The Life of Sir Richard Burton, by Thomas Wright

Chapter XIV

October 1869-16th August 1871 “Emperor and Empress of Damascus.”


32. Vikram and the Vampire.

33. Letters from the Battlefields of Paraguay. 1870.

34. Proverba Communia Syriaca. 1871.

35. The Jew. Written 1871, published 1898.

56. Archbishop Manning and the Odd Fish.

Mrs. Burton had carried with her to England several books written by her husband in Brazil, and upon her arrival she occupied herself first in arranging for their publication, and secondly in trying to form a company to work some Brazilian mines for which Burton had obtained a concession. The books were The Highlands of Brazil (2 vols. 1869), The Lands of the Cazembe (1873) and Iracema, or Honey Lips, a translation from the Brazilian (1886).

We hear no more of the mines, but she was able to send her husband “the excellent news of his appointment to the Consulate of Damascus.” He heard of it first, however, not from her letter, but casually in a cafe at Lima, just as he was preparing to return home. On arriving in England almost his first business was to patent a pistol which he had invented especially for the use of travellers, and then he and Mrs. Burton gave themselves the pleasure of calling on old friends and going into society. To this date should, perhaps, be assigned the story218 of Archbishop, afterwards Cardinal Manning, and the Odd Fish. Burton had just presented to the Zoological Gardens a curious fish which lived out of water, and took but little nourishment. He had often presented different creatures to the Zoo, though nobody had ever thanked him, but this gift created some commotion, and “Captain Burton’s Odd Fish” became the talk of London.

In the midst of its popularity Burton one day found himself seated at a grand dinner next to his good friend the long, lean and abstemious Archbishop Manning. But much as Burton liked Manning, he could never bear to be near him at meal times. Manning always would eat little and talk much; so Burton, who was a magnificent trencherman, suffered serious inconvenience, and the present occasion proved no exception. It was in vain that Burton urged the Archbishop to mortify himself by eating his dinner. After a while Mrs. Burton, who sat on the other side of the Archbishop, remarked “Richard must take you to the Zoo and show you his famous fish.” “I’ll certainly go,” said Manning, turning to Burton, “I am really curious to see it.” “Then my Lord,” followed Burton, “there will be a pair of odd fish. You know, you neither eat nor drink, and that’s the peculiarity of the other fish.”

As usual when in England, Burton spoke at several public meetings, and Mrs. Burton, of whose appearance he continued to be justifiably proud, generally accompanied him on the platform. Before speaking he always ate sparingly, saying “No” to almost everything. On one of such evenings he was the guest of Dr. Burton, and by chance, hot curry, his favourite dish, was placed on the table. “Now this is real wickedness, cousin,” he exclaimed, “to have hot curry when I can’t eat it.” When dinner was nearly over somebody came in with a basket of damask roses. “Ask for two of them,” whispered Burton to his wife. She did, and appeared with them in her bosom on the platform, “And oh,” added my informer, “how handsome she looked!”

Having visited Uriconium, the English Pompeii, the Burtons made for Vichy, where they met Mr. Swinburne, (Sir) Frederick Leighton and Mrs. Sartoris. His companions on this journey, as on so many others, were two books — one being the anodynous Camoens, the other a volume consisting of the Bible, Shakespeare and Euclid bound together, which looked, with its three large clasps, like a congested Church Service. Mrs. Burton then returned to England “to pay and pack,” while Burton, “being ignorant” as they say in the Nights, “of what lurked for him in the secret purpose of God,” proceeded to Damascus, with two bull-terriers, descendants, no doubt, of the Oxford beauty.

218 Unpublished. Told me by Mrs. E. J. Burton. Manning was made a cardinal in 1875.

57. 3rd Consulate, Damascus.

Mrs. Burton followed in December, with her entire fortune — a modest £300 in gold, and life promised to be all labdanum. Disliking the houses in Damascus itself, the Burtons took one in the suburb El Salahiyyah; and here for two years they lived among white domes and tapering minarets, palms and apricot trees. Midmost the court, with its orange and lemon trees, fell all day the cool waters of a fountain. The principal apartments were the reception room, furnished with rich Eastern webs, and a large dining room, while a terrace forming part of the upper storey served as “a pleasant housetop in the cool evenings.” The garden, with its roses, jessamine, vines, citron, orange and lemon trees, extended to that ancient river, the jewel-blue Chyrsorrhoa. There was excellent stabling, and Mrs. Burton kept horses, donkeys, a camel, turkeys, bull-terriers, street dogs, ducks, leopards, lambs, pigeons, goats, and, to use Burton’s favourite expression, “other notions.” They required much patient training, but the result was satisfactory, for when most of them had eaten one another they became a really harmonious family.

If Mrs. Burton went abroad to the bazaar or elsewhere she was accompanied by four Kawwasses in full dress of scarlet and gold, and on her reception day these gorgeous attendants kept guard. Her visitors sat on the divans cross-legged or not according to their nation, smoked, drank sherbet and coffee, and ate sweetmeats.

For Ra’shid Pasha, the Wali or Governor-General of Syria, both Burton and his wife conceived from the first a pronounced antipathy. He was fat and indolent, with pin-point eyes, wore furs, walked on his toes, purred and looked like “a well-fed cat.” It did not, however, occur to them just then that he was to be their evil genius.

“Call him Ra’shid, with the accent on the first syllable,” Burton was always careful to say when speaking of this fiendish monster, “and do not confound him with (Haroun al) Rashi’d, accent on the second syllable — ‘the orthodox,’ the ‘treader in the right path.’”219

219 Mr. John Payne, however, proves to us that the old Rashi’d, though a lover of the arts, was also a sensual and bloodthirsty tyrant. See Terminal Essay to his Arabian Nights, vol. ix.

58. Jane Digby el Mezrab.

At an early date Burton formed a friendship with the Algerine hero and exile Abd el Kadir, a dark, kingly-looking man who always appeared in snow white and carried superbly-jewelled arms; while Mrs. Burton, who had a genius for associating herself with undesirable persons, took to her bosom the notorious and polyandrous Jane Digby el Mezrab.220 This lady had been the wife first of Lord Ellenborough, who divorced her, secondly of Prince Schwartzenberg, and afterwards of about six other gentlemen. Finally, having used up Europe, she made her way to Syria, where she married a “dirty little black”221 Bedawin shaykh. Mrs. Burton, with her innocent, impulsive, flamboyant mind, not only grappled Jane Digby with hoops of steel, but stigmatised all the charges against her as wilful and malicious. Burton, however, mistrusted the lady from the first. Says Mrs. Burton of her new friend, “She was a most beautiful woman, though sixty-one, tall, commanding, and queen-like. She was grande dame jusqu’ au bout des doights, as much as if she had just left the salons of London and Paris, refined in manner, nor did she ever utter a word you could wish unsaid. She spoke nine languages perfectly, and could read and write in them. She lived half the year in Damascus and half with her husband in his Bedawin tents, she like any other Bedawin woman, but honoured and respected as the queen of her tribe, wearing one blue garment, her beautiful hair in two long plaits down to the ground, milking the camels, serving her husband, preparing his food, sitting on the floor and washing his feet, giving him his coffee; and while he ate she stood and waited on him: and glorying in it. She looked splendid in Oriental dress. She was my most intimate friend, and she dictated to me the whole of her biography.”222 Both ladies were inveterate smokers, and they, Burton, and Abd el Kadir spent many evenings on the terrace of the house with their narghilehs. Burton and his wife never forgot these delightsome causeries. Swiftly, indeed, flew the happy hours when they

“Nighted and dayed in Damascus town.”223

220 She thus signed herself after her very last marriage.

221 Mrs. Burton’s words.

222 Life i., p. 486.

223 Arabian Nights. Lib. Ed, i., 215.

59. To Tadmor.

Burton had scarcely got settled in Damascus before he expressed his intention of visiting the historic Tadmor in the desert. It was an eight days’ journey, and the position of the two wells on the way was kept a secret by Jane Digby’s tribe, who levied blackmail on all visitors to the famous ruins. The charge was the monstrous one of £250; but Burton — at all times a sworn foe to cupidity — resolved to go without paying. Says Mrs. Burton, “Jane Digby was in a very anxious state when she heard this announcement, as she knew it was a death blow to a great source of revenue to the tribe . . . She did all she could to dissuade us, she wept over our loss, and she told us that we should never come back.” Finally the subtle lady dried her crocodile eyes and offered her “dear friends” the escort of one of her Bedawin, that they might steer clear of the raiders and be conducted more quickly to water, “if it existed.” Burton motioned to his wife to accept the escort, and Jane left the house with ill-concealed satisfaction. The Bedawi224 in due time arrived, but not before he had been secretly instructed by Jane to lead the Burtons into ambush whence they could be pounced upon by the tribe and kept prisoners till ransomed. That, however, was no more than Burton had anticipated; consequently as soon as the expedition was well on the road he deprived the Bedawi of his mare and accoutrements, and retained both as hostages until Damascus should be reached again. Appropriately enough this occurred on April the First.225 Success rewarded his acuteness, for naturally the wells were found, and the travellers having watered their camels finished the journey with comfort. Says Mrs. Burton, “I shall never forget the imposing sight of Tadmor. There is nothing so deceiving as distance in the desert. . . . A distant ruin stands out of the sea of sand, the atmosphere is so clear that you think you will reach it in half an hour; you ride all day and you never seem to get any nearer to it.” Arrived at Tadmor they found it to consist of a few orchards, the imposing ruins, and a number of wretched huts “plastered like wasps’ nests within them.” Of the chief ruin, the Temple of the Sun, one hundred columns were still standing and Burton, who set his men to make excavations, found some statues, including one of Zenobia. The party reached Damascus again after an absence of about a month. The Bedawi’s mare was returned; and Jane Digby had the pleasure of re-union with her dear Mrs. Burton, whom she kissed effusively.

Both Burton and his wife mingled freely with the people of Damascus, and Burton, who was constantly storing up knowledge against his great edition of The Arabian Nights, often frequented the Arabic library.226 Their favourite walk was to the top of an adjacent eminence, whence they could look down on Damascus, which lay in the light of the setting sun, “like a pearl.” Then there were excursions to distant villages of traditionary interest, including Jobar, where Elijah is reputed to have hidden, and to have anointed Hazael.227 “The Bird,” indeed, as ever, was continually on the wing, nor was Mrs. Burton less active. She visited, for example, several of the harems in the city, including that of Abd el Kadir. “He had five wives,” she says, “one of them was very pretty. I asked them how they could bear to live together and pet each other’s children. I told them that in England, if a woman thought her husband had another wife or mistress, she would be ready to kill her. They all laughed heartily at me, and seemed to think it a great joke.”228 She also took part in various social and religious functions, and was present more than once at a circumcision — at which, she tells us, the victim, as Westerns must regard him, was always seated on richest tapestry resembling a bride throne, while his cries were drowned by the crash of cymbals. Burton’s note-books, indeed, owed no mean debt to her zealous co-operation.

224 Burton generally writes Bedawi and Bedawin. Bedawin (Bedouin) is the plural form of Bedawi. Pilgrimage to Meccah, vol. ii., p. 80.

225 1870. Three months after Mrs. Burton’s arrival.

226 It contained, among other treasures, a Greek manuscript of the Bible with the Epistle of Barnabas and a portion of the Shepherd of Hermas.

227 1 Kings, xix., 15; 2 Kings, viii., 15.

228 The Romance of Isabel Lady Burton, ii., 386.

60. Palmer and Drake. 11th July 1870.

The Burtons spent their summer in a diminutive Christian village called B’ludan, on the Anti-Lebanon, at the head of the Vale of Zebedani, Burton having chosen it as his sanitarium. A beautiful stream with waterfalls bubbled through their gardens, which commanded magnificent views of the Lebanon country. As at Santos, Mrs. Burton continued her role of Lady Bountiful, and she spent many hours making up powders and pills. Although in reality nobody was one jot the better or the worse for taking them, the rumour circulated that they were invariably fatal. Consequently her reputation as a doctor spread far and wide. One evening a peasant woman who was dying sent a piteous request for aid, and Mrs. Burton, who hurried to the spot, satisfied the poor soul by the administration of some useless but harmless dose. Next morning the woman’s son appeared. He thanked Mrs. Burton warmly for her attentions, said it was his duty to report that his mother was dead, and begged for a little more of the efficacious white powder, as he had a bedridden grandmother of whom he was also anxious to be relieved.

One piping hot morning229 when walking in his garden Burton noticed a gipsy tent outside, and on approaching it found two sun-burnt Englishmen, a powerful, amiable-looking giant, and a smaller man with a long beard and silky hair. The giant turned out to be Charles Tyrwhitt Drake and the medium-sized man Edward Henry Palmer, both of whom were engaged in survey work. Drake, aged 24, was the draughtsman and naturalist; Palmer,230 just upon 30, but already one of the first linguists of the day, the archaeologist. Palmer, like Burton, had leanings towards occultism; crystal gazing, philosopher’s stone hunting. After making a mess with chemicals, he would gaze intently at it, and say excitedly: “I wonder what will happen” — an expression that was always expected of him on such and all other exciting occasions. A quadruple friendship ensued, and the Burtons, Drake and Palmer made several archaeological expeditions together. To Palmer’s poetical eyes all the Lebanon region was enchanted ground. Here the lovely Shulamite of the lovelier Scripture lyric fed her flocks by the shepherd’s tents. Hither came Solomon, first disguised as a shepherd, to win her love, and afterwards in his royal litter perfumed with myrrh and frankincense to take her to his Cedar House. This, too, was the country of Adonis. In Lebanon the wild boar slew him, and yonder, flowing towards “holy Byblus,” were “the sacred waters where the women of the ancient mysteries came to mingle their tears.”231 Of this primitive and picturesque but wanton worship they were reminded frequently both by relic and place name. To Palmer, viewing them in the light of the past, the Cedars of Lebanon were a poem, but to Burton — a curious mixture of the romantic and the prosaic — with his invariable habit of underrating famous objects, they were “a wretched collection of scraggy Christmas trees.” “I thought,” said Burton, “when I came here that Syria and Palestine would be so worn out that my occupation as an explorer was clean gone.” He found, however, that such was not the case — all previous travellers having kept to the beaten tracks; Jaydur, for example, the classical Ituraea, was represented on the maps by “a virgin white patch.” Burton found it teeming with interest. There was hardly a mile without a ruin — broken pillars, inscribed slabs, monoliths, tombs. A little later he travelled as far northward as Hamah232 in order to copy the uncouth characters on the famous stones, and Drake discovered an altar adorned with figures of Astarte and Baal.233 Everywhere throughout Palestine he had to deplore the absence of trees. “Oh that Brigham Young were here!” he used to say, “to plant a million. The sky would then no longer be brass, or the face of the country a quarry.” Thanks to his researches, Burton has made his name historical in the Holy Land, for his book Unexplored Syria — written though it be in a distressingly slipshod style — throws, from almost every page, interesting light on the Bible. “Study of the Holy Land,” he said, “has the force of a fifth Gospel, not only because it completes and harmonises, but also because it makes intelligible the other four. Oh, when shall we have a reasonable version of Hebrew Holy Writ which will retain the original names of words either untranslatable or to be translated only by guess work!”234 One of their adventures — with a shaykh named Salameh — reads like a tale out of The Arabian Nights. Having led them by devious paths into an uninhabited wild, Salameh announced that, unless they made it worth his wile to do otherwise, he intended to leave them there to perish, and it took twenty-five pounds to satisfy the rogue’s cupidity. Palmer, however, was of opinion that an offence of this kind ought by no means to be passed over, so on reaching Jerusalem he complained to the Turkish governor and asked that the man might receive punishment. “I know the man,” said the Pasha, “he is a scoundrel, and you shall see an example of the strength and equity of the Sultan’s rule;” and of course, Palmer, in his perpetual phrase, wondered what would happen. After their return to Damascus the three friends had occasion to call on Rashid Pasha. “Do you think,” said the Wali, with his twitching moustache and curious, sleek, unctuous smile, “do you think you would know your friend again?” He then clapped his hands and a soldier brought in a sack containing four human heads, one of which had belonged to the unfortunate Salameh. “Are you satisfied?” enquired the Wali.235

229 11th July 1870.

230 E. H. Palmer (1840-1882). In 1871 he was appointed Lord Almoner’s Professor of Arabic at Cambridge. He was murdered at Wady Sudr, 11th August 1882. See Chapter xxiii.

231 Renan. See, too, Paradise Lost, Bk. 1. Isaiah (xvii., 10) alludes to the portable “Adonis Gardens” which the women used to carry to the bier of the god.

232 The Hamath of Scripture. 2. Sam., viii., 9; Amos, vi., 2.

233 See illustrations in Unexplored Syria, by Burton and Drake.

234 The Land of Midian Revisited, ii., 73.

235 Life of Edward H. Palmer, p. 109.

61. Khamoor.

Having been separated from “that little beast of a Brazilian” — the cat-torturing Chico — Mrs. Burton felt that she must have another confidential servant companion. Male dwarfs being so unsatisfactory she now decided to try a full-sized human being, and of the other sex. At Miss Ellen Wilson’s Protestant Mission in Anti-Lebanon she saw just her ideal — a lissom, good-looking Syrian maid, named Khamoor, or “The Moon.” Chico the Second (or shall we say Chica236 the First.) had black plaits of hair confined by a coloured handkerchief, large, dark, reflulgent eyes, pouting lips, white teeth, of which she was very proud, “a temperament which was all sunshine and lightning in ten minutes,” and a habit of discharging, quite unexpectedly, a “volley of fearful oaths.” She was seventeen — “just the time of life when a girl requires careful guiding.” So Mrs. Burton, or “Ya Sitti,” as Khamoor called her, promptly set about this careful guiding — that is to say she fussed and petted Khamoor till the girl lost all knowledge of her place and became an intolerable burden. Under Mrs. Burton’s direction she learnt to wear stays237 though this took a good deal of learning; and also to slap men’s faces and scream when they tried to kiss her. By dint of practice she in time managed this also to perfection. Indeed, she gave up, one by one, all her heathenish ways, except swearing, and so became a well-conducted young lady, and almost English. Mrs. Burton was nothing if not a woman with a mission, and henceforward two cardinal ideas swayed her namely, first to inveigle the heathen into stays, and secondly, to induce them to turn Catholics. Her efforts at conversion were more or less successful, but the other propaganda had, to her real sorrow, only barren results.

In March 1871, Charles Tyrwhitt Drake, who had spent some months in England, arrived again in Damascus, and the Burtons begged him to be their permanent guest. Henceforth Mrs. Burton, Burton and Drake were inseparable companions, and they explored together “almost every known part of Syria.” Mrs. Burton used to take charge of the camp “and visited the harems to note things hidden from mankind,” Drake sketched and collected botanical and geological specimens, while Burton’s studies were mainly anthropological and archaeological. They first proceeded to Jerusalem, where they spent Holy Week, and after visiting Hebron, the Dead Sea, and other historical spots, they returned by way of Nazareth. But here they met with trouble. Early in his consulate, it seems, Burton had protested against some arbitrary proceedings on the part of the Greek Bishop of Nazareth, and thus made enemies among the Greeks. Unhappily, when the travellers appeared this ill-feeling led a posse of Nazarenes to make an attack on Burton’s servants; and Burton and Drake, who ran half dressed out of their tents to see what was the matter, were received with a shower of stones, and cries of “Kill them!” Burton stood perfectly calm, though the stones hit him right and left, and Drake also displayed cool bravery. Mrs. Burton then hastened up with “two six shot revolvers,” but Burton, having waved her back — snatched a pistol from the belt of one of his servants and fired it into the air, with the object of summoning his armed companions, whereupon the Greeks, though they numbered at least a hundred and fifty, promptly took to their heels. Out of this occurrence, which Burton would have passed over, his enemies, as we shall see, subsequently made considerable capital. The party then proceeded to the Sea of Galilee, whence they galloped across “their own desert” home. During these travels Burton and Drake made some valuable discoveries and saw many extraordinary peoples, though none more extraordinary than the lazy and filthy Troglodytes of the Hauran,238 who shared the pre-historic caves with their cows and sheep, and fed on mallows just as their forefathers are represented as having done in the vivid thirtieth chapter of Job,239 and in the pages of Agatharchides.240

236 Chica is the feminine of Chico (Spanish).

237 Mrs. Burton’s expression.

238 District east of the Sea of Galilee.

239 Job, chapter xxx. “But now they that are younger than I have me in derision . . . who cut up mallows by the bushes and juniper roots for their meat.”

240 Greek Geographer. 250 B.C.

62. The Shazlis.

Mrs. Burton now heard news that fired her with joy. A sect of the Mohammedans called Shazlis used to assemble in the house of one of their number of Moslem prayer, reading and discussion. One day they became conscious of a mysterious presence among them. They heard and saw things incommunicably strange, and a sacred rapture diffused itself among them. Their religion had long ceased to give them satisfaction, and they looked anxiously round in search of a better. One night when they were overcome by sleep there appeared to each a venerable man with a long white beard, who said sweetly, “Let those who want the truth follow me,” and forthwith they resolved to search the earth until they found the original of the vision. But they had not to go far. One of them chancing to enter a monastery in Damascus noticed a Spanish priest named Fray Emanuel Forner. Hurrying back to his comrades he cried “I have seen the oldster of the dreams.” On being earnestly requested to give direction, Forner became troubled, and with a view to obtaining advice, hurried to Burton. Both Burton and his wife listened to the tale with breathless interest. Mrs. Burton naturally wanted to sweep the whole sect straightway into the Roman Church, and it is said that she offered to be sponsor herself to 2,000 of them. In any circumstances, she distributed large numbers of crucifixes and rosaries. Burton, who regarded nine-tenths of the doctrines of her church as a tangle of error, was nevertheless much struck with the story. He had long been seeking for a perfect religion, and he wondered whether these people had not found it. Here in this city of Damascus, where Our Lord had appeared to St. Paul, a similar apparition had again been seen — this time by a company of earnest seekers after truth. He determined to investigate. So disguised as a Shazli, he attended their meetings and listened while Forner imparted the principal dogmas of the Catholic faith. His common sense soon told him that the so-called miraculous sights were merely hallucinations, the outcome of heated and hysterical imagination. He sympathised with the Shazlis in that like himself they were seekers after truth, and there, as far as he was concerned, the matter would have ended had the scenes been in any other country. But in Syria religious freedom was unknown, and the cruel Wali Rashid Pasha was only too delighted to have an opportunity to use his power. He crushed where he could not controvert. Twelve of the leading Shazlis — the martyrs, as they were called — were seized and imprisoned. Forner died suddenly; as some think, by poison. This threw Burton, who hated oppression in all its forms, into a towering rage, and he straightway flung the whole of his weight into the cause of the Shazlis. Persecution gave them holiness. He wrote to Lord Granville that there were at least twenty-five thousand Christians longing secretly for baptism, and he suggested methods by which they might be protected. He also recommended the Government to press upon the Porte many other reforms. Both Burton and his wife henceforward openly protected the Shazlis, and in fact made themselves, to use the words of a member of the English Government, “Emperor and Empress of Damascus.”

That Rashid Pasha and his crawling myrmidons were rascals of the first water and that the Shazlis were infamously treated is very evident. It is also clear that Burton was more just than diplomatic. We cannot, however, agree with those who lay all the blame on Mrs. Burton. We may not sympathise with her religious views, but, of course, she had the same right to endeavour to extend her own church as the Protestants at Beyrout, who periodically sent enthusiastic agents to Damascus, had to extend theirs.

The Shazli trouble alone, however, would not have shaken seriously Burton’s position; and whatever others may have thought, it is certain Burton himself never at any time in his life considered that in this matter any particular blame attached to his wife. But unfortunately the Shazli trouble was only one of a series. Besides embroiling himself with the truculent Rashid Pasha and his underlings, Burton contrived to give offence to four other bodies of men. In June, 1870, Mr. Mentor Mott, the kind and charitable241 superintendent of the British Syrian School at Beyrout, went to Damascus to proselytize, and acted, in Burton’s opinion, with some indiscretion. Deeming Damascus just then to be not in a temper for proselytising, Burton reprimanded him, and thus offended the Protestant missionaries and Mr. Jackson Eldridge, the Consul-General at Beyrout. In Burton’s opinion, but for Mrs. Mott the storm would have gradually subsided. That lady, however, took the matter more to heart than her husband, and was henceforth Burton’s implacable enemy. Then arose a difficulty with the Druzes, who had ill-treated some English missionaries. As they were Turkish subjects the person to act was Rashid Pasha, but Burton and he being at daggers drawn, Burton attempted to fine the Druzes himself. He was reminded, however, that his power was limitary, and that he would not be allowed to exceed it. To the trouble with the Greeks we have already referred. But his chief enemies were the Jews, or rather the Jewish money-lenders, who used to go to the distressed villages, offer money, keep all the papers, and allow their victims nothing to show. Interest had to be paid over and over again. Compound interest was added, and when payment was impossible the defaulters were cast into prison. Burton’s predecessor had been content to let matters alone, but Burton’s blood boiled when he thought of these enormities. Still, when the money-lenders came to him and stated their case, he made for a time an honest attempt to double; but ultimately his indignation got the better of his diplomacy, and with an oath that made the windows rattle, he roared, “Do you think I am going to be bum-bailiff to a parcel of blood-suckers!” And yet these gentlemen had sometimes, in their moderation, charged as little as sixty per cent. Henceforward Burton looked evil upon the whole Jewish race, and resolved to write a book embodying his researches respecting them and his Anti-Semite opinions. For the purpose of it he made minute enquiries concerning the death of one Padre Tommaso, whom the Jews were suspected of having murdered in 1840. These enquiries naturally have his foes further umbrage, and they in return angrily discharge their venom at him. In his book The Jew, published after his death,242 he lashes the whole people. He seems in its pages to be constantly running up and down with a whip and saying: “I’ll teach you to be ‘an Ebrew Jew,’ I will.” His credulity and prejudice are beyond belief. He accepts every malicious and rancorous tale told against the Jews, and records as historical facts even such problematical stories as the murder of Hugh of Lincoln. Thus he managed to exasperate representatives of almost every class. But perhaps it was his championship of the Shazlis that made the most mischief. Says Lady Burton, “It broke his career, it shattered his life, it embittered him towards religion.”

Complaints and garbled stories reached London from all sides, and Burton was communicated with. He defended himself manfully, and showed that in every question he had been on the side of righteousness and equity, that he had simply fought systematically against cruelty, oppression and nefariousness. He could not and would not temporize. An idea of the corruption prevalent at Damascus may be fathered from the fact that on one occasion £10,000 was promised him if he would “give an opinion which would have swayed a public transaction.” Says Lady Burton, “My husband let the man finish, and then he said, ‘If you were a gentleman of my own standing, and an Englishman, I would just pitch you out of the window; but as you are not, you may pick up your £10,000 and walk down the stairs.’”243

241 Burton’s words.

242 Published in 1898.

243 Life, i., 572.

63. The Recall. 16th August 1871.

Accusations, many of them composed of the bluest gall; and manly letters of defence from Burton now flew almost daily from Damascus to England. The Wali, the Jews and others all had their various grievances. As it happened, the British Government wanted, just then, above all things, peace and quiet. If Burton could have managed to jog along in almost any way with the Wali, the Druzes, the Greeks, the Jews and the other factors in Syria, there would have been no trouble. As to whether Burton was right or wrong in these disputes, the Government seems not to have cared a straw or to have given a moment’s thought. Here, they said, is a man who somehow has managed to stir up a wasp’s nest, and who may embroil us with Turkey. This condition of affairs must cease. Presently came the crash. On August 16th just as Burton and Tyrwhitt Drake were setting out for a ride at B’ludan, a messenger appeared and handed Burton a note. He was superseded. The blow was a terrible one, and for a moment he was completely unmanned. He hastened to Damascus in the forlorn hope that there was a mistake. But it was quite true, the consulship had been given to another.

To his wife he sent the message, “I am superseded. Pay, pack, and follow at convenience.” Then he started for Beirut, where she joined him. “After all my service,” wrote Burton in his journal, “ignominiously dismissed at fifty years of age.” One cry only kept springing from Mrs. Burton’s lips, “Oh, Rashid Pasha! Oh, Rashid Pasha!”

At Damascus Burton had certainly proved himself a man of incorruptible integrity. Even his enemies acknowledged his probity. But this availed nothing. Only two years had elapsed since he had landed in Syria, flushed with high premonitions; now he retired a broken man, shipwrecked in hope and fortune. When he looked back on his beloved Damascus — “O, Damascus, pearl of the East” — it was with the emotion evinced by the last of the Moors bidding adieu to Granada, and it only added to his exasperation when he imagined the exultation of the hated Jews, and the sardonic grin on the sly, puffy, sleek face of Rashid Pasha.

Just before Mrs. Burton left B’ludan an incident occurred which brings her character into high relief. A dying Arab boy was brought to her to be treated for rheumatic fever. She says, “I saw that death was near. . . . ‘Would you like to see Allah?’ I said, taking hold of his cold hand. . . . I parted his thick, matted hair, and kneeling, I baptised him from the flask of water I always carried at my side. ‘What is that?’ asked his grandmother after a minute’s silence. ‘It is a blessing,’ I answered, ‘and may do him good!’”244 The scene has certain points in common with that enacted many years after in Burton’s death chamber. Having finished all her “sad preparations at B’ludan,” Mrs. Burton “bade adieu to the Anti-Lebanon with a heavy heart, and for the last time, choking with emotion, rode down the mountain and through the Plain of Zebedani, with a very large train of followers.” — “I had a sorrowful ride,” says she, “into Damascus. Just outside the city gates I met the Wali, driving in state, with all his suite. He looked radiant, and saluted me with much empressement. I did not return his salute.”245

It is satisfactory to know that Rashid Pasha’s triumph was short-lived. Within a month of Burton’s departure he was recalled by the Porte and disgraced. Not only so but every measure which Burton had recommended during his consulship was ordered to be carried out, and “The reform was so thorough and complete, that Her Majesty’s Ambassador at Constantinople was directed officially to compliment the Porte upon its newly initiated line of progress.” But nobody thanked, or even though of Burton. On the occasion of his departure Burton received shoals of letters from prominent men of “every creed, race and tongue,” manifesting sorrow and wishing him God-speed. Delightful, indeed, was the prologue of that from Abd El Kadir: “Allah,” it ran, “favour the days of your far-famed learning, and prosper the excellence of your writing. O wader of the seas of knowledge, O cistern of learning of our globe, exalted above his age, whose exaltation is above the mountains of increase and our rising place, opener by his books of night and day, traveller by ship and foot and horse, one whom none can equal in travel.” The letter itself was couched in a few simple, heartfelt words, and terminated with “It is our personal friendship to you which dictates this letter.” “You have departed,” wrote a Druze shaykh, “leaving us the sweet perfume of charity and noble conduct in befriending the poor and supporting the weak and oppressed, and your name is large on account of what God has put into your nature.”

Some of the authorities at home gave out that one of the reasons for Burton’s recall was that his life was in danger from the bullets of his enemies, but Burton commented drily: “I have been shot at, at different times, by at least forty men who fortunately could not shoot straight. Once more would not have mattered much.”

244 The Romance of Isabel Lady Burton, ii., 504.

245 The Romance of Isabel Lady Burton, ii., 505.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52