The Arabian Nights was introduced to Europe in a French translation by Antoine Galland in 1704, and rapidly attained a unique popularity. There are even accounts of the translator being roused from sleep by bands of young men under his windows in Paris, importuning him to tell them another story.
The learned world at first refused to believe that M. Galland had not invented the tales. But he had really discovered an Arabic manuscript from sixteenth-century Egypt, and had consulted Oriental story-tellers. In spite of inaccuracies and loss of color, his twelve volumes long remained classic in France, and formed the basis of our popular translations.
A more accurate version, corrected from the Arabic, with a style admirably direct, easy, and simple, was published by Dr. Jonathan Scott in 1811. This is the text of the present edition.
The Moslems delight in stories, but are generally ashamed to show a literary interest in fiction. Hence the world's most delightful story book has come to us with but scant indications of its origin. Critical scholarship, however, has been able to reach fairly definite conclusions.
The reader will be interested to trace out for himself the similarities in the adventures of the two Persian queens, Schehera-zade, and Esther of Bible story, which M. de Goeje has pointed out as indicating their original identity (Encyclopædia Britannica, “Thousand and One Nights”). There are two or three references in tenth-century Arabic literature to a Persian collection of tales, called The Thousand Nights, by the fascination of which the lady Schehera-zade kept winning one more day's lease of life. A good many of the tales as we have them contain elements clearly indicating Persian or Hindu origin. But most of the stories, even those with scenes laid in Persia or India, are thoroughly Mohammedan in thought, feeling, situation, and action.