Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Enigma of George Borrow



Henry Wyndham Phillips: George Borrow (1843)
The Works of George Borrow: Edited with Much Hitherto Unpublished Manuscript. Ed. Clement Shorter. Norwich Edition (limited to 775 copies). 16 vols. London: Constable & Co. Ltd. / New York: Gabriel Wells, 1923-24.
  1. The Bible in Spain: or the Journey, Adventures, and Imprisonment of an Englishman in an Attempt to Circulate the Scriptures in the Peninsula (1843)
  2. The Bible in Spain [vol. 2]
  3. Lavengro: The Scholar, the Gypsy, the Priest (1851)
  4. Lavengro [vol. 2]
  5. The Romany Rye (1857)
  6. The Romany Rye [vol. 2]
  7. The Songs of Scandinavia, and Other Poems & Ballads (1829)
  8. The Songs of Scandinavia [vol. 2]
  9. The Songs of Scandinavia [vol. 3]
  10. The Zincali: An Account of the Gypsies in Spain (1841)
  11. Romano Lavo-Lil: A Wordbook of the Anglo-Romany Dialect (1874)
  12. Wild Wales: Its People, Language and Scenery (1862)
  13. Wild Wales [vol. 2]
  14. Wild Wales [vol. 3]
  15. Miscellanies [vol. 1]
  16. Miscellanies [vol. 2]


Clement Shorter, ed.: The Works of George Borrow (16 vols: 1923-24)


Does this set of books remind you of anything? Probably not. After all, this is quite an unusual juxtaposition of authors - and texts:



Raymond Weaver, ed.: The Works of Herman Melville (16 vols: 1922-24)
The Works of Herman Melville. Ed. Raymond Weaver. 16 vols. London: Constable, 1922-24.
  1. Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life (1846)
  2. Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas (1847)
  3. Mardi: And a Voyage Thither (1849)
  4. Mardi [vol. 2]
  5. Redburn: His First Voyage (1849)
  6. White-Jacket; or, The World in a Man-of-War (1850)
  7. Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1851) [1]
  8. Moby-Dick [vol. 2]
  9. Pierre; or, The Ambiguities (1852)
  10. Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile (1855)
  11. The Piazza Tales (1856)
  12. The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1857)
  13. Billy Budd and Other Prose Pieces (1924)
  14. Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land (1876)
  15. Clarel [vol. 2]
  16. Poems (1924)
Same publisher. Same number of volumes. Roughly the same date of publication, and (at the time, at least), almost the same degree of obscurity.

Of course we now know that this same edition of Melville - the first to collect all of his disparate works (including "Billy Budd", published here for the first time) - would lead directly to the Melville revival, that swelling chorus of interest, appreciation, and (eventually) obsession which would culminate in crowning him one of the world's great authors.

I've written more about this process here.



George Borrow: Collected Works (1923-24)


But what of George Borrow? No such luck, I'm afraid. His mid-nineteenth-century vogue, based principally on that swashbuckling travel yarn The Bible in Spain (1843) - just as Melville's was on Typee (1846) - grew into something of a cult among readers of his distinctly less bestselling autobiographical novels Lavengro (1851) and The Romany Rye (1857).

He even reached the level of being mocked and parodied by the frontrunner of a new wave of popular fiction writers, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in his 1913 short story "'Borrow'-ed Scenes":
"It cannot be done. People really would not stand it. I know because I have tried." — Extract from an unpublished paper upon George Borrow and his writings.


Thomas Derrick: Illustrations for "'Borrow'-ed Scenes" (1913)


Doyle's rather malicious story portrays the misadventures of a deluded fan who attempts to go about the countryside behaving like the semi-autobiographical protagonist of Borrow's books: accosting Gypsies with snatches of Romany, offering to fist-fight unruly tinkers, and attempting to impress barmaids with his high-flown patter.



E. J. Sullivan: Lavengro fights the Flaming Tinman (1900)


Naturally the results are not good. But then anyone who set out to cross America using the methods of Jack Kerouac's similarly semi-autobiographical spokesman "Sal Paradise" from On the Road would hardly fare much better ...



Jack Kerouac: On the Road (1958)


What then, in the Victorian era, seemed bizarre: the deliberate fabrication of a "travel persona" to act as your print protagonist, is now commonplace. The "Bruce Chatwin" or "Bill Bryson" of the travel books resemble only in part those actual individuals.

Travel literature, though it continues to be shelved under "non-fiction" in libraries and bookshops, has always contained a good deal of more-or-less true, or grotesquely exaggerated, or even downright invented material.



Augustus Burnham Shute: Illustration for Melville's Typee (1892)


Melville had the same problem with his own early works. People simply could not get it through their heads that his first book Typee was a novelised version of reality, not a direct transcript of events. So beguiled were they with the winsome Fayaway, from that far-off cannibal valley in the Marquesas Islands (as you can see from the illustration above, her appeal, in the buttoned-up United States of the mid-nineteenth century, is not so terribly hard to fathom), that Melville became, overnight, a kind of sex symbol.

The trouble was that whatever Melville was (and he himself never seemed quite sure), it certainly wasn't that. He was a very much stranger proposition: more of a forerunner of Kafka or Borges than an American avatar of Victor Hugo.

I've written quite a lot about Melville on this blog (and elsewhere): about his poetry; about the claims of Moby-Dick to be considered that mythical beast, the Great American Novel; also about the trials and tribulations of his principal biographer, Hershel Parker. However, I've never written about George Borrow before, despite my early exposure to his works in the form of the beguiling and bewildering Lavengro.



E. J. Sullivan: The Rommany chi (1900)


Why is that? I suppose because despite the obvious parallels between the two, the differences are perhaps even more striking. To put it simply, Borrow never wrote a Moby-Dick or a "Bartleby." Nor, unfortunately, do his posthumous papers appear to contain any lurking parallels to Billy Budd: just piles and piles of poems and ballads in translation.

His fanatical anti-Catholicism is a bit offputting, too - and there's something rather un-English about his boastful self-vaunting and his obvious pride in his own linguistic and literary accomplishments. One can't help feeling, though, that if he had written in a country more in need of literary heroes, as America certainly was in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, that he might have carved out more of a place in the pantheon for himself.

Melville too (dare one say it) has his faults. There's a laborious jocularity in many of his short stories, for instance, which robs them of their full effect. Even the very best of them, "Bartleby," is nearly ruined at the last minute by that add-on information about the "Dead Letter Office." Pierre may have been unjustly criticised at the time for its challenging theme of emotional incest, but even one of his greatest admirers, Hershel Parker, has taken it upon himself to "improve" it by removing the bitter middle section about Pierre's misadventures as an author:



Herman Melville: Pierre: The Kraken Edition, ed. Hershel Parker (1851 / 1995)


Borrow, let's state it plainly, is no Melville. He operates on a distinctly different plane than that. But his charms and accomplishments as an author are many.

Or so (at least) it appears to me. The wikipedia entry on his 1862 travel book Wild Wales describes his narrative voice as "distinctive and at times a little overbearing," and complains that he "never returned to deepen his knowledge and failed to cover the many parts of Wales he left out of this work." I suppose that few books cover the many things they were forced to leave out, when you really think about it.



George Borrow: Wild Wales (1862)


My suspicion that the author of this entry must be a disgruntled native Welshman is deepened by the following passage:
The author makes much of his self-taught ability to speak the Welsh language and how surprised the native Welsh people he meets and talks to are by both his linguistic abilities and his travels, education and personality, and also by his idiosyncratic pronunciation of their language.
I suspect I would feel much the same if I were forced to read the peregrinations of some Sassenach bigmouth through the Scottish Highlands, but since I have no such emotional link to Wales, I'm able to interpret this particular work as quite readable and charming. I can, however understand why this particular page has not one but two notices on it for "imprecise citations" and "importation of original research"!

Borrow, then, is definitely an acquired taste. I fear that I acquired it long ago, when I first picked up a copy of Lavengro in a local secondhand shop. Even now I can't look through its pages without having my spirits lifted: it seems so alive still.

You may not have the same experience, mind you. He is odd, a very eccentric (and egocentric) writer. But then I'm reliably informed that there are many who are impervious to the charms of Melville, too - who can't get past the first page of Moby-Dick, and don't see what all the fuss is about "Billy Budd." I defy them to say that of "Bartleby," though.



Bruce Robinson, dir.: Withnail and I (1987)


The experience of reading Borrow for the first time is (dare I say it) a little like that morning walk in the country taken by the eponymous hero of Withnail and I. As he ruefully concludes, the terrifying locals he encounters are not at all like the denizens of the H. E. Bates novel he's been reading. They're something stranger, darker - and funnier - altogether.






John Thomas Borrow: George Borrow (c.1821-24)

George Henry Borrow
(1803-1881)


    Collections:

  1. Translations. Ed. Thomas J. Wise. 42 vols. Privately Printed, 1913-14.
  2. The Works of George Borrow, Edited with Much Hitherto Unpublished Manuscript. Ed. Clement Shorter. Norwich Edition. No. 533 of 775. 16 vols. London: Constable & Co. Ltd. / New York: Gabriel Wells, 1923-24.
    1. The Bible in Spain: or the Journey, Adventures, and Imprisonment of an Englishman in an Attempt to Circulate the Scriptures in the Peninsula (1843) [1]
    2. The Bible in Spain [2]
    3. Lavengro: The Scholar, the Gypsy, the Priest (1851) [1]
    4. Lavengro [2]
    5. The Romany Rye (1857) [1]
    6. The Romany Rye [2]
    7. The Songs of Scandinavia, and Other Poems and Ballads (1829) [1]
    8. The Songs of Scandinavia [2]
    9. The Songs of Scandinavia [3]
    10. The Zincali: An Account of the Gypsies in Spain (1841)
    11. Romano Lavo-Lil: A Wordbook of the Anglo-Romany Dialect (1874)
    12. Wild Wales: Its People, Language and Scenery (1862) [1]
    13. Wild Wales [2]
    14. Wild Wales [3]
    15. Miscellanies [1]
    16. Miscellanies [2]
  3. Ballads of All Nations: A Selection. 1826, 1835, 1913, 1923. Ed. R. Brimley Johnson from the Texts of Professor Herbert Wright. London: Alston Rivers Ltd., 1927.

  4. Books:

  5. The Zincali: An Account of the Gypsies of Spain. 1841. London: John Murray, 1908.
  6. The Bible in Spain: or, The Journeys, Adventures, and Imprisonments of an Englishman in an Attempt to Circulate the Scriptures in the Peninsula. 1843. Ed. Ulick Ralph Burke. London: John Murray, 1912.
  7. Lavengro: The Scholar, The Gypsy, The Priest. 1851. Illustrated by Claude A. Shepperson. Introduction by Charles E. Beckett. London: The Gresham Publishing Co. Ltd., n.d.
  8. The Romany Rye. 1857. The Nelson Classics. London: Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd., n.d.
  9. Wild Wales. 1862. Introduction by Brian Rhys. The Nelson Classics. London: Thomas Nelson & Sons Ltd., n.d.
  10. Romano Lavo-Lil: A Wordbook of the Anglo-Romany Dialect (1874)

  11. Translations:

  12. Tales of the Wild and Wonderful (London: Hurst, Robinson, and Co., 1825)
  13. Klinger, Friedrich Maximilian. Faustus, his Life, Death and Descent into Hell. 1791 (Norwich: W. Simpkin and R. Marshall, 1825)
  14. Romantic Ballads, Translated from the Danish; and Miscellaneous Pieces (Norwich: S. Wilkin / London: John Taylor / Wightman and Cramp, 1826)
  15. The Talisman: From the Russian of Alexander Pushkin, with Other Pieces (St Petersburg: Schulz and Beneze, 1835)
  16. Targum, or Metrical Translations from Thirty Languages and Dialects (St Petersburg: Schulz and Beneze, 1835)
  17. [with Stepan Vaciliyevich Lipovtsov] The Manchu New Testament (St Petersburg: The British and Foreign Bible Society, 1835)
  18. The Gypsy Luke [Embéo e Majaró Lucas] (1837)
  19. Wyn, Elis. The Sleeping Bard, or Visions of the World, Death and Hell. Translated from the Cambrian British (London: John Murray, 1860)
  20. The Turkish Jester; or, The Pleasantries of Cogia Nasr Eddin Effendi. Translated from the Turkish (Ipswich: W. Webber, 1884)
  21. Ewald, Johannes. The Death of Balder: From the Danish (London: Jarrold & Sons, 1889)



George Borrow: Collected Works (1923-24)


Saturday, July 10, 2021

A Memorial Brass: i.m. Ted Jenner (1946-2021)



Ted Jenner and friends
[l-to-r: Hamish Dewe, Jack Ross, Ted Jenner, Brett Cross]


Edward [Ted] Jenner (1946-8 July 2021) was a friend of mine. I guess one of the things I appreciated most about Ted was his unfailing cheerfulness and unflappability even when things appeared to be going very, very wrong indeed.

Perhaps it was his long years working as a Classics lecturer in Malawi that accustomed him to sudden emergencies, or perhaps it was the hand-to-mouth nature of his life as a writer and teacher in New Zealand, but I never saw him at a loss for a wise and witty thing to say.

I had heard that he was ill, and even in hospital, but I'm sorry to say that the news of his death from cancer in the early hours of Friday morning still came as a shock. He wore his years lightly. He was one of that group of baby-boomer New Zealand poets, all born in 1946, at the close of World War II – Sam Hunt, Bill Manhire, Ian Wedde prominent among them – who've been so influential on our literature.

Much though I always enjoyed chatting to Ted – he was a marvellously learned man, a trained classicist with an expertise in Ancient Greek – I suppose it would be true to say that my only real intimate knowledge of him came through his books. The below is probably not a complete list, but it includes all the titles I myself own:



Ted Jenner: A Memorial Brass (1980)


  1. A Memorial Brass. Eastbourne, Wellington: Hawk Press, 1980.



  2. Ted Jenner: Dedications (1991)


  3. Dedications. Auckland: Omphalos Press, 1991.



  4. Ted Jenner: Love Songs of Ibykos (1997)


  5. The Love-Songs of Ibykos: 22 Fragments. Images by John Reynolds. Auckland: Holloway Press, 1997.



  6. Ted Jenner: Sappho Triptych (2007)


  7. Sappho Triptych. Auckland: Puriri Press, 2007.



  8. Ted Jenner: Writers in Residence (2009)


  9. Writers in Residence and Other Captive Fauna. Auckland: Titus Books, 2009.



  10. Ted Jenner, ed.: brief the fortieth (2010)


  11. brief 40 (July 2010). Ed. Ted Jenner. Auckland: Titus Books, 2010.



  12. Ted Jenner: The Gold Leaves (2014)


  13. The Gold Leaves (Being an Account and Translation from the Ancient Greek of the 'So-Called' Orphic Tablets). Pokeno: Atuanui Press, 2014.



  14. Bill Direen, ed.: Percutio 10: Ted Jenner Issue (2016)


  15. Complete Gold Leaves: Transcriptions of Sixteen Ancient Greek Gold Lamellae. Compiled with English Translations. Dunedin: Percutio Publications, 2016. [In Bill Direen, ed. Percutio 10: A Special Issue devoted to two projects by Classicist and poet Edward Jenner (2016).]



  16. Ted Jenner: The Arrow That Missed (2017)


  17. The Arrow that Missed. Lyttelton: Cold Hub Press, 2017.



Ted Jenner: Sappho Triptych (1980)


Looking back, I seem to have written quite a lot about Ted's work over the years:
  • There's a brief introduction to it here, on this blog.
  • Then there's my review-essay of his Writers in Residence, on the online poetics journal Ka Mate Ka Ora.
  • And, more recently, there's my review of The Arrow that Missed from Poetry NZ Yearbook 2018.

I'm not sure that there's any need to repeat all that here. Suffice it to say that for me, Ted Jenner combined the twin virtues of precise, scrupulous scholarship with an equally strong taste for experimental fiction and poetry – not that I think he saw much difference between the two genres, and, the way he wrote, there really wasn't.

I borrowed the title for this piece from his earliest book, A Memorial Brass, exquisitely printed by Alan Loney at the Hawk Press in 1980. I'd like to conclude with some more of Ted's own words, taken from the title poem:

My dear, they call us bourgeois
But it was essentially

A bourgeois thing to do –
An image of conjugal

Faith – to cross the hands over chest
And breast and stand on

The goblin pups, a monumental
Brass patent

For the bloodstream-fevers.
I remember it was cold

That May with added expense, upkeep
of allotment, and late

Spring blooms falling fierce as
Snow on the gale-lashed

Oats. Very soon a priest mumbled eight
Sacrificia patriarchae nostri

Above us. Commenting now on the
Canon of his mass, I

Like to think it was
Easy in Abraham's time –

Knowledge and fear were deliberate
Then, total, without cover; but

As for us, we lie awake
Until the sleeping's over.

My profoundest condolences to Ted's wife, Vasalua. If he were here I'm sure he could find the perfect words to thank her for making the last years of his life perhaps the happiest of all.

As for me, I'd like to say once more Ave atque Vale: Hail and farewell, to one of the finest scholars and poets I've ever known. Perhaps we'll meet again some day, when the sleeping's over.



Ted Jenner: Love Songs of Ibykos (1997)






NZ Herald obituaries:
A service to celebrate Ted's life will be held at the All Souls Chapel, Purewa, 100 St Johns Road, Meadowbank on Tuesday 13 July at 1pm. No flowers by request please but donations to Forest and Bird would be welcome.

You can link to some other tributes to Ted here.




Sunday, July 04, 2021

The Mysteries of Auckland: Jules Verne



Jules Verne: Deux ans de vacances (1888)


As I remarked in my earlier post on Jules Verne, I recall being much entertained by his 1888 novel A Long Vacation, which I ran across in the Murrays Bay Intermediate School Library in the early 1970s.

I realise now that that Oxford University Press edition - beautifully illustrated though it was by Hungarian artist Victor G. Ambrus, who died earlier this year at the age of 85 - was even more severely abridged than is usual with Verne's books in English.

Given that part of the attraction seems to have been the fact that it was - at least in its opening chapters - set in my part of the world, Auckland. So I thought it might be interesting to compare Verne's original version with the picture of the city conveyed by his translator.



Jules Verne: A Long Vacation (1967)


À cette époque, la pension Chairman était l’une des plus estimées de la ville d’Auckland, capitale de la Nouvelle-Zélande, importante colonie anglaise du Pacifique. On y comptait une centaine d’élèves, appartenant aux meilleures familles du pays. Les Maoris, qui sont les indigènes de cet archipel, n’auraient pu y faire admettre leurs enfants pour lesquels, d’ailleurs, d’autres écoles étaient réservées.

Il n’y avait à la pension Chairman que de jeunes Anglais, Français, Américains, Allemands, fils des propriétaires, rentiers, négociants ou fonctionnaires du pays. Ils y recevaient une éducation très complète, identique à celle qui est donnée dans les établissements similaires du Royaume-Uni.
- Jules Verne: Deux ans de vacances (1888), 58-81.


["At that time, the Chairman School was one of the most prestigious in the town of Auckland, capital of New Zealand, a major English colony in the Pacific. It included roughly a hundred students, belonging to the best families in the country. The Maoris, who are the native race of this archipelago, were not able to send their children there, although there were other schools reserved for them.

The Chairman School catered only to young English, French, American and German boys, sons of the property owners, businessmen, merchants or civil servants of the country. They received there a very complete education, identical to that provided by similar institutions in the United Kingdom."
- all translations are by me, unless noted otherwise.]


The passengers on the Sloughie were all pupils of the Chairman School, one of the best in Auckland, which was at that time the capital of New Zealand. The school numbered about a hundred pupils: English, French, American, and German. Its traditions and plan of study were those current in the educational institutions of England.
- Jules Verne: A Long Vacation, trans. Olga Marx (1967), 19-24.

You'll notice at once how much franker Jules Verne's original is about the colour-bar between such British-style boarding schools as 'la pension Chairman' and the native schools reserved for the 'indigenous people of the country' than the 1960s English version dares to be.

This translation, by the industrious Olga Marx (1894-c.1980), better known for her versions of German writers such as Stefan George and Martin Buber, pares back the incidental detail so dear to Verne to convert his sprawling novel into a much tauter, more explicitly child-focussed adventure story.



Annex 1: Education in NZ in the 1860s



Traditionally, Māori educated some children in whare wānanga (houses of learning). From 1816 missionaries also established schools for Māori to teach them literacy and practical skills. These became more numerous in the 1830s and 1840s. British settlers arriving in New Zealand were often less well-educated than Māori.

... Between 1852 and 1876 provincial governments gave grants to existing schools and established more. School systems were well-developed in parts of the South Island, but less so in the North Island. Meanwhile, central government supported a separate ‘native school’ system for Māori children. By 1870 there was a free basic education system in many places but only about half of all children between five and 15 were attending school.

Secondary schools were few, highly academic and charged fees. Early examples included Auckland Grammar School (1869), Wellington College (1867) and Otago Boys’ High School (1863). In 1871 Otago Girls’ High School, the first girls’ secondary school, opened. Some scholarships were offered, but generally only children from well-off families made it to secondary school, and many more boys did so than girls.
- Te Ara / The Encyclopedia of New Zealand: Education from 1840 to 1918




And now, on with the story:



L’archipel de la Nouvelle-Zélande se compose de deux îles principales: au nord, Ika-Na-Mawi ou Île du Poisson, au sud, Tawaï-Ponamou ou Terre du Jade-Vert. Séparées par le détroit de Cook, elles gisent entre le 34e et le 45e parallèle sud – position équivalente à celle qu’occupe, dans l’hémisphère boréal, la partie de l’Europe comprenant la France et le nord de l’Afrique. (Verne, 59)

["The archipelago of New Zealand consists of two principal islands: to the North, Ika-Na-Mawi [Te Ika-a-Māui] or Isle of the Fish, to the south, Tawaï-Ponamou [Te Waipounamu] or Land of Greenstone. Separated by Cook Strait, they lie between the 34th and the 45th parallel south - a postion equivalent to that occupied by the part of Europe including France and North Africa in the Northern Hemisphere."]



J. Wareham: NZ: The South Island (c. 1860-69)


L’île d’Ika-Na-Mawi, très déchiquetée dans sa partie méridionale, forme une sorte de trapèze irrégulier, qui se prolonge vers le nord-ouest, suivant une courbe terminée par le cap Van-Diemen. (Verne, 59)

["The island of Te Ika-a-Māui, very spread out in its middle parts, forms a kind of irregular trapezoid, which is prolonged towards the north-west, following a curve terminated by Cape Van Diemen."]

It [Auckland] was located on Ika-Na-Mawi, on of the two main islands of the New Zealand archipelago, separated from the other, Tawaï-Ponamou, by Cook Strait ... (Marx 19)

Jules Verne's life-long habit of cribbing information from guide-books and magazine articles serves him well here: he has a pretty good grasp of precisely what New Zealand looks like - on the map, at any rate.



Special Collections, Auckland Library: Auckland (c. 1860)


C’est à peu près à la naissance de cette courbe, en un point où la presqu’île mesure seulement quelques milles, qu’est bâtie Auckland. La ville est donc située comme l’est Corinthe, en Grèce – ce qui lui a valu le nom de « Corinthe du Sud ». Elle possède deux ports ouverts, l’un à l’ouest,l’autre à l’est. Ce dernier, sur le golfe Hauraki, étant peu profond, il a fallu projeter quelques-uns de ces longs «piers», à la mode anglaise, où les navires de moyen tonnage peuvent venir accoster. Entre autres s’allonge le Commercial-pier, auquel aboutit Queen’s-street, l’une des principales rues de la cité.

C’est vers le milieu de cette rue que se trouvait la pension Chairman.
(Verne, 59-60)

["It's almost at the beginning of this curve, at a point where the isthmus measures only a few miles wide, that Auckland is built. The city is thus situated like Corinth, in Greece - which has earned it the title of the 'Corinth of the South.' It has two ports, one opening to the west, the other to the east. This last, on the Hauraki Gulf, being shallow, it has proved necessary to project some long 'piers', in the English mode, where ships of deeper draft can tie up. Commercial Pier, one among several others, links up with Queen Street, one of the principal streets of the city.

Chairman school can be found towards the middle of this street."]

Ika-Na-Mawi had a west and an east port. The latter, on the Gulf of Hauraki, was shallow, but piers built out into the water in the British manner made it possible for vessels of medium tonnage to berth there. One of these piers, Commercial Pier, was at the end of Queen's street where Chairman School was situated. (Marx 19)

It's news to me that Auckland was ever referred to as "the Corinth of the South", but then that kind of information is one of the interesting by-products of reading old books. In any case, the translator leaves out much of that information as largely irrelevant to contemporary readers.



Annex 2: Auckland geography in the 1860s



Auckland Heritage: The original line of the waterfront (1850s)


Auckland ... has, the luxury of two sheltered harbours to choose from: the Manukau on the west, with its lethal sandbar entrance and shallower channels, and the Waitemata on the east. Although the safer choice, the Waitemata waterfront, in its natural state, was a motley array of tidal beaches and mudflats which made loading and unloading the large sailing barques and brigantines a tricky and tedious business. The solution was a 1400′ (427m) long wharf jutting out into Commercial Bay, and once this was completed shops, warehouses, factories and hotels sprang up to receive, resell and redistribute the tons of cargo constantly being off-loaded there.

The area was soon the hub of Auckland’s commercial activity, and prime business real estate, but further inland was far less desirable. Where Aotea Square is now was once a swamp. Rainwater running downhill from Karangahape Ridge pooled in this hollow, before draining away to the harbour along a meandering trench known as the Waihorotiu Stream. Because the stream met the sea at a point near the new wharf, businesses soon sprang up alongside it, and the resulting caravan of wooden shops was declared to be Queen Street. Unfortunately the city had no provisions for sewage, and so Waihorotiu quickly became a low point hygienically, as well as geographically. Human waste and general garbage transformed the stream into a slow-moving cess pit, imparting an unsanitary odour over downtown Auckland and contributing to the spread of vermin, disease and death. In the 1880’s the stream was finally bricked in and paved over, and renamed Ligar’s Canal. Entombed beneath 21st century Queen St traffic and skyscrapers, it still courses through that same curious oval-section tunnel.



Auckland Heritage: Wharf Mill (1880s)


... But the waterfront was changing, or more correctly being changed. Plans were underway, beginning in the 1850’s, to establish commercial docks that could service any ships, and in greater numbers than a single wharf. The solution was to reclaim the harbour – fill in the foreshore and run the land right out past the shallows. To this end, work continued for over 100 years, but large sections were completed quite early on out of necessity.



Auckland Heritage: The Encom Building [Smeeton's Mill] (2016)


... Behind the façade – unchanged for over a hundred years – are the bones of a one hundred and fifty-five year old mill, once the largest and most prominent building in the area, now dwarfed by everything on the block. It marks the spot where Queen St once ended and the Waitemata Harbour began, now can no longer be seen from the waterfront. But it [Smeeton's] is still there, and thousands pass it daily.
- Auckland Heritage: Queen Street's Oldest Building (2016)




Having set the scene, it's time for the actual adventure story to begin:



Hursthouse: Auckland Port (1857)

Or, le 15 février 1860, dans l’après-midi, il sortait du dit pensionnat une centaine de jeunes garçons, accompagnés de leurs parents, l’air gai, l’allure joyeuse – des oiseaux auxquels on vient d’ouvrir leur cage.

En effet, c’était le commencement des vacances. Deux mois d’indépendance, deux mois de liberté. Et, pour un certain nombre de ces élèves, il y avait aussi la perspective d’un voyage en mer, dont on s’entretenait depuis longtemps à la pension Chairman. Inutile d’ajouter quelle envie excitait ceux auxquels leur bonne fortune allait permettre de prendre passage à bord du yacht Sloughi, qui se préparait à visiter les côtes de la Nouvelle-Zélande dans une promenade de circumnavigation.

Ce joli schooner, frété par les parents des élèves, avait été disposé pour une campagne de six semaines.
(Verne, 60-61)

["So, on the afternoon of the 15th of February, 1860, a hundred happy young boys, accompanied by their parents, burst out of the gates of the school with a joyful air - birds whose cage door has been flung open.

The long vacation had begun. Two months of independence, two months of liberty. And, for a certain number of these students, there was also the prospect of a sea voyage, as had long been the custom at the Chairman school. It's pointless to mention how much pleasure was felt by those whose good fortune would permit them to take passage on board the yacht Sloughi, which was preparing for a circumnavigation of both coasts of New Zealand.

This handsome schooner, rented by the parents of the students, had been victualled for a six weeks' voyage."]

On 14 February 1860, crowds of boys and their parents streamed out of the door. Vacation had begun, and they were going home for two months' of freedom and fun. A small number of boys had a special pleasure in store. They were going on a six weeks' cruise. (Marx 19)

Not a lot of information missing from Marx's concise summary there.



Il appartenait au père de l’un d’eux, M. William H. Garnett, ancien capitaine de la marine marchande, en qui l’on pouvait avoir toute confiance. Une souscription, répartie entre les diverses familles, devait couvrir les frais du voyage, qui s’effectuerait dans les meilleures conditions de sécurité et de confort. C’était là une grande joie pour ces jeunes garçons, et il eût été difficile de mieux employer quelques semaines de vacances. (Verne, 61)

["It belonged to one of their father's, Mr Wiliam H. Garnett, a retired Merchant Marine captain, in whom one could place complete confidence. A subscription, shared between various families, would cover the costs of the voyage, which would take place in the best circumstances of security and comfort. This would be a great pleasure for the young boys, and it would have been difficult for them to employ a few weeks of their vacation in a better manner."]

The father of one of them, Mr. William Garnett, a retired captain in the mercantile marine, owned a schooner, the Sloughie, and various families had joined to charter her to give their sons the opportunity to travel by sea in safety and comfort ... (Marx 19)


Circular Saw Line: Auckland Wharves (c.1860)


Le jour du départ avait été fixé au 15 février. En attendant, le Sloughi restait amarré par l’arrière à l’extrémité du Commercial-pier et, conséquemment, assez au large dans le port. L’équipage n’était pas à bord, lorsque, le 14 au soir, les jeunes passagers vinrent s’embarquer.

Le capitaine Garnett ne devait arriver qu’au moment de l’appareillage. Seuls, le maître et le mousse reçurent Gordon et ses camarades, – les hommes étant allés vider un dernier verre de wisky. Et même, après que tous furent installés et couchés, le maître crut pouvoir rejoindre son équipage dans un des cabarets du port, où il eut le tort impardonnable de s’attarder jusqu’à une heure avancée de la nuit. Quant au mousse, il s’était affalé dans le poste pour dormir
. (Verne, 72-73)

["The day of departure had been fixed for the 15th of February. In expectation, the Sloughi was attached to the very end of the Commerical pier, and, consequently, very much in the middle of the port. The crew was not yet on board, when, on the evening of the 14th, the young passengers came down to embark.

Captain Garnett was not due to arrive until the moment of loading the cargo. Only the mate and the cabin boy received Gordon and his friends - the rest of crew had gone to empty a last glass of Whisky. And even then, after all of them had been received and put to bed, the mate thought he had time to join the rest of his crew in one of the port taverns, where he made the terrible mistake of lingering until a late hour of the night. As for the cabin boy, he had left his post to go to bed."]

The Sloughie was to leave on 15 February, and the boys boarded the night before. The Captain was not due to arrive until sailing-time, and the crew were having last drinks at one of the many bars near the port. Only the helmsman and Moko were aboard to receive the passengers and, after these had gone to bed, the helmsman decided to spend the evening in town at a cabaret ... As for Moko, when there was no more for him to do, he too, went to bed. (Marx 22)

Despite that obvious attempt at a Māori name, 'Moko', the cabin-boy is described throughout by Verne as a "nègre" - a Black African. Marx seems unsure how to describe him, and so leaves the question of his precise ethnicity moot. Certainly he is never treated as an equal by any of the white schoolboys.



New Zealand: A Hand-book for Emigrants: Auckland in 1859 (1860)


Que se passa-t-il alors? Très probablement, on ne devait jamais le savoir. Ce qui est certain, c’est que l’amarre du yacht fut détachée par négligence ou par malveillance ... À bord on ne s’aperçut de rien.

Une nuit noire enveloppait le port et le golfe Hauraki. Le vent de terre se faisait sentir avec force, et le schooner, pris en dessous par un courant de reflux qui portait au large, se mit à fuir vers la haute mer.
(Verne, 73)

["What happened then? Very probably, we'll never know for sure. What's certain is that the cable attaching the yacht to the pier was let go by negligence or malice .. on board nobody noticed anything.

A black night enveloped the port and the Hauraki Gulf. The land wind was blowing hard, and the schooner, caught from behind by an adverse tide which carried it out, began to make its way out to the open sea."]

What happened then, no one knew. Only one thing was certain: either through negligence in the way her lines had been secured, or by some deliberate and malicious act the Sloughie broke loose from her piling. It was a starless night. The port and the Gulf of Hauraki lay in darkness. The wind freshened, and the schooner, caught in a strong current, was swept out to sea. (Marx 22)




Frederick Rice Stack: Auckland from Takapuna (1860)


Lorsque le mousse se réveilla, le Sloughi roulait comme s’il eût été bercé par une houle qu’on ne pouvait confondre avec le ressac habituel. Moko se hâta aussitôt de monter sur le pont... Le yacht était en dérive!

Aux cris du mousse, Gordon, Briant, Doniphan et quelques autres, se jetant à bas de leurs couchettes, s’élancèrent hors du capot. Vainement appelèrent-ils à leur aide! Ils n’apercevaient même plus une seule des lumières de la ville ou du port. Le schooner était déjà en plein golfe, à trois milles de la côte.
(Verne, 73)

["When the cabin boy woke up, the Sloughi was was rolling as if it had been hit by a storm which could not be confused by the usual backwash. Moko hastened up on the bridge ... the yacht was floating free.

At the shouts of the cabin boy, Briant, Doniphan and a few others, jumping from their bunks, ran out of the cabin. They shouted out for help in vain. They could no longer see a single one of the lights of the port. The schooner was already out in the gulf, three miles from the coast"]

When Moko woke she was rolling and pitching. He knew at once that she would not behave like that in port, ran up on deck, and saw that she was loose.

At his cries Briant, Gordon, and Doniphan jumped out of bed and joined him on deck. They called for help. Their voices were drowned by the crash of waves and the roaring wind. Not a single light from the city was visible. The schooner was already three miles out from the coast.
(Marx 22)




Tout d’abord, sur les conseils de Briant auquel se joignit le mousse, ces jeunes garçons essayèrent d’établir une voile, afin de revenir au port en courant une bordée. Mais, trop lourde pour pouvoir être orientée convenablement, cette voile n’eut d’autre effet que de les entraîner plus loin par la prise qu’elle donnait au vent d’ouest. Le Sloughi doubla le cap Colville, franchit le détroit qui le sépare de l’Île de la Grande-Barrière, et se trouva bientôt à plusieurs milles de la Nouvelle-Zélande. (Verne, 74)

["Right away, at the suggestion of Briant, seconded by the cabin boy, these young boys tried to hoist a sail, in order to return to port in the hopes of a rescue, But, too heavy to be hoisted comfortably, this sail had no effect except to take them further out, as a result of the west wind which had sprung up. The Sloughi rounded Cape Colville, threaded the strait which separates it from Great Barrier island, and soon found itself several miles from New Zealand."]

At Briant's sugggestion the boys, together with Moko, tried to hoist a sail in order to get back to port. But they were too inexperienced and accomplished the opposite of what they had set out to do. The Sloughie was carried farther and farther out to sea. She rounded Cape Colville and was soon many miles away from New Zealand. (Marx 22)

This is an interesting description. I find it hard to believe that any boat could be blown out of Auckland harbour all the way past Cape Colville without encountering one of the myriad islands of the Hauraki Gulf: - Waiheke, for instance - but I suppose some allowance must be made for poetic licence.



James Edward Buttersworth (1817-1894): Schooner in Stormy Seas


On comprend la gravité d’une pareille situation. Briant et ses camarades ne pouvaient plus espérer aucun secours de terre. Au cas où quelque navire du port se mettrait à leur recherche, plusieurs heures se passeraient avant qu’il eût pu les rejoindre, étant même admis qu’il fut possible de retrouver le schooner au milieu de cette profonde obscurité. Et d’ailleurs, le jour venu, comment apercevrait-on un si petit bâtiment, perdu sur la haute mer? Quant à se tirer d’affaire par leurs seuls efforts, comment ces enfants y parviendraient-ils? (Verne, 74)

["The seriousness of the situation was obvious. Briant and his companions could expect no more help from the shore. Even if a ship from the port set out in search of them, several hours would pass before it could catch up with them, even if it should prove possible to find the schooner in the midst of this profound darkness. And then, when day came, how would one be able to find so small a ship, lost on the high seas? As for getting out of trouble by their own efforts, how could these children achieve that?"]

Briant and his companions realized that no aid could come to them from land. A passing vessel was their only hope. But would such a vessel see a small schooner in the dark? (Marx 22)



Jules Verne: Deux ans de vacances (1888)


À Auckland, lorsque la disparition du Sloughi eut été constatée dans la nuit même du 14 au 15 février, on prévint le capitaine Garnett et les familles de ces malheureux enfants. Inutile d’insister sur l’effet qu’un tel événement produisit dans la ville, où la consternation fut générale.

Mais, si son amarre s’était détachée ou rompue, peut-être la dérive n’avait-elle pas rejeté le schooner au large du golfe ? Peut-être serait-il possible de le retrouver, bien que le vent d’ouest, qui prenait de la force, fût de nature à donner les plus douloureuses inquiétudes ?

Aussi, sans perdre un instant, le directeur du port prit-il ses mesures pour venir au secours du yacht. Deux petits vapeurs allèrent porter leurs recherches sur un espace de plusieurs milles en dehors du golfe Hauraki. Pendant la nuit entière, ils parcoururent ces parages, où la mer commençait à devenir très dure. Et, le jour venu, quand ils rentrèrent, ce fut pour enlever tout espoir aux familles frappées par cette épouvantable catastrophe.

En effet, s’ils n’avaient pas retrouvé le Sloughi, ces vapeurs en avaient du moins recueilli les épaves. C’étaient les débris du couronnement, tombés à la mer, après cette collision avec le steamer péruvien Quito – collision dont ce navire n’avait pas même eu connaissance.

Sur ces débris se lisaient encore trois ou quatre lettres du nom de Sloughi. Il parut donc certain que le yacht avait dû être démoli par quelque coup de mer, et que, par suite de cet accident, il s’était perdu corps et biens à une douzaine de milles au large de la Nouvelle-Zélande.
(Verne, 79-81)

["In Auckland, after the disappearance of the schooner had been noticed on the night of the 14th-15th of February, Captain Garnett and the various families of these unfortunate children were informed. It's unnecessary to stress what effect such an announcement had on the town, where it caused general consternation.

But, if the cable had been cut or broken, perhaps the ebb tide would have left the ship in the midst of the gulf? In which case, it might still be possible to find them, even though the west wind, which was gathering force, gave rise to much disquiet.

So, without losing a moment, the port director took measures to go to the assitance of the yacht. Two small steam tugs went out to search over a space of many miles around the Hauraki Gulf. Throughout the whole night, they continued their traverses, until the sea began to become very rough. And, when day came, and they returned, it was to remove all hope from the families struck by this terrible catastrophe.

In effect, if they hadn't found the Sloughi, these tugs had at least discovered a few traces of it, It was the debris from the bow, fallen into the sea, after that collision with the Peruvian steamer Quito - a collision which the ship in question had not even noticed.

On this debris three or four letters of the name Sloughi could be made out. It thus appeared certain that the yacht must have been destroyed by some giant wave, and, as a result of this accident, it had scattered bodies and goods over a dozen miles of the coast of New Zealand."]

In Auckland the disappearance of the schooner was discovered during the night of the fourteenth. Whether her lines had broken, whether someone had tampered with them, nobody knew. Two small steamers were immediately sent in search of the yacht. They went miles beyond the gulf and saw nothing of her. All they found was bits of floating wreckage. Part of a plank bore three or four letters which pointed to the name Sloughie. They reported their find, and everyone concluded that the schooner had been smashed to bits by the stormy sea. The families of the boys gave them up for lost, and the entire city of Auckland went into mourning. (Marx 24)

I suppose the collision with the South American tug wasn't strictly required by the exigencies of the narrative, but the floating wreckage seems a bit unmotivated as a result.

In any case, that's the end of the strictly Auckland-centred part of the story - until the triumphant return of the boys, after two years of adventures on a (mostly) deserted island.

Strangely enough, it's the French boy, Briant, and the American, Gordon, who really come up trumps: the British boys, led by 'Doniphan' [= Donovan?], hidebound by the rigid nature of their public school education, are too preoccupied with class and precedence to do much that's useful to ensure their own survival.



Jules Verne: A Long Vacation (1967)



Annex 3: Kindred and affinity



William Golding: Lord of the Flies (1957)


Some have seen in all this a forestaste of William Golding's book Lord of the Flies (1957), but Verne's is, for the most part, far too conventional a Robinsonade for that.



Johann Wyss: "New Switzerland" (1812)


To me, it's clear that the book's affinities lie more with Johann Wyss's The Swiss Family Robinson, as well as with Verne's own The Mysterious Island and L'École des Robinsons [School for Robinsons] (1882). There's still something haunting about it, though - for me, at any rate.



Jules Verne: L'Île mystérieuse (1875)




Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Henry Torrens: The Forgotten Man of the 1001 Nights



Should you ever have occasion to look up the name of Henry Torrens on Wikipedia, you may have some difficulty actually locating him. You'll find Major-General Sir Henry Torrens KCB, author of that standard textbook Field Exercise and Evolutions of the Army (1824):



Sir Henry Torrens (1779-1828)


Chances are you'll also find his grandson, the even more eminent Lieutenant General Sir Henry D'Oyley Torrens KCB KCMG, without too much trouble:



Felice Beato: Henry D'Oyley Torrens (1833-1889)


What you won't find, unless you look very hard indeed, is the entry on Henry Whitelock Torrens, son of the first, and father of the second of the military gentlemen listed above:
Henry Whitelock Torrens (20 May 1806 – 16 August 1852), son of Major-General Henry Torrens, was born on 20 May 1806. He received his B.A. at Christ Church, Oxford (where he was a president of the United Debating Society), and entered the Inner Temple. After a short service under the Foreign Office, he obtained a writership from the Court of Directors of the East India Company and arrived in India in November 1828 and held various appointments at Meerut. In 1835 he joined the Secretariat, in which he served in several departments under Sir William Hay Macnaghten. In 1839 he assisted in the editing of the Calcutta Star, a weekly paper, which became a daily paper called the Eastern Star. He was secretary (1840–1846) and a Vice-President (1843–1845) to the Asiatic Society of Bengal (now the Asiatic Society). In December 1846, he was appointed Agent to the Governor-General at Murshidabad. Here in his endeavours to improve the Nizamat administration, his relations with the Nawab Nizam and his officials became greatly strained.
He was a clever essayist as well as a journalist and scholar, and his scattered papers were deservedly collected and published at Calcutta in 1854.
Torrens died of dysentery at Calcutta while on a visit to the Governor-General on 16 August 1852 and was buried in the Lower Circular Road Cemetery.
A bit of a nobody, one might feel tempted to conclude: a lawyer and journalist, who died young, leaving behind a son and a pile of "scattered papers."

What this entry fails to mention, however, is his importance as the author of the first serious attempt at a complete English translation of the 1001 Nights from the Arabic. He is included on the page devoted to Translations of One Thousand and One Nights, however:
Henry Torrens translated the first fifty nights from Calcutta II, which were published in 1838. Having heard that Edward William Lane began his own translation, Torrens abandoned his work.


There's a bit more to it than that, however. Luckily Richard Burton, in the preface to his own complete 1885 translation of the collection, is somewhat more expansive:
At length in 1838, Mr. Henry Torrens, B.A., Irishman, lawyer ("of the Inner Temple") and Bengal Civilian, took a step in the right direction; and began to translate, "The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night," (1 vol., 8vo, Calcutta: W. Thacker and Co.) from the Arabic of the Ægyptian (!) MS. edited by Mr. (afterwards Sir) William H. Macnaghten. The attempt, or rather the intention, was highly creditable; the copy was carefully moulded upon the model and offered the best example of the verbatim et literatim style. But the plucky author knew little of Arabic, and least of what is most wanted, the dialect of Egypt and Syria. His prose is so conscientious as to offer up spirit at the shrine of letter; and his verse, always whimsical, has at times a manner of Hibernian whoop which is comical when it should be pathetic. Lastly he printed only one volume of a series which completed would have contained nine or ten.
- Richard F. Burton, "The Translator's Foreword." A Plain and Literal Translation of the Arabian Nights Entertainments, Now Entituled The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, 10 vols. Benares: Kamashastra Society, 1885. vol.1: xi.
You'll note that his wikipedia entry above made no mention of Torrens' Irish antecedents. Burton's remarks about the "Hibernian whoop" in his verses underlines it rather patronisingly ("plucky" seems a rather belitting epithet to apply to a fellow author, also). The curious thing is that Burton himself was often discriminated against as an Irishman by his intensely class and caste-conscious English contemporaries. Whilst he himself was born in Torquay, both of his parents were of Irish extraction.

Anyway, whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, here are the title-pages of Torrens' two principal publications. Fortunately both are readily available online as free e-texts:


  1. Torrens, Henry. The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night: From the Arabic of the Aegyptian Ms. as edited by Wm Hay Macnaghten, Esqr., Done into English by Henry W. Torrens. Calcutta: W. Thacker & Co. / London: W. H. Allen & Co., 1838.


  2. Hume, James, ed. A Selection from the Writings, Prose and Poetical, of the late Henry W. Torrens, Esq., B.A., Bengal Civi Service, and of the Inner Temple; with a Biographical Memoir. 2 vols. Calcutta & London: R. C. Lepage & Co., 1854.

The editor of the second of these volumes explains that:
I have taken nearly all the poetry from the volume of the Arabian Nights ... because I found selection most difficult where all appeared good. The book is out of print, or nearly so I believe, and the severest critic will not blame me for preserving what otherwise might soon have been lost, or at any rate difficult to procure.
So who's correct? Did Torrens have any poetic talent or not? Burton (of course) had a tendency to play down the merits of any possible rivals. He himself has a reputation as a most execrable versifier (unlike his fellow Nights translator, John Payne).



William Harvey: The Ifrit and the Lady (1839)


Perhaps, then, you should judge for yourselves:
Then they both gave her rings from off their hands, and she said to them, "This Ufreet carried me off secretly on the night of my marriage, and put me into a coffer, and placed the coffer in a chest, and put on the chest seven strong locks, and laid me low in the midst of the roaring sea, the ever restless in the dashing of waves; yet he does not know that when a woman desires aught, there is nothing can prevail against her, as certain poets say.
"With confidence no women grace,
Nor trust an oath that's given by them;
Passion's the source and resting place,
Of anger and joy with them;
False love they show with lying face,
But ’neath the cloak all's guile with them;
In Yoosoof's story you may trace,
Some of the treacheries rife in them;
See ye not father Adam's case?
He was driven forth by cause of them.
Certain poets too have said,
“But alas! for you, who blame me
Fix the blamed one in his fault!
Is the sin with which you shame me,
Great and grievous as you call't?
Say, I be indeed a lover,
Have I done aught greater crime
Than in all men you discover,
Even from the olden time?
Ne'er at earthly thing I'll wonder,
Whatsoe'er the marvel be,
Till on one I chance to blunder
Scaped from woman's wile scot free."
The passage above comes from the frame-story to the Nights, where the two brothers Shahryar and Shahzaman, having executed their wives for adultery, are riding out to try and discover a virtuous woman. This one, even though she was abducted on her wedding night by a seemingly all-powerful Ifrit, has still managed to cuckold him more than 500 times.



Albert Letchford: The Ifrit and the Lady (1897)


Here's Burton's 1885 version of the same passage:
When they had drawn their two rings from their hands and given them to her, she said to them, "Of a truth this Ifrit bore me off on my bride-night, and put me into a casket and set the casket in a coffer and to the coffer he affixed seven strong padlocks of steel and deposited me on the deep bottom of the sea that raves, dashing and clashing with waves; and guarded me so that I might remain chaste and honest, quotha! that none save himself might have connexion with me. But I have lain under as many of my kind as I please, and this wretched Jinni wotteth not that Destiny may not be averted nor hindered by aught, and that whatso woman willeth the same she fulfilleth however man nilleth. Even so saith one of them:—
'Rely not on women;
Trust not to their hearts,
Whose joys and whose sorrows
Are hung to their parts!
Lying love they will swear thee
Whence guile ne'er departs:
Take Yusuf for sample
'Ware sleights and 'ware smarts!
Iblis ousted Adam
(See ye not?) thro' their arts.'
And another saith:—
'Stint thy blame, man! 'Twill drive to a passion without bound;
My fault is not so heavy as fault in it hast found.
If true lover I become, then to me there cometh not
Save what happened unto many in the by-gone stound.
For wonderful is he and right worthy of our praise
Who from wiles of female wits kept him safe and kept him sound.'"


John Tenniel: The Sleeping Genie and the Lady (1865)


And here's John Payne's (1882):
So each of them took off a ring and gave it to her. And she said to them, "Know that this genie carried me off on my wedding night and laid me in a box and shut the box up in a glass chest, on which he clapped seven strong locks and sank it to the bottom of the roaring stormy sea, knowing not that nothing can hinder a woman, when she desires aught, even as says one of the poets:
I rede thee put no Faith in womankind,
Nor trust the oaths they lavish all in vain:
For on the satisfaction of their lusts
Depend alike their love and their disdain.
They proffer lying love, but perfidy
Is all indeed their garments do contain.
Take warning, then, by Joseph's history,
And how a woman sought to do him bane;
And eke thy father Adam, by their fault
To leave the groves of Paradise was fain.
Or as another says:
Out on yon! blame confirms the blamed one in his way.
My fault is not so great indeed as you would say.
If I'm in love, forsooth, my case is but the same
As that of other men before me, many a day.
For great the wonder were if any man alive
From women and their wiles escape unharmed away!"


My 1001 Nights Project: The Ifrit and his Stolen Bride (tumblr)


So what do you think? I certainly think it would be difficult to claim that Torrens's version was any worse than either of the others. On the contrary, it's much easier to follow, and seems to mean much the same thing. As for Burton's accusation that the former's translation exemplified "the verbatim et literatim style," it's surely the case that both Payne and Burton make far greater efforts to follow the verbal and syntactical oddities of the original Arabic.

No doubt it's true that Torrens gave up on his project when he heard that Edward W. Lane was engaged in a not dissimiar work - not knowing, perhaps, how sadly bowdlerised the resulting translation would turn out to be. There's a curious echo, there, of Burton's discovery, fifty years later, that John Payne was embarked on the same project of a complete and literal translation of The Thousand Nights and One Night.

Unlike Torrens, though, Burton did not choose to step aside meekly. Instead he offered Payne priority of publication, but then went on to issue his own extensively annotated version a year later. The embarrassing similarities between large parts of the two translations has led to accusations of plagiarism on Burton's part. Whether or not this is true, even Burton admitted that when a previous scholar has hit on the perfect way to express something, it would be needless pedantry to insist on phrasing it differently. Make of that what you will.

It does seem possible that Burton was so scornful of Torrens because the latter resembled him in so many ways: the 'un-English' exuberance of manner, the gift for languages ... Unlike Torrens, though, Burton was sent down from Oxford without a degree, and managed to antagonise almost all of his well-wishers both in India and England.

Torrens, by contrast, managed to work harmoniously even with the eminent but eccentric William Hay Macnaghten, whose four-volume edition of the Arabic text of the 1001 Nights - the basis for his own translation - remains a monumental and irreplaceable work.



Of course, to anyone familiar with the history of nineteenth-century India, and particularly the ill-judged 1839 invasion of Afghanistan, Macnaghten is better known as the blundering political officer who was captured and killed by the Afghans in December 1841, shortly before the disastrous retreat from Kabul - generally thought to be among the worst military disasters in British history.

Macnaghten has a cameo role in the section devoted to the Afghanistan debacle in George MacDonald Fraser's irreverent but highly readable pisstake version of imperial history Flashman (1969), which purports to be the memoirs of the bully from Tom Brown's Schooldays.



George MacDonald Fraser: Flashman (1839-42)


Interestingly enough, the city I live in, Auckland, is named after George Eden, 1st Earl of Auckland, Governor-General of India between 1836 and 1842, whose other great claim to fame is principal responsibility for the Afghanistan disaster.

My father could never walk past the toga'd statue of the great fool - originally erected in Calcutta in 1848, but donated to our city in 1969 - without shaking his fist and calling down curses upon his name.

The connections are all there, once you're ready to see them.