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The Jew, The Gypsy and El Islam

The Jew, The Gypsy and El Islam
Category: Islam / Romanies / Jews
Title: The Jew, The Gypsy and El Islam
Release Date: 2018-05-24
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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From the portrait by Lord Leighton               F. Jenkins Imp. Paris
Richard F. Burton
[Arabic: الحج عبدالله: Al-Hajj 'abd Allah]

The Jew, The Gypsy
El Islam

By the late Captain
Translator of
“The Thousand and One Nights,” and Author of “The
Book of the Sword,” “My Pilgrimage to Mecca,” etc.

Edited with a Preface and Brief Notes

Hutchinson & Co
Paternoster Row

Printed by Hazell, Watson, & Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbury.

[Pg v]


“Good wine needs no bush,” and a good bookneeds no preface, least of all from anybut the author’s pen. This is a rule morehonoured in the breach than the observance nowadays,when many a classic appears weighed downand obscured by the unnecessary remarks and bulkycommentaries of some unimportant editor. Formy part it will suffice to give as briefly as possiblethe history of the MSS. now published for thefirst time in this volume.

Sir Richard Burton was a voluminous writer. Inaddition to the forty-eight works published duringhis life, there remained at his death twenty MSS.,some long and some short, in different stages ofcompletion. A few were ready for press; others werefinished to all intents and purposes, and only requiredfinal revision or a few additions; some were in astate of preparation merely, and for that reasonmay never see the light. Those in this volume[Pg vi]belong to the second category. That so many ofBurton’s MSS. were unpublished at the time of hisdeath arose from his habit of working at severalbooks at a time. In his bedroom, which also servedas his study, at Trieste were some ten or twelve roughdeal tables, and on each table were piled the materialsand notes of a different book in a more or less advancedstage of completion. When he was tired of one,or when he came to a standstill for lack of material,he would leave it for a time and work at another.During the last few years of his life the great successwhich attended his Arabian Nights led him to turnhis attention more to that phase of his work, tothe exclusion of books which had been in preparationfor years. Thus it came about that so manywere unpublished when he died.

As it is well known, he left his writings, publishedand unpublished, to his widow, Lady Burton,absolutely, to do with as she thought best. LadyBurton suppressed what she deemed advisable; therest she brought with her to England. Shepublished her Life of Sir Richard Burton, a newedition of his Arabian Nights, also Catullus andIl Pentamerone; and was arranging for the publicationof others when she died (March, 1896).

Her sister and executrix, Mrs. Fitzgerald (to[Pg vii]whom I should like to express my gratitude for themany facilities she has given me), thought fit toentrust me with the work of editing and preparingfor publication the remaining MSS. In theexercise of the discretion she was good enough tovest in me, I determined to bring out first the threeMSS. which make up this book.

The first part—The Jew—has a somewhatcurious history. Burton collected most of thematerials for writing it from 1869 to 1871, whenhe was Consul at Damascus. His intimate knowledgeof Eastern races and languages, and hissympathy with Oriental habits and lines of thought,gave him exceptional facilities for ethnologicalstudies of this kind. Disguised as a native, andunknown to any living soul except his wife, theBritish Consul mingled freely with the motley populationsof Damascus, and inspected every quarterof the city—Muslim, Christian, and Jewish. Hisinquiries bore fruit in material, not only for thisgeneral essay on the Jew, but for an Appendix dealingwith the alleged rite of Human Sacrifice among theSephardím or Eastern Jews, and more especially themysterious murder of Padre Tomaso at Damascusin 1840. There is little doubt that his inquiryinto these subjects was one of the reasons which[Pg viii]aroused the hostility of the Damascus Jews againsthim; and that hostility was a powerful factor, thoughby no means the only one, in his recall by LordGranville in 1871.

Burton, however, had collected a mass of materialbefore he left Damascus, and in 1873, the year afterhe had been appointed Consul at Trieste, he began toput it into shape for publication. It was his habitto collect for many years the material of a work,to mark, learn, and inwardly digest it, and thenwrite it in a few months. This plan he pursuedwith The Jew, which, with the Appendix beforementioned, was finished and ready for publicationtowards the end of 1874.

In 1875 he came home from Trieste on leave, andbrought the book with him, intending to publish itforthwith. But first he asked an influential friend,who was highly placed in the official world, to readthe MS., and give him his opinion as to the expediencyof publishing it. That opinion was adverse,owing to the anti-Semitic tendency of the book.Other friends also pointed out to Burton that, so longas he remained in the service of the Governmentof a country where the Jews enjoy unprecedentedpower and position, it would be unwise, to say theleast of it, for him to make enemies of them. These[Pg ix]arguments had weight with Burton, who was notas a rule influenced by anything but his own will,and for once he deemed discretion the better quality,and returned with his MS. to Trieste. There wereother considerations too. His wife had just broughtout her Inner Life of Syria, which was partlydevoted to a defence of his action at Damascus inthe matter of the Jews. It had met with a veryfavourable reception. His friends were also endeavouringto obtain for him a K.C.B. and the postof Tangier, Morocco—the one thing he stayed inthe Consular Service in the hope of obtaining. Sothe time (1875) was not deemed a propitious onefor making enemies.

Burton put his MS. on the shelf, and waited forthe promotion which never came. It remained thereuntil 1886, when Tangier, which was as good aspromised to Burton, was given by Lord Roseberyto Sir William Kirby-Green. Then Burton tookdown the MS. on The Jew again, and had it recopied.But his wife, who was endeavouring toobtain permission for him to retire on full pension,pointed out to him that since it had waited so longit might as well wait until March, 1891, when, histerm of service being finished, they would retirefrom official life and be free to publish what they[Pg x]liked. Moreover, they numbered many friendsamong the wealthy Jews of Trieste, and had no wishto wound their susceptibilities. Burton reluctantlyagreed to this, but declared his determination ofpublishing the book as soon as he had retired fromthe Consular Service. Five months before the dateof his retirement he died.

Lady Burton had The Jew next on her list forpublication at the time of her death. In publishingit now, therefore, one is only carrying out her wishesand those of her husband. But in the exerciseof the discretion given to me, I have thought itbetter to hold over for the present the Appendixon the alleged rite of Human Sacrifice among theSephardím and the murder of Padre Tomaso. Theonly alternative was to publish it in a mutilatedform; and as I hold strongly that no one has aright to mutilate the work of another writer, least ofall of one who is dead, I prefer to withhold it untila more convenient season. I can do this with aclearer conscience, because the Appendix has no directbearing on the other part of the book, and becausethe chapters on The Jew which are retained areby far the more important. The tone of even thisportion is anti-Semitic; but I do not feel justifiedin going contrary to the wishes of the author[Pg xi]and suppressing an interesting ethnological studymerely to avoid the possibility of hurting the susceptibilitiesof the Hebrew community. It hasbeen truly said, “Every nation gets the Jew it deserves,”and it may well be that the superstitionsand cruelties of the Eastern Jews have beengenerated in them by long centuries of oppressionand wrong. From these superstitions and crueltiesthe enlightened and highly favoured Jews in Englandnaturally shrink with abhorrence and repudiation;but it does not therefore follow they have no existenceamong their less fortunate Eastern brethren.

The Gypsy has a far less eventful history, thoughthe materials for its making were collected duringa period of over thirty years, and were gatheredfor the most part by personal research, in Asiamainly, and also in Africa, South America, andEurope. Burton’s interest in the Gypsies was lifelong;and when he was a lieutenant in the BombayArmy and quartered in Sindh, he began his investigationsconcerning the affinity between the Jats andthe Gypsies. During his many travels in differentparts of the world, whenever he had the opportunityhe collected fresh materials with a view to puttingthem together some day. In 1875 his controversywith Bataillard provoked him into compiling his[Pg xii]long-contemplated work on the Gypsies. Unfortunatelyother interests intervened, and the work wasnever completed. It was one of the many unfinishedthings Burton intended to complete when he shouldhave quitted the Consular Service. He hoped, forinstance, to make fuller inquiries concerning theGypsies in France, Germany, and other countriesof Europe, and especially he intended to write achapter on the Gypsies in England on his returnhome. Even as it stands, however, The Gypsyis a valuable addition to ethnology; for apartfrom Burton’s rare knowledge of strange peoplesand tongues, his connexion with the Gypsies lendsto the subject a unique interest. There is no doubtthat he was affiliated to this strange people bynature, if not by descent. To quote from the GypsyLore Journal[1]:

“Whether there may not be also a tinge of Arab,or perhaps of Gypsy blood in Burton’s race, is apoint which is perhaps open to question. For thelatter suspicion an excuse may be found in theincurable restlessness which has beset him since hisinfancy, a restlessness which has effectually preventedhim from ever settling long in any one place, andin the singular idiosyncrasy which his friends have[Pg xiii]often remarked—the peculiarity of his eyes. ‘Whenit (the eye) looks at you,’ said one who knows himwell, ‘it looks through you, and then, glazing over,seems to see something behind you. Richard Burtonis the only man (not a Gypsy) with that peculiarity,and he shares with them the same horror of a corpse,death-bed scenes, and graveyards, though caringlittle for his own life.’ When to this remarkablefact be added the scarcely less interesting detailthat ‘Burton’ is one of the half-dozen distinctivelyRomany names, it is evident that the suspicion ofSir Richard Burton having a drop of Gypsy blood inhis descent—crossed and commingled though it bewith an English, Scottish, French, and Irish strain—isnot altogether unreasonable.”

On this subject Lady Burton also wrote:

“In the January number of the Gypsy LoreJournal a passage is quoted from ‘a short sketchof the career’ of my husband (a little black pamphlet)which half suspects a remote drop of Gypsy bloodin him. There is no proof that this was ever thecase; but there is no question that he showed manyof their peculiarities in appearance, disposition, andspeech—speaking Romany like themselves. Nor didwe ever enter a Gypsy camp without their claiminghim: ‘What are you doing with a black coat on?[Pg xiv]’they would say; ‘why don’t you join us and beour King?’”[2]

Whether the affinity was one of blood or of naturedoes not greatly matter; in either case it lends aspecial interest to Burton’s study of the gypsy.

Of El Islam; or, The Rank of Muhammadanismamong the Religions of the World there is littleto be said. It is one of the oldest of the BurtonMSS.; and though it bears no date, from internalevidence I judge it to have been written soon afterhis famous pilgrimage to Mecca in 1853. It is, infact, contemporary with his poem The Kasîdah,though I know not why the poem was publishedand the essay withheld. Probably Burton contemplatedwriting more fully on the subject.Muhammadanism in its highest aspect alwaysattracted him. So

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