Late Secretary of His Majesty's Embassy to the Court of Persia
Illustrative of the
Manners, Customs, and Ideas of the Natives of India.
Calcutta: Muddoosoon Day at British and Foreign Library, at Minerva Press.


D U N C A N   F O R B E S , L . L . D. ,

London: Wm. H. Allen & Co., 1851.



I undertook this Translation to beguile the tediousness of time in India, which must weigh heavy on every active mind that is not dedicated to official duties or literary pursuits. The work itself is the best and the most correct that has been composed in the Urdu language; a language which is both dulcet and elegant, and which was little known to Europeans until the zeal, labour and talents of Mr. Gilchrist opened to us a perfect path to acquire it. Moreover, the Bagh O Bahar is a classical work in the College of Fort William; it highly deserves its distinguished fate, as it contains various modes of expression in correct language; it displays a great variety of Eastern manners and modes of thinking, and it is an excellent introduction not only to the colloquial style of Hindustan, but to a knowledge of its various idioms.

The Tale itself is interesting, if we keep in our minds the previous idea, that no Asiatic writer of Romance or History was ever consistent, or free from fabulous credulity; the cautious march of undeviating truth, and a careful regard to vraisemblance never enters into their plan; wildness of imagination, fabulous machinery, and unnatural scenes ever pervade through the composition of every Oriental Author: even their most serious works on History and Ethics are stained with these imperfections. But as the Arabian Night Tales, the grand prototype/1/ of all Asiatic Romances, have these imperfections, and are still read with undiminished pleasure, I hope my friend, Mir Amman, may raise a smile, or exhilarate a languid hour. He will likewise instruct those who wish to view the outrť pictures of Eastern manners; his jinns and his Demons, his Fairies and his Angels, formed parts of his religious creed; he believed in their existence on the faith of the Kur'an; and as Muhammadans are much more superstitiously attached to their Religion than we are to ours we ought not to be surprised at their credulity.

I have rendered the translation as literal as possible, consistent with the comprehension of the author's meaning; this may be considered by some a slavish, dull compliance; but in my humble opinion we ought to display the author's thoughts and ideas; all we are permitted to do is to change their dress. This mode has one superior advantage which may compensate for its seeming dulness: we acquire an insight into the modes of thinking and action of the people, whose works we peruse through the medium of a literal translation, and great conclusions may be drawn from this insight.

When an Asiatic moralist applauds untruth/2/ which has mercy for its object, we perceive at once their imperfect ideas of morals; when he talks of the seven heavens we smile at his ignorance, and regret his superstition; for he says no more than his Kur,an inculcates; and when he teaches prostration before kings and princes, as the criterion of biensťance, we lament the slavery under which asia has ever groaned. But when he recommends the fifth of one's income to be appropriated to charity, as an indispensable and religious duty; when he reprobates the smallest interest on money, we must admire his principles, though we may not feel inclined to follow his precepts. Moreover, as I intended this Translation for the student, who wishes to acquire the Urdu tongue with the help of Mir Amman, I have made it nearly literal,/3/ and preserved the original construction as far as possible, to facilitate the attainment of that useful if not elegant language. I might have made the Tale a pleasing Romance, which even Ladies could read in their languid moments, but I have formed it for the mere student, and sacrificed the dulce to the utile.

The memorable saying of the immortal Clive would be a bad precept in these days; he never knew the language of India: when asked why he never learnt it, he replied, "Why, if I had, I should not have conquered India; the black knaves would have led me astray by their cunning advice; but as I never understood them, I was never misled by them." This might be true in subduing India; but India can never be retained, if the Civil and Military servants of the Company do not understand Hindoostani; a tongue which is understood from Haridwar to Cape Comorin and from Lahore to Chittagong. The ignorance of their language, guided by rashness and folly, may one day kindle a flame in India, amongst the Native Troops, which the blood of all the Europeans in the country would not extenguish. Look at the momentous period of the massacre at Vellore! The religious rites and the peculiar customs of the Hindoos, who compose the vast majority in the population of our Eastern possessions, must be understood and tolerated, from their pertinacious adherence to them; they cannot be known without knowing their language.

Some of the Notes will be superfluous to the Oriental Scholar who has been in India; but in this case I think it better to be redundant than risk the chance of being deficient. Moreover, as the book may be perused by the Curious in Europe, many of whom know nothing of India except having seen it in the map of the world, these notes were absolutely necessary to understand the work. As I am no poet, I have translated the pieces of poetry, which are interspersed in the original, into humble and modulated prose.

    L. F. S.


NOTE BY THE EDITOR. -- In preparing this new edition of Smith's translation of the Bagh O Bahar, it is but fair to state what alterations and intended improvements I have made. In the first place, the orthography of all Oriental words has been reduced to the standard system established by Sir William Jones. Secondly, the translation has been rendered more strictly literal in the Preface, and in the tales of the First and Second Darweshes. Thirdly, in the notes I have altered many, suppressed a few, and added several new ones, which I have marked with the letter F., -- Smith's notes are marked with the letter S., when no alteration has been made beyond that of orthography. In the latter portion of the work, I have made fewer alterations in the text, having merely satisfied myself that the author's meaning is truly rendered in the translation.


58, Burton Crescent.
1st May, 1851.


/1/ The Arabian Night Tales have no claim to the title of "grand prototype of all Asiatic romances." On the contrary, they are now considered by the best Oriental scholars to consist merely of either translations of imitations of tales long previously popular in Persia and Hindustan. --F.
/2/ The old moralist, Sa'di, says, that "a lie, tending to promote good, is better than the truth, when it excites mischief." This, however, is not an unamiable or repulsive instance of Asiatic morality, compared with what we find coolly narrated in [[the tale of Azad Bakht]], where the hero asks the princess, "What will you do with the nurse?" She answered, "Her case can be easily settled; I will give her a cup of strong poison." --F.
/3/ With due deference be it said, Mr. Smith's translation is far from being literal; occasionally, indeed, it is slavishly verbal, but generally quite free. The author's meaning, however, is at all times admirably given. --F.


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