Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah, by Richard Burton

Preface to the First Edition.

The interest just now felt in everything that relates to the East would alone be sufficient to ensure to the author of “El Medinah and Meccah” the favourable consideration of the Reading Public. But when it is borne in mind that since the days of William Pitts of Exeter (A.D. 1678-1688) no European travellers, with the exception of Burckhardt1 and Lieut. Burton,2 have been able to send us back an account of their travels there, it cannot be doubted but that the present work will be hailed as a welcome addition to our knowledge of these hitherto mysterious penetralia of Mohammedan superstition. In fact, El Madinah may be considered almost a virgin theme; for as Burckhardt was prostrated by sickness throughout the period of his stay in the Northern Hejaz, he was not able to describe it as satisfactorily or minutely as he did the Southern country, — he could not send a plan of the Mosque, or correct the popular but erroneous ideas which prevail concerning it and the surrounding city.

The reader may question the propriety of introducing in a work of description, anecdotes which may appear open to the charge of triviality. The author’s object, however, seems to be to illustrate the peculiarities of the people — to dramatise, as it were, the dry journal of a journey, — and to preserve the tone of the adventures, together with that local colouring in which mainly consists “l’education d’un voyage.” For the same reason, the prayers of the “Visitation” ceremony have been translated at length, despite the danger of inducing tedium; they are an essential part of the subject, and cannot be omitted, nor be represented by “specimens.”

The extent of the Appendix requires some explanation. Few but literati are aware of the existence of Lodovico Bartema’s naive recital, of the quaint narrative of Jos. Pitts, or of the wild journal of Giovanni Finati. Such extracts have been now made from these writers that the general reader can become acquainted with the adventures and opinions of the different travellers who have visited El Hejaz during a space of 350 years. Thus, with the second volume of Burckhardt’s Travels in Arabia, the geographer, curious concerning this portion of the Moslem’s Holy Land, possesses all that has as yet been written upon the subject.

The editor, to whom the author in his absence has intrusted his work, had hoped to have completed it by the simultaneous publication of the third volume, containing the pilgrimage to Meccah. The delay, however, in the arrival from India of this portion of the MS. has been such as to induce him at once to publish El Misr and El Medinah. The concluding volume on Meccah is now in the hands of the publisher, and will appear in the Autumn of the present year. Meanwhile the Public will not lose sight of the subject of Arabia. Part of El Hejaz has lately been inspected by M. Charles Didier, an eminent name in French literature, and by the Abbe Hamilton, — persuaded, it is believed, by our author to visit Taif and Wady Laymum. Though entirely unconnected with the subjects of Meccah and El Medinah, the account of the Sherif’s Court where these gentlemen were received with distinction, and of the almost unknown regions about Jebel Kora, will doubtless be welcomed by the Orientalists and Geographers of Europe.

Mr. Burton is already known by his “History of Sindh.” And as if to mark their sense of the spirit of observation and daring evinced by him when in that country, and still more during his late journeyings in Arabia and East Africa, the Geographical Society, through their learned Secretary, Dr. Norton Shaw, have given valuable aid to this work in its progress through the press, supplying maps where necessary to complete the illustrations supplied by the author, — who, it will be perceived, is himself no mean draughtsman.

It was during a residence of many years in India that Mr. Burton had fitted himself for his late undertaking, by acquiring, through his peculiar aptitude for such studies, a thorough acquaintance with various dialects of Arabia and Persia; and, indeed, his Eastern cast of features (vide Frontispiece, Vol. II.) seemed already to point him out as the very person of all others best suited for an expedition like that described in the following pages.

It will be observed that in writing Arabic, Hindoostannee, Persian, or Turkish words, the author has generally adopted the system proposed by Sir William Jones and modified by later Orientalists.3 But when a word (like Fatihah for Fat-hah) has been “stamped” by general popular use, the conversational form has been preferred; and the same, too, may be said of the common corruptions, Cairo, Kadi, &c., which, in any other form, would appear to us pedantic and ridiculous. Still, in the absence of the author, it must be expected that some trifling errors and inaccuraci[e]s will have here and there have crept in. In justice to others and himself, the Editor, however, feels bound to acknowledge, with much gratitude, that where such or even greater mistakes have been avoided, it has been mainly due to the continued kindness of an Eastern scholar of more than European reputation, — who has assisted in revising the sheets before finally consigning them to the printer.

Let us hope that the proofs now furnished of untiring energy and capacity for observation and research by our author, as well as his ability to bear fatigue and exposure to the most inclement climate, will induce the Governments of this country and of India to provide him with men and means (evidently all that is required for the purpose) to pursue his adventurous and useful career in other countries equally difficult of access, and, if possible, of still greater interest, than the Eastern shores of the Red Sea.


Hampton Court Palace,

June, 1855.

1 In 1811.

2 Captain Sadlier is not mentioned, as his Frankish dress prevented his entering the city.

3 The orthography of Eastern words has been revised for this Edition by Mr. Leonard C. Smithers, from Sir R. F. Burton’s MS. Corrections, and in accordance with the orthography of Sir Richard’s most recent Oriental Work, “The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night.”


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