Saturday, March 19, 2016

BIRTH: Mar. 19–Richard Burton (Trinity, Oxford)

Sir Richard Francis Burton, 1864.
Born Richard Francis Burton in 1821 in Torquay, Devonshire, England, he was the son of a prematurely retired army officer and had mixed English, Irish, and possibly French ancestry.

His father raised his two sons and daughter in France and Italy, where young Richard developed an unusual talent for languages.

Before entering Trinity College, Oxford, in 1840, he had become fluent in French, Italian, and the Béarnais and Neapolitan dialects, as well as having learned the requisite Greek and Latin.

But his continental upbringing left him ambivalent about his national identity. He complained that “England is the only country where I never feel at home.”

He didn't remember his time at Oxford with joy, but it was there that he, like later T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), learned Arabic. He went on to fight in the East India Company and learned Hindu, Persian, and local Indian languages. He wrote about his travels in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, and he often disguised himself in local clothing. He was the first European to discover Lake Tanganyika.

He first became famous when he published A Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Medinah and Meccah (1855), about disguising himself to make the Hajj to Mecca, forbidden for non-Muslims. He published 43 books on his explorations and almost 30 more books of translations.

He wrote the definitive English translation of A Thousand Nights and a Night, (usually referred to as The Arabian Nights), and introduced The Kama Sutra to Western audiences.

Sir Richard Burton died October 20, 1890 in Trieste, then Austria-Hungary and now Italy.

1 comment:

  1. Born 185 years ago, Oxonian Richard Burton was the first to translate Arabian Nights and the Kama Sutra into English. He had a boring time at Oxford learning Arabic, but the rest of his life seems to have been a hoot.