Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - March - 2008 Issue

Africa and Explorer Richard Burton from Bernard J. Shapero Rare Books

Burton

Africa and explorer Richard Burton from Bernard Shapero.


By Michael Stillman

Bernard J. Shapero Rare Books
has created a catalogue for collectors of Africa and the travels of British explorer Richard Burton. The title is Books by Sir Richard Burton together with a selection of books on Africa, from a private collection. Offered are 57 titles, all bound in green half morocco gilt, with marbled board and edges. They were apparently so bound for British bookseller Henry Sotheran in the 1920s.

Burton was one of the greatest of explorers, both for the significance of the discoveries he made and knowledge he brought back, and for the sheer volume of his travels. His most notable trips brought him to the Middle East and Africa, but he traveled all over the world, to India, the Americas, even Iceland. Later in life, he would also serve as a British diplomat in foreign outposts. He was something of a rogue, unafraid to tackle such controversial subjects as the sexual practices of the peoples he visited (not terribly appropriate in Victorian England), and not unwilling to enter heated debates, most notably with his one-time partner and fellow explorer John Speke. Burton questioned Speke's claim to having discovered the source of the Nile at Lake Victoria (Speke was later vindicated), but Speke died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound the day before their planned debate. It is unknown whether the shot was intentional or accidental. Ironically enough, Burton, who was severely limited on their joint travels by ill-health, outlived Speke by a quarter century and went on to conduct many more expeditions. Among his most notable achievements were the discovery of Lake Tanganyika, and being the first non-Moslem European to conduct a well-documented pilgrimage to Mecca.

Item 5 is a copy of Burton's first book, Goa, and the Blue Mountains; or, six months of sick leave. Burton had served with the military in India during the 1840s, so he was well-equipped to write about the Goa region while on leave. This 1851 title would be the first of a great many books he would write over the next four decades. Priced at £1,250 (British pounds, or approximately $2,450 in U.S. dollars).

Item 14 is one of his greatest works, Burton's account of his travel in disguise: Personal narrative of a pilgrimage of El-Medinah and Meccah. Burton had deeply immersed himself in local culture in his years in the military, and proved to have an uncanny ability to become thoroughly familiar with local cultures and languages and adapt to them. He undertook the Hajj, a sacred journey to Mecca forbidden to non-Muslims, disguised as a Moslem Afghan tribesman in 1853, publishing this account two years later. £4,000 (US $7,840).

Following his strenuous journey to Africa, and tired from his ongoing dispute with Speke, Burton took an American vacation shortly before that nation's Civil War. Naturally, he headed towards America's more remote regions, writing about it in 1861 in The City of the Saints and across the Rocky Mountains to California. Among his most notable stops was Salt Lake, where he met with Brigham Young. Controversial as always, Burton brought on his share of condemnation for his liberal attitude toward the Mormons and the still active practice of polygamy. Item 2. £750 (US $1,470).

Rare Book Monthly

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