The Life of Sir Richard Burton, by Thomas Wright

Chapter XXV

1883 to May 1885

The Kama Shastra Society


69. Publications of the Kama Shastra Society.

Author. Translator.

1. The Kama Sutra. 1883 Vatsyayana. Bhagvanlal Indraji.

2. The Ananga Ranga. 1885 Kullianmull. ”

3. The Arabian Nights. 1885-1886. “ Burton.

4. The Scented Garden

(“My old version”). 1886. Nafzawi. Burton and others.

5. The Beharistan. 1887. Jami. Rehatsek.

6. The Gulistan 1888. Sadi. ”

or Rose Garden.

Works still in Manuscript.

Author. Translator

7. The Nigaristan Jawini. Rehatsek.

8. The Observances of the Zenanah ”

9. Etiquette of eating and Drinking ”

(A Persian Essay).

10. Physiognomies (A Persian MS.) Al-R’azy ”

11. Anecdotes from the Nuzhat al Yaman. ”


12. The Merzuban Namah. (Persian).

13. Extracts from Al Mostatraf. (Arabic). ”

14. Extracts from Siraj-ul-moluk. (Arabic). ”

15. Extracts from Tuhfat al akhwan us Safa.* ”

* For further particulars respecting these works see Appendix.

114. The Azure Apollo.

If Payne’s translation had been met by the wind, Burton anticipated that his own, with its blunt faithfulness to the original and its erotic notes, would be met by whirlwind. Considering the temper of the public386 at the time he thought it not improbable that an action would be brought against him, and in fancy he perceived himself standing at bay with the Authorised Version of the Bible in one hand as a shield, and Urquhart’s Rabelais in the other as a missile.

But though a man of amazing courage, Burton was not one to jeopardise himself unnecessarily. He was quite willing to take any reasonable precautions. So he discussed the matter with his friend F. F. Arbuthnot, who had recently returned from India, married,387 and settled at a charming place, Upper House Court, near Guildford. Mr. Arbuthnot, who, as we have seen, had for years given his whole soul to Eastern literature, had already published a group of Hindu stories388 and was projecting manuals of Persian389 and Arabic390 literature and a series of translations of famous Eastern works, some of which were purely erotic. He now suggested that this series and Burton’s Arabian Nights should be published nominally by a society to which might be given the appropriate name, “The Kama Shastra” — that is the cupid-gospel — Society, Kama being the Hindu god of love. This deity is generally represented as a beautiful youth riding on an emerald-plumaged lorry or parrot. In his hand he holds a bow of flowers and five arrows — the five senses; and dancing girls attend him. His favourite resort is the country round Agra, where Krishna391 the azure Hindu Apollo,

“Tunes harps immortal, and to strains divine

Dances by moonlight with the Gopia nine.”392

The books were to be translated by Rehatsek and a Hindu pundit named Bhagvanlal Indraji, Burton and Arbuthnot were to revise and annotate, and Arbuthnot was to find the money. Burton fell in with the idea, as did certain other members of Arbuthnot’s circle, who had always been keenly interested in Orientalism, and so was formed the famous Kama Shastra Society. That none of the particulars relating to the history of the Society has before been made public, is explained by the fact that Burton and Arbuthnot, conversant with the temper of the public, took pains to shroud their proceedings in mystery. It cannot, however, be too strongly insisted upon that Arbuthnot’s standpoint, like Burton’s, was solely for the student. “He wished,” he said, “to remove the scales from the eyes of Englishmen who are interested in Oriental literature.” These erotic books in one form or another are in the hands of 200,000,000 of Orientals. Surely, argued Arbuthnot, a few genuine English students — a few, grave, bald-headed, spectacled, happily married old gentlemen — may read them without injury.393 The modern student seeks his treasure everywhere, and cares not into what midden he may probe so long as he finds it. No writer on 18th century French History, for example, would nowadays make half apologies, as Carlyle did, for having read Casanova. Indeed, he would lay himself open to censure unless he admitted having studied it carefully. Still, every genuine and right-minded student regards it as a duty to keep books such as these, which are unsuited for the general public, under lock and key — just as the medical man treats his books of plates and other reference volumes. Then again it is entirely a mistake to suppose that the works issued or contemplated by the Kama Shastra Society were all of them erotic. Two out of the six actually done: The Beharistan and The Gulistan, and the whole of the nine still in manuscript, might, after a snip or two with the scissors, be read aloud in almost any company.

We have the first hint of the Kama Shastra Society in a letter to Payne, 5th August 1882. “I hope,” says Burton, “you will not forget my friend, F. F. Arbuthnot, and benefit him by your advice about publishing when he applies to you for it. He has undertaken a peculiar branch of literature — the Hindu Erotic, which promises well.” On Dec. 23th he writes: “My friend Arbuthnot writes to me that he purposes calling upon you. He has founded a society consisting of himself and myself.” After further reference to the idea he adds, “I hope that you will enjoy it.” A few days later Mr. Arbuthnot called on Mr. Payne. Mr. Payne did not “enjoy” the unfolding of the Kama Shastra scheme, he took no interest in it whatever; but, of course, he gave the information required as to cost of production; and both then and subsequently assisted in other matters of business. Moreover, to Mr. Arbuthnot himself, as a man of great personal charm, Mr. Payne became sincerely attached, and a friendship resulted that was severed only by death.

The arrangement about financing the books did not, of course, apply to The Arabian Nights. That was Burton’s own affair; for its success was supposed to be assured from the first. Of the books other than The Arabian Nights published by the Kama Shastra Society — each of which purported, facetiously, to be printed at Behares, the name which Burton chose to give to Stoke Newington, we shall now give a brief account.

Several, we said, are erotic. But it should be clearly understood what is here meant by the term. The plays of Wycherley and other Caroline dramatists are erotic in a bad sense. We admit their literary qualities, but we cannot hide from ourselves the fact that they were written by libertines and that an attempt is made to render vice attractive. The injured husband, for example, is invariably ridiculed, the adulterer glorified. The Hindu books, on the other hand, were written by professedly religious men whose aim was “not to encourage chambering and wantonness, but simply and in all sincerity to prevent the separation of husband and wife” — not to make them a married couple look afield, but “to lead them to love each other more by understanding each other better.” Vatsyayan and Kullianmull,394 indeed, though they poetized the pleasures of the flesh, would have been horrified could they have read the plays of Wycherley and Etheridge. The erotic books that Arbuthnot wished to be translated were the following — all by Hindu poets more or less famous:—

The Kama Sutra (Book of Love) by Vatsyayana. Ananga Ranga (Stage of Love) by Kullianmull. Ratirahasya (Secrets of Love) by Kukkoka. Panchasakya (The Five Arrows) by Jyotirisha. Smara Pradipa (Light of Love) by Gunakara. Ratimanjari (Garland of Love) by Jayadeva. Rasmanjari (Sprout of Love) by Bhanudatta.

Of these seven books two only were issued, namely the Kama Sutra and the Ananga Ranga or Lila Shastra. The precise share that Burton395 had in them will never be known. It is sufficient to say that he had a share in both, and the second, according to the title page, was “translated from the Sanskrit and annotated by A. F. F. and B. F. R.,” that is F. F. Arbuthnot and Richard Francis Bacon — the initials being purposely reversed.

386 The public were to some extent justified in their attitude. They feared that these books would find their way into the hands of others than bona fide students. Their fears, however, had no foundation. In all the libraries visited by me extreme care was taken that none but the genuine student should see these books; and, of course, they are not purchasable anywhere except at prices which none but a student, obliged to have them, would dream of giving.

387 He married in 1879, Ellinor, widow of James Alexander Guthrie, Esp., of Craigie, Forfarshire, and daughter of Admiral Sir James Stirling.

388 Early Ideas by an Aryan, 1881. Alluded to by Burton in A. N., Lib. Ed., ix., 209, note.

389 Persian Portraits, 1887. “My friend Arbuthnot’s pleasant booklet, Persian Portraits,” A. N. Lib. Ed. x., 190.

390 Arabic Authors, 1890.

391 In Kalidasa’s Megha Duta he is referred to as riding on a peacock.

392 Sir William Jones. The Gopia correspond with the Roman Muses.

393 The reader will recall Mr. Andrew Lang’s witty remark in the preface to his edition of the Arabian Nights.

394 Kalyana Mull.

395 The hand of Burton betrays itself every here and there. Thus in Part 3 of the former we are referred to his Vikram and the Vampire for a note respecting the Gandharva-vivaha form of marriage. See Memorial Edition, p. 21.

115. The Kama Sutra.

When commencing upon The Kama Sutra, Indraji — for he was the actual translator — found his copy, which had been procured in Bombay, to be defective, so he wrote to Benares, Calcutta and Jeypoor for copies of the manuscripts preserved in the Sanskrit libraries of those places. These having been obtained and compared with each other, a revised copy of the entire work was compiled and from this Indraji made his translation. “This work,” he says, “is not to be used merely as an instrument for satisfying our desires. A person acquainted with the true principles of this science, who preserved his Dharma (virtue or religious merit), his Artha (worldly wealth) and his Kama (pleasure, or sensual gratification), and who has regard to the customs of the people, is sure to obtain the mastery over his senses. In short, an intelligent and knowing person, attending to Dharma, and Artha and also to Kama, without becoming the slave of his passions, will obtain success in everything that he may do.” According to Vatsyayana, Kama should be taught just as is taught — say, hygiene or political economy. “A man practising Dharma, Artha and Kama enjoys happiness both in this world and in the world to come.” It must not be supposed that the work is entirely erotic. There are also directions for one’s conduct at religious festivals, especially that in honour of Saraswati,396 picnics, drinking parties and other social gatherings. Still, the erotic preponderates. The work is mainly a handbook on Love. One is informed respecting what women are or are not worthy of affection. There are full instructions respecting kissing, an art which is not so easy to learn as some persons think. Still, a man who could not kiss properly after reading the Kama Sutra would be a dullard indeed. Some of the remarks are quaint enough. Thus we are told that “nothing tends to increase love so much as the effects of marking with the nails397 and biting.” Some girls when asked in marriage are slow to make up their minds. With that situation there are, it seems, several ways of dealing. The simplest is the following: “When the girl goes to a garden, or to some village in the neigbourhood, the man should, with his friends, fall on her guards, and having killed them, or frightened them away, forcibly carry her off.” Sometime it is the man who is shy. In such cases the girl “should bring him to her house under the pretence of seeing the fights of quails, cocks and rams, of hearing the maina (a kind of starling) talk. . . . she should also amuse him for a long time by telling him such stories and doing such things as he may take most delight in.”

For Edwin and Angelina when they get married there is also much wholesome instruction. “The wife, whether she be a woman of noble family or a virgin widow re-married,398 should lead a chaste life.” “When the man sets out on a journey she should make him swear that he will return quickly.399 . . . When the man does return home she should worship the God Kama.” Ladies will be interested to learn that there are twenty-seven artifices by which a woman can get money out of a man. One is “Praising his intelligence to his face.” Then there are useful directions for the personal adornment of both sexes. “If the bone of a peacock or of a hyena be covered with gold and tied to the right hand, it makes a man lovely in the eyes of other people.”

Of the essential portions of the book it is sufficient to say that they are similar to those of the other avowedly erotic Eastern works, the contents of the principal of which have been touched upon by Burton in the Terminal Essay to his Arabian Nights and in some of his notes. Finally we are told that the Kama Sutra was composed for the benefit of the world by Vatsyayana, while leading the life of a religious student, and wholly engaged in the contemplation of the Deity. At the same time, the teaching of this holy man amounts to very much the same as that of Maupassant, which is, to use Tolstoy’s words, “that life consists in pleasures of which woman with her love is the chief, and in the double, again reflected delight of depicting this love and exciting it in others.”400

The work lets a flood of light on Hindu manners and customs; and it must be borne in mind that the translation was issued privately at a high price and intended only for “curious students.” In the Preface, Burton and Arbuthnot observe that after a perusal of the Hindoo work the reader will understand the subject upon which it treats, “At all events from a materialistic, realistic and practical point of view. If all science is founded more or less on a stratum of facts, there can be no harm in making known to mankind generally certain matters intimately connected with their private, domestic and social life. Alas! complete ignorance of them has unfortunately wrecked many a man and many a woman, while a little knowledge of a subject generally ignored by the masses would have enabled numbers of people to understand many things which they believed to be quite incomprehensible, or which were not thought worthy of their consideration.”

Writing to Payne, 15th January, 1883, Burton says, “Has Arbuthnot sent you his Vatsyayana?401 He and I and the Printer have started a Hindu Kama Shastra (Ars Amoris Society). It will make the Brit(ish) Pub(lis) stare. Please encourage him.” Later Arbuthnot, in reply to a question put to him by a friend, said that the Society consisted practically of himself, Sir Richard Burton and the late Lord Houghton.402

396 This goddess is adored as the patroness of the fine arts. See “A Hymn to Sereswaty,” Poetical Works of Sir William Jones, Vol. ii., p. 123; also The Hindoo Pantheon, by Major Moor (Edward FitzGerald’s friend).

397 “Pleasant as nail wounds” — The Megha Duta, by Kalidasa.

398 A girl married in her infancy.

399 The Hindu women were in the habit, when their husbands were away, of braiding their hair into a single lock, called Veni, which was not to be unloosed until their return. There is a pretty reference to this custom in Kalidasa’s Megha Duta.

400 Guy de Maupasant, by Leo Tolstoy.

401 The Kama Sutra.

402 Richard Monckton Milnes, born 1809, created a peer 1863, died 1885. His life by T. Wemyss Reid appeared in 1891.

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