IT has been justly remarked that “the literature of a nation furnishes the best guide to researches into its character, manners, and opinions, and no de­partment of literature contains a more ample store of data in this respect than the light and popular part consisting of tales, romances, and dramatic pieces.” The lighter literature of mediæval Europe affords us an insight into customs, manners, and superstitions which have long passed away; but in “the unchanging East” the literature of the Asiatic races, produced at the same period, continues to reflect the sentiments and habits of the Hindús, Buddhists, and Muslims at the present day. For among Asiatics belief in astrology, magic, divination, good and bad omens, and evil spirits (rákshasas, dívs, jinn, etc.) who are ever eager to injure human beings is still as prevalent as when the oldest of their popular tales and romances were first written. The child-like, wonder-loving Oriental mind delights in stories of the supernatural, and the more such narratives exceed the bounds of human possibility the greater is the pleasure derived from them;—like our own peasantry, who believed (and not so long since) in “ghosts, fairies, goblins, and witches,” as well as in the frequent apparition of Satan in various forms to delude the benighted traveller, and were fond of listening to “tales of the wild and wonderful” during the long winter evenings.

The following collection comprises fairly represen­tative Eastern tales; some of which are of common life and have nothing in them of the supernatural, while in others may be found all the machinery of typical Asiatic fictions: gorgeous palaces constructed of priceless gems; wealth galore; enchantments; magical transformations; fairies and jinn, good and evil. Those who think that they are “sensible, practical men” (and are therefore not sensible) would not condescend to read “such a pack of lies”; but there be men, I wot, who entertain no particularly high opinion of themselves, to whom what poor Mr. Buckle called “the lying spirit of Romance” is often a great solace amidst the stern realities of work-a-day life, and, carried away in imagination to regions where all is as it ought to be, they for a brief season quite forget “life and its ills, duns and their bills.”

But few words are necessary to explain the design of the present work. I found the four romances diverting and many of their incidents peculiarly inter­esting from a comparative folk-lore point of view; and I felt encouraged by the friendly reception of my Book of Sindibád to reproduce them as a companion volume and as a farther contribution to the study of popular fictions. It may be considered by some readers that my notes are too copious. I know that foot-notes have been likened to runaway knocks, calling one downstairs for nothing; but as the book is not specially designed for Eastern scholars (who indeed require none of the information that I could furnish), I was desirous that nothing likely to be obscure to the ordinary reader should pass without explanation and illustration; and since these foot­notes have considerably swelled the bulk of the book and I shall certainly not profit by them, I trust they will not prove altogether useless or superfluous. The abstract of the romance of Hatim Taï—which was an afterthought—and the other matter in the Appendix will be, I venture to think, interesting to readers “of all ranks and ages.”

It only remains to express my thanks, in the first place, to the learned Orientalist Mr. Edward Rehatsek, of Bombay, for kindly permitting me to reprint his translations from the Persian, with which I have taken a few liberties, but had he revised them himself, I feel sure he would have made very similar alterations: I much regret that want of space prevented me from reproducing more of the shorter stories. In the next place, I (and the reader also, if I am not mistaken) have to thank Pandit Natésa Sástrí, of Madras, for his translation of the Tamil romance, which I have entitled “The King and his Four Ministers.” I must also acknowledge my great indebtedness to Dr. Chas. Rieu, of the British Museum, whose courtesy, great as everybody knows it is, I fear was very frequently sorely tried by my “anxious inquiries”; and to Prof. E. Fagnan, of the Ecole des Lettres, Algiers, and Mr. E. H. Whinfield, who has done good work in Persian literature, for their kind investigations regarding an inedited Turkish story-book. Private friends want no public recognition, but I should consider myself ungrateful did I omit to place also on record my obligations in the course of this work to Dr. David Ross, Principal of the E.C. Training College, Glasgow, to Mr. Leonard C. Smithers, Sheffield, and finally, but certainly not least of all, to my old and trusty friend Mr. Hugh Shedden, Grangemouth. With so much help it may well be thought my work might have been of higher quality than I fear is the case; but there is an ancient saying about expecting “grapes of thorns,” which I have made my excuse in a former work.

W. A. C.