He graduated with the degree of civil engineer from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at Troy in 1842, and entered Harvard in the class of 1846; just before his class graduated he left college and went to India in search of a runaway brother. In January 1850 he was appointed tutor, and in 1853 professor of Sanskrit and English, in the government college at Benares; and in 1855 was made inspector of public instruction in Ajmere-Merwara and in 1856 in the Central Provinces.
He settled in England in 1862 and received the appointment to the chair of Sanskrit, Hindustani and Indian jurisprudence in King's College London, and to the librarianship of the India Office. Hall was the first American to edit a Sanskrit text, the Vishnupurana; his library of a thousand Oriental manuscripts he gave to Harvard University.
His works include:
- in Sanskrit
- Atmabodha (1852)
- Sankhyapravachana (1856)
- Saryasiddhanta (1859)
- Vsavadatt (1859)
- Sankhyasara (1862)
- Dasarupa (1865)
- in Hindi
- Ballantyne's Hindi Grammar (1868)
- a Reader (1870)
- on English philology
- Recent Exemplifications of False Philology (1872), attacking Richard Grant White, Modern English (1873)
- "On English Adjectives in -able, with Special Reference to Reliable" (Am. Jour. Philology, 1877)
- Doctor Indoctus (1880).
Hall and the Oxford English Dictionary
He then moved to Suffolk where, while leading the life of a recluse, he published more philological work. W. W. Skeat, an early supporter of the OED idea, persuaded him to collaborate as a reader for the project. With another US citizen, Dr.William Chester Minor, he would become one of the most important (and most obsessive) collaborators the OED Project’s director Sir James Murray (1837–1915) had, and is recognized as such in many of the prefaces to the Dictionary itself. His task was to read certain books looking for examples of the use of particular words, and then to send the relevant quotations to Murray’s staff.
According to scholar Elizabeth Knowles, who studied the Murray-Hall correspondence in the OED archives, Hall spent 'four hours a day...on proofs' and that 'for much of the rest of the time, he was reading for vocabulary'. Once he supplied more than 200 examples of the use of the word “hand” and had to be told that there was no space for so many.
Murray himself would say that “Time would fail to tell of the splendid assistance rendered to the Dictionary by Dr. Fitzedward Hall, who devotes nearly his whole day to reading the proofs...and to supplementing, correcting, and increasing the quotations taken from his own exhaustless stores. When the Dictionary is finished, no man will have contributed to its illustrative wealth so much as Fitzedward Hall. Those who know his books know the enormous wealth of quotation which he brings to bear upon every point of English literary usage; but my admiration is if possible increased when I see how he can cap and put the cope-stone on the collections of our 1500 readers.“
Hall was best at supplementing existing quotation collections for particular words. After his death, Murray corresponded with Hall’s son to try to find and reference the supplies of quotations his father had noted but not submitted, with unclear results.
- Examining the OED: Individuals from Charlotte Brewer, Examining the OED accessed on August 8, 2008
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.