George Sale

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George Sale (1697, Canterbury, Kent, England – 1736, London, England) was an Orientalist and practising solicitor, best known for his 1734 translation of the Qur'an into English. He was also author of The General Dictionary, in ten volumes, folio.


He was educated at the King's School, Canterbury, and in 1720 became a student of the Inner Temple. It is known that he trained as a solicitor in his early years but took time off from his legal pursuits, returning at need to his profession. Sale was an early member of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Sale became seriously ill with fever for eight days before his death, and died at Surrey Street, The Strand, on November 13, 1736. Sale was buried at St. Clement Danes. His family consisted of a wife and five children.


He took the time to apply himself in the study of the eastern and other languages, both ancient and modern. Carolus Dadichi, the king's interpreter, helped Sale in his studies of oriental dialects. Sale reputedly spent 25 years in Arabia, thus acquiring his knowledge of the Arabic language and customs; this was the basis of Voltaire's statements in the Dictionnaire Philosophique (articles ‘Alcoran,’ ‘Arot and Marot’). On the other hand, Harold Lyon Thomson, writing in the Dictionary of National Biography, stated that he never left his native country.[1]

In 1734, Sale published the translation of the Qur'an, dedicated to John Lord Carteret. Sale provided numerous notes and a "Preliminary Discourse" which was manifest with in-depth knowledge of Eastern habits, manners, traditions, and laws. Voltaire bestowed high praise on Sale's version of the Qur'an. Sale did not, however, place Islam at an equal level with Christianity. He stated,

As Mohammed gave his Arabs the best religion he could, preferable, at least, to those of the ancient pagan lawgivers, I confess I cannot see why he deserves not equal respect, though not with Moses or Jesus Christ, whose laws came really from heaven, yet with Minos or Numa, notwithstanding the distinction of a learned writer, who seems to think it a greater crime to make use of an imposture to set up a new religion, founded on the acknowledgment of one true God, and to destroy idolatry, than to use the same means to gain reception to rules and regulations for the more orderly practice of heathenism already established.

Sale's translation of the Qu'ran has been reprinted into modern times. In January 2007, Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, was sworn in using a 1764 edition of Sale's Qur'an, sold to the Library of Congress in 1815 by Thomas Jefferson.[2]

Sale was also a corrector of the Arabic New Testament (1726) issued by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. He acquired a library with valuable rare manuscripts of Persian, Turkish, and Arabic origins (which is now held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford).

Other works

He assisted in the writing of the Universal History published in London from 1747 to 1768. When the plan of universal history was arranged, Sale was one of those who were selected to carry it into execution. Sale wrote the chapter, "The Introduction, containing the Cosmogony, or Creation of the World". Critics of the time accused Sale of having a view which was hostile to tradition and the Scriptures. They attacked his account of cosmogony as having a view giving currency to heretical opinions.

See also


  1.  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1897). [ "Sale, George" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Dictionary of National Biography. 50. London: Smith, Elder & Co.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Thomas Jefferson's Copy of the Qur'an To Be Used in Congressional Swearing-in Ceremony Library of Congress, January 3, 2007

External links



 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainCousin, John William (1910). A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent & Sons. Wikisource