Tuesday, March 18, 2014

BIRTH: Mar. 19–Sir Richard Francis Burton, Who Gave Us the Kama Sutra

Biography of Sir Richard
Francis Burton (1821-1890)
This day in 1821 was born, in Torquay, Devon, England a writer, translator, soldier and explorer  named Richard Francis Burton. He soon moved to Borehamwood, Hertfordshire and grew up an Army brat, traveling around with his British officer parents, learning French, Italian, Latin and local dialects as his family moved to different posts around Europe.

He attended Trinity College, Oxford and made the acquaintance of John Henry Newman, a very different person. Burton learned his Arabic at Oxford, but he didn't like the place. He challenged another student to a duel for making fun of his mustache. He  was expelled for attending a horse race and telling the college authorities about it, urging them to change the rules forbidding undergraduates from attending.  On his way out of Oxford, he rode his horse into the Trinity College gardens and trampled the flowers. So there.

He went on to fight in the East India Company and learn Hindu, Persian, and quite a few local Indian languages–29 languages in all, says Wikipedia.  He fought in the Crimean War.

He wrote about his travels in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, and he often disguised himself in local clothing. He became famous when he published A Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Medinah and Meccah (1855), about his experience disguising himself to make the Hajj, which is forbidden for non-Muslims. He wrote the definitive English translations of A Thousand Nights and a Night (The Arabian Nights) and The Perfumed Garden and he introduced The Kama Sutra to Western audiences.

He was honored as a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and he was awarded a knighthood, the KCMG.

He was the first European to see Lake Tanganyika. A movie based on his exploration appeared in 1999 called Mountains of the Moon.  Based on reviews, a remake would be a good project.

(Thanks to Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac, on which much of this post is based.)

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