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A QUESTION highly interesting tures. To blame it for not being to the progress of morals and the more enlightened, would perhaps cause of truth, is the utility of that be as absurd as to reproach an inspecies of fiction which is supported fant for not being able to demonstrate by supernatural aid ; and, if it have a theorem in Euclid. Such tales, been, or may hereafter be, useful, consequently, must be written, and what ought to be its limits ? That will be read. Between the moral fables or tales of this kind seize, utility, however, of fables built on hurry forward, and enrapture the the marvellous, and of those which undisciplined imagination of youth, originate in true pictures of life and there can be no doubt; and that manners, there can be no comparithey therefore tend to awaken curi
It is indeed so necessary to osity, which otherwise might con- mingle resemblances of man as he tinue dormant, is highly probable: really is, in every fabulous narrative, but it is no less certain that they that the wildness of romance has likewise have a tendency to accus. only become attractive in consetom the mind rather to wonder quence of this mixture. Accustomthan to inquire ; and to seek a solu- ed as we are to consider the Aration of difficulties in occult causes, bians frequently as a wandering and instead of seriously resorting to wild, and but seldom as a schooled facts. The true answer to this dif- and scientific people, we receive ficult question seems to be, that in such tales from them as the genuine the progress of mind, ignorance produce of the partial advances will continually find cause to won which they have made in knowder; and will therefore be inces- ledge; though, were they the works santiy impelled to utter its admira- of Europeans, we should regard tion, and to relate its wild conjec- them as the indolent resources of
VOL. VI. NO. XXXV.
authors, who were either unwilling, which they were interwoven toge. or unable, to awaken attention and ther, were, if not absolutely new, yet excite applause, by exhibiting accu- strange and uncommon. For alrate and well-contrasted characters though the stories in Ovid's books of of human beings.
Metamorphoses be connected by A full century has now elapsed, means which, at least in slightness since the collection of eastern tales, and insufficiency for the purpose of so well known among us by the title compacting parts into a whole, bear of Arabian Nights Entertainments, some resemblance to the slender was first offered to the curiosity and thread by which the narratives of admiration of Europe. The ro- the Thousand and One Nights are mances of knight-errantry had then feebly and awkardly held together; lost that popularity which they held and although Chaucer's Canter. for ages, and had been ridiculed into bury Tales, the multiplicity of brokdisrepute. The rage for amusement en adventures strangely jumbled had, indeed, called forth another together in the Orlando Furioso, species of fictitious writings ; but and, almost equally, the half Goa species which unhappily possessed thic, half-classical fabric of Spenneither the wild dignity of the ro- ser's Fairy Queen, betray a truly mance, nor displayed that assem- oriential unskilfulness in the art of blage of the characters, 'nanners, arrangement : yet, with these and incidents of familiar life, which works, the more passionate readers confers a value on our best modern of the Arabian Nights Entertainnovels. Most of those compositions ments were, for the most part, little were vile effusions of prurient dul- acquainted ; and, where there was ness, whose perfection consisted in so much novelty in so many other detailing the intricacies, and unveil- respects, a small difference in strucing the looser scenes of licentious ture was, by the effect of associaintrigue. The wanton episodes of tion, naturally increased greatly Ariosto, and the lewd, though witty above its real magnitude. tales of Boccace, were imitated, till The manners and customs exhithe same school produced the low bited in those tales were, at the and almost insipid obscenities of a same time, much more strange and Behn, a Manley, and a Heywood. singular than the artlessness of their Such books were, however, calcu- connexion, or the tedious copiousness lated, almost exclusively, for the of narrative which distinguished debauchee and the woman of plea. them. Beauties, cooped up together sure: and something was therefore by scores, or perhaps hundreds, in a wanted for the entertainment of haram, all for the amusement of one those, who chose to withdraw the man, and he often indifferent, mind occasionally from the realities feeble, old, and fitter to repose in of life, yet were unwilling to debase the grave or the hospital than to imagination, by turning it to dwell riot on the nuptial couch : festive on the brutal grossness of sensual entertainments, unenlivened by the indulgence.
sprightly gaieties of the fair sex, or If those eastern tales were pre- the cheering influence of wine : sented to the European public at a wives wearing drawers and trousers season which seems to have been like their husbands, and men ar. peculiarly favourable for their re- rayed in loose robes like their wives, ception, there was, however, still yet at the same time cherishing, as more in their character than in the
so many goats, each a venerable circumstances of the time, to recom- length of beard: pastry-cooks ma. mend them to that eager and gene- king such a figure in society, as if ral interest which they immediately, the perfection of human art were commanded among all classes of displayed in the composition of a readers. The style in which they cream-tart or a pye: the art of were written, and the artifice by writing esteemed, singly, a qualifi
cation fitting those skilled in it for vels, the deserted hall of some ruinthe most dignified offices in civil life, ous castle. as if the smallest possible portion It has been observed by Dr. of intellect were not adequate to Hawkesworth, that these tales the formation of the letters in the please, because even their machialphabet, and the joining of these nery, wild and wonderful as it is, into words and lines : ablutions has its laws, and the magicians and performed, many times a day, and, enchanters perform nothing but at every different time, as scrupu- what was to be naturrally expected lously as Swift's Strephon washed from such beings, after we had once himself, when he was to mount the granted them existence, and dignibed of his angel-Chloe: prayers fied them with power. But I rather repeated by all ranks, with serious suppose that the very contrary is the devotion, almost as often in the day truth of the fact. It is surely the as our men of fashion call upon strangeness, the unknown nature, their Maker in contemptuous scorn, the anomalous character of the su. or in idle merriment: the code of pernatural agents here employed, religion almost as frequently and that enables them to operate so fondly quoted, as our professed wits powerfully on our hopes, fears, cuintroduced slily into their conversa- riosity, sympathies, and, in short, tion fresh repartees from Joe Miller, on all the feelings of our hearts. or original anecdotes from the Tell. We see men and women, who postale : judicial astrology constituting sess qualities to recommend them the great rule of human life, and to our favour, subjected to the influevery man and woman, as surely as ence of beings whose good or ill they come into the world, having will, power or weakness, attention their fortunes subjected to the ca or neglect, are regulated by motives pricious influence of this or that and circumstances which we canstar : all these phænomena are so not comprehend ; and hence we remote from the customs and man- naturally tremble for their fat ners of Europe, that, when exhibited with the same anxious concern, as as entering into the ordinary system we should for a friend wandering, of human affairs, they could not fail in a dark night, amidst torrents and to confer, in our eyes, a considerable precipices, or preparing to land on share of amusive novelty on the a strange island, while he knew not characters and events with which whether he should be received, on they are connected.
the shore, by cannibals waiting to Yet it is probable that the ma tear him piece-meal, and devour chinery contributed, more than any him, or by gentle beings, disposed other particular in their character, to cherish him with fond hospito obtain to the Arabian Nights tality. Entertainments, the preference Give the human agents you over most of the other works of employ qualities to command good imagination which were common in will and esteem; let their manners Europe at the time of their first ap- be natural, and their sentiments the pearance. Magicians, genies, fairies, genuine effusions of the human lamps, rings, and other talismans, heart, in such circumstances as dance in such profusion through those they are placed in ; and then, those volumes, as could not but make perhaps, the more singular their the reader wonder and stare, who adventures, the wilder the scenes in was acquainted only with witches which they are exposed, the more mounted on broomsticks, and with capricious the beings to whose little viewless elves, dancing occa- power they are subjected, and the sionally by moon-light, in small cir. more seemingly inadequate the cles on the green, or, in their great means by which all the changes in est splendour and festivity, only their fate are accomplished; so lighting up, for their midnight re- much the more irresistibly will they
engage, and transport, and chain flourished about the æra of the redown the attention, and sway the vival of letters, to try their profipassions of the spectator or reader. 'ciency, by producing forgeries in the
Beside the advantages which they names of their favourite Greeks or seem to derive from the strangeness Romans, with which they now and of their texture, and from the novel. then actually deceived one another. ty and marvellous nature of the ob- It had been usual, too, among the jects which they exhibit,those eastern sophists of antiquity, to compose detales possess great real merit of an- clamations and epistles in the names other kind. At times, amidst all their of celebrated personages, the inciflorid verbosity, like other oriental dents of whose lives afforded them con positions, they afford pleasing suitable materials : and it is well descriptions of external nature. The known what critical hardiness and strongest workings of the human acumen the doughty Bentley disheart are often displayed in them, played, in detecting the forgery of with a masterly hand. Being a col- the epistles of Phalaris. The letters lection, they contain a medley of of the Turkish Spy, the Castle of comic, tragic, and heroic adven- Otranto, the poems of Rowley, and tures, the very number and variety perhaps of Ossian, not to name inof which must necessarily give them numerable other works of the same considerable power to please. And cast, are proof that the literati of the I know not if even the gold, jewels, present age have not lost either the pearls, rubies, emeralds, the bales spirit or the power of literary imof rich stuffs, and superb pellices, position. But the character of the the crouded kans, luxurious gardens, Arabian tales is so truly oriental, and apartments beyond description they bear so many marks which no sumptuous, which are so liberally European hand could have impresslavished through those tales, and so ed, and carry in them so much of ostentatiously described wherever that internal evidence which enthey occur, have not insensibly a forces conviction still more powergreater influence in dazzling and fully than the strongest external amusing the mind of the reader, testimony, that one could hardly than perhaps the pupil of taste will have thought it possible for men of be willing to allow.-Such are the learning to remain long in doubt tales which I remember to have about their authenticity, had not a eagerly preferred, in the days of writer no less eminent than Dr. childish credulity, to the Seven Beattie expressed himself uncertain Wonders of the World, the Adven- whether they were translated or intures of Jack the Giant-killer, the vented by M. Galland. However, Story of the Seven Wise Masters, the doctor's doubts were probably and even to the History of the Nine soon removed ; for, besides the king Worthies; and such seem to be the of France's library, in which the more striking peculiarities in their originals have been long deposited, character, by which they have the authenticity of these tales has pleased, and still continue to please, been fully proved by colonel Capalmost all ages, all ranks, and all per; and an Arabic copy of them different capacities.
is now in the hands of the learned Literary imposition has been fre. Dr. White, of Oxford. It was once quently attempted with great suc even said, that the British public cess; and it was doubted by many, might sooner or later be favoured for some time after the publication with a translation of them from the of the Arabian Nights Entertaine original language by the doctor's ments, that, though represented as pen; in which they would display compositions of the east, they had more of a genuine oriental cast, and been actually invented in Europe. retain more of their native graces, Examples have not been wanting to than in the version of Galland; who, justify this suspicion. It was usual as is common with his countrymen among the classical scholars who on similar occasions, bas given too