Sunday, 1 May 2011

Sir Richard Burton: Explorer, Linguist, old-time Badass.

I've had a change of plan. The post I drafted earlier for this week has been post-poned, and instead I present you with a short compilation of a fascinating chap:

Sir Richard Burton.

Pre-read PS: Sorry it's so long. This'll be one of the last long-writey one's I promise, I'm meaning to get them to be snippets and bullet points! It's worth it though, this guy is pure bad-ass.

Inspiration: I've been staying with parents for the past week, and I was just absent mindedly watching a Sinbad movie on the TV. My dad suddenly chirps up and starts tell me about Richard Burton who originally translated and published the entirety of The Arabian Nights, the volumes that Sinbad was based upon. And so, with a little verification via my good friend google, I pass these facts onto you.

Capt. Sir Richard Francis Burton was a British explorer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer and diplomat.

He was an enthusiastic linguist and according to many accounts could speak around 30 languages, including all European languages, Arabic and many dialects, and a few Asian languages. In fact, he was so keen that while in the Army and stationed in India he became a proficient speaker of Hindustani, Gujarati, Punjabi, Sindhi and Marathi as well as Persian and Arabic, and also kept a large menagerie of tame monkeys in the hopes of learning their language.

"Fit for nothing but to be shot at for six pence a day"
Burton remarking upon enlisting in the East India Trading Company Army

Burton had an intense understanding of cultures, language and behaviour, all of which were put to use when he decided to start travelling disguised as a Muslim. In 1853 he successfully attempted (and succeeded) a Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca, travelling with a group of Muslims who were all fooled by his disguise. A remarkable feat considering the meticulous religious proceedings that must have been undertaken at the time. (A nod to his dedication: he was circumcised in order to lower the risk of being discovered.)

He also explored and surveyed many of the Great African Lakes, including finding the source of the River Nile.

Burton wasn't one to follow rules, and often did things in his own manner. While attending Trinity College in Oxford he directly defied college rules and attended a Steeplechase, upon return even daring to tell authorities they should allow students to attend to such events. The result of this was expulsion, and upon leaving the college Burton trampled the flower beds of Trinity College using the horse and carriage taking him away. Another example was while posted as consul in Damascus, he made many enemies. There was turmoil at the time with considerable tensions between the Christian, Jewish and Muslim populations, and while he did his best to keep the peace, his direct and individual nature often lead him to trouble. On one occasion, he claims to have escaped an attack by hundreds of armed horsemen and camel riders sent by Mohammed Rashid Pasha, the Governor of Syria.

"I have never been so flattered in my life than to think it would take three hundred men to kill me."
Burton writing about the attack sent by Mohammed Rashid Pasha

Further to his anti-authority stance, Burton was very open about sexuality. He wrote many books considered to be pornographic at the time, and got into even more trouble when he decided to publish an English translation of the Karma Sutra.

"Sir, I'm proud to say I have committed every sin in the Decalogue."
Burton when being questioned by a Priest.

These are just some snippets of what Burton accomplished in his life. He's an incredibly interesting fellow, and I highly encourage a quick read further. However, this will probably be the only person I do for a while, I much prefer to bring enlightenment to general, everyday things you might not have thought about before.

Hope you enjoyed, until next time.