The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night

The Translator’s Foreword.

As my first and second volumes (Supplemental) were composed of translated extracts from the Breslau Edition of The Nights, so this tome and its successor (vols. iv. and v.) comprise my version from the (Edward) Wortley Montague Codex immured in the old Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Absence from England prevents for the present my offering a satisfactory description of this widely known manuscript; but I may safely promise that the hiatus shall be filled up in vol. v., which is now ready for the press.

The contents of the Wortley Montague text are not wholly unfamiliar to Europe. In 1811 Jonathan Scott, LL.D. Oxon. (for whom see my vols. i., ix. and x. 434), printed with Longmans and Co. his “Arabian Nights Entertainments” in five substantial volumes 8vo, and devoted a sixth and last to excerpts entitled

TALES

SELECTED FROM THE MANUSCRIPT COPY

OF THE

1001 NIGHTS

BROUGHT TO EUROPE BY EDWARD WORTLEY MONTAGUE, ESQ.

Translated from the Arabic

BY JONATHAN SCOTT, LL.D.

Unfortunately for his readers Scott enrolled himself amongst the acolytes of Professor Galland, a great and original genius in the line Raconteur, and a practical Orientalist whose bright example was destined to produce disastrous consequences. The Frenchman, however unscrupulous he might have been about casting down and building up in order to humour the dead level of Gallican bon goût, could, as is shown by his “Aladdin,” translate literatim and verbatim when the story-stuff is of the right species and acceptable to the average European taste. But, as generally happens in such cases, his servile suite went far beyond their master and model. Petis de la Croix (“Persian and Turkish Tales”), Chavis and Cazotte (“New Arabian Nights”), Dow (“Ináyatu llah”) and Morell (“Tales of the Genii”), with others manifold whose names are now all but forgotten, carried out the Gallandian liberties to the extreme of licence and succeeded in producing a branchlet of literature, the most vapid, frigid and insipid that can be imagined by man — a bastard Europeo-Oriental, pseudo-Eastern world of Western marionettes garbed in the gear which Asiatic are (or were) supposed to wear, with sentiments and opinions, manners and morals to match; the whole utterly lacking life, local colour, vraisemblance, human interest. From such abortions, such monstrous births, libera nos, Domine!

And Scott out-gallanded Galland:—

Diruit, aedificat, mutat quadrata rotundis.

It is hard to quote a line which he deigned textually to translate. He not only commits felony on the original by abstracting whole sentences and pages ad libitum, but he also thrusts false goods into his author’s pocket and patronises the unfortunate Eastern story-teller by foisting upon him whatever he, the “translator and traitor,” deems needful. On this point no more need be said: the curious reader has but to compare any one of Scott’s “translations” with the original or, for that matter, with the present version.

I determined to do that for Scott which Lane had done partly and imperfectly, and Payne had successfully and satisfactorily done for Galland. But my first difficulty was about the text. It was impossible to face without affright the prospect of working for months amid the discomforts and the sanitary dangers of Oxford’s learned atmosphere and in her obsolete edifices the Bodleian and the Radcliffe. Having ascertained, however, that in the so-called “University” not a scholar could be found to read the text, I was induced to apply for a loan — not to myself personally for I should have shunned the responsibility — but in the shape of a temporary transfer of the seven-volumed text, tome by tome, to the charge of Dr. Rost, the excellent Librarian of the India Office.

My hopes, however, were fated to be deferred. Learned bodies, Curators and so forth, are ponderous to move and powerless to change for

The trail of the slow-worm is over them all.

My official application was made on September 13th, 1886. The tardiest steps were taken as if unwillingly and, when they could no longer decently be deferred, they resulted in the curtest and most categorical but not most courteous of refusals, under circumstances of peculiar disfavour, on November 1st of the same year. Here I shall say no more: the correspondence has been relegated to Appendix A. My subscribers, however, will have no reason to complain of these “Ineptiû Bodleianû.” I had pledged myself in case of a loan “not to translate Tales that might be deemed offensive to propriety:” the Curators have kindly set me free from that troublesome condition and I thank them therefor.

Meanwhile I had not been idle. Three visits to Oxford in September and October had enabled me to reach the DIVth Night. But the laborious days and inclement evenings, combined with the unsanitary state of town and libraries — the Bodleian and the Rotunda — brought on a serious attack of “lithiasis” as it is now called, and prostrated me for two months, until it was time to leave England en route for my post.

Under these circumstances my design threatened to end in failure. As often befalls to men out of England, every move ventured by me menaced only check-mate. I began by seeking a copyist at Oxford, one who would imitate the text as an ignoramus might transcribe music: an undergraduate volunteered for the task and after a few days dropped it in dumb disgust. The attempt was presently repeated by a friend with the unsatisfactory result that three words out of four were legible. In London several Easterns were described as able and willing for the work; but they also were found wanting; one could not be trusted with the MS. and another was marriage-mad. Photography was lastly proposed, but considerations of cost seemed to render it unavailable. At last, when matters were at the worst, the proverbial amendment appeared. Mr. Chandler, whose energetic and conscientious opposition to all “Bodleian loans,” both of books and of manuscripts, had mainly caused the passing of the prohibitory statute, came forward in the most friendly and generous way: with no small trouble to himself he superintended the “sun- pictures,” each page of the original being reduced to half-size, and he insisted upon the work being done wholly and solely at his own expense. I know not how to express my gratitude.

The process was undertaken by Mr. Percy Notcutt, of Kingsbury and Notcutt, 45, St. George’s Place, Knightsbridge, and the four hundred and odd pages were reproduced in most satisfactory style.

Being relegated to a port-town which never possessed even an Arabic lexicon, I have found some difficulty with the Wortley Montague MS. as it contains a variety of local words unknown to the common dictionaries. But I have worked my best to surmount the obstacle by consulting many correspondents, amongst whom may be mentioned the name of my late lamented friend, the Reverend George Percy Badger; and, finally, by submitting my proofs to the corrections and additions of the lexicologist Dr. Steingass.

Appendix B will require no apology to the numerous admirers of Mr. E. J. W. Gibb’s honest and able work, “The History of the Forty Vezirs” (London, Redway, MDCCCLXXXVI). The writer in a book intended for the public was obliged to leave in their original Turkish, and distinguished only by italics, three “facetious” tales which, as usual, are some of the best in the book. These have been translated for me and I offer them to my readers on account of their curious analogies with many in The Nights.

Richard F. Burton.

TRIESTE, April 10th, 1888.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/burton/richard/b97b/v14foreword.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31