Thomas Wright (22 September 1711 – 25 February 1786) was an English astronomer, mathematician, instrument maker, architect and garden designer. He was the first to describe the shape of the Milky Way and to speculate that faint nebulae were distant galaxies.
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1. Torquay and Elstree.
2. Tours and Elstree.
3. Death of Richard Baker, 16th September 1824.
4. At School, Richmond, 1829.
5. The Continent Again.
6. Trinity College, October 1840.
7. Expelled, April 1842.
8. To Bombay, 18th June 1842.
9. Baroda. The Bubu.
10. Karachi. Love of Disguise.
11. A Dangerous Mission, 1845.
12. The Persian Beauty.
13. A Simian Dictionary.
15. Goa and Camoens.
16. “Would you a Sufi be?”
17. Letter to Sarah Burton, 14th Nov. 1848.
19. A Motto from Ariosto.
20. Isabel Arundell & “My Dear Louisa.” 1851.
21. Forster FitzGerald Arbuthnot 1853.
22. The Man Wants to Wander.
23. Haji Wali, 1853.
24. The Pilgrim Ship, 6th July 1853.
27. Burton’s Delight in Shocking.
28. El Islam.
29. At Aden. The Arabian Nights. Oct. 1854.
30. From Zeila to Harar, 27th November 1854 to 2nd January 1855.
31. At Harar.
32. From Harar to Berbera. 13th Jan. 1855-5th Feb. 1855.
33. The Fight at Berbera, 22nd April, 1855.
34. The Crimea.
35. Engaged to Isabel Arundell, August 1856.
36. To Fuga. January to March 1857.
37. Zanzibar to Tanganyika, 26th June 1857 to 26th May 1858.
38. The Return Journey, 26th May 1858 to 13th February 1859.
39. We rushed into each other’s arms. 22nd May, 1860.
40. Brigham Young. April 1860 to November 1860.
41. Marriage. 22nd January 1861.
42. At Lord Houghton’s.
43. African Gold.
45. Fans and Gorillas.
46. The Anthropological Society, 6th Jan. 1863.
47. Whydah and its Deity. 29th November 1863.
48. The Amazons.
49. “The Customs.”
50. Death of Speke, 15th September 1864.
51. To Santos.
52. Aubertin. Death of Steinhauser, 27th July 1866.
53. The Facetious Cannibals.
54. Down the Sao Francisco.
55. In Paraguay. August 15th to September 15th 1868. April 4th to April 18th 1869.
56. Archbishop Manning and the Odd Fish.
57. 3rd Consulate, Damascus.
58. Jane Digby el Mezrab.
59. To Tadmor.
60. Palmer and Drake. 11th July 1870.
62. The Shazlis.
63. The Recall. 16th August 1871.
64. With Sir H. Stisted at Norwood. August 1871.
65. Reduced to £15.
66. An Orgie at Lady Alford’s. 2nd November 1871.
67. The Tichborne Trial.
68. Khamoor at the Theatre.
69. In Edinburgh Again, 4th June 1872.
70. Wardour Castle, 5th July 1872.
71. St. George and Frederick Burton.
72. At the Athenaeum.
73. Jane Digby Again.
74. His Book on Zanzibar.
75. Burton at Trieste, 24th October 1872.
76. At the Vienna Exhibition, 1873.
77. A Visit from Drake, June 1873.
78. Khamoor returns to Syria, 4th December 1874.
79. Visit to England, 12th May 1875.
80. Tonic Bitters.
81. A Trip to India, December 1875, 18th June 1876.
82. Arbuthnot Again. Rehatsek.
83. In Sind.
86. Death of Rashid Pasha, 24th June 1876.
87. Colonel Gordon 1877.
88. Jane Digby the Second.
89. The Old Baronetcy. 18th January 1877.
90. “The New Joseph.” 31st March 1877-21st April 1877. 19th October 1877-20th April 1878.
91. More Advice to “Lazybones.” 8th May 1877.
92. Haji Wali Again.
94. Letter to Sir Henry Gordon, 4th July 1878.
95. Death of Maria Stisted, 12th November 1878.
96. Burton’s “Six Senses.”
97. Still thinking of Midian. April-December 1879.
98. The Lusiads.
99. At Ober Ammergau, August 1880.
100. Mrs. Burton’s Advice to Novelists. 4th September 1880.
101. The Kasidah, 1880.
103. With Cameron at Venice, August 1881.
104. John Payne, November 1881.
105. To the Gold Coast, 25th November 1881-20th May 1882.
106. Mrs. Grundy begins to roar. May 1882.
107. The Search for Palmer, October 1882.
108. Anecdotes of Burton.
109. Burton and Mrs. Disraeli.
110. “I am an Old English Catholic.”
111. Burton begins his Translation, April 1884.
112. The Battle over the Nights.
113. Completion of Mr. Payne’s Translation.
114. The Azure Apollo.
115. The Kama Sutra.
116. The Ananga Ranga.
117. The Beharistan, 1887.
118. The Gulistan, 1888.
119. The Nigaristan.
120. Letters to Payne, 19th January 1884.
121. At Sauerbrunn, 12th August 1884.
122. Burton’s Circulars, September 1884.
123. The Book of the Sword.
124. The Lyrics of Camoens, 1884.
125. More Letters to Payne, 1st October 1884.
126. Death of Gordon, January 1885.
127. W. F. Kirby, 25th March 1885.
128. Slaving at the Athenaeum, May 1885.
129. A Visit to Mr. Arbuthnot’s.
130. Dr. Steingass.
132. The Pentameron. Burton and Gladstone.
133. A Brief Glance through the Nights.
134. The Blacksmith Who, etc.
135. Abu al-Hasan.
136. The Summing Up.
137. Burton’s Notes.
138. The Terminal Essay.
139. Final Summing up.
140. Mr. Swinburne on Burton.
141. In Morocco, 21st November 1885.
142. K.c.m.g., 5th February 1886.
143. Burton at 65.
144. More Anecdotes.
145. Burton’s Religion.
146. Burton as a Writer.
147. The Population Question.
148. New Projects.
149. Mr. A. G. Ellis and Professor Blumhardt. 5th June 1886-5th April 1887.
150. Dr. Leslie and Dr. Baker: Anecdotes. April 1887.
151. Three Months at Abbazia. 1st Dec. 1887-5th March 1888.
152. Meeting with Mr. Swinburne and others, 18th July 1888-15th October 1888.
153. H. W. Ashbee.
154. A Bacon Causerie.
155. The Gypsy, August 1888.
156. The Supplemental Nights. 1st December 1886-1st August 1888.
159. Origin of The Scented Garden.
160. Contents of The Scented Garden.
161. Sir Richard Burton’s Translation.
162. Switzerland 15th October 1888.
163. Mr. Letchford, August and September 1889.
164. To Dr. Tuckey.
165. To Mr. Kirby 15th May 1889.
166. Tunis and Algiers, November 1889 to March 1890.
167. Visit of Arbuthnot, Last Letter to Mr. Payne, May 1890.
168. The Priapeia.
169. Catullus and the Last Trip, July — September 1890.
170. At Maloja, July 1890.
171. The Golden Ass.
173. Death. 20th October 1890.
173. The Fate of The Scented Garden.
174. Discrepancies in Lady Burton’s Story.
175. The Fate of the Catullus.
176. Lisa Departs, November 1890.
177. Lady Burton in England.
178. The Funeral at Mortlake, 15th June 1891.
179. The Scented Garden Storm, June 1891.
180. A Letter to Miss Stisted.
181. The writing of the Life August 1892-March 1893.
182. The Library Edition of The Nights 1894.
183. Lady Burton at Eastbourne.
184. Death of Lady Burton, 22nd Mar. 1896.
185. Miss Stisted’s “True Life.”
186. Mr. Wilkins’s Work, 1897.
187. Burton’s Friends.
Sir Richard Burton, the famous traveller, linguist, and anthropologist — “the Arabian Knight” — “the last of the demi-gods” — has been very generally regarded as the most picturesque figure of his time, and one of the most heroic and illustrious men that “this blessed plot . . . this England,” this mother of heroes ever produced.
The Burtons, a Westmoreland family 24 who had settled in Ireland, included among their members several men of eminence, not only in the army, which had always powerfully attracted them, but also in the navy and the church. 25 For long there was a baronetcy in the family, but it fell into abeyance about 1712, and all attempts of the later Burtons to substantiate their claim to it proved ineffectual. 26
Burton supposed himself to be descended from Louis XIV. La Belle Montmorency, a beauty of the French court, had, it seems, a son, of which she rather believed Louis to be the father. In any circumstances she called the baby Louis Le Jeune, put him in a basket of flowers and carried him to Ireland, where he became known as Louis Drelincourt Young. Louis Young’s grand-daughter married the Rev. Edward Burton, Richard Burton’s grandfather. Thus it is possible that a runnel of the blood of “le grand monarque” tripped through Burton’s veins. But Burton is a Romany name, and as Richard Burton had certain gipsy characteristics, some persons have credited him with gipsy lineage. Certainly no man could have been more given to wandering. Lastly, through his maternal grandmother, he was descended from the famous Scotch marauder, Rob Roy.
Burton’s parents were Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Netterville Burton, a tall, handsome man with sallow skin, dark hair, and coal-black eyes, and Martha Beckwith, the accomplished but plain daughter of Richard and Sarah Baker, of Barham House (now “Hillside” 27), Elstree, Hertfordshire.
Richard Baker was an opulent country gentleman, and the most important personage in the parish. Judging from the size of his pew at church, “No. 19,” he must also have been a man of eminent piety, for it contained sixteen sittings. At all events he kept the parish in admirable order, and, as churchwarden, discountenanced unreasonable sleeping in church. Thanks to his patronage the choir made marked progress, and eventually there was no louder in the county. In 1813, we find him overseer with one George Olney. He took a perfunctory 28 interest in the village school (where, by the by, Arthur Orton, the Tichborne claimant, received his elaborate education), and was for a time “director.” He led the breezy life of a country gentleman. With his fat acres, his thumping balance at the bank, his cellar of crusted wine, and his horse that never refused a gate, this world seemed to him a nether paradise. He required, he said, only one more boon to make his happiness complete — namely, a grandson with unmistakably red hair. A shrewd man of business, Mr. Baker tied up every farthing of his daughter’s fortune, £30,000; and this was well, for Burton’s father, a rather Quixotic gentleman, had but a child’s notion of the use of money. The Burtons resided at Torquay, and Colonel Burton busied himself chiefly in making chemical experiments, of which he was remarkably fond; but the other members of the household, who generally went about holding their noses, appear not to have sympathised with his studies and researches. He was very superstitious — nothing, for instance, could induce him to reveal his birthday; and he fretted continually because he was not permitted to invest his wife’s money and make a second fortune; which no doubt he would very soon have done — for somebody else.
Richard Francis Burton was born at Torquay 29 on 19th March 1821; and to the intemperate joy of the family his hair was a fierce and fiery red. The news flew madly to Elstree. Old Mr. Baker could scarcely contain himself, and vowed then and there to leave the whole of his fortune to his considerate grandson. The baby, of course, was promptly called Richard after Mr. Baker, with Francis as an afterthought; and a little later the Burtons went to reside at Barham House with the grandparents. Richard was baptised in the parish church at Elstree, 2nd September 1821. In the entry his father’s abode is called “Bareham Wood,” 30 the name being spelt various ways. Our illustration of the old church is taken from an engraving made to commemorate the burial of William Weare 31 murdered by the notorious John Thurtell; an event that occurred in 1823, when Burton was two years old.
There was another link between the Burtons and the Bakers, for Joseph Netterville’s youngest brother, Francis, military surgeon in the 99th regiment, married Sarah Baker, Mr. Richard Baker’s eldest daughter. Dr. Burton 32 who was in St. Helena at the time of Napoleon’s death lives in history as the man who “took a bust of the dead emperor.” 33
24 They came from Shap.
25 Thus there was a Bishop Burton of Killala and an Admira Ryder Burton. See Genealogical Tree in the Appendix.
26 Mrs. Burton made a brave attempt in 1875, but could never fill the gap between 1712 and 1750.
27 Now the residence of Mr. Andrew Chatto, the publisher.
28 In 1818 the Inspector writes in the Visitors’ Book: “The Bakers seldom there.” Still, the Bakers gave occasional treats to the children, and Mrs. Baker once made a present of a new frock to each of the girls.
29 Not at Elstree as Sir Richard Burton himself supposed and said, and as all his biographers have reiterated. It is plainly stated in the Elstree register that he was born at Torquay.
30 The clergyman was David Felix.
31 Weare’s grave is unmemorialled, so the spot is known only in so far as the group in the picture indicates it.
32 He died 24th October 1828, aged 41; his wife died 10th September 1848. Both are buried at Elstree church, where there is a tablet to their memory.
33 For a time Antommarchi falsely bore the credit of it.
Being subject to asthma, Colonel Burton now left England and hired a chateau called Beausejour situated on an eminence near Tours, where there was an English colony. For several years the family fluctuated between Tours and Elstree, and we hear of a great yellow chariot which from time to time rolled into daylight. Richard’s hair gradually turned from its fiery and obtrusive red to jet black, but the violent temper of which the former colour is supposed to be indicative, and of which he had already many times given proofs, signalised him to the end of life. In 1823 Mrs. Burton gave birth to a daughter, Maria Katharine Elisa, who became the wife of General Sir Henry Stisted; and on 3rd July 1824 to a son, Edward Joseph Netterville, both of whom were baptized at Elstree. 34 While at Tours the children were under the care of their Hertfordshire nurse, Mrs. Ling, a good, but obstinately English soul who had been induced to cross the Channel only after strenuous opposition.
34 Maria, 18th March 1823; Edward, 31st August 1824.
Richard Burton always preserved some faint recollections of his grandfather. “The first thing I remember,” he says, “was being brought down after dinner at Barham House to eat white currants, seated upon the knee of a tall man with yellow hair and blue eyes.” This would be in the summer of 1824. Mr. Baker, as we have seen, had intended to leave the whole of his property — worth about half a million — to his red-haired grandson; and an old will, made in 1812, was to be cancelled. But Burton’s mother had a half brother — Richard Baker, junior — too whom she was extravagantly attached, and, in order that this brother should not lose a fortune, she did everything in her power to prevent Mr. Baker from carrying out his purpose. Three years passed away, but at last Mr. Baker resolved to be thwarted no longer, so he drove to his lawyer’s. It was the 16th of September 1824. He reached the door and leapt nimbly from his carriage; but his foot had scarcely touched the ground before he fell dead of heart disease. So the old will had to stand, and the property, instead of going to Burton, was divided among the children of Mr. Baker, Burton’s mother taking merely her share. But for this extraordinary good hap Richard Burton might have led the life of an undistinguished country gentleman; ingloriously breaking his dogs, training his horses and attending to the breed of stock. The planting of a quincunx or the presentation of a pump to the parish might have proved his solitary title to fame. Mr. Baker was buried at Elstree church, where may be seen a tablet to him with the following inscription:
“Sacred to the memory of Richard Baker, Esq., late of Barham
House in this parish, who departed this life on the 16th September
1824, aged 62 years.” 35
Soon after the death of her husband, Mrs. Baker must have left Elstree, 36 for from 1827 to 1839, Barham House was occupied by Viscount Northland. The Burtons continued to reside at Tours, and all went well until cholera broke out. Old Mrs. Baker, hearing the news, and accounting prevention better than cure, at once hurried across the channel; nor did she breathe freely until she had plugged every nose at Beausejour with the best Borneo camphor.
The apprehensive old lady, indeed, hovered round her grandchildren all day like some guardian angel, resolutely determined that no conceivable means should be spared to save them from the dreaded epidemic; and it was not until she had seen them safely tucked in their snowy, lavendered beds that her anxieties of the day really ceased. One night, however, when she went, as was her custom, to look at the sleeping children before retiring herself, she found, to her horror, that they were not there. The whole household was roused, and there was an agonising hue and cry; but, by and by, the culprits were seen slinking softly in at the principal door. It seems that they had climbed down from their room and had gone the round with the death carts and torches, to help collect corpses; and enquiry revealed that they had worked considerably harder than the paid men. When the cholera scare passed off Mrs. Baker took to learning French, and with such success that in less than six months she was able to speak several words, though she could never get hold of the correct pronunciation. Despite, however, her knowledge of the language, the good lady did not take kindly to France, and she often looked wistfully northwards, quoting as she did so her favourite Cowper:
“England with all thy faults I love thee still.”
She and Mrs. Ling, the old nurse, who pined for English beef and beer, made some attempts to console each other, but with inappreciable success, and finally the fellow-sufferers, their faces now beaming with smiles, returned together to their England. And not even Campbell’s sailor lad was gladder to see again the “dear cliffs of Dover.”
Our charmingly quaint picture of Richard, his sister and brother, in wondrous French costumes, is from an oil painting 37 which has not before been copied. Richard was first taught by a lame Irishman named Clough, who kept a school at Tours; and by and by, chiefly for the children’s sake, Colonel Burton gave up Beausejour and took a house in the Rue De L’Archeveche, the best street in the town. The little Burtons next attended the academy of a Mr. John Gilchrist, who grounded them in Latin and Greek. A kind-hearted man, Mr. Gilchrist often gave his pupils little treats. Once, for instance, he took them to see a woman guillotined. Richard and Edward were, to use Richard’s expression, “perfect devilets.” Nor was the sister an angelet. The boys lied, fought, beat their maids, generally after running at their petticoats and upsetting them, smashed windows, stole apple puffs; and their escapades and Richard’s ungovernable temper were the talk of the neighourhood. Their father was at this time given to boar hunting in the neighbouring forest, but as he generally damaged himself against the trees and returned home on a stretcher, he ultimately abandoned himself again to the equally useful but less perilous pursuit of chemistry. If Colonel Burton’s blowpipes and retorts and his conduct in private usually kept Mrs. Burton on tenterhooks, she was no less uneasy on his account when they went into society. He was so apt to call things by their right names. Thus on one occasion when the conversation ran upon a certain lady who was known to be unfaithful to her husband, he inexpressibly shocked a sensitive company by referring to her as “an adulteress.” In this trait, as in many others, his famous son closely resembled him.
A youthful Stoic, Burton, in times of suffering, invariably took infinite pains to conceal his feelings. Thus all one day he was in frightful agony with the toothache, but nobody knew anything about it until next morning when his cheek was swollen to the size of a peewit’s egg. He tried, too, to smother every affectionate instinct; but when under strong emotion was not always successful. One day, throwing stones, he cut his sister’s forehead. Forgetting all his noble resolutions he flew to her, flung his arms round her, kissed her again and again, and then burst into a fit of crying. Mrs. Burton’s way of dressing her children had the charm of simplicity. She used to buy a piece of yellow nankin and make up three suits as nearly as possible alike, except for size. We looked, said Burton, “like three sticks of barley sugar,” and the little French boys who called after them in the streets thought so too, until Richard had well punched all their heads, when their opinions underwent a sudden change.
Another household incident that fixed itself in Burton’s mind was the loss of their “elegant and chivalrous French chef,” who had rebelled when ordered to boil a gigot. “Comment, madame,” he replied to Mrs. Burton, “un — gigot! — cuit a l’eau, jamais! Neverre!” And rather than spoil, as he conceived it, a good leg of mutton he quitted her service. 38 Like most boys, Burton was fond of pets, and often spent hours trying to revive some bird or small beast that had met with misfortune, a bias that affords a curious illustration of the permanence of character. The boy of nine once succeeded in resuscitating a favourite bullfinch which had nearly drowned itself in a great water jug — and we shall find the man of sixty-nine, on the very last day of his life, trying to revive a half-drowned robin.
35 Beneath is an inscription to his widow, Sarah Baker, who died 6th March, 1846, aged 74 years.
36 Her last subscription to the school was in 1825. In 1840 she lived in Cumberland Place, London.
37 The original is now in the possession of Mrs. Agg, of Cheltenham.
38 Wanderings in West Africa, ii. P. 143.
In 1829 the Burtons returned to England and took a house in Maids of Honour Row, Richmond, while Richard and Edward were sent to a preparatory school at Richmond Green — a handsome building with a paddock which enclosed some fine old elms — kept by a “burly savage,” named the Rev. Charles Delafosse. Although the fees were high, the school was badly conducted, and the boys were both ill-taught and ill-fed. Richard employed himself out of school hours fighting with the other boys, and had at one time thirty-two affairs of honour to settle. “On the first occasion,” he says, “I received a blow in the eye, which I thought most unfair, and having got my opponent down I proceeded to hammer his head against the ground, using his ears by way of handles. My indignation knew no bounds when I was pulled off by the bystanders, and told to let my enemy stand up again. ‘Stand up!’ I cried, ‘After all the trouble I’ve had to get the fellow down.’” 39
Of the various countries he knew, Burton hated England most. Would he ever, he asked see again his “Dear France.” And then Fate, who revels in irony, must needs set him to learn as a school task, of all the poems in English, Goldsmith’s Traveller! So the wretched boy, cursing England in his heart, scowling and taking it out of Goldsmith by daubing his pages with ink, sat mumbling:
“Such is the patriot’s boast, where’er we roam
His first, best country ever is at home.” 40
By and by, to Burton’s extravagant joy — and he always intemperately loved change — measles broke out in the school, the pupils were dispersed, and Colonel Burton, tired of Richmond, resolved to make again for the continent. As tutor for his boys he hired an ox-like man “with a head the shape of a pear, smaller end uppermost” — the Rev. H. R. Du Pre afterwards rector of Shellingford; and Maria was put in charge of a peony-faced lady named Miss Ruxton. The boys hurrahed vociferously when they left what they called wretched little England; but subsequently Richard held that his having been educated abroad was an incalculable loss to him. He said the more English boys are, “even to the cut of their hair,” the better their chances in life. Moreover, that it is a real advantage to belong to some parish. “It is a great thing when you have won a battle, or explored Central Africa, to be welcomed home by some little corner of the great world, which takes a pride in your exploits, because they reflect honour on itself.” 41 An English education might have brought Burton more wealth, but for the wild and adventurous life before him no possible training could have been better than the varied and desultory one he had. Nor could there have been a more suitable preparation for the great linguist and anthropologist. From babyhood he mixed with men of many nations.
39 Life, i. 29.
40 Goldsmith’s Traveller, lines 73 and 74.
41 Life, i. 32.
At first the family settled at Blois, where Colonel and Mrs. Burton gave themselves over to the excitement of dressing three or four times a day; and, as there was nothing whatever the matter with them, passed many hours in feeling each other’s pulses, looking at each other’s tongues, and doctoring each other. Richard and Edward devoted themselves to fending and swimming. If the three children were wild in England they were double wild at Blois. Pear-headed Mr. Du Pre stuck tenaciously to his work, but Miss Ruxton gave up in despair and returned to England. At a dancing party the boys learnt what it was to fall in love. Richard adored an extremely tall young woman named Miss Donovan, “whose face was truly celestial — being so far up” but she was unkind, and did not encourage him.
After a year at Blois, Colonel and Mrs. Burton, who had at last succeeded in persuading themselves that they were really invalids, resolved to go in search of a more genial climate. Out came the cumbersome old yellow chariot again, and in this and a chaise drawn by an ugly beast called Dobbin, the family, with Colonel Burton’s blowpipes, retorts and other “notions,” as his son put it, proceeded by easy stages to Marseilles, whence chariot, chaise, horse and family were shipped to Leghorn, and a few days later they found themselves at Pisa. The boys became proficient in Italian and drawing, but it was not until middle life that Richard’s writing developed into that gossamer hand which so long distinguished it. Both had a talent for music, but when “a thing like Paganini, length without breadth” was introduced, and they were ordered to learn the violin, Richard rebelled, flew into a towering rage and broke his instrument on his master’s head. Edward, however, threw his whole soul into the work and became one of the finest amateur violinists of his day. Edward, indeed, was the Greek of the family, standing for music and song as well as for muscle. He had the finely chiselled profile and the straight nose that characterises the faces on Attic coins. Richard, though without the Roman features, was more of the ancient Roman type of character: severe, doggedly brave, utilitarian; and he was of considerably larger mould than his brother. In July 1832, the family stayed at Siena and later at Perugia, where they visited the tomb of Pietro Aretino. At Florence, the boys, having induced their sister to lend them her pocket money, laid it out in a case of pistols; while their mother went in daily terror lest they should kill each other. The worst they did, however, was to put a bullet through a very good hat which belonged to Mr. Du Pre. When their mother begged them not to read Lord Chesterfield’s Letters to a Son, concerning the morality of which she had doubts, they dutifully complied and surrendered themselves piously, and without a murmur, to the chaste pages of Paul de Kock. They did not, however, neglect the art treasures of Florence; and at Rome, their next stopping-place, they sauntered about with Baedeker’s predecessor, “Mrs. Starke,” and peered into earthly churches and flower-illumined ruins. Later the family journeyed to Naples, where the boys continued their studies under Mr. Du Pre. As a clergyman, this gentleman steadily inculcated in his pupils the beautiful principles of the Christian religion, and took a sincere and lively interest in their favourite pastime of cock-fighting.
Colonel Burton continued his chemical studies, and in an evil hour for the family, purchased a copy of the quaint text book by S. Parkes: “A Chemical Catechism . . . with copious notes . . . to which are added a Vocabulary and a Chapter of Amusing Experiments.” 42 And very amusing they were when Colonel Burton made them. Having studied the book closely, including the “poetry” with which it is studded, he manufactured, at vast expense, a few cakes of a nasty-looking and evil-smelling substance, which, he said, was soap, and ought to be put on the market. Mrs. Burton intimated that he might put it on the market or anywhere else as long as he did not make any more. He next, by the aid of the same manual, prepared a mixture which he called citric acid, though any other name would have suited it equally well; and of this, as neither he nor anybody else had any use for it, he daily produced large quantities. From Naples the family moved to Sorrento, where S’or Riccardo and S’or Edwardo, as the Italians called them, surrendered themselves to the natural and legendary influences of the neighbourhood and to reading. The promontory on which Sorrento stands is barren enough, but southward rise pleasant cliffs viridescent with samphire, and beyond them purple hills dotted with white spots of houses. At no great distance, though hidden from view, stood the classic Paestum, with its temple to Neptune; and nothing was easier than to imagine, on his native sea as it were, the shell-borne ocean-god and old Triton blowing his wreathed horn. Capri, the retreat of Tiberius, was of easy access. Eastward swept a land of myrtle and lemon orchards. While the elder Burton was immersed in the melodious Parkes, who sang about “Oxygen, abandoning the mass,” and changing “into gas,” his sons played the parts of Anacreon and Ovid, they crowned their heads with garlands and drank wine like Anacreon, not omitting the libation, and called to mind the Ovid of well-nigh two thousand years previous, and his roses of Paestum. From poetry they turned once more to pistols, again brought their mother’s heart to her mouth, and became generally ungovernable. A visit to a house of poor reputation having been discovered, their father and Mr. Du Pre set upon them with horsewhips, whereupon the graceless but agile youths ran to a neighbouring house and swarmed to the top of a stack of chimneys, whence partly by word and partly by gesticulation they arranged terms of peace.
In 1836, the Burtons left for Pau in the South of France; and while there Richard lost his heart to the daughter of a French baron. Unfortunately, however, she had to go away to be married; and Richard who loved her to desperation, wept bitterly, partly because he was to lose her and partly because she didn’t weep too. Edward and the young lady’s sister, who also understood each other, fared no better, for Colonel Burton having got tired of Pau, the whole family had to return to Italy. At Pisa “S’or Riccardo” and “S’or Edwardo” again “cocked their hats and loved the ladies,” Riccardo’s choice being a slim, soft, dark beauty named Caterina, Edwardo’s her sister Antonia. Proposals of marriage were made and accepted, but adieux had soon to follow, for Colonel Burton now moved to Lucca. All four lovers gave way to tears, and Richard was so wrung with grief that he did not become engaged again for over a fortnight. At Lucca the precious pair ruffled it with a number of dissolute medical students, who taught them several quite original wickednesses. They went, however, with their parents, into more wholesome society; and were introduced to Louis Desanges, the battle painter, Miss Helen Croly, daughter of the author of Salathiel, and Miss Virginia Gabriel (daughter of General, generally called Archangel Gabriel) the lady who afterwards attained fame as a musical composer 43 and became, as we have recently discovered, one of the friends of Walter Pater. Says Burton “she showed her savoir faire at the earliest age. At a ball given to the Prince, all appeared in their finest dresses, and richest jewellery. Miss Virginia was in white, with a single necklace of pink coral.” They danced till daybreak, when Miss Virginia “was like a rose among faded dahlias and sunflowers.”
Here, as everywhere, there was more pistol practice, and the boys plumed themselves on having discovered a new vice — that of opium-eating, while their father made the house unendurable by the preparation of sulphuretted hydrogen and other highly-scented compounds. It was recognised, however, that these chemical experiments had at least the advantage of keeping Colonel Burton employed, and consequently of allowing everybody a little breathing time at each stopping-place. In the spring of 1840, Colonel Burton, Mr. Du Pre and the lads set out for Schinznach, in Switzerland, to drink the waters; and then the family returned to England in order that Richard and Edward might have a university education. Their father, although not quite certain as to their future, thought they were most adapted for holy orders. Their deportment was perfect, the ladies admired them, and their worst enemies, it seems, had never accused them of being “unorthodox in their views.” Indeed, Mrs. Burton already pictured them mitred and croziered. For a few weeks the budding bishops stayed with “Grandmama Baker,” who with “Aunt Sarah” and “Aunt Georgiana,” and Aunt Sarah’s daughters, Sarah and Elisa, was summering at Hampstead; and filled up the time, which hung heavy on their hands, with gambling, drinking and love-making.
42 It seems to have been first issued in 1801. There is a review of it in The Anti-Jacobin for that year.
43 She was thrown from her carriage, 7th August 1877, and died in St. George’s Hospital.
Edward was then placed under a clergyman at Cambridge — The Rev. Mr. Havergal, whose name, to that gentleman’s indignation, the brothers turned into “a peculiar form of ridicule.” 44 Richard was to go to Trinity College, Oxford. Neither, as we have seen, had been suitably prepared for a University career. Richard, who could speak fluently French, Italian, and modern Greek, did not know the Apostles’ Creed, and what was even more unusual in a prospective clergyman, had never heard of the Thirty-nine Articles. He was struck with the architecture of the colleges, and much surprised at the meanness of the houses that surrounded them. He heretically calls the Isis ‘a mere moat,’ the Cherwell ‘a ditch.’ The brilliant dare-devil from Italy despised alike the raw, limitary, reputable, priggish undergraduates and the dull, snuffling, smug-looking, fussy dons. The torpor of academic dulness, indeed, was as irksome to Burton at Oxford as it had been to FitzGerald and Tennyson at Cambridge. After a little coaching from Dr. Ogle and Dr. William Alexander Greenhill 45, he in October 1840, entered Trinity, where he has installed in “a couple of frowsy dog-holes” overlooking the garden of old Dr. Jenkins, the Master of Balliol.
“My reception at College,” says Burton, “was not pleasant. I had grown a splendid moustache, which was the envy of all the boys abroad, and which all the advice of Drs. Ogle and Greenhill failed to make me remove. I declined to be shaved until formal orders were issued by the authorities of the college. For I had already formed strong ideas upon the Shaven Age of England, when her history, with some brilliant exceptions, such as Marlborough, Wellington and Nelson, was at its meanest.” An undergraduate who laughed at him he challenged to fight a duel; and when he was reminded that Oxford “men” like to visit freshmen’s rooms and play practical jokes, he stirred his fire, heated his poker red hot, and waited impatiently for callers. “The college teaching for which one was obliged to pay,” says Burton, “was of the most worthless description. Two hours a day were regularly wasted, and those who read for honours were obliged to choose and pay a private coach.”
Another grievance was the constant bell ringing, there being so many churches and so many services both on week days and Sundays. Later, however, he discovered that it is possible to study, even at Oxford, if you plug your ears with cotton-wool soaked in glycerine. He spent his first months, not in studying, but in rowing, fencing, shooting the college rooks, and breaking the rules generally. Many of his pranks were at the expense of Dr. Jenkins, for whose sturdy common sense, however, he had sincere respect; and long after, in his Vikram and the Vampire, in which he satirises the tutors and gerund-grinders of Oxford, he paid him a compliment. 46
Although he could not speak highly of the dons and undergraduates, he was forced to admit that in one respect the University out-distanced all other seats of learning. It produced a breed of bull-terriers of renowned pedigree which for their “beautiful build” were a joy to think about and a delirium to contemplate; and of one of these pugnacious brutes he soon became the proud possessor. That he got drunk himself and made his fellow collegians drunk he mentions quite casually, just as he mentions his other preparations for holy orders. If he walked out with his bull-terrier, it was generally to Bagley Wood, where a pretty, dizened gipsy girl named Selina told fortunes; and henceforward he took a keen interest in Selina’s race.
He spent most of his time, however, in the fencing saloons of an Italian named Angelo and a Scotchman named Maclaren; and it was at Maclaren’s he first met Alfred Bates Richards, who became a life friend. Richards, an undergraduate of Exeter, was a man of splendid physique. A giant in height and strength, he defeated all antagonists at boxing, but Burton mastered him with the foil and the broad-sword. Richards, who, like Burton, became a voluminous author 47 wrote long after, “I am sure, though Burton was brilliant, rather wild, and very popular, none of us foresaw his future greatness.”
Another Oxford friend of Burton’s was Tom Hughes, author of Tom Brown’s Schooldays; the man who, in Burton’s phrase, “taught boys not to be ashamed of being called good,” 48 and he always revered the memory of his tutor, the Rev. Thomas Short. 49 Burton naturally made enemies as well as friends, but the most bitter was that imaginary person, Mrs. Grundy. This lady, whom he always pictured as an exceedingly stout and square-looking body with capacious skirts, and a look of austere piety, had, he tells us, “just begun to reign” when he was at Oxford, although forty years had elapsed since she first made her bow 50, and set everybody asking, “What will Mrs. Grundy say?” Mrs. Grundy had a great deal to say against Richard Burton, and, life through, he took a peculiar delight in affronting her. The good soul disapproved of Burton’s “foreign ways” and his “expressed dislike to school and college life,” she disapproved of much that he did in his prime, and when he came to translate The Arabian Nights she set up, and not without justification, a scream that is heard even to this day and in the remotest corners of the kingdom.
If Richard was miserable at Oxford, Edward was equally so at Cambridge. After the polish and politeness of Italy, where they had been “such tremendous dandies and ladies’ men,” the “boorishness and shoppiness,” of Oxford and Cambridge were well-nigh unendurable. Seizing an early opportunity, Richard ran over to Cambridge to visit his brother. “What is the matter, Edward,” enquired Richard. “Why so downcast?” “Oh, Dick,” moaned Edward, “I have fallen among epiciers. 51”
44 Life, by Lady Burton, i. 67.
45 Dr. Greenhill (1814-1894), physician and author of many books.
46 Vikram and the Vampire, Seventh Story, about the pedants who resurrected the tiger.
47 He edited successively The Daily Telegraph and The Morning Advertiser, wrote plays and published several volumes of poetry. He began The Career of R. F. Burton, and got as far as 1876.
48 City of the Saints, P. 513.
49 Short died 31st May 1879, aged 90.
50 In Thomas Morton’s Play Speed the Plough, first acted in 1800.
The dull life at Oxford was varied by the occasional visit of a mesmeric lecturer; and one youth caused peals of canorous laughter by walking round in a pretended mesmeric sleep and kissing the pretty daughters of the dons.
The only preacher Burton would listen to was Newman, then Vicar of St. Mary’s; of Pusey’s interminable and prosy harangues he could not bear even to think. Although unable to bend himself to the drudgery of Oxford, Burton was already forming vast ambitions. He longed to excel as a linguist, and particularly in Oriental languages. Hence he began to teach himself Arabic; and got a little assistance from the Spanish scholar Don Pascual de Gayangos. When he asked the Regius Professor of Arabic to teach him, he was rebuffed with the information that it was the duty of a professor to teach a class, not an individual. He spent the vacation with his Grandmother Baker in Great Cumberland Place, and he and his brother amused themselves about town with other roisterers, chiefly in gambling. Returned to Oxford he applied sedulously to the acquisition of foreign languages. He says, “I got a simple grammar and vocabulary, marked out the forms and words which I knew were absolutely necessary, and learnt them by heart. . . . I never worked more than a quarter of an hour at a time, for after that the brain lost its freshness. After learning some three hundred words, easily done in a week, I stumbled through some easy book-work and underlined every word that I wished to recollect. . . . Having finished my volume, I then carefully worked up the grammar minutiae, and I then chose some other book whose subject most interested me. The neck of the language was now broken, and progress was rapid. If I came across a new sound, like the Arabic Ghayn, I trained my tongue to it by repeating it so many thousand times a day. When I read, I invariably read out loud, so that the ear might aid memory. I was delighted with the most difficult characters, Chinese and Cuneiform, because I felt that they impressed themselves more strongly upon the eye than the eternal Roman letters.” 52 Such remarks from the man who became the first linguist of his day are well worth remembering. For pronouncing Latin words the “Roman way” he was ridiculed, but he lived long enough to see this pronunciation adopted in all our schools. The long vacation of 1841 was spent at Wiesbaden with his father and mother. Here again the chief delights of Richard and his brother were gambling and fencing; and when tired of Wiesbaden they wandered about the country, visiting among other places Heidelberg and Mannheim. Once more Richard importuned his father to let him leave Oxford and enter the army, but Colonel Burton, who still considered his son peculiarly fitted for the church, was not to be moved. Upon his return to England, however, Burton resolved to take the matter into his own hands. He laid his plans, and presently — in April 1842 — an opportunity offered.
The Oxford races of that year were being looked forward to with exceptional interest because of the anticipated presence of a noted steeplechaser named Oliver, but at the last moment the college authorities forbade the undergraduates to attend them.
Burton, however, and some other lawless spirits resolved to go all the same, and a tandem conveyed them from the rear of Worcester College to the race meeting. Next morning the culprits were brought before the college dignitaries; but the dons having lectured Burton, he began lecturing them — concluding with the observation that young men ought not to be treated like children. As a consequence, while the other offenders were merely rusticated, Burton was expelled. 53 He made a ceremonious bow, and retired “stung with a sense of injustice,” though where the injustice comes in, it is difficult to see. His departure from Oxford was characteristic. He and Anderson of Oriel, one of the other offenders, hired a tandem in which they placed their luggage, and then with “a cantering leader and a high-trotting shaft horse” they rode through the High Street, and so on to London, Burton artistically performing upon a yard of tin trumpet, waving adieux to his friends and kissing his hands to the shop girls. About the same time Edward, also for insubordination, had to leave Cambridge. Thus Burton got his own way, but he long afterwards told his sister, Lady Stisted, that beneath all his bravado there lay a deep sense of regret that such a course had been necessary.
52 Life, i. 81.
53 Or so he said. The President of Trinity writes to me: “He was repaid his caution money in April 1842. The probability is that he was rusticated for a period.” If so, he could have returned to Oxford after the loss of a term or two.
On his arrival in London, Burton, in order to have an hour or two of peace, coolly told his people that he had been given an extra vacation, “as a reward for winning a double first.” Then occurred a quite un-looked-for sequel. His father insisted on giving a dinner in honour of the success, and Burton, unwillingly enough, became the hero of the moment. At table, however, a remark from one of the guests revealed the precise truth — with the result of an unpleasant scene; but eventually it was deemed advisable to let Burton have his own way and exchange the surplice for the sword. The Indian Service having been selected, a commission was purchased for £500, and Burton presently found himself Ensign to the 18th Regiment, Bombay Native Infantry. Delirious with joy, he applied himself vigorously to Hindustani under a dirty, smoky Scotch linguist, named Duncan Forbes. While thus employed he made the acquaintance of two persons who just them enjoyed a remarkable reputation, namely John Varley 54, the water colour painter and occultist, and the Rev. Robert Montgomery. 55 An artist of undoubted genius, Varley usually got fair prices for his pictures, but the expenses of a numerous family kept him miserably poor. Then he took to “judicial astrology,” and eventually made it a kind of second profession. Curious to say, some of his predictions came true, and thanks to this freak of fate he obtained more fame from his horoscopes than from his canvasses. He “prognosticated,” says Burton, “that I was to become a great astrologer.” Straightway Burton buried himself in astrological and cabalistic books 56, studied the uncanny arts, and became learned in “dark spells and devilish enginery,” but his own prophecies generally proved to be of the Moseilima type; that is to say, the opposite invariably happened — a fatality that pursued him to the end of life. The Rev. Robert Montgomery, with whom also he became acquainted, was the fashionable preacher and author whom Macaulay cudgelled so pitilessly in the Edinburgh Review. Burton’s aunts, Sarah and Georgiana, 57 who went with the crowd to his chapel, ranked the author of “Satan, a Poem,” rather above Shakespeare, and probably few men have received higher encomiums or a greater number of wool-work slippers.
Having been sworn in at the East India House, Burton went down to Greenwich, whence on 18th June, 1842, after being “duly wept over,” he, in company with his beautifully built bull-terrier of renowned pedigree, set sail for Bombay. He divided his time during the voyage, which lasted four months, between studying Hindustani and taking part in the quarrels of the crew. This was the year of the murder of Sir William Macnaughten by the Afghans and the disastrous retreat of the British from Cabul; consequently the first request of the voyagers on reaching Bombay (28th October 1842) was for news about Afghanistan. They learnt that the prestige of the British arms had been restored by Pollack, and that the campaign was ended.
To Burton, who had counted on being sent to the front, this was a burning disappointment. He found Bombay marvellously picturesque, with its crowds of people from all parts of the world, but before many days had passed he fell ill and had to be transferred to the Sanitarium, where he made the acquaintance of an old Parsee priest who assisted him in his Hindustani. Even in these early days we find him collecting material of the kind that was to be utilised in his Arabian Nights. He was struck, for example, with the fine hedges of henna whose powerful and distinctive odour loaded the atmosphere; and with the immense numbers of ravenous kites and grey-headed crows that swooped down on dead and even dying animals.
54 He died 17th November 1842, aged 65.
55 Robert Montgomery 1807-1855.
56 “My reading also ran into bad courses — Erpenius, Zadkiel, Falconry, Cornelius Agrippa” — Burton’s Autobiographical Fragment.
57 Sarah Baker (Mrs. Francis Burton), Georgiana Baker (Mrs. Bagshaw).
After six weeks’ rest, having received orders to join his regiment, which was then stationed at Baroda, he engaged some Goanese servants and made the voyage thither in a small vessel called a pattymar. It took them four days to march from the Tankaria-Bunder mudbank, where they landed, to Baroda; and Burton thus graphically describes the scenery through which they passed. “The ground, rich black earth . . . was covered with vivid, leek-like, verdigris green. The little villages, with their leafy huts, were surrounded and protected by hedge milk bush, the colour of emeralds. A light veil, as of Damascene silver, hung over each settlement, and the magnificent trees were tipped by peacocks screaming their good-night to the son.” The sharp bark of the monkey mingled with the bray of the conch. Arrived at Baroda, he lodged himself in a bungalow, and spent his time alternately there with his books and on the drill ground. He threw himself into his studies with an ardour scarcely credible — devoting twelve hours a day to Hindustani, and outwearying two munshis.
At that time it was quite the custom for the officers, married as well as single, to form irregular unions with the Hindu women. Every individual had his Bubu; consequently half-caste children were not uncommon; but Burton was of opinion that this manner of life had advantages as well as disadvantages. It connected, he says, “the white stranger with the country and its people, gave him an interest in their manners and customs, and taught him thoroughly well their language.” Like the rest, Burton had his Bubu. Still, he was no voluptuary. Towering ambition, enthusiasm, and passion for hard work trampled down all meaner instincts. Languages, not amours, were his aspiration, and his mind ran on grammar books rather than ghazels; though he confesses to having given whole days and nights to the tender pages of Euclid. Indeed, he was of a cold nature, and Plutarch’s remark about Alexander applies equally to him: “For though otherwise he was very hot and hasty, yet was he hardly moved with lust or pleasure of the body.” When the officers were not on the drill ground or philandering with their dusky loves, they amused themselves shooting the black buck, tigers, and the countless birds with which the neighbourhood abounded. The dances of the aphish-looking Nautch girls, dressed though they were in magnificent brocades, gave Burton disgust rather than pleasure. The Gaikwar, whose state processions were gorgeous to a wonder, occasionally inaugurated spectacles like those of the old Roman arena, and we hear of fights between various wild animals. “Cocking” was universal, and Burton, who as a lad had patronised this cruel sport, himself kept a fighter — “Bhujang” — of which he speaks affectionately, as one might of an only child. The account of the great fight between Bhujang and the fancy of a certain Mr. Ahmed Khan, which took place one evening “after prayers,” may be read by those who have a taste for such matters in Burton’s book Sind Revisited. 58 When Bhujang died, Burton gave it almost Christian burial near his bungalow, and the facetious enquired whether the little mound was not “a baby’s grave.”
His hero was the eagle-faced little veteran and despot, Sir Charles Napier, generally known from his Jewish look as “Fagin,” and from his irascibility as “The Devil’s Brother,” and after the war with Sind, the chief event of which was the battle of Meeanee (February 21st), where Sir Charles and Major Outram defeated the Ameer, his admiration grew almost to worship; though he did not actually see his hero till some months later. According to Punch the news of the battle was transmitted to headquarters in one word: “Peccavi.” A quarrel then broke out between the great English leaders, and Western India was divided into the two opposing camps of Outramists and Napierists, Burton, of course, siding with the latter. In April, Burton returned to Bombay to present himself for examination in Hindustani, and having passed with honour 59 he returned to Baroda, where he experienced all the inconveniences attendant on the south-west monsoon. The rain fell in cataracts. Night and day he lay or sat in a wet skin; the air was alive with ants and other winged horrors, which settled on both food and drink, while the dust storms were so dense that candles had to be burned in mid-day. However he applied himself vigorously to Gujarati 60, the language of the country, and also took lessons in Sanskrit.
“I soon,” he says, “became as well acquainted as a stranger can with the practice of Hinduism. I carefully read up Ward, Moor, and the publications of the Asiatic Society . . . and eventually my Hindu teacher officially allowed me to wear the Brahminical thread.” He learnt some of the Hindu text books by heart, including the Tota-kahani 61, which gave him a taste for “parrot books,” 62 on which he became an authority; while the study of the Baital-Pachisi led to his writing Vikram and the Vampire. 63 All this application caused his fellow officers to call him “The White Nigger.”
Although, in after years, Burton often made bitter attacks on Christianity, and wrote most scathingly against the Roman Catholic priesthood, and the cenobitic life of the monks, yet at times he had certain sympathies with Roman Catholicism. Thus at Baroda, instead of attending the services of the garrison chaplain, he sat under the pleasant Goanese priest who preached to the camp servants; but he did not call himself a Catholic. In August he visited Bombay to be examined in Gujarati; and having passed with distinction, he once more returned to Baroda — just in time to join in the farewell revels of his regiment, which was ordered to Sind.
58 Sind Revisited. Vol. ii. pp. 78-83.
59 5th May 1843. He was first of twelve.
60 “How,” asked Mr. J. F. Collingwood of him many years after, “do you manage to learn a language so rapidly and thoroughly?” To which he replied: “I stew the grammar down to a page which I carry in my pocket. Then when opportunity offers, or is made, I get hold of a native — preferably an old woman, and get her to talk to me. I follow her speech by ear and eye with the keenest attention, and repeat after her every word as nearly as possible, until I acquire the exact accent of the speaker and the true meaning of the words employed by her. I do not leave her before the lesson is learnt, and so on with others until my own speech is indistinguishable from that of the native.” — Letter from Mr. Collingwood to me, 22nd June 1905.
61 The Tota-kahani is an abridgment of the Tuti-namah (Parrot-book) of Nakhshabi. Portions of the latter were translated into English verse by J. Hoppner, 1805. See also Anti-Jacobin Review for 1805, p. 148.
62 Unpublished letter to Mr. W. F. Kirby, 8th April 1885. See also Lib. Ed. of The Arabian Nights, viii., p. 73, and note to Night V.
63 This book owes whatever charm it possesses chiefly to the apophthegms embedded in it. Thus, “Even the gods cannot resist a thoroughly obstinate man.” “The fortune of a man who sits, sits also.” “Reticence is but a habit. Practise if for a year, and you will find it harder to betray than to conceal your thoughts.”
On board the Semiramis, in which the voyage was performed, he made the acquaintance of Captain Scott, nephew of the novelist — a handsome man “with yellow hair and beard,” and friendship followed. Both were fond of ancient history and romance, and Burton, who could speak Italian fluently and had knowledge of the canalization of the Po Valley, was able to render Scott, whose business was the surveyal of Sind, the precise assistance he just then required. Burton also formed a friendship with Dr. John Steinhauser, afterwards surgeon at Aden. Then, too, it was at Karachi that he first saw his hero, Sir Charles Napier. Though his ferocious temper repelled some, and his Rabelaisisms and kindred witticisms others, Sir Charles won the admiration and esteem of almost all who knew him. It was from him, to some extent, that Burton acquired the taste, afterwards so extraordinarily developed for erotic, esoteric and other curious knowledge. Napier intensely hated the East India Company, as the champions of his detested rival, Major Outram, and customarily spoke of them contemptuously as the “Twenty-four kings of Leadenhall Street,” while Burton on his part felt little respect for the effete and maundering body whose uniform he wore and whose pay he drew.
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