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HE Romance which forms the staple of this little volume is generally considered as be
longing to the Sindibad cycle of tales. It has for ages been popular in the East, though to the average English reader the very name of Prince Bakhtyar is unknown. Many years ago the learned Orientalist Sir W. Ouseley presented his countrymen with an English translation of this romance, but copies of his work have now become extremely scarce. Dr Johnson's dictum, that the scarcity of a book is evidence of its worthlessness, otherwise copies of it would have been multiplied, is (like not a few of his other tea-table sayings) more specious than true. Many causes, besides that of uselessness, may render a book scarce. A book may be a very good book yet lack interest, excepting for only a few readers; and such was doubtless the case of Sir W.
Ouseley's translation; for, strange to say, considering our vast Asiatic possessions, the cultivation of Oriental literature in this country has hitherto met with little or no encouragement from the English people generally.
But among the more intelligent class of readers there has lately sprung up considerable interest in the curious migrations and transformations of popular tales, the tracing of which from country to country, and from modern to remote times, is not only a fascinating, but a highly instructive pursuit; and the idea occurred to me that a reprint of Sir W. Ouseley's translation of the Romance of Prince Bakhtyar, together with explanatory and illustrative notes, and-by way of introduction-such particulars as could be ascertained regarding its origin and that of similar Oriental fictions, might now find "readers fit, though few." My little project has been supported by members of the Royal Asiatic Society and the Folk-Lore Society. I have, moreover, been materially assisted by several eminent scholars amongst others, by Mr William Platt, to whom I am indebted for the substance of many of the Notes; and by Dr R. Rost, who not only very kindly supplied me with scarce and valuable books and manuscripts from the
India Office Library, but also furnished me with much useful information on Eastern Fiction a subject upon which he is one of the highest authorities in this country.
Of the present collection of Tales it is remarked by a learned and acute writer that they are, for the most part, well wrought-out, probable, and without anything magical or supernatural. And those readers who do not delight in the extravagant creations of Oriental fancy-enchanted groves and fairy palaces beneath lakes, where carbuncles of immense size supply the place of the sun-will find little in this romance to shock their "common sense." Nor are there-except one or two expressions in the opening passages-any of those hyperbolical descriptions of female beauty and the puissance of monarchs which are so characteristic of most of the fictions of the East. These Tales are, indeed, singularly free from such extravagancies, and may be considered as well adapted to check the often fatal impetuosity of Eastern monarchs, which was doubtless the purpose of the original author.
The Notes and Illustrations may seem disproportionate in bulk to that of the text. They are, however, designed, not only to explain and illustrate
allusions to Oriental manners and customs, but also to supply deficiencies of Sir W. Ouseley's translation, from a comparison of other Persian texts, and furnish variants of the several tales as they are found in other versions of the Romance. And while it is not impossible that critics whose absurd shibboleth is "originality" may be disposed to consider my little book as "a thing of mere industry, without wit or invention a very toy," yet I venture to think that these Notes will prove to most readers not the least interesting part of the work. In the Introduction will be found some curious matter regarding this romance and its congeners which has not before been presented to English readers, the result of much research; for, however defective my share of the work may be, I have spared no pains to render it as complete and accurate as I could: in short, I would fain hope that, as a whole, the volume will be accepted. as a humble contribution to the still unwritten History of Fiction; for even Dunlop's meritorious work can now only be regarded as a large contribution to this "research of olde antiquitie."
W. A. CLOUSTON.
GLASGOW, December, 1882,