71. The Thousand Nights and a Night. 1st Vol. 12th September 1885. 10th Vol. 12th July 1886.
72. Il Pentamerone. (Translated — not published till 1893).
73. Iracema or Honey Lips; and Manoel de Moraes the Convert. Translated from the Brazilian. 1886.
In May 1885, Burton obtained leave of absence, and on arriving in England he made various arrangements about the printing of The Arabian Nights and continued the work of translation. When in London he occupied rooms at the St. James’s Hotel (now the Berkeley) in Piccadilly. He used to say that the St. James’s Hotel was the best place in the world in which to do literary work, and that the finest place in the whole world was the corner of Piccadilly. Still, he spent most of his time, as usual, at the Athenaeum. Mr. H. R. Tedder, the Secretary, and an intimate friend of Burton’s, tells me that “He would work at the round table in the library for hours and hours — with nothing for refreshment except a cup of coffee and a box of snuff, which always stood at his side;” and that he was rarely without a heavy stick with a whistle at one end and a spike at the other — the spike being to keep away dogs when he was travelling in hot countries. This was one of the many little inventions of his own. Mr. Tedder describes him as a man of great and subtle intellect and very urbane. “He had an athletic appearance and a military carriage, and yet more the look of a literary man than of a soldier.” In summer as usual he wore white clothes, the shabby old beaver, and the tie-pin shaped like a sword. Mr. Tedder summed him up as “as a compound of a Benedictine monk, a Crusader and a Buccaneer.”
The Hon. Henry J. Coke, looking in at the Athenaeum library one day, and noticing the “white trousers, white linen coat and a very shabby old white beaver hat,” exclaimed, “Hullo Burton, do you find it so very hot?”
“I don’t want,” said Burton, “to be mistaken for anyone else.”
“There’s not much fear of that, without your clothes,” followed Coke.424
During this holiday Burton visited most of his old friends, and often ran down to Norwood to see his sister and her daughter, while everyone remarked his brightness and buoyancy. “It was delightful,” says Miss Stisted, “to see how happy he was over the success of his venture.” He had already resolved to issue six additional volumes, to be called Supplemental Nights. He would then take sixteen thousand pounds. He calculated printing and sundries as costing four thousand, and that the remainder would be net profit. As a matter of fact the expenses arose to £6,000, making the net profit £10,000425 Burton had wooed fortune in many ways, by hard study in India, by pioneering in Africa, by diplomacy at Court, by gold-searching in Midian and at Axim, by patent medicining. Finally he had found it in his inkstand; but as his favourite Jami says, it requires only a twist of the pen to transmute duvat into dulat426 — inkstand into fortune.
Except when his father died, Burton had never before possessed so large a sum, and, at the time, it appeared inexhaustible. Bubbling over with fun, he would pretend to make a great mystery as to the Kama Shastra Society at Benares, where he declared the Nights were being printed.
Of all the visits to be made during this holiday Burton had looked forward to none with so much pleasure as those to Mr. Arbuthnot, or “Bunny,”427 as he called him, and Mr. Payne. Mr. Arbuthnot was still living at Upper House Court, Guildford, studying, writing books, and encouraging struggling men of letters with a generosity that earned for him the name of “the English Mecaenas;” and it was there the friends discussed the publications of the Kama Shastra Society and made arrangements for the issue of fresh volumes. While the roses shook their odours over the garden, they talked of Sadi’s roses, Jami’s “Aromatic herbs,” and “Trees of Liberality,”428 and the volume Persian Portraits,429 which Arbuthnot, assisted by Edward Rehatsek, was at the moment preparing for the press. Among the objects at Mr. Arbuthnot’s heart was, as we have said, the resuscitation of the old Oriental Translation fund, which was originally started in 1824, the Society handling it having been established by Royal Charter. A series of works had been issued between 1829 and 1879, but the funds were completely exhausted by the publication of Al Biruni’s Memoirs of India, and there were no longer any subscribers to the Society. Mr. Arbuthnot now set himself assiduously to revive this fund, he contributed to it handsomely himself and by his energy induced a number of others to contribute. It is still in existence, and in accordance with his suggestion is worked by the Royal Asiatic Society, though the subscriptions and donations to the Translation Fund are kept entirely separate, and are devoted exclusively to the production of translations of Oriental works, both ancient and modern. Thanks to the fund, a number of translations of various Oriental works has been issued, including volumes by Professor Cowell, Rehatsek, Miss C. M. Ridding, Dr. Gaster and Professor Rhys Davids. Its most important publication, however, is the completion of the translation of Hariri’s Assemblies,430 done by Steingass.431
427 Mr. Arbuthnot was the only man whom Burton addressed by a nickname.
428 Headings of Jami’s chapters.
429 It appeared in 1887.
430 Abu Mohammed al Kasim ibn Ali, surnamed Al-Hariri (the silk merchant), 1054 A. D. to 1121 A. D. The Makamat, a collection of witty rhymed tales, is one of the most popular works in the East. The interest clusters round the personality of a clever wag and rogue named Abu Seid.
431 The first twenty-four Makamats of Abu Mohammed al Kasim al Hariri, were done by Chenery in 1867. Dr. Steingass did the last 24, and thus completed the work. Al Hariri is several times quoted in the Arabian Nights. Lib. Ed. iv., p. 166; viii., p. 42.
Born in 1825, Dr. Steingass came to England in 1873, and after five years as Professor of Modern Languages at Wakefield Grammar School, Birmingham, was appointed Professor at the Oriental Institute, Woking. Though entirely self-taught, he was master of fourteen languages.432 His Arabic Dictionary (1884) and his Persian English Dictionary (1892) are well known, the latter being the best extant, but he will, after all, be chiefly remembered by his masterly rendering of Hariri. Dr. Steingass presently became acquainted with Burton, for whom he wrote the article “On the Prose Rhyme and the Poetry of the Nights.”433 He also assisted Burton with the Notes,434 supervised the MSS. of the Supplemental Volumes and enriched the last three with results of his wide reading and lexicographical experience.435 The work of transcribing Burton’s manuscript and making the copy for the press fell to a widow lady, Mrs. Victoria Maylor, a Catholic friend of Mrs. Burton. Mrs. Maylor copied not only The Arabian Nights, but several of Burton’s later works, including The Scented Garden.
432 Times, 13th January 1903.
433 Lib. Ed. vol. 8, pp. 202-228.
434 See Notes to Judar and his Brethren. Burton’s A. N., vi., 255; Lib. Ed., v., 161.
435 Burton’s A. N. Suppl., vi., 454; Lib. Ed., xii., 278. Others who assisted Burton were Rev. George Percy Badger, who died February 1888, Mr. W. F. Kirby, Professor James F. Blumhardt, Mr. A. G. Ellis, and Dr. Reinhold Rost.
When asked why he spent so much time and money on Orientalism, Arbuthnot gave as excuse his incompetency to do anything else. He admitted, indeed, that for the higher walks of life, such as whist and nap, he had no aptitude. Occasionally at Upper House Court, politics were introduced, and Arbuthnot, a staunch Liberal in a shire of Tories, was sometimes rallied upon his opinions by the Conservative Burton and Payne. He took it all, however, as he took everything else, good humouredly, and even made some amiable attempts to convert his opponents. “His Radicalism,” says Mr. Payne, amusingly, “was entirely a matter of social position and connection. He was good enough for a Tory.” As usual, Burton paid a visit to Fryston, and he occasionally scintillated at Lord Houghton’s famous Breakfasts in London. Once the friends were the guests of a prosperous publisher, who gave them champagne in silver goblets. “Doesn’t this,” said Lord Houghton, raising a bumper to his lips, “make you feel as if you were drinking out of the skulls of poor devil authors?” For reply Burton tapped his own forehead.
About this time an anonymous letter of Burton’s appeared in The World, but we forget upon what subject. It excited wide interest, however, and hundreds of persons wrote to Mr. Yates, the editor, for the name of the author.
“Did you see my letter in The World?” enquired Burton of Mrs. E. J. Burton.
“The Christian World?” asked Mrs. Burton innocently.
“No,” replied Burton, sharply, “The Unchristian World.”
Once when Burton was present at some gathering, a missionary caused a shudder to run through the company by saying that he had had the dreadful experience of being present at a cannibal feast. The cannibals, he said, brought in their prisoner, butchered him, cut him up, and handed the pieces round smoking hot. With his curious feline laugh, Burton enquired, “Didn’t they offer you any?” “They did,” replied the missionary, “but of course I refused.” “What a fool you were,” cried Burton, “to miss such a unique opportunity.”
We must next record a visit to Mr. Payne, who then resided in London. Burton talked over his projects, and said that he had been wondering what book to take up after the completion of The Nights. “I think,” said he, “I shall fix upon Boccaccio next.”
“My dear boy,” followed Mr. Payne, “I’ve just done him.”436 As his poem “Salvestra” shows, Mr. Payne’s mind had for long been running on “that sheaf of flowers men call Decameron.” His brilliant translation was, indeed, already in the press, and it appeared the following year in three volumes.
“You are taking the bread out of my mouth,” commented Burton plaintively.
“But,” continued Mr. Payne, “there is another work that I thought of doing — The Pentameron,437 by Giambattista Basile, and if you care to take my place I will not only stand aside but lend you the materials collected for the purpose.” Burton, who had some knowledge of the Neapolitan dialect but had never met with the work referred to, welcomed the idea; and as soon as he had finished the Nights he commenced a translation of The Pentameron, which, however, was not published until after his death. His rendering, which cannot be praised, was aptly described by one of the critics as “an uncouth performance.” Burton also told Payne about the proposed Ariosto translation, and they discussed that too, but nothing was done.
On July 19th 1885, the Burtons lunched with Lord Houghton — “our common Houghton,” as Mr. Swinburne used to call him; and found his lordship unwell, peevish, and fault-finding. He had all the trials of the successful man who possesses everything that wealth can purchase or the mind conceive.
“Good-bye, my dear old friend,” cried Burton, when parting, “Would that I could share your troubles with you!”438
But poor Lord Houghton was too far gone to appreciate the jest. Indeed, he was on the brink of the grave. A few days later he left for Vichy, where he died on August 11th. His remains were brought to Fryston, and Burton and Arbuthnot were present at his funeral.
In October, while he was the guest of Lord Salisbury at Hatfield, Burton solicited the consulate of Morocco, and as his application was supported by fifty men of prominence he felt almost certain of obtaining it.
Apparently, it was during this visit to England, too, that Burton committed the frightful sin of contradicting Mr. Gladstone. At some great house after dinner, Mr. Gladstone, who was the guest of the evening, took it upon himself, while every one listened in respectful silence, to enlarge on Oriental matters.
After he had finished, Burton, who had been fidgeting considerably, turned to him and said, “I can assure you, Mr. Gladstone, that everything you have said is absolutely and entirely opposite to fact.”
The rest of the company were aghast, could scarcely, indeed, believe their ears; and one of them, as soon as he had recovered from the shock, was seen scribbling like mad on a menu card. Presently Burton felt the card tucked into his hand under the table. On glancing at it he read “Please do not contradict Mr. Gladstone. Nobody ever does.”
436 See Chapter xxx.
437 This work consists of fifty folk tales written in the Neapolitan dialect. They are supposed to be told by ten old women for the entertainment of a Moorish slave who had usurped the place of the rightful Princess. Thirty-one of the stories were translated by John E. Taylor in 1848. There is a reference to it in Burton’s Arabian Nights, Lib. Ed., ix., 280.
438 Meaning, of course, Lord Houghton’s money.
By this time Burton had finished the first volume of his translation of The Arabian Nights, which left the press 12th September 1885. The book was handsomely bound in black and gold, the colours of the Abbaside caliphs; and contained a circular “earnestly requesting that the work might not be exposed for sale in public places or permitted to fall into the hands of any save curious students of Moslem manners.” The last volume was issued in July 1886. Let us turn over the pages of this remarkable work, surrender ourselves for a few moments to its charms, and then endeavour to compare it calmly and impartially with the great translation by Mr. Payne.
What a glorious panorama unfolds itself before us! Who does not know the introduction — about the king who, because his wife was unfaithful, vowed to take a new wife every evening and slay her in the morning! And all about the vizier’s daughter, the beautiful Shahrazad, who, with a magnificent scheme in her head, voluntarily came forward and offered to take the frightful risk.
Did ever tale-teller compare with Shahrazad? Who does not sympathise with the Trader who killed the invisible son of the jinni? Who has not dreamt of the poor fisherman and the pot that was covered with the seal of King Solomon? The story of Duban, who cured King Yunon of leprosy and was sent home on the royal steed reads like a verse out of Esther,439 and may remind us that there is no better way of understanding the historical portions of the Bible than by studying The Arabian Nights. King Yunan richly deserved the death that overtook him, if only for his dirty habit of wetting his thumb when turning over the leaves of the book.440 What a rare tale is that of the Ensorcelled Prince, alias The Young King of the Black Isles, who though he sat in a palace where fountains limbecked water “clear as pearls and diaphanous gems,” and wore “silken stuff purfled with Egyptian gold,” was from his midriff downwards not man but marble! Who is not shocked at the behaviour of the Three Ladies of Baghdad! In what fearful peril the caliph and the Kalendars placed themselves when, in spite of warning, they would ask questions! How delightful are the verses of the Nights, whether they have or have not any bearing upon the text! Says the third Kalendar, apropos of nothing:
“How many a weal trips on the heels of ill
Causing the mourner’s heart with joy to thrill.”
What an imbecile of imbeciles was this same Kalendar when he found himself in the palace with the forty damsels, “All bright as moons to wait upon him!” It is true, he at first appreciated his snug quarters, for he cried, “Hereupon such gladness possessed me that I forgot the sorrows of the world one and all, and said, ‘This is indeed life!’” Then the ninny must needs go and open that fatal fortieth door! The story of Nur al-Din Ali and his son Badr al-Din Hasan has the distinction of being the most rollicking and the most humorous in the Nights. What stupendous events result from a tiff! The lines repeated by Nur al-Din Ali when he angrily quitted his brother must have appealed forcibly to Burton:
Travel! and thou shalt find new friends for old ones left behind; toil! for the sweets of human life by toil and moil are found; The stay at home no honour wins nor ought attains but want; so leave thy place of birth and wander all the world around.441
As long as time lasts the pretty coquettish bride will keep on changing her charming dresses; and the sultan’s groom (poor man! and for nothing at all) will be kept standing on his head. The moribund Nur al-Din turns Polonius and delivers himself of sententious precepts. “Security,” he tells his son, “lieth in seclusion of thought and a certain retirement from the society of thy fellows. . . . In this world there is none thou mayst count upon. . . . so live for thyself, nursing hope of none. Let thine own faults distract thine attention from the faults of other men.442 Be cautious, kind, charitable, sober, and economical.” Then the good old man’s life “went forth.” This son, when, soon after, confronted with misfortune, gives utterance to one of the finest thoughts in the whole work:
“It is strange men should dwell in the house of abjection, when the plain of God’s earth is so wide and great.”443
But there is another verse in the same tale that is also well worth remembering — we mean the one uttered by Badr al-Din Hasan (turned tart merchant) when struck by a stone thrown by his son.
Unjust it were to bid the world be just; and blame her not: She ne’er was made for justice: Take what she gives thee, leave all griefs aside, for now to fair and Then to foul her lust is.444
We need do no more than mention the world-famous stories of the unfortunate Hunchback and the pragmatical but charitable Barber. Very lovely is the tale of Nur al-Din and the Damsel Anis al Jalis445 better known as “Noureddin and the Beautiful Persian.” How tender is the scene when they enter the Sultan’s garden! “Then they fared forth at once from the city, and Allah spread over them His veil of protection, so that they reached the river bank, where they found a vessel ready for sea.” Arrived at Baghdad they enter a garden which turns out to be the Sultan’s. “By Allah,” quoth Nur al-Din to the damsel, “right pleasant is this place.” And she replied, “O my lord, sit with me awhile on this bench, and let us take our ease. So they mounted and sat them down . . . and the breeze blew cool on them, and they fell asleep, and glory be to Him who never sleepeth.” Little need to enquire what it is that entwines The Arabian Nights round our hearts.
When calamity over took Nur al-Din he mused on the folly of heaping up riches:
“Kisra and Caesars in a bygone day stored wealth; where is it, and ah! where are they?”446
But all came right in the end, for “Allah’s aid is ever near at hand.” The tale of Ghanim bin Ayyub also ends happily. Then follows the interminable history of the lecherous and bellicose King Omar. Very striking is its opening episode — the meeting of Prince Sharrkan with the lovely Abrizah. “Though a lady like the moon at fullest, with ringleted hair and forehead sheeny white, and eyes wondrous wide and black and bright, and temple locks like the scorpion’s tail,” she was a mighty wrestler, and threw her admirer three times. The tender episode of the adventures of the two forlorn royal children in Jerusalem is unforgettable; while the inner story of Aziz and Azizah, with the touching account of Azizah’s death, takes perhaps the highest place in the Nights. The tale of King Omar, however, has too much fighting, just as that of Ali bin Bakkar and Shams al Nahar, the amourist martyrs, as Burton calls them, has too much philandering. Then comes the Tale of Kamar al Zaman I— about the Prince and the Princess whose beauty set the fairy and the jinni disputing. How winning were the two wives of Kamar al Zaman in their youth; how revolting after! The interpolated tale of Ni’amah and Naomi is tender and pretty, and as the Arabs say, sweet as bees’ honey.447 All of us as we go through life occasionally blunder like Ni’amah into the wrong room — knowing not what is written for us “in the Secret Purpose.” The most interesting feature of the “leprosy tale” of Ala-al-Din is the clairvoyance exhibited by Zubaydah, who perceived that even so large a sum as ten thousand dinars would be forthcoming — a feature which links it with the concluding story of the Nights — that of Ma’aruf the cobbler; while the important part that the disguised Caliph Haroun Al-Rashid, Ja’afar and Masrur play in it reminds us of the story of the Three Ladies of Baghdad. On this occasion, however, there was a fourth masker, that hoary sinner and cynical humorist the poet Abu Nowas.
One of the most curious features of the Nights is the promptitude with which everyone — porters, fishermen, ladies, caliphs — recites poetry. It is as if a cabman when you have paid him your fare were to give you a quatrain from FitzGerald’s rendering of Omar Khayyam, or a cripple when soliciting your charity should quote Swinburne’s Atalanta. Then in the midst of all this culture, kindliness, generosity, kingliness, honest mirth — just as we are beginning to honour and love the great caliph, we come upon a tale448 with the staggering commencement “When Harun al Rashid crucified Ja’afar;” and if we try to comfort ourselves with the reflection that we are reading only Fiction, History comes forward and tells us bluntly that it is naked truth. Passing from this story, which casts so lurid a light over the Nights, we come to Abu Mohammed, Lazybones, the Arab Dick Whittington, whose adventures are succeeded by those of Ali Shar, a young man who, with nothing at all, purchases a beautiful slave girl — Zumurrud. When, after a time, he loses her, he loses also his senses, and runs about crying:
“The sweets of life are only for the mad.”
By and by Zumurrud becomes a queen, and the lovers are re-united. She is still very beautiful, very sweet, very pious, very tender, and she flays three men alive.
We need do no more than allude to “The Man of Al Yaman and his six Slave Girls,” “The Ebony Horse,” and “Uns al Wujud and Rose in Hood.”
The tale of the blue-stocking Tawaddud449 is followed by a number of storyettes, some of which are among the sweetest in the Nights. “The Blacksmith who could handle Fire without Hurt,” “The Moslem Champion,” with its beautiful thoughts on prayer, and “Abu Hasn and the Leper” are all of them fragrant as musk. Then comes “The Queen of the Serpents” with the history of Janshah, famous on account of the wonderful Split Men — the creatures already referred to in this work, who used to separate longitudinally. The Sindbad cycle is followed by the melancholy “City of Brass,” and a great collection of anecdotes illustrative of the craft and malice of woman.
In “The Story of Judar”450 we find by the side of a character of angelic goodness characters of fiendish malevolence — Judar’s brothers — a feature that links it with the stories of Abdullah bin Fazil451 and Abu Sir and Abu Kir.452 Very striking is the account of the Mahrabis whom Judar pushed into the lake, and who appeared with the soles of their feet above the water and none can forget the sights which the necromancy of the third Maghrabi put before the eyes of Judar. “Oh, Judar, fear not,” said the Moor, “for they are semblances without life.” The long and bloody romance of Gharib and Ajib is followed by thirteen storyettes, all apparently historical, and then comes the detective work of “The Rogueries of Dalilah,” and ‘the Adventures of Mercury Ali.” If “The Tale of Ardashir” is wearisome, that of “Julnar the Sea Born and her son King Badr,” which like “Abdullah of the Land, and Abdullah of the Sea,”453 concerns mer-folk, amply atones for it. This, too, is the tale of the Arabian Circe, Queen Lab, who turns people into animals. In “Sayf al Muluk,” we make the acquaintance of that very singular jinni whose soul is outside his body, and meet again with Sindbad’s facetious acquaintance, “The Old Man of the Sea.”
“Hasan of Bassorah” is woven as it were out of the strands of the rainbow. Burton is here at his happiest as a translator, and the beautiful words that he uses comport with the tale and glitter like jewels. It was a favourite with him. He says, “The hero, with his hen-like persistency of purpose, his weeping, fainting, and versifying, is interesting enough, and proves that ‘Love can find out the way.’ The charming adopted sister, the model of what the feminine friend should be; the silly little wife who never knows that she is happy till she loses happiness, the violent and hard-hearted queen with all the cruelty of a good woman; and the manners and customs of Amazon-land are outlined with a life-like vivacity.”
Then follow the stories of Kalifah, Ali Nur al Din and Miriam the Girdle Girl454; the tales grouped together under the title of “King Jalead of Hind;” and Abu Kir and Abu Sir, memorable on account of the black ingratitude of the villain.
“Kamar al Zaman II.” begins with the disagreeable incident of the Jeweller’s Wife — “The Arab Lady Godiva of the Wrong Sort” — and the wicked plot which she contrived in concert with the depraved Kamar al Zaman. However, the storyteller enlists the reader’s sympathies for the Jeweller, who in the end gains a wife quite as devoted to him as his first wife had been false. The unfaithful wife gets a reward which from an Arab point of view precisely meets the case. Somebody “pressed hard upon her windpipe and brake her neck.” “So,” concludes the narrator, “he who deemeth all women alike there is no remedy for the disease of his insanity.” There is much sly humour in the tale, as for example when we are told that even the cats and dogs were comforted when “Lady Godiva” ceased to make her rounds. “Abdullah bin Fazil” is simply “The Eldest Lady’s Tale” with the sexes changed.
The last tale in the Nights, and perhaps the finest of all, is that of “Ma’aruf the Cobbler.”455 Ma’aruf, who lived at Cairo, had a shrewish wife named Fatimah who beat him, and hauled him before the Kazi because he had not been able to bring her “kunafah sweetened with bees’ honey.” So he fled from her, and a good-natured Marid transported him to a distant city. Here he encounters an old playfellow who lends him money and recommends him to play the wealthy merchant, by declaring that his baggage is on the road. This he does with a thoroughness that alarms his friend. He borrows money right and left and lavishes it upon beggars. He promises to pay his creditors twice over when his baggage comes. By and by the king — a very covetous man — hears of Ma’aruf’s amazing generosity, and desirous himself of getting a share of the baggage, places his treasury at Ma’aruf’s disposal, and weds him to his daughter Dunya. Ma’arfu soon empties the treasury, and the Wazir, who dislikes Ma’aruf, suspects the truth. Ma’aruf, however, confesses everything to Dunya. She comes to his rescue, and her clairvoyance enables her to see his future prosperity. Having fled from the king, Ma’aruf discovers a magic “souterrain” and a talismanic seal ring, by the aid of which he attains incalculable wealth. Exclaims his friend the merchant when Ma’aruf returns as a magnifico, “Thou hast played off this trick and it hath prospered to thy hand, O Shaykh of Imposters! But thou deservest it.” Ma’aruf ultimately succeeds to the throne. Then occurs the death of the beautiful and tender Dunya — an event that is recorded with simplicity and infinite pathos. The old harridan Fatimah next obtrudes, and, exhibiting again her devilish propensities, receives her quietus by being very properly “smitten on the neck.” So ends this fine story, and then comes the conclusion of the whole work. This is very touching, especially where the story-telling queen, who assumes that death is to be her portion, wants to bid adieu to the children whom she had borne to the king. But, as the dullest reader must have divined, the king had long before “pardoned” her in his heart, and all ends pleasantly with the marriage of her sister Dunyazad to the king’s brother.
What an array of figures — beautiful, revolting, sly, fatuous, witty, brave, pusillanimous, mean, generous — meets the eye as we recall one by one these famous stories; beautiful and amorous, but mercurial ladies with henna scented feet and black eyes — often with a suspicion of kohl and more than a suspicion of Abu Murreh456 in them — peeping cautiously through the close jalousies of some lattice; love sick princes overcoming all obstacles; executioners with blood-dripping scimitars; princesses of blinding beauty and pensive tenderness, who playfully knock out the “jaw-teeth” of their eunuchs while “the thousand-voiced bird in the coppice sings clear;”457 hideous genii, whether of the amiable or the vindictive sort, making their appearance in unexpected moments; pious beasts — nay, the very hills — praising Allah and glorifying his vice-gerent; gullible saints, gifted scoundrels; learned men with camel loads of dictionaries and classics, thieves with camel loads of plunder; warriors, zanies, necromancers, masculine women, feminine men, ghouls, lutists, negroes, court poets, wags — the central figure being the gorgeous, but truculent, Haroun Al Rashid, who is generally accompanied by Ja’afer and Masrur, and sometimes by the abandoned but irresistible Abu Nowas. What magnificent trencher-folk they all are! Even the love-lorn damsels. If you ask for a snack between meals they send in a trifle of 1,500 dishes.458 Diamonds and amethysts are plentiful as blackberries. If you are a poet, and you make good verses, it is likely enough that some queen will stuff your mouth with balass rubies. How poorly our modern means of locomotion compare with those of the Nights. If you take a jinni or a swan-maiden you can go from Cairo to Bokhara in less time than our best expresses could cover a mile. The recent battles between the Russians and the Japanese are mere skirmishes compared with the fight described in “The City of Brass” — where 700 million are engaged. The people who fare worst in The Arabian Nights are those who pry into what does not concern them or what is forbidden, as, for example, that foolish, fatuous Third Kalendar, and the equally foolish and fatuous Man who Never Laughed Again;459 and perhaps The Edinburgh Review was right in giving as the moral of the tales: “Nothing is impossible to him who loves, provided” — and the proviso is of crucial importance — “he is not cursed with a spirit of curiosity.” Few persons care, however, whether there is any moral or not — most of us would as soon look for one in the outstretched pride of a peacock’s tale.
Where the dust of Shahrazad is kept tradition does not tell us. If we knew we would hasten to her tomb, and in imitation of the lover of Azizeh460 lay thereon seven blood-red anemones.
439 Cf. Esther, vi., 8 and 11.
440 Ought there not to be notices prohibiting this habit in our public reference libraries? How many beautiful books have been spoilt by it!
441 The joys of Travel are also hymned in the Tale of Ala-al-Din. Lib. Ed., iii., 167.
442 Cf. Seneca on Anger, Ch. xi. “Such a man,” we cry, “has done me a shrewd turn, and I never did him any hurt! Well, but it may be I have mischieved other people.”
443 Payne’s Version. See Burton’s Footnote, and Payne vol. i., p. 93.
444 Burton’s A. N. i., 237; Lib. Ed., i., 218. Payne translates it: If thou demand fair play of Fate, therein thou dost it wrong; and blame it not, for ’twas not made, indeed, for equity. Take what lies ready to thy hand and lay concern aside, for troubled days and days of peace in life must surely be.
445 Burton’s A. N., ii., 1; Lib. Ed., i., 329; Payne’s A. N., i., 319.
446 Payne has — “Where are not the old Chosroes, tyrants of a bygone day? Wealth they gathered, but their treasures and themselves have passed away.” Vol. i., p. 359.
447 To distinguish it from date honey — the drippings from ripe dates.
448 Ja’afar the Barmecide and the Beanseller.
449 Burton’s A. N., v., 189; Lib. Ed., iv., 144; Payne’s A. N., iv., 324.
450 Burton’s A. N., vi., 213; Lib. Ed., v., 121; Payne’s A. N., vi., 1.
451 Burton’s A. N., ix., 304; Lib. Ed., vii., 364; Payne’s A. N., ix., 145.
452 Burton’s A. N., ix., 134; Lib. Ed., viii., 208; Payne’s A. N., viii., 297.
453 Burton’s A. N., ix., 165; Lib. Ed., vii., 237; Payne’s A. N., viii., 330.
454 Burton’s A. N., viii., 264 to 349; ix., 1 to 18; Lib. Ed., vii., 1 to 99; Payne’s A. N., viii., 63 to 169.
455 Burton’s A. N., vol. x., p. 1; Lib. Ed., vol. viii., p. 1; Payne’s A. N., vol. ix., p. 180.
456 Satan — See Story of Ibrahim of Mosul. Burton’s A. N., vii., 113; Lib. Ed., v., 311; Payne’s A. N., vi., 215.
458 “Queen of the Serpents,” Burton’s A. N., v., 298; Lib. Ed., iv., 245; Payne’s A. N., v., 52.
459 Burton’s A. N., vi., 160; Lib. Ed., v., 72; Payne’s A. N., v., 293.
460 See Arabian Nights. Story of Aziz and Azizeh. Payne’s Translation; also New Poems by John Payne, p. 98.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:48