“THE HIGHEST MANIFESTATION OF THE TRANSLATOR’S ART”: FIRST EDITIONS OF BURTON’S TRANSLATION OF PORTUGUESE POET CAMOENS, PRESENTATION COPY INSCRIBED BY BURTON IN ENGLISH AND ARABIC
CAMOENS, Luis Vaz de. Os Lusiadas [The Lusiads]. Two volumes. WITH: Camoens: His Life and His Lusiads. Two volumes. WITH: The Lyricks. Two volumes. London: Bernard Quaritch, 1880, 1881, 1884. Six volumes in all. Small octavo, original gilt-stamped green cloth, uncut. $4800.
First edition set of Richard Burton’s translations of Camoens, with commentary volumes, inscribed by Burton in Volume I of the Lusiads, “With the Author’s very best wishes, [in Arabic] Peace, Abdullah.” Sets containing all six volumes are very scarce, and presentation inscriptions by Burton are extraordinarily scarce.
First published in 1572, The Lusiads describes Vasco da Gama’s 1498 discovery of the sea route around Africa to India, the very same route Camoens would take in 1553, when he was sent to India as a soldier. “Burton was attracted to Camoens as the mouthpiece of the romantic period of discovery in the Indian Ocean. The voyages, the misfortunes, the chivalry, the patriotism of the poet were to him those of a brother adventurer. In his spirited sketch of the life and character of Camoens it is not presumptuous to read between the lines allusions to his own career… Burton’s aim was to present to modern English readers as much as might be of the influence that Camoens has exercised for three centuries upon the Portuguese… What to the unimaginative may seem nothing but a tour de force is in truth the highest manifestation of the translator’s art” (DNB). Burton’s translation “is absolutely wonderful… the Portuguese nation owes Burton a very considerable debt for making known to the English the works of their greatest poet. Burton put his soul into ‘Camoens’ chiefly because he so thoroughly sympathized with his hero. There was much in common between the two, both were great patriots who had been neglected by their country, both endured the bitterest disappointments without a murmur, both had suffered much in foreign lands. When a man knows a language thoroughly as Burton did Portuguese, and can add to it a sympathy with his hero, such as in this case, the qualifications for a perfect translator are practically complete” (Penzer, 15). Biographer Edward Rice notes that Burton’s “later handwriting changed into near illegibility,” a statement certainly true of the cramped hand of the inscription in Volume I of the present copy (Rice, 117). While operating undercover as a Pathan doctor, “the name that he took was Al-Haj (the pilgrim) Abdullah, as he used ever afterwards to sign himself in Arabic characters,” as here (DNB). Penzer, 103-106. Bookbinder tickets; armorial bookplates in Volumes III and IV (Life).
Light rubbing and soiling to publisher’s cloth bindings, a few inner hinges repaired. Near-fine condition.