The Life of Sir Richard Burton, by Thomas Wright

Chapter V

1849 to 3rd April, 1853

Chiefly Boulogne


5. Goa and the Blue Mountains, 1851.

6. Scinde; or the Unhappy Valley, 2 vols., 1851.

7. Sindh, and the Races that Inhabit the Valley of the Indus, 1851.

8. Falconry in the Valley of the Indus, 1852.

9. Commencement with Dr. Steinhauser of The Arabian Nights, 1852.

10. A complete System of Bayonet Exercise, 1853.

19. A Motto from Ariosto.

When “The Elisa” approached Plymouth, with its “turfy hills, wooded parks and pretty seats,” Allahdad opened his eyes in wonderment. “What manner of men must you English be,” he said, “to leave such a paradise and travel to such a pandemonium as ours without compulsion?” On arriving in London, Burton called on his Aunt Georgiana,91 flirted with his pretty cousins Sarah and Elisa, attended to business of various kinds, and then, in company with Allahdad, set out for Italy to see his father and mother, who were still wandering aimlessly about Europe, and inhaling now the breath of vineyard and garden and now the odours of the laboratory. He found them, his sister, and her two little daughters, Georgiana and Maria (Minnie) at Pisa, and the meeting was a very happy one. Burton’s deep affection for his parents, his sister and his brother, is forced upon our notice at every turn; and later he came to regard his nieces just as tenderly. Quoting Coleridge, he used to say:

“To be beloved is all I need,

And whom I love I love indeed.”92

If Burton was thus drawn to those nearest of kin to him, so also his warm heart welled with affection for his friends, and for those who did him kindnesses. “If you value a man or his work,” he said, “don’t conceal your feelings.” The warmth of his affection for his friends Drake, Arbuthnot, and others, will be noticed as this book proceeds. On one occasion, after a spontaneous outburst of appreciation, he said in palliation of his enthusiasm, “Pardon me, but this is an asthenic age — and true-hearted men are rare.” Presently we find him revisiting some of his old haunts. In his youth he had explored Italy almost from end to end; but the literary associations of the various towns were their principal charm. To him, Verona stood for Catullus, Brindisi for Virgil, Sorrento for Tasso, Florence for “the all Etruscan three,”93 Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, Reggio and Ferrara for Ariosto. It was from Ariosto, perhaps through Camoens, who adopted it, that he took his life motto, “Honour, not honours” —

“’Tis honour, lovely lady, that calls me to the field,

And not a painted eagle upon a painted shield.”94

All the Burton servants obtained some knowledge of Italian, even Allahdad being soon able to swear fluently in it, and his aptitude, joined to a quarrelsome temper and an illogical prejudice against all Italians, caused innumerable broils.

By and by the family returned to England and Miss Stisted thus describes the progress: “One of the earliest pictures in my memory is of a travelling carriage crossing snow-covered Alps. A carriage containing my mother and uncle, sister and self, and English maid, and a romantic but surly Asiatic named Allahdad. Richard Burton, handsome, tall and broad-shouldered, was oftener outside the carriage than in it, as the noise made by his two small nieces rendered pedestrian exercise, even in the snow, an agreeable and almost necessary variety.” Now and then he gave them bits of snow to taste, which they hoped might be sugar.95 On reaching England he sent Allahdad back to Bombay.

Much of the year 1850 was spent at Leamington and Dover, and in 1851, Burton, accompanied by his brother Edward, crossed to Boulogne, where he prepared for publication his books, Goa, Scinde, Falconry in the Valley of the Indus, and Bayonet Exercise. Love of a sort mingled with literature, for he continued various flirtations, but without any thought of marriage; for he was still only a lieutenant in the service of John Company, and his prospects were not rosy. We said “love of a sort,” and advisedly, for we cannot bring ourselves to believe that Burton was ever frenziedly in love with any woman. He was, to use his own expression, no “hot amortist.” Of his views on polygamy, to which he had distinct leanings, we shall speak later. He said he required two, and only two qualities in a woman, namely beauty and affection. It was the Eastern idea. The Hindu Angelina might be vacuous, vain, papilionaceous, silly, or even a mere doll, but if her hair hung down “like the tail of a Tartary cow,”96 if her eyes were “like the stones of unripe mangoes,” and her nose resembled the beak of a parrot, the Hindu Edwin was more than satisfied. Dr. Johnson’s “unidead girl” would have done as well as the blue-stocking Tawaddud.97

91 His Grandmother Baker had died in 1846.

92 The Pains of Sleep.

93 Byron: Childe Harold, iv. 56.

94 Ariosto’s Orlando was published in 1516; The Lusiads appeared in 1572.

95 Temple Bar, vol. xcii., p. 335.

96 As did that of the beauty in The Baital-Pachisi — Vikram and the Vampire. Meml. Ed., p. 228.

97 Tale of Abu-el-Husn and his slave girl, Tawaddud. — The Arabian Nights.

20. Isabel Arundell & “My Dear Louisa.” 1851.

It was during Burton’s stay at Boulogne that he saw the handsome girl who ten years later became his wife — Isabel, daughter of Mr. Henry Raymond Arundell. She was the eldest of a very large family. Just twenty, fair, “with yards of golden hair,” dark blue eyes and a queenly manner, Isabel Arundell everywhere attracted attention. No portrait, it was said, ever did justice to her virginal beauty. “When she was in any company you could look at no one else,” the charm of her manner exceeded even the graces of her person, but her education was defective, and she was amusingly superstitious. She could be heard saying at every turn: “This is a good omen; that a bad one; oh, shocking! the spoons are crossed;

By the pricking of my thumbs Something wicked this way comes.”

Though not themselves wealthy, the Arundells were of noble lineage, and had rich and influential relations who prided themselves on being “old English Catholics.” Among Miss Arundell’s ancestors was Henry, 6th Lord Arundell of Wardour; her grandfather and the 9th Lord were brothers; and her mother was sister to Lord Gerard.

Isabel Arundell and Burton could have conducted their first conversation just as well had they been deaf and dumb. Strolling on the ramparts he noticed a bevy of handsome girls, one of whom, owing to her exceptional looks, particularly fired him, and having managed to attract her attention, he chalked on a wall, “May I speak to you,” and left the piece of chalk at the end of the sentence. She took it up and wrote under it, “No, mother will be angry.”

She had, however, long pictured to herself an ideal husband, and on seeing Burton, she exclaimed under her breath: “That is the man!” She describes him as “five feet eleven inches in height, very broad, thin and muscular, with very dark hair, black, clearly defined, sagacious eyebrows, a brown, weather-beaten complexion, straight Arab features, a determined-looking mouth and chin, nearly covered by an enormous moustache; two large, black, flashing eyes, with long lashes,” and a “fierce, proud, melancholy expression.”98 In the words of one of his friends, he had the eye of an angel, the jaw of a devil. Also staying at Boulogne was a young lady for whom Burton entertained a sincere affection, and whom he would probably have married but for the poorness of his outlook. “My dear Louisa,”99 as he called her, was a relative of Miss Arundell, and hearing what had occurred, she did Burton and Miss Arundell the kindness of formally introducing them to each other, Miss Arundell never tried to attract Burton’s attention — we have her word for that — but wherever he went she went too; and she never lost an opportunity of accidentally crossing his path. She considered sacred a sash which she wore when dancing with him, and she remembered him specially in her prayers. Henceforward, one devouring desire occupied her mind. She wished — and praiseworthily — to be Burton’s wife. To him, on the other hand, she was but an ephemeral fancy — one of the hundred and fifty women — his fair cousins in England and the softer and darker beauties of France and Italy — to whom he had said tender nothings. Later, when Miss Arundell saw him flirting with another girl, a certain “Louise”100 (not to be confused with “my dear Louisa”), she bridled up, coloured to her brow-locks, called “Louise” “fast” and Louise’s mother “vulgar.” Naturally they would be.101 With “myosotis eyes,” peachy cheeks and auburn hair, rolling over ivory shoulders102, “Louise” was progressing admirably, when, unfortunately for her, there came in view a fleshy, vinous matron of elephantine proportions, whom she addressed as “mother.” The sight of this caricature of the “Thing Divine,” to use Burton’s expression, and the thought that to this the “Thing Divine” would some day come, instantly quenched his fires, and when the mother tried to bring him to a decision, by inquiring his intentions regarding her daughter, he horrified her by replying: “Strictly dishonourable, madam.” “Englishmen,” he reflected, “who are restricted to one wife, cannot be too careful.” Miss Arundell was also jealous of “My dear Louisa,” though unwarrantably, for that lady presently became Mrs. Segrave; but she and Burton long preserved for each other a reminiscitory attachment, and we shall get several more glimpses of her as this book proceeds.103

Isabel Arundell was herself somewhat cheered by the prophecy of a gipsy of her acquaintance — one Hagar Burton — who with couched eyes and solemn voice not only prognosticated darkly her whole career, but persistently declared that the romance would end in marriage; still, she fretted a good deal, and at last, as persons in love sometimes do, became seriously indisposed. Without loss of time her parents called in a skilful physician, who, with his experienced eye, saw at once that it was indigestion, and prescribed accordingly. Residing at Boulogne in 1851, was a French painter named Francois Jacquand, who had obtained distinction by his pictures of monks, and “a large historical tableau representing the death chamber of the Duc d’Orleans.” In an oil painting which he made of Burton and his sister, and which is here reproduced for the first time, Burton appears as a pallid young military man, heavily moustached, with large brown eyes104; and his worn and somewhat melancholy face is a striking contrast to the bright and cheerful looks of his comely sister. Our portraits of the Misses Stisted are also from paintings by Jacquand. Burton’s habit of concealing his ailments which we noticed as a feature of his boyhood was as conspicuous in later life. “On one occasion,” says Miss Stisted, “when seized with inflammation of the bladder, a fact he tried to keep to himself, he continued to joke and laugh as much as usual, and went on with his reading and writing as if little were the matter. At last the agony became too atrocious, and he remarked in a fit of absence ‘If I don’t get better before night, I shall be an angel.’ Questions followed, consternation reigned around, and the doctor was instantly summoned.”

98 Life, i., 167.

99 She became Mrs. Segrave.

100 See Burton’s Stone Talk, 1865. Probably not “Louise” at all, the name being used to suit the rhyme.

101 Mrs. Burton was always very severe on her own sex.

102 See Stone Talk.

103 See Chapter x.

104 The original, which belonged to Miss Stisted, is now in the possession of Mr. Mostyn Pryce, of Gunley Hall.

21. Forster FitzGerald Arbuthnot 1853.

When Burton first became acquainted with Forster FitzGerald Arbuthnot is uncertain; but by 1853, they were on terms of intimacy. Burton was then 32, Arbuthnot 20. Of this enormously important fact in Burton’s life — his friendship with Arbuthnot — no previous writer has said a single word, except Lady Burton, and she dismisses the matter with a few careless sentences, though admitting that Arbuthnot was her husband’s most intimate friend. Of the strength of the bond that united the two men, and the admiration felt by Arbuthnot for Burton, she had little idea. F. F. Arbuthnot, born in 1833, was second son of Sir Robert Keith Arbuthnot and Anne, daughter of Field-Marshal Sir John Forster FitzGerald, G.C.B. Educated at Haileybury, he entered in 1852 the Bombay Civil Service, and rose subsequently to the important position of “collector.” A man of a quiet and amiable disposition, Arbuthnot never said an unkind word either to or about anyone. The sweetness and serenity of his manner were commented upon by all his friends; but like so many of your quiet men, he had a determination — a steady heroism, which made everything give way. Oppose Burton, and you would instantly receive a blow aimed straight from the shoulder, oppose Arbuthnot and you would be pushed quietly and amiably aside — but pushed aside nevertheless. A great idea had early possessed him. He wanted to see as much attention paid to the literatures of India, Persia and Arabia as to those of ancient Greece and Rome. All the famous books of the East, he said, should be translated into English — even the erotic, and he insisted that if proper precautions were taken so that none but scholars could obtain them, no possible harm could ensue.105

“England,” he wrote long after (1887), “has greater interests in the East than any other country in Europe, and ought to lead the way in keeping the world informed on all subjects connected with Oriental literature. Surely the time has not arrived for her to take a back seat on that coach, and to let other nations do a work which she ought to do herself.”106 The expression “on that coach,” by the by, was eminently characteristic of a man who plumed himself on being a Jehu of Jehus. Hundreds of invaluable manuscripts written by poets and sages, he said, require to be translated into English, and the need of the day is an Oriental Translation Fund. A man of means, Arbuthnot was sometime later to apply his money to the cause he had at heart; and year in, year out, we shall find him and Burton striking at the self-same anvil. Though there was a considerable difference in their ages, and though thousands of miles often separated them, their minds were ever united, and they went down the stream of life together like two brothers.

105 Of course, since Arbuthnot’s time scores of men have taken the burden on their shoulders, and translations of the Maha-Bharata, the Ramayana, and the works of Kalidasa, Hafiz, Sadi, and Jami, are now in the hands of everybody.

106 Preface to Persian Portraits.

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