Of such importance and interest is the "Pilgrimage" that I make no apology for giving certain facts and correcting certain errors concerning it.
As readers will have seen in the Introduction to this book, Burton acquired to perfection the art of disguise when roaming among the villages of Southern Scinde.
All the time he was learning and adding to his store of knowledge of Oriental manners and customs.
After his return to England he wished to put to the test all the mass of knowledge he had collected. With the true explorer's spirit, he picked up the map of Arabia, and going to the Royal Geographical Society offered his services "for the purpose of removing that opprobrium to modern adventure, the huge white blot which in our maps still notes the Eastern and the Central regions of Arabia."
Sir Roderick Murchison and other prominent members of the Society supported the proposition. Accordingly it was laid before the Chairman of the Court of Directors to the Hon. East India Company with an application by Burton for three years' leave on special duty from India to Muscat.
Sanction, however, was refused, and in compensation for the disappointment Burton was granted a year's furlough "to enable him to pursue his Arabic studies."
Thus he was forced to cram into a single year what would take at least three years to do properly--to open up unknown Arabia. The thing was impossible, so Burton changed his plans and decided to attempt "to cross the unknown Arabian Peninsula, in a direct line from either El-Medinah to Muscat, or diagonally from Meccah to Makallah on the Indian Ocean." He would naturally start with the pilgrims and arrange his plans according to circumstances. Accordingly he assumed the character of a Persian Mirza while still in London, and accompanied by an interpreter, Captain Henry Grindlay, of the Bengal Cavalry, left London for Southampton.
On his arrival at Alexandria he was recognized and blessed as a true Moslem by the native population. Here he lived in the outhouse (to arouse no suspicions) of his friend Mr. John Larking. After a month's further preparation in Alexandria, Burton assumed the character of a wandering Dervish, re-forming his title from "Mirza," the Persian "Mister," to "Shaykh" Abdullah.
In this new disguise he left Alexandria for Cairo. The journey, simple as it now is by rail, took three days and nights in a smelly overcrowded steamer. To make matters worse, Burton had to travel third class in his character of a Dervish. He became friendly with one Haji Wali, and this friendship increased when in Cairo they shared the same rooms. After the forbidden weed "hashish" had loosed their respective tongues, Haji Wali strongly advised Burton to lay aside all connection with Persia and the Persians.
After long deliberations he decided to change his nationality and become a "Pathan," born in India of Afghan parents, who had settled in the country, educated at Rangoon, and sent out on his travels. After numerous difficulties Burton set out across the Suez Desert, and on arrival at Suez more trouble awaited him, this time in connection with passports. Finally, however, all difficulties were overcome, the pilgrims got aboard their ship, the "Silk al-Zahab," or "Golden Wire," and started on a protracted voyage of over 600 miles from Suez to Yambú, the port for Medina. For a full account of the adventures which Burton went through before arriving safely at Medina it is necessary to refer to his book, although a very good account can be read in his "Life," by Francis Hitchman (Vol. I, pp. 174-248). At Medina Burton learned, to his great consternation, that the Arab tribes of the interior were fighting. This information, added to other circumstances, forced him to abandon his original plan of crossing Arabia. His desire to visit Mecca was very great, and now came his chance to complete the Pilgrimage, and so, instead of crossing Arabia, he turned his face to the Holy City.
It is interesting to note that it was not till the end of 1917 that Central Arabia was crossed from sea to sea. This great feat was accomplished by Mr. H. St. J. B. Philby, who crossed, however, from east to west, starting at Ojair on the Persian Gulf and finishing at the port of Jidda on the Red Sea. (See "Geog. Journ.," Vol. LVI, No. 6, Dec. 1920, pp. 446-68 )
Philby has also done most important work further south on the edge of the great unknown sandy desert, and he still hopes to cross Arabia at a latitude of about 20° N., which cuts one of the least-known spaces on the Earth's surface.
In his new work, "The Heart of Arabia," 1922, Philby proves certain points which have a direct bearing on Burton.
Sir Valentine Chirol told me once that one night he asked Burton to dinner "to meet another Arabian explorer." This was Palgrave. A distinct chill soon manifested itself when the two men met. Palgrave was jealous of Burton, and Burton never believed Palgrave's accounts of his travels in "Central and Eastern Arabia." This view Burton made quite clear in the Introduction to the third edition of the "Pilgrimage" (pp. vii and viii). It is therefore of great interest to see that Philby has proved beyond any doubt that Palgrave described what he never saw, and that once again Burton was correct in his judgment and intuition.
Philby has an interesting note on p. 146 of Vol. II of "The Heart of Arabia."
He is speaking of Palgrave's misstatements about Riyadh, the Wahhabi capital, and states that, in complete contradiction of Palgrave's remarks, immorality is practically unknown there. He mentions Burton, who made a similar statement in his terminal essay to the " Nights" (Vol. X, p. 246.)
It is most gratifying to have these early statements of Burton confirmed by an explorer of to-day who has just completed the programme which in 1853 Burton set himself to carry out. But to return to the Pilgrimage. Burton now followed the pilgrim route to Mecca, which he reached after hardships so great that the reader must refer to Burton's own description, or that in Hitchman's account, already referred to, in order to understand how wonderful a feat Burton accomplished not only in getting to Mecca unharmed, but also in getting out of it with a whole skin. Before leaving the subject of the Pilgrimage I would like to correct a common error, namely, that Burton was the first unbeliever, or the first Englishman, to enter Mecca. He was neither. He was the first English Christian to enter Mecca of his own free will as a true Mohammedan pilgrim, and not as a convert. The first Englishman to enter Mecca was Joseph Pitts. Pitts was a sailor born at Exeter in 1663. In the course of his travels he was captured by an Algerian pirate off the Spanish coast. He was sold as a slave at Algiers and forced to become a Mohammedan. He hated his new religion, and "ate heartily in private of hog." In 1680 he went to Mecca, where he stayed four months, twice entering the Ka'bah. He was very little impressed with what he saw, and sums up his impressions by the words: "I profess I found nothing worth seeing in it."
The first European "Haji" was an Italian named Ludovico Bartema (1503), the next Vincent le Blanc (1568), a Frenchman whose story must be taken with reserve. He was followed by a German, Wild, in 1607; Pitts, 1680; Badia Y Leblich, a Spaniard, 1807; Seetzen, a German, 1809-10; Burckhardt, a Swiss, 1814-15; Finati, an Italian, 1814; Roches, a Frenchman, 1841-2; Wallin, a Swede, 1845; Burton, 1853; von Maltzan, a German, 1860; Bicknell, English, 1862; Keane, English, 1877-8; Hurgronje, Dutch, 1885; Gervais-Courtellement, a Frenchman, 1894; and Wavell in 1908.
Besides these are a number of renegades and nameless Europeans mentioned by various explorers as either getting to the gates of Mecca, or being actually in the town itself. Further accounts of these and also of the above-mentioned travellers will be found in D. G. Hogarth's "The Penetration of Arabia," London, 1904, and Auguste Ralli's "Christians at Mecca," London, 1909. The conclusion of this latter work is interesting. "It is possible," says Ralli, "to divide Christian pilgrims to Mecca into three groups. First come those from Bartema to Pitts, inclusive, whom I have already compared to a cloud of light skirmishers. They are followed by votaries of science--Badia, Seetzen, Burckhardt, Hurfgronje. In a parallel column advance those impelled by love of adventure or curiosity--von Maltzan, Bicknell, Keane, Courtellement. Burton belongs to both the latter groups; Wallin to the first, but he fell on evil days; and it is hard to classify Roches." Of all the above-mentioned travellers only Bartema, Wild, Pitts, Seetzen, Burckhardt, Wallin, Burton and Keane also visited Medina. Special reference should be made to Ralli's bibliography at the end of his book.
It is interesting to note that after the surrender of Medina in the late war, a Turkish map of the city, on the 1/50,000 scale, was captured. It was the first map available since Burton's plan, which faces p. [I] of Vol. II of the "Pilgrimage."
There is one name it is impossible to omit when speaking of Arabian travellers--that of Mr. Charles Montagu Doughty. This great explorer did not go to Mecca, but travelled undisguised with the pilgrim caravan as far as Median Saleh. Had it not been thoroughly against his principles to pass as a Moslem he might have got to Mecca itself. His views on the subject are as definite to- day (I have recently had several most interesting letters from him) as they were in 1875. After his return from Arabia, Doughty dived for many years in the south of Europe, and (partly through prejudice against Burton for passing himself off as a Moslem) never read or even saw Burton's "Pilgrimage," or other works on the East. Thus it seems a great pity that this attitude should have been taken when Doughty could not possibly have seen matters from Burton's point of view. For surely no one could read the "Pilgrimage," or know the author personally, without realizing that Burton was the last man in the world to pry into the secrets of the Moslem religion (which in many points he so greatly admired) with any idea of irreverence or obloquy.
To give but one example of the spirit in which Burton made his Pilgrimage--he had suffered all the hardships and privations like so many of the other pilgrims, and when back in London he tried to form a company for enabling the pilgrims to reach the Holy City with greater ease and comfort. The company was known as "The Hadjilik, or Pilgrimage to Mecca, Syndicate, Limited." It had a capital of £10,000, in 100 shares of £100 each. I have in my collection a copy of the original prospectus. What became of the company I cannot say, but I suppose it went the way of so many schemes, for I can find no mention of it anywhere.
Burton's "Pilgrimage" and Doughty's "Arabia Deserta" are two of the greatest works of travel ever published. The latter has recently been reprinted by the Medici Society.
Burton reviewed "Arabia Deserta" when it first appeared, and his copy, full of corrections and additions, is to be seen in the Central Library, Kensington.
Certain mistakes Doughty made about the Pilgrim Rites could of course have been avoided if he had read "The Pilgrimage."