Sims Reed Rare Books×

The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night. (Alf Layla wa Layla). Translated from the Arabic by Captain Sir R.F. Burton. Reprinted from the original edition and edited by Leonard C. Smithers

Arabian Nights. Burton, Sir Richard. F. (Trans.)

London. H.S. Nichols and Co. 1894
A beautiful set of Sir Richard Burton's translation of Alf Layla wa Layla, The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night.

The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, a closer translation of the Arabic title of Alf Layla wa Layla than 'The Thousand and One Nights' is narrated by Scheherezade in an effort to delay her death. An enormous compendium of story-telling, it is thought that the work is a composite from a wide variety of Indian, Persian and Arab sources which from a small initial core amalgamated other story cycles; the earliest fragment dates from the 9th century.

Sir Richard Burton (1821 - 1890) had long worked on a translation of the cycle - he describes it as a 'labour of love' and 'a talisman against ennui and despondency' - and after a number of setbacks including the death of his collaborator Steinhauser (to whom Burton dedicated the work) and the loss of his manuscript, he finished. Burton's translation was published originally in 1885 in Benares by the Kamashastra Society for subscribers only, Lady Burton issued an expurgated edition in 1886 before the present edition was issued. This first Nichols / Smithers 'Library Editon' (a further edition was published in 1897), has almost all passages restored which had been omitted from Lady Burton's edition; as Smithers points out in his 'Editor's Note', 'certain gross passages' as well as some of the 'translator's 'anthropological' notes' - some 215 pages! - were omitted on grounds of their obscenity, and, further, omissions aside, that Lady Burton's edition reprinted only the first ten volumes of the original sixteen.

'The reader has, therefore, the most complete English edition of The Nights that can ever be published, the extreme grossness of the few words and passages omitted absolutely precluding their appearance … they enable this great monument of Eastern literature - an acknowledged masterpiece of translation - to be freed from the burdensome restriction of being kept under lock and key, and to take its proper place on the library shelf alongside Cervantes and Shakespeare.' (Leonard Smithers writing in the Editor's Note).
12 vols. Large 8vo. (257 x 174 mm). Half-title, frontispiece with Arabic quotations verso and printed title in red and black to each vol., 'Editor's Note', reproduction of the title in red and black of the Kamashastra Edition, leaf with black-bordered dedication to 'John Frederick Steinhauser, contents and 'The Translator's Preface' to vol. 1 and Burton's text translated from the Arabic; publisher's slip inserted between endpapers of each vol. Original publisher's black cloth with large gilt Islamic motif and title in Arabic (Alf Layla wa Layla) to front covers, gilt calligraphic Arabic titles to rear covers, vignettes and English titles gilt to spines, cream glazed endpapers, t.e.g.

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