Norris, Edwin

Norris, Edwin an eminent English ethnological and philological writer, was born at Taunton Oct. 24, 1795. In 1814, immediately after the restoration of peace, he traveled for some time on the Continent as private tutor in a family, chiefly in the south of Italy. After his return to England he was appointed in 1826 to a post in the East. India House, from which He retired with a pension in 1836, in consequence of the arrangements connected with the renewal of the charter. In the same year his extensive knowledge of languages led to his election as assistant secretary to the Royal Asiatic Society, an office which involved the chief share in the editorship of the society's Transactions. In 1847 he received from government the appointment of translator to the Foreign Office. He was appointed in 1856 principal secretary to the Royal Asiatic Society. A short time before he had been made editor of the Ethnographical Library, undertaken in 1853, to embrace accounts of voyages to savage countries and other contributions to ethnographical science. The last edition of Prichard's Natural History of Man appeared with additions under his superintendence in 1855. A Grammar of the English Language, from a MS. by the Rev. R. M. Macbrair in the British Museum, is also "edited with additions by E. Norris," and a Grammar of the Bornu or Kapuri Language (Lond. 1853, 8vo) was developed by him from a series of dialogues sent home from Bornu by Richardson, the African traveler, who died before his return to England. In addition to these acknowledged works, Mr. Norris was frequently engaged in superintending the. publications of the Bible Society in the Tahitian and other languages, and was a contributor to the Penny Cyclopaedia, the Penny Magazine, and other works of large circulation. His reputation is, however, chiefly founded on papers which appeared in the Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society: In one, in 1845, "On the Kapur-di-Giri Rock Inscription," he pointed out the method of deciphering an alphabet which was previously unknown, and the discovery was characterized by Prof. H. H. Wilson, in a paper which accompanied that of Mr. Norris, as "an unexpected and interesting accession to our knowledge of the palaeography and ancient history of India." A paper "On the Assyrian and Babylonian Weights," and another "On the Scythic version of the Behistun Inscription," are also of peculiar value. The whole of Sir Henry Rawlinson's papers on the cuneiform inscriptions, sent from Persia and published in the society's Transactions, passed through Mr. Norris's hands as editor. The chief result, however, of his Oriental studies is his Assyrian Dictionary. Three volumes of this work were published in 1868, 1870, and 1872 respectively, comprising the letters Aleph to Nun. Much of the contents of these volumes has no doubt become antiquated, and many of the tentative meanings assigned to words may be rejected hereafter; still they will always be acknowledged to contain a great amount of useful and trustworthy information, showing on every page the vast extent of Mr. Norris's reading; while those who use his work cannot but admire the singular candor and modesty with which he places before his fellow students the results of his inquiries. The works hitherto mentioned, while they are the principal, are by no means the sole fruits of Mr. Norris's philological labors. For some time he paid considerable attention to the Celtic dialects, and in 1859 published in two volumes the text and translation of three Cornish dramas, constituting by far the greater portion of the existing relics of Cornish literature. Of other publications, we may mention A Specimen of the Vai Language of West Africa (1851): — A Grammar of the Bornu or Kanuri Language (1853); and Dialogues, and a Small Portion of the New Testament in the English, Arabic, Haussa, and Bornu Languages (1853). A disposition naturally modest and retiring impeded the recognition of Mr. Norris's merits in the great world (his only honors were a foreign membership of the German Oriental Society and a Bonn honorary degree of doctor of philosophy); but none who had the happiness of his acquaintance, or who have carefully studied any of his works, will withhold their tribute to such a rare union of excellences. Edwin Norris died Dec. 10, 1872. See English Cyclop. s.v.; Allibone, Dict. of Brit. and Amer. Authors, s.v.; Presb. Qu. Rev. April, 1873, p. 385.

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