Prince of Polyhistoria
October 20, 2007 5:17 PM   Subscribe

Hajji Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton was a bit of a character.

Richard Francis Burton aka Sheikh Abdallah | White Nigger | Ruffian Dick | Bashi-Bazouk | Badawi | Tasáwwuf | Um-Janavar | Earthly Master | Jemmy was a Ydgrun-baiting, Hulihee-twirling, monkeytalking hyperglot who founded the Anthropological Society of London (now here) and the KSS, introduced 'safari' into English, got speared in the jaw and wrote about it, pottered around Africahu, tried removing that 'huge white blot' from the maps of central Arabia, walked to Harar, took some trains, mined gold, proposed to Isabel Arundell who would later burn his manuscripts, spoke slavescroll way down to Gordon, and hanged out with the likes of Swinburne, Digby, al Qadir and Arbuthnot; Brigham Young, Ouida, Morgan Stanley and Speke.

A timeline.

His life and eighty odd books have influenced quite a few things, people and some biographies.

Personal favorites: dreams in Chapter Eight of TPG, 'bugs in ear' and some goth that terrified mereg reqd as a kid.

The captain died exactly a 117 years ago. RIP, RFB.
posted by sushiwiththejury (23 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Wow. Dense, and oddly formatted - kinda like the subject.
posted by dash_slot- at 5:31 PM on October 20, 2007

Burton is one of the most fascinating figures of that era. He's a proto-Indiana Jones with a sex addiction. Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah is an amazing read.
posted by gwint at 5:52 PM on October 20, 2007

Also, the star of To Their Scattered Bodies Go, by Phillip Jose Farmer, the best of the Riverworld series.
posted by klangklangston at 5:55 PM on October 20, 2007

Many's the idle moment I've spent wondering about the overlap, if any, between the PJF Riverworld Burton and his historical traces IRL. Thanks, sushiwiththejury; you've given me the means to scratch that itch.
posted by mwhybark at 5:59 PM on October 20, 2007

Riverworld was where I first encountered Burton... He's really fascinating. My Dad has a first edition of Burton's translation of The Arabian Nights, and I used to read the many volumes of it as a kid. He was of his time, and definitely a kind of proto Indiana Jones, but was also made possible by English colonization.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, however, he seemed to actually want to know and understand the other people of the world, not merely conquer them.
posted by MythMaker at 6:31 PM on October 20, 2007

His Book of the Sword was the most heavily researched, footnoted and racist history book I've ever read. Too bad he never got beyond the first volume. I can only imagine his take on Chinese and Japanese swords and swordsmanship.
posted by tommasz at 7:36 PM on October 20, 2007

Wasn't he the first to translate The Thousand and One Nights into English? Aladdin, Ali Baba, Sinbad...
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:46 PM on October 20, 2007

I first came across Burton in this fiendishly esoteric newspaper trivia-column* written by this wry Kolkatan (?)
* i wish i remembered the name.
posted by sushiwiththejury at 8:40 PM on October 20, 2007

Was anyone else hoping for at least one wikipedia link as a summary?

And damn was that 'White Nigger' link bigoted.
posted by KingoftheWhales at 8:41 PM on October 20, 2007

I feel like a good number of these links could have been left out. Some of these are interesting, but two random images and a picture drawn by an elementary school student didn't need to be there. More links doesn't make the post better.

But still, he does seem like a pretty cool guy with a pretty amazing life.
posted by KingoftheWhales at 8:55 PM on October 20, 2007

He's one of my heroes. The more I read about him, the more impressed I am. Most of the time I just think "my God, how can a person have so much energy?" It's at once inspiring and tiring. He's like Lawrence of Arabia on steroids.
posted by strangeguitars at 10:39 PM on October 20, 2007

Steven C. Den Beste writes "Wasn't he the first to translate The Thousand and One Nights into English?"

The Kama Sutra, too.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:43 PM on October 20, 2007

Richard Francis Burton is the manliest motherfucker in history.

All Chuck Norris jokes need to be reformatted accordingly.
posted by dgaicun at 12:27 AM on October 21, 2007

Steven C. Den Beste: Wasn't he the first to translate The Thousand and One Nights into English? Aladdin, Ali Baba, Sinbad...

No, there were at least one French and one English translation before Burton. J.L. Borges has an excellent essay on the subject in Historia de la eternidad.
posted by the number 17 at 12:40 AM on October 21, 2007

read the richard burton biography in egypt en route to ethiopia. harar, no less. fascinating guy. look forward to reading this post.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:24 AM on October 21, 2007

first post! nice one, too. welcome, sushiwiththejury!

("reading this post" = following the links after the great big political debate)
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:28 AM on October 21, 2007

I first read about Sir Richard Burton in the book narrating what happened to him after his resurrection : Riverworld. I thought he was cool.
posted by nicolin at 4:07 AM on October 21, 2007

Did anyone watch the very bad SciFi Channel miniseries made from the Riverworld books? I couldn't make it through the first episode, and don't even remember if they bothered to have Twain, Burton, and all in it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:36 AM on October 21, 2007

And to cap it all he rests in this extraordinary tomb in Mortlake, london.
posted by Dr.Pill at 6:50 AM on October 21, 2007

Richard Francis Burton is the manliest motherfucker in history.

Agreed. But the high command was rumored to doubt the particulars of his manhood after his detailed insider report of a boy brothel in what is now Pakistan, since lost. Arguably he pioneered the field of anthropology, but his superiors had no reference for this.
posted by Brian B. at 11:44 AM on October 21, 2007

He also had a fantastic habit of measuring tallywhackers wherever his wanton wanderlust led him. Burton was an awesome man whose language skills would put even mr languagehat into sharp shock. Plus he happened to be known as "Ruffian Dick" to all and sundry in popular society and that's not a nickname to be sniffed at.
posted by longbaugh at 5:59 AM on October 22, 2007

...political censorship was largely in deference to the Jews, who had been recently "emancipated" from their "civil disabilities" in England, and had launched full-bore into their destruction of White society in Britain while Burton was still quite young. This destruction proceeded along the same lines as in other countries -- "lawyers" to pervert the legal system, "professors" to get into positions of academia, then spend the rest of their lives in safe, cozy chambers re-writing the history books to distort the White Man's sense of himself, "doctors" to promote abortion and circumcision, etc. etc. (from the 'white nigger' link)

WTF? From the 'suppressed' appendix to The Jews, which of course the author hasn't seen.

Interesting post, though - thanks!
posted by goo at 9:16 AM on October 22, 2007

Count me also fascinated by Burton. I personally love that he'd keep slips of paper with vocab in his pockets, finding time to continually learn languages while moving from place to place.

This reminds me to finish reading The Devil Drives. It's been on my bookshelf for over a year now.

Excellent anecdote from his trip thru Utah:

Waving his right hand towards the vastness of the great Salt Lake, Burton exclaimed, with gravity:
“Water, water, everywhere”
and then waving his left towards the city, he added, pathetically:
“But not a drop to drink.”

posted by Busithoth at 10:46 AM on October 27, 2007

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