ABSTRACT

Richard Burton was the great eccentric of nineteenth-century exploration and literature: the outsider, eschewing religious, political and social conformity yet seeking approval and recognition from those people and institutions he most openly despised. Burton, the sceptic of the West, had an instinctive understanding of the oriental mind and manner. Burton entered Suez in the company of a young Meccan, Muhammad al-Basyuni, who energetically sought the friendship of the older man, though he clearly regarded him as at best a heretic. ‘Bakhshish’ was the first word Burton heard when he entered Egypt. Burton’s warnings about the difficulties of establishing place-names or translating too literally the Arabic descriptions of natural features provided salutary lessons for later travellers. Burton took issue with Burckhardt over the spelling of Hujrah. In Burton’s time it was not the mean and decayed building reported by Burckhardt, though it had no pretensions to grandeur.