Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Muir, John

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1340984Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 39 — Muir, John1894Cecil Bendall

MUIR, JOHN (1810–1882), orientalist, born at Glasgow on 5 Feb. 1810, was the eldest son of William Muir, some time magistrate of that city. After receiving his early education at the Irvine grammar school, he attended several sessions at the Glasgow University, and thence passed to the college at Haileybury, in preparation for the service of the East India Company. In 1829 he was sent to Fort William College, Calcutta, and was subsequently appointed successively to the posts of assistant secretary to the board of revenue at Allahabad, special commissioner for a land inquiry at Meerut and Saharanpur, and collector at Azimgarh. In 1844 he filled the more congenial office of Principal of the newly established Victoria or Queen's College at Benares, and although he held the post for a year only he succeeded in that time in giving practical effect to an original educational scheme by which instruction in English and in Sanskrit was given concurrently. He next became Civil and Sessions Judge at Fatehpur. In 1853 retired, and his services were recognised by the bestowal of the distinction of C.I.E. on the institution of the order in 1878. On 20 June 1855 he was created D.C.L. at Oxford University (Foster, Alumni Oxon. 1715-1886, p. 995), and in 1861 LL.D. at Edinburgh.

On leaving India Muir took up his residence in Edinburgh, and devoted himself there to the furtherance of higher education and research. He was the main originator of a society known as the Association for the better Endowment of Edinburgh University, and himself exemplified its aims by founding in 1862 the academical chair of Sanskrit and comparative philology, as well as conjointly with his brother, Sir William Muir, the Shaw fellowship for moral philosophy. He likewise instituted the Muir lectureship in comparative religion, and offered several prizes, mainly for oriental studies, both at Edinburgh and Cambridge.

Muir died unmarried, on 7 March 1882, at 10 Merchiston Avenue, Edinburgh.

Muir's earlier works were mainly addressed to the native reading public of India, and as such were chiefly written in Sanskrit with or without a vernacular rendering. The first work, ' Matapariksha' (Calcutta, 1839), was a missionary brochure, partly directed against Hinduism, and appears to have attracted some notice, as it was answered, likewise in Sanskrit, by a Bengal pandit. The treatise was rewritten by the author, and appeared in a new edition in 1852-4. In 1839 also appeared a somewhat mysterious work, containing 'A Description of England [on the basis of Miss Bird's] in Sanskrit' verse, which has been attributed to Muir, but of which neither author nor adapter can now with certainty be traced. In the years next following he published both in India and in London several other Sanskrit works, dealing both with Indian history and with his favourite topics of Christian apologetics and biography, the most noteworthy of the latter class being his lives of Our Lord and of St. Paul, suggested by the similar works of Dr. W. H. Mill [q. v.] But by far the greatest of Muir's works are his 'Original Sanskrit Texts on the Origin and History of the People of India' (five vols., 1858-70; 2nd ed., 1868-1873), which are still (in the words of one of the best living authorities on early Indian culture) 'eine wahre Fundgrube fur Jeden, der sich iiber die Fragen auf dem Gebiete der alteren indischen Geschichte unterrichten will' (H. Zimmer, Altindisches Leben, p. xi).

In later life he was busied with translations mainly oriental and theological. To the former class belong his 'Sentiments metrically rendered from the Sanskrit' (London, 1875, 8vo) and his 'Metrical Translations from . . . Sanskrit Writers, with an Introduction, many Prose Versions and Parallel Passages from Classical Authors' (London, 1879, 8vo). To theology belong his several versions from the works of Dr. Kuenen of Leyden; 'A Brief Examination of Prevalent Opinions on the Inspiration of the Scriptures, by a Lay Member of the Church of England,' London, 1861, 8vo; and his 'Notes on Bishop Butler's Sermons,' 1867. He also published 'Notes of a Trip to Chinee in Kanawar in October 1851,' 8vo (anon.); 'Notes of a Trip to Kedarnath,' 1855; and 'Hymn to Zeus from Cleanthes,' London, 1875, 8vo (a translation); and contributed eleven articles chiefly on Indian philosophy and mythology to the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society.

[Athenæum, 1882, i. 318, 346; Academy, 1882, i. 196; Journal of Royal Asiatic Soc. new ser. vol. xiv. p. ix; Edinburgh Courant; works cited.]

C. B.