Burton, Sir Richard Francis

Burton, Sir Richard Francis, 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).

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