Lees, William Nassau (DNB00)
|←Lees, Harcourt||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 32
Lees, William Nassau
LEES, WILLIAM NASSAU (1825–1889), major-general in the Indian army and orientalist, fourth son of Sir Harcourt Lees [q. v.], bart., was born on 26 Feb. 1825, and educated at Nut Grove and at Trinity College, Dublin, but took no degree. He was appointed to a Bengal cadetship in 1846, and was posted to the late 42nd Bengal native infantry as ensign in March 1846. He became lieutenant in July 1853, captain in September 1858, major in June 1865, lieutenant-colonel in 1868, colonel in 1876, and major-general in 1885, having been placed on the supernumerary list in 1884. He was for some years principal of the Madrásá or Mohammedan College, Calcutta (averaging four hundred students), in which institution he was also professor of law, logic, literature, and mathematics. He was likewise secretary to the college of Fort William, Persian translator to the government, and government examiner in Arabic, Persian, and Urdu for all branches of the service, besides being for some years part proprietor of the ‘Times of India’ newspaper, and was an incessant contributor to the daily press on all Indian topics, political, military, and economical. In 1857 the university of Dublin conferred on him the honorary degree of LL.D., and he was also a doctor in philosophy of Berlin. He became a member of the Royal Asiatic Society, London, in 1872. A staunch conservative in politics, he twice sought to enter parliament, but without success. He died at his residence in Grosvenor Street, London, on 9 March 1889, aged 64.
Lees was a distinguished oriental scholar. In 1853, when still an ensign, he brought out an edition of the Arabic ‘Fatúh'sh-Shám,’ or account of the Muslim conquest of Syria, and edited or co-edited various native works (see Centenary Review of the Bengal Asiatic Society, 1885). The Arabic work for which his memory is more particularly honoured by Eastern scholars is his ‘Commentary of Az-Zamakhshari,’ an exegesis of the Koran, much reverenced by Sunnites. In Persian, his ‘Nafahatu l'Uns’ of Jámí (an account of famous saints and Sufites modernised from an older chronicle) and the ‘Vis u Rámin,’ which has been described as a poetical version of an original Páhlévi romance, are not less worthy. Lees assisted in the production by native writers of the ‘A'aris i Buzurgan’ (1855), consisting of obituary notices of Mohammedan doctors (edited by Lees and the Maulavi Kaberu 'd din Ahmad); a ‘History of the Caliphs’ (1856); a ‘Book of Anecdotes, Wonders, Pleasantries, Rarities, and Useful Extracts’ (1856); and the ‘Alamgirmáneh’ (1868). Among his many contributions to the Royal Asiatic Society's ‘Journal’ may be mentioned his ‘Materials for the History of India during the 600 years of Mohammedan Rule previous to the Foundation of the British Empire in India,’ which appeared in 1868 (Journ. Roy. Asiatic Soc. vol. iii.), and contains a thoughtful review of the relations of the natives of India to their English rulers. To the ‘Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal’ he contributed an article on the application of Roman alphabetical characters to oriental languages, six other papers, and many valuable notes. He supervised the printing of Mr. Morley's edition of the ‘Tárikh-i-Baihaki,’ and in part superintended that of the Maulávi Sáiyid, Ahmad Khan's edition (1868) of the ‘Tárikh-i-Firuz Sháhi by Ziyáu 'd-Din Barani,’ an interesting account of which will be found in vol. iii. of Dr. Rieu's ‘Catalogue of Persian MSS.’ in the British Museum. He was joint editor (1863) of the ‘Tabakát i Nasiri,’ by Minháju 'd-Din al Jurjáni, and (1864) of the ‘Muntakh-abu't Tawárikh’ of Abd'ul Kádir Badáuni, stated by Dr. Hoernle to be second as a history ‘to none in the whole range of historical works by Mohammedan authors.’ The publication of the ‘Ikbál Námeh-i-Jahángíri’ of M'Ulamád Khan, and the ‘Badsháh Námeh’ of Abd'ul-Hámed Lahauri was likewise indebted to his superintendence.
He also published:
- 'Instruction in Oriental Languages, especially as regards Candidates for the East India Company's Service, and as a National Question.' London and Edinburgh, 1857.
- 'A Biographical Sketch of the Mystic Philosopher and Poet, Jámí' London, 1859.
- 'Guide to the Examinations at Fort William.' Calcutta, 1862.
- 'Resolutions, Regulations, Despatches, and Laws relating to the Sale of Waste Lands and Immigration to India,' Calcutta, 1863.
- 'The Drain of Silver to the East, and the Currency of India.' London, 1864(1865).
- 'Memoranda written after a Visit to the Tea Districts of E. Bengal.' Calcutta, 1866.
- 'Land and Labour in India.' a review, London, 1867.
- 'Indian Mussulmans.' three letters reprinted from the 'Times.' four articles from the 'Calcutta Englishman,' an article on the prince consort, and an appendix, London, 1871.
[Foster's Baronetage, under 'Lees;' East India Registers and Army Lists; Journ. Royal Asiatic Society, London, January-March 1889; Athenaeum, 16 March 1889, p. 345; information from private sources.]