Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Grant, Alexander (1826-1884)
GRANT, Sir ALEXANDER (1826–1884), principal of Edinburgh University, son of Sir Robert Innes Grant, the seventh baronet of Dalvey, and his wife, Judith Tower, eldest daughter of Cornelius Durant Battelle, of the Danish island, Santa Cruz, West Indies, was born in New York, 13 Sept. 1826. His father had resided in the West Indies, and married the daughter of a planter.
Grant was taken to England soon after his birth, and subsequently accompanied his parents to the West Indies, where he remained for two or three years. He soon showed literary tastes, and was again conveyed to England, where he was first sent to one or two preparatory schools, and then entered at Harrow in 1839. Although he began in the lowest form, he left in five years at the head of the school. He won several prizes, and was the first Harrow boy who gained one of the open Balliol scholarships at Oxford. He played twice in the Harrow eleven against Eton and Winchester. His most intimate friend at Harrow was Percy Smythe, the last Lord Strangford. In the spring of 1845 Grant went into residence at Oxford, and immediately became popular with all sets in college. He read widely in modern literature, and was interested in the theological movement of the time, but only gained a second class. He was awarded, however, the Prosser exhibition in 1846, and the Balliol prize for his essay on 'Enthusiasm' in 1848. In 1849 he was elected, over twelve first-class men, to an open Oriel fellowship.
In 1848-9, by the unexpected emancipation of all the slaves in the island of Santa Cruz, without any compensation, Grant's family was impoverished. He gave up the bar and became a private tutor. He helped to introduce more intelligent methods of study by his edition of the 'Ethics of Aristotle,' which first appeared in 1857. The work at once became a standard text-book, and further editions of it were called for in 1866, 1874, and 1884. Though frequently criticised, it has not been superseded.
In 1855 Grant was nominated one of the examiners of candidates for the Indian civil service, and in 1856 was appointed one of the public examiners in classics at Oxford. In the same year, by the death of his father, he became eighth baronet of his line. In 1859 he accepted an offer of Sir Charles Trevelyan to go out to Madras. Before leaving England he married Susan, second daughter of Professor James Frederick Ferrier [q. v.] of St. Andrews. Trevelyan had formed comprehensive plans for the spread of vernacular education in India. On Grant's arrival at Madras, it was found that the only post to which he could be immediately appointed was that of inspector of native schools; but when in 1860 the Elphinstone Institution was remodelled, Grant was appointed to the new professorship of history and political economy. Two years later he succeeded Dr. Harkness as principal of the college and dean of the faculty of arts in the university.
In 1863, on the retirement of Sir Joseph Arnould, Grant was appointed vice-chancellor of the university of Bombay. During this period he was a close student of all questions affecting India. In lectures and pamphlets upon Indian government he condemned the theory of a close centralisation. Grant temporarily resigned the office of vice-chancellor of Bombay University in 1865, but, on being shortly afterwards re-elected, continued to hold the office for three years more. In 1865 also he was appointed director of public instruction for the presidency of Bombay. He infused new life into the department, extending and liberalising the methods of supervision and education. In 1868 he became a member of the legislative council. A government minute of 3 Oct. 1868 affirmed that he had 'undoubtedly set his mark on the history of education in India.' The Duke of Argyll, as secretary of state for India, testified to 'the solidity and reality of his administration;' and a minute of the university of Bombay spoke of Grant's administration in the highest terms.
On the death in 1868 of Sir David Brewster, principal of the university of Edinburgh, Grant became a candidate for the post. He had lost two of his children in India, and felt painfully the long separation from the others. Grant was ultimately elected over Sir James Young Simpson, and inducted into the office at a meeting of the Senatus Academicus, 3 Nov. 1868. He won the confidence of his colleagues and the respect of the students, besides ending the disagreement with the civic authorities. Mainly through his great personal exertions, Grant succeeded in obtaining for the medical department of the university of Edinburgh new and commodious buildings. Government gave 80,000l. towards the object, and Grant carried his project to completion with the help of public-spirited subscribers. Grant displayed his zeal for the university in connection with the tercentenary festival in 1884. He devised and carried out a remarkably successful celebration. The tercentenary led to the preparation by Grant of his elaborate work, 'The Story of the University of Edinburgh during its first Three Hundred Years' (1884). Among Grant's other literary undertakings, his lives of Aristotle and of Xenophon, published in Blackwood's series of 'Ancient Classics for English Readers,' are of much value. He also wrote upon the endowed schools of Scotland, and took a keen interest in the higher education of women. In 1872 he published 'Happiness and Utility as promoted by the Higher Education of Women,' being the substance of an address delivered before the Edinburgh Ladies' Educational Association. His last 'Inaugural Address' to the students of Edinburgh University was delivered in October 1884.
Grant was a member of the Scotch education board, and had the chief credit of preparing the first Scotch code. The universities of Oxford and Cambridge and of Edinburgh and Glasgow conferred upon him their honorary degrees of D.C.L. and LL.D. He was also elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Grant died somewhat suddenly on 30 Nov. 1884, and was succeeded in the baronetcy by his son, Sir Ludovic Grant.
Besides the works cited above Grant edited ‘Recess Studies,’ and contributed thereto an article on the ‘Endowed Hospitals of Scotland,’ 1870. He was also the author of the following articles: ‘Aristotle,’ in ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica,’ 9th edit.; ‘On the Origin and Nature of the Moral Ideas,’ in ‘Fortnightly Review,’ March 1871; ‘Tukaram, a Study of Hinduism,’ in ‘Fortnightly Review,’ January 1867; ‘Reform of Women's Education,’ in ‘Princeton Review,’ May 1880. Reviews: Jowett's ‘Plato,’ in ‘Edinburgh Review,’ 1871; Fraser's ‘Berkeley,’ in ‘Edinburgh Review,’1872; Grote's ‘Aristotle,’ in ‘Edinburgh Review,’ 1872. In 1866 Grant edited, with E. L. Lushington, the ‘Lectures and Philosophical Remains of Professor Ferrier.’ He also published ‘Lectures delivered in India and in Scotland.’
[Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1885; Quasi Cursores: Portraits of the High Officers and Professors of the University of Edinburgh at its Tercentenary Festival, 1885; The Story of the University of Edinburgh, by Sir A. Grant. 1884; Blackwood's Mag. January, 1885 (art. 'Sir A. Grant,' by Professor Sellar); Saturday Review, 20 Dec. 1884; Scotsman, 1 Dec. 1884; Academy, 6 Dec. 1884; Debrett's Baronetage; private memoranda.]