Just outside London, in the village of Mortlake, the massive tomb of Sir Richard Burton rises among the humbler graves of St. Mary Magdalen Church. I paid my dubious respects there a month or so ago, circumambulating the marble mausoleum (now clad in cement) like some skeptical pilgrim, and teetering on the rickety ladder at the rear of the edifice which gives you a peep into the dusty interior. There Burton and his devoutly Catholic wife Isabel (née Arundell) lie moldering uneasily side by side. The tomb is shaped like a nomad’s tent—a bizarre design chosen by Isabel after the death of the linguist, translator, and explorer in Trieste in 1890—but contains a dilapidated altar where masses were to be said for the repose of Burton’s soul. Burton was an avowed atheist, but Isabel loved his soul as well as his body. At the end he submitted to Extreme Unction as he lay dying in her arms. After a first funeral in Trieste, she...

 
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