27th December 1879-August 1881 Camoens
60. Camoens, 6 vols. 1 and 2, the Lusiads. 1880.
3 and 4, Life of Camoens and Commentary. 1882.
5 and 6, The Lyrics. 1884.
61. The Kasidah. 1880.
62. Visit to Lissa and Pelagoza. 1880.
63. A Glance at the Passion Play. 1881.
64. How to deal with the Slave Trade in Egypt. 1881.
65. Thermae of Montfalcone. 1881.
98. The Lusiads.
Burton had brought with him to Egypt his translation of The Lusiads, which had been commenced as early as 1847, and at which, as we have seen, he had, from that time onward, intermittently laboured. At Cairo he gave his work the finishing touches, and on his return to Trieste in May it was ready for the press. There have been many English translators of Camoens, from Fanshawe, the first, to Burton and Aubertin; and Burton likens them to the Simoniacal Popes in Dantes Malebolge-pit--each one struggling to trample down his elder brother.[FN#322] Burtons work, which appeared in 1882, was presently followed by two other volumes consisting of a Life of Camoens and a Commentary on The Lusiads, but his version of The Lyrics did not appear till 1884.
Regarded as a faithful rendering, the book was a success, for Burton had drunk The Lusiads till he was super-saturated with it. Alone among the translators, he had visited every spot alluded to in the poem, and his geographical and other studies had enabled him to elucidate many passages that had baffled his predecessors. Then, too, he had the assistance of Aubertin, Da Cunha and other able Portuguese scholars and Camoens enthusiasts. Regarded, however, as poetry, the book was a failure, and for the simple reason that Burton was not a poet. Like his Kasidah, it contains noble lines, but on every page we are reminded of the translators defective ear, annoyed by the unnecessary use of obsolete words, and disappointed by his lack of what Poe called ethericity. The following stanza, which expresses ideas that Burton heartily endorsed, may be regarded as a fair sample of the whole:
Elegant Phormions philosophick store
see how the practised Hannibal derided
when lectured he with wealth of bellick lore
and on big words and books himself he prided.
Senhor! the soldiers discipline is more
than men may learn by mother-fancy guided;
Not musing, dreaming, reading what they write;
tis seeing, doing, fighting; teach to fight.[FN#323]
The first six lines contain nothing remarkable, still, they are workmanlike and pleasant to read; but the two concluding lines are atrocious, and almost every stanza has similar blemishes. A little more labour, even without much poetic skill, could easily have produced a better result. But Burton was a Hannibal, not a Phormion, and no man can be both. He is happiest, perhaps, in the stanzas containing the legend of St. Thomas,[FN#324] or Thome, as he calls him,
Who thrust his finger in Lord Jesus side.
|| the Missioner sanctified
According to Camoens, while Thorme was preaching to the potent Hindu city Meleapor, in Narsinga land[FN#325] a huge forest tree floated down the Ganges, but all the kings elephants and all the kings men were incompetent to haul it ashore.
Now was that lumber of such vasty size,
no jot it moves, however hard they bear;
when lo! th Apostle of Christs verities
wastes in the business less of toil and care:
His trailing waistcord to the tree he ties,
raises and sans an effort hales it where
A sumptuous Temple he would rear sublime,
a fit example for all future time.
This excites the jealousy and hatred of the Brahmins, for
There be no hatred fell and fere, and curst
As by false virtue for true virtue nurst.
The chief Brahmin then kills his own son, and tries to saddle the crime on Thome, who promptly restores the dead youth to life again and names the father as the man who slew. Ultimately, Thome, who is unable to circumvent the further machinations of his enemies, is pierced to the heart by a spear; and the apostle in glory is thus apostrophised:
Wept Gange and Indus, true Thome! thy fate,
wept thee whatever lands thy foot had trod;
yet weep thee more the souls in blissful state
thou ledst to don the robes of Holy Rood.
But angels waiting at the Paradise-gate
meet thee with smiling faces, hymning God.
We pray thee, pray that still vouchsafe thy Lord
unto thy Lusians His good aid afford.
In a stanza presented as a footnote and described as not in Camoens, Burton gives vent to his own disappointments, and expends a sigh for the fate of his old friend and enemy, John Hanning Speke. As regards himself, had he not, despite his services to his country, been relegated to a third-rate seaport, where his twenty-nine languages were quite useless, except for fulminating against the government! The fate of poor Speke had been still more lamentable:
And see you twain from Britains foggy shore
set forth to span dark Africks jungle-plain;
thy furthest fount, O Nilus! they explore,
and where Zaire springs to seek the Main,
The Veil of Isis hides thy land no more,
whose secrets open to the world are lain.
They deem, vain fools! to win fair Honours prize:
This exiled lives, and that untimely dies.
Burton, however, still nursed the fallacious hope that his merits would in time be recognised, that perhaps he would be re-instated in Damascus or appointed to Ispahan or Constantinople.
99. At Ober Ammergau, August 1880.
In August (1880) the Burtons paid a visit to Ober Ammergau, which was just then attracting all eyes on account of its Passion Play. Burtons object in going was the wish to compare, haply to trace some affinity between, this survival of the Christian Mystery and the living scenes of El Islam at Mecca, while Mrs. Burtons object may be gauged by the following prayer which she wrote previous to their departure from Trieste: O Sweet Jesu. .. Grant that I, all unworthy though I be, may so witness this holy memorial of thy sacrificial love, Thy glorious victory over death and hell, that I may be drawn nearer to Thee and hold Thee in everlasting remembrance. Let the representation of Thy bitter sufferings on the cross renew my love for Thee, strengthen my faith, and ennoble my life, and not mine only, but all who witness it. Then follows a prayer for the players.
Burton found no affinity between the scenes at Ober Ammergau and those at Mecca, and he was glad to get away from a pandemonium of noise and confusion, while Mrs. Burton, who was told to mind her own business by a carter with whom she remonstrated for cruelly treating a horse, discovered that even Ober Ammergau was not all holiness. Both Burton and his wife recorded their impressions in print, but though his volume[FN#326] appeared in 1881, hers[FN#327] was not published till 1900.
100. Mrs. Burtons Advice to Novelists. 4th September 1880.
The following letter from Mrs. Burton to Miss Stisted, who had just written a novel, A Fireside King,[FN#328] gives welcome glimpses of the Burtons and touches on matters that are interesting in the light of subsequent events. My dearest Georgie, On leaving you I came on to Trieste, arriving 29th May, and found Dick just attacked by a virulent gout. We went up to the mountains directly without waiting even to unpack my things or rest, and as thirty-one days did not relieve him, I took him to Monfalcone for mud baths, where we passed three weeks, and that did him good. We then returned home to change our baggage and start for Ober Ammergau, which I thought glorious, so impressive, simple, natural. Dick rather criticises it. However, we are back. ... I read your book through on the journey to England. Of course I recognised your father, Minnie,[FN#329] and many others, but you should never let your heroine die so miserably, because the reader goes away with a void in his heart, and you must never put all your repugnances in the first volume, for you choke off your reader. ... You dont mind my telling the truth, do you, because I hope you will write another, and if you like you may stand in the first class of novelists and make money and do good too, but put your beasts a little further in towards the end of the first volume. I read all the reviews that fell in my way, but though some were spiteful that need not discourage ... Believe me, dearest G., your affectionate Zookins.
Miss Stisteds novel was her first and last, but she did write another book some considerable time later, which, however, would not have won Mrs. Burtons approval.[FN#330]
101. The Kasidah, 1880.
This year, Burton, emulous of fame as an original poet, published The Kasidah of Haji Abdu El-Yezdi, A Lay of the Higher Law, which treats of the great questions of Life, Death and Immortality, and has certain resemblances to that brilliant poem which is the actual father of it, Edward FitzGeralds rendering of The Rubaiyat of Oman Khayyam. Lady Burton tells us that The Kasidah was written about 1853, or six years before the appearance of FitzGeralds poem. Nothing, however, is more certain than that, with the exception of a few verses, it was written after FitzGeralds poem. The veriest tyro in literature, by comparing the two productions, would easily understand their relationship.[FN#331] The facts are these. About 1853, Burton, in a time of dejection, caused by the injustice done him in India, planned a poem of this nature, wrote a few stanzas, and then put it by and forgot all about it. FitzGeralds version of Omar Khayyam appeared in 1859, and Burton no sooner read than he burned to rival it. So he drew from the pigeon-hole what he called his Lay, furbished up the few old verses, made a number of new ones, reconstructed the whole, and lo, The Kasidah! Burton calls it a translation of a poem by a certain Haji Abdu. There may have been a Haji Abdu who supplied thoughts, and even verses, but the production is really a collection of ideas gathered from all quarters. Confucius, Longfellow, Plato, the FitzGeraldian Oman Khayyam, Aristotle, Pope, Das Kabir and the Pulambal are drawn upon; the world is placed under tribute from Pekin to the Salt Lake City. A more careless borrower to use Emersons expression, never lifted poetry. Some of his lines are transferred bodily, and without acknowledgment, from Hafiz;[FN#332] and, no doubt, if anybody were to take the trouble to investigate, it would be found that many other lines are not original. It is really not very much to anyones credit to play the John Ferriar to so careless a Sterne. He doesnt steal the material for his brooms, he steals the brooms ready-made. Later, as we shall see, he borrowed with a ruthlessness that was surpassed only by Alexandre Dumas. Let us say, then, that The Kasidah is tesselated work done in Burtons usual way, and not very coherently, with a liberal sprinkling of obsolete works. At first it positively swarmed with them, but subsequently, by the advice of a friend, a considerable number such as wox and pight was removed. If the marquetry of The Kasidah compares but feebly with the compendious splendours of FitzGeralds quatrains; and if the poem[FN#333] has undoubted wastes of sand, nevertheless, the diligent may here and there pick up amber. But it is only fair to bear in mind that the Lay is less a poem than an enchiridion, a sort of Emersonian guide to the conduct of life rather than an exquisitely-presented summary of the thoughts of an Eastern pessimist. FitzGeralds poem is an unbroken lament. Burton, a more robust soul than the Woodbridge eremite, also has his misgivings. He passes in review the great religious teachers, and systems and comes to the conclusion that men make gods and Gods after their own likeness and that conscience is a geographical accident; but if, like FitzGerald, he is puzzled when he ponders the great questions of life and afterlife, he finds comfort in the fact that probity and charity are their own reward, that we have no need to be anxious about the future, seeing that, in the words of Pope, He cant be wrong, whose life is in the right. He insists that self-cultivation, with due regard for others, is the sole and sufficient object of human life, and he regards the affections and the divine gift of Pity as mans highest enjoyments. As in FitzGeralds poem there is talk of the False Dawn or Wolfs Tail, Thee and Me, Pot and Potter, and here and there are couplets which are simply FitzGeralds quatrains paraphrased[FN#334]--as, for example, the one in which Heaven and Hell are declared to be mere tools of the Wily Fetisheer.[FN#335] Like Omar Khayyam, Haji Abdu loses patience with the dizzied faiths and their disputatious exponents; like Omar Khayyam too, Haji Abdu is not averse from Jamshids bowl, but he is far less vinous than the old Persian.
Two of the couplets flash with auroral splendour, and of all the vast amount of metrical work that Burton accomplished, these are the only lines that can be pronounced imperishable. Once only--and only momentarily--did the seraph of the sanctuary touch his lips with the live coal.
Do what thy manhood bids thee do, from none but self expect applause;
He noblest lives and noblest dies who makes and keeps his self-made laws.
All other life is living death, a world where none but phantoms dwell
A breath, a wind, a sound, a voice, a tinkling of the camel-bell.
We are also bidden to be noble, genuine and charitable.
To seek the true, to glad the heart, such is of life the Higher Law.
Neglecting the four really brilliant lines, the principal attraction of The Kasidah is its redolence of the saffron, immeasurable desert. We snuff at every turn its invigorating air; and the tinkle of the camels bell is its sole and perpetual music.
At first Burton made some attempt to create the impression that there was actually a Haji Abdu, and that the verses were merely a translation. Indeed, he quotes him, at the end of his Supplemental Nights, vol. ii., and elsewhere, as an independent author. Later, however, the mask which deceived nobody was removed. Not only was The Kasidah written in emulation of FitzGeralds Omar, but Burton made no secret that such was the case. To further this end Mr. Schutz Wilson, who had done so much for the Rubaiyat, was approached by one of Burtons friends; and the following letter written to Burton after the interview will be read with some amusement. Dear Richard, it runs, Wox made me shudder! If you give more specimens do be good and be sparing of the pights, ceres and woxes. I showed the Lay to Schutz Wilson. He seemed absorbed in the idea of Omar, and said Oh! I am the cause of its going through five editions. I told him this was even more striking than Omar, but he didnt seem able to take in the new idea! When you want peoples minds they are always thinking of something else.[FN#336] Although the critics as a body fell foul of The Kasidah, still there were not wanting appreciators, and its four great lines have often been quoted.
By this time Mrs. Burton had provided herself with another Chico. Chico the Third (or Chica the Second) was a tall and lank, but well-built Italian girl, daughter of a baron. Lisa had Khamoors ungovernable temper, but to the Burtons she at first exhibited the faithfulness of a dog. Her father lived formerly at Verona, but in the war of 1866, having sided with Austria,[FN#337] he fell upon evil days; and retired to Trieste on a trifling pension. Mrs. Burton and Lisa had not been long acquainted before Lisa became a member of the Burton household as a kind of ladys maid, although she retained her title of Baroness, and Mrs. Burton at once set about Anglicising her new friend, though her attempt, as in Khamoors case, was only partially successful. For instance, Lisa, would never wear a hat, for fear of losing caste. She was willing, however, to hang out her stocking on Christmas eve; and on finding it full next morning said, Oh, I like this game. Shall we play it every night! Just however, as a petted Khamoor had made a spoilt Khamoor; so a petted Lisa very soon made a spoilt Lisa.
With Mrs. Burton, her Jane Digbys, her Chicos, and her servants, Burton rarely interfered, and when he did interfere, it was only to make matters worse; for his judgment was weaker even than hers. On one occasion, however, he took upon himself to dismiss the cook and to introduce another of his own finding. On being requested to prepare the dinner the new acquisition set about it by drinking two bottles of wine, knocking down the housemaid, and beating the kitchenmaid with the saucepan. Burton, who flew to their rescue, thought he must be in Somali-land once more.