Sir Richard Francis Burton

By Scott Bailey

If ever you are looking for a good and somewhat different biography to read them try Burton: A Biography of Sir Richard Francis Burton by Byron Farwell.

I am not one for biographies myself – I only read this one due to the fact that he was featured in one of my favourite old time Science Fiction series – the Riverworld books by Philip Jose Farmer. A series where every single person who ever lived is resurrected on one world all at once – just a fantastic premise in itself.

Farmer uses Burton as the main character of the first book (and others later on.)  He writes him with such passion and paints him in such an interesting way that you can’t help but find out more about him.

So I delved into this biography. Farmer had only painted a small part of his life!

Sir Richard Francis Burton, in reality, was  – complicated.

He was a man of extremes. In many ways, he was extremely admirable. On other extremely reprehensible! Unforgivably so.

He achieved more in his lifetime than many of us could on six, seven, eight lifetimes! But is beliefs were bigoted and selfish, to say the least.

For example:

He was an avid supporter of slavery! He believed women’s places were in the home or the bed! He was vehemently anti-semitic and wrote several books that still cause controversy today!

You could argue he was a product of his time but he was an intelligent man and there were plenty of contemporaries who were seeing past the constraints of their society and challenging the established views.

He was a womaniser – had affairs, frequented brothels. He was a brawler – fought at the drop of a hat earning him the nickname Ruffian Dick. He disregarded authority of all kinds and went his own way, expelled from University and often AWOL from his army career.

However:

On the flip side.

He was one of the foremost fencers of the time inventing some new moves.

He was a masterful linguist  – he was fluent in 24 languages – and in many of the different dialects of them. So much so he could pass himself off as a local in many places. He learnt much of it from prostitutes!

He was a master of disguise – not just in the fact he could dress up, makeup and talk like the locals. But that he understood them, he took the time to know their customs and etiquette, the foibles without which he would have been betrayed as an outsider. He immersed himself in their culture.

He made seven pilgrimages in his life.  Studying and being accepted into various religions – understanding their teachings while not believing any of them.

He was the epitome of an explorer, making dangerous journey in strange lands, suffering illness and injury, going back for more and pressing on.

He explored and brought to light the many sexual practices from around the world. He brought much middle eastern and eastern culture to our consciousness. He brought us translations of the Thousand and One Nights, the Karma Sutra and the Perfumed Garden.

So as I said, complicated.

It brings up a problem we often have with heroes. We want them to be perfect. We want all those good qualities without the bad. But life is not like that – people are not like that.

We kind of know that – we try and accommodate it. Modern day fictional heroes have their flaws, they are dark and brooding and have emotional baggage. But nothing we can’t handle – nothing really reprehensible.

So it got me thinking. I have a real problem with Sir Richard Francis Burton. I admire what he achieved. I dislike what he was as a person. I certainly would not like not have known him personally. 

And I see a reflection of modern men in this dilemma. I have written here about how men (and everyone in fact) are demonised in modern media. On the other side, we are brought up with a set of ideals about what a man should be what we should strive to be.

We end up with conflicting views – an ideal – heroic man to strive for, and the wretch the world tells us we are.

The conflict I feel when thinking about Richard Francis Burton is the conflict we feel about modern men – he is a kind of reflection of us.

We should, I think – start to accept our flaws more, try to improve and eliminate them, yes, but give ourselves a break. They are a part of us, a part of our nature. Nobody is perfect – natures abhors perfection as much as a vacuum.  Perfection does not exist so let’s stop trying to achieve it.

Anyway, ramble over.

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Poem a day challenge #230 (Iron)

Iron

By Scott Bailey © 2014

Hard, cold and grey
Dull and unreflective
Sharpened for weapons of war
Blunted for tools of toil

Yet there is more
Glowing in the forge
Twisted into marble patterns
Delicate chains and swirls

Mounts for jewels
Brooches for queens
Pins and forks and hooks
A myriad of ideas were born

Flowing from use to form
New forms growing fast
The sword fights, the lock defends
The cauldron holds the feast

Times of war and growth of lore
Times of great halls a roaring
Look past the iron-grey mist of time
To see the colours flower

www.scottandrewbailey.uk

 

Poem a day challenge #229 (Stone and Bronze)

Stone and Bronze

By Scott Bailey © 2014

They left a legacy written in stone
Plain for all to see
Yet there are less lucid signs
Discovered carefully

Lines that lay across the land
Tales of times gone by
Showing us in hidden ways
To be read by those who try

The tracks we walked long ago
The boundaries of old
A story laid on every hill
And every vale and fold.

And on our tongues and in our tales
Echoes of the past
Holy places beyond the cross
Beyond a gulf so vast

Shapes and forms from ancient times
Still glimpsed within the heart
Of dance and song and tales that burn
And every blessed art

Get the previous ones here

http://wp.me/P3kG6h-bb  and get my début novel Mankind Limited

Poem a day challenge #227 (Unreasoned)

Unreasoned

By Scott Bailey © 2014

So they gathered through all the seasons
No plan, no goal, no reason
Anyone would have thought they had agoraphobia
Reality, they imagined, could be held back forever

Socially seeking some satisfying Saturdays
Never needing new nighttime neon
All agreeing an admirable agenda
Rich raw results really render

www.scottandrewbailey.uk