Study Guide

Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton

by Edward Rice

Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton Essay - Critical Essays

Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton

CAPTAIN SIR RICHARD FRANCIS BURTON is more than merely a solidly written biography. Edward Rice has captured the immense passion of the man as no other biographer has before him. Rice spent a number of years collecting details that enhance this study. Sir Richard Burton is both a fascinating and controversial figure. The subtitle describes only partially the accomplishments of the man. He was as brave as he was brilliant. His curiosity for the strange and the unknown was almost insatiable. This curiosity led to many perilous situations. Over his many years as an explorer, he suffered from almost every conceivable disease. Rice also points out how envious and hostile the British hierarchy was toward this most unique individual.

Besides being an obsessive explorer and the discoverer of Lake Tanganyika, Burton was an accomplished linguist and the author of many penetrating studies of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. He mastered twenty-nine languages and made use of his linguistic skills to translate the ARABIAN NIGHTS, the KAMA SUTRA, the poet Luis de Cam’es, and THE SCENTED GARDEN. Rice does not shy away from Burton’s erotic interests. His needs in this area were no less intense. Rice also makes the point that Burton was a heavy user of alcohol and drugs. Burton was a complex man, vulnerable to extreme bouts of depression. Traveling, investigating, and writing kept him alive. Even when his health was rapidly deteriorating, he would seemingly run away from the pain by traveling somewhere new. In the end—with his devout Roman Catholic wife at his side—he finally died in Trieste, Italy at the age of sixty-nine with many projects left unfinished. Rice has done this Renaissance man justice with a scholarly and intuitive portrait.

Sources for Further Study

The Atlantic. CCLXVI, July, 1990, p.105.

The Christian Science Monitor. August 9, 1990, p.14.

Los Angeles Times. May 23, 1990, p. E7.

The New York Times Book Review. XCV, May 20, 1990, p.1.

Newsweek. CXV, May21, 1990, p.94.

The Wall Street Journal. June 6, 1990, p. A 14.

The Washington Post Book World. XX, May 20, 1990, p.3.