Arabian Days' Entertainments

Translated from the German, by HERBERT PELHAM CURTIS. Boston: Phillips, Sampson, & Co. 1858.

IN this famous nineteenth century of ours, which prides itself on being practical, and feeds voraciously on facts, and considers itself almost above being amused, we for our part rejoice to greet such a book as this. Our greatgreat-grandfathers, when they were boys, were happy in having wise and good grandfathers who told them pleasant stories of what never happened,—and who loved well to tell them, because they were truly wise men, and knew what the child’s mind relished and fattened upon,—nay, and because, like all truly good men, they themselves indulged a fond, secret, half-belief that these child's stories of theirs were, if the truth could be got at, more than half true. We should be sorry to believe that this good old life ot story-telling and story-hearing had utterly gone out. It belonged to an age that only very foolish men and very vulgar men laugh at without blushing.

“We of the nineteenth century ” have a certain way of our own, however, of enjoying that most rarely fascinating class of literary productions known as stories,—a critical, perhaps over-intellectual, way,— but still sufficing, it is comfortable to know, to keep the story at very near its ancient dignity in the realm of letters. Perhaps it is a true sign of the perfect story, that it ministers at once to these two unsympathizing mental appetites, and pleases completely, not only the man, but his—by this side—ever-so-great-grandfather, the child.

Everybody thinks first of the “Arabian Nights’ Entertainments,” when we fall into such remarks as these,—that marvellous treasure, from which the dreams of little boys have been furnished forth, and the pages of great scholars gemmed with elegant illustration, ever since it was first opened to Western eyes. With this book the title which Mr. Curtis has so happily selected for his translation invites us to compare it; and it is not too much praise to say that it can well stand the comparison,—we mean as a selection of stories fascinating to old and young. As to the matter of translation itself, the versions we have of the “ Arabian Nights ” are notoriously bad. These stories, which Mr. Curtis has laid all good children and all right-minded grown people under perpetual obligation by thus collecting and presenting to them, are the productions of a single German writer, and, with the exception of three or four separately published in magazines; have, we believe, never before been translated into English. They present some very interesting points of contrast with the ever-fumous book of Eastern stories,—such as open some very tempting cross-views of the German and the Eastern mind, which, for want of opportunity, we must pass by now.

The scenes of most of them are laid in the East,—of a few in Germany; but the robust method of the German story-writer is apparent in each. We wish we could quote from one or two which have particularly charmed us; but though this is impossible within any decent limits, we can at least provoke the appetite of readers of all ages by the mere displaying of such titles as these :—“ The History of Caliph Stork " ; “ The Story of the Severed Hand ” ; “ The Story of Little Muck ” ; “ Nosey the Dwarf” ; “ The Young Englishman ”; “ The Prophecy of the Silver Florin ” ; “ The Cold Heart,” etc. What prospects for winter evenings are here! And while we can assure the adult reader that the promise which these titles give of burlesque or humorous description, and bold, romantic narrative, shall be more than kept, it may be well also to say, for the comfort of those whom we hope to see buy the book for their children’s sake, that the stories in it are entirely free from certain objections which may be fairly urged against the “Arabian Nights” as reading for young people. The “ Arabian Days ” have nothing to be ashamed of in the nature of their entertainments.

The translation itself is a performance in a high degree creditable, not only to the German, but to the English, scholarship of Mr. Curtis. We perceive scarcely any of that peculiar stiffness of style which makes so many otherwise excellent translations painful to read,—the stiffness as of one walking in new boots,—the result of dressing the words of one language in the grammatical construction of another. Mr. Curtis gives us the sentiment and wit and fancy and humor and oddity of the German’s stories, but in an English way. Indeed, his is manly and graceful English, such as we hope we are not now by any means seeing the last of.

To the right sort of reader, as we consider him, of the “Arabian Days,” a word about the pictures (for observe, that the proper name for the illustrations of a story-book is pictures) may be fitly spoken.

There are no less than sixteen very nice pictures to this story-book,—well done, even for Mr. Hoppin, artistically, and well conceived for the refreshing of the inner eye of him, her, or it that reads. And we must be permitted, also, who have read this book by candle-light, as only such a book should be read, to congratulate the readers who come after us upon the good type and good paper in which the publishers have very properly produced it.

We hope and believe this publication will before long be given as a boon to the rising generation, our second-cousins, across the water. They, however, cannot have it (as we fully intend that certain small bodies, but huge feeders on fiction, among our acquaintance, shall have it) on Christmas morning,—the dear old festival, that, as we write, is already near enough to warm our hearts with anticipation.