John Lewis Burckhardt

JOHN LEWIS BURCKHARDT descended from an eminent family in Switzerland, was born at Lausanne, about the year 1785. He received the rudiments of his education at a school at Neufchatel, and completed his studies at the universities of Leipsic and Gottingen. At the latter, he recommended himself, by his talents and general good conduct, to the favorable notice of the celebrated Blumenbach, who gave him a letter of introduction to Sir Joseph Banks, upon whom Burckhardt called on his arrival in London, in July, 1806. His acquaintance with Sir Joseph brought him in connexion with the other members of the African Association, and ended in his undertaking, under the patronage of the Society, to explore the interior of Africa. His offer was accepted in May, 1808, when he immediately set about preparing himself for his journey, by studying in London and at Cambridge, not only the Arabic language and oriental customs, but also astronomy, chemistry, mineralogy, medicine and surgery. In addition to this, he suffered his beard to grow, accustomed himself to wear the eastern dress, and in the intervals of his studies, exercised himself by long journies on foot, bare-headed, in the heat of the day, sleeping upon the ground, and living upon vegetables and water.

On the 25th of January, 1809, he received his final instructions, and on the 2d of March, he embarked at Cowes, for Malta, where he appeared in an oriental costume, and, by his judicious conduct, contrived to conceal his real character from several Swiss officers, whom he had previously known. Being unable to procure a vessel bound for Cyprus, he embarked in one sailing to the coast of Caramania. 'I introduced myself,' he says, to the passengers, who were Tripolines, as an Indian Mohammedan merchant, who had been, from early years, in England, and was now on his way home; and I had the good fortune to make my story credible. During the course of our voyage, numerous questions were put to me relative to India, which I answered as well as I could; and when I was asked for a specimen of the Hindoo language, I answered them in the worst dialect of the Swiss-German.' Having landed at Satalia, he made an excursion to Tarsus, where, finding a vessel bound for the coast of Syria, he embarked for that country, and entered it at the point where the Aasi, the ancient Orontis, falls into the sea. Here he joined a caravan proceeding to Aleppo, in his way whither he was much annoyed by the companions of his journey insisting that he was a Frank; and at Antakia, one going so far as to pull him by the beard, he resented the affront by giving the offender a blow on the face. On his arrival at Aleppo, he assumed the name of Ibrahim, and applied himself with unceasing assiduity to the study of the Arabic language, into which he made an attempt to translate Robinson Crusoe. In July, 1810, he started, by way of Palmyra, for Damascus; and, in the course of his journey, was twice attacked by banditti, and robbed of his watch and compass. He quitted Damascus in September, but returned to that city, after having visited the ruins of Balbec, Libanus, and Mount Hermon. He subsequently made an excursion into the Hauran, the patrimony of Abraham, and, on the 1st of January, 1811, again entered Aleppo. From hence he accompanied an Arab sheikh into the desert towards the Euphrates, but the protection of his guide being insufficient, he was robbed of all his clothes, and compelled to return, without having accomplished any of the objects of his journey. It was in this excursion to the desert,' says Mr. Barker, the British consul at Aleppo, that Burckhardt had so hard a struggle with an Arab lady, who took a fancy to the only garment which the delicacy or compassion of the men had left him.' On the 14th of February, he finally quitted Aleppo, and once more returning to Damascus, made another journey from thence into the Hauran, in the course of which, he discovered the ruins of a city unvisited by any other European, which he conjectured to be those of Petra, the capital of Arabia Petra. The ruins are situate in the valley of Ghor, or Araba, the existence of which, he says , appears to have been unknown to ancient as well as modern geographers.' Speaking of Balka, he observes, many ruined places and mountains in that district preserve the names of the Old Testament; and elucidate the topography of the province that fell to the share of the tribes of Gad and Reuben.'