AFTER the customary opening with an invocation and address to the Deity, a chapter in praise of the Prophet, a complaint against fortune, and an exhorta­tion to contentment and abandonment of the world, the author proceeds, in the fifth chapter, to inform the reader that he had himself no thought of composing a poem, no desire to plunge into such a sea of difficulty; that he was too sensible of his own want of genius to think of such an undertaking; but that one night his Majesty—that King whose fortune is awake, and whose equal the eye of Time beholds not even in its dreams—addressed him, and, while he compli­mented him on his talents, complained that he did not sufficiently exert them. “He observed,” says the poet, “that the nightingale should not sit for ever songless, nor the parrot mute; that I possessed the gift of eloquence and sweet discourse; but that I was lazy, lazy, lazy! ‘Perform,’ said he, ‘such an achieve­ment, with the sword of the pen, as shall live as long as swords are wielded. Turn into verse, during my reign, some prose work, that my memory may be perpetuated: let it be the Tale of Sindibād.’ With downcast looks, I replied: ‘If God grant me his aid, and if my life be spared, I will turn into verse that celebrated book.’

“I gave ear (for to neglect a commandment is a fault, especially a supreme command of a king), and when seventy-six [years] were added to 700,* in the reign of the sultan resembling Jamshīd;* the king of the world; the refuge of the khalifate; the possessor of the throne, the signet, and the diadem; who plucks up by the roots violence and oppression; the asylum of Arabia; the crown-bestower of Persia; the munifi­cent, bold, and dauntless king, before whose prowess lion and tiger flee;—I composed the following work, and thus reared an edifice proof against all the assaults of Time, and not such a structure that any one can designate as the ‘house of the spider.’”

The chapter in which the tale commences affords, in the opening couplet, another allusion to the author of the prose work, of which this is a poetical para­phrase, informing us that the poet's original was written in Persian, but that its author was an Arab by descent. Perhaps this might afford some ground for the conjecture that the Arab had found the tale in the language of his family, and translated it from Arabic into Persian. Loiseleur Des Longchamps, however, who was not acquainted with the existence of the present work, was of opinion that the tale was first translated into Persian (from the Sanskrit), and from Persian into Arabic.

“An Arabian by descent, but speaking the Persian tongue, has thus informed me in eloquent language, that there reigned in India a sage and mighty mon­arch, * the bricks of whose palace were not of stone or marble, but of gold; the fuel of whose kitchen was fresh wood of aloes; who had brought under the signet of his authority the kingdoms of Rūm and Abyssinia; and to whom were alike tributary the Ethiop Mihrāj (Mahārāj) and the Roman Qaysar. He was distinguished above all monarchs for his virtue, his clemency and justice. But, although he was the refuge of the khalifate, he was not blessed with an heir: life and the world appeared profitless to him, because he had no fruit of the heart in the garden of his soul.”

One night, while reclining on his couch, sad and thoughtful, consumed with grief like a morning taper, he heaved a deep sigh, upon which one of his favourite wives (he had a hundred in his harem),* advancing towards him and kissing the ground, inquired the cause of his distress. He discloses it. His wife consoles him, encourages him to hope, and assures him that if he prayed, his prayers would be answered; but that at all events it was his duty to be resigned to the will of God. “Prayer is the only key that will open the door of difficulty.” The king fasted for a whole week, and was assiduous in his devotions.* One night he prayed with peculiar earnestness and self-abasement till morning. The companion of his couch was one of his wives, fairer than the sun, and the envy of a perī. He clasped her in his embrace, exclaiming: “There is no strength, no power, save in God!” and he felt assured in his heart that his prayer was granted.

In due time a son is born to him. Eager to testify his gratitude, he bestows munificent gifts, and lavishes his treasures on all. The babe is entrusted to a nurse. The most distinguished astrologers are commanded to cast his nativity. Among their number was one of the most skilful explorers of the heavens, who, upon completing his observations, intimated to the king that his son would be fortunate above other monarchs; but that a danger awaited him, from which, however, it was likely, thanks to his auspicious fortune, that no injury would accrue.* His Majesty is filled with anxiety at this information, but at length becomes resigned to the will of Heaven, and acknowledges that the decrees of destiny cannot be countervailed. When the prince had attained his tenth year, his father the sultan confided him to the care of a learned preceptor. “Base copper has by care been transmuted into gold; and a worthless stone converted to a gem.” That accomplished and erudite professor devoted his whole time to the educa­tion of the prince; but all his exertions were unavail­ing. “However loudly he shouted, that mountain gave back no echo; however much he sowed, in that soil no grain sprang up.” His pupil knew not ab-u-jadd (father and grandfather) from abjad; could not dis­tinguish Muhammad from Auhad. When asked how many make thirty, he replied, “ten;” and to the question, What is night? he answered, “the moon.” When asked about the thorn, he spoke of “fresh dates;” when desired to say fire, he said “fuel.” His father was in constant uneasiness about the prince, and made frequent inquiries as to his progress. When he found him, year after year, in the same state of perfect ignorance, his wrath was kindled against the blameless and unhappy preceptor, whom he reproached for the backwardness of his son.

He then called together the philosophers of the city, each of whom was the Aristotle of his age; and after desiring them to be seated, and showing them the most flattering attentions, he detailed to them all the circumstances connected with his son's history, and the cause of his anxiety. “Wretched,” said he, “is he who digs the mine, or rather, who vexes his own soul; who expects to find gold, and grasps but dust! With vows I implored God to grant me this son; I now repent me that I have asked him. How well said the sailor to the captain of the ship: ‘Leave the concerns of God to God!’ The unleavened mass hath not become leavened; nor hath one spoonful of butter been obtained from ten skins of milk! Tell me,” continued the king, “what expedient shall I adopt to remedy this, and who is the person best qualified to carry it into execution? I have none to succeed me in the kingdom save this son. Deliberate, there­fore; and when your counsel is matured, a course of conduct may be founded on it.”

The sages, who were seven in number, bowed the head in token of obedience, and expressed their wishes for his Majesty's prosperity and happiness. It was then arranged that they should meet for the purpose of discussing the matter together. The learned master, of whom this tale remains as a memorial (says the writer of the poem), thus pro­ceeds: Those experienced sages accordingly one day met in private consultation, and conversed freely on the subject. One of them observed: “O wise men, how can the pulp of colocynth supply the place of sugar? The tree which, when ten years old, has yielded no fruit, the labour of ten years has been entirely thrown away upon it.” Another remarked: “Never can the rose spring from the dry willow: how can the musk-willow bear, as its fruit, the musk-bag?”

One of those worthies, who had not his equal, who had no rival among those whom you know (i.e., among the seven), a buzurjmihr,* experienced in affairs, a sage resembling Aristotle—his name Sindibād* —said, in reply to these observations: “The hawk which has dwelt free and happy in its nest is, nevertheless, subjected to a master; learns from the falconer to soar and seize its prey, and to return when called, and quietly perch on the hand of kings. Why should not the prince, too, be capable of being taught the art of government and the duties of his station? Despair not: everything may be effected by labour and deter­mination. The fortress of the mine must be stormed ere the ruby can be obtained.” The other sages warmly applauded the wisdom of Sindibād, and assured him that they considered him the fittest person to whom the important and difficult charge of the prince's education could be entrusted. Sindibād replied, that he was not to be moved by their com­pliments and flattery; that he saw as little advantage likely to result to him from such a course as the monkey derived from the stratagem of the old fox. They requested him to tell them the story, upon which he began: