THE ARABIAN NIGHTS.*
Sea Rieman BURTON and his wife have certainly conferred a great boon on the reading public, great and small, by this edition of The Arabian Nights. The Arabian Nights has hitherto been known to us chiefly as Aristotle is said to have been known to the Schoolmen, in a translation of a translation. The work of Galland, a Frenchman who was, according to Lane and Burton, not over well-skilled in Arabia, and who knew little of Arabic manners and customs, has hitherto, in various transla- tions and adaptations, been the source of popular knowledge of The Arabian Nights. Lane's own translation was a little too inrush like Sir Richard Burton's magnum opus, in being too close to the original for modern manners or drawing-room use. And, to tell the truth, it is also a trifle bald and dull. Moreover, it is disfigured to the ordinary eye, much like Grote's Greece, by nn- couth renderings of more or less familiar names. It is terrible, for instance, to see Aziz and Azizah rendered by Azeez and Azeezah, to find Sindbad converted into es-Sindhibad, and our old friend the Vizier turned into a Weezer ; and to be encountered on every page by some terrible Arabic word for the meaning of which you have to refer to notes, those torments of the interested reader. Sir Richard Burton, indeed, does not wholly spare our old friends. But Wazir for Vizier is better than Weezer ; and while Lane converts Nonriddin and the fair Persian into Noor ed-Deen and Enees-al-Jalees, Sir Richard Burton only goes so far as Nor al-Din and Anis al-Salis. Above all, this edition may be placed in any one's hands, and laid on any drawing-room table. It has been edited with the greatest care, and is as fit for household use as Alice in Wonder- land. Nor has it perceptibly lost in the process. On the con- trary, as in the tales of the Porter, the three Kalendars, and the Ladies of Baghdad, it distinctly gains by the elimination of stuff which is quite out of keeping with the characters of the heroines. The most striking novelty in this translation is the preservation of the rhymed prose, a jingle of assonance running through the more lively passages, particularly where love or fighting are concerned. Thus, in the Second Kalendar's tale, we have,—" Her figure measured five feet in height: her form was firm and upright: her cheek a very garden of delight : her colour lively bright: her face gleamed like dawn through curly tresses which gloomed like night ;" and when Sharrkan, the Moslem cavalier, fights the Franks, "they fell to fighting and to wheeling left and right, and necks were stretched out to see the sight, nor did they stint from strife and sword-play, and lunge of lance with main and might, till the day turned to night and darkness overwhelmed the light." Taken in connection with the context, the effect, though strange and bizarre, is not unpleasing, and gives a sense of something outlandish which accords well with the subject. Another novelty is the translation into verse of the verses copiously scattered about the stories, which have hitherto been omitted or turned into prose. It must be admitted that these verses are rather boring. They are mostly of the ultra-sentimental and" high-falutin' "order, with exaggerated sentiment and meta- phors. Here is a sample :— "Mad we known of thy coming, we fain had diapread* the cores of oar hearts or the balls of our eyes
Our cheeks as a carpet to greet thee had thrown,* and our eyelids had strewn for thy feet to betread."
Some of them, however, are pretty enough in feeling and ex- pression. But the translator has invented a barbarous expedient for plaguing the reader, and preventing his taking them quickly, by placing an asterisk in the middle of each line to represent the couplets of the original. As be does not really retain the metres of the original, there is no valid excuse for thus dis- figuring the page and trying the reader's temper, and we sincerely hope that, if not for later volumes, at all events for later editions, he will abandon this excruciating invention.
With this exception, there is no doubt that this is the most readable as well as the most complete, or probably because it is the most complete, version of The Arabian Nights yet produced.
a Lady Burton's Edition of her Husband's ..dralian Nights." Prepared for Household Reading by Justin Huntly McCarthy. Vol. I. London. Waterless sad Bona. In this first volume we have our old friends the Porter and the three Ladies of Baghdad, with the three Kalendans, the Hunch- back, and the silent Barber. But one of the most striking of the stories has not appeared in any former edition,—the tale, namely, of King Omar bin al-Nteuman and his sons. This is a Moslem chivalrous romance, with all the characteristics of a mediaeval romance founded on the Crusades ; but, of course, the facts are reversed. Instead of a Christian knight falling in love with a Moslem maiden, and slaughtering her kith and kin by thousands, and defeating their treacherous attempts at murder by violence and stealth, by ambuscade and poison, the hero is a Moslem prince and knight, and the heroine is a Christian maiden, and the villains and villainesses are all Christians, and it is the Christians who are slaughtered in their thousands by his single arm. As in the Christian romances, too, the plot wanders off from episode to episode, and, it must be admitted, becomes insufferably tedious, for before the end the grandchildren of the original hero are become the principal personages of the tale. But the leading incident and the opening episode of Sharrkan and Abrizah are worthy to rank with the tales of Sigurd and Brynhild. In fact, it may be questioned whether there is any personage in mediaeval romance who outshines the fair Amazonian Abrizah in parity and nobility of womanly character, or any more devoted and chivalrous lover than Sharrkan. But the story does not remain throughout at the same high level, and the fate of Aurora Leigh, which is inflicted on Abrizah by Sharrkan's father (only darkly hinted at in this edition), and her death by the hands of a negro slave, and the horribly Eastern sufferings that befall Nuzhet-al-Zaman, are worse than those which befell the heroines of Western tales of chivalry, bad as they often are. It would be interesting to know the origin of this story, which certainly strikes one as out of its place in the Thousand Nigles and a Night ; for though its adventures are many of them exaggerated and improbable, yet they are more causally connected, more coherent, and more natural and human and less inverted, than the weird and monstrous incidents of the true Arabian tales. Among these stand conspicuous the Third 'Calendar's tale, with its Loadstone Mountain and its man of brass, its castle plated with red gold, and the inevitable decree of blind Fate ; the First Lady's tale, with its city of stone men; and above all, the delightful tale of the Fisherman and the Ifreet,—the enchanted city with its King turned into marble from the waist downwards, and its citizens into white, red, blue, and yellow fishes that lift up their heads from the frying-pan and recite "verses in writing." Assuredly the tales that used to charm one's childhood have no less charm with the added anthropological interest which is lent them by Sir Richard Burton's translation and notes.