The Life of Sir Richard Burton, by Thomas Wright

Chapter XVIII

12th May 1875-18th June 1876

The Trip to India

Bibliography:

51. The Port of Trieste.

52. The Gypsy. Written in 1875.

53. Etruscan Bologna. 1876.

54. New System of Sword Exercise for Infantry. 1876.

79. Visit to England, 12th May 1875.

On 8th December 1874, Burton sent his wife to England to arrange for the publication of various of his works, and in May 1875, having obtained leave, he followed her, arriving in London on the 12th. He took with him “a ton or so of books” in an enormous trunk painted one half black the other white — “the magpie chest” which henceforth always accompanied him on his travels. At the various stations in England there were lively scenes, the company demanding for luggage excess, and Burton vigorously protesting but finally paying. He then took the value out by reeling off a spirited address to the railway clerk, punctuated with expletives in twenty odd African or Asiatic languages, on the meanness of the clerk’s employers.

80. Tonic Bitters.

Always suffering from impecuniosity, the Burtons were perpetually revolving schemes for increasing their income. One was to put on the market a patent pick-me-up, good also for the liver, to be called, “Captain Burton’s Tonic Bitters,” the recipe of which had been “acquired from a Franciscan monk.” “Its object,” observed Burton facetiously, to a friend, “is to make John Bull eat more beef and drink more beer.” Mrs. Burton imagined naively that if it were put into a pretty bottle the demand would exceed the supply. They had hopes, too, for the Camoens, which had taken many years of close application and was now approaching completion. Still, it was argued that a Translation of Camoens, however well done, could not hope for the success of a well-advertised liver tonic, seeing that while most people have a liver, it is only here and there one who has a taste for Camoens. The tonic was placed on the market, but the scheme, like so many others, proved a fiasco. Nobody seemed to want to be picked up, and the indifference of a Christian nation to the state of its liver, was to Burton extremely painful. So he abandoned philanthropy, and took to lecturing before the Anthropological and other societies, dining out, and calling on old friends. One Sunday he visited the Zoo; but when he asked for a glass of beer at the refreshment bar, the girl declined to serve him because he was “not a bona-fide traveller!”

In 1875, Burton’s portrait, painted by the late Lord Leighton, was exhibited in the Academy; and on July 6th of the same year, Burton started off on a second trip to Iceland, which occupied him six weeks, but he and his wife did not meet again till October 6th. On December 4th (1875) they left London for the Continent. The morning was black as midnight. Over the thick snow hung a dense, murky fog, while “a dull red gleam just rendered the darkness visible.”

“It looks,” said Burton, “as if London were in mourning for some great national crime.”

To which Mrs. Burton replied, “Let us try to think, darling, that our country wears mourning for our departure into exile.”

On reaching Boulogne they sought out some of their old acquaintances, including M. Constantin, Burton’s fencing master. After a brief stay in Paris, they proceeded to Trieste, ate their Christmas dinner, and then set out for India, partly for pleasure and partly for the purpose of collecting information about the abandoned diamond mines of Golconda.

81. A Trip to India, December 1875, 18th June 1876.

The Suez Canal, which had been finished some five years previous, gave them much pleasure, and it was like living life over again to see the camels, the Bedawin in cloak and kuffiyyah, the women in blue garments, and to smell the pure air of the desert. On reaching Yambu, Burton enquired whether Sa’ad the robber chief, who had attacked the caravan in the journey to Mecca days, still lived; and was told that the dog long since made his last foray, and was now safe in Jehannum.284 They landed at Jiddah, where Burton was well received, although everyone knew the story of his journey to Mecca, and on rejoining their ship they found on board eight hundred pilgrims of a score of nationalities. Then a storm came on. The pilgrims howled with fright, and during the voyage twenty-three died of privation, vermin, hunger and thirst. Says Mrs. Burton:285 “They won’t ask, but if they see a kind face they speak with their eyes as an animal does.” At Aden Burton enquired after his old Harar companions. Shahrazad was still in Aden, the coquettish Dunyazad in Somaliland, the Kalandar had been murdered by the Isa tribe, and The End of Time had “died a natural death” — that is to say, somebody had struck a spear into him.286 Bombay was reached on February 2nd.

284 Hell.

285 A.E.I. (Arabia, Egypt, Indian).

286 Burton’s A. N., v., 304. Lib. Ed., vol. 4., p. 251.

82. Arbuthnot Again. Rehatsek.

The first person Burton called on was his old friend, Forster FitzGerald Arbuthnot, who now occupied there the important position of “Collector.” Arbuthnot, like other people, had got older, but his character had not changed a tittle. Business-like and shrewd, yet he continued to be kindly, and would go out of his way to do a philanthropic action, and without fuss of parade. A friend describes him as “a man of the world, but quite untainted by it.” He used to spend the winter in Bombay, and the summer in his charming bungalow at Bandora. In a previous chapter we referred to him as a Jehu. He now had a private coach and team — rather a wonder in that part of the world, and drove it himself. Of his skill with the ribbons he was always proud, and no man could have known more about horses. Some of the fruits of his experience may be seen in an article287 which he contributed to Baily’s Magazine (April 1883) in which he ranks driving with such accomplishments as drawing, painting and music. His interest in the languages and literatures of the East was as keen as ever, but though he had already collected material for several books he does not seem to have published anything prior to 1881. He took his friends out everywhere in his four-in-hand, and they saw to advantage some of the sights of Burton’s younger days. With the bungalow Mrs. Burton was in raptures. On the eve of the Tabut feast, she tells us, the Duke of Sutherland (formerly Lord Stafford) joined the party; and a number of boys dressed like tigers came and performed some native dancing with gestures of fighting and clawing one another, “which,” she adds oddly, “was exceedingly graceful.”

The principal event of this visit, however, was Burton’s introduction to that extraordinary and Diogenes-like scholar, Edward Rehatsek. Lady Burton does not even mention Rehatsek’s name, and cyclopaedias are silent concerning him; yet he was one of the most remarkable men of his time, and henceforward Burton was in constant communication with him. Born on 3rd July 1819, at Illack, in Austria, Edward Rehatsek was educated at Buda Pesth, and in 1847 proceeded to Bombay, where he settled down as Professor of Latin and mathematics at Wilson College. He retired from his professorship in 1871, and settled in a reed-built native house, not so very much bigger than his prototype’s tub, at Khetwadi. Though he had amassed money he kept no servants, but went every morning to the bazaar, and purchased his provisions, which he cooked with his own hand. He lived frugally, and his dress was mean and threadbare, nevertheless, this strange, austere, unpretentious man was one of the greatest linguists of his time. Not only could he speak most of the languages of the East, including Arabic and Persian, but he wrote good idiomatic English. To his translations, and his connection with the Kama Shastra Society, we shall refer later. He was visited in his humble home only by his principal friend, Mr. Arbuthnot, and a few others, including Hari Madhay Parangpe, editor of Native Opinion, to which he was a contributor. The conversation of Rehatsek, Burton, and Arbuthnot ran chiefly on Arbuthnot’s scheme for the revival of the Royal Asiatic Translation fund, and the translation of the more important Eastern works into English; but some years were to elapse before it took shape.

On February 4th, Burton wrote to his cousin, St. George Burton — addressing his letter, as he was continually on the move, from Trieste. He says:

“My Dear Cousin, “You need not call me ‘Captain Burton.’ I am very sorry that you missed Woolwich — and can only say, don’t miss the Line. I don’t think much of Holy Orders, however, chacun a son gout. Many thanks for the details about the will. Assist your mother in drawing up a list of the persons who are heirs, should the girl die without a will.288 Let ‘the party’ wash his hands as often as he pleases — cleanliness is next to godliness. As the heir to a baronetcy289 you would be worth ten times more than heir to an Esquireship — in snobby England. Write to me whenever you think that I can be of any service and let me be

“Yr. aff. cousin,

“R. F. Burton.”

287 About driving four horses.

288 I do not know to what this alludes.

289 See Chapter i.

83. In Sind.

From Bombay, the Burtons journeyed to Karachi, which had grown from 3,000 to 45,000290 and could now boast fine streets and noble houses. Here Burton regaled his eyes with the sights familiar to his youth; the walks he had taken with his bull-terrier, the tank or pond where he used to charioteer the “ghastly” crocodile,291 the spot where he had met the beautiful Persian, and the shops which had once been his own; while he recalled the old familiar figures of hook-nosed Sir Charles Napier, yellow-bearded Captain Scott, and gorgeously-accoutred General J-J-J-J-J-J-Jacob. His most amusing experience was with a Beloch chief, one Ibrahim Khan, on whom he called and whom he subsequently entertained at dinner spread in a tent.292 The guests, Sind fashion, prepared for the meal by getting drunk. He thoroughly enjoyed it, however, and, except that he made impressions with his thumb in the salt, upset his food on the tablecloth, and scratched his head with the corkscrew, behaved with noticeable propriety. Having transferred from the table to his pocket a wine-glass and some other little articles that took his fancy, he told his stock stories, including the account of his valour at the battle of Meeanee, where at imminent risk of his life, he ran away. Tea he had never before tasted, and on sampling a cup, he made a wry face. This, however, was because it was too strong, for having diluted it with an equal quantity of brandy, he drank it with relish.

After a visit to the battlefield of Meeanee293 the Burtons returned to Bombay in time for the feast of Muharram, and saw the Moslem miracle play representing the martyrdom and death of Hassan and Hossein, the sons of Ali. Then Mirza Ali Akbar, Burton’s old munshi, called on them. As his visiting card had been printed Mirza Ally Akbar, Burton enquired insultingly whether his old friend claimed kin with Ally Sloper. In explanation the Mirza said that the English were accustomed to spell his name so, and as he did not in the least mind what he was called, he had fallen in with the alteration.

290 Its population is now 80,000.

291 Sind Revisited, i., 82.

292 See Sind Revisited, vol. ii., pp. 109 to 149.

293 Where Napier with 2,800 men defeated 22,000.

84. Golconda.

On February 21st the Burtons left Bombay and journeyed by way of Poona to Hyderabad, where they were hospitably entreated by Major Nevill, the Commander-in-Chief of the Nizam’s troops, and Sir Salar Jung, the Prime Minister. They rode through the town on elephants, saw the Nizam’s palace, which was “a mile long and covered with delicate tracery,” an ostrich race, an assault-at-arms, and fights between cocks and other creatures. At “Hyderabad,” says Mrs. Burton, “they fight every kind of animal.” “A nautch,” which Sir Salah gave in their honour, Mrs. Burton found tame, for the girls did nothing but eat sweetmeats and occasionally run forward and twirl round for a moment with a half-bold, semi-conscious look.294

Then followed the visit to Golconda and its tombs of wax-like Jaypur marble, with their arabesqued cupolas and lacery in stone. Here Burton accumulated a good deal of miscellaneous information about diamond mining, and came to the conclusion that the industry in India generally, and especially in Golconda, had been prematurely abandoned; and endeavoured by means of letters to the press and in other ways to enlist the sympathies of the British capitalists. But everything that he wrote on the subject, as on kindred subjects, has a distinctly quixotic ring, and we fear he would not have been a very substantial pillar for the British capitalist to lean against. He was always, in such matters, the theorist rather than the practical man — in other words, the true son of his own father.

The Burtons then returned to Bombay, which they reached in time to take part in the celebrations in honour of the Prince of Wales, who had just finished his Indian tour. Honouring the Guebres — the grand old Guebres, as he used to call them — and their modern representatives, the Parsees, Burton paid a visit to the Parsee “burying place” — the high tower where the dead are left to be picked by vultures, and then he and his wife left for Goa, where they enjoyed the hospitality and company of Dr. Gerson Da Cunha,295 the Camoens student and enthusiast.

Mrs. Burton was as disgusted with Goa as she had been charmed with Dr. Da Cunha. She says, “Of all the God-forgotten, deserted holes, one thousand years behind the rest of creation, I have never seen anything equal it.” They left India at the end of April, and were back again at Trieste on June 18th.

294 Romance of Isabel Lady Burton, ii., 584.

295 Dr. Da Cunha, who was educated at Panjim, spent several years in England, and qualified at the Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons. He built up a large practice in Goa.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:36