Home  »  Volume XVIII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART III  »  § 32. Fitzedward Hall; English Lexicography

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVIII. Later National Literature, Part III.

XXV. Scholars

§ 32. Fitzedward Hall; English Lexicography

His chief opponent was the incomparably more scholarly Fitzedward Hall (1825–1901). Hall, of the Harvard class of 1846, just before graduation left college to search for a runaway brother in India. There in time he became tutor and professor of Sanskrit and English in the Government College at Benares, and in 1862 he was appointed professor of Sanskrit, Hindustani, and Indian Jurisprudence in King’s College, London. In the fifties and sixties he edited a number of Sanskrit texts, as well as a Hindi grammar and reader, but in the seventies and the eighties his publications dealt chiefly with English usage, to the elucidation of which he brought vast accumulations derived from his enormous reading. His Recent Exemplifications of False Philology (1872), though it incidentally bowls over Landor, Coleridge, and De Quincy, fulminates chiefly against Richard Grant White, and his Modern English (1873) returns to the attack, once more leading up to White through Cicero, Sir John Cheke, Bentley, Swift, Dr. Johnson, and others who have laboured under the delusion that usage needs to be fixed in order to save a language from corruption. Wherever Hall attacks White he routs him. Yet the actual influence of White has probably been greater, and this not without reason. Hall often adopts a tone of personal vituperation which antagonizes while it amuses. His own crabbed sentences go far to exasperate even a reader who must needs respect his scholarship. White, though he tried to schoolmaster the language, did generally prefer the things which are of good report; and his precepts, apart from certain easily exploded pedantries, made in general against affectation and for simplicity. The solid masses of Hall’s erudition have needed to be diluted for popular consumption, and it is this dilution that Professor Lounsbury performed in some of his less weighty works, for example, The Standard of Usage in English.

The Harvard achievement in rhetoric is matched by the Yale achievement in lexicography. Webster and Worcester were Yale men; Whitney is closely associated with Yale; and the first American dictionary, that of Samuel Johnson, Jr. (1757–1836), son of the Samuel Johnson who was the first president of King’s College, was published (1798) in New Haven.