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Definition: Burton, Sir Richard Francis from Philip's Encyclopedia

English explorer and scholar. In 1853 he travelled in disguise to Medina and Mecca, one of the first Europeans to visit the holy cities. On his second trip to E Africa, with John Speke in 1857, he discovered Lake Tanganyika. The author of many books, he was best known for his translation of the Arabian Nights (1885-88).


Summary Article: Burton, Sir Richard Francis from The Columbia Encyclopedia

1821–90, English explorer, writer, and linguist. He joined (1842) the service of the East India Company and, while stationed in India, acquired a thorough knowledge of the Persian, Afghan, Hindustani, and Arabic languages. In 1853, in various disguises, he made a famous journey to Mecca and Medina, about which he wrote the vivid Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah (3 vol., 1855–56). With John Speke he took a party to Somaliland; he alone, disguised as an Arab merchant, made the journey to Harar, Ethiopia, where he met with the local ruler. He went with Speke to uncharted E central Africa to discover the source of the Nile; he found Lake Tanganyika (1858) but abandoned the attempt to reach Lake Nyasa. After a visit to the United States, Burton published an account of the Mormon settlement at Utah in his City of the Saints (1861). While consul (1861–65) at Fernando Po (now Bioko), off W Africa, he explored the Bight of Biafra and conducted a mission to Dahomey, Benin, and the Gold Coast. He explored Santos, in Brazil, while consul (1865) there, and after crossing the continent wrote Explorations of the Highlands of Brazil (1869). After a short period (1869–71) as consul at Damascus he was consul (1872–90) at Trieste, where he died. His last years were devoted chiefly to literature. He published remarkable literal translations of Camões and of the Arabian Nights (16 vol., 1885–88).

  • See annotated bibliography by N. M. Penzer (1923).
  • biographies by his wife (2 vol., 1893, repr. 1973), G. M. Stisted (1893, repr. 1970), A. Bercovici (1962), and F. M. Brodie (1966), and biography of Burton and his wife by M. S. Lovell (1998).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

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