The Oriental Moralist (1790) was the first selection of tales from The Arabian Nights to be made especially for children. The original stories of magical genies and caves full of treasure probably came from a variety of Middle Eastern and Indian sources, perhaps dating back as far as the eighth century. These were later placed within a frame story: Scheherazade having to tell nightly stories to her husband in order to stave off her execution.
The Arabian Nights became popular in Western Europe as soon as it was translated into French by Antoine Galland (1704-1717). English translations quickly appeared and in the later 18th century individual tales, such as Aladdin, Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba, were sometimes published in chapbooks and anthologies. There have been many translations of The Arabian Nights over the centuries, but it is not simply the language which has been translated. To make the stories suitable for children, translators and editors have also made significant adaptations and alterations. ‘The Revd. Mr Cooper’ explains in his preface that he read a French edition of The Arabian Nights at an inn in France. In order to make them suitable for children he has ‘carefully expunged every thing that could give the least offence to the most delicate reader’. He has re-written them so that they will ‘promote the love of virtue’ and ‘fortify the youthful heart against the impressions of vice’. This must have been quite some feat, when the stories were considered to be too immoral for adults to read in their unexpurgated version.