Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Burton's Bedouin Tent Tomb

In a small cemetery in leafy Mortlake, south west London, stands the imposing tomb of Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890) and his wife, Isabel (1831-1896). Explorer, adventurer, soldier, writer, translator, linguist: by all accounts Burton was an amazing man; he spoke some 29 languages; disguised himself as a Muslim to sneak into Mecca; and searched for the source of the Nile. His fondness for erotic literature (and sex in general) made him a controversial character at the time. He is perhaps best known for his translations of One Thousand and One Nights and the Kama Sutra.

His wife Isabel wrote to her mother, "I want to live... I want a wild roving vagabond life... I wish I were a man". She would always live under the shadow of her husband (this was the Victorian times) but was said to be 'striking, intelligent and unconventional' (being Burton's wife, she would have had to have been); she also wrote some travel and history books.

Their tomb is extraordinary, especially considering the surroundings; the graveyard is tiny and the Burton's tomb sticks out like an oasis in the desert. Round the back of the tomb there's a small window where one can peek in and see their coffins.

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