Richard Burton, Professional Badass

Yeah, I'm reading. What about it?

Normally, when Wikipedia describes somebody, they sum up their occupation in one or two words. Emily Dickinson, poet. Patrick Stewart, actor. A quick, neat label tells you what they’re all about.

Here’s the first sentence of Richard Burton’s Wikipedia page:

Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton KCMG FRGS (19 March 1821 – 20 October 1890) was a British geographer, explorer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer and diplomat.

Yeah.

Not to be confused with the other Richard Burton, Captain Sir Richard Burton was a man of many talents. But he didn’t just sit at home being impressed with himself. Among his more notable accomplishments are:

  • Making the hajj, or Muslim trip to Mecca. Entrance to Mecca was (and still is) strictly forbidden for non-Muslims, but he spent seven years learning the language, customs, and rituals, and successfully got in and out without being detected, surviving a bandit attack on the way. His account of the journey still survives today, and is available for free online.
  • Enrolling as a soldier in the East India Company’s army. They sent him to India, where he acquired a bunch of monkeys and tried to learn their language. That didn’t pan out, but he did pick up Hindustani, Gujarati, Punjabi, Sindhi, Marathi, Persian, and Arabic, so I guess I can give him a pass.
  • Exploring Africa. Burton was the first European to enter the Ethiopian city of Harar. On a later African expedition, a Somali warrior threw a javelin into his face, and he fled while still impaled. He also made an expedition through the Great Lakes of Africa in search of the source of the Nile.

As usual, I’m running short on time this morning, so I have to stop there. Suffice it to say, if you decide to read more about Burton, you won’t be disappointed. I’ll leave you with these four lines he wrote (poet, remember?).

Do what thy manhood bids thee do,
from none but self expect applause;
He noblest lives and noblest dies
who makes and keeps his self-made laws.

What would you like to be remembered for?

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6 responses to “Richard Burton, Professional Badass

  1. A great question. Professionally? Stories that impact people. Personally? Positive energy.

  2. Well, I have a few plans for both world domination, and also I have a few ideas for eliminating all the corporations in industrialized nations. . .
    (Seriously, I think the corporations really have to go. Like, now. I feel like they’re preventing all that is good and holy from affecting the world, and instead injecting it with fat and evil and stopping human development).
    I think i’d like to be remembered for taking down the corporations and for being a great writer.

    • Hm…well, if you take down the corporations, I’ll be unemployed. Maybe we can find a solution that will allow me to keep paying my bills. 😉 Good luck on the world domination and the great writing, though.

      • Well, I didn’t say I wasn’t going to be replacing the corporations with new ones. I just think the current set of corporations are oppossing everything good and battling over territory, and I intend to end the current set.
        The only way I see this war coming to an end is if someone wings. Which is where my world domination and corporation destruction plans can meet, if I feel like integrating them.

  3. I like the valuable info you provide in your articles. I’ll bookmark your blog and check again here frequently. I’m quite sure I’ll learn many new stuff right here! Best of luck for the next!

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