The Life of Sir Richard Burton, by Thomas Wright

Chapter XXXIX

January 1891 to July 1891

Lady Burton in England

Bibliography (Posthumous works):

81. Morocco and the Moors, by Henry Leared, edited by Burton. 1891.

82. Il Pentamerone, published 1893.

83. The Kasidah (100 copies only). 1894.

[Note. — In 1900 an edition of 250 copies appeared].

177. Lady Burton in England.

By the new year Lady Burton had completed all her arrangements. The swarms of servants and parasites which her good nature had attracted to her had been paid, or thrown, off; and the books and the mutilated manuscripts packed up. Every day she had visited her “beloved in the chapelle ardente.” “I never rested,” she says, “and it was a life of torture. I used to wake at four, the hour he was taken ill, and go through all the horrors of his three hours’ illness until seven.”

On January 20th, Burton’s remains were taken to England by the steamer “Palmyra.” Lady Burton then walked round and round to every room, recalling all her life in that happy home and all the painful events that had so recently taken place. She gazed pensively and sadly at the beautiful views from the windows and went “into every nook and cranny of the garden.” The very walls seemed to mourn with her.

On arriving in England on February 9th her first concern was to call on Lady Stisted and Miss Stisted, in order to “acquaint them with the circumstances of her husband’s death and her intentions.” The meeting was a painful one both to them and to her. They plainly expressed their disapproval of the scenes that had been enacted in the death chamber and at the funerals at Trieste; and they declared that as Protestants they could not countenance any additional ceremonial of a like nature. Lady Burton next visited Ilkeston, in Derbyshire, where she had implored “Our Lady of Dale” to bring about her husband’s conversion. Entering the Catholic Church there, she knelt before the altar and cried “Here I asked! Here I obtained! Our Lady of Dale, deliver his soul from Purgatory!”671

Burton’s remains arrived — by “long sea” — in England on February 12th (1891) and were placed temporarily in the crypt of the Catholic Church at Mortlake; and Lady Burton then devoted the whole of her time to arranging for a public funeral in England.

To Mrs. E. J. Burton she wrote (23rd March 1891): “You must have thought me so ungrateful for not answering your sweet letter of five months ago, but, indeed, I have felt it deeply. Losing the man who had been my earthly God for thirty-five years, was like a blow on the head, and for a long time I was completely stunned.”672

671 In the church may still be seen a photograph of Sir Richard Burton taken after death, and the words quoted, in Lady Burton’s handwriting, below. She hoped one day to build a church at Ilkeston to be dedicated to our Lady of Dale. But the intention was never carried out. See Chapter xxxi.

672 See Chapter xxxvii, 172.

178. The Funeral at Mortlake, 15th June 1891.

The sum of £700 having been raised by Burton’s admirers, a mausoleum, made of dark Forest of Dean stone and white Carrara marble, and shaped like an Arab tent, was erected in the Catholic Cemetery at Mortlake. Over the door is an open book inscribed with the names of Sir Richard and Lady Burton, and below the book runs a ribbon with the words “This monument is erected to his memory by his loving countrymen.” Among those present at the funeral were Major St. George Burton, Dr. E. J. Burton, Mr. Mostyn Pryce, Lord Arundell, Mr. Gerald Arundell, Lord Gerard, Lord Northbrook, Mr. Van Zeller, Dr. Baker, Dr. Leslie, Mr. F. F. Arbuthnot, Commander Cameron, and Mr. Justin Huntley McCarthy; and Canon Wenham officiated.

The coffin was laid in the middle of the church upon trestles, which were covered by “a cramoisie velvet pall.” Tall silver candlesticks with wax candles surrounded it. An unseen choir sang solemn chants. Lady Burton, “a pathetic picture of prayerful sorrow,” occupied a prie-dieu at the coffin’s side. When the procession filed out priests perfumed the coffin with incense and sprinkled it with holy water, acolytes bore aloft their flambeaux, and the choir, now seen to be robed in black, sang epicedial hymns. The service had all been conducted in Latin, but at this point Canon Wenham, turning to the coffin, said in English, “with a smile and a voice full of emotion,673 ‘Enter now into Paradise.’”

Lady Burton then laid on the coffin a bunch of forget-me-nots, and said, “Here lies the best husband that ever lived, the best son, the best brother, and the truest staunchest friend.”

The bystanders were moved according to their temperaments and religious views, but all were touched by the tempestuousness of Lady Burton’s grief. She seemed as “one of the Eumenides.” To some the pomp and scenic effects were gratifying. Others were affected by the reflection that the great traveller, after roaming through almost every known land, had at last been laid in a quiet nook in an English graveyard. Others who were familiar with Burton’s religious views considered “the whole ceremony an impertinence.” All, however, whatever their opinions, were united in the desire to honour the great Englishman whose motto had been “Honour not Honours.” So at last, after four funerals, Sir Richard Burton was left in peace.

The interior of the tomb remains much as it did on that day. Facing the entrance is an altar with pictures, vases and the other customary appurtenances. Sir Richard’s sarcophagus lies to one’s left, and on the right has since been placed the coffin of Lady Burton, while over all hang ropes of camel bells, which when struck give out the old metallic sound that Sir Richard heard so often in the desert.

The ceremony over, Lady Burton went to spend ten days in the convent of the canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre at Chelmsford — “my convent,” as she called it, because she was educated there. She then hired longing at No. 5, Baker Street, London, until a house — No. 67 — in the same street could be made ready for her. By the kindness of Queen Victoria she was allowed a pension of £150 a year.

673 It must be remembered that Canon Wenham had been a personal friend of both Sir Richard and Lady Burton. See Chapter xxxvi., 169.

179. The Scented Garden Storm, June 1891.

In the meantime, the fifteen hundred subscribers to The Scented Garden kept writing to Lady Burton to ask when the promised work was to be in their hands. As she could not possibly reply to so many persons, and as the nature of some of the letters cast her into a state of wild perturbation, there seemed only one course open to her — namely, to write to the press. So she sent to The Morning Post the well-known letter which appeared 19th June, 1891, mentioning some of her reasons for destroying the manuscript, the principal being her belief that out of fifteen hundred men, fifteen would probably read it in the spirit of science in which it was written, the other fourteen hundred and eighty-five would read it “for filth’s sake.” The principal cause, the apparition of her husband, she did not mention.674

The letter in The Morning Post had no sooner appeared than a cry arose against her from one end of the country to the other. The Press castigated her, private persons expressed their indignation by post. Burton’s family in particular bitterly resented what they considered a “foolish, mad act, insulting alike to the dead and the living.”

Lady Burton then wrote a second letter, which she sent to The Echo. She said that if Burton had lived “he would have been perfectly justified in carrying out his work. He would have been surrounded by friends to whom he could have explained any objections or controversies, and would have done everything to guard against the incalculable harm of his purchasers lending it to their women friends and to their boyish acquaintances, which I could not guarantee. . . . My husband did no wrong, he had a high purpose675 and he thought no evil of printing it, and could one have secured the one per cent. of individuals to whom it would have been merely a study, it would probably have done no harm.” Later she made some further defence in the New Review.

The opinions of Burton’s friends and intimate acquaintances on the matter were as follows: Mr. Payne and Mr. Watts-Dunton676 thought that Lady Burton did quite rightly, considering the circumstances, in destroying the work. Mr. W.F. Kirby thought that, though from her own point of view she was justified in so doing, she would have done better to present it to the College of Surgeons, where it would have been quite harmless and might have been consulted by bona-fide students.

Mr. Arbuthnot considered that in fulfilment of Burton’s promise it should have been given to him. He would, of course, have published it as a volume of the Kama Shastra Society, taking the usual precautions to prevent it from falling into unsuitable hands.

674 This letter will also be found in The Romance of Isabel Lady Burton, ii., 722.

675 All my researches corroborate this statement of Lady Burton’s. Be the subject what it might, he was always the genuine student.

676 “It is a dangerous thing, Lady Burton,” said Mr. Watts-Dunton to her, “to destroy a distinguished man’s manuscripts, but in this case I think you did quite rightly.”

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