Richard Francis Burton
Sir Richard Francis Burton (19 March 1821 – 20 October 1890) British consul, explorer, translator, writer, poet, Orientalist and swordsman known for his often-unprecedented exploits of travel and exploration as well as his extraordinary knowledge of languages and cultures.
- Now the last hookah has gone out, and the most restless of our servants has turned in. The roof of the cabin is strewed with bodies anything but fragrant, indeed, we cannot help pitying the melancholy fate of poor Morpheus, who is traditionally supposed to encircle such sleepers with his soft arms. Could you believe it possible that through such a night as this they choose to sleep under those wadded cotton coverlets, and dread not instantaneous asphixiation?
- Goa, and The Blue Mountains; or, Six Months of Sick Leave (1851)
- Is not man born with a love of change — an Englishman to be discontented — an Anglo-Indian to grumble?
- Goa, and The Blue Mountains; or, Six Months of Sick Leave (1851)
- Travellers like poets are mostly an angry race.
- "Narrative of a Trip to Harar" (11 June 1855); published in The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society (June 1855)
- Presently our fire being exhausted, and the enemy pressing on with spear and javelin, the position became untenable; the tent was nearly battered down by clubs, and had we been entangled in its folds, we should have been killed without the power of resistance. I gave the word for a rush, and sallied out with my sabre, closely followed by Lieut. Herne, with Lieut. Speke in the rear. The former was allowed to pass through the enemy with no severer injury than a few hard blows with a war club. The latter was thrown down by a stone hurled at his chest and taken prisoner, a circumstance which we did not learn till afterwards. On leaving the tent I thought that I perceived the figure of the late Lieut. Stroyan lying upon the ground close to the camels. I was surrounded at the time by about a dozen of the enemy, whose clubs rattled upon me without mercy, and the strokes of my sabre were rendered uncertain by the energetic pushes of an attendant who thus hoped to save me. The blade was raised to cut him down: he cried out in dismay, and at that moment a Somali stepped forward, threw his spear so as to pierce my face, and retired before he could be punished. I then fell back for assistance, and the enemy feared pursuing us into the darkness. Many of our Somalis and servants were lurking about 100 yards from the fray, but nothing would persuade them to advance. The loss of blood causing me to feel faint, I was obliged to lie down, and, as dawn approached, the craft from Aynterad was seen apparently making sail out of the harbour.
- A brief account of the attack that left him scarred from a spearhead that entered one side of his face and exited the other, in "Narrative of a Trip to Harar" (11 June 1855); published in The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society (June 1855)
- Of the gladest moments in human life, methinks is the departure upon a distant journey to unknown lands. Shaking off with one mighty effort the fetters of habit, the leaden weight of Routine, the cloak of many Cares and the Slavery of Home, man feels once more happy. The blood flows with the fast circulation of childhood....afresh dawns the morn of life...
- Journal Entry (2 December 1856)
- Support a compatriot against a native, however the former may blunder or plunder.
- Exploration of the Highlands of Brazil (1869)
- The recruit must be carefully and sedulously taught when meeting the enemy, even at a trot or canter, to use no force whatever, otherwise his sword will bury itself to the hilt, and the swordsman will either be dragged from his horse, or will be compelled to drop his weapon — if he can. Upon this point I may quote my own System of Bayonet Exercise (p. 27): —
"The instructor must spare no pains in preventing the soldier from using force, especially with the left or guiding arm, as too much exertion generally causes the thrust to miss. A trifling body-stab with the bayonet (I may add with the sword) is sufficient to disable a man; and many a promising young soldier has lost his life by burying his weapon so deep in the enemy's breast that it could not be withdrawn quickly enough to be used against a second assailant. To prevent this happening, the point must be delivered smartly, with but little exertion of force, more like a dart than a thrust, and instantly afterwards the bayonet must be smartly withdrawn." In fact the thrust should consist of two movements executed as nearly simultaneously as possible; and it requires long habit, as the natural man, especially the Englishman, is apt to push home, and to dwell upon his slouching push.
- A New System of Sword Exercise for Infantry (1876)
- Starting in a hollowed log of wood — some thousand miles up a river, with an infinitesimal prospect of returning! I ask myself 'Why?' and the only echo is 'damned fool!... the Devil drives'.
- The dearest ambition of a slave is not liberty but to have a slave of his own.
- The Book of The Thousand Nights And A Night (1885) When it was the Three Hundred and Sixtieth Night, footnote
- The more I study religions the more I am convinced that man never worshipped anything but himself.
- The Book of The Thousand Nights And A Night Terminal Essay: Social Conditions, fn. 13.
The Kasîdah of Hâjî Abdû El-Yezdî (1870)
- "Hâjî Abdû El-Yezdî" was simply a pseudonym which Burton used as the author of this poem, originally crediting himself only as the "translator".
- The Translator has ventured to entitle a "Lay of the Higher Law" the following composition, which aims at being in advance of its time; and he has not feared the danger of collision with such unpleasant forms as the "Higher Culture." The principles which justify the name are as follows: —
The Author asserts that Happiness and Misery are equally divided and distributed in the world.
He makes Self-cultivation, with due regard to others, the sole and sufficient object of human life.
He suggests that the affections, the sympathies, and the "divine gift of Pity" are man's highest enjoyments.
He advocates suspension of judgment, with a proper suspicion of "Facts, the idlest of superstitions."
Finally, although destructive to appearance, he is essentially reconstructive.
For other details concerning the Poem and the Poet, the curious reader is referred to the end of the volume.
- Preface (November 1880)
- Friends of my youth, a last adieu! haply some day we meet again;
Yet ne'er the self-same men shall meet; the years shall make us other men.
- Hardly we find the path of love, to sink the self, forget the "I,"
When sad suspicion grips the heart, when Man, the Man begins to die:
- How Thought is imp'otent to divine the secret which the gods defend,
The Why of birth and life and death, that Isis-veil no hand may rend.
Eternal Morrows make our day; our is is aye to be till when
Night closes in; 'tis all a dream, and yet we die, — and then and then?
And still the Weaver plies his loom, whose warp and woof is wretched Man
Weaving th' unpattern'd dark design, so dark we doubt it owns a plan.
- Cease, Man, to mourn, to weep, to wail; enjoy thy shining hour of sun;
We dance along Death's icy brink, but is the dance less full of fun?
- How shall the Shown pretend to ken aught of the Showman or the Show?
Why meanly bargain to believe, which only means thou ne'er canst know?
How may the passing Now contain the standing Now — Eternity? —
An endless is without a was , the be and never the to-be?
- You pray, but hath your thought e'er weighed how empty vain the prayer must be,
That begs a boon already giv'en, or craves a change of law to see?
- What call ye them or Goods or Ills, ill-goods, good-ills, a loss, a gain,
When realms arise and falls a roof; a world is won, a man is slain?
- All Faith is false, all Faith is true: Truth is the shattered mirror strown
In myriad bits; while each believes his little bit the whole to own.
- What is the Truth? was askt of yore. Reply all object Truth is one
As twain of halves aye makes a whole; the moral Truth for all is none.
- As palace mirror'd in the stream, as vapour mingled with the skies,
So weaves the brain of mortal man the tangled web of Truth and Lies.
- What see we here? Forms, nothing more! Forms fill the brightest, strongest eye,
We know not substance; 'mid the shades shadows ourselves we live and die.
- "Faith mountains move" I hear: I see the practice of the world unheed
The foolish vaunt, the blatant boast that serves our vanity to feed.
"Faith stands unmoved"; and why? Because man's silly fancies still remain,
And will remain till wiser man the day-dreams of his youth disdain.
- "'Tis blessed to believe"; you say: The saying may be true enow
And it can add to Life a light: — only remains to show us how.
- With God's foreknowledge man's free will! what monster-growth of human brain,
What powers of light shall ever pierce this puzzle dense with words inane?
- "Be ye Good Boys, go seek for Heav'en, come pay the priest that holds the key;"
So spake, and speaks, and aye shall speak the last to enter Heaven, — he.
- Yes Truth may be, but 'tis not Here; mankind must seek and find it There,
But Where nor I nor you can tell, nor aught earth-mother ever bare.
Enough to think that Truth can be: come sit we where the roses glow,
Indeed he knows not how to know who knows not also how to 'unknow.'
- Words, words that gender things! The soul is a new-comer on the scene;
Sufficeth not the breath of Life to work the matter-born machine?
The race of Be'ing from dawn of Life in an unbroken course was run;
What men are pleased to call their Souls was in the hog and dog begun:
Life is a ladder infinite-stepped, that hides its rungs from human eyes;
Planted its foot in chaos-gloom, its head soars high above the skies:
No break the chain of Being bears; all things began in unity;
And lie the links in regular line though haply none the sequence see.
- "Th' immortal mind of mortal man!" we hear yon loud-lunged Zealot cry;
Whose mind but means his sum of thought, an essence of atomic "I."
Thought is the work of brain and nerve, in small-skulled idiot poor and mean;
In sickness sick, in sleep asleep, and dead when Death lets drop the scene.
- "Tush!" quoth the Zahid, "well we ken the teaching of the school abhorr'd
"That maketh man automaton, mind a secretion, soul a word."
"Of molecules and protoplasm you matter-mongers prompt to prate;
"Of jelly-speck development and apes that grew to man's estate."
Vain cavil! all that is hath come either by Mir'acle or by Law; —
Why waste on this your hate and fear, why waste on that your love and awe?
- Is not the highest honour his who from the worst hath drawn the best;
May not your Maker make the world from matter, an it suit His hest?
Nay more, the sordider the stuff the cunninger the workman's hand:
Cease, then, your own Almighty Power to bind, to bound, to understand.
- "Reason and Instinct!" How we love to play with words that please our pride;
Our noble race's mean descent by false forged titles seek to hide!
For "gift divine" I bid you read the better work of higher brain,
From Instinct diff'ering in degree as golden mine from leaden vein.
- Reason is Life's sole arbiter, the magic Laby'rinth's single clue:
Worlds lie above, beyond its ken; what crosses it can ne'er be true.
- "Fools rush where Angels fear to tread! Angels and Fools have equal claim
To do what Nature bids them do, sans hope of praise, sans fear of blame!
- There is no Heav'en, there is no Hell; these be the dreams of baby minds,
Tools of the wily Fetisheer, to 'fright the fools his cunning blinds.
Learn from the mighty Spi'rits of old to set thy foot on Heav'en and Hell;
In Life to find thy hell and heav'en as thou abuse or use it well.
- Hard to the heart is final death: fain would an Ens not end in Nil;
Love made the senti'ment kindly good: the Priest perverted all to ill.
While Reason sternly bids us die, Love longs for life beyond the grave:
Our hearts, affections, hopes and fears for Life-to-be shall ever crave.
Hence came the despot's darling dream, a Church to rule and sway the State;
Hence sprang the train of countless griefs in priestly sway and rule innate.
For future Life who dares reply? No witness at the bar have we;
Save what the brother Potsherd tells, — old tales and novel jugglery.
Who e'er return'd to teach the Truth, the things of Heaven and Hell to limn?
And all we hear is only fit for grandam-talk and nursery-hymn.
- "Who drinks one bowl hath scant delight; to poorest passion he was born;
"Who drains the score must e'er expect to rue the headache of the morn."
Safely he jogs along the way which "Golden Mean" the sages call;
Who scales the brow of frowning Alp must face full many a slip and fall.
- When doctors differ who decides amid the milliard-headed throng?
Who save the madman dares to cry: "'Tis I am right, you all are wrong"?
"You all are right, you all are wrong," we hear the careless Soofi say,
"For each believes his glimm'ering lamp to be the gorgeous light of day."
"Thy faith why false, my faith why true? 'tis all the work of Thine and Mine,
"The fond and foolish love of self that makes the Mine excel the Thine."
Cease then to mumble rotten bones; and strive to clothe with flesh and blood
The skel'eton; and to shape a Form that all shall hail as fair and good.
- Do what thy manhood bids thee do, from none but self expect applause;
He noblest lives and noblest dies who makes and keeps his self-made laws.
All other Life is living Death, a world where none but Phantoms dwell,
A breath, a wind, a sound, a voice, a tinkling of the camel-bell.
- From self-approval seek applause: What ken not men thou kennest, thou!
Spurn ev'ry idol others raise: Before thine own Ideal bow:
Be thine own Deus: Make self free, liberal as the circling air:
Thy Thought to thee an Empire be; break every prison'ing lock and bar.
- And hold Humanity one man, whose universal agony
Still strains and strives to gain the goal, where agonies shall cease to be.
Believe in all things; none believe; judge not nor warp by "Facts" the thought;
See clear, hear clear, tho' life may seem Mâyâ and Mirage, Dream and Naught.
Abjure the Why and seek the How: the God and gods enthroned on high,
Are silent all, are silent still; nor hear thy voice, nor deign reply.
The Now, that indivisible point which studs the length of infinite line
Whose ends are nowhere, is thine all, the puny all thou callest thine.
- Haply the Law that rules the world allows to man the widest range;
And haply Fate's a Theist-word, subject to human chance and change.
This "I" may find a future Life, a nobler copy of our own,
Where every riddle shall be ree'd, where every knowledge shall be known;
Where 'twill be man's to see the whole of what on Earth he sees in part;
Where change shall ne'er surcharge the thought; nor hope defer'd shall hurt the heart.
- Conquer thyself, till thou hast done this, thou art but a slave; for it is almost as well to be subjected to another's appetite as to thine own.
- A man that hoards up riches and enjoys them not, is like an ass that carries gold and eats thistles.
- proverb, 17th century
Quotes about Burton
- He was, as has been well said, an Elizabethan born out of time; in the days of Drake his very faults might have counted to his credit.
- Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition.
- The man riveted my attention. He was dark and forceful, and masterful, and ruthless. I have never seen so iron a countenance.
- Bram Stoker describing his meeting Burton in 1879.
- A wider soul than the world was wide
Whose praise made love of him one with pride...
Who rode life's lists as a god might ride.
- "Verses on the Death of Richard Burton" by Swinburne (the complete text can be found at the end of Chapter 41 of "The Life of Sir Richard Burton" by Thomas Wright.
- Before middle age, he compressed into his life more of study, more of hardship, and more of successful enterprise and adventure, than would have sufficed to fill up the existence of half a dozen ordinary men.
- Sir Richard F. Burton on the Web
- Online editions of Burton's works at the University of Adelaide
- Selected online editions of Burton's texts
- Sir Richard Francis Burton and General Charles "Chinese" Gordon
- Works by Richard Francis Burton at Project Gutenberg