Sir Richard Francis Burton. Explorations, eccentric tastes, and an ever-watchful wife…
Burton had often said “he required two, and only two qualities in a woman, namely beauty and affection.” He had also written that he admired them “soft-bending and relaxed.” In Isabel Arundell he found the first and second qualities but manifestly not the third. Despite all her protestations of adoration and devotion she could be a stubborn and exacting woman. Though she had vigorously repudiated all the suitors selected by her mother up to this point, she refused now to marry Burton without her mother’s consent. The fact that her father liked Richard immensely and the uncomfortable realization that she was nearing thirty were not enough. Mrs. Arundell remained adamant, and the arguing and pleading went on almost a year.
Meanwhile Burton worked feverishly at his manuscript of the African exhibition, which he hoped would win back some of the honors John Speke had so neatly taken unto himself. His two-volume Lake Regions of Central Africa ( 1860) showed that he had developed into a fastidious and thorough scholar. Here is the geography, biology, geology, and meteorology of the area through which they passed; also the foods, customs,and adornment of the natives, as well as their tribal fetishism, polygamy, internal slave traffic, and techniques of warfare. Nothing seems to have escaped him- nothing that is, but the true source of the Nile. On this subject he chided Speke for his effrontery and insisted that only future exploration would settle the matter.
It was true that nothing had been proved absolutely, but Speke happened to be right and Burton wrong, and in the end this circumstance tarnished Burton’s reputation as an explorer. As the controversy heightened in London, Burton began winning friends for his side. But the Royal Geographical Society continued to side with Speke, and Burton found he had “opened up the oyster for the rest to take the pearl.” Suddenly, without warning even his still temporizing fiancee, Burton left England.
A note delivered after his departure told her he was off to explore another holy city, this time the mecca of the Mormons in the valley of the Great Salt Lake. He would be gone, he said, for nine months, during which time she was to make up her mind finally about their marriage. “If one you really let me go,mind, I shall never come back,” he said, “because I shall know that you have not got the strength of character my wife must have.”ADDENDUM:
(see link at end)…Tim Jeal, author of a new book Explorers of the Nile, has unearthed evidence that has convinced him Speke’s achievements were “diminished by what a very skilful, clever but ultimately cynical person had done to him”. Speke had, in fact, fallen hopelessly in love with an African woman in Uganda and showed astonishing frankness in giving tribesmen and women sexual advice. He also showed real bravery. Apart from fighting off spear-wielding Somalis, he saved a wife of a Bagandan king from being beaten to death. Speke, Jeal believes, should be in the pantheon of the world’s greatest explorers. It was he who, in 1863, became the first European to reach Lake Victoria and find its outlet, still accepted as the Nile’s main source, demonstrating how the world’s longest river flowed through a vast desert without being replenished for 1,200 miles by a single tributary.
Jeal said: “Burton became painfully jealous of Speke for upstaging him by ‘discovering’ Lake Victoria on a solo excursion during their joint expedition to Lake Tanganyika. For over a decade after Speke’s accidental death, Burton did his utmost to persuade the British public that the dead man had been a deluded nonentity.” Burto
s hailed as the first European to find Lake Tanganyika, but Jeal said he was a “relatively unsuccessful explorer” whose discovery was made with Speke. “They explored the lake together to reach the key northern part but failed. Then, as Burton was too sick, Speke volunteered to search alone. Yet Burton later claimed Speke was sick too.”
Burton’s condescending assessment of Speke’s character was so devastating that seven Burton biographies published in the past 50 years support his ideas, Jeal said. The author argues that, while Burton is justifiably admired as a linguist and swordsman and for his “staggering 50 books”, including translations of works such as the Kama Sutra, Speke was “looked down on”. There has been only one biography about Speke, published 40 years ago. What damaged Speke most, Jeal said, was “the claim that he was not merely self-absorbed, but cold”. Biographers described him as “inhibited and prudish”, with suggestions he was a repressed homosexual or “entirely sexless – a sad figure compared with the sexually active Burton”. Read More:http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/sep/11/burton-speke-african-exploration-nile