« AnteriorContinua »
gave alms again he would divorce her. Now a great famine fell upon the land, and one day a beggar came and asked for food, and she gave him three butter-cakes. As the beggar was going away her husband met him, and found out who had given him the cakes. Rushing home in wrath, he not only turned his wife out of the house, but he smote her and broke her arm. The divorced wife found her way to a distant city, where she became married to a good husband, and all things went well with her. But it was just the opposite with her first husband, whose miserly habits brought about his ruin. Obliged to beg his bread from door to door, chance at last directed his steps to the house where lived she who had been his wife. The second husband, not recognising the first, invited him to sit at his table. But the wife, seeing who the guest was, sat silent and ate nothing. Asked by her husband why she did so, she told the story of her life. Strange is thy story, O wife, but mine is still stranger,' said her second husband. 'The beggar who came then to thy door, and to whom thou gavest the three butter-cakes, was myself. At that time I was poor and needy, but always charitable. What I received, that was I wont to share with orphans and the poor. Thou wert suitable for me, but not for him. Therefore has God freed thee from him, and bestowed thee upon me.'
Some of these Turkish tales have had a wide circulation in Western Europe. As an example may be taken the well-known story of the sceptical sultan who is told to dip his head under water, and endures, in fancy, years of misery before he lifts it out again. In one of them, an oriental sage plays the part of the 'Pied Piper of Hamelin,' inducing all the mice of Constantinople to follow out of the city a bier, mouse-drawn, containing a dead mouse. Unluckily, the emperor, although he has been strictly charged to preserve his gravity, bursts out laughing before the exodus is accomplished, and so the charm is broken, and the plague of mice is not stayed. In another a Turkish Fridolin, having been calumniated by an envious knave, is charged with a letter destining him to be skinned and stuffed. But, like the innocent hero of Schiller's Gang nach dem Eisenhammer, he is rescued from the terrible death to which he has been secretly sentenced, and which closes the career of his envious calumniator instead. The theme, also, of 'Get up and bar the door, O,' is treated in the thirtieth of the tales of the Forty Viziers, in which a number of men are about to eat a meal, when a difficulty arises as to who shall get up and shut the door. It is agreed that whoever speaks first shall do so. While they sit silently, in come some dogs and begin to devour their food. Each man remains mute. But at last one of them is bitten by an unsatiated dog, whereupon he yells out. Straightway his companions exclaim, Get up and shut the door to.' But, instead of dwelling upon obvious similarities, we will
Forty Viziers, No. 64.
proceed to quote a few stories which are at once unfamiliar and characteristic. Tradition asserts that each of the great prophets had the choice offered him, once in his lifetime, of living or dying. But the desire to be with the All-merciful led them all to ask for death to end their days. When Solomon was ruling on earth, the angel Gabriel was sent to him one day with a goblet filled with the water of life, and bearing from on high the message that, if he chose, he might drink of the water and become immortal. Calling together all his wisest councillors, he asked their advice. They, with one consent, advised him to drink and live for ever. Then he summoned the birds of the air and the beasts, of the field, and all of them gave the same advice, with one solitary exception. This was the hedgehog. Approaching the throne, and bending its brow to the ground, thus did it speak: If this water may be shared by thee with thy kith and kin, then drink and enjoy the bliss of living. But if it is intended for thee alone, then do not drink. For sad would it be for thee to live on, but to see thy kinsmen and friends one after the other disappear.' 'True are thy words, O hedgehog,' replied the king. To me alone has the water of life been sent. As thou hast counselled so will I decide.' Thus spake Solomon; and the water of life did he not drink.9
Of course, the Turkish story-teller admits, a man's love for his kith and kin must vary with their merits. Some sort of love, however, must all men possess who are worthy of the name. On this fact a Mohammedan preacher laid great stress one day. While he was holding forth, there burst into the mosque a man who had lost his donkey, crying aloud and asking if anyone had seen an ass pass that way. Thereupon the preacher asked, 'Is there any man here who has never loved?' Up rose a grey-haired man, and said, 'Here is one.' 'Behold an ass!' answered the preacher, turning to the owner of the missing animal.10 As regards wedded love, a great deal depends upon the wife's character, as the following story shows. Hearing one day that a peasant had found a vault full of wheat, each grain of which was as big as a date-stone, a certain king desired greatly to know what manner of men lived on earth at the time when that corn grew. Being advised to consult a wise and aged yeoman, he sent a messenger to him with a sample of the grain. On the way the messenger met a friend, who begged him to ask the wise old man two other questions: Why does a man's hair turn white when he grows old? and why does age improve a man's good looks and impair those of a woman?' The messenger found out the old yeoman, and proposed to him his first problem. The old man, whose
Parrot-Book, 11th Evening. Compare with this story Dr. Wendell Holmes' charming verses in the Autocrat of the Breakfast-table, entitled 'The Old Man
10 Ibid. 20th Evening.
hair was blanched, and whose form was bowed and broken by age, said he knew nothing about the corn, and referred the visitor to his elder brother. The second old man, though more aged than the first, was much more active and vigorous, and his beard had not yet turned grey. He also said he knew nothing about the corn, and sent the messenger on to a third and still older brother. This very old man turned out to be by far the least aged in appearance of the three, his beard being quite black, and his figure still youthful. From him the messenger obtained an answer to all his questions. A hundred years previously, it seemed, there lived on earth a people who were very God-fearing and pious; and in return for their piety did they receive from the Almighty that wondrous gift of gigantic grain. As regards white hair, continued the sage, blond or black locks are the sign of youth, but white is the sign of age on account of the clearness of its thoughts.' With respect to the different effect of age upon men and women, that arises from the fact that man was made of earth, which improves the longer it lies fallow; whereas woman was made of flesh, which is liable to decay and corruption. Having received these answers, the messenger asked, moreover, how it was that the youngest of the three brothers was the most decrepit, and the eldest the least. This also the sage explained. His youngest brother, he said, had foul land and an ugly and vicious wife; therefore was he so worn in appearance. The second brother possessed good land, but his wife, too, was bad and foul-favoured; therefore did he seem old, though not so stricken in years as his younger brother. But he himself, he went on to say, was blessed not only with good land, but also with a good-looking and good-hearted wife, and therefore was it that he, although the eldest of the three brothers, was by far the youngest in heart and frame; for the proverb truly says that a man's home is either his heaven or his hell.'"1
By way of a love story may be quoted the following. There was once an emperor of China, who, being suddenly aroused from slumber one morning, rushed at his awakener with drawn sword, and would have killed him had he not been held back. The disturber of his repose, being his chief vizier, was greatly astonished. But the emperor explained that he was dreaming about a lovely maiden when the vizier awoke him, and his wrath arose from his thereby being deprived of his angelic vision. Now the vizier was not only 'an Aristotle in intellect,' but he was also so cunning a painter that he produced a lifelike portrait of the dream-maiden from the emperor's description. This portrait he submitted to the view of all strangers and travellers who came that way, one of whom eventually recognised in it the likeness of the Princess of Greece. Off started the vizier for Greece, saw the princess, and found that she was all that
11 Parrot-Book, 29th Evening. It locally contains or heaven or hell,' says Antonio of marriage, in Webster's Duchess of Malfy.
the emperor's fancy and his own brush had painted her. Only she had vowed never to marry for the following reason. Walking in her garden one day, she saw an accidental fire consume a brood of peafowl. The peahen remained with her young and shared their fate. But the peacock selfishly flew away and left them to perish in the flames. Wherefore she despised and detested the male sex. Hearing this, the vizier obtained leave to ornament her palace, and painted on one of its walls a most attractive portrait of his emperor, who was represented as sitting on a throne in a pavilion, around which stretched a perfect Paradise. Through the foreground ran a pellucid stream, in the waters of which floated the dead bodies of a full-grown male antelope and several young ones, while a female antelope grazed tranquilly on the bank. Who is that man, and what are those animals?' asked the princess. That is the Emperor of China,' replied the vizier, 'and those are young antelopes which were accidentally drowned before his eyes one day. Their father shared their fate, but their mother deserted them. So disgusted was his majesty by this proof of the perfidy of the female sex that he has vowed never to marry.' Hearing this, the princess fell into a deep reverie, the end of which was that she acknowledged that perfidy might possibly be a female as well as a male complaint, and that so feeling an emperor would be likely to make her a fitting husband. Soon afterwards he and she were married, and so the emperor obtained what he had longed for.' 12 Finally let us turn to the stories in which some religious doctrine is inculcated. With a few slight changes, such as the substitution of the word Bible for Koran, and Sunday for Friday, the following tales might be told with edification among ourselves. The first relates how there once lived in Cairo a poor water-carrier, named Numan, who had an only child, a good boy, who studied the Koran assiduously, and an only camel to assist him in his daily avocations. One day the boy's teacher told him to bring a present with him next time he came. And the water-carrier, out of reverence for the Koran, gave as a present to its expounder, his boy's teacher, all that he had, his solitary camel. The consequence was that he earned nothing that day, and at night he had to go to bed supperless. But, as he slept, he dreamt that a voice said to him: Thy livelihood is in Damascus. Go thither and find it.' So next morning he set off for Damascus. Arriving there, he sat down at the door of a mosque, and a man came and gave him a morsel of bread. Having eaten it he fell asleep, and dreamt that the same voice said, 'Now that thou hast found thy means of livelihood, arise and return home.' He obeyed, and the first night after his return he dreamt that the voice said, Thy destined
12 Parrot-Book, 26th Evening. This is one of the stories which have made their way into Western literature, transported to France by such adaptors as F. Pétis de la Croix, of whose French versions Ambrose Philips and others produced English translations, which rendered some of the Eastern tales familiar to our own essayis:s.
VOL. I.-No. 1.
means of livelihood are buried close by where thy head lies; dig there, and take them to thyself.' And when he awoke he dug in the place mentioned, and there he found a vessel full of gold. And on one side of it was written 'A gift from God to Numan,' and on the other, 'On account of his reverence for the Koran.'
The second story is about an old gardener, who was in doubt one Friday whether he should go to the mosque, or stay at home and work in his garden, which needed watering, and in the mill in which his corn was waiting to be ground. But at last he determined to do his duty, so he went to the mosque and offered up his prayers. When he returned home, he found to his surprise that his garden had been watered and his corn ground during his absence. On asking the miller how it had come to pass that his corn was ground, he learnt that some one had brought it in, thinking it was his own, but after it was ground had discovered his mistake, and had gone away, leaving the flour behind him. Then the gardener knew that God allows no one who works for Him to suffer any loss.' 13
The same strong feeling of trust in God is illustrated by the story of the boy whose parents sold him to a king who had been told that his sore foot could be cured only by being inserted into the cutopen body of an Indian child. When the boy was brought into the royal presence in order to be operated upon, he began to laugh. 'Why ever dost thou laugh, when thou shouldst weep?' he was asked. Why should not I laugh?' he replied. When a boy is in danger, he runs to his father. If that is no use, he turns to his mother. If she cannot help him, he appeals to the authorities, and lastly to the king himself. Now my parents have sold me to the king, and he is going to kill me in order to save his life. But what will he say in his defence before the Lord Most High in the other world? As I have not met with tenderness from my mother, nor mercy from my father, nor justice from the king, whom shall I now entreat? I appeal unto that God who is an almighty avenger. He will assuredly take up my cause against the wrong that has been done me.' When the king heard these words, fear came upon him, and he set the child free. And so strong was his emotion that from his eyes streamed forth hot tears, the healing virtues of which, according to the will of God, cured his diseased foot.14
Another illustration of a lively faith in an all-seeing Providence is offered by the following anecdote. As a king of Bactria was pursuing the chase one day, he felt hungry, and sat down to eat. And while he was eating, a bee came, seized a morsel of bread, and flew slowly away with it. Wondering thereat, the king followed the bee, which led him to where sat on a bough a sparrow blind of both eyes, which opened its beak wide so soon as it heard the bee's
13 Forty Viziers, Nos. 57 and 35.
14 Ibid. No. 63.