THE CITY OF THE SAINTS by Richard Burton


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The Encyclopedia Britannica deems Richard Burton's City of the Saints the fruit of a flying visit to the U.S in 1860. But surely the metaphor is as misleading as it is mixed, for though the overland journey from Missouri to California, mostly in stagecoach, took under 100 days, and though Sir Richard spent about 3 weeks with the American Indians and little more than that with the Mormons, what he later massed between covers can only be described as an anthropological blockbuster, a still fresh, sometimes flamboyant, almost always frank exploration into Far West exoticism. Burton was a Renaissance hero untimely trapped in plush, prudish Victorianism. Ethnologist, archaeologist, linguist, poet, scholar, soldier, his routes, often pathbreaking ones, spanned India, Somaliland, the Nile, the Gold Coast, Latin America and, most especially, the Arabic world. Thus he was everything a Romantic should be- and more; as such he coupled the prose of a muscular dandy with the gleanings of an encyclopedic mind. City was written in his 40th year; the new edition comes admirably annotated and unexpurgated, set off with a sort of inspirational, semi-intoxicated introduction from the editor- yet who can blame him? The book is both bulky and blunt: the author including everything from historical documents to straight-from-the-shoulder obiter dicta; he notes the degeneration of the redskins through cross-culturation with the ""Saxon's poisonous pox and rum""; he analyzes totemism vis a vis African and Indian versions; holds a seance with Brigham Young; places in perspective the much-suspect Joseph Smith; shows that the sexual utopia of Mormondom is ultimately puritanical rather than pagan, for though he recognizes polygamy's socio-economic advantages, he found that the passion for and reverence of life (which he personally craved) was via Salt Lake City transformed into a multi-domestic discipline, a kind of motherly ""gloom"". Anyway, for connoisseurs, another measure of the Burton marvel.

ISBN: 1120861926
Publisher: Knopf