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Lot #190
Richard Francis Burton Autograph Letter Signed on Translating the Arabian Nights

Burton comments on his "ideal of translation" for indecent passages in the Arabian Nights

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Burton comments on his "ideal of translation" for indecent passages in the Arabian Nights

English explorer, translator, writer, soldier, and diplomat (1821-1890) renowned for his travels and explorations within Asia and Africa, as well as his extraordinary knowledge of languages and cultures. ALS signed “R. F. Burton,” four pages on two adjoining sheets, 5 x 4, October 8, 1884. Handwritten letter to Dr. Rost, chief librarian of the India Office, discussing his work on the lyrics of Camoens and The Book of a Thousand and One Nights, in part: "The Nights are well forward; about half finished. Payne's excellent work wants one requisite and that is explanation of many passages which must greatly puzzle the English reader; such as the eunuch who enjoys his mistress till the day of her death. I shall be careful that the notes are in most guarded language, a contrast with the extreme 'breadth' of the text. And in the latter I shall simply give the English equivalent, however 'low' or 'vulgar.' Such is my ideal of translation." In very good to fine condition, with some slight edge chipping, and a few small repairs to split folds.

Interestingly, Burton refers to Dr. Rost in his dedication of 'The Book of the Thousand and One Nights, Vol. XV' addressing 'The Curators of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, Especially Revd. B. Price and Professor Max Muller': 'I take the liberty of placing your names at the Head of this Volume which owes its rarest and raciest passages to your kindly refusing the temporary transfer of the Wortley Montague MS. from your pleasant library to the care of Dr. Rost, Chief Librarian, India Office. As a sop to 'bigotry and virtue,' as a concession to the 'Scribes and Pharisees,' I had undertaken, in case the loan were granted, not to translate tales and passages which might expose you, the Curators, to unfriendly comment. But, possibly anticipating what injury would thereby accrue to the Volume and what sorrow to my subscribers, you were good enough not to sanction the transfer—indeed you refused it to me twice—and for this step my clientele will be (or ought to be) truly thankful to you.'

Ex. The Enys Collection of Autograph Manuscripts, Bonhams, September 28, 2004.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: Fine Autograph and Artifacts
  • Dates: #689 - Ended April 17, 2024

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