Richard F. Burton

Richard F. Burton | First Editions

1821 - 1890

Sir Richard Francis Burton KCMG FRGS (19 March 1821 – 20 October 1890) was a British explorer, geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, and diplomat. Burton is most famous for his travels and explorations in Asia, Africa and the Americas, as well as his extraordinary knowledge of languages and cultures. It has been claimed that Burton spoke 29 languages - from Europe to Asia and Africa.

Burton's best-known feat was a well-documented journey to Mecca in disguise, at a time when such an excursion (from a European) met the death penalty. Burton also produced an unexpurgated translation of One Thousand and One Nights (commonly called The Arabian Nights in English after early translations of Antoine Galland's French version), as well as the publication of the Kama Sutra in English. Burton, along with John Hanning Speke, were the first Europeans to visit the Great Lakes of Africa, in search of the source of the Nile.

Burton defied the pervasive global attitudes of the day, relishing personal contact with exotic human cultures in all their variety. His works and letters extensively criticised colonial policies of the British Empire; indeed, this was (at times) to the detriment of his career. Burton became a prolific and erudite author, producing numerous books and scholarly articles on the subjects of human behaviour, travel, falconry, fencing, sexual practices and ethnography. A characteristic feature of his books is the copious footnotes and appendices containing remarkable observations and information.


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