Monday, December 20, 2010

Finds (4): Tree Worship


INFORMATION PLEASE ...

Does anyone out there know anything about this book, Tree Worship? It appears to have been privately published in Auckland in 1965, but it would be interesting to know more about its author, Charles Alldritt, in particular ...


Charles Alldritt, Tree Worship (1965)


Alldritt, Charles. Tree Worship: With Incidental Myths and Legends. Auckland: Printed for the Author by Strong and Ready Ltd., 1965. [No ISBN]. xiv + 122 pp.


back cover


TREES, those majestic natural monuments, have in silence watched men and cities rise and fall. They have been adored and have witnessed many peculiar, and sometimes cruel, rites.

FROM THE RUINS of dead civilisations we learn just how much cruelty was the direct result of bigotry, self-righteousness and the apparent inability to examine or question beliefs.

FEAR OF RIDICULE by their fellows and of reprisal by gods and rulers, have made people obedient to many ridiculous precepts. We may pity their credulous acceptance of the dictates of those who presumed to speak for the gods, and this is a reminder that we too could perhaps improve our methods. Though many may remain timid, there will always be those who dare to question the orthodox, and who are inquisitive and adventurous enough to explore.

UNDER THE STONES we raise there may be all sorts of crawling horrors, but there may also be a diamond.


He appears to have been someone with strong, but possibly rather heterodox views on religion. Beyond this publication (and one or two other pamphlets conserved in libraries), I haven't been able to find out any more about him.

Why was he so anxious to publish this information in book form, for instance? Was it his own idea, or someone else's? The copy I've been examining is dedicated to "Merle and Jim Burns", with an added little note at the bottom of the page:
Jim,
Thank you for all your help.
Chas.


halftitle

Here are the titlepage and frontispiece (presumably painted by the author, who must have had some artistic talent):




TREE WORSHIP

WITH INCIDENTAL MYTHS AND LEGENDS

WITH ILLUSTRATIONS
BY
CHARLES ALLDRITT

PRINTED FOR THE AUTHOR BY
STRONG AND READY LTD.
AUCKLAND
1965



SCANDINAVIAN CREATION LEGEND

Odin and his brothers created the first human beings from two logs of wood. One log was ash and the other elm; from the ash they made the first man and called his name Ask, and from the elm they made the first woman and they named her Embla.

(see page 81)


The book is dedicated:



TO JANICE
(on her twenty-first birthday)

Perhaps the author's daughter?

The preface is also interesting. There are quite a few underlinings and pencil corrections in the text of this copy, presumably added by the author himself. The words "don't apologise", written next to the dedication, seem to refer not so much to Janice as to the words "Early critics have suggested that the purpose of the book is not clear. Perhaps there is no purpose" [my italics].

PREFACE

The subject matter is the work of a collector rather than a scholar. Part I is a collection of opinions and theories which could possibly have some bearing upon the practices, beliefs and legends contained in Part II.

Early critics have suggested that the purpose of the book is not clear. Perhaps there is no purpose. An attempt has been made to avoid bias and prejudice and it is sincerely hoped that it can be similarly read. There is always the tendency to believe a postulate to be true simply because it would be contrary to our accepted beliefs if it were not. Fortunately we now live in a more tolerant age, and those who differ are not. necessarily branded as heretics. As this goes to press it is interesting to find that last year (1964) the Church of Rome has been pleased to suggest that the "Holy Spirit” is also present "in other faiths." This is a big step away from the bigotry of ancient times but we still need to travel further. Unfortunately we still have with us those who expect the rest of the world to conform to their particular "civilized ritual," and expect others to remember their places. " If the rich man's schoolboy son asks a question he is taking an intelligent interest, but if the street Arab asks the same question he is being insolent and too familiar. There is a very human tendency to look upon those of other faiths as street Arabs, whereas we would he better advised to accept their questions regarding our beliefs as attempts to understand, rather than insults. Sometimes we are so quick to defend those things which we ourselves do not fully understand. Surely the obvious needs no defence, and our differences in secondary matters is of little importance.

This book was written for enjoyment, and the necessary research has been exciting and rewarding. Lengthy explanations have been avoided as it is felt that readers prefer to arrive at their own conclusions.

CHARLES ALLDRITT

Auckland, January, 1965





Something of the rather eclectic nature of the book can be deduced from the Table of Contents reproduced above. There's another page of it, as well as two pages listing the illustrations (four plates as well as numerous line drawings).

PART I

Trees Before Men
Ethics
Faith
The Oracle
Adjustment
Priest Kings
Prayers to Powers – Intercession
Magic and Holy Relics
John Evelyn
Beliefs in Magical Powers
Pagan Rites in Christian Worship
Changing Colour
Criticism of Ancient Philosophy

PART II

Ritual and Dedication of Trees
Paradise
Treasures of Heaven
Giants
Pillars
Egypt-Osiris
Egypt-Sky-Goddess
Tree as an Altar-•Sacred Sites
Sacred Sites
Groves
Horns
The Bull was the Symbol of Light
Moses
Yahweh
Yahweh-Baal
Moloch-Human Sacrifice
Moloch
Human Sacrifice-Indian Judge
Ritual Killing

The first page of the text attempts to give some rationale for the author's choice of subject matter, but it does all sound somewhat post facto. Perhaps, as he remarks above, "there is no purpose."




PART I
TREES BEFORE MEN



The title of this book is really a misnomer as trees were seldom worshipped by themselves or for themselves. but they have played an important. part in practically every faith. Examples in Part. II will serve to show just. how widespread these connections are.

Exactly how trees came to have such pride of place will never be known, but certainly awe, inspired by their grandeur and age, was a contributing factor. It has been affirmed (Botticher) that "the worship of the tree was not only the earliest form of divine ritual, but was the last to disappear before the rise of Christianity."

Our planet was covered with lush growth and impenetrable forests long before man made his appearance. In these difficult conditions his travel was restricted by trees, but these also afforded him protection. He looked upon trees as his parents and general providers. His kinship was even closer than to his brothers of the animal world; and as animals differed, so did trees; some were beneficient [sic.] while others were cruel. With the incessant play of natural forces they also had beauty, sound and movement. [p.1]

The page below looks, at first sight, rather sinister. That is, until one reads the text surrounding it:




1. German Nazi Emblem. 2. Swastika (top arm points right). 3. Sauvaskita (negative swastika, top arm points left). 4. Jain Swastika. 5. Tibetan Lunar Swastika. 6. & 7. Indian Swastikas. 8. Azazel (The Devil) with inverted star. 9. Staff of Typhon (Egyptian evil genius). 10. A 'positive' V symbol-Egyptian Hathor, the sky-cow, with the four sky-supports, also V-staves.

For confirmation of figure 2 being the positive swastika refer to:
Ward (Freemasonry and the Ancient Gods), Blavatsky (Theosophical, The Secret Doctrine), Mackenzie (The Migration of Symbols), O'Neill (The Night of the Gods).

Pentacle used in Black Magic, copied from a drawing in Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie (Eliphas Levi).


CHANGING COLOUR

A most perplexing aspect of symbolism is the discovery that it does in fact often undergo a change of meaning and colour. Magical properties - either real or supposed change from positive to negative according to the manner in which they are used or viewed. An example of this can be illustrated by the two signs familiar to us during World War II – the Swastika and the "V" sign. In regard to the first of them, attempts have been made to show that there are two kinds, and that Hitler’s symbol was the negative one. Reference to books written before the war show that more writers favoured the belief that the opposite was the case. Swastikas on doors of temples - both in the east and in the west - show the symbol as good, that is if it is read from the same side as the lettering on both doors. … [pp.18-19]

There's also some interesting material on pp.99-100, in the section entitled "NEW ZEALAND." The author admits that "A New Zealand book should include reference to Maori folklore", and goes on to recommend A. W. Reed's Myths and Legends of Maoriland (Wellington: A. H and A. W. Reed, 1954) "for easy reading." Among others, he records the following legend:

There is still another story of Rata the Wanderer who "chanted an incantation to protect himself against the spirits before taking an axe and cutting down a tree." He required the tree to make himself a canoe; but in the night the "children of Tane" put the tree together again, and after this had been repeated several times Rata became ashamed and asked forgiveness, whereupon the spirits made a canoe for him. For, according to the legend, "to those who love the Garden of Tane, the Children of Tane are kind." When trees are cut down then the Sky-father's tears wash away the soil and the earth is then unable to nourish any living thing. Thus it would seem that our concern for conservation of the soil today is not by any means a new thought in New Zealand. [p.100]

The only other real clue to the work's genesis comes at the beginning of the Bibliography:




BIBLIOGRAPHY

(A few references are missing as the work was commenced from notes gathered for a short lecture some fifteen years ago, precise records were not then kept, but those we have been able to trace are given.)

"Some fifteen years ago" would put the lecture back around 1950. On p.101 the author remarks: "Nothing appears to have been written on the subject of sacred trees since the two world wars," which gives us a clue as to just how long he had been collecting material on this theme.

Two last clues to ponder:

In conclusion it is suggested that, if the reader has any doubt regarding the possible power of trees, perhaps he has never tried the experiment of contemplation in some quiet grove or forest where trees are large and old. [p.103]

It sounds a little like Tolkien's semi-sentient trees, or (more to the point) the dark reaches of Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood. The rather pagan tone of this passage also gives some point to his remark that earlier writers on tree worship "were biased in favour of the narrower Christian viewpoint, and over emphasised the wickedness of those practices which were not of Christian origin."[p.101]

Also, on the back of the frontispiece in this copy, the following words have been hastily scribbled in pencil:




Does it read "Some Trees", or "Come Trees"? The latter could be some kind of invocation, perhaps. Just how far did this author take his fascination with "the possible power of trees"? I'd really love to know ...

Please, if you do have any knowledge of the book or its author, leave it as a comment on this blog entry (if you wish it to remain confidential, just leave me an email address, and I'll reply without posting your comment online).


Ask & Embla

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Finds (3): Titus & Ross


Art Titus & Jack Ross. Titus & Ross. 1970. Fallout, n.d.


In one of Ezra Pound’s first published poems, ‘Famam Librosque cano’ ['Fame and the Book I sing' - an adaptation of the first line of the Aeneid] (A Lume Spento, 1908), he already imagines his future ‘audience’ as a ‘Scrawny, be-spectacled, out at heels’ scholar with a ‘three days’ beard’, who:

picking a ragged
Backless copy from the stall,
Too cheap for cataloguing,
Loquitur,

‘Ah-eh! the strange rare name ...
Ah-eh! He must be rare if even I have not ...’
And lost mid-page ...
He analyses form and thought to see
How I ‘scaped immortality.

- Ezra Pound, Selected Poems, ed. T. S. Eliot. 1928 (London: Faber, 1971): 42-43.

Hard to say if fiction is imitating life here. It was, of course, ‘In the year of grace 1906, 1908, or 1910’ that Pound made his own famous find on a Parisian bookstall:

I picked from the Paris quais a Latin version of the Odyssey by Andreas Divus Justinopolitanus (Parisiis, In officina Christiani Wecheli, MDXXXVIII) ... I lost a Latin Iliad for the economy of four francs, these coins being at the time scarcer with me than they ever should be with any man of my tastes and abilities.

- Ezra Pound, “Early Translators of Homer,” Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, ed. T. S. Eliot. 1954 (London: Faber, 1974): 259.

As Pound goes on to mention, Divus’ Latin version of the ‘Nekuia’ (Odyssey, XI), served as the inspiration for Canto I (at the time his essay was written, c.1916, the ‘Third Canto’).

Other examples of this trope – "beautiful, neglected book, sometimes mislabelled or badly damaged, picked up for next-to-nothing on an open-air bookstall, often at the sacrifice of other treasures" – can easily be compiled. Robert Browning’s ‘old yellow book’, bought in the Piazza San Lorenzo on a June day in 1860, was (according to Charles W. Hodell's introduction to The Old Yellow Book: Source Book of Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book. Everyman’s Library 503. 1911. (London: Dent; New York: Dutton, 1927): ix) found ‘crammed between insignificant neighbours’.

... Five compeers in flank
Stood left to right of it as tempting more – ...
With this, one glance at the lettered back of which,
And ‘Stall!’ cried I: a lira made it mine.

- Robert Browning, The Ring and the Book, ed. Richard D. Altick. 1971. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981) 24-25 [1.75-76, 82-83].

FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, published ‘as a small quarto, without the author’s name ... gained no notice, and most of the two hundred copies found their way into a remainder box, and were sold at a penny each’ (according to Ernest Rhys' introduction to The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám and Six Plays of Calderon, trans. Edward FitzGerald. Everyman’s Library 819. 1928. (London: Dent; New York: Dutton, 1948): xii). That is, until both Rossetti and Swinburne picked up odd copies independently, and the latter took it to show to George Meredith (Pound, too, refers to this incident. See The Cantos of Ezra Pound, 4th Collected ed. (London: Faber, 1987) 510 [80. 593]: ‘Rossetti found it remaindered ...’).

Similarly, in his introduction to the Thousand and One Days, a group of Persian tales translated by him from the French, Justin McCarthy tells us that:

It was on a second-hand bookstall – the very bookstall, I believe, that has been made famous by Mr. Andrew Lang in his ‘Book Lover’s Purgatory’ – that I, rummaging, discovered some little French volumes, French volumes of the last century, lettered ‘Mille et un Jours.’ The title captivated me at once. I had loved ‘The Thousand and One Nights’ all my life, but I had never heard of ‘The Thousand and One Days.’ ... They were imperfect, unfortunately, only four out of a proper five, but I bought them, and read their stories, as far as they went.

- Justin Huntly McCarthy, ed., The Thousand and One Days: Persian Tales, 2 vols (London: Chatto & Windus, 1892) 1: vii.

McCarthy goes on to tell us that he soon discovered that the Persian stories ‘were easily obtainable in modern French editions’, but it is the original (though ‘imperfect’) find which remained in his imagination. Without even bothering to follow up Andrew Lang's remarks on the subject, I think it best to move on immediately to the principal subject of this post: Scott Hamilton's recent discovery of a very interesting old CD from the 1970s:




It was the age of the folk-rock duo. That Sundance Kid-looking dude on the left is (I think) Art Titus - a little reminiscent of Art Garfunkle, perhaps? - whereas his shorter, swarthier buddy is Jack Ross: clearly the brains of the outfit, if you look at their list of song credits:




I must confess to a certain indifference towards their style of music, despite Fallout Records' [home of the best rare music] exhortation on the CD cover: 'PREPARE TO BE BLOWN AWAY!'

In fact, it's a little difficult at first sight to see why anyone would want to reissue this first and only album by the 'enigmatic duo from Marion, Indiana,' whose 'origins and subsequent history remains unknown.'




Given my own long and fruitful association with the almost equally enigmatic art-publisher Titus Books, which I'd hitherto assumed to be named after the eponymous hero of Mervyn Peake's Titus trilogy, new vistas of prophetic insight seem to be opened up by this otherwise innocuous coincidence.

I ask you, why would Titus have published four books - Trouble in Mind (2005), The Imaginary Museum of Atlantis (2006), EMO (2008) and Kingdom of Alt (2010) - by this Jack Ross (you'll find a list of various others in the sidebar opposite under the generic title "Jack Rosses of the World Unite!') over the past five years, if there weren't some ulterior motive?

I leave you to ponder that, my friends.


Scott Hamilton: "The Ross Clique" (12/12/10)
l to r: Hamish Dewe, Jack Ross, Ted Jenner & Brett Cross

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Finds (2): R. A. K. Mason on Rewi Alley - 1955


[Rewi Alley, Fragments of Living Peking (1955)]

Alley, Rewi. Fragments of Living Peking and Other Poems. Ed. H. Winston Rhodes. Christchurch: New Zealand Peace Council, 1955.

Since there was so much response to my post on Duggan's copy of Hopkins, here are some pictures of another, not dissimilar, find I made a couple of years ago in a second-hand shop in Devonport:




Once again, it was the book itself that attracted me initially, but then, looking inside, oh ho!




Could that really be R. A. K. Mason's signature? I knew he was pretty keen on China, but surely he would have had rather more flowing calligraphy than that?




If it is him, then his annotations seem more bibliographical than interpretive in nature. He marks poems which can also be found in Rewi Alley's previous book Leaves from a Sandan Notebook (1950).




He does put a little mark by the passage in H. Winston Rhodes' preface recording "the impact that a People's China has made on one [i.e. Alley] who has spent his life in the effort to prepare for what he has called 'the new day'." This is Mason the committed Communist, remember, the author of "Sonnet to MacArthur's Eyes" ...




Besides that, most of the notes and marginal scribbles record pieces of factual information to be found in Alley's text, together with hints about places to visit. Mason did, after all, visit China "as first president of the New Zealand–China Society in 1957", according to his entry in the Oxford Companion to NZ Literature (quoted on the Book Council site), two years after the publication of this book, and so he was probably looking to Alley more as a source of information than of poetic inspiration.




This isn't the place to go in to my views on all those pat judgments about the (alleged) "failure" of Mason's poetic gift - I put my opinion on record in a review of Rachel Barrowman and John Caselberg's twin, competing biographies in WLWE: World Literature Written in English (UK) 40 (2): (2004) [144-47]. Suffice it to say that merely keeping on churning out verses into old age can scarcely be regarded (necessarily) as being true to one's muse ... Mason chose a different path, but only a fool (or a dyed-in-the-wool social conservative) should feel him or herself qualified to write him off as some kind of failure.




I guess what I like most about the book is the sense of Mason carefully preparing himself for his upcoming trip to China, eager to see the "new day" for himself, and probably equally keen to meet Rewi Alley, too.




By now Alley had been forced to 'closet' himself again, after living pretty openly as a homosexual in his early years in China: the puritan new government of the People's Republic made this a necessity - as Simon Winchester records in his fascinating new biography of that other great friend of China, Joseph Needham (Bomb, Book and Compass: Joseph Needham and the Great Secrets of China. 2008. Camberwell, Victoria: Penguin Group (Australia), 2009).





A wandering Lama from Kumbum
looks in, sees the boiler, puts hands together.
Says 'Om mane padme um.' and scuttles
head down. [p.43]

Mason's note at the top of the page seems to read "ambivalent attitude born of practical acquaintance."

So do we start anew, with
new wine in old bottles, as we have
been taught not to do. Yet, is the wine so new?
Perhaps it has just been mellowing
these thousands of years,
now is ripe for using ... [p.44]

There's something rather moving about these carefully marked passages, written long before the Cultural Revolution, the Gang of Four, and all the other great disillusionments really started to take their toll. As with Mason's career as a whole, I feel, it's best to listen patiently than commit oneself to hasty, pat judgments - "ambivalent attitude born of practical acquaintance", in fact.

Friday, December 03, 2010

How do you make a single-volumed Arabian Nights?


Lyons, Malcolm & Ursula, trans. Three Tales from The Arabian Nights.
Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 2008.


Ever since Burton's complete translation of the 1001 Nights appeared in ten huge volumes in 1885 - with, hot on its heels, another six volumes of Supplemental Nights from other sources - readers have learned to associate the collection with size. So how could one even dream of compiling a one-volume epitome of this vast ocean of stories, teased out by Scheherazade for almost three years of concentrated tale-telling?

Back in the days when the Nights were one of my principal obsessions, I came up with the idea of editing a single-volume anthology which would attempt somehow to do justice to their richness and variety. This was the era of the Oxford & Faber Books of this, that and the other (Death, Dreams, Beasts, Illness, the Supernatural are just some of the titles I remember rummaging through), so I guess I thought of my book as the Oxford Book of the Arabian Nights.

The first order of business was to try and analyse the other attempts at such a compendium which had been made at different times:







Example One: GALLAND (1704-1717)

Arabian Nights Entertainments: Consisting of One Thousand and One Stories, Told by the Sultaness of the Indies, to divert the Sultan from the Execution of a bloody Vow he had made to marry a Lady every day, and have her cut off next Morning, to avenge himself for the Disloyalty of his first Sultaness, &c. Containing a better Account of the Customs, Manners, and Religion of the Eastern Nations, viz. Tartars, Persians, and Indians, than is to be met with in any Author hitherto published. Translated into French from the Arabian Mss. by M. Galland of the Royal Academy, and now done into English from the last Paris Edition. 1706-1717. 16th ed. 4 vols. London & Edinburgh: C. Elliot, 1781.

I bought this ‘sixteenth edition’ of Galland's pioneering translation of the Nights in Edinburgh in 1988. It's really too old and fragile to read with comfort, but I guess one of the attractions of the book was the fact that it reminded me of that passage in the Prelude where Wordsworth talks about the ‘precious treasure’ he owned as a boy:

A little, yellow canvass-covered Book,
A slender abstract of the Arabian Tales;
And when I learned, as now I first did learn,
From my companions in this new abode,
That this dear prize of mine was but a block
Hewn from a mighty quarry – in a word,
That there were four large Volumes, laden all
With kindred matter – ‘twas, in truth, to me
A promise scarcely earthly. Instantly
I made a league, a covenant with a friend
Of my own age, that we should lay aside
The monies we possessed, and hoard up more,
Till our joint savings had amassed enough
To make this book our own. Through several months
Religiously did we preserve that vow,
And spite of all temptation hoarded up
And hoarded up; but firmness failed at length
Nor were we ever masters of our wish.
- The Prelude (1805) bk 5: ll.482-500
[Quoted from William Wordsworth, ed. Stephen Gill.
The Oxford Authors (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990) 446-47.]

Given that Wordsworth was ‘not nine years old’ in the passage quoted above (bk 5. l.474), whereas his friend (the ‘Boy’ of ‘There was a Boy’) was not yet ‘full twelve years old’ when he was ‘taken from his mates’ a few lines before, we could probably date this attempted purchase somewhere between 1779 and 1781. It's a bit strained, perhaps, but you could think of the complete copy of the "Arabian Tales" I bought two hundred years later as being the same one poor old Wordsworth missed out on!




Mack, Robert L., ed. Arabian Nights’ Entertainments. The World’s Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

The modern equivalent to Wordsworth's slender one-volume "abstract" of the Nights would have to be Robert Mack's complete Worlds Classics edition of the first English translation of Galland. It's a bit cramped, but there's no questioning its usefulness. That's one solution, then: trying to cram the whole thing into one large volume.









Example Two: LANE (1838-1841)

Lane, Edward William, trans. The Thousand and One Nights, Commonly Called, in England, The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments. A New Translation from the Arabic, with Copious Notes. 3 vols. London: Charles Knight, 1839-41.

This is roughly the procedure followed in this one-volume reprint of Lane's translation, too. If you take out all the illustrations, and just concentrate on the text, you can just cram it all in, given Lane's decision to leave out anything in the collection which he considered to be in the bit least questionable morally.



Lane, Edward William, trans. The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments or The Thousand and One Nights: The Complete, Original Translation of Edward William Lane, with the Translator’s Complete, Original Notes and Commentaries on the Text. New York: Tudor Publishing Co., 1927.








Example Three: BURTON (1885-1888)

Burton, Richard F., trans. The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night: A Plain and Literal Translation of the Arabian Nights Entertainments. 1885. 3 vols. New York: The Heritage Press, 1934.

I already mentioned above just how long Burton's translation is. This modern reprint manages to cram the ten volumes of his translation proper into three huge hardbacks, without omitting the notes or the terminal essay. It does, however, have to leave out the other six "supplemental" volumes.




Burton, Richard F., trans. The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, or The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night: A Selection of the Most Famous and Representative of these Tales. Ed. Bennett A Cerf. 1932. Introductory Essay by Ben Ray Redman. New York: Modern Library, 1959.

There are, of course, many selections from Burton available still. Probably the most famous and influential of these is Bennett Cerf's "Modern Library" edition, which proudly proclaimed itself to be an "adult" [i.e. unexpurgated] selection - still a controversial approach in the 1930s. Burton's wife put out a heavily censored edition in the late 1880s, and even the 12-volume "library edition" of the 1890s could not quite bring itself to reprint everything. Cerf's book accordingly sold like hot cakes, and may still be in print for all I know ...









Example Four: PAYNE (1882-1889)

Payne, John, trans. The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night. 1882-1884. Publisher's Note by Steven Moore. 3 vols. Ann Arbor, MI: Borders Classics, 2007.

We now come to one of the most interesting translations of the Nights. Unfairly overshadowed by Burton's ten-volume version, John Payne's privately-published, nine-volume edition was actually the first complete translation of the Nights into any European language. It's recently been reprinted in full by "Borders Classics" (though without the four "supplementary volumes" issued later), but it also gave rise to one of the most interesting of all one-volume epitomes of the collection as a whole: Joseph Campbell's Portable Arabian Nights (1952):




Payne, John, trans. The Portable Arabian Nights. 1882-1884. Ed. Joseph Campbell. 1952. New York: The Viking Press, 1963.

Campbell is extremely (some would say unfairly) scornful of Burton in his introduction, virtually accusing him of plagiarising the bulk of his translation from Payne's pioneering work. Some - though not all - of these accusations can be found in Payne's own autobiography, but one would have to say that neither made any secret of their dependence on each other. Burton certainly scooped the pot, though, and it may well have been the success of the Modern Library 's "Adult Selection" from Burton which inspired Campbell to try and rehabilitate Payne.

The method he chose was most interesting. He reprinted, in full, the beginning and end of Payne's complete translation of the collection proper, then put in summaries and epitomes of all the other stories, a very few of which he gave in full. The ingenuity of this approach, while undoubtedly valuable to anyone wanting to have at their fingertips information about any given Arabian Nights story without access to a research library, appears to have been slightly lost on the public. The Portable Arabian Nights is almost unobtainable today, whereas Bennett Cerf's selection can still be found easily in most second-hand shops. I'm afraid that the Nights reputation as an "adult", even a pornographic work, dies hard, and surprisingly few readers are interested in more tidy and respectable versions.









Example Five: MARDRUS / MATHERS (1882-1889)

  • Mathers, E. Powys, trans. The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night: Rendered into English from the Literal and Complete French Translation of Dr. J. C. Mardrus. 4 vols. 1949. 2nd ed. 1964. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986.




  • That's certainly the case with the next example in our list. Dr J. C. Mardrus's elaborate fin-de-siècle translation first appeared in French between 1899 and 1904, and was translated into English, in eight volumes, by Edward Powys Mathers in 1923. Mardrus became notorious among later scholars for ramping up the erotic content of the stories on the (alleged) authority of a manuscript source which he never showed to anyone, and which probably never existed. Powys Mathers certainly did nothing to tone him down, and he also translated Mather's rhythmic prose versions of the innumerable songs and poems in the collection into beautifully crafted short English verses.

    It's therefore hardly surprising that his version has always been so popular with readers, and that more-or-less tastefully illustrated selections have continued to appear from time to time.




    Mathers, E. Powys, trans. Arabian Love Tales: Being Romances Drawn from the Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night, Rendered into English from the Literal French Translation of Dr. J. C. Mardrus. Illustrated by Lettice Sandford. London: The Folio Society, 1949.








    Example Six: DAWOOD (1954-1957)

    Dawood, N. J., trans. Tales from the Thousand and One Nights. 1954-57. 2nd ed. 1973. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982.

    At much the same time as Campbell was editing the Portable Arabian Nights and the first commercial edition of Powys Mathers' version of Mardrus was coming out from Routledge and Kegan Paul, Penguin Classics decided to get into the game with their own new translation directly from the Arabic.

    Dawood, N. J., trans. The Thousand and One Nights: The Hunchback, Sindbad, and Other Tales. Penguin 1001. 1954. Penguin Classics L64. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1955.

    Dawood, N. J., trans. Aladdin and Other Tales from The Thousand and One Nights. Penguin Classics L71. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1957.

    Originally issued in two volumes, it was later combined into one, and remains in print to this day. It's beautifully clear, concise, and a delight to read even now, fifty years later - though Penguin have finally decided to supplement it with a complete translation:

    Lyons, Malcolm & Ursula, trans. The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights. Introduction by Robert Irwin. 3 vols. 2008. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 2010.

    The Penguin Classics' policy of writing in serviceable modern prose, rather than the archaising jargon of earlier translators, make this a not bad one-stop shop for anyone keen to find an accessible and reliable version of the major stories in the Nights.









    Example Seven: MAHDI / HADDAWY (1990-1995)

    Haddawy, Husain, trans. The Arabian Nights: Based on the Text of the Fourteenth-Century Syrian Manuscript edited by Muhsin Mahdi. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1990.

    Which might be where one could reasonably expect the story to end. Not so, though. Translation doesn't stand still even more than scholarship does. In 1984 a major new edition of the Arabic text of Alf Layla wa Layla [The Thousand Nights and a Night] was published in two volumes by E. J. Brill in Leiden. Its editor, Muhsin Mahdi, claimed that the 144th-century Syrian manuscript used by Galland for his translation in the early eighteenth century was still the best source of information on the true nature of the collection, and that the later, vastly expanded Egyptian compilations used by Lane, Payne and Burton for their translations were of far less interest and significance.

    Controversial though this view was (and remains), it was the first real new advance in the textual study of the Nights since the late nineteenth / early twentieth century, and Mahdi's was the first significant new Arabic edition since Macnaghten's in 1839-42. It was promptly - and skilfully - translated into English by Husain Haddawy, and the mere claim that this was the true nucleus of the collection gave an added frisson to his version.

    Haddawy, Husain, trans. The Arabian Nights II: Sindbad and Other Popular Stories. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1995.

    Unfortunately Haddawy rather spoiled the effect by going on to translate some of the more famous (but definitely textually spurious) stories from Galland's collection. it was an almost equally handsome book, though, so only a few purists protested the addition. Since then the major part of Haddawy's two-volume translation has been reprinted as a Norton Critical Edition, together with essays and annotations.

    Heller-Roazen, Daniel, ed. The Arabian Nights. The Husain Haddaway Translation Based on the Text Edited by Muhsin Mahdi: Contexts, Criticism. 1990 & 1995. A Norton Critical Edition. New York & London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.

    Which is where we'd better leave it, I suppose.







    So, if these are the main alternatives:
    • Complete reprints: Galland, Lane and Haddawy's translations have all been jammed between one set of covers, with more-or-less of a claim to being "complete."
    • Substantial selections: These can be "adult" in nature (Burton or Mardrus / Mathers), or simply a few representative stories (generally those most suitable for children), as in the case of Dawood.
    • Complete epitomes: Campbell is the only one to have attempted this to date. His version (I would say) is much admired but little read. Most people would probably prefer to buy one of the complete three or four-volume editions than to have to make do with Campbell's summaries of each story. Folklorists and specialists in Comparative Literature find this approach very valuable, though

    Then what of my putative Something-or-Other Book of the Arabian Nights?

    I suppose that I had in mind something substantially different from any of these. I thought of a series of chapters or knots of readings grouped around each of the best-known stories: The frame-story (of course), then, the Merchant and the Genie, the Fisherman and the Genie, the Three ladies of Baghdad,and the Story of the Hunchback (together with those some of those later additions Sindbad, Aladdin, Ali Baba, and so on). In some cases I'd give a complete translation (trying to sample from as many as possible). For the longer stories I might give a retelling or even, in some cases, a pastiche or parody. I'd put in notes from major essays by Borges and Barth and Chesterton and the other canonical critics. I'd also put in as many diverse illustrations as possible.

    The whole would be topped off with a (select) chronology and bibliography of the Nights.

    Will it ever happen? Probably not. It could be a very entertaining - and possibly even an informative - book to read, though. What do the rest of you Nights enthusiasts think?

    Finds (1): Maurice Duggan' s Copy of G. M. Hopkins


    [Bridges, Robert, ed. Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. 1918. Second Edition. With an Appendix of Additional Notes, and a Critical Introduction by Charles Williams. 1930. The Oxford Bookshelf. 1937. London: Oxford University Press, 1941.]


    Actually it was the book itself that attracted me most to begin with. I'm a bit of a Charles Williams fan, for one thing, and then again it was interesting to see Robert Bridge's original arrangement of the poems (Hopkins died in 1889, but - famously and notoriously - it wasn't till 1918 that his friend and executor Bridges finally published them, after thirty odd years of dithering).

    It had a rather dark and soiled binding, so it wasn't surprising that it was priced so cheaply, at $8.




    But then I took a closer look at the flyleaf:



    Ériger en lois sans impressions personnelles, c’est le grand effort d’un homme s’il est sincère
    [Formulating laws without personal bias, this is the supreme achievement of a serious man]
    – Rémy de Gourmont

    Maurice Duggan (1922-1974) is - of course - far better known as a short story writer than a poet, though a short book of his poems, A Voice for the Minotaur, was published posthumously by the Holloway Press in 2002.

    It's therefore quite interesting to see him purchasing (and annotating) a copy of Hopkins in 1944, at the age of 22. There's a certain schoolboy earnestness in the way he notes down important facts: he's careful to write in the date of Hopkins' death on the halftitle, for instance:




    Duggan's author page on the Book Council site (copied from the 1998 Oxford Companion to NZ Literature) specifies that it was "early in 1944 [that] he made contact with Frank Sargeson at Sargeson’s Takapuna bach, and the older man quickly became his mentor." Perhaps it was at Frank's suggestion that he decided to bone up on Hopkins, buying this book on the 8th of July of that year.

    Duggan wrote notes on a number of the poems - mostly the famous ones: "The Windhover", "Pied Beauty" etc., and marked them on the list of contents:







    Most of his efforts seem to have been directed at understanding Hopkins' fiendishly difficult classification system for English metre, though. He marks some passages in the famous preface which explain the differences between conventional "running" metre and his own new "sprung rhythm".







    Overall, the notes are more technical than interpretive (how many similarly annotated copies of Hopkins are to be found in the second-hand bookshops of the world, each with its sets of extra stresses and "outrides" marked in from the notes at the back of the book?). There is one interesting feature about them, though: a curious little pencil mark which looks almost like a set of parted lips - or a little heart.







    For the most part, though, he contents himself with metrical stresses and comments on whether or not that particular poem is in "running" (i.e. conventional) or "sprung" (Hopkinsian - though he claimed it was prefigured in medieval alliterative verse, as well as Milton's late metrics in Samson Agonistes) rhythm:













    At the end of the book, there's a little index of particularly significant lines and expressions. There's a certain taste for the florid on display here, perhaps more appropriate to the future author of "Along Rideout Road That Summer", with its insistent echoes of "Kubla Khan", than to the Sargesonian realist of Immanuel's Land (1956).




    I find the fact that he singled out "yields tender as a pushed peach" for particular notice rather amusing, given his later close friendship with Kendrick Smithyman, who abhorred Hopkins with a passion.

    [And how do you know that, Dr Ross? I hear you ask. Well, it's funny you should ask me that. I recall one day mentioning to Kendrick that I'd been attempting to explaining Hopkins to some Stage One students, only to hear from him in reply what overwritten slop he considered it to be. This very line, "tender as a pushed peach," with its obvious homoerotic overtones, came up in the discussion (as I recall) as a kind of final demonstration of Hopkins' lack of restraint or subtlety ...]

    Sargeson, though himself far less closeted as a homosexual, regarded Hopkins' difficulties in expressing the true nature of his emotions with considerable interest and respect, and it was - paradoxically - more Sargeson's taste in poetry than his insistence on laconic hardbitten prose which would be dominant in the heterosexual Duggan's later, more baroque prose works ("The Magsman's Miscellany", for instance).

    It's not suprising, I suppose, that the name "Hopkins" does not appear in the index of Ian Richards' otherwise magisterial To Bed at Noon: The Life and Art of Maurice Duggan (AUP, 1997). It would be difficult to justify a claim that he was an important influence on Duggan at any time. He clearly did read him, though - and with considerable care - and it's rather nice to be able to examine these neat and meticulous annotations at this distance in time, more than six decades later.

    The back flyleaf of the book contains the following set of lines:



    tears
    Are in his eyes, and in his ears
    The murmur of a thousand years;
    Before him he sees Life unroll,
    A placid and continuous whole

    These turn out to be from a poem by Matthew Arnold, "Resignation". The precise connection with Hopkins isn't clear, but perhaps it denotes Duggan's determination, even at this early stage, to carry out Arnold's instructions "to see life steadily and see it whole" - to savour the eccentricities and felicities of so ambitious and complex (yet also so personally and professionally thwarted) a predecessor as Gerard Manley Hopkins.