Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Muir, William
MUIR, SIR WILLIAM (1819–1905), Indian administrator and principal of Edinburgh University, born in Glasgow on 27 April 1819, was youngest of four sons of William Muir, merchant in Glasgow, by his wife Helen Macfie, of an Ayrshire family. John Muir [q.v.], the Sanskrit scholar, was his eldest brother. The eldest sister, Margaret, married the painter, Sir George Harvey [q.v.]. Left a widow two years after William's birth, his mother took her four daughters to Kilmarnock, where William attended the grammer school. On the removal of the family to Manor Place, Edinburgh, he entered the university there, and subsequently the university of Glasgow. Before he had the opportunity of graduating, his grand-uncle, Sir James Shaw [q. v.], chamberlain of the city of London, previously lord mayor, gave Mrs. Muir four writerships for the East India Company's civil service, and all her four sons went successively to Haileybury College and to the North-West Provinces of India. The second and third sons. James and Mungo, died there after short service.
On 16 Dec. 1837 William Muir landed in Bombay. There he at once entered on the work of settling the periodical assessments of land revenue, and with that work his service of thirty-nine years was mainly identified. He was stationed successively in the districts of Cawnpore, Bundelkhand, and Fatehpur. Following in the footsteps of Robert Merttins Bird [q.v] and of James Thomason [q. v.], the creators of the land revenue system, he passed into the board of revenue, and then became secretary to Thomason's government of the North-West Provinces at Agra in 1847.
The sepoy Mutiny broke out at Meerut on 10 May 1857 and spread rapidly. Muir, at Agra, where the situation was soon critical, advised vigorous action from the first. Akbar's great fort of Agra became the refuge of the Christians, and John Russell Colvin [q. v.], the lieutenant-governor, just before his death there on 9 Sept. 1837, nominated Muir and two others to keep the wheels of government in motion. Moir vividly told the story of his experience for his children in his 'Agra in the Mutiny' (1896). Soon there was neither government nor revenue; but as head of the intelligence department Muir held the dangerous position of centre of communication between the viceroy, Lord Canning, and the civil and military authorities right across India to Delhi, Lahore, and Peshawar, to Gwalior, Indore, and Bombay. The invaluable correspondence which he controlled, after being partially utilised by Kaye in his history, was published in Edinburgh in two volumes in 1908, edited by W. Coldstream.
On the virtual suppression (save in Oudh) of the rebellion at the end of 1857 Lord Canning personally undertook the lieutenant-governorship of the North-West Provinces, and removed the headquarters from Agra to Allahabad. At the end of January 1858 he summoned Muir to join him there as secretary to his government. Muir's experience and influence became all-important in the reorganisation of the provinces through 1858. To form after the Mutiny a permanent settlement of the North- West Provinces which should at once content the people and satisfy the revenue was the problem which Muir solved in his masterly minute of 5 Dec. 1861, when he was senior member of the board of revenue. He showed how the desired result could be reached gradually, on the basis of corn rents. That great state paper convinced the government of India. Political changes at the India office in London first delayed sanction and then indefinitely postponed the decision. To that delay was largely due the loss of life, property, and revenue since caused by famines in northern and central India.
After acting as provisional member of the governor-general's legislative council from 1864 Muir became foreign secretary under John first Lord Lawrence in 1867, when he was created K.C.S.I. Next year he became lieutenant-governor of the North-West Provinces, and held office till 1874. The sympathy and the efficiency which he brought to his administration obliterated the last traces of the rebellion. He mitigated the severity of the land assessment, and passed two acts which consolidated and amended the land laws of the North-West Provinces. He checked, and finally abolished, Hindu female infanticide, without creating political discontent. He promoted the spread of both primary and university education. The Muir college, which bears his name, at Allahabad, and the university which he instituted there, perpetuate his memory, and he devoted his leisure to the welfare of the Christian natives. From 20 Nov. 1874 to Sept. 1876 he held the high office of financial member of Lord Northbrook's council.
When Queen Victoria became Empress of India she adopted, as the translation of that title, the phrase, which Muir suggested, of Kaisar-i-Hind. At a later period, when a guest at Balmoral, he assisted Queen Victoria in her Hindustani studies.
On his retirement from India in 1876 he accepted the invitation of Lord Salisbury, secretary of state for India, to join the council of India in London. But he resigned his seat there on 16 Dec. 1885 on being appointed principal of Edinburgh University. That office he held till his death. Finding the official residence insufficient, he acquired Dean Park House, which became the centre of a gracious hospitality, that soon obliterated the memory of old academic feuds. In the words of Sir Ludovic Grant, son of Sir Alexander Grant [q. v.], his immediate predecessor, he 'cemented cordial relations between the university and all sections of the community.' He proved a generous benefactor to the university, and was generally known as 'the students' principal.'
Meanwhile Muir amid his official labours made a universal reputation as an Arabic scholar and an historian of Islam. To the 'Calcutta Review,' while it was edited by the present writer from 1857 onwards, Muir contributed fifteen articles, and on these he based his standard 'Life of Mahomet—History of Islam to the Era of the Hegira' (4 vols. 1858-61). He acquired the MSS. of the first authorities, Wakidi, Hishami, and Tabari, and subsequently presented his valuable MS. of Wakidi to the India office, after, giving a transcript to the Edinburgh University library. A third edition of Muir's 'Life,' in one volume, omitting the introductory chapters and most of the notes, appeared in 1894 and was out of print at his death. In 1881 Muir delivered the Rede lecture at Cambridge on 'The Early Caliphate and Rise of Islam.' In 1883 his 'Annals of the Early Caliphate' and in 1896 his 'Mameluke or Slave Dynasty of Egypt' completed his great history down to the assumption of the title of Caliph by the Osmanli Sultanate. To the last volume Muir prefixed a lecture which he delivered to the. Edinburgh students in 1894 on the Crusades, 'that great armament of misguided Christianity.' Meanwhile he also published 'The Coran: its Composition and Teaching, and the Testimony it bears to the Holy Scriptures' (1878); 'Extracts from the Coran, in the Original, with English rendering' (1880); 'The Apology of al-Kindy' (1881 and 1887); ' The Old and New Testaments, Tourat, Zubur and Gospel; Moslems invited to see and read them' (1899), and other small treatises. 'Ancient Arabic Poetry: its Genuineness and Authenticity,' in Royal Asiatic Society's 'Journal' in 1879, is of high value.
He was elected president of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland in 1884, and in 1903, in recognition of 'the great value, importance, and volume' of his work on Islamic history and literature, was awarded the triennial jubilee gold medal, previous holders being E. B. Cowell [q. v. Suppl. II] and E. W. West [q. v. Suppl II]. He was made hon. D.C.L. of Oxtord in 1882, LL.D. of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and in 1888 Doctor of Philosophy of Bologna University, at the eighth centenary of the foundation of which he represented Edinburgh. Muir died at Edinburgh on 11 July 1906, and was buried in Dean cemetery. He married in 1840 Elizabeth Huntly (d. Oct. 1897), daughter of James Wemyss, collector of Cawnpore and a cadet of the family of Wemyss Castle in Fifeshire. She was identified with her husband in all his undertakings. Of the fifteen children of the marriage, the eldest son is Colonel William James Wemyss Muir, Bengal artillery and political department.
In 1862 Muir joined his brother John in endowing the Shaw professorship of Sanskrit and comparative literature at Edinburgh in memory of their grand-uncle, Sir James Shaw. Busts of Muir are in the Muir College, Allahabad, and in Edinburgh University. A crayon portrait belongs to the eldest son.
[The Friend of India, 1873-1874; The Times, 12 July 1905; the Royal Asiastic Society's Journal, 1905, by Sir Charles J. Lyall (a good estimate of Muir's Arabic scholarship and general character); the Student, Edinburgh University Magazine, Sir William Muir Number, 1905; Sir William Muir Memorial Service, an address by Rev. John Kelman, M.A., D.D., in the M'Ewan Hall, Sunday, 16 July 1905.]