Lot 59
  • 59

Edward William Lane (d.1876), Arabic-English Lexicon, printers' manuscript copy, 40 volumes, second half 19th century, with 10 volumes of al-Saghani's 'Ubab, Egypt or Syria, Mamluk, dated 653 AH/1255 AD

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
962,500 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Ink on paper with binding
  • lexicon: 35.5 by 27cm. each volume
    'ubab: 36.5 by 28cm. each volume
Arabic-English Lexicon within 40 volumes, printers' copy, each composed of Lane's notes in his own hand, some annotations in pencil and printer's notes, numbers gilt-stamped on spine with Arabic letters, the 10 volumes of the 'Ubab on burnished cream paper, written in black ink, vol.IX dated 653 AH/1255 AD, off-white leather binding with gilt-stamped spine and Mamluk-inspired medallions to boards, vol.I with original Mamluk binding medallions adhered to doublures and enclosing two letters from Lane to Algernon Percy, 4th Duke of Northumberland regarding the 'Ubab


The Lexicon commissioned by Algernon Percy, 4th Duke of Northumberland (1792-1865), thence by descent. The 'Ubab acquired in London 26 August 1864 by Reginald Stuart Poole, nephew of E.W. Lane, acting on behalf of the 4th Duke of Northumberland, thence by descent.

Algernon Percy, Lord Prudhoe, the second son of the second duke of Northumberland, first travelled to Egypt and the Levant in 1826. He kept a diary of his journey, providing a fascinating glimpse into this exciting period of discovery in Egypt. It was in Cairo that he met Edward William Lane and other important Egyptologists, notably Jean-François Champollion. His enthusiasm for Lane’s Lexicon project led him to fund its preparation for twenty-three years with "a kindness and delicacy not to be surpassed" as Lane notes in his preface, dedicating the Lexicon to the Duke as its ‘originator’ and ‘major supporter’. When he succeeded his brother as Duke of Northumberland, he maintained his particular interest in Egypt alive by collecting antiquities, which later became the founding collection of the Oriental Museum at the University of Durham. (John Ruffle, 'The Journeys of Lord Prudhoe and Major Orlando Felix in Egypt, Nubia and the Levant, 1826-1829' in P. Starkey and J. Starkey, Travellers in Egypt, London, 2001).

Catalogue Note

“…To this day it remains supreme in the field of Arabic lexicography: no scholar or group of scholars has produced anything to supplant it.” – A.J. Arberry, 1960.

The present fair copy of Edward William Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon in forty volumes represents the monumental achievement of almost half the lifetime of the pioneering Egyptologist and eminent Orientalist. Still in production at the time of Lane’s death in 1876 after thirty-four years’ dedication, it is a truly remarkable work of scholarship that has yet to be surpassed in the realms of lexicography and remains an essential tool to scholars well into the twenty-first century. The accompanying ten volumes of al-Saghani's U'bab, used as source material for the Lexicon, are important Mamluk manuscripts in their own right, acquired in London on behalf of the fourth Duke of Northumberland in 1864 and placed at Lane’s disposal.

Edward William Lane

Born in 1801, Edward Lane became fascinated with Egypt as a young man, and made his first trip there aged twenty-four in 1825. Like many of his Western contemporaries drawn to the Middle East (generally Egyptologists and Orientalists such as James Burton, Henry Salt and Robert Hay) he immersed himself fully in his adopted culture, learning Arabic, wearing local dress and mixing primarily with the local people. During this first visit, lasting three years, Lane worked largely in Cairo, making trips to explore nearby Giza, Saqqara and Dahshur, as well as twice travelling up the Nile all the way to the second cataract. Although it was not published until as recently as 2000, his self-illustrated Description of Egypt was composed on his return, and comprised essays on modern and ancient Egypt, as well as geographical studies and accounts of his own travels. A second trip to Egypt from 1833-35 (including several months spent living in a tomb at Thebes to avoid an outbreak of the plague) resulted in the successful publication of Lane’s landmark work An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians in two volumes.

Back in London further projects followed, which included translating the classic Arabic work the Thousand and One Nights (1838-41) and Selections from the Kur’an (1843). The former work was for many years considered the foremost translation of the work, whilst the latter, which is less substantial, nonetheless included valuable material for the reading public.

The Arabic-English Lexicon

However, none of Lane’s achievements testify better to his gifts and originality as an Arabist than his Arabic-English lexicon. It was published in eight volumes. The first five, as far as the letter ‘ain, came out between 1863 and 1874, and the last three after Lane’s death in 1876. The sixth volume, which Lane had all but completed, appeared in 1877. The seventh and the eighth, from the letter qaf on, were published in 1885 and 1893, edited by Lane’s great-nephew, Stanley Lane-Poole, who pieced together Lane’s notes.

By the time Lane started working on it, in 1842, a number of Arabic dictionaries had been published in the West, both in Latin and in the vernacular. Some of these were attempts to provide a guide to the various forms of spoken Arabic, but the most important were, as Lane’s would be, of the classical language, of use above all to readers of the Qur’an, Arabic poetry and other early texts. Until the mid-seventeenth century, Arabic was treated as a dialect of Hebrew and was studied as a Semitic language in conjunction with Hebrew, Syriac and Aramaic. However, this was beginning to change thanks largely to Jacobus Golius, professor of Arabic at Leiden University. With a rare knowledge of the Islamic world, having travelled more widely than the majority of western Arabists who never left Europe, Golius believed that Arabic should be studied in an essentially Islamic context. Some of the best keys to the language were the dictionaries and grammars produced by the Turks and the Persians, and, above all, the monolingual Arabic dictionaries compiled by the Arabs themselves – the Sahah by al-Jauhari dating from the tenth century, Ibn Manzur’s Lisan al-‘Arab of the late thirteenth century, the fourteenth-century Qamus by al-Firuzabadi, and numerous others. It was mainly on the basis of the Sahah and the Qamus that Golius compiled his Lexicon arabico-latinum which was published in 1653. For over a hundred and fifty years it was unsurpassed, used by generations of Arabists throughout Europe. Not until the 1830s was it improved on by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Freytag, one of the best German Arabists of his day (and rival of Lane) who, like a number of his colleagues, had studied in Paris under Isaac Sylvestre de Sacy, and had contributed to the emancipation of Arabic from Hebrew in Germany where the influence of Biblical scholarship on oriental studies had prevailed throughout the eighteenth century.

Lane, on the other hand, was no academic. He learnt Arabic almost entirely on his own and perfected it in Egypt where he immersed himself in Arab culture. The friend of numerous Egyptian intellectuals, he can probably claim to be the first western Arabist to be mentioned by an Arab scholar – the educationalist and reformer ‘Ali Mubarak, who also described him in a novel. His lexicon, moreover, was from Arabic into English. Lane believed, he tells us in his preface, that English was a better language than Latin in which to convey the multiplicity and subtlety of the meanings of so many Arabic words. It was thus the first of the great Arabic dictionaries to appear in a vernacular and the first to appear in English, thereby answering a growing need of scholars and civil servants connected with the expanding British Empire who wished to study classical Arabic. Although, as Lane himself acknowledged, he had deliberately omitted any post-classical words and it was consequently of little use for day-to-day communication with the Arabs, it far surpassed Freytag’s dictionary as a key to the classical language. It can be consulted with immense profit to this day.

The forty volumes of manuscript on sale contain the entire lexicon as it was presented to the publishers, Williams and Norgate (founded in 1843). By far the greater part of the manuscript is in Lane’s hand, but from the middle of the letter qaf onwards (in the first part of volume 34) there is an increasing tendency to stick in slips of paper with Lane’s entries and the occasional addition in an entirely different hand, almost certainly that of Stanley Lane-Poole.

When working on his lexicon Lane proceeded much as his predecessors had done. In addition to using a certain amount of Persian and Turkish material, he exploited nearly all the monolingual dictionaries. To acquire them was by no means easy. Despite the recommendations of the ruler of Egypt, Muhammad ‘Ali, he still found that mosque libraries were most reluctant to lend any of their manuscripts. He consequently relied on his Egyptian assistant Ibrahim Abdul Ghafar al-Dasuqi who sometimes managed either to buy or to borrow in his own name the necessary manuscripts, and was also prepared to copy them. It was he who transcribed, in twenty-four manuscript volumes, the dictionary that was to be Lane’s principal source, the Taj al-‘arus compiled in Egypt in the eighteenth century by Murtada al-Zabidi. It enabled Lane, who, in contrast to Freytag, was most scrupulous in indicating his sources, to refer to a great many monolingual dictionaries and other material to which he never had direct access. At the same time, however, he owned (or managed to consult directly) a number of dictionaries himself – al-Azhari’s Tahdhib, Ibn ‘Abbad’s Muhit and the Sahah (also in a Persian version), all dating from the tenth century, Ibn Sida’s slightly later (eleventh century) Muhkam, al-Mutarrizi’s Mughrib of the early thirteenth century, the Lisan al-‘Arab, al-Fayyumi’s Misbah of the fourteenth century, and the great Qamus of which he also used a Turkish translation.

The 'Ubab

The many sources which Lane quoted indirectly from the Taj al-‘arus included the ‘Ubab al-zakhir wa-al- lubab al-fakhir by Radi al-Din Abu’l-Fada’il al-Hasan  b. Muhammad b. al-Hasan al-Saghani from Lahore who died in 1252 AD. In the history of Arabic lexicography it holds an important place, coming after the Sahah and before the Lisan al’Arab. Al-Saghani had written a continuation of the Sahah (the Takmila, known to Lane from the Taj al-‘arus) and had added 60,000 new entries. When his various lexicographical works appeared they were regarded as the most complete to date. The content of the ‘Ubab, however, was soon absorbed by its successors – by the Lisan al-‘Arab, by the Qamus, and above all by the Taj al-‘arus. Nevertheless Lane had long been eager to obtain a copy. It was rare then just as it is today – there do not appear to be more than five copies in existence - and Lane searched for it in vain in Egypt. Only in 1864, when he had nearly finished his dictionary – or at least that part which was published in his lifetime – was a copy, originating from Cairo and incomplete, purchased for the Duke of Northumberland by Lane’s nephew Reginald Stuart Poole in London at the price of £200. That is the present magnificent manuscript in ten volumes, dating from 653 AH/1255 AD, a few years after al-Saghani’s death, and to which two letters from Lane to Northumberland have been attached. Lane mentions it in a postscript to the preface to his dictionary but only managed to make a limited use of it. The manuscript remains however, with its Mamluk decorations and its clear vocalised script, a splendid object.

There are no copies of the ’Ubab in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin or in the John Rylands Library, Manchester. There are three works in the British Library under the name of al-Hasan Ibn Muhammad al-Saghani entitled Majma’ al-bahrayn fi al-lugha (thirteenth century) and al-Takmilah wa-al dhayl wa-al silah (fourteenth/fifteenth and seventeenth century), but no copies of the ‘Ubab. Brockelmann lists the copies of the work in volume I, 361: WB in 20 Banden, AS 4702 / 4; Kopr. 1551 / 3; Kairo IV, 175 , II, 20 and in Supplement I, 316 as follows: noch Kairo 2, Kasan, s. Vystokva kulturij narodov vostoka, kasan 1920, S.32 ( Isl. XVII, 94).

We are indebted to Professor Alastair Hamilton for his assistance in the cataloguing of this lot.