Letter on the death of Burton
THE LATE SIR RICHARD BURTON,
"To the Editor of the Times of India..
"Unlike your correspondent, Mr. Levick (of Suez), questioning Sir Richard's visit to Medinah in 1853, I merely want to say that in Sir Richard the scientific world has lost a bright star. In linguistic attainments there was not his equal in the world. He could not only speak the languages, but act so well that his most intimate friends were often deceived. I was often witness to this feat of his while at Kurrachee in 1847, as I happened to be employed under Dr. Stocks, botanist, in Sind, as his botanical draughtsman. Sir Richard (then a lieutenant) and the doctor occupied the same bungalow. I had necessarily to work in the hall, and consequently had the opportunity of seeing and admiring his ways. He was on special duty, which in his case meant to perfect himself for some political duty, by mastering the languages of the country. When I knew him he was master of half a dozen languages, which he wrote and spoke so fluently that a stranger who did not see him and heard him speaking would fancy he heard a native. His domestic servants were a Portuguese, with whom he spoke Portuguese and Goanese, an African, a Persian, and a Sindi or Belochee. These spoke their mother tongue to Sir Richard as he was engaged in his studies with moonshees, who relieved each other every two hours, from ten to four daily. The moonshees would read an hour and converse the next, and it was a treat to hear Sir Richard talk; one would scarcely be able to distinguish the Englishman from a Persian, Arabian, or a Scindian.
"His habits at home were perfectly Persian or Arabic. His hair was dressed a la Persian long and shaved from the forehead to the top of the head ; his eyes, by some means or other he employed, resembled Persian or Arabian ; he used the Turkish bath and wore a cowl ; and when he went out for a ride he used a wig and goggles. His complexion was also thorough Persian, so that Nature evidently intended him for the work he afterwards so successfully performed, namely, visiting the shrine of the Prophet Mohammed a work very few would have undertaken unless he was a complete master of himself.
"I was a witness to his first essay in disguising himself as a poor Persian, and taking in his friend Moonshee Ali Akbar (the father of Mirza Hossein, solicitor of this City). The moonshee was seated one evening in an open space in front of his bungalow in the town of Kurrachee, with a lot of his friends enjoying the evening breeze, and chatting away as Persians are wont to do. Sir Richard, disguised as a Persian traveller, approached them, and after the usual compliments, inquired for the rest-house, and, as a matter of course, gave a long rigmarole account of his travels and of people the moonshee knew, and thus excited his curiosity and got him into conversation ; and when he thought he acted his part to perfection, bid him the time and left him, but did not go far when he called out to the moonshee in English if he did not know him. The moonshee was completely taken aback ; he did not know where the voice (his friend Burton's) came from, till he was addressed again, and a recognition took place, to the great astonishment of the moonshee and his friends. Such a jovial companion Sir Richard was, that his bungalow was the resort of the learned men of the place, amongst whom I noticed Major (afterwards General) Walter Scott, Lieutenant (and now General) Alfred De Lisle, Lieutenant Edward Dansey of Mooltan notoriety, Dr. Stocks, and many others, but who, with the exception of General De Lisle, are all gone to their home above, where Sir Richard has now followed. May their Souls rest in peace !
"Some time or other Lady Burton may write a memoir of Sir Richard's life, and a slight incident as the one I have related may be of use to her, and if you think as I do, and consider it worth inserting in a corner of your paper, I shall be very much obliged to you if you will do so.
"Yours, etc. ,
- "WALTER ABRAHAM.
- "October 31, 1891."