Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-544b6db54f-prt4h Total loading time: 0.322 Render date: 2021-10-16T01:03:36.445Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

The Burton Book

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 December 2007


In the summer of 2001 a major controversy erupted following a Jewish Chronicle report (18 May 2001) that the Honorary Officers and Executive Committee of the Board of Deputies of British Jews had decided to offer for sale, at Messrs Christie's auction rooms in London, a hitherto unpublished work by the nineteenth-century explorer, writer and diplomat Sir Richard Francis Burton. In the event, and in the glare of worldwide media attention, the reserve price of £150,000 was not reached (6 June 2001). The lot – one of the very few Burton manuscripts still in private hands – was therefore withdrawn and returned, amidst yet further controversy, to the safe-keeping of the Board. In this article we trace the history of this work from its creation in the early 1870s, and offer some thoughts on its contemporary significance.

Research Article
Copyright © The Royal Asiatic Society 2008

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 The bidding started at £80,000 and quickly reached £140,000, but then stopped: information from Mr Leon Symons of the J[ewish] C[hronicle]. The Daily Telegraph, 19 May 2001, drew attention to the proposed sale. The Observer, 7 June 2001, carried a report of the auction.

2 Murray, P., From the Shadow of Dracula: A Life of Bram Stoker (London, 2004), pp. 177179Google Scholar.

3 The authoritative account is by Frankel, J., The Damascus Affair: ‘Ritual Murder’, Politics and the Jews in 1840 (Cambridge, 1997)Google Scholar. See also Parfitt, T., “‘The Year of the Pride of Israel’: Montefiore and the Blood Libel of 1840”, in , S. & Lipman, V. D. (eds), The Century of Moses Montefiore (Oxford, 1985), pp. 131148Google Scholar, and Henriques, U. R. Q., ‘Who Killed Father Thomas?’ in Lipman, V. D. (ed), Sir Moses Montefiore: A Symposium (Oxford, 1982), pp. 5075Google Scholar.

4 There is a vast literature on the Blood Libel. An account of its manifestation in Britain is offered by Holmes, C., ‘The Ritual Murder Accusation in Britain’, in Dundes, A. (ed), The Blood Libel Legend: A Casebook in Anti-Semitic Folklore (Wisconsin, 1991), pp. 99134Google Scholar.

5 On Beaudin see Frankel, Damascus Affair, pp. 58–59.

6 On Ratti-Menton see Ibid., pp. 55–56.

7 Ibid., p. 416.

8 McLynn, Burton, pp. 267–268. Sir Moses Montefiore and Sir Francis Henry Goldsmid (one of the earliest professing Jews to sit in Parliament, as Liberal MP for Reading, elected 1860) both protested to the Foreign Office about Burton's conduct. McLynn follows Brodie (Devil, p. 256) incorrectly and inexplicably describing Goldsmid as ‘Chief Rabbi of London’; the Chief Rabbi was Nathan Marcus Adler, who appears to have played no part whatever in these events, other than to have forwarded – presumably to Montefiore – a Hebrew letter he had received (dated 13 September 1870) from two rabbis in Damascus, complaining about Burton and seeking his premature recall. Montefiore clearly used this information as the basis for a letter published in The Times of 1 November 1870: Wiltshire & Swindon Record Office [WSRO] (Trowbridge): Papers of Sir Richard Burton: 2667/26/2/ (i) 46: Burton (Damascus) to Lord Granville (Foreign Secretary, London), 28 November 1870.

9 Vincent, A., ‘The Jew, the Gypsy and El Islam: an examination of Sir Richard Burton's Consulship in Damascus and his premature recall, 1868 – 1871’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1985, Part 2, p. 170Google Scholar.

10 WSRO: 2667/26/2 (i) 1: The Case of Captain Burton Late H[er] B[ritannic] M[ajesty's] Consul at Damascus [printed: ‘For Foreign Office Use only'] [1871?]

11 Brodie, Devil, p. 265, asserts that most of ‘the diatribe against the Jews’ was actually written in the British Museum. If so, it would have been a simple matter for Burton to have ordered the work of Achille Laurent in the Reading Room (as Professor Alderman did in 1988), and to have copied out large sections of it.

12 Kennedy, Dane, The Highly Civilized Man: Richard Burton and the Victorian World (Cambridge MA. and London, 2005), pp. 186187CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

13 Brodie, Devil, p. 266, refers to the list of alleged ritual murders given by Burton in The Jew as “having been passed down from one anti-semitic tract to another over the generations”, apparently unaware he had simply copied out the list given by Laurent, whose work she does not seem to have been aware of.

14 Laurent, Relation historique, II, p. 325

15 JC, 24 October 1890, quoted in C. Holmes, Anti-Semitism in British Society 1876–1939 (London, 1979), p. 49.

16 Burton, R. F., Explorations of the Highlands of Brazil (London, 2 vols, 1869), I, p. 403Google Scholar; but Burton added “of course to the white family”, indicating implicitly his prejudice against Oriental and therefore Sephardic Jews.

17 Burton, R. F., Lord Beaconsfield: A Sketch (London) [1882?]Google Scholar.

18 On which see Cohn, N. F. C., Warrant for Genocide (New York, 1967)Google Scholar and Ben-Itto, H., The Lie That Wouldn't Die – The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (London, 2005)Google Scholar.

19 Burton, R. F., The Jew, The Gypsy and El Islam (ed Wilkins, W. H., London, 1898), pp. 7, 11, 25, 29, 72Google Scholar.

20 Ibid., p. 115.

21 Burton to Geary, 12 May 1877, quoted in Brodie, Devil, p. 363. Geary was the managing editor of The Times of India and author of the celebrated work Through Asiatic Turkey: Narrative of a Journey from Bombay to the Bosphorus (1878).

22 Wilkins in Burton, The Jew, p. viii.

23 Ibid., p. x.

24 On Wilkins see H. C. G. Matthew and B. Harrison [eds], Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Vol.58 (Oxford, 2004), pp. 991–992 and The Times, 23 December 1905, p. 10, where his birth year is given as 1861.

25 Alderman, G., Modern British Jewry (2nd edn, Oxford 1998), p. 124CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

26 There is a list of Wilkins's anti-alien publications at pages 249–250 of Holmes, Anti-Semitism. Wilkins moved in a circle of intellectual homosexuals that included George Cecil Ives (1867–1950), a criminologist and early campaigner for homosexual law reform and founder in 1897 of the Order of Chaeronea, a secret society of homosexuals that included Oscar Wilde's lover, the anti-Semitic Lord Alfred Douglas: Correspondence from Wilkins, 1892–5, survives in the papers of Ives, now at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin: (accessed 29 November 2006). Wilde himself refused to join Ives's secret society. Wilkins and Ives also corresponded with the Cambridge historian and educational reformer Oscar Browning (1837–1923). Browning, whose surviving papers are now at King's College, Cambridge, was the lover of the (Jewish) pre-Raphaelite painter Simeon Solomon and, allegedly, of the future Viceroy of India, George Curzon. See I. Anstruther, Oscar Browning (London, 1983). Burton's own homosexual leanings are addressed in Kennedy, Highly Civilized Man, pp. 213–214 and 237–246.

27 See his letter, “The Contrition of a Plagiarist”, Evening News and Post, 26 February 1892. Ibid., 9 February 1892 had exposed his behaviour.

28 Lovell, Rage, p. 786.

29 The Athenaeum, 16 October 1897, p. 511.

30 Lovell, Rage, p. 789.

31 WSRO, Papers of Lady Isabel Burton: 2667/26/2/ (xii): ‘Private Instructions For My Sister: A few of the things that are to be burnt after my death’ (typescript, undated). Lovell's suggestion (Rage, p. 785) that Isabel had wanted The Jew published seems to us curious – to say the least – in view of the explicit terms of these Instructions.

32 Brodie suggests (Devil, p. 363) that Wilkins “could not bring himself to publish the most offensive portion of ‘The Jew’”. We are at a loss to explain this assertion. She brings no evidence for the contention and we have been unable to find any. On the contrary, all the evidence points in a quite opposite direction.

33 Holmes, Anti-Semitism, p. 52.

34 WSRO: 2667/26–2 (iii) 24: Emanuel to Elizabeth Fitzgerald [Isabel's sister], 15 March 1897. That Emanuel had written in identical terms to Isabel's other executors, and to Wilkins himself, is evident from the contents of Wilkins's reply, in which he characterised the possibility of an action for criminal libel as ‘intimidation’ and threatened that he was minded to publish in full the Board's letter and the resolutions, enclosed with it, which it had secretly passed: the threat was never carried out: WSRO: 2667/26–2 (iii) 22: Wilkins to Emanuel, 16 March 1897.

35 This firm still trades but we understand that it has no surviving material relating to The Jew. Its archives were blitzed in the Second World War and even its catalogues have disappeared: letter to Professor Holmes, 29 August 2001. The Jew was not the only Burton manuscript to which the financially-embarrassed Wilkins helped himself: Lovell, Rage, pp. 790–791. The sum paid by Messrs Sotheran was divulged in the High Court in 1911: JC, 31 March 1911, p. 29.

36 Sutton (whose Canterbury title became extinct on the death of his brother, the sixth Viscount, in 1941) was a partner, with the author and playwright Alfred Edye Manning-Foster (1876–1939), in Cope, Fenwick & Co (otherwise known as Cope & Fenwick), a publishing house then specialising in works on eastern and occult religions. A leading authority on the card game known as Bridge, Manning-Foster subsequently became president of the British Bridge League. In 1934 it emerged that he had written to the League's selection committee advising that no Jew be included in the team to play in an international tournament in Vienna: JC, 25 May 1934, p. 37. We are grateful to the English Bridge Union for supplying invaluable biographical data relating to Manning-Foster, whose obituary appeared in The Times, 26 August 1939, p. 2. In 1909 Cope & Fenwick had published The Jew and Human Sacrifice: Human Blood and Jewish Ritual, a translation of the 8th edition of a work by the Protestant theologian Dr Hermann Strack refuting the blood-libel accusations against the Jews made by the notorious Canon August Röhling, a professor at the Catholic University in Prague, in his work Der Talmudjude [The Talmud Jew] in 1871. Although Strack's work was clearly sympathetic to the Jews, the Board of Deputies may have felt, in company with Isabel's executors, that the sensational nature of Burton's work would be too much of a temptation to Cope & Fenwick, which might have been prepared to publish any such material relating to Jews to boost its profits. We have attempted, without success, to glean more details on this publishing house. Its last offering that we have been able to trace dates to 1947.

37 Holmes, Anti-Semitism, p. 53. It was no coincidence that whilst one of Isabel's trustees was Miss Plowman, the other was W. A. Coote, a member of the National Vigilance Society (Brodie, Devil, p. 331), suggesting that it was Isabel's trustees who had alerted the Deputies to the unwelcome proposed publication of The Jew in full. Isabel had in fact instructed her executors to ensure that the Society had a list of all Burton's manuscripts unpublished at his death “to enable them to have any books purporting to be Burton's investigated and stopped”: Lovell, Rage, p. 783. In her will Isabel had required her executors “at the expense of the estate, to initiate proceedings against any person printing or publishing anything objectionable in connexion with the works of her late husband”: WSRO: 2667/26/2 (xii) (A) (7): The Times, 17 June 1896.

38 In the High Court in 1911 it was stated that the Board of Deputies did not then know where the manuscript was: JC, 31 March 1911, p. 29.

39 The Times, 28 March 1911, p. 3; JC, 31 March 1911, p. 29.

40 Dr Lionel Kopelowitz to Dr Geoffrey Alderman, 11 April 1986. The National Vigilance Society, through Mr Coote, subsequently thanked Alexander “for his action in connection with the suppression of the Burton book”: JC, 5 May 1911, p. 15.

41 The question has been asked why the Deputies, having obtained legal title to the work, and physical possession of it, did not at once destroy it. The answer surely is that the Deputies could never be certain other galleys did not exist. Should they ever surface, it was important that the Deputies could bring their galleys, delivered to them by court order in 1911, as proof of their ownership.

42 Brodie, Devil, pp. 266, 363.

43 McLynn, Burton, p. 284.

44 Lovell, Rage, p. 516, contents herself with the observation: “Before he went to Syria his [Burton's] opinions on Jews were conventional enough, afterwards his anti-Semitism was pronounced”.

45 Kennedy, Highly Civilized Man, pp. 185–192

46 Roberta A. Routledge (compiler), Report on the Records of the Board of Deputies of British Jews 1760–1966 (London, 1978).

47 Minutes of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, 16 December 1984, pp. 2–3.

48 The reasons for this delay, which relate to other communal matters on which Professor Alderman and Dr Kopelowitz did not agree, are related in G. Alderman, Academic Duty and Communal Obligation: Some Thoughts on the Writing of Anglo-Jewish History (London, 1994), p. 10. Dr Kopelowitz had consulted the late Dr Vivian Lipman (at Oxford a pupil, like Professor Alderman, of the late Dr Cecil Roth), who reported regularly but in the strictest confidence to Professor Alderman on the substance of these exchanges. Support for offering bona fide scholars access to the manuscript was obtained by Professor Alderman from the then President of the Royal Historical Society, the late Dr Gerald Aylmer (Master of St Peter's College Oxford), Professor Sir Randolph Quirk, President of the British Academy, and Rabbi Dr Abraham Levy, spiritual head of the Spanish & Portuguese Jews’ Congregation.

49 Email from Professor AB, New York, to Mrs Wagerman, 17 June 2001, copied to Professor Alderman.

50 Email from Professor CD, New York, to Mrs Wagerman, 12 June 2001, copied to Professor Alderman. In her reply (14 June) Mrs Wagerman justified the decision to sell the manuscript on the grounds that the money was needed to enable the Board to continue protecting the Jewish people.

51 The Independent, 17 March 2002, p. 11. This sum was much less than the auction reserve. It was the view of the Board's director general, Mr Neville Nagler (as reported by The Independent) that “the main bidder [at the auction] withdrew after the allegations of anti-Semitism” levelled at the Book and the strong concerns that Greville Janner was expressing about it. We understand that legal ownership of the Book now rests with the Board of Deputies Charitable Trust.

52 See Encyclopaedia Judaica, Vol. 4 (Jerusalem 1971), pp. 1119 ff for a convenient accessible survey of old anti-Semitism remaining a vital force during this period. Although the Nazis placed great emphasis on the threat of Jewish domination, the Blood Libel charge still surfaced in their ideology as in 1934 in Der Stürmer, for example. Arnold Leese, active at the same time in Britain, likewise had no problem incorporating both it and the allegation of a Jewish conspiracy within his ideology: see J. Morell, “The Life and Opinions of A. S. Leese: a study in extreme antisemitism”, University of Sheffield MA thesis, 1974.

53 See Frankel, Damascus Affair, chapters 16 & 17.

54 Singerman, R., Antisemitic Propaganda: An Annotated Bibliography and Research Guide (New York, 1982)Google Scholar.

55 L. Galili, “Blood Libel makes comeback in Russia”, Haaretz, 25 January 2005, reproduced at [accessed 14 January 2007]; A. Julius, “On Blood Libels” Engage (September 2006): [accessed 14 January 2007].

56 We are unaware of the identities of any scholars other than ourselves who have been permitted to examine the Book since 1989. However, Professor Kennedy has informed Professor Alderman (email, 2 March 2007) that a request from him to the Board to view the manuscript whilst preparing his monograph on Burton went unanswered.

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

The Burton Book
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

The Burton Book
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

The Burton Book
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *