Richard Burton & The Thousand and One Nights
The Thousand and One Nights
- The Tales of Shahrazad and Richmond Green do not immediately
spring to mind as having a connection. The connection
is Sir Richard Burton
(19 March 1821 – 20 October 1890), a Victorian
adventurer and translator of The Thousand and One Nights.
Burton attended The Richmond Academy school
in 1832 formerly situated at the corner of Little Green
and Duke St. The Burton family lived in Maids of Honour
Row on the opposite side of the Green. They left Richmond
due to a very serious outbreak of measles at the school,
the Burton family deciding to return to France where they
had previously lived.
Their life then took in travel between France,
Italy and England. Due to this Sir Richard Burton became
a linguist at a very early age. He studied at Trinity
College, Oxford in 1840 and incidentally there came across
John Henry Newman (Cardinal
Newman). His life can be described as one that included
adventures, scholarship, linguistics, science, diplomacy,
orientalism and a measure of scandal.
Between 1842 and 1853 he joined the army
of the East India Company.Whilst in India he studied Hindu
and other languages of the regions of India as well as
learning Arabic and Persian.
In 1851 he prepared to undertake a pilgrimage
to Mecca. He learnt the culture and customs and disguised
himself as a Pashtun which he thought would cover any
imperfections in his accent. He undertook the journey
in 1853. An account of his journey can be found in A Personal
Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Medinah and Meccah (1855).
After an eventful life that included travel
and exploration in Africa, controversy and marriage in
1861 to his beloved Isabel (née Arundell), it was
in 1884 he translated The Thousand and One Nights into
Burton translation can be read online. The translation
uses very stylized Victorian language but capture the
exotic mystery of these ancient tales. The Burton translation
was notable because it contained the erotic elements of
The Tales and lengths were taken to bypass Victorian publishing
laws on such publications.
Baghdad had in the 8th Century become a
centre of culture and learning, with its Caliph, Harun
Al Raschid (Ad 766-809) possesing a library of some 6000
books. Harum wanted to amass all the learning of the known
world in Baghdad and the splendour of this period, the
height of Baghdad's glory can be reflected in the tales
of The Thousand and One Nights.
The Tales which are framed - stories within
stories, reflect the Arabic tradition of story telling.
The settings of the Tales include Damascus, Basra, Mosul,
Shiraz and Baghdad, place names that are familiar in current
news stories. The oldest Arabic manuscript of Thousand
and One Nights is dated from the 14th century, however
scholars believe the Tales have been in existence since
the 9th century.
Sir Richard Burton is buried with his wife
Mary Magdalen's Church, Mortlake in the borough of
Richmond. Their extraordinary tomb is shaped as a Bedouin
tent, representive of his special connection and passion
for Arabic culture.
Article: Arcadian Times, October 30,