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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Edward William Lane

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EDWARD WILLIAM LANE (1801-1876), English Arabic scholar, son of Dr Theophilus Lane, prebendary of Hereford, was born on the 17th of September 1801. He was educated at Bath and Hereford grammar schools, where he showed marked mathematical ability, and was designed for Cambridge and the church, but this purpose was abandoned, and for some time he studied the art of engraving. Failure of health compelled him to throw aside the burin, and in 1825 he started for Egypt, where he spent three years, twice ascended the Nile, proceeding as far as the second cataract, and composed a complete description of Egypt, with a portfolio of one hundred and one drawings. This work was never published, but the account of the modern Egyptians, which formed a part of it, was accepted for separate publication by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. To perfect this work Lane again visited Egypt in 1833-1835, residing mainly in Cairo, but retiring to Luxor during the plague of 1835. Lane took up his residence in the Mahommedan quarter, and under the name of Mansur Effendi lived the life of an Egyptian scholar. He was fortunate in the time when he took up his work, for Cairo had not then become a modern city, and he was thus able to describe aspects of Arabian life that no longer exist there. Perfected by the additional observations collected during these years, the Modern Egyptians appeared in 1836, and at once took the place which it has never lost as the best description of Eastern life and an Eastern country ever written. It was followed from 1838 to 1840 by a translation of the Arabian Nights, with notes and illustrations, designed to make the book a sort of encyclopaedia of Eastern manners. The translation itself is an admirable proof of scholarship, but is characterized by a somewhat stilted mannerism, which is not equally appropriate to all parts of the motley-coloured original. The character of some of the tales and the tedious repetitions of the same theme in the Arabic collection induced Lane to leave considerable parts of the work untranslated. The value of his version is increased by the exhaustive notes on Mahommedan life and customs. In 1840 Lane married a Greek lady. A useful volume of Selections from the Kur-an was published in 1843, but before it passed through the press Lane was again in Egypt, where he spent seven years (1842-1849) collecting materials for a great Arabic lexicon, which the munificence of Lord Prudhoe (afterwards duke of Northumberland) enabled him to undertake. The most important of the materials amassed during this sojourn (in which he was accompanied by his wife and by his sister, Mrs Poole, authoress of the Englishwoman in Egypt, with her two sons, afterwards well known in Eastern letters) was a copy in 24 thick quarto volumes of Sheikh Murtada's great lexicon, the Taj el 'Arus, which, though itself a compilation, is so extensive and exact that it formed the main basis of Lane's subsequent work. The author, who lived in Egypt in the 18th century, used more than a hundred sources, interweaving what he learned from them with the al-Qamus of Fairuzabadi in the form of a commentary. By far the larger part of this commentary was derived from the Lisan el `Arab of Ibn Mokarram, a work of the 13th century, which Lane was also able to use while in Cairo.

Returning to England in 1849, Lane devoted the remaining twenty-seven years of his life to digesting and translating his Arabic material in the form of a great thesaurus of the lexicographical knowledge of the Arabs. In spite of weak health he continued this arduous task with unflagging diligence till a few days before his death at Worthing on the 10th of August 1876. Five parts appeared during his lifetime (1863-1874), and three posthumous parts were afterwards edited from his papers by S. Lane-Poole. Even in its imperfect state the Lexicon is an enduring monument, the completeness and finished scholarship with which it is executed making each article an exhaustive monograph. Two essays, the one on Arabic lexicography and the other on Arabic pronunciation, contributed to the magazine of the German Oriental Society, complete the record of Lane's publications. His scholarship was recognized by many learned European societies. He was a member of the German Oriental Society, a correspondent of the French Institute, &c. In 1853 he was awarded a small civil list pension, which was after his death continued to his widow. Lane was not an original mind; his powers were those of observation, industry and sound judgment. His personal character was elevated and pure, his strong sense of religious and moral duty being of the type that characterized the best circles of English evangelicalism in the early part of the 19th century.

A Memoir, by his grand-nephew, S. Lane-Poole, was prefixed to part vi. of the Lexicon. It was published separately in 1877.

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Edward William Lane'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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