THE following translation of the Adventures of HATIM TAI may not perhaps merit from the English reader that interest which the original holds among the natives of the East. In Europe the last three centuries have wrought mighty changes in the state of society, while Asia remains, comparatively speaking, unaltered. Among the natives of Persia and Hindustan, the belief in demons, fairies, magicians with their enchanted palaces, and talismans and charms, is as prevalent as it was in Europe in the chivalrous ages that succeeded the crusades. Hence the most celebrated works of fiction in the East abound with the incredible, the wild, and the marvellous, like the productions of the bards and story-tellers of Pro­vence and their imitators, which enchanted Europe from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries.

The Seven Tales which form the present volume have in them a due portion of the supernatural; but it would be unfair to condemn them on that account, as they are thereby the more adapted to the taste of the people, for whom the original was composed. One merit they certainly possess, and that is, their humane and heroic tendency. The eminent person­age who figures as the hero was in his time a pattern of wisdom, bravery, and generosity. He has been therefore chosen as a proper theme by the writer of romance, who, spurning the bounds of reality, has created an ideal world of his own, with that wildness and extravagance of fancy which characterise an eastern imagination.

The Adventures of Hatim Tai have long obtained the highest popularity in those regions of Asia where the language of Persia is spoken or studied. Among those who speak the language of the origi­nal, the work is read with admiration and listened to with delight. In India it is extremely popular, and is generally selected as a book well adapted for beginners in the study of Persian, now the court language of that wide empire. This circumstance has induced me, under the auspices of the High and Illustrious Personages who contribute to the Oriental Translation Fund, to offer to the public the following English version, as a specimen of the romance of a nation that has long ranked as the most refined in Asia.

Should it be said that I might have applied my time to better purpose in translating some work of a graver cast, I may quote in my defence the words of the illustrious Dr. Blair: “Any kind of writing,” he says, “how trifling soever in appearance, that obtains a general currency, and especially that early pre-occupies the imagination of the youth of both sexes, must demand particular attention. Its influence is likely to be considerable both on the morals and taste of a nation.”

I am not sanguine enough to hope that my per­formance is faultless; nor do I imagine that I have transfused into the English version the ease and elegance of the Persian original. The difficulty of such a task is known only to those who are conversant with the different idioms of the two languages. I have endeavoured, however, to give in my translation the ideas of the Persian author, and for the most part in his own words; but it often happens that a phrase which makes good sense in Persian may be unintelligible in English, and in that case I gave the meaning, and not the words, of the original.

The manuscript from which the present trans­lation is made, was procured in the East in 1824. It gives no notice as to the place and time of writing; but from the beauty of penmanship and general accuracy of expression, I am inclined to think that it was executed in Persia and not Hindustan; and from its appearance, I should consider it at least a century old. In the course of the translating of the work I had access to three other MSS., one in the India-House, and two in the possession of an Oriental bookseller in town, who liberally allowed me the use of them when requisite. Of these resources I freely availed myself whenever I felt at a loss with my own. The four MSS. agree as a whole, though in every page may be found some small verbal discrepancies.

The few notes occasionally appended to the following pages, are taken chiefly from Oriental sources, such as the Farhang-i-Mashnavi, the Borhan-i-Kati, the Muntakhab-ul-Loghat, and the Rozat-ul-Sufa, which are works of standard value, and in all fairness, better authorities than European works of the kind.

Two editions of the Persian text of Hatim Tai have been printed at Calcutta since the establish­ment of Fort-William College. This work, how­ever, differs widely from all the MSS. which I have yet seen; and in fact, the name is almost the only resemblance left. The Calcutta copy is greatly abridged, the adventures and scenes that remain are altered, and the language rendered more flowery and artificial. All this may have been done with the view of improvement, by the munshis who superintended the publishing of the work. I am warranted in this conclusion from the circumstance that eight MSS., five of which I have seen in London and three in Calcutta, though written at distant periods of time and in places remote from each other, agree with the one I possess, whereas I have never seen a MS. resembling the Calcutta printed copy.

Be this as it may, I merely mention the cir­cumstance in order to obviate a mistake that may have arisen from the appearance of a translation of the Calcutta copy in the Asiatic Journals of last spring. By comparing that work with mine, it will be found that we have not been translating from the same original; and it will be seen further, that the Calcutta copy is only an abridgment of the common MSS.

I may be allowed to express my hope here that those illustrious patrons of Oriental literature, under whose protection the present translation has been brought before the public, will on some future day publish the original. It may be presuptuous in me to express an opinion of the kind before such competent judges; but, as a teacher of the Persian language, I feel much the want of an easy and use­ful elementary work. At present, the only good Persian author that is at all procurable is the Gulistan of Saadi, which I know from experience to be too difficult for beginners. It holds the same rank in Persian literature that the compositions of Dr. Johnson do in English; and I believe any per­son beginning the study of our language, would find the Rambler a difficult book.

As a precursor to the Gulistan, Hatim Tai seems to me the easiest and most useful of Persian authors. The style of the work (I mean, of course, the MSS.) is plain and unadorned. It abounds with common­place dialogue, the main thing to be attended to in living language. The subject is in general suffi­ciently interesting to arrest the attention of youth and its size and moderate price would be an addi­tional recommendation. If the work were printed in a neat octavo size, like the last edition of the Gulistan, I am confident that the produce of its sale would soon repay the expense of printing.

It remains for me now to say something of the illustrious personage whose perilous adventures are so faithfully recorded in the following work. Hatim ben Ubaid ben Sa’id, chief of the tribe of Tai, lived in the latter half of the sixth century of the Chris­tian æra. His native country was Yemen, or Arabia Felix, but it is uncertain what were the extent and resources of his domains. As Arabia was then divided into numerous tribes, it is most probable that Hatim’s sway extended only over a few thou­sands of hardy Arabs, who bore his family name of Tai, and acknowledged him as their chief. At all events, he possessed in the highest degree the virtues most admired in that age and country. Meidani, an Arabian author of the twelfth century, says of him, “Hatim was liberal, brave, wise, and victori­ous; when he fought, he conquered; when he plun­dered, he carried off; when he was asked, he gave; when he shot his arrow, he hit the mark; and whomsoever he took captive, he liberated.”

No wonder that the chief who merited such encomiums from the historian, should become the favourite theme of poetry and romance. In the East the name of Hatim is synonymous with liberality. One of the highest compliments that can be paid to a generous man is to call him the Hatim of the day. But it would be endless to quote the numerous allusions made to his name by the authors of Arabia and Persia; we shall therefore content ourselves with the following anecdote from D’Herbelot:—

“The Greek Emperor of the time sent an ambas­sador to Yemen to demand on the part of his master a favourite horse which Hatim possessed. The generous Arab had received no intimation either of the embassy or of its object; when the ambassador therefore arrived Hatim was quite unprepared for his reception. In order to prepare a suitable enter­tainment for his illustrious guest and his attendants he had no other resource than to cause his favour­ite horse to be killed and roasted on the occasion. This was accordingly done; and after the feast the ambassador stated his master’s wish. ‘It is too late,’ replied Hatim; ‘the horse has been killed for our repast. When you arrived, I knew not the object of your journey, and I had no other food to offer you.’”

Hatim’s hand was ever ready to assist the poor and to feed the hungry, and it is said that he often bestowed the flesh of his camels, to the amount of forty at a time, on the poor Arabs that inhabited the neighbourhood. His extraordinary liberality, added to his success in war, endeared him to his countrymen, and the age in which he lived was most favourable to his fame. Arabian poetry was then in its zenith, and an annual competition of the bards was held at Mecca, in the temple of which were suspended in letters of gold, the compositions of those who were successful. Of these, seven only have come down to us, but it is highly probable, had we the whole of them, that Hatim would in some instances be found to constitute the theme.

In the Rozat-ul-Sufa we have the following brief notice of Hatim’s death: “In the eighth year after the birth of his eminence the Prophet, died Noushirwan the Just, and Hatim Tai the generous, both famous for their virtues.” We are further told, in the same work, that towards the latter years of Mahommed’s life, the host of the Faithful in the pious duty of propagating the religion of the prophet, ravaged and laid waste the whole territory of the tribe of Tai. Adi, the son of Hatim, fled to Syria, but his sister and such of his people as were spared, were brought as prisoners to Medina. The prophet gave them the choce of embracing the true faith, or of having their heads cut off, when the daughter of Hatim stood forth and pleaded the cause of her distressed tribe. On hearing the revered name of Hatim, Mahomed issued a free pardon to the whole tribe of Tai.

This was good policy in the prophet; for it is likely that the general prepossession in favour of the tribe of Tai, might militate greatly against his own interests had he proceeded to extremes. As it was, the Taians became converts soon after this act of mercy; and Adi, the son of Hatim, on his return from Syria, was enrolled among the champions of the faith.

According to D’Herbelot, Hatim’s tomb is to be seen in a small village called Aovaredh in Arabia. The spot consecrated by his ashes is still visited with that reverence which is due to the memory of the generous and brave.

2, South Crescent,
Bedford Square.