Chapter XXXIII
19th March 1888-15th October 1888  The Last Visit to England  “The Supplemental Nights”


76. 1st Vol. Supplemental Nights, 1st December 1886. 6th Vol. 1st August 1888.

152. Meeting with Mr. Swinburne and others, 18th July 1888-15th October 1888.

Burton’s health continuing weak, he again endeavoured to induce the Government to release him from his duties. Instead of that, they gave him what he calls “an informal sick certificate,” and from the following letter to his sister (26th May 1888) we may judge that it was not given gracefully.

“Yesterday,” he says, “I got my leave accompanied by some disagreeable expressions which will be of use to me when retiring. We leave Trieste in June and travel leisurely over the St. Gothard and expect to be in England about the 10th. ... The meteorologists declare that the heat is going to equal the cold. Folky[FN#554] folk are like their neighbours, poor devils who howl for excitement --want of anything better to do. The dreadful dull life of England accounts for many British madnesses. Do you think of the Crystal Palace this year? We have an old friend, Aird, formerly the Consul here, who has taken up his abode somewhere in Sydenham. I don’t want cold water bandages, the prospect of leave makes me sleep quite well. With love and kisses to both,[FN#555] Your affectionate brother, R. F. B.”

Burton and his wife reached Folkestone on July 18th. Next day they went on to London, where they had the pleasure of meeting again Commander Cameron, Mr. Henry Irving, M. Du Chaillu, Mr. A. C. Swinburne, and Mr. Theodore Watts[-Dunton]. What Burton was to Mr. Swinburne is summed up in the phrase--“the light that on earth was he.”[FN#556]

153. H. W. Ashbee.

His principal place of resort, however, during this visit was the house of Mr. H. W. Ashbee, 54, Bedford Square, where he met not only Mr. Ashbee, but also Dr. Steingass, Mr. Arbuthnot, Sir Charles Wingfield and Mr. John Payne, all of whom were interested, in different ways, in matters Oriental. Ashbee, who wrote under the name of Pisanus Fraxi (Bee of an ash), was a curiously matter-of-fact, stoutish, stolid, affable man, with a Maupassantian taste for low life, its humours and laxities. He was familiar with it everywhere, from the sordid purlieus of Whitechapel to the bazaars of Tunis and Algiers, and related Haroun Al-Raschid-like adventures with imperturbably, impassive face, and in the language that a business man uses when recounting the common transactions of a day. This unconcernedness never failed to provoke laughter, even from those who administered rebukes to him. Of art and literature he had absolutely no idea, but he was an enthusiastic bibliophile, and his library, which included a unique collection or rare and curious books, had been built up at enormous expense. Somebody having described him as “not a bad old chap,” Mr. Payne added characteristically, “And he had a favourite cat, which says something for him.”

154. A Bacon Causerie.

The serenity of these gatherings, whether at Mr. Ashbee’s or at Mr. Arbuthnot’s, was never ruffled unless somebody happened to introduce politics or the Shakespere-Bacon Question. Arbuthnot the Liberal was content to strike out with his back against the wall, so to speak, when attacked by the Conservative Burton, Ashbee and Payne; but Arbuthnot the Baconian frequently took the offensive. He would go out of his way in order to drag in this subject. He could not leave it out of his Life of Balzac even. These controversies generally resolved themselves into a duel between Mr. Arbuthnot and Mr. Payne--Burton, who loved a fight between any persons and for any reasons, looking on approvingly. Mr. Ashbee and Dr. Steingass were inclined to side with Mr. Payne. On one of these occasions Mr. Payne said impatiently that he could not understand “any sensible man taking the slightest interest in the sickening controversy,” and then he pointed out one by one the elements that in his opinion made the Baconian theory ridiculous.

“But,” followed Mr. Arbuthnot, “Shakespere had no education, and no person without an extremely good education could have written the play erroneously published under the name of William Shakespere.”

“If,” retorted Mr. Payne, “Shakespere had been without education, do you think the fact would have escaped the notice of such bitter and unscrupulous enemies as Nash, Greene, and others, who hated him for his towering superiority?”

Upon Mr. Arbuthnot admitting that he studies Shakespere merely from a “curio” point of view, and that for the poetry he cared nothing, Mr. Payne replied by quoting Schopenhauer: “A man who is insensible to poetry, be he who he may, must be a barbarian.”

Burton, who regarded himself as a poet, approved of the sentiment; Dr. Steingass, who wrote execrable verses in English which neither rhymed nor scanned, though they were intended to do both, was no less satisfied; Mr. Ashbee, who looked at matters solely from a bibliographical point of view, dissented; and Mr. Arbuthnot sweetly changed the conversation to Balzac; with the result, however, of another tempest, for on this subject Burton, who summed up Balzac as “a great repertory of morbid anatomy,” could never see eye to eye with Balzac’s most enthusiastic English disciple.

At Oxford, Burton met Professor Sayce, and did more literary work “under great difficulties” at the Bodleian, though he escaped all the evil effects; but against its wretched accommodation for students and its antediluvian methods he never ceased to inveigh. Early in August he was at Ramsgate and had the amusement of mixing with a Bank Holiday crowd. But he was amazingly restless, and wanted to be continually in motion. No place pleased him more than a day or two.

155. The Gypsy, August 1888.

Among the deal tables in Burton’s rooms at Trieste was one devoted to a work on the Gypsies, a race concerning whom, as we have seen, he had long been curious. He had first proposed to himself to write on the subject when he was in Sind, where he had made investigations concerning the affinity between the Jats and the Gypsies; and now with abundance of leisure he set about the work in earnest. But it was never finished, and the fragment which was published in 1898[FN#557] contains, Mr. Watts-Dunton[FN#558] assures me, many errors. Burton’s idea was to describe the Gypsy in all lands. Perhaps he is happiest in his account of the Spanish Gypsy woman. “Their women,” he says, “sell poultry and old rags. ... and find in interpreting dreams, in philter selling, and in fortune-telling the most lucrative industries. They sing, and play various instruments, accompanying the music with the most voluptuous and licentious dances and attitudes; but woe to the man who would obtain from these Bayaderes any boon beyond their provocative exhibition. From the Indus to Gibraltar, the contrast of obscenity in language and in songs with corporal chastity has ever been a distinctive characteristic. ... Gypsy marriages, like those of the high caste Hindus, entail ruinous expense; the revelry lasts three days, the ‘Gentile’ is freely invited, and the profusion of meats and drinks often makes the bridgegroom a debtor for life. The Spanish Gypsies are remarkable for beauty in early youth; for magnificent eyes and hair, regular features, light and well-knit figures. Their locks, like the Hindus, are lamp black, and without a sign of wave:[FN#559] and they preserve the characteristic eye. I have often remarked its fixity and brilliance, which flashes like phosphoric light, the gleam which in some eyes denotes madness. I have also noticed the ‘far-off look’ which seems to gaze at something beyond you and the alternation from the fixed stare to a glazing or filming of the pupil.”[FN#560]

This peculiarity of the gypsy’s eyes, Burton had himself, for which reason alone, some writers, as we have already observed, have claimed him for the tribe. But he shared other peculiarities with them. For example, there was his extraordinary restlessness-- a restlessness which prevented him from every settling long in any one place. Then, like the gypsies, he had an intense horror of a corpse--even of pictures of corpses. Though brave to temerity he avoided churchyards, and feared “the phosphorescence of the dead.” Many of his letters testify to his keen interest in the race. For example, he tells Mr. J. Pincherle, author of a Romani version of Solomon’s Song,[FN#561] the whole story of his wife and Hagar Burton. In 1888 he joined the newly-founded “Gypsy Lore Society,” and in a letter to Mr. David MacRitchie (13th May 1888) he says in reference to the Society’s Journal: “Very glad to see that you write ‘Gypsy.’ I would not subscribe to ‘Gipsy.’” In later letters he expresses his appreciation of Mr. MacRitchie’s article “The Gypsies of India,” and wishes the Society “God speed,” while in that of 13th August 1888, he laments the trifling results that followed his own and Arbuthnot’s efforts in behalf of Orientalism. “We [The Gypsy Lore Society]” he says, “must advance slowly and depend for success upon our work pleasing the public. Of course, all of us must do our best to secure new members, and by Xmas I hope that we shall find ourselves on the right road. Mr. Pincherle writes to me hopefully about his practical studies of Gypsy life in Trieste. As regards Orientalism in England generally I simply despair of it. Every year the study is more wanted and we do less. It is the same with anthropology, so cultivated in France, so stolidly neglected in England. I am perfectly ashamed of our wretched “Institution” in Hanover Square when compared with the palace in Paris. However, this must come to an end some day.”

On 13th August 1888, Burton writes to Mr. A. G. Ellis from “The Langham,” Portland Place, and sends him the Preface to the last Supplemental Volume with the request that he would run his eye over it. “You live,” he continues, “in a magazine of learning where references are so easy, and to us outsiders so difficult. Excuse this practical proof that need has no law.” On September 26th he sent a short note to Mr. Payne. “Arbuthnot,” he said, “will be in town on Tuesday October 2nd. What do you say to meeting him at the Langham 7 p.m. table d’hote hour? .... It will be our last chance of meeting.”

Sir Richard and Lady Burton, Dr. Baker, Arbuthnot, and Payne dined together on the evening appointed; and on October 15th Burton left London, to which he was never to return alive.

156. The Supplemental Nights. 1st December 1886-1st August 1888.

The translation of the Supplemental Nights, that is to say, the collection of more or less interesting Arabian tales not included in the Nights proper, was now completed. The first volume had appeared in 1886, the last was to be issued in 1888. Although containing old favourites such as “Alaeddin,” “Zayn Al Asnam,” “Ali Baba,” and the “Story of the Three Princes,” the supplemental volumes are altogether inferior to the Nights proper. Then, too, many of the tales are mere variants of the versions in the more important work. Burton’s first two supplemental volumes are from the Breslau text, and, as we said, cover the same ground as Mr. Payne’s Tales from the Arabic. In both he followed Mr. Payne closely, as will be seen from his notes (such as “Here I follow Mr. Payne, who has skilfully fine-drawn the holes in the original text”)[FN#562] which, frequent as they are, should have been multiplied one hundred-fold to express anything like the real obligation he owed to Mr. Payne’s translation. “I am amazed,” he once said to Mr. Payne, “at the way in which you have accomplished what I (in common with Lane and other Arabists) considered an impossibility in the elucidation and general re-creation from chaos of the incredibly corrupt and garbled Breslau Text. I confess that I could not have made it out without your previous version. It is astonishing how you men of books get to the bottom of things which are sealed to men of practical experience like me.” And he expressed himself similarly at other times. Of course, the secret was the literary faculty and intuition which in Burton were wanting.

Burton’s Third Volume[FN#563] consists of the tales in Galland’s edition which are not in the Nights proper. All of them, with the exception of “Alaeddin” and “Zayn Al Asnam,” are reproductions, as we said, from a Hindustani translation of the French text--the Arabic originals of the tales being still (1905) undiscovered.

His Fourth and Fifth Volumes[FN#564] are from the Wortley-Montague Text. His sixth and last[FN#565] contains the Chavis and Cazotte Text--the manuscript of which is reputed to have been brought to France by a Syrian priest named Shawish (Frenchlifted into Chavis), who collaborated with a French litterateur named Cazotte. The work appeared in 1788. “These tales,” says Mr. Payne, “seem to me very inferior, in style, conduct, and diction, to those of ‘the old Arabian Nights,’ whilst I think ‘Chavis and Cazotte’s continuation’ utterly unworthy of republication whether in part or ‘in its entirety.’ It is evident that Shawish (who was an adventurer of more than doubtful character) must in many instances have utterly misled his French coadjutor (who had no knowledge of Arabic), as to the meaning of the original.”--Preface to Alaeddin, &c., xv., note. Mr. Payne adds, “I confess I think the tales, even in the original Arabic, little better than rubbish, and am indeed inclined to believe they must have been, at least in part, manufactured by Shawish.”[FN#566]

157. Comparison.

Burton’s supplementary volume containing “Alaeddin” and “Zayn Al Asnam,” appeared, as we have seen, in 1887; and in 1889 Mr. Payne issued a Translation from Zotenberg’s text. When dealing with the Nights proper we gave the reader an opportunity of comparing Burton’s translation with Payne’s which preceded it. We now purpose placing in juxtaposition two passages from their supplemental volumes, and we cannot do better than choose from either “Alaeddin” or “Zayn Al Asnam,” as in the case of both the order is reversed, Burton’s translation having preceded Payne’s. Let us decide on the latter. Any passage would do, but we will take that describing the finding of the ninth image:

Then he set out and gave not over journeying till he came to Bassora, and entering his palace, saluted his mother and told her all that had befallen him; whereupon quoth she to him "Arise, O my son, so thou mayst see this ninth image, for that I am exceedingly rejoiced at its presence with us. So they both descended into the underground hall wherein were the eight images, and found there a great marvel; to wit, instead of the ninth image, they beheld the young lady resembling the sun in her loveliness. The prince knew her when he saw her, and she said to him, "Marvel not to find me here in place of that which thou soughtest; me thinketh thou wilt not repent thee an thou take me in the stead of the ninth image." "No, by Allah, Oh my beloved!" replied Zein ul Asnam. "For that thou art the end of my seeking, and I would not exchange thee for all the jewels in the world. Didst thou but know the grief which possessed me for thy separation, thou whom I took from thy parents by fraud and brought thee to the King of the Jinn!"
Then he set out nor ceased travelling till such time as he reached Bassorah, when he entered his palace; and after saluting his mother, he apprized her of all things that had befallen him. She replied, "Arise, O my son, that we may look upon the Ninth statue, for I rejoice with extreme joy at its being in our possession." So both descended into the pavilion where stood the eight images of precious gems, and here they found a mighty marvel. 'Twas this: In lieu of seeing the Ninth Statue upon the golden throne, they found seated thereon the young lady whose beauty suggested the sun. Zayn al-Asnam knew her at first sight and presently she addressed him saying, "Marvel not for that here thou findest me in place of that wherefor thou askedst; and I deem that thou shalt not regret nor repent when thou acceptest me instead of that thou soughtest." Said he, "No, verily, thou art the end of every wish of me nor would I exchange thee for all the gems of the universe. Would thou knew what was the sorrow which surcharged me on account of our separation and of my reflecting that I took thee  and I bore thee as a present to the King of the Jinn.
Indeed I had well nigh determined to forfeit all my profit of the Ninth Statue and to bear thee away to Bassorah as my own bride, when my comrade and councillor dissuaded me from so doing lest I bring about my death."[FN#567]
Scarce had the prince made an end of his speech when they heard a noise of thunder rending the mountains and shaking the earth, and fear gat hold upon the queen, the mother of Zein ul Asnam, Yea and sore trembling; but, after a little, the King of the Jinn appeared and said to her, "O Lady, fear not, it is I who am thy son's protector and I love him with an exceeding love for the love his father bore me. Nay, I am he who appeared to him in his sleep and in this I purposed to try his fortitude, whether or not he might avail to subdue himself for loyalty's sake."
Nor had Zayn al Asnam ended his words ere they heard the roar of thunderings that would rend a mount and shake the earth, whereat the Queen Mother was seized with mighty fear and affright. But presently appeared the King of the Jinn, who said to her, "O my lady, fear not! Tis I, the protector of thy son, whom I fondly affect for the affection borne to me by his sire. I also am he who manifested myself to him in his sleep, and my object therein was to make trial of his valiance and to learn an he could do violence to his passions for the sake of his promise, or whether the beauty of this lady would so tempt and allure him that he could not keep his promise to me with due regard."

Here, again, Payne is concise and literal, Burton diffuse and gratuitously paraphrastic as appears above and everywhere, and the other remarks which we made when dealing with the Nights proper also apply, except, of course, that in this instance Burton had not Payne’s version to refer to, with the consequence that in these two tales (“Alaeddin” and “Zayn Al Asnam”) there are over five hundred places in which the two translators differ as to the rendering, although they worked from the same MS. copy, that of M. Houdas, lent by him to Burton and afterwards to Payne. Arabists tell us that in practically every instance Payne is right, Burton wrong. The truth is that, while in colloquial Arabic Burton was perfect, in literary Arabic he was far to seek,[FN#568] whereas Mr. Payne had studied the subject carefully and deeply for years. But Burton’s weakness here is not surprising. A Frenchman might speak excellent English, and yet find some difficulty in translating into French a play of Shakespeare or an essay of Macaulay. Burton made the mistake of studying too many things. He attempted too much.

But in the Supplemental Nights, as in the Nights proper, his great feature is the annotating. Again we have a work within a work, and the value of these notes is recognised on all sides. Yet they are even less necessary for elucidating the text than those in the Nights proper. Take for example the tremendous note in Vol. i. on the word “eunuchs.” As everybody knows what a eunuch is, the text is perfectly clear. Yet what a mass of curious knowledge he presents to us! If it be urged that the bulk of Burton’s notes, both to the Nights proper and the Supplemental Nights, are out of place in a work of this kind--all we can say is “There they are.” We must remember, too, that he had absolutely no other means of publishing them.