Sir Richard Francis Burton. The quintessential Victorian adventurer. Soldier, explorer, translator, master linguist, spy, author, expert, fencer, mystic….one could spend an entire post simply listing Burton’s accomplishments. To name a few :
- Explorer and co-discover of the sources of the Nile.
- Translator of the Arabian Nights, Kama Sutra.
- Among the first non-Muslim European men to visit Mecca.
- Fluent in over twenty five languages.
- Author of over thirty books and hundreds of articles.
Burton was the son of an Army officer and as such, traveled much in his youth. It was then that he was first exposed to other languages, and like many young people, picked them up rather easily.
He matriculated to Trinity college, Oxford, where it soon became obvious that he was ill suited for college life. After several incidents, including a dual and attending a steeplechase, Burton was expelled from Oxford and joined the East India Company as a lieutenant.
It was in India that he began studying Hindi. Burton didn’t simply just conjugate verbs and memorize vocabulary – he would eat, sleep and dress “Indian”. He became so immersed in the culture that he not only mastered the language, but was able to pass himself off as a native. This gave Burton opportunities not open to regular company officers. He was soon chosen for assignments including surveying the Punjab, or, in native dress, gathering intelligence.
After seven years in the East India Company, spurned by by his love of travel and Adventure, Burton devised a scheme to visit Mecca disguised as a Muslim pilgrim. He applied for and received support from the Royal Geographic Society
– End of Part I