Thursday, 20 December 2007


Captain Sir Richard Burton, the 19th century explorer and adventurer, who first translated the Kama Sutra into English and was one of the earliest Christians to enter Mecca, was both an anti-Semite and a plagiarist, according to new research published by the Royal Asiatic Society.

These stark conclusions appear in an article on Burton in the January 2008 edition of the Society’s Journal (published December 2007), written by two of the country’s leading experts in the history of anti-Jewish prejudice in modern Britain.

In 1989 Professor Geoffrey Alderman (University of Buckingham) and Professor Colin Holmes (University of Sheffield) were permitted to read an unpublished manuscript penned by Burton in the 1870s, and subsequently purchased by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

In their article, Professors Alderman and Holmes unravel the history of the manuscript, in which Burton alleged that Jews murder Christians in order to use their blood for ritual purposes.

“Burton completely believed in these medieval allegations,” Alderman and Holmes said, “but most Burton scholars have ignored or belittled his anti-Jewish prejudices as they have presumably found them embarrassing, and not in accordance with the heroic tale they wish to tell.”

They also demonstrate that most of what Burton wrote in the manuscript was copied, verbatim, from a work published in France in 1847, and which Burton probably read in the British Museum. “The manuscript (they said) contains not a single original idea.”

In 1871, following complaints from the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Gladstone’s government removed Burton from his post as British Consul in Damascus. He blamed his removal on Jewish influence, and wrote the manuscript in a fit of pique. On his death an attempt was made to publish it, but after a protracted legal action the Jewish Deputies bought it, so that it could be “suppressed forever.” The Deputies’ attempt to auction the manuscript in 2001 gave rise to an international outcry; it failed to reach its reserve, and was withdrawn from sale. It now remains under lock and key.

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