THE Persians, like all Eastern nations, remarks Sir John Malcolm, “delight in Tales, Fables, and Apothegms; the reason of which appears obvious: for where liberty is unknown, and where power in all its shapes is despotic, knowledge must be veiled to be useful.” The ancient Persians also had their Tales and Romances, the substance of many of which is probably embodied in the cele­brated Shāh Nāma, or Book of Kings, of Firdausī. And the fondness of the old pagan Arabs for the same class of compositions seems to have threatened the success of Muhammad's great mission, to win them back from their vain idolatry to the worship of the ONE God. For an Arabian merchant having brought from Persia the marvellous stories of Rustam, Isfendiar, Feridūn, Zohāk, and other famous heroes, which he recited to the tribe of Kuraysh, they were so delighted with them, that they plainly told Muhammad that they much preferred hearing such stories to his legends and moral exhortations; upon which the Prophet promulgated some new passages of the Kur'ān (chapter xxx), in which the merchant who had brought the idle tales and all who listened to them were consigned to perdition. This had the desired effect: the converts to Islām re­jected Tales and Poetry; and it was not until the brilliant series of Muslim conquests in all parts of the then known world were almost completed that the Arabs began to turn their attention to literature and science, and thus preserved to the world the remains of the learning and philosophy of antiquity, during the long period of intellectual darkness in Europe. And it is remarkable that to a people distinguished for nearly two centuries by their reli­gious bigotry and intolerance, and contempt for every species of literature outside the Kur'ān, Commen­taries, and Traditions—that to the descendants of the fanatical destroyers of the library at Alexandria and of the literary treasures of ancient Persia are we indebted for many of the pleasing fictions which have long been popular in Europe. For, while India seems to have been the cradle-land of those folk­tales, yet they came to us chiefly through an Arabian medium: brought to Europe, among other ways by the Saracens who settled in Spain in the eighth century, by crusaders and pilgrims returning from the Holy Land, and also, perhaps, by Venetian merchants trading in the Levant and the Muslim provinces of Northern Africa. However this may be, there can be no doubt that, as Isaac D'Israeli remarks, “tales have wings, whether they come from the East or the North, and they soon become denizens wherever they alight. Thus it has happened, that the tale which charmed the wandering Arab in his tent, or cheered the northern peasant by his winter's fireside, alike held on its journey towards England and Scotland.”

Many of the Fabliaux of the Trouvères of northern France are evidently of Oriental origin; and their prose imitators, the early Italian Novelists, also drew much of their material—of course indirectly—from similar sources. German folk-tales comprise variants of the ever-charming Arabian story of 'Alī Bābā and the Forty Robbers, as in the tale of “The Dum-berg,”* and of Aladdin (‘Alā-’u-'d-Dīn) and the Wonderful Lamp, as in the tale of “The Blue Light.”* Norse Tales, too, abound in parallels to stories common to Arabia, Persia, and India. And some of the incidents in one of them, “Big Peter and Little Peter,”* apparently find their origin in the Hebrew Talmud. A very considerable proportion of old European humorous stories ascribed to Arlotto, Tyl Eulenspiegel, Rabelais, Scogin (Andrew Borde), Skelton, Mother Bunch, George Peele, Dick Tarlton, etc., have somehow, and at some time or another, winged their way from the Far East; since they are found, with little modification save local colouring, in very old Indian works. Galland, well-nigh two hundred years ago, pointed out that the story of the fellow in a tavern (according to our version, a blun­dering Irishman in a coffee-house), who impudently looked over a gentleman's shoulder while he was writing a letter, came from the East; and a version of it is given in Gladwin's Persian Moonshee. The prototype of the popular Scottish song, “The Bar-rin' o' the Door,” is an Arabian anecdote. The jest of the Irishman who dreamt that he was invited to drink punch, but awoke before it was prepared, is identical with a Chinese anecdote translated by M. Stanilas Julien in vol. iv of the Fournal Asia-tique , and bears a close resemblance to one of the Turkish jests ascribed to Khōja Nasru-'d-Dīn Efendī.* Of stories of simpletons, such as the one last cited, perhaps the largest and oldest collection extant is contained in a section of that vast storehouse of tales and apologues, aptly entitled, Kathá Sarit Ságara, Ocean of the Rivers of Story, where may be found parallels to the famous—the truly admirable!— exploits of the Wise Men of Gotham, and to a similar class of stories of fools and their follies referred to in Mr Ralston's Russian Folk-Tales. The story of “The Elves and the Envious Neighbour,” in Mr Mitford's Tales of Old Japan, is practically identical with a fairy tale of a hunchbacked minstrel in Mr Thoms' Lays and Legends of France. In the Arabian Nights (Story of Abou Neeut and Abou Neeuteen, vol. vi of Jonathan Scott's edition) and in the Persian romance of the Seven Faces (Heft Paykar), by Nizāmī, the reader will find parallels to the “Three Crows” in Grimm's German popular tales. Our favourite nursery story of Whittington and his Cat (also common to the folk-tales of Scandinavia and Russia, Italy and Spain) is related by the Persian historian Wasāf in his “Events of Ages and Fates of Cities,” written A.H. 699 (A.D. 1299). The original of the Goose that laid Eggs of Gold is a legend in the great Indian epic, Mahábharata, and variants exist in other Hindū works; but this may be a “primitive myth,” common to the whole Aryan race. Largely, indeed, are popular European tales indebted to Eastern sources.

For several centuries previous to the publication of the first professed translation of a work of Eastern fiction into a European language, there existed two celebrated collections of Tales, written in Latin, mainly derived from Oriental sources, to which may be traced many of the popular fictions of Europe; these are, the Clericali Disciplina of Peter Alfonsus, a Spanish Jew, who was baptized in the twelfth century; and the Gesta Romanorum, the authorship of which is doubtful, but it is believed to have been composed in the 14th century. The latter work greatly influenced the compositions of the early Italian Novelists, and its effect on English Poetry is at least equally marked. It furnished to Gower and Chaucer their history of Constance; to Shakspeare his King Lear, and his Merchant of Venice, which is an Eastern story; to Parnell the subject of his Hermit— primarily a Talmudic legend, afterwards adopted in the Kur'ān. The Clericali Disciplina, professedly a compilation from Eastern sources, contains a num­ber of stories of undoubted Indian origin, which Alfonsus must have obtained through an Arabian medium in Spain, however they may have come thither. These fictions of Oriental birth were, of course, filtered through the clerical mind of mediæval Europe, and in the process they lost all their native flavour. But on the publication of Galland's Les Mille et Une Nuits, the Thousand and One Nights, in the beginning of last century, garbled and Frenchi-fied as was his translation, the richness of the Eastern fancy, as exhibited in these pleasing fictions, was at once recognised, and, as the learned Baron de Sacy has remarked, in the course of a few years this work filled Europe with its fame. And its success has continued to increase, so that there is perhaps no work of fiction, whether native or exotic, which is at the present day so universally popular throughout Europe: it is at once the delight of the school-boy and the recreation of the sage. Shortly after its appearance in a French dress, Addison introduced it to English readers in the Spectator, where he pre­sented a translation—or adaptation—of the now famous story of Alnaschar (according to Galland's French transliteration of the name) and his basket of brittle wares: a story which is not only calculated to please the “rising generation,” but may also instruct “children of larger growth.”

When this work was first published in England it seems to have made its way very rapidly into public favour; and Weber, in his Introduction to the Tales of the East, relates, as follows, a sin­gular instance of the effects they produced soon after their first appearance: “Sir James Stewart, Lord Advocate for Scotland, having one Saturday evening found his daughters employed in reading the volumes, he seized them, with a rebuke for spending the evening before the Sabbath in such worldly amusements; but the grave advocate himself became a prey to the fascination of these tales, being found on the morning of the Sabbath itself employed upon their perusal, from which he had not risen during the whole night!” The popularity of the Arabian Nights is due, no doubt, to the peculiar charm of its descrip­tions of scenes and incidents which the reader is well aware could only exist and occur in the imagination; but we like to be taken away from our hard, matter-of-fact surroundings—away into a world where, if we cannot ourselves become endowed with supernatural powers, at least we may summon mighty spirits to do our will, to transport us whither we please, to bring us in an instant the choicest fruits from the most distant regions, to construct for us palaces of gold and silver, and precious gems, to supply us with dainties in dishes made of single diamonds and rubies. In this very outraging of probability, and even possibility, lies the strange fascination which some of these Tales exercise over the reader's mind. He surrenders his judgment to the author, and such is the force of the spell, that even when it has been partly removed by closing the book, he will gravely ask himself: “And why may not such things be?” It has been justly observed by Lord Bacon, that, “as the active world is inferior to the rational soul, so Fiction gives to mankind what History denies, and in some measure satisfies the mind with shadows when it cannot enjoy the substance.”

This famous work is, of course, a compilation, and not by a single hand and at one time, or from a par­ticular source, but from a variety of sources. Many of the Tales are found in the oldest Indian collec­tions; probably the witty and humorous are purely Arabian, while the tender and sentimental love-tales are derived from the Persian. The origin of the Arabian Tales has long been (and perhaps need­lessly) a vexed question among the learned. Baron De Sacy has stoutly contended with M. Langles and M. Von Hammer, on the questions of whether the work was a mere translation or adaptation of an old Persian collection, entitled the “Thousand Days,” and when and where it was composed. But the general opinion of scholars at the present day is that the work was probably compiled by different hands, in Egypt, about the 15th or 16th centuries, though it is very probable that many additions were made at a later date, by the insertion of romances, which formed no part of the original collection, as we shall pre­sently see.*

A peculiarity of most collections of Eastern fictions is their being enclosed within a frame, so to say, or leading story; as in the Arabian Nights: a plan which appears to have been introduced into Europe by a Latin translation of a romance of Indian origin, known in this country by the title of The Seven Sages, and which was first adopted by Boccaccio in his celebrated Decameron, where it is represented that a party of ladies and gentlemen, during the prevalence of the great plague in Florence, retire for safety to a mansion at some distance from the city, and there amuse themselves by relating stories. And our English poet Chaucer, after the same fashion, in his. Canterbury Tales, represents a number of pil­grims, of different classes, as bound for the shrine of Thomas à Becket, and, to alleviate the tediousness of the journey, reciting stories of varied character. But although this plan of making a number of stories all subordinate to a leading story was introduced into Europe in the 13th century, when the Latin version of the “Seven Sages” was published, yet in the East it had been in vogue many centuries previously.

The oldest extant collection of Fables and Tales (excepting the Buddhist Birth-Stories, recently made known to English readers by Mr T. W. Rhys Davids' translation of a portion) is that called in Europe The Fables of Pilpay, or Bidpai, of which the Sanskrit prototype is entitled Panchatantra, or Five Sections, with its abridgment, Hitopadésa, or Friendly Instruc­tion. This work, or one very similar, existed in India and in the Sanskrit language as early at least as the 6th century of our era, when it was translated into Pahlavi, the ancient language of Persia, during the reign of Nushīrvān, surnamed the Just (A D. 531-579). This Pahlavi version—though no longer extant— escaped the general wreck of Persian literature on the conquest of the country by the Arabs, and was translated, during the reign of the Khalīf Mansur (A.D. 753-774), into Arabic, from which several ver­sions were made in modern Persian, and also trans­lations into Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and most of the European languages. Perhaps no book of mere human composition ever had such a remarkable liter­ary history and enduring popularity. These Fables, although arranged in sections, are sphered one within another in a rather bewildering manner, yet all are subordinated to a leading story or general frame.* It is worthy of note that, while there is no proof that this work, in its present form, existed before the sixth century, yet many, if not all, of the Fables themselves have been discovered in Buddhistic works which were certainly written about or before the commencement of our era. Their translation from the Pali, which the learned Benfey seems to have conclusively proved, and their arrangement in the form in which they exist in Sanskrit, may have been done any time between the first and the sixth cen­turies.

But there was another Indian work, now apparently lost, formed on the same plan, which, if we may credit El-Mas'ūdī, the Arabian historian, who lived in the tenth century, certainly dates before our era; namely, the Book of Sindibād, of which there have been so many translations and imitations in Asiatic and European languages, and to which the Persian romance reproduced in the present volume is con­sidered to bear some relation. El-Mas'ūdi, in his famous historical work, “Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems,” states very plainly that “in the reign of Khūrūsh (Cyrus) lived Es-Sondbād, who was the author of the Book of the Seven Viziers, the Teacher, the Boy, and the Wife of the King.” According to another Arabian writer, Sindi-bād was an Indian philosopher who lived about a hundred years B.C. El-Mas'ūdī does not mention the version through which the work was known in his time, but it was probably either in Arabic or Persian. The oldest version known to exist is in Hebrew, and is entitled Mishlī Sindabar, Parables of Sindabar; the change of the name from Sindibād to Sindibar, Deslongchamps conjectures to be a mis­take of the copyist, the Hebrew letters D and R being very similar in form. This Hebrew version has been proved to date as far back as the end of the twelfth century. Under the title of Historia Septem Sapientum Romœ, a Latin translation was made—from the Hebrew, it is supposed—by Dam Jehans, a monk of the abbey of Haute Selve, in the diocese of Nancy, early in the 13th century. A Greek version, entitled Syntipas, the date of which is not known, was made by a Christian named Andreo-pulus, who states in his prologue that he translated it from the Syriac. Notwithstanding this very distinct statement, several learned scholars—Senglemann, among others—have contended that the Syntipas was made from the Hebrew version; of late years, how­ever, a unique but unfortunately mutilated manuscript of the Syriac version, transcribed about the year 1560, was discovered by Rödiger, and reproduced in his Syriac Chrestomathie, in 1868; and a year later Baethgens published, at Leipsic, this text, together with a German translation, under the title of Sindban, oder die Sieben wiesen Meister, from which it appears certain that the Greek version of Andreopulus was made from the Syriac, the order of the stories being the same in both. Besides the Hebrew and Syriac versions of the Book of Sindibād, there exist trans­lations or adaptations in at least two other Oriental languages, the Arabic and the Persian. The Arabian version (to which perhaps El-Mas'ūdī alluded in his mention of the work, as above) now forms one of the romances comprised in the Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night (the “Arabian Nights' Enter­tainments”), under the title of “The Story of the King, his Son, his Concubine, and his Seven Viziers;” and an English translation of it was published, in 1800, by Dr Jonathan Scott, in his Tales, Anecdotes, and Letters, from the Arabic and Persian.* Two poetical versions have been composed in Persian; one of which, entitled Sindibād Nama,* by Azraki, who died, at Herat, A.H. 527 (A.D. 1132-3), is men­tioned by Daulet-Shāh, in his life of Azraki, in these terms: “And they say the Book of Sindibād, on precepts of practical philosophy, is one of his com­positions.”* The other Persian version is known in Europe, I believe, only through Professor Forbes Fal­coner's excellent analysis* of a unique manuscript, en­titled Sindibād Nāma, composed A.H. 776 (A.D. 1374).

It was through the Latin version, Historia Septem Sapientum Romœ, that this very remarkable work was communicated to nearly all the languages of Western Europe; Herbers, or Herbers, an ecclesiastic of the 13th century, made a translation, or rather imitation, of it in French verse, under the title of Dolopatos. Many imitations in French prose sub­sequently appeared, and from one of these the work was rendered into English, under the title of The Sevyn Sages, and The Seven Wise Masters, one of which is among the reprints for the Percy Society, and of the other Ellis gives an analysis, with speci­mens in his Early English Metrical Romances. In 1516 an Italian version, entitled “The History of Prince Erastus,” was published, which was afterwards translated into French.

In all these works, a young prince is falsely accused by his step-mother of having attempted to violate her, and the King, his father, condemns him to death, but is induced to defer the execution of the sentence from day to day, during seven days, by one of his seven counsellors, viziers, or wise men, relating to the King one or more stories, designed to caution him against the wicked wiles of women; while the Queen, every night, urges the King to put his son to death, and, in her turn, tells him a story, intended to show that men are faithless and treacherous, and that fathers must not expect gratitude or consideration from their sons. In the sequel, the innocence of the Prince is established, and the wicked step-mother is duly punished for her gross iniquity. This is the leading story of most of the romances which have been derived, or imitated, from the Book of Sindibād; but the subordinate Tales vary materially in the several translations or versions.

Dunlop, in his History of Fiction, remarks that “the leading incident of a disappointed woman ac­cusing the object of her passion is as old as the story of Joseph, and may thence be traced through the fables of mythology to the Italian novelists.” But surely there was nothing so very peculiar in the con­duct of Zulaykha (as Muslims name the wife of Poti-phar)—nothing very different from human (or woman) nature in general, that should lead us to conclude, with Dunlop, that all the numerous stories based upon a similar incident had their common origin in the celebrated tale of Joseph and Potiphar's wife. We have no reason to suppose a Hebrew origin for the well-known classical legend of Phædra, who was enamoured of Hippolytus, and, unable to suppress her passion, made overtures to him, which were dis­dainfully rejected; upon which Phædra accused Hip­polytus to her husband Theseus of attempting to dis­honour her. And although the work ascribed to the Indian sage Sindibād now appears to be lost, yet this “leading incident” of works of the Sindibād-cycle forms the subject of several Indian romances, one of which is a story in verse of a Prince named Sárang-dhara, whose step-mother Chitrángí falls in love with him. He rejects her advances, on which she accuses him to the King of attempting to violate her, and the King orders him to have his feet cut off and to be exposed to wild beasts in the forest. The innocence of the Prince is afterwards proved, and the wicked Queen is put to death.

There is yet another work usually considered as belonging to the Sindibād class of romances, namely, the Turkish Tales of the Forty Viziers, which is said to have been composed, during the reign of Sultān Murād II, in 1421, after an Arabian romance entitled “Tales of the Forty Mornings and Forty Evenings,” composed by Shaikh Zāda. But the author of this work, as M. Deslongchamps has justly remarked, has borrowed little from the Book of Sindibād besides the frame. The tales—which are eighty in number, forty of which are told by the Viziers, and forty by the Queen—are quite different from, yet no whit inferior to, those of any version of the King and his Seven Counsellors. M. Petit de Lacroix, last century, made a French translation of this work as far as the story of the Tenth Vizier, which was soon afterwards rendered into English, but divested of much of the Oriental costume and colour. In 1851 Behrnauer issued a German rendering of the Turkish text. And it may interest some readers to know that Mr E. J. W. Gibb—whose recently published translations of Ottoman Poems, with Introduction, Biographical Notices, and Notes, have received the approbation of competent judges—is at present engaged on a com­plete English translation of this highly entertaining romance.