Lane, Edward William (DNB00)
LANE, EDWARD WILLIAM (1801–1876), Arabic scholar, was born 17 Sept. 1801 at Hereford, where his father, Theophilus Lane, D.C.L., of Balliol College and Magdalen Hall, Oxford, was prebendary of Withington Parva. Four of his direct ancestors had been mayors of Hereford since 1621. His mother was Sophia Gardiner, niece of the painter Gainsborough, a woman of unusual intellect and character. He was educated, after his father’s death in 1814, at the grammar schools of Bath and Hereford, where he showed a bent for mathematics, which led him to contemplate a Cambridge degree with a view to taking orders. The plan was abandoned, however, and he went to London to learn engraving under Charles Heath, to whom his elder brother Richard James [q. v.] was articled. He possessed much the same delicacy of touch as his brother, but his health was unequal to the trials of a confined occupation and the London climate, and after publishing a solitary print a prolonged illness compelled him to seek a warmer latitude. To this happy disability he owed the development of his special genius. As early as 1822 he had evinced a marked passion for eastern studies, and it was to Egypt that he now turned. An additional inducement was the hope of a consulship. Accordingly, in July 1825, Lane set sail for Alexandria, and after an adventurous voyage of two months, during which his theoretical knowledge of navigation enabled him to steer the ship through a terrific hurricane, when the sailing-master was incapacitated, and after narrowly escaping death in a mutiny of the crew, he arrived in the land with which his name was henceforth to be permanently associated.
Egypt was then almost an unknown country. Napoleon’s scientific commission had recently published the results of their resarches in the monumental ‘Description de l’Egypte,' but this great work was a tentative beginning. No one had yet fully taken stock of the monuments. On arriving, Lane found ‘himself in the midst of a brilliant group of discoverers, who were longing to essay that task. Wilkinson and James Burton (afterwards Haliburton [q. v.]), the hieroglyphic scholars, were there, together with Linant and Bonomi, the explorers; the travellers Humphreys, Hay, and Fox-Strangways; Major Felix and his distinguished friend, Lord Prudhoe. Lane determined to take his part in the work. He resolved to write an exhaustive description of Egypt, and to illustrate it by his own pencil. He possessed unusual qualifications for the task. He soon spoke Arabic fluently, and his grave demeanour and almost Arabian cast of countenance, added to the native dress which he always wore in Egypt, enabled him to among the people as one of themselves. After some months spent in Cairo in studying the townsfolk and improving himself in the dialect, and some weeks' residence in a tomb by the pyramids of Gizeh, Lane set out in March 1826 on his first Nile voyage. He ascended as far as the second cataract, an unusual distance in those days, spent more than two months at Thebes, in August to October, and made a large number of exquisite sepia drawings of the monuments, aided by the camera lucida, the invention of his friend Dr. Wollaston. On his return to Cairo he devoted himself to a study of the people, their manners and customs, and the monuments of Saracenic art, and then (1827) again ascended the Nile to Wâdi Halfeh, and completed his survey of the Theban temples in another residence of forty-one days, living, the while in tombs. At the beginning of 1828 he was again in Cairo, and in the autumn he manor to England, bringing with him an elaborate ‘Description of Egypt,' illustrated by 101 sepia drawings selected from his portfolios. The work is a model of lucid and accurate description, but it has never been published, in consequence of the difficulty and expense of reproducing the drawings in a manner satisfactory to Lane‘s fastidious taste. The drawings and manuscript are now in the British Museum.
Although the work was never printed as a whole, those chapters of it which related to the modern inhabitants were, on the recommendation of Lord Brougham, accepted by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge for publication in their 'Library.' It was characteristic of Lane's thoroughness that he refused to print the chapters as they stood, and insisted upon revisiting for the sole purpose of revising and expanding what most men would have considered an adequate account. With the exception of six months in 1835 spent at Thebes in the company of his friend Fulgence Fresnel, in order to escape the plague which was then devastating the capital, this second residence in Egypt (December 1833 to August 1835) was devoted exclusively to a close study of the people of Cairo, with a view to his works on their manners and customs, Lane lived in the Mohammedan quarters, wore the native dress, took the name of ‘Mansoor Effendi,' associated almost exclusively with Muslims, attended on every possible occasion their religious ceremonies, festivals, and entertainments, and (except that he always retained his Christian belief and conduct) lived the life of an Egyptian man of learning. A good picture of his daily pursuits is given in his diary (published in Lane-Poole's Life of E. W. Lane, pp. 41-84), where it appears that he became acquainted with most sides of Egyptian society, including the strange mystical and so-called magical element which has since vanished from Cairo. The result of his observations was the well-known ‘Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians,’ which was first published in 2 vols. in December 1836 by Charles Knight, who had bought the first edition from the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. The book was an immediate success. The first edition was sold within a fortnight. The society cheaper edition came out in 1887, a third in 1842, a fourth in ‘Knight’s Weekly Volumes’ in 1846, and a fifth, in one volume, edited, with important additions, by Lane’s nephew, Edward Stanley Poole, was published in 1860. This, which is the standard text, has been repeatedly reprinted in 2 vols. (1871, &c.) An unauthorised cheap reprint was included in the ‘Minerva Library’ (edited by G. T. Bettany, with a brief memoir, 1891). The book has also been reprinted in America and translated into German. The value of the ‘Modern Egyptians’ lies partly in the favourable date to its composition, when Cairo was still a Saracenic city, almost untouched by European influences; but chiefly in its microscopic accuracy of detail, which is so complete and final that no important additions have been made to its picture of the life and customs of the Muslims of modern Egypt, in spite of the researches of numerous travellers and scholars. It remains after more than half a century the standard authority on its subject.
Lane‘s next work was executed in England. It was e translation of the 'Thousand and One Nights,' or ‘Arabian Nights’ Entertainment,' and came out in monthly parts, illustrated by woodcuts alter drawings by William Harvey, in 1838-40 (2nd edition, edited by E. S. Poole, 1859, frequently reprinted. A selection of in best tales was edited with additions, by Lane's grand-nephew, S. Lane-Pools, in 3 vols. 16mo, 1891). This was the first accurate version of the celebrated Arabic stories, and still remains the best translation for all but professed students. It is not complete, and the coarseness of the original is necessarily excised in a work which was intended for the general public; but the eastern tone, which was lost in the earlier versions, based upon Galland's French paraphrase, is faithfully reproduced, and the very stiffness of the style, not otherwise commendable, has been found to convey something of the impression of the Arabic. The work is enriched with copious notes, derived from translator‘s personal knowledge of Mohammedan life and his wide acquaintance with Arabic literature, and forms a sort of encyclopædia of Muslim customs and beliefs. (The notes were collected and rearranged under the title of ‘Arabian Society in the Middle Ages,' edited by S. Lane-Poole, in 1883.) In 1843 appeared a volume of ‘Selection from the Kur-án,' of which a second revised edition, with an introduction by S. Lane-Poole, appeared in Trübner’s ‘Oriental Series,' 1879.
In July 1842 Lane set sail for Egypt for the third time, and with a new object. In his first visit he was mainly a traveller and explorer; in the second a student of the life of the modern Egyptians; in the third he was an Arabic scholar and lexicographer. The task he had set before himself was to remedy the deficiencies of the existing Arabic-Latin dictionaries by compiling an exhaustive thesaurus of the Arabic language from the numerous authoritative native lexicons. The work was sorely needed, but it is doubtful if even Lane, with all his laborious habits, would have undertaken it had he realised the gigantic nature of the task. The financial difficulty, the expense of copying manuscripts, and the enormous cost of printing, would have proved an insurmountable obstacle but for the public spirit and munificence of Lane’s friend of his earliest Egyptian years, Lord Prudhoe, afterwards (1847) fourth duke of Northumberland, who undertook the whole expense, and whose widow, after his death in 1864, carried on the duke’s project, and supported it to its termination in 1892. When he returned to Cairo in 1842 he took with him his wife, a Greek lady whom he had married in land in 1840, his sister, Mrs. Sophia Poole [q.v.] (afterwards authoress of 'The Englishwoman in Eqypt'), and her two sons, and his life could no longer he entirely among his Mohammadan friends. Indeed, his work kept him almost wholly confined to his study. Be denied himself to every one, except on Friday, the Muslim sabbath, and devoted all his energies to the composition of the lexicon. Twelve to fourteen hours a day were his ordinary allowance for study; for six months together he never crossed the threshold of his house, and in all the seven years of his residence he only left Cairo once, for a three days' visit to the Pyramids. At length the materials were gathered, the chief native lexicon (the ‘Tâj-el-’Arûs') upon which ha intended to found his own work, was sufficiently transcribed, and in October 1849 Lane brought his family back to England He soon edited at Worthing, and for more than a quarter of a century devoted all his efforts to completing his task. He worked from morning till night, sparing little time for meals or exercise, and none to recreation, and rigidly denying himself to all but a very few chosen friends. On Sunday, however he closed his Arabic books, but only to take up Hebrew and study the Old Testament.
He return to Europe the acknowledged chief of Arabic scholars, who were generous in their homage. He was made an honorary member of the German Oriental Society, the Royal Asiatic Society, the Royal Society of Literature, &c.; in 1864 he was elected s correspondent of the French Institute; and in 1875, on the occasion of its tercentenary, the university of Leyden granted him the degree of honorary doctor of literature. He declined other offers of degrees and also honours of a different kind, but accepted a civil List pension in 1863, the year in which the first part of the ‘Arabic-English Lexicon’ was published, after twenty years of unremitting labour. The succeeding parts came out in 1865, 1867, 1872, 1874, and posthumously, under the editorship of B. Lane-Poole (unfortunately with unavoidable lacunæ), in 1877, 1885, and 1892. The importance of the dictionary was instantly a appreciated by the orientalists of Europe, and the lexicon at once became indispensable to the student of Arabic.
Lane continued his labours in spite of in- creasingly delicate health and growing weariness. In the midst of his engrossing labours he contrived to help in the education of his sister's children and grandchildren, who lived under his roof, and in spite of his retired life and devotion to study the conversation and manner possessed unusual charm and grace. On 8 Aug. 1876 he was at his desk performing his usual methodioal toil in his unchanging delicate handwriting. He died four days later (10 Aug. 1876), aged nearly seventy-five. His portrait in pencil and a life-sized statue in Egyptian dress were executed by his brother Richard.
Besides the works mentioned above, Lane published two essays, translated into German in the ‘Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft,’ the one on Arabic lexicography, iii. 90-108, 1849, and the other on the pronunciation of vowels and accent in Arabic, iv. 171-86, 1850.
[S. Lane-Poole's Life of Edwaid William Lane, prefixed to pt. vi. of the Arabic-English Lexicon, and published separately in 1877; personal knowledge.]