Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Sir Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke

Burton carries a Colt 1849 Pocket Percussion Revolver, which he swore by.

155 years ago today John Hanning Speke, having left his ill exploring partner Sir Richard Francis Burton to coalesce at Lake Tanganyika (at the arrival of which Speke had been the ill one, having been rendered temporarily blind), reached and named Lake Victoria.

The tumultuous relationship between Speke and Burton is complicated and sad.  Outside of it I know little about Speke (he was a bit on the priggish side, which never bodes well for good stories), simply because Burton was such a force of nature that he dominates one's interest.  I first had my interest peaked by the man who had taken a Somali spear through the face when I was a kid reading his Book of the Sword, the first of a proposed three-volume exhaustive history of the tool throughout the world.  Being a boy with a shine for history, it was the ideal subject.

Though that was the only book of his that I read as a youngster, Burton wrote a lot.  He spoke 25 languages and could read and write another 15.  He was, at various parts of his life, an archeologist, a spy, an anthropologist, an alligator-rider, a duelist (he challenged one guy to a swordfight on his first day of college over the principle of whether or not mustaches were, in fact, awesome... they are), a diplomat, an army officer, and a notorious chronicler of sex, drugs, and whatever the 19th century equivalent of rock-and-roll might have been (probably his own translations of non-occidental erotic literature).

The original for this painting is 14"x17," and costs $145.  Shoot me an e-mail if you want to purchase it via paypal, and I'll mail it off.  chris@curiousoldlibrary.com.

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