Fitzedward Hall
Fitzedward Hall

Information on this page is from History of Rensselaer Co., New York by Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester, published in 1880.

FITZEDWARD HALL, a well-known author and Orientalist, the eldest son of Daniel Hall, was born at Troy, N. Y., March 21, 1825. After passing through various schools in his native place, with others at Walpole, N. H., and Poughkeepsie, he became a member of the Rensselaer Institute, conducted by the celebrated Professor Amos Eaton, where he took the degree of civil engineer in 1842. The same year he entered Harvard College, with which he was connected till 1846.

As a schoolboy and collegian, Mr. Hall divided his attention pretty impartially among languages, mathematics, and the natural sciences. His diligence in acquiring foreign tongues was shown by the fact that at the age of sixteen he had, in addition to the ordinary learning of well-taught lads of his years, acquainted himself thoroughly with French, and could both read and speak Spanish without difficulty. While at college he employed many of his spare hours on translations from the German, of which enough were published - by anonymously - to fill three good-sized volumes. In the spring of 1846, Mr. Hall sailed in a merchant vessel from Boston for Calcutta, and after a long voyage was shipwrecked, on the 16th of September, at some distance below the mouth of the River Hooghly. Arrived at Calcutta, after having gone though no slight perils, he availed himself of letters of introduction to Bishop Daniel Wilson and others, which had been voluntarily given to him by the Hon. Edward Everett, and he was consequently in no want of society.

His original purpose of almost immediately returning to America was frustrated by the loss of his ship, and his enforced detention at Calcutta left considerable leisure at his disposal. Without the least thought of becoming an Orientalist, he was induced by a few lessons in Hindustani and Persian to resolve on exploring at least those languages with some thoroughness, and the pleasure which he found in them led to his postponing indefinitely his departure homewards. At Calcutta he remained nearly three years, assiduously prosecuting his new studies, to which he soon added Bengalee and Sanskrit. Preferring to be independent of others, he supported himself in the mean time chiefly by writing for various local journals, to which he contributed largely, not only original matter, but translations in prose and verse, from French, Italian, and modern Greek.

His next place of residence was Ghazeepore, on the Upper Ganges, from which place, after a sojourn of about five months, he removed to Benares on the 16th of January, 1850. Only a month later he was appointed, wholly without any solicitation of his own, to a post in the Benares Government Colege, a post which, in 1853, was converted into a professorship. While at Benares he narrowly escaped being killed by the explosion of a fleet of thirty boats laden with one hundred and eighteen tons of gunpowder.

In July, 1855, he was transferred to Ajmere as inspector of schools for Ajmere and Mairwara, together with the superintendentship of the Ajmere Government School, with charges he held for only little more than fifteen months. Again promoted, his next and last appointment in India was that of inspector of schools for the Saugor and Nerbudda Territories, which he assumed at Saugor, in December, 1856, and retained till the spring of 1862. Within this period occurred the Indian mutinies, during which he spent seven months beseiged in Saugor fort, and underwent severe hardships, not to speak of constant danger. In this interval, also, he was absent from India about a year and a half, which he spent partly in England and France, and partly in the United States. In 1860 he was honored with the degree of Doctor of Civil Law by the University of Oxford. From November, 1862, Mr. Hall lived for several years in London, where he was professor of the Sanskrit language and literature, and of Indian jurisprudence, in King's College, and also filled other offices. In 1869 he removed to Marlesford, Suffolk, his present place of abode. He still holds, in connection with the civil service commission, the examinerships in Hindustani and Hindi to which he was appointed in 1864, and an examinership in English has recently been added to them.

He married, in 1854, at Delhi, a daughter of the late Lieut.-Col. Arthur Shuldham, of a very ancient English family. Of his five children two survive, - a daughter and a son. Retiring in disposition, and a rigid husbander of time, Mr. Hall holds himself aloof from all literary societies, and has from the first persistently avoided all entanglement with cliques and coteries. Indeed, of his own choice, his acquaintance with men of letters is, and always has been, extremely limited. These circumstances, coupled with the unfamiliar character of his pursuits, go some way, without doubt, towards accounting for the slight recognition which, considering the abundant and multifarious fruits of his pen, he has received in England and America, where he is less known than at Paris, Berlin, Leipsic, St. Petersburg, and Rome. Satisfied with nothing short of real excellence in scholarchip, uncompromising, and careless of popularity, he is marked as a critic by his severe economy of commendation, and he has frequently assailed current judgement with a vigor corresponding to the strength of his argued convictions. It is not, therefore, altogether surprising that his writings have been to a large extent ignored among the English speaking nations. The few who have noticed them are, however, for the most part judges of the highest class, from whose awards it would be hazardous to appeal. Prof. Max Muller, in his "History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature," speaks of Mr. Hall as "a scholar of the most extensive acquaintance with Sanskrit literature."

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