Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hall, John Vine

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HALL, JOHN VINE (1774–1860), author of ‘The Sinner's Friend,’ was born on 14 March 1774 at the town of Diss, Norfolk. His father had been a man of property, but had lost it. At eleven ‘little Jack’ was apprenticed to a schoolmaster who, he says, ‘taught me to write the law-hands, and by way of making the most of me hired me to the then clerk of the peace’ (Autobiography). In January 1786 he became errand-boy to a bookseller in Maidstone, and rose to be the chief assistant. In 1801, tempted by larger pay, he became clerk and traveller to a Maidstone wine merchant. Here he fell into drunken and profligate habits, and read Volney's ‘Law of Nature’ and Paine's ‘Age of Reason.’ In 1802 a friend lent him Porteus's ‘Evidences of Christianity,’ and his views changed. In February 1804 he bought a bookseller's shop at Worcester, and removed thither. His intemperate habits cost him terrible struggles, and he became a rigid total abstainer from 1818, and an ardent advocate of teetotalism. In 1812 he became the subject of strong religious convictions. In April 1814 he returned to Maidstone as proprietor of the bookshop where he had been errand-boy twenty-eight years before. One of his favourite occupations here was visiting the prisoners in the county gaol, especially those under sentence of death. In 1821 he conceived the idea of writing ‘The Sinner's Friend,’ the first edition of which consisted of a series of selections from Bogatzky's ‘Golden Treasury,’ with a short introduction by himself. It appeared on 29 May 1821. In subsequent editions he gradually substituted pages from his own pen for those taken from Bogatzky, until in the end the little work was entirely his own, with the exception of one extract. It quickly became a favourite in the religious world. It has been translated into thirty languages, and reached a circulation of nearly three millions of copies. In 1850 he retired from business, and in 1854 went to reside at Heath Cottage, Kentish Town. He now became an elder in Surrey Chapel, of which his son, the Rev. Newman Hall, LL.B., was minister, and busied himself about religious and temperance work. He died on 22 Sept. 1860. His remains were interred in Abney Park cemetery. He married, at Worcester, in August 1806, Mary Teverill.

[Conflict and Victory, the Autobiography of the author of The Sinner's Friend, edited by Newman Hall, LL.B., 1874.]

T. H.