hundred fights, was embalmed, laid out in uniform, and surrounded
with candles and wreaths. "He looked so sweet," says Lady Burton,
"such an adorable dignity, like a sleep."[FN#638] Behind the bed
still hung the great map of Africa. On his breast Lady Burton had
placed a crucifix, and he still wore the steel chain and the
"Blessed Virgin Medal," which she had given him just before the
Priests, pious persons, and children from the orphanage of
St. Joseph, in which Lady Burton had taken so much interest, watched
and prayed, recited the office for the dead, and sang hymns.
There were three distinct funerals at Trieste, and there was to be
another nine months onward in England. All that can be said is that
Lady Burton seemed to draw comfort from pageantry and ceremonial
that to most mourners would have been only a long-drawn agony.
The procession was a royal one. The coffin was covered with the
Union Jack, and behind it were borne on a cushion Burton's order and
medals. Then followed a carriage with a pyramid of wreaths,
and lastly, the children of St. Joseph's orphanage, a regiment of
infantry and the governor and officials of Trieste.
Every flag in the town was half-mast high, multitudes thronged the
streets, and every window and balcony was crowded. Every head was
uncovered. The procession wound its way from the Palazzo Gosleth
down the declivity into the city under a bright sun pouring down its
full beams, and so onward through the serried masses of spectators
to the cemetery. Writing to Lady Stisted,[FN#639] Lady Burton says,
"I did not have him buried, but had a private room in the cemetery
[a "chapelle ardente"] consecrated (with windows and doors on the
ground floor) above ground where I can go and sit with him every
day. He had three church services performed over him, and 1,100
masses said for the repose of his soul." "For the man," commented
the profane, "who, in his own words, 'protested against the whole
business,' perhaps 1,100 masses would not have been enough." In an
oration delivered in the Diet of Trieste, Dr. Cambon called him an
intrepid explorer, a gallant soldier, an honour to the town of
Trieste." The whole press of the world rang with his praises.
The noble tribute paid to his memory by Algernon C. Swinburne has
often been quoted:
"While England sees not her old praise dim,
While still her stars through the world's night swim,
A fame outshining her Raleigh's fame,
A light that lightens her loud sea's rim:
Shall shine and sound as her sons proclaim
The pride that kindles at Burton's name,
And joy shall exalt their pride to be
The same in birth if in soul the same."[FN#640]
"Our affairs," Lady Burton tells Lady Stisted, in a heartrending
letter,[FN#641] "are so numerous and we belonged to so many things
that I have not strength enough to get them carried out before eight
weeks, and I could not bear to arrive in Xmas holidays,
but immediately after they are over, early January, I shall arrive,
if I live, and pass through Folkestone on my way to Mortlake with
the dear remains to make a tomb there for us two; and you must let
me know whether you wish to see me or not.
"I wish to go into a convent for a spiritual retreat for fifteen
days, and after that I should like to live very quietly in a retired
way in London till God show me what I am to do or, as I hope,
will take me also; and this my belief that I shall go in a few
months is my only consolation. As to me, I do not know how anyone
can suffer so much and live. While all around me had to go to bed
ill, I have had a supernatural strength of soul and body, and have
never lost my head for one moment, but I cannot cry a tear.
My throat is closed, and I sometime cannot swallow. My heart
swelled to bursting. It must go snap soon, I think. I have not
forgotten you, and what it means to you who loved each other so
much. I shall save many little treasures for you. His and your
father's watch, &c. There are hundreds of telegrams and letters and
cards by every post from all parts of the world, and the newspapers
are full. The whole civilized world ringing with his praise,
and appreciative of his merits--every one deeming it an honour to
have known him. Now it will be felt what we have lost. I shall pass
the remainder of my short time in writing his life and you must
help me. Best love to dearest Georgy. I will write to her.
Your affectionate and desolate Isabel."
To Mr. Arbuthnot, Lady Burton also wrote a very long and pitiful
letter.[FN#642] As it records in other words much that has already
been mentioned we will quote only a few sentences.
"Dear Mr. Arbuthnot,
"Your sympathy and that of Mrs. Arbuthnot is very precious to me and
I answer you both in one. I cannot answer general letters, but you
were his best friend. I should like to tell you all if I saw you
but I have no heart to write it. ... I am arranging all his affairs
and when finished I bring him to England. ... I shall be a little
slow coming because I have so much to do with his books and MSS.,
and secondly because the rent is paid to the 24th February and I am
too poor to pay two places. Here I cannot separate from his body,
and there it will be in the earth. I am so thoroughly stunned that
I feel nothing outside, but my heart is crucified. I have lost all
in him. You will want to know my plans. When my work is done,
say 1st of March, I will go into a long retreat in a convent and
will offer myself to a Sister of Charity. I do not think I shall be
accepted for my age and infirmities, but will try. ... The world is
for me a dead letter, and can no more touch me. No more joy--
no further sorrow can affect me. Dr. Baker is so good to me,
and is undertaking my affairs himself as I really cannot care about
them now. Love to both. God bless you both for unvarying
friendship and kindness. Your affectionate and desolate friend,
"I have saved his gold watch-chain as a memorial for you."
So passed from human ken the great, noble and learned Richard
Francis Burton, "wader of the seas of knowledge," "cistern of
learning of our globe," "exalted above his age," "opener by his
books of night and day," "traveller by ship and foot and
horse."[FN#643] No man could have had a fuller life. Of all
travellers he was surely the most enthusiastic. What had he not
seen? The plains of the Indus, the slopes of the Blue Mountains,
the classic cities of Italy, the mephitic swamps of Eastern Africa,
the Nilotic cataracts, Brazil, Abeokuta, Iceland, El Dorado--all
knew well--him, his star-sapphire, and his congested church service:
lands fertile, barren, savage, civilized, utilitarian, dithyrambic.
He had worshipped at Mecca and at Salt Lake City. He had looked into
the face of Memnon, and upon the rocks of Midian, 'graven with an
iron pen,' upon the head waters of the Congo, and the foliate
columns of Palmyra; he had traversed the whole length of the Sao
Francisco, crossed the Mississippi and the Ganges. Then, too,
had not the Power of the Hills been upon him! With what eminence
indeed was he not familiar, whether Alp, Cameroon or Himalaya!
Nor did he despise the features of his native land. If he had
climbed the easy Andes, he had also conquered, and looked down from
the giddy heights of Hampstead. Because he had grubbed in the
Italian Pompeii he did not, on that account, despise the British
Uriconium.[FN#644] He ranks with the world's most intrepid
explorers--with Columbus, Cabot, Marco Polo, Da Gama and Stanley.
Like another famous traveller, he had been "in perils of waters,
in perils of robbers, in perils in the city, in perils in the
wilderness, in weariness and painfullness." In the words of his
beloved Camoens, he had done
"Deeds that deserve, like gods, a deathless name."[FN#645]
He had lived almost his three score and ten, but, says one of his
friends, "in the vigour, the vehemence indeed with which he vented
his indignation over any meanness or wrong, or littleness, he was to
the last as youthful as when he visited Mecca and Harar.
If, however, the work he did, the hardships he endured, and the
amazing amount of learning which he acquired and gave forth to the
world are to be taken as any measure of his life, he lived double
the term of most ordinary men." Like Ovid, for the parallelism
preserved itself to the end, he died in the land of his exile.
"It has been said of him that he was the greatest Oriental scholar
England ever had and neglected." He was a mighty writer of books--
some fifty works, to say nothing of multitudinous articles in the
journals of the learned societies, having proceeded from his pen.
If it be conceded that he was wanting in the literary faculty and
that no one of his books is entirely satisfactory, it should be
borne in mind that he added enormously to the sum of human
knowledge. We go to him, not for style, but for facts. Again,
if his books are not works of art, they contain, nevertheless,
many passages that cling to the memory. Take him as linguist,
traveller and anthropologist, he was certainly one of the greatest
men that modern England has produced.
20th October 1890-December 1890
The Fate of "The Scented Garden"
173. The Fate of The Scented Garden.
Burton wad dead. All that was mortal of him lay cold and motionless
in the chapelle ardente. But his spirit? The spirits of the
departed, can they revive us? The Roman poet Propertius answers:
"Yes; there are ghosts: death ends not all, I ween."
and Lady Burton was just as thoroughly imbued with that belief.
Hereby hangs a curious story, now to be told as regards its
essentials for the first time; and we may add that Lady Burton
particularly wished these essentials to be made public after
For sixteen days after her husband's death Lady Burton shut herself
up in the house in order to examine and classify his manuscripts,
pack up books, &c., ready for the journey to England, and "carry out
his instructions." To the goodness--the sweetness--of her character
we have several times paid tributes. We have spoken of the devotion
to her husband which surrounds her with a lambent glory; but we have
also shown that she was indiscreet, illiterate,[FN#647]
superstitious and impulsive; and that she was possessed of a
self-assurance that can only be described as colossal. We have also
shown that her mind was unhinged by her sad trouble. Such, then,
was the woman and such the condition of the woman upon whom devolved
the duty of considering the manuscripts of one of the most original
men of the 19th century. Which of them were valuable and which mere
lumber she was quite incapable of judging. Her right course would
have been to call in some competent person; but she thought she
At Lady Burton's request, Mr. Albert Letchford and Miss Letchford
had come to stay with her "for the remembrance of the love her
husband bore them." It fell to Miss Letchford to sort Sir Richard's
clothes and to remove the various trifles from his pockets.
She found, among other things, the little canvas bags containing
horse-chestnuts, which, as we have already noticed, he used
"to carry about with him against the Evil Eye--as a charm to keep
him from sickness."
Lady Burton now commenced with the manuscripts--and let it be
conceded, with the very best intentions. She would have nobody in
the room but Miss Letchford. "I helped Lady Burton to sort his
books, papers, and manuscripts," says Miss Letchford. "She thought
me too young and innocent to understand anything. She did not
suspect that often when she was not near I looked through and read
many of those MSS. which I bitterly repent not having taken, for in
that case the world would not have been deprived of many beautiful
and valuable writings. I remember a poem of his written in the
style of 'The House that Jack built,' the biting sarcasm of which,
the ironical finesse--is beyond anything I have ever read.
Many great people still living found their way into these verses.
I begged Lady Burton to keep it, but her peasant confessor said
'Destroy it,' so it was burnt along with a hundred other beautiful
things." She destroyed valuable papers,[FN#648] she carefully
preserved and docketed as priceless treasures mere waste
There now remained only the manuscript of The Scented Garden and
a few other papers. By this time Lady Burton had discovered that
Miss Letchford was "not so ignorant as she thought," and when the
latter begged her not to destroy The Scented Garden she promised
that it should be saved; and no doubt, she really intended to
save it. Miss Letchford having gone out for the evening,
Lady Burton returned again to her task. Her mind was still uneasy
about The Scented Garden, and she took out the manuscript to
examine it. Of the character of the work she had some idea,
though her husband had not allowed her to read it. Fifteen hundred
persons had promised subscriptions; and she had also received an
offer of six thousand guineas for it from a publisher.[FN#650]
She took out the manuscript and laid it on the floor, "two large
volumes worth."[FN#651] When she opened it she was perfectly
bewildered and horrified. The text alone would have staggered her,
but, as we have seen, Burton had trebled the size of the book with
notes of a certain character. Calming herself, she reflected that
the book was written only for scholars and mainly for Oriental
students, and that her husband "never wrote a thing from the impure
point of view. He dissected a passion from every point of view,
as a doctor may dissect a body, showing its source, its origin,
its evil, and its good."[FN#652]
Then she looked up, and there, before her, stood her husband just as
he had stood in the flesh. He pointed to the manuscript and said
"Burn it!" Then he disappeared.
As she had for years been a believer in spirits, the apparition did
not surprise her, and yet she was tremendously excited. "Burn it!"
she echoed, "the valuable manuscript? At which he laboured for so
many weary hours? Yet, doubtless, it would be wrong to preserve it.
Sin is the only rolling stone that gathers moss; what a gentleman,
a scholar, a man of the world may write, when living, he would see
very differently as a poor soul standing naked before its God, with
its good or evil deeds alone to answer for, and their consequences
visible to it from the first moment, rolling on to the end of time.
Oh, he would cry, for a friend on earth to stop and check them!
What would he care for the applause of fifteen hundred men now--
for the whole world's praise, and God offended? And yet the book is
for students only. Six thousand guineas, too, is a large sum, and I
have great need of it."
At this moment the apparition again stood before her, and in a
sterner and more authoritative voice said: "Burn it!" and then again
disappeared. In her excitement she scarcely knew where she was or
what she did. Still she hesitated. Then she soliloquised: "It is
his will, and what he wishes shall be done. He loved me and worked
for me. How am I going to reward him? In order that my wretched
body may be fed and warmed for a few miserable years, shall I let
his soul be left out in cold and darkness till the end of time--
till all the sins which may be committed on reading those writings
have been expiated, or passed away, perhaps, for ever? Nafzawi,
who was a pagan, begged pardon of God and prayed not to be cast into
hell fire for having written it, and implored his readers to pray
for him to Allah that he would have mercy on him."[FN#653]
Still she hesitated. "It was his magnum opus," she went on,
"his last work that he was so proud of, that was to have been
finished[FN#654] on the awful morrow that never came. If I burn it
the recollection will haunt me to my dying day," and again she
turned over the leaves.
Then for the third time Sir Richard stood before her. Again he
sternly bade her burn the manuscript, and, having added threatenings
to his command, he again disappeared.
By this time her excitement had passed away, and a holy joy
irradiated her soul. She took up the manuscript, and then
sorrowfully, reverently, and in fear and trembling, she burnt it
sheet after sheet, until the whole was consumed. As each leaf was
licked up by the fire, it seemed to her that "a fresh ray of light
and peace" transfused the soul of her beloved husband.
That such were the facts and that the appearance of her husband was
not mere hallucination, Lady Burton stiffly maintained until her
dying day. She told Mr. T. Douglas Murray[FN#655] that she dared
not mention the appearances of her husband in her letter to
The Morning Post[FN#656] or to her relatives for fear of ridicule.
Yet in the Life of her husband--almost the closing words--she does
give a hint to those who could understand. She says: "Do not be so
hard and prosaic as to suppose that our dead cannot, in rare
instances, come back and tell us how it is with them."[FN#657]
That evening, when Miss Letchford, after her return, entered
Sir Richard's room, she saw some papers still smouldering in the
grate. They were all that remained of The Scented Garden.
On noticing Miss Letchford's reproachful look, Lady Burton said,
"I wished his name to live for ever unsullied and without a stain."
174. Discrepancies in Lady Burton's Story.
Some have regarded this action of Lady Burton's--the destruction of
The Scented Garden manuscript--as "one of rare self-sacrifice
prompted by the highest religious motives and the tenderest love for
one whom she looked to meet again in heaven, to which her burnt
offering and fervent prayers might make his entrance sure." If the
burning of the MS. of The Scented Garden had been an isolated
action, we might have cheerfully endorsed the opinion just quoted,
but it was only one holocaust of a series. That Lady Burton had the
best of motives we have already admitted; but it is also very
evident that she gave the matter inadequate consideration.
The discrepancies in her account of the manuscript prove that at
most she could have turned over only three or four pages--
or half-a-dozen at the outside.[FN#658]
Let us notice these discrepancies:
(1) In her letter to the Morning Post (19th June 1891) she says of
The Scented Garden: "It was his magnum opus, his last work that he
was so proud of." Yet in the Life (ii., 243) she calls it the only
book he ever wrote that was not valuable to the world and in p. 445
of the same work she alludes to it "as a few chapters which were of
no particular value to the world." So it was at once the most
valuable book he ever wrote and also of no value whatever. (2) In
Volume ii. of the Life (p. 441) she says the only value in the book
at all consisted in his annotations, and there was no poetry.
This remark proves more than anything else how very superficial must
have been her examination of the manuscript, for even the garbled
edition of 1886 contains nearly 400 lines of verse, while that of
1904 probably contains over a thousand.[FN#659] For example, there
are twenty-three lines of the poet Abu Nowas's. (3) On page 444 of
the Life she says: "It was all translation except the annotations on
the Arabic work"--which gives the impression that the translation
was the great feature, and that the notes were of secondary
importance; but on p. 441 she says, "The only value in the book
at all consisted in the annotations." As a matter of fact,
the annotations amounted to three-quarters of the whole.
[See Chapter xxxiv.] (4) In the Life, page 410 (Vol. ii.), she says
the work was finished all but one page; and on page 444 that only 20
chapters were done. Yet she much have known that the whole work
consisted of 21 chapters, and that the 21st chapter was as large as
the other twenty put together, for her husband was always talking
about and trying to obtain an Arabic manuscript of this chapter
(See chapter 35).
All this, of course, proved indubitably that Lady Burton actually
knew next to nothing about the whole matter. Perhaps it will be
asked, What has been lost by this action of Lady Burton's?
After carefully weighing the pros and cons we have come to the
conclusion that the loss could not possibly have been a serious one.
That Burton placed a very high value on his work, that he considered
it his masterpiece, is incontrovertible, but he had formed in
earlier days just as high an opinion of his Camoens and his Kasidah;
therefore what he himself said about it has not necessarily any
great weight. We do not think the loss serious for four reasons:
First, because the original work, whatever its claims on the
anthropologist, has little, if any, literary merit;[FN#660]
secondly, because Sir Richard Burton's "old version"[FN#661]
of The Scented Garden is public property, and has been reprinted
at least three times; thirdly, because only half was done;
and fourthly, because the whole of the work has since been
translated by a writer who, whatever his qualifications or
disqualifications, has had access to manuscripts that were
inaccessible to Sir Richard Burton. Practically then, for, as we
have already shown, Sir Richard did not particularly shine as a
translator, nothing has been lost except his notes. These notes
seem to have been equivalent to about 600 pages of an ordinary crown
octavo book printed in long primer. Two-thirds of this matter was
probably of such a character that its loss cannot be deplored.
The remainder seems to have been really valuable and to have thrown
light on Arab life and manners. Although the translation was
destroyed in October 1890, the public were not informed of the
occurrence until June 1891--nine months after.
Copies of the Kama Shastra edition of The Scented Garden issued in
1886[FN#662] are not scarce. The edition of 1904, to which we have
several times referred, is founded chiefly on the Arabic Manuscript
in the Library at Algiers, which a few years ago was collated by
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