Sir Richard Francis Burton (19 March 1821 – 20 October 1890) was a British explorer, geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, and diplomat. He was known for his travels and explorations in Asia, Africa and the Americas, as well as his extraordinary knowledge of languages and cultures. According to one count, he spoke 29 European, Asian and African languages.
Burton's best-known achievements include a well-documented journey to Mecca, in disguise at a time when Europeans were forbidden access on pain of death; an unexpurgated translation of One Thousand and One Nights (commonly called The Arabian Nights in English after early translations of Antoine Galland's French version); the publication of the Kama Sutra in English; and a journey with John Hanning Speke as the first Europeans to visit the Great Lakes of Africa in search of the source of the Nile.
Burton defied many aspects of the pervasive British ethnocentrism of his day, relishing personal contact with exotic human cultures in all their variety. His works and letters extensively criticized colonial policies of the British Empire, even to the detriment of his career. Although his university education aborted, he became a prolific and erudite author and wrote numerous books and scholarly articles about subjects including human behavior, travel, falconry, fencing, sexual practices and ethnography. A characteristic feature of his books is the copious footnotes and appendices containing remarkable observations and information.