1842-49EDWARD WILLIAM LANE
The Arabic Lexicon.
Lane returned to Europe in 1849 the acknowledged chief of Arabic scholars. As the author of “The Modern Egyptians” his fame as the authority upon Egypt had been established; and his translation of the Arabian Nights had gained him the well-earned repute of accurate scholarship. But when it became known on what work he was now engaged and when specimens had shown how thoroughly that work would be done, all who had a care for learning were eager to offer their homage. As early as 1839 the Egyptian Society had enrolled him among their honorary members. In 1846 the German Oriental Society elected him a corresponding member, and in 1871 raised him to their highest rank, that of Ehren-Mitglied; and the example of Germany was followed, at a distance, by England, in the elections to the Honorary Memhership of the Royal Society of Literature (1858) and of the Royal Asiatic Society (1866). In 1864, a vacancy occurred in the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres of the Institut de France, by the promotion of De Witte, and Lane was unanimously elected a Correspondent in his place; and in 1875, on the occasion of its Tercentenary Festival, the University of Leyden accorded to him the degree of Honorary Doctor of Literature (Philosophiae Theoreticae Magister, Litterarum Humaniorum Doctor)―the only Uniyersity degree he ever aceepted, though not the only one offered to him. Those singular decorations, chiefly of military origin, which learned men are sometimes pleased to receive from their Sovereign, were by Lane decidedly though respectfully declined.
It was not, however, only in the matter of diplomas that a strong interest was shown in the great work my Uncle was preparing. So soon as the immense cost of the production was known, and before Lord Prudhoe had taken upon himself the expense of printing it, efforts were made, though not by the author, to obtain for it the support it needed. The Chevalier Bunsen exerted himself in a most friendly manner to gain the help of the English Universities: but it need hardly be said in vain. On the other hand, Germany was anxious to obtain the distinction of supporting it. At the instance of Bunsen, Lepsius, and Abeken, seconded by many others, it was agreed to offer to publish the Lexicon at the joint expense of the Prussian Government and the Berlin Academy of Sciences; and in 1846 Prof Dieterici was sent by the King of Prussia to Cairo to consult Lane's wishes. There were, however, conditions named to which Lane “could not willingly accede”; and moreover the arrangements for publishing in England were, by the zealous exertions of his brother Richard, nearly completed. In 1848 Lord John Russell, then Premier, made the first of a series of annual grants from the Fund for Special Service, which Lord Aberdeen continued in 1853; and in 1863 the grant was changed into an annual Pension on the Civil List.
On his return to England Lane soon settled down into his old routine of work. The composition went slowly on, and the manuscript of the Táj-el-ʼAroos was gradually completed and sent over. At last, when he had been twenty years at the work Lane felt he might begin printing. In 1863 the First Part appeared, and in two years' time the Second followed. The Third was published in 1867, and the fourth was printed in 1870, but the whole edition of one thousand copies was unfortunately burnt before it reached the publisher, with the exception of a single copy, and the entire Part had to be printed again, and therefore did not appear till 1872. After the necessary two years' interval Part V. was published in 1874. The Sixth Part was half-printed (as far as p. 2386) when its author died; and it has taken me a year to finish it (1877). Two Parts remain to be published, besides the Second Book, which may be estimated at one or perhaps two Parts more.
The publication of the Lexicon more than confirmed the high expectations that had been formed of it. As Jules Mohl well said, each article is a perfect monograph recording all that can be recorded on the subject. Each statement is followed by initials indicating the authorities from which it was derived, except where Lane has interwoven, within brackets, his own remarks and criticisms. Thus the work is, in point of authoritativeness, as sufficient for the student as if he possessed all the original manuscripts from which it is compiled. And whereas in the native writers method is unknown and meaning follows meaning in no settled sequence, Lane has succeeded in arranging each article in logical order, distinguishing between primary and secondary meanings, and making the various significations of each root a connected whole, instead of a chaotic congeries of inexplicable contradictions. The value of the manner as well as of the matter was instantly recognized by the Orientalists of Europe. There was no question of rivalry: all and each were agreed absolutely to submit to an authority which they saw to he above dispute. The greatest Arabist of Germany used to send Lane from time to time monographs of his own inscribed with the words “Unserem Grossmeister” and the like; and his homage is but an example of the reverence felt by all for the “Schatzmeister der arabischen Sprache.”
But this universal appreciation of his work did not induce Lane to slacken for a moment the severe tension of his monotonous toil. He never rested on his laurels for a single day. He felt that it was a work demanding more than one lifetime, and he determined to leave as little undone as he could. After a year at Hastings he moved to the milder climate of Worthing, and during the twenty-five years he lived there he left the place but once, going to Brighton to see his old friend Outram; and nothing but severe illness could compel him to take a day's rest.
These years at Worthing were a time of constant unvarying labour,―“Of toil unsever'd from tranquillity, Of labour that in lasting fruit outgrows Far noisier schemes, accomplished in repose, Too great for haste, too high for rivalry.” My Uncle would go to his desk after an early breakfast and work for three or four hours in the morning. An early dinner then made a necessary interruption, but afterwards he would begin again without a moment's delay, and continue writing till about four o'clock, when if the weather were fine and he in fair health he would walk with some of his family for an hour or so. Then he would come back to tea, and from six to ten would again bury himself in manuscripts, when a simple supper would end the day. At first his afternoon walk extended to three or four miles; but as his strength waned he gradually shortened the distance, till in his last year he could only saunter gently up and down some shady road for half-an-hour, and even then found himself exhausted. So too he was at last induced by the entreaties of his family to close his books at nine o'clock instead of ten; but even then he accomplished eight hours of study in the day. Nothing was allowed to interfere with these hours of work. Visitors who asked for him were strictly denied, and it was only by calling on his wife or sister that it was possible to see him, and then only if he was at a point in his composition where interruption would not entail a serious delay. Yet these rare moments were sufficient to win for him the lasting affection of a small circle of friends, who were never weary of offering him every attention in their power, and far from taking amiss his rigid seclusion endeavoured in all ways to shield him from the intrusion of strangers. He never called anywhere; but sometimes he would take his afternoon stroll in the gardens of Warwick House, where the bright society of his kindly hostesses was a delightful relief after his arduous hours of study.
Ono day in the week Lane closed his books. His early training had led him to regard Sunday as a day to be set apart for the things of religion, and his long sojourn in the East had in no wise weakened this feeling. In Egypt he had frequently attended the prayers at the Mosques and there comported himself in all outward appearance as a Muslim: but this was only because without thus conforming to the ways of the people he could never have acquired that knowledge of their character which he afterwards turned to so great an account. To the last he preserved the simple earnest faith of his childhood. His acquaintance with the original languages of the Old and New Testament and his insight into Semitic modes of thought had certainly modified his views on some of the minor points, but in the essential doctrines of Evangelical Christianity his belief never changed. But his religion was not a mere matter of intellectual adhesion to a given series of dogmas: he carried it into his every-day life. The forms of grace at meals, to most people purely ceremonious, were to him realities, and he never began his day's work without uttering the Arab dedication Bismi-lláh―“In the name of God.” No one who came within the reach of his influence, however great the disagreement in opinion, could fail to be impressed with the earnestness of Lane's convictions; and few talked with him without going away better men than they came. His high and pure soul shone in his countenance, in his manner, in his every word. In his presence a profane or impure speeeh was an impossibility: yet no one was ever more gentle with that frailty for which the world has no pity. He was a Christian Gentleman, of a fashion of life that is passing away.
Sunday was to Lane a day of religion rather than a day of rest. In the morning or afternoon he would, if he were well enough, attend the office of the Church of England. The remainder of the day he spent chiefly in Biblical study, for which as a Hebrew scholar he possesscd a critical knowledge that most of our divines might have envied. But it was not as a philological amusement that he pursued his researches. To him the Bible was the guide of his life; and he used his every endeavour to understand each doubtful passage, to emend each ignorant rendering, to interpret by the light of Semitic thought those dark sayings which the Aryan translators comprehended not, and not least to discover the harmony of Scripture and science. Thus his Sundays were not a time of thorough rest, such as the severe character of his week-day work required them to be. His Biblical reading often tried him more than a day's work at the Lexicon, and the parallel lines of ordinary print weakened eyes accustomed to the flexuous writing of Arabic manuscripts.
So the years wore on. Day followed day, and year year, without seeing any change in the monotony of Lane's life. Manuscript was written, proofs came and went, volumes were published, with unvarying regularity. The Lexicon was Lane's one occupation. The review and the essay, the offspring of the idle hours of learned men, had no attraction to a man who could not boast an idle moment. The only contributions he ever sent to a journal were two essays that appeared in the “Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft.”(1) With these exceptions Lane never allowed any literary pursuit to divert him from his work. Even the revision of new editions of his earlier works demanded more time than he would spare, and he therefore left it to his nephews.
In 1867 Lane experienced one of the great sorrows of his life. He had seen both his sister's sons well advanced in their several careers: but he was destined to lose the one whom he had regarded as his own successor, the continuer of his life-work and the heir to his fame. My father's early death struck a heavy blow at Lane's love and hope. It was as the loss of an eldest son. Twenty-seven years before, he had taken to his home his sister and her sons; and now, with the same unselfish readiness, he opened his door to the three children whom my father's death had left orphans. From this time my Uncle's house was home and he was a second father to me. It was no slight sacrifice to admit three children to his quiet life: but he never let us know that it was a sacrifice at all. I can never forget the patience with which he suffered all our childish waywardness, the zealous sympathy with which he entered into our plans and pleasures, his fatherly counsel and help in our boy troubles, his loving anxiety in sickness. The few moments that he could spare from his work, which he might well have devoted to his own recreation, were given to us. He delighted to lead us to the studies he had loved himself, and would bring from the stores of his memory that scientific knowledge which had formed the favourite pursuit of his boyhood. And when I had chosen for myself the same field of study to which he had devoted his life, he gave me daily that help and advice which no one could give so well; read and revised everything I wrote; and at length, when his health was failing, gave me a last proof of his trust by confiding to me the completion of his own work.
The life of the great Orientalist was drawing to its close. Frequent attacks of low fever, added to the exhaustion of chronic bronchitis, had seriously weakened a frame already enfeebled by excessive study. I seldom left my Uncle for a few weeks without the dread that I should never see him again. It was a marvel how that delicate man battled against illness after illness, never yielding to the desire of the weary body for rest, but unflinchingly persevering with the great task he had set before him. His own knowledge of his constitution, acquired by long residence in places where medical help was not to be had, served him in good stead; and his life was ever shielded by the devoted care of his wife and sister, and the friendly attention of Dr. Henry Collet, who for many years afforded my Uncle the great advantage of his constant advice; a service of love which was continued after Dr. Collet's death, with the zeal of long affection, by his son, Mr. A. H. Collet.
But the time came when there was no longer strength to withstand the approach of death. At the beginning of August, 1876, my Uncle was suffering from a cold, which presently showed signs of a serious nature. He went on with his work till Saturday the 5th; and then a decided change came over him. The weakness increased to such a degree on Sunday that he allowed me to support him about the house, though never before would he accept even the help of an arm. That evening we induced him to go early to his bed: and he never again rose from it. Two days passed in anxious watching. Everything that love could prompt, or the affection and skill of the doctor could suggest, was done. On Wednesday evening he seemed better: it was but the last effort. Early on Thursday morning the brave loyal spirit fought its last battle, and the mind that had endured the strain of fifty years of ceaseless toil, and yet had never known decay, at last found rest.
So ended the Scholar's life. It was begun, continued, and ended, without hope of reward. For fame he cared little; money, beyond what sufficed for his modest wants, he desired not. Pure love of knowledge was the motive of his work, and to learning, unsoiled with baser aims, he dedicated a long and studious life, rich in fruits. To the world Lane must be the ideal scholar. With us who knew him his memory will live in the sweeter thought of the noble and pure heart that wrapped us in its love.
- The first of these is entitled “Über die Lexicographie der arabischen Sprache,” and appeared in Bd. III. SS. 90―108 (1849). It is in the form of a letter to Prof. Lepsius, and treats of the principal Arabic Lexicons, and gives specimens of Lane's own work. The other article was “Über die Aussprache der arabischen Vokale und die Betonung der arabischen Wörter,” an excellent treatise on the pronunciation of the Arabic Vowels and on the accent (Bu. IV. SS. 171―186,1850).