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GENII AND FAIRIES OF THE EAST, THE
ARABIAN NIGHTS, &c.
AIL, gorgeous East ! Hail, regions of the colored morning! Hail, Araby and Persia !
not the Araby and Persia of the geographer, dull to the dull, and governed by the
foolish, — but the Araby and Persia of books, of the other and more real East, which thousands visit every day, — the Orient of poets, the magic land of the child, the uneffaceable recollection of the man.
To us, the “ Arabian Nights” is one of the most beautiful books in the world : not because there is nothing but pleasure in it, but because the pain has infinite chances of vicissitude, and because the pleasure is within the reach of all who have body and soul and imagination. The poor man there sleeps in a doorway with his love, and is richer than a king. The sultan is dethroned to-morrow, and has a finer throne the next day. The pauper touches a ring, and spirits wait upon him. You ride in the air ; you are rich in solitude ; you long for somebody to return your love, and an Eden encloses you in its arms. You have this world, and you have another. Fairies are in your moonlight. Hope and imagination have their fair play, as well as the rest of us. There is action heroical, and passion too: people can suffer, as well as enjoy, for love ; you have bravery, luxury, fortitude, self-devotion, comedy as good as Moliere's, tragedy, Eastern manners, the wonderful that is in a commonplace, and the verisimilitude that is in the wonderful calendars, cadis, robbers, enchanted palaces, paintings full of color and drapery,
warmth for the senses, desert in arms and exercises to keep it manly, cautions to the rich, humanity for the more happy, and hope for the miserable. Whenever we see the “ Arabian Nights” they strike a light upon our thoughts, as though they were a talisman incrusted with gems; and we fancy we have only to open the book for the magic casket to expand, and enclose us with solitude and a garden.
This wonderful work is still better for the West than for the East; because it is a thing remoter, with none of our commonplaces ; and because, our real opinions not being concerned in it, we have all the benefit of its genius without being endangered by its prejudices. The utility of a work of imagination indeed must outweigh the drawbacks upon it in any country. It makes people go out of themselves, even in pursuit of their own good; and is thus opposed to the worst kind of selfishness. These stories of vicissitude and natural justice must do good even to sultans, and help to keep them in order, though it is doubtful how far they may not also serve to keep them in possession. With us the good is unequivocal. The cultivation of hope comes in aid of the progress
of society; and he may safely retreat into the luxuries and rewards of the perusal of an Eastern tale, whom its passion for the beautiful helps to keep in heart with his species, and by whom the behavior of its arbitrary kings is seen in all its regal absurdity, as well as its human excuses.
Like all matters on which the poets have exercised their fancy, the opinions respecting the nature of the supernatural beings of the East have been rendered inconsistent even among the best authorities. Sir John IIalcolm says that Dict' means a magician, whereas, in the Persian Dictionary of Richardson, it is rendered spirit and giant;
by custom, a devil: and Sir John uses it, in the same sense in general. D'Ilerbelot uses it in the sense of demon, and yet in his article on “ Solomon” it is opposed to it, or simply means giant. Richardson tells us, that Peri means a beautiful creature of no sex; whereas according to Sir William Ouseley, it is always female ; and Richardson himself gives us to understand as much another time. I'pon the whole we think the following may be taken as the ordinary opinion, especially among authors of the greatest taste and genius.
The Persians (for all these supernatural tales originated with the Persians, Indians, and Chaldeans, and not with the Arabs, except in as far as the latter became united with the Persians), are of opinion, that many kings reigned, and many races of creatures existed, before the time of Adam.* The geologists ought to have a regard for this notion, which has an air of old knowledge beyond ours, and falls in with what has been conjectured respecting the diluvial strata. According to the Persians, a time may have existed, when mammoths, not men, were lords of the crcation ; when a gigantic half-human phenomenon of a beast put his crown on with what was only a hand by courtesy; and elephants and leviathans conversed under a sky in which it was always twilight. Very grand fictions might be founded on imaginations of this sort ;
a Preadamite epic: and knowledge and sensibility might be represented as gradually displacing successive states of beings, till man and woman rose with the full orb of the morning, — themselves to be displaced by a finer stock,
* Giafar the Just, sixth Imam, or Pontiff of the Mussulmans, was of opinion, that there had been three Adams before the one mentioned in Scripture, and that there were to be seventeen more. — D'Herbelot, in the article“Giafar."
if the efforts of cultivation cannot persuade them to be the stock themselves.
The race immediately preceding that of human kind resembled them partly in appearance, but were of gigantic stature, various-headed, and were composed of the element of fire. These were the Genii, Deevs, or race of gigantic spirits (the Fann or Jinn of the Arabs, Pers. Jannian or Jinniàn).* They lived three thousand years each, and had many contests with other spirits, of whose nature we are left in the dark; but the heavens appear to have warred with them, among other enemies. A dynasty of forty, or according to others of seventy-two Solimans, reigned over them in succession, the last of whom was the renowned Soliman Jan-ben-Jan. His buckler, says D’Herbelot, is as famous among the Orien
* Pronounced Jaun and Jinniaun. So Ispahaùm, Goolistaun, &c. It is a pleasure, we think, to know how to pronounce these Eastern words, and therefore we give the reader the benefit of our A B C learning. There is a couplet in Sir William Ouseley's “Travels ” which haunted us for a month, purely because we had found out how to pronounce it, and liked the spirit of it. We repeat it from memory –
Haùn sheer khaùn !
Bèlkeh sheer dendaùn ! (Written Han shir khan
Belkeh shir dendan.) The real spelling ought to be kept, for many reasons; but it is agreeable to find out the sound. The above couplet was an extempore of a Persian boy at an inn, who was struck with the dandy assumptions and enormous appetite of a native gentleman of the party. This person had been commissioned to show Sir William the country, and upon the strength of his having the name of khan (as if one of us were a Mr. Lord), gave himself the airs of the title. The jest of the little mimic (who gives us an advantageous idea of the Persian vivacity), would run something in this way in English, a lion being a common term of exaltation :
A lion-lord, indeed !
tals, as that of Achilles among the Greeks. He possessed, also, in common with other Solimans, the cuirass called the Gebeh, and the Tig-atesch, or smouldering sword, which rendered them invisible in their wars with the demons.* In his time the race had become so proud and so incorrigible to the various lessons given to them and their ancestors from above, that Heaven sent down the angel Hareth to recluce them to obedience. Hareth did his work, and took the government of the world into his hands, but became so proud in his turn, that the deity in order to punish him created a new species of beings to possess the earth, and bade the angels fall down and worship it. Hareth refused, as being of a nobler nature, and was thrust, together with the chiefs of those who adhered to him, into hell, the whole race of the Genii being dismissed at the same time into the mountains of Kaf, and man left in possession of his inheritance. The Genii, however, did not leave him alone. They made war upon him occasionally till the time of the greatest of all the Solimans, Soliman ben Daoud (Solomon the son of David) who having finally conquered and driven them back, was allowed to retain power over them, to give peace of mind to such as had yielded in good time, and to compel the rest to succumb to him whenever he thought fit, as angels overcame the devils. These last are the rebellious Genii of the “Arabian Nights.” They are the Deens, in the diabolical and now the only sense of the word, — Deev signifying a gigantic evil spirit; and are all monsters, more or less, and generally black ; though the most famous of them is the Deev-Sifeed, or great white devil, whose conquest was the crowning glory of Rustam, the Eastern Hercules.
* D'Herbelot, in the article “Soliman Ben Daoud.”