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Sir Richard BurtonBORN 1821 DIED 1890
SIR Richard Burton... writer, traveller, orientalist,
know for his travels and explorations in Africa and Asia and for his
extraordinary knowledge of languages.... according to one count he
could speak 29 languages.
The Kama Shastra Society
Burton had long had an interest in sexuality and erotic literature. However, the Obscene Publications Act of 1857 had resulted in many jail sentences for publishers, with prosecutions being brought by the Society for the Suppression of Vice
(Burton referred to the society and those who shared its views as Mrs Grundy).
A way around this was the private circulation of books amongst the members of a society. For this reason Burton, together with Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot, created the Kama Shastra Society to print and circulate books that would be illegal to publish in public.
One of the most celebrated of all his books is his translation of the The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night
(more commonly known in English as The Arabian Nights because of Andrew Lang's abridged collection) in ten volumes, (1885) with six further volumes being added later.
The volumes were printed by the Kama Shashtra Society in a subscribers-only edition of one thousand with a guarantee that there would never be a larger printing of the books in this form.
The stories collected were often sexual in content and were considered pornography at the time of publication.
In particular, the Terminal Essay of the Nights was one of the first English language texts to dare address the practice of pederasty which he postulated was prevalent in an area of the southern latitudes named by him the "Sotadic zone."
Rumors about Burton’s own sexuality were already circulating and were further incited by this work.
Perhaps Burton's best-known book is his translation of The Kama Sutra. In fact, it is not really true that he was the translator since the original manuscript was in ancient Sanskrit which he could not read.
However, he collaborated with Forster Fitzgerald Arbuthnot on the work and provided translations from other manuscripts of later translations. The Kama Shashtra Society first printed the book in 1883 and numerous editions of the Burton translation are in print to this day.
His English translation from a French edition of the Arabic erotic guide The Perfumed Garden was printed as The Perfumed Garden of the Cheikh Nefzaoui: A Manual of Arabian Erotology (1886).
After Richard's death Isabel burnt many of his papers, including a manuscript of a subsequent translation, The Scented Garden, containing the final chapter of the work, on pederasty.
It is interesting to note that Burton all along intended for this translation to be published after his death, to provide an income for his widow, and also, as a final gesture of defiance against Victorian society.
Burton's writings are unusually open and frank about his interest in sex and sexuality.
His travel writing is often full of details about the sexual lives of the inhabitants of areas he travelled through.
Burton's interest in sexuality led him to make measurements of the lengths of the sexual organs of male inhabitants of various regions which he includes in his travel books.
He also describes sexual techniques common in the regions he visited, often hinting that he had participated, hence breaking both sexual and racial taboos of his day.
Many people at the time considered the Kama Shastra Society and the books it published scandalous.
In Oct 1890... Sir Richard Burton lies dead, his wife... a fanatical Roman Catholic... burns her late husbands papers... diaries.... erotic manuscripts.
She burns the two extant copies of his erotic masterpiece... The Scented Garden.....
Perhaps all this burning was an attempt to protect her husbands reputation
as there were already so many rumours circulating about his sexuality.