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The Life of Sir Richard Burton   By: (1859-1936)

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By Thomas Wright

Author of "The Life of Edward Fitzgerald," etc.

2 Volumes in 1

This Work is Dedicated to Sir Richard Burton's Kinsman And Friend, Major St. George Richard Burton, The Black Watch.


Fifteen years have elapsed since the death of Sir Richard Burton and twelve since the appearance of the biography of Lady Burton. A deeply pathetic interest attaches itself to that book. Lady Burton was stricken down with an incurable disease. Death with its icy breath hung over her as her pen flew along the paper, and the questions constantly on her lips were "Shall I live to complete my task? Shall I live to tell the world how great and noble a man my husband was, and to refute the calumnies that his enemies have so industriously circulated?" She did complete it in a sense, for the work duly appeared; but no one recognised more clearly than herself its numerous shortcomings. Indeed, it is little better than a huge scrap book filled with newspaper cuttings and citations from Sir Richard's and other books, hurriedly selected and even more hurriedly pieced together. It gives the impressions of Lady Burton alone, for those of Sir Richard's friends are ignored so we see Burton from only one point of view. Amazing to say, it does not contain a single original anecdote [1] though perhaps, more amusing anecdotes could be told of Burton than of any other modern Englishman. It will be my duty to rectify Lady Burton's mistakes and mis statements and to fill up the vast hiatuses that she has left. Although it will be necessary to subject her to criticism, I shall endeavour at the same time to keep constantly in mind the queenliness and beauty of her character, her almost unexampled devotion to her husband, and her anxiety that everyone should think well of him. Her faults were all of the head. Of the heart she had absolutely none.

As the Richard Burton whom I have to pourtray differs considerably from Lady Burton's "Earthly God," [2] I have been very careful to give chapter and verse for all my statements. The work has been written on the same lines as my Life of Edward FitzGerald; that is to say, without any aim except to arrive at the precise truth. But although I have regarded it as no concern of mine whether any particular fact tells for or against Sir Richard Burton, I do think that when the reader rises from the last page he will feel that he has been in the company not only of one of the greatest, noblest and most fearless of Englishmen, but also of one who, without making much profession of doing so, really loved his fellow men, and who, despite his inability to put himself in line with religionists, fought steadily on the side of righteousness. We are aware that there are in his books a few observations which call for vehement and unqualified denunciation; but against them must be placed the fundamental goodness of the man, to which all who knew him intimately have testified. In not a few respects Sir Richard Burton's character resembled Edward FitzGerald's. Burton, indeed, hailed the adapter of Omar Khayyam as a "fellow Sufi."

Lady Burton, too, comes extremely well out of the fire of criticism. The reader may object to her religious views, he may smile at her weaknesses, he may lament her indiscretions, but he will recognise that at bottom she was a God fearing, noble minded woman; and he will, we think, find himself really in love with her almost before knowing it.

The amount of absolutely new information in this work is very large. Thus we are telling for the first time the history of Burton's friendships with Mr. F. F. Arbuthnot, Mr. John Payne, and others; and we are giving for the first time, too, a complete and accurate history of the translation of The Arabian Nights, The Scented Garden, and other works. Hundreds of new facts are recorded respecting these and other absorbing topics, while the citations from the unpublished letters of Burton and Lady Burton will, we are sure, receive a welcome... Continue reading book >>

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