John Richard Clark Hall

John Richard Clark Hall (1855 – 6 August 1931) was an English scholar of Old English, and a barrister. In his professional life, Hall worked as a clerk at the Local Government Board in Whitehall; admitted to Gray's Inn in 1881 and called to the bar in 1896, Hall became principal clerk two years later. During the same period Hall published a dictionary of Old English, and multiple translations of the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf.

J. R. Clark Hall
John Richard Clark Hall

1855 (1855)
Died6 August 1931(1931-08-06) (aged 75–76)
OccupationAuthor, barrister
Spouse(s)Mary Ann Elizabeth Symes
ChildrenCecil, Irene, Wilfrid
Parent(s)James John Hall
1911 England Census - John Richard Clark Hall signature.svg

Hall's A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary became a standard upon its 1894 publication, and after multiple revisions remains in print as of 2020. His 1901 prose translation of Beowulf—the tenth in English, known simply as "Clark Hall"—became "the standard trot to Beowulf",[1] and was still the standard introduction to the poem into the 1960s; several of the later editions included a prefatory essay by J. R. R. Tolkien. Other work on Beowulf included a metrical translation in 1912, and the translation and collection of Knut Stjerna's Swedish papers on the poem into the 1912 work Essays on Questions Connected with the Old English Poem of Beowulf.

Early lifeEdit

John Richard Clark Hall was born in 1855,[2] and was the only son of James John Hall, the principal clerk in the Custom House, City of London.[3] Previously, his father had worked in the Tea and East India Department of HM Customs.[4][5] An uncle, Joseph Hall, lived in Golcar Hill.[4][5]

Hall was educated at the Collegiate School in Peckham, and at St. Olave's Grammar School, in Southwark.[4][5] In May 1871, when Hall was around 16, he won the second prize for the best essay on "the duty of kindness to animals," a competition opened to students of about 120 London schools by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.[4][5][note 1] By age 18 he had obtained certificates at both the Cambridge and Oxford Junior Local Examinations, along with a senior certificate from the latter, earning him the title Associate in Arts at Oxford.[4][5][7][8]

In 187 and 18732 Hall passed the Civil Service examinations,[9] coming first out of more than 170 takers of an exam for clerkships.[10][11][4][5] Hall was placed in the Local Government Board.[4][5] According to a local paper, he was "specially prepared" for the examination by a Mr. Braginton.[4][5] On 16 May 1881, Hall was admitted to Gray's Inn.[3] In 1889 he received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of London,[12][13] and in 1891 a Master of Arts in English and French from the same school.[14] By 1894, he had also attained a Ph.D.[15] Hall was finally called to the bar in 1896,[16][17][18] having studied Roman law and constitutional law and legal history.[19] Upon the retirement of a Mr. R. B. Allen in November 1898, Hall became the principal clerk in the Local Government Board.[20]

Writing careerEdit

Beginning shortly before he became a barrister, and continuing until shortly before his death, Hall published seven books alongside several shorter works.[21] The first two, A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary and Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg: A Translation into Modern English Prose, quickly became standards that went through four editions each;[22][23] the third, a translation of Swedish essays on Beowulf by Knut Stjerna, was similarly influential.[24] Hall's later works were Christian themed, including two published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.[18]

A Concise Anglo-Saxon DictionaryEdit

Title page of Clark Hall's 1894 A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary

Hall's dictionary of Old English, subtitled For the Use of Students,[25] quickly became a standard upon its publication in 1894.[22] The work offered a significantly more complete reference than the prevailing dictionary at the time, Joseph Bosworth's An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary.[26][27][28] "At last", wrote The Guardian, "we have a complete Anglo-Saxon dictionary, complete form A to the very end of the alphabet."[29] Even after Bosworth's work was revised by Thomas Northcote Toller's in 1898, A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary continued to serve prominently as an introductory resource.[30]

The first edition of the dictionary attempted to ease access by ordering entries by the words as they were actually spelled in common editions of Old English texts, and critics noted that this introduced its own share of confusion.[31][2] Hall eliminated this approach in a 1916 second edition, acknowledging that this "was admittedly an unscientific [approach], and opened the door to a good many errors and inconsistencies".[32] Thenceforth he adopted the conventional method of using "normalised" entry words.[2] Hall also began indicating words found only in poetical texts and providing the source of words recorded only once, and added cross references to corresponding entries in the New English Dictionary, then underway.[33][2] The edition was "markedly superior to the first edition" according to a reviewer for Modern Philology,[34] and according to Frederick Klaeber, its "outward make-up is almost an ideal one."[35]

A third and significantly expanded edition followed in 1931;[36] according to Francis Peabody Magoun, it was "to all intents and purposes [a] completely new edition", and "a notable monument to the memory of its author", who died the year of publication.[37] A fourth edition—a reprinting with a supplement by Herbert Dean Meritt[38][39]—came in 1960.[40] This was itself reprinted by the University of Toronto Press starting in 1984,[41][2] and is still in print as of 2020.[42]


Folio 158r of the Beowulf manuscript, showing lines 1138–1158[note 2]

In 1901, after publication of the first edition of his dictionary, Hall published a literal translation of Beowulf.[44] It was the tenth English translation of the work,[23][note 3] and became "the standard trot to Beowulf".[1] It was praised at its outset, including by The Manchester Guardian for containing a "decidedly better" translation than any in current use,[45] and by Chauncey Brewster Tinker for providing "a useful compendium of Beowulf material".[46] The first edition was followed by a corrected second in 1911.[47][48] Such revision was "welcome", wrote Allen Mawer, "for it is probably the best working translation that we have".[49] Posthumous third and fourth editions were edited by Charles Leslie Wrenn and published in 1940 and 1950, respectively.[50][51] These contained an essay by J. R. R. Tolkien, "Prefatory Remarks on Prose Translation of 'Beowulf'", which was later restyled "On Translating Beowulf" for the compilation The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays. Hall's translation—known simply as "Clark Hall"[52]—was "still the 'crib of choice' in Oxford in the 1960s", according to Marijane Osborn;[53] a 2011 survey of Beowulf translations termed it "one of the most enduringly popular of all translations of the poem".[54]

In 1910 Hall published a note on lines 1142–1145 of the poem in Modern Language Notes,[55] and two years later he translated various papers by Stjerna into the work Essays on Questions Connected with the Old English Poem of Beowulf.[56] "It is the great value of these essays", wrote Hall, "that in them Stjerna has collected all the material bearing on the poem of Beowulf which archæological research has yielded in the three Scandinavian countries up to the present time."[57] Previously written in Swedish and published in a medley of obscure journals and Festschrifts before Stjerna's early death,[58][59] Hall's translation gave them much a much broader audience—which E. Thurlow Leeds called "a great service"[24]—and added what Klaeber termed "the function of a conscientious and skilful editor besides".[60] Although the chief reader would be "the Old English student", The Observer wrote, "the helmets and swords in Beowulf and the funeral obsequies of Beowulf of Scyld ... should serve to send many readers to the poem which has been translated by Dr. Clark Hall in an excellent prose version".[61]

Hall followed up his literal Beowulf translation with a metrical translation in 1914.[62] Writing for The Modern Language Review, a W. G. Sedgefield[63] suggested that "[i]n attempting to make a metrical version of the Beowulf in modern English, Dr Clark Hall has undertaken one of the most difficult tasks possible for a translator, and we intend no reflection on his ability and scholarship when we say that in our opinion he has not succeeded."[64] Noting the difficulties of translating the poem, and what he termed "arbitrar[y]" choices by Hall, Sedgefield concluded that "Dr Hall would have done well not to try to improve on his excellent prose version of the poem."[65] The translation did not see a second edition.[23]


Hall's obituary termed him a "protestant reformer",[66] and several of his writings touched on the subject of Christianity. In 1919 and 1923, the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge published two of his works.[67][68] The former, Herbert Tingle, and Especially his Boyhood, was marketed as a "book for educationists",[69] told the story of one of Hall's childhood friends,[70] who had only one year of formal schooling but devised methods of educating himself with toys and games he made himself.[71] In the journal School a reviewer wrote that "Herbert Tingle apparently had never heard of Froebel or Montessori ... yet his available knowledge made him a delightful companion his friend writes, and his independence of education so called would delight the soul of Henry Adams. Let all educators read this piece of Herbert Tingle's life and ponder on the essentials to be taught the young!"[71] Writing for Journal of Education, another reviewer added that while Tingle seemed to be of no special account, and while "for the life of me I do not quite see why I read it, ... Any way we are glad there were two boys like Tingle and Hall and that after one of them passed on at the age of sixty-five the other has taken time to write about their boyhood days and ways."[70]

Later works were more overtly Christian. Hall's 1923 pamphlet by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, Birth-Control and Self-Control,[68] discussed the ethics of birth control.[72] Five years later Hall published a book titled Is our Christianity a Failure?[73] Reviewed by The Spectator—to which Hall addressed a note the same year advocating for the "parochial comprehensiveness" of the church[74]—the book was called a "layman's attempt to express and defend his religion".[75]



  • Hall, John Richard Clark (1894). A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (1st ed.). London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co.  
    • —— (1916). A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (2nd ed.). New York: Macmillan.  
    • —— (1931). A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (3rd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    • —— & Meritt, Herbert Dean (1960). A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary (4th ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    • —— & Meritt, Herbert Dean (1984). A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. Medieval Academy reprints for teaching. 14 (4th ed.). Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-6548-1.
  • Hall, John Richard Clark (1901). Beowulf and the Fight at Finnsburg: A Translation into Modern English Prose (1st ed.). London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co.  
    • —— (1911). Beowulf and the Finnsburg Fragment: A Translation into Modern English Prose (2nd ed.). London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co.
    • —— (1940). Wrenn, Charles Leslie (ed.). Beowulf and the Finnesburg fragment: A Translation into Modern English Prose (3rd ed.). London: George Allen & Unwin.
    • —— (1950). Wrenn, Charles Leslie (ed.). Beowulf and the Finnesburg fragment: A Translation into Modern English Prose (4th ed.). London: George Allen & Unwin.
  • Stjerna, Knut (1912). Essays on Questions Connected with the Old English Poem of Beowulf. Extra Series. III. Translated by Hall, John Richard Clark. London: Viking Club: Society for Northern Research.  
  • Hall, John Richard Clark (1914). Beowulf: A Metrical Translation into Modern English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  
  • Hall, John Richard Clark (1919a). Herbert Tingle, and Especially his Boyhood. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. OCLC 24238768.
  • Hall, John Richard Clark (1923). Birth-Control and Self-Control. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. OCLC 27778514.
  • Hall, John Richard Clark (1928a). Is our Christianity a Failure?. London: Marshal Bros. OCLC 559807324.



Personal lifeEdit

Hall married Mary Ann Elizabeth Symes, of Kingston Russell, on 29 November 1883;[76] the ceremony was held in Long Bredy, Dorset, with the rector Henry Pigou presiding.[77][78] The two had four children, three of whom survived: Cecil Symes (born c. 1887), Irene Clark (born c. 1886), and the entomologist Wilfrid John (born 1892).[79][80][81]

Hall was a member of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, joining in 1910.[82] Having spent time in Peckham as a child, Hall disparaged the "straphanger",[83] which he blamed with divesting the suburb of its "mild air of suburban gentility" and turning it into "weekly property".[67] In 1925 he wrote to Notes and Queries to ascertain the origin of "an old broadside ... purporting to be 'A True Copy of a Letter written by Jesus Christ'" and to be "a charm against evil spirits, miscarriage, etc.", which Hall said had been passed down by Yorkshire ancestors, and "looks like the kind of thing a pedlar might try to sell to ignorant folks".[84] Among those who answered,[85] Robert Priebsch identified it as "a late—though by no means the latest—offshoot of an interesting fiction ... which, in my opinion, originated in Southern Gaul or Northern Spain towards the close of the sixth century, and which has enjoyed a tremendous spread all over Europe".[86]

Hall died on 6 August 1931, at a nursing home in Eastbourne, East Sussex.[66][87][88] His obituary labeled him a "protestant reformer", noted that he had formerly been on the Local Government Board in Whitehall.[66][89]


  1. ^ Hall was placed fourth in another essay contest in 1876.[6] Writing on the topic of "The Circulation of Corrupt Versions of Holy Scripture by a large Section of Protestant Christians" for the Trinitarian Bible Society, he won £25.[6]
  2. ^ The folio starts with the second word of line 1138, þohte, and ends with the first word of line 1158, læddon. An 1884 renumbering of the folios by the British Library means that there are two numbering paradigms, the "manuscript foliation" and the "British Library foliation".[43] The page shown is folio 158r under the British Library foliation, and folio 155r under the manuscript foliation.[43]
  3. ^ The eighth translation, in 1892, had also been translated by a John Hall, John Lesslie Hall.[23]


  1. ^ a b Chickering Jr. 1967, p. 774.
  2. ^ a b c d e Hausmann et al. 1990.
  3. ^ a b Foster 1889, p. 491.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Huddersfield Daily Chronicle 1873.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Huddersfield Chronicle 1873.
  6. ^ a b The Belfast News Letter 1876.
  7. ^ The Standard 1871.
  8. ^ The Standard 1872.
  9. ^ The Morning Post 1872.
  10. ^ The Morning Post 1873.
  11. ^ The London Gazette 1873.
  12. ^ The Times 1889a.
  13. ^ The Times 1889b.
  14. ^ The Times 1891.
  15. ^ Hall 1894, p. i.
  16. ^ The Standard 1896.
  17. ^ The Law Times 1896.
  18. ^ a b Literary Who's Who 1920, p. 118.
  19. ^ The Times 1896.
  20. ^ Devon and Exeter Gazette 1898.
  21. ^ Literary Who's Who 1920.
  22. ^ a b Chermayeff 1962.
  23. ^ a b c d Osborn 2014.
  24. ^ a b Leeds 1913, pp. 150–151.
  25. ^ Hall 1894.
  26. ^ Chase 1895, pp. 50, 52.
  27. ^ Journal of Education 1895.
  28. ^ The Journal of Education 1894.
  29. ^ The Guardian 1895.
  30. ^ Garnett 1898, pp. 327–328.
  31. ^ Chase 1895, pp. 50–51.
  32. ^ Hall 1916, p. v.
  33. ^ Klaeber 1918, p. 154.
  34. ^ Knott 1917.
  35. ^ Klaeber 1918, p. 153.
  36. ^ Hall 1931.
  37. ^ Magoun 1932, p. 288.
  38. ^ Muinzer 1963, p. 786.
  39. ^ Campbell 1962.
  40. ^ Hall & Meritt 1960.
  41. ^ Hall & Meritt 1984.
  42. ^ University of Toronto Press.
  43. ^ a b Kiernan 2016.
  44. ^ Hall 1901.
  45. ^ The Manchester Guardian 1901.
  46. ^ Tinker 1902, p. 379.
  47. ^ Hall 1911.
  48. ^ Windle 1912.
  49. ^ Mawer 1911.
  50. ^ Hall 1940.
  51. ^ Hall 1950.
  52. ^ Magennis 2011, pp. 15–16.
  53. ^ Osborn 1997, p. 342.
  54. ^ Magennis 2011, p. 15.
  55. ^ Hall 1910.
  56. ^ Stjerna 1912.
  57. ^ Stjerna 1912, p. xviii.
  58. ^ Windle 1913, p. 254.
  59. ^ Dickins 1911–1912, p. 36.
  60. ^ Klaeber 1914, p. 173.
  61. ^ The Observer 1912.
  62. ^ Hall 1914.
  63. ^ The Manchester Guardian 1945.
  64. ^ Sedgefield 1915, p. 387.
  65. ^ Sedgefield 1915, p. 389.
  66. ^ a b c The Scotsman 1931.
  67. ^ a b Hall 1919a.
  68. ^ a b Hall 1923.
  69. ^ The Manchester Guardian 1919.
  70. ^ a b Journal of Education 1920.
  71. ^ a b School 1920.
  72. ^ The Servant of India 1924.
  73. ^ Hall 1928a.
  74. ^ Hall 1928b.
  75. ^ The Spectator 1929.
  76. ^ Dorset Marriages 1883.
  77. ^ The Western Gazette 1883.
  78. ^ The Cambridge Yearbook 1906.
  79. ^ England Census 1891.
  80. ^ England Census 1911.
  81. ^ Who Was Who 2007.
  82. ^ Yorkshire Philosophical Society 1911.
  83. ^ Hall 1919b.
  84. ^ Hall 1925.
  85. ^ Hawkes 1925.
  86. ^ Priebsch 1925.
  87. ^ England Probate 1931.
  88. ^ Burdett 1920, p. 1026.
  89. ^ The Manchester Guardian 1931.