The Life of Sir Richard Burton, by Thomas Wright

Chapter XXVI

The Ananga Ranga or Lila Shastra


70. The Book of the Sword. 1884.

116. The Ananga Ranga.403

The title page of the second book, the Ananga Ranga, which was issued in 1885, was as follows:


(Stage of the Bodiless One)



(Ars Amoris Indica)

Translated from the Sanskrit

and annotated


A. F. F. and B. F. R.

Cosmopoli MDCCCLXXXV, for the Kama Shastra Society of London and

Benares, and for private circulation only.

Dedicated to that small portion of the British Public which takes

enlightened interest in studying the manners and customs of the

olden East.

We are told that this book was written about 1450 by the arch-poet Kalyana Mull,404 that lithographed copies have been printed by hundreds of thousands, that the book is in the hands of almost every one “throughout the nearer East,” and also that it is “an ethnological treasure, which tells us as much of Hindu human nature as The Thousand Nights and a Night of Arab manners and customs in the cinquecento.” In India the book is known as the Kama Shastra or Lila Shastra, the Scripture of Play or Amorous Sport. The author says quaintly, “It is true that no joy in the world of mortals can compare with that derived from the knowledge of the Creator. Second, however, and subordinate only to his are the satisfaction and pleasure arising from the possession of a beautiful woman.”

“From the days of Sotades and Ovid,” says the writer of the Preface, who is certainly Burton, “to our own time, Western authors have treated the subject either jocularly or with a tendency to hymn the joys of immorality, and the gospel of debauchery. The Indian author has taken the opposite view, and it is impossible not to admire the delicacy with which he has handled an exceedingly difficult theme. . . . .Feeling convinced that monogamy is a happier state than polygamy, he would save the married couple from the monotony and satiety which follow possession, by varying their pleasures in every conceivable way and by supplying them with the means of being psychically pure and physically pleasant to each other.”

There is a reference to this work in Burton’s Vikram and the Vampire, where we read:405 “As regards the neutral state, that poet was not happy in his ideas who sang,

‘Whene’er indifference appears, or scorn,

Then, man, despair! then, hapless lover, mourn!’

for a man versed in the Lila Shastra can soon turn a woman’s indifference into hate, which I have shown is as easily permuted to love.”

This curious book concludes: “May this treatise, Ananga Ranga, be beloved of man and woman, as long as the Holy River Ganges, springeth from Shiva with his wife Gauri on his left side; as long as Lakshmi loveth Vishnu; as long as Brahma is engaged in the study of the Vedas, and as long as the earth, the moon and the sun endure.”

The Kama Shastra Society also issued a translation of the first twenty chapters of The Scented Garden.406 In reality it was a translation of the French version of Liseux, but it was imperfect and had only a few notes. It has been repeatedly denied that Burton had anything to do with it. All we can say is that in a letter to Mr. A. G. Ellis of 8th May 1887, he distinctly calls it “my old version,”407 and he must mean that well-known edition of 1886, because all the other impressions are like it, except in respect to the title page.

403 Burton possessed copies of this work in Sanskrit, Mar’athi Guzrati, and Hindustani. He describes the last as “an unpaged 8vo. of 66 pages, including eight pages of most grotesque illustrations.” Burton’s A. N., x., 202; Lib. Ed., viii., 183.

404 Kullianmull.

405 Memorial Edition, p. 96.

406 The book has several times been reprinted. All copies, however, I believe, bear the date 1886. Some bear the imprint “Cosmopoli 1886.”

407 See Chapter xxxii. It may be remembered also that Burton as good as denied that he translated The Priapeia.

117. The Beharistan, 1887.

The Society now determined to issue unexpurgated editions of the three following great Persian classics:

The Gulistan or Rose Garden, by Sadi (A.D. 1258). The Nigaristan or Picture Gallery, by Jawini (A.D. 1334). The Beharistan or Abode of Spring, by Jami (A.D. 1487).

The first to appear was The Beharistan in 1887. Jami, the author, is best known in England on account of his melodious poems Salaman and Absal, so exquisitely rendered by Edward FitzGerald, and Ysuf and Zuleika (Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife), familiar to Englishmen mainly through Miss Costello’s fragrant adaptation.408 To quote from the Introduction of the translation of The Beharistan, which is written in Arbuthnot’s bald and hesitating style, “there is in this work very little indeed to be objected to. A few remarks or stories scattered here and there would have to be omitted in an edition printed for public use or for public sale. But on the whole the author breathes the noblest and purest sentiments, and illustrates his meanings by the most pleasing, respectable, and apposite tales, along with numerous extracts from the Koran.” The work consists of stories and verses — two or three of which will be found in our Appendix — pleasantly intermingled; but as Rehatsek, the translator, made no attempt to give the verses rhythmical form, only an inadequate idea is conveyed of the beauty of the original. It would require an Edward FitzGerald or a John Payne to do justice to Jami’s jewelled verses.

408 A portion of Miss Costello’s rendering is given in the lovely little volume “Persian Love Songs,” one of the Bibelots issued by Gay and Bird.

118. The Gulistan, 1888.

The Gulistan of Sadi,409 which was the next book issued, is best known in England from the translations by James Ross (1823) and Edward B. Eastwick (1852). Sadi’s aim was to make “a garden of roses whose leaves the rude hand of the blast of Autumn could not affect.”410 “The very brambles and rubbish of this book,” says an ancient enthusiastic admirer, “are of the nature of ambergris.” Men treasured the scraps of Sadi’s writing “as if they were gold leaf,” and The Gulistan has attained a popularity in the East “which has never been reached in this Western world.” The school-boy lisps his first lessons in it, the pundit quotes it, and hosts of its sayings have become proverbial. From end to end the “unity, the unapproachable majesty, the omnipotence, the long-suffering and the goodness of God” are nobly set forth — the burden of every chapter being:

“The world, my brother! will abide with none,

By the world’s Maker let thy heart be won.”

409 Byron calls Sadi the Persian Catullus, Hafiz the Persian Anacreon, Ferdousi the Persian Homer.

410 Eastwick, p. 13.

119. The Nigaristan.

The third of the great trio, Jawini’s Nigaristan, did not reach the press owing to Arbuthnot’s death. The manuscript, however, in Rehatsek’s hand-writing, is still in the possession of the Royal Asiatic Society, 22, Albermarle Street, and we trust to see it some day suitably edited and published. Arbuthnot, who contributes the preface, points out that it contains 534 stories in prose and verse, and that it abounds “in pure and noble sentiments, such as are to be found scattered throughout the Sacred Books of the East, the Old and New Testaments and the Koran.” A few citations from it will be found in our Appendix.

120. Letters to Payne, 19th January 1884.

On January 19th, Burton, after asking for the remaining volumes of Mr. Payne’s Nights, says “A friend here is reading them solemnly and with huge delight: he would be much disappointed to break off perforce half way. When do you think the 9 vols. will be finished? Marvellous weather here. I am suffering from only one thing, a want to be in Upper Egypt. And, of course, they won’t employ me. I have the reputation of ‘independent,’ a manner of ‘Oh! no, we never mention it, sir,’ in the official catalogue, and the one unpardonable Chinese Gordon has been sacked for being ‘eccentric,’ which Society abominates. England is now ruled by irresponsible clerks, mostly snobs. My misfortunes in life began with not being a Frenchman. I hope to be in London next Spring, and to have a talk with you about my translation of the 1001.”

All the early months of 1884, Burton was seriously ill, but in April he began to mend. He writes to Payne on the 17th: “I am just beginning to write a little and to hobble about (with a stick). A hard time since January 30th! Let me congratulate you on being at Vol. ix. Your translation is excellent and I am glad to see in Academy that you are working at Persian tales.411 Which are they? In my youth I read many of them. Now that your 1001 are so nearly finished I am working at my translation.” He then asks what arrangements Mr. Payne made with the publishers and the cost of the printing. “All I want,” he says, on April 27th, “is a guide in dealing with that dragon the publisher;” and in later letters he thanks Mr. Payne for answering his questions. On June 20th (1884) writing from Marienbad he says, “I should much like to know what you are doing with the three supplemental volumes, and I hope that each will refer readers to the source whence you borrow it. This will be a great aid to the students. The more I examine your translation the better I like it. Mine will never be so popular because I stick so much to the text.412 No arrangements yet make about it, and MS. will not be all ready till end of January. We (my wife and I) have enjoyed our ten days at Marienbad muchly, but the weather has as yet prevented bathing; a raw wester with wind and rain. Bad for poor people who can afford only the 21 days de rigueur. Cuthbert Bede (Rev. Edward Bradley) is here and my friend J. J. Aubertin is coming.”

411 Tales from the Arabic.

412 That is in following the Arabic jingles. Payne’s translation is in reality as true to the text as Burton’s.

121. At Sauerbrunn, 12th August 1884.

The next letter to Payne, written from Sauerbrunn, in Austria, is dated 12th August 1884. After enquiring concerning “the supererogatory three vols.” he says, “We left Marienbad last of last month, and came to this place (a very pretty little spa utterly clear of Britishers), where we shall stay till the end of the month and then again for Trieste to make plans for the winter. Will you kindly let me have the remaining volumes, and when you have a spare quarter of an hour I want a little assistance from you. When you sent me your Breslau you pencilled in each volume the places from which you had taken matter for translation (How wretchedly that Breslau is edited!) I want these notes scribbled out by way of saving time. Of course I shall have to read over the whole series; but meanwhile will content myself with your references. Have you the Arabian Nights published in Turkish by Mr. Clermont Ganneau? You will want it for the supererogatory. If you can’t get it I have it somewhere, and will look for it on return to Trieste. Have you a copy of Trebutien? Cotton, of Academy has just sent me Clouston’s Book of Sindibad413 for review. I thought it was our old friend the sailor, but find out my mistake. You will have no objection to my naming (in my review) your style in the 1001 as that he should have taken for a model.”

He writes again on September 9th (1884): “On return here I found Vol. ix., with the dedication which delighted me hugely. I did not notice your fine work in reviewing the Clouston treatise. I had not your express permission. Living so far from the world I am obliged to be very careful in these matters: one never knows what harm one may be doing unawares. Of course I shall speak of your translation in my preface, as it deserves to be spoken of. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to look over your proofs; in fact, I should be sorry not to do so. I have not yet found Ganneau’s Nights, but I hope to do so. My Turkish Edition was burnt many years ago in a fire at Grindlay’s; but you will easily find a copy. I suppose you read Turkish;414 and if you do not you will in three months; the literary style is a mass of Persian and Arabic. You must find out which is the best Turkish Edition. My copy had evidently been translated from a MS. very unlike the Calcutta and Bulak. . . . I have told Quartich to send you a cop of Camoens (Lyrics), which will be out in a few days.”

413 By W. A. Clouston, 8vo., Glasgow, 1884. Only 300 copies printed.

414 Mr. Payne understood Turkish.

122. Burton’s Circulars, September 1884.

By September 1884 the first volumes of Burton’s Arabian Nights were almost ready for print, and Burton asked himself how many copies would suffice the public. He was aware that 1,500 persons were disappointed of being able to obtain copies of Mr. Payne’s Edition, but it did not necessarily follow that all these 1,500 would subscribe to his. Finally he decided upon 1,000, and he had three circulars printed respecting the work.

The first began “Captain Burton, having neither agent nor publisher for his forthcoming Arabian Nights, requests that all subscribers will kindly send their names to him personally (Captain Burton, Trieste, Austria), when they will be entered in a book kept for the purpose.” It was then mentioned that there would be ten volumes at a guinea apiece,415 each to be paid for on delivery, that 1,000 copies would be printed, and that no cheaper edition would be issued. The second dealt with the advantages of the work to students of Arabic. The third consisted of an article welcoming the work from The Daily Tribune, New York, written by G. W. S(malley). Burton posted about 20,000 of these circulars at an expense of some £80, but received only 300 favourable replies. Lady Burton, in dismay, then wrote to Mr. Payne begging for advice. Several letters passed between them, and Mr. Payne sent her the names of the subscribers to his own book and lists of other likely persons. A second shower of circulars effected the desired purpose. Indeed it did far more, for the number of favourable replies ultimately rose to 2,000. But as we have seen, Burton had restricted himself to the issue of 1,000. So he found that he had made precisely the same mistake as Mr. Payne. However, it could not be remedied.

415 Copies now fetch from £30 to £40 each. The American reprint, of which we are told 1,000 copies were issued a few years ago, sells for about £20.

123. The Book of the Sword.

This year was published Burton’s The Book of the Sword, which he dedicated, appropriately, to the memory of his old friend Alfred Bates Richards, who had died in 1876. It is a history of the sword in all times and countries down to the Middle Ages,416 with numerous illustrations, the interest being mainly archaeological. Of “The Queen of Weapons” he ever spoke glowingly. “The best of calisthenics,” he says, “this energetic educator teaches the man to carry himself like a soldier. A compendium of gymnastics, it increases strength and activity, dexterity, and rapidity of movement. The foil is still the best training tool for the consensus of eye and hand, for the judgment of distance and opportunity, and, in fact, for the practice of combat. And thus swordsmanship engenders moral confidence and self-reliance, while it stimulates a habit of resource.”

416 He had intended to write two more volumes dealing with the later history of the weapon.

124. The Lyrics of Camoens, 1884.

This same year, too, he published his translation of the Lyrics of Camoens, in which, as will have been judged from the letters already quoted, he had been assisted by Mr. John Payne, who was also a Portuguese scholar and a lover of Camoens. “The learning and research of your work,” wrote Mr. A. C. Swinburne, in reference to Burton’s six Camoens volumes, “are in many points beyond all praise of mine, but not more notable than the strength and skill that wield them. I am hungrily anticipating the Arabian Nights.”

125. More Letters to Payne, 1st October 1884.

On October 1st 1884, Burton wrote to thank Mr. Payne for a splendid and complete set (specially bound) of his edition of the Nights. He says, “I am delighted with it, especially with the dedication.417 . . . To my horror Quaritch sent me a loose vol. of his last catalogue with a notice beginning, ‘The only absolutely true translation of the [Arabian Nights], &c.’ My wife telegraphed to him and followed with a letter ordering it not to be printed. All in vain. I notice this only to let you know that the impertinence is wholly against my will. Life in Trieste is not propitious to work as in the Baths; yet I get on tolerably. Egypt is becoming a comedy.” Then follows the amazing remark: “I expect to see Gordon (who is doubtless hand in hand with the Mahdi) sent down to offer to guide Wolseley up to Khartum.”

417 It is dedicated to Burton.

126. Death of Gordon, January 1885.

Burton little dreamt that the days of the heroic Englishman were numbered. Sent by the English Government to the Soudan, Gordon had been at Khartum hardly a month before it was invested by the Mahdi. The relief expedition arrived just two days too late. Gordon was slain! This was in January 1885. The shock to Burton was comparable only to that which he received by the death of Speke. In one of the illustrated papers there was a picture of Gordon lying in the desert with vultures hovering around. “Take it away!” said Burton. “I can’t bear to look at it. I have had to feel like that myself.”

127. W. F. Kirby, 25th March 1885.

Shortly after the announcement of his edition of the Nights, Burton received a letter from Mr. W. F. Kirby,418 better known as an entomologist, who had devoted much study to European editions of that work, a subject of which Burton knew but little. Mr. Kirby offered to supply a bibliographical essay which could be used as an appendix. Burton replied cordially, and this was the beginning of a very pleasant friendship. Mr. Kirby frequently corresponded with Burton, and they often met at Mr. Kirby’s house, the Natural History Museum, South Kensington, or the British Museum. Says Mr. Kirby: “At the British Museum, Burton seemed more inclined to talk than to work. I thought him weak in German419 and when I once asked him to help me with a Russian book, he was unable to do so.” Thus even a Burton has his limitations. “He told me,” continues Mr. Kirby, “that he once sat between Sir Henry Rawlinson and a man who had been Ambassador at St. Petersburg, and he spoke to one in Persian, and the other in Russian, but neither of them could understand him. I have never, however, been able to make up my mind whether the point of the story told against him or against them.420 Although Burton was a student of occult science, I could never lead him to talk about crystals or kindred subjects; and this gave me the idea that he was perhaps pledged to secrecy. Still, he related his experiences freely in print.” Oddly, enough, Burton used to call Mr. Kirby “Mr. Rigby,” and he never could break himself of the habit. “Apparently,” says Mr. Kirby, “he associated my name with that of his old opponent, Colonel, afterwards Major-General Rigby,421 Consul at Zanzibar.” In a letter of 25th March 1885, Burton asks Mr. Kirby to draw up “a full account of the known MSS. and most important European editions, both those which are copies of Galland and (especially) those which are not. It will be printed in my terminal essay with due acknowledgment of authorship.”422 On April 8th (1885) he says, “I don’t think my readers will want an exhaustive bibliography, but they will expect me to supply information which Mr. Payne did not deem necessary to do in his excellent Terminal Essay. By the by, I shall totally disagree with him about Harun al Rashid and the Barmecides,423 who were pestilent heretics and gave rise to the terrible religious trouble of the subsequent reigns. A tabular arrangement of the principal tales will be exceedingly useful.”

418 For outline of Mr. Kirby’s career, see Appendix.

419 Burton read German, but would never speak it. He said he hated the sound.

420 We cannot say. Burton was a fair Persian scholar, but he could not have known much Russian.

421 See Chapter ix.

422 This essay will be found in the 10th volume of Burton’s Arabian Nights, and in the eighth volume (p. 233) of the Library Edition.

423 Mr. Payne’s account of the destruction of the Barmecides is one of the finest of his prose passages. Burton pays several tributes to it. See Payne’s Arabian Nights, vol. ix.

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