Lives of
Scottish Poets
edited by

Center for Applied Technologies
in the Humanities

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Literary Chronicle
New Monthly Magazine
Monthly Review
Notes and Queries
Gibson and Laing
Halkett and Laing
Scottish Notes & Queries

Part I. (Volume I.)
James the First
Thomas the Rhymer
John Barbour
Andrew Wyntoun
Gavin Douglas
Allan Ramsay
William Meston
John Home
James Beattie
Robert Burns

Part II. (Volume I.)
James the Fifth
William Dunbar
Sir James Inglis
Henry the Minstrel
Sir David Lyndsay
Alexander Barclay
Alexander Montgomerie
William Alexander
William Drummond
James Thomson
John Oswald

Part III. (Volume II.)
James the Sixth
Sir Richard Maitland
Arthur Johnston
Hamilton of Bangour
Hamilton of Gilbertfield
Samuel Colvil
Alexander Ross
John Armstrong
John Ogilvie
James Macpherson
Charles Salmon

Part IV. (Volume II.)
Alexander Hume
John Bellenden
Mark Alexander Boyd
Ninian Paterson
William Wilkie
Robert Fergusson
William Julius Mickle
Alexander Geddes
James Grahame

Part V. (Volume III.)
Robert Henryson
Alexander Scott
Walter Kennedy
John Ogilby
Alexander Pennecuik
Alexander Cunningham
David Mallet
William Falconer
Francis Garden
Robert Blair
James Moor
James Graeme
Caleb Whitefoord
James Grainger
Hector Macneill
John Wilson

Part VI. (Volume III.)
Robert Kerr
Richard Lord Maitland
Thomas Hamilton
Charles Hamilton
Michael Bruce
Thomas Blacklock
John Logan
Andrew Macdonald
James Mercer

Appendix. (Volume III.)
James I
Allan Ramsay
John Home
Robert Burns
William Drummond
Robert Fergusson
Alexander Scott
John Wilson


  Leyden, John, [note] LL.D. Shortly after the death of this distinguished poet and scholar, who fell a victim to fatigue in following the expedition sent against Batavia, in 1811, and to the damps of a hostile climate, the following notice of his life and works appeared in the Bombay Courier, from the able pen of his countryman and friend, General Sir John Malcolm. [note] Whatever room there may be to swell the history of Leyden's life with subordinate particulars, it is much to be doubted whether any more extended sketch could give a completer, juster, or more interesting view of his genius and character, than General Malcolm has here presented to the reader.

To the Editor of the Bombay Courier.

Sir, —I enclose some lines which have no value but what they derive from the subject; they are an unworthy but sincere tribute to one whom I have long regarded with sentiments of esteem and affection, and whose loss I regret with the most unfeigned sorrow: it will remain with those who are better qualified than I am to do justice to the memory of Dr. Leyden. I only know, that he rose by the power of native genius, from the humblest origin, to a very distinguished rank in the literary world. His studies included almost every branch of human science, and he was alike ardent in the pursuit of all. The greatest power of his mind was perhaps shewn in his acquisition of modern and ancient languages. He exhibited an unexampled facility, not merely in acquiring but in tracing their affinity and connexion with each other; and, from that ta-
lent, combined with his taste and general knowledge, we had a right to expect, from what he did in a very few years, that he would, if he had lived, have thrown the greatest light upon the more abstruse parts of the History of the East. In this curious, but intricate and rugged path, we cannot hope to see his equal. Dr. Leyden had, from his earliest years, cultivated the muses with a success which will make many regret that poetry did not occupy a larger portion of his time. The first of his essays, which appeared in a separate form, was
“The Scenes of Infancy, a descriptive poem,” in which he sung, in no unpleasing strains, the charms of his native mountains and streams, in Tiviotdale. He contributed several small pieces to a collection of poems, called “The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border,” [note] which he published with his celebrated friend, Walter Scott. [note] Among these, the “Mermaid” is certainly the must beautiful: in it he has shewn all the creative fancy of a real genius. His Ode “On the death of Nelson” is, undoubtedly, the best of those poetical effusions that he has published since he came to India. The following apostrophe to the blood of that hero, has a sublimity of thought and happiness of expression, which never could have been attained but by a true poet:

“Blood of the brave, thou art not lost
Amid the waste of waters blue;
The tide that rolls to Albion's coast
Shall proudly boast its sanguine hue;
And thou shalt be the vernal dew,
To foster valour's daring seed;
The generous plant shall still its stock renew,
And hosts of heroes rise when one shall bleed.”

It is pleasing to find one on whom nature has bestowed eminent genius, possessed of the more essential and intrinsic qualities which give the truest excellence to the human character. The manners of Dr. Leyden were uncourtly, more, perhaps, from his detestation of the vices too generally attendant on refinement, and a wish (indulged to excess from his youth) to keep at a marked distance from them, than from any ignorance of the rules of good breeding. He was fond of talking; his voice was loud and had little or no modulation, and he spoke in the provincial dialect of his native country. It cannot be surprising, therefore, that even his information and knowledge, when so conveyed, should be felt by a number of his hearers as unpleasant if not oppressive; but with all these disadvantages (and they were great) the admiration and esteem in which he was always held by those also could not understand the value of his knowledge, yet loved his virtues, shew how impossible it was to suppress a sense of his real worth. Though he was distinguished by his love of liberty, and almost haughty independence, his ardent feelings and proud genius never led him into any licentious or extravagant speculations on political subjects. He never solicited favours, but he was raised by the liberal discernment of his noble friend and patron, Lord Minto, [note] to a situation that afforded him an opportunity of shewing that he was as scrupulous and as inflexibly virtuous in the discharge of his public duties, as he was attentive in private life
to the dictates of morality and religion. It is not easy to convey an idea of the method which Dr. Leyden used in his studies, or to describe the unconquerable ardour with which these were pursued. During his early residence in India, I had a particular opportunity of observing both. When he read a lesson in Persian, a person near him, whom he had taught, wrote down each sentence on a long slip of paper, which was afterwards divided into as many pieces as there were words, and pasted in alphabetical order under different heads of verbs, nouns, &c. into a blank book that formed a vocabulary of each day's lesson. All this he had instructed a very ignorant native to do, and this man he used, in his broad accent, to call one of his mechanical aids. He was so ill at Mysore, soon after his arrival from England, that Mr. Anderson, the surgeon who attended him, despaired of his life; but, though all his friends endeavoured at thus period to prevail upon hum to relax in his application to study, it was in vain. He used, when unable to sit upright, to prop himself up, and he thus continued his translations. One day that I was sitting by his bedside, the surgeon came in, “I am glad you are here,” said Mr. Anderson, addressing himself to me, “you will be able to persuade Dr. Leyden to attend to my advice. I have told him before, and I now repeat, that he will die if he does not leave off his studies and remain quiet.” “Very well, doctor,” exclaimed Leyden, “you have done your duty; but you must now hear me: I cannot be idle; and whether I die or live, the wheel mast go round to the last:” and he actually continued,
under the depression of a fever and a liver complaint, to study more than ten hours each day.


The temper of Dr. Leyden was mild and generous, and he could hear with perfect good humour raillery on his foibles. When he arrived at Calcutta, in 1805, I was most solicitous regarding his reception in the society of the Indian capital. “I entreat you, my dear friend,” I said to him the day he landed, “to be careful of the impression you make on your entering this community: for God's sake, learn a little English, and be silent upon literary subjects, except among literary men.” “Learn English!” he exclaimed; “no, never: it was trying to learn that language that spoiled my Scotch; and, as to being silent, I will promise to hold my tongue, if you will make fools hold theirs.” His memory was most tenacious, and lie sometimes loaded it with lumber. When I was at Mysore, an argument occurred upon a point of English history; it was agreed to refer it to Leyden; and to the astonishment of all parties, he repeated, verbatim, the whole of an Act of Parliament in the reign of James I. relative to Ireland, which decided the point in dispute. On being asked, how he came to charge his memory with such extraordinary matter, he said that several years before, when he was writing on the changes that had taken place in the English language, this Act was one of the documents to which he had referred as a specimen of the style of that age, and that he had retained every word in his memory. His love of the place of his nativity was a passion in which he had always a pride, and which, in India, he cherished
with the fondest enthusiasm. I once went to see him when he was very ill, and had been confined to his bed for many days: there were several gentlemen in the room. He inquired “if I had any news?” I told him I had a letter from Eskdale. “And what are they about in the border?” he asked. “A curious circumstance,” I replied, “is stated in my letter;” and I read him a passage which described the conduct of our volunteers, on a fire being kindled by mistake at one of the beacons. This letter mentioned, that the moment the blaze, which was the signal of invasion, was seen, the mountaineers hasted to their rendezvous, and those of Liddisdale swam the Ewes river, to reach it. They were assembled (though several of their houses were at a distance of six and seven miles) in two hours, and at break of day the party marched into the town of Hawick, a distance of twenty miles from the place of assembly, to the border tune of
“Wha dare meddle wi' me?” Leyden's countenance became animated as I proceeded with this detail, and, at its close, he sprung from his sick-bed and with strange melody and still stranger gesticulations, song aloud, “Wha dare meddle wi' me? Wha dare meddle wi' me?” Several of those who witnessed this scene, looked at him as one that was raving in the delirium of a fever. These anecdotes will display, more fully than any description I can give, the lesser shades of the character of this extraordinary man. An external manner certainly not agreeable, and a disposition to egotism, were his only defects.


How trivial do these appear at a moment when we are lamenting the loss of such a rare combination
of virtues, learning, and genius, as were concentrated in the late Dr. Leyden?

I am, Sir,
Your obedient servant,

“Where sleep the brave? on Java's strand,
Thy ardent spirit, Leyden, fled!
And fame, with cypress, shades the land
Where genius fell, and valour bled.
When triumph's tale is westward borne,
On border hills no day shall gleam;
And thy lov'd Tiviot long shall mourn
The youthful poet of her stream.
Near Jura's rocks, the Mermaids' strain
Shall change from sweet to solemn lay;
For he is gone, the stranger swain
Who sung the Maid of Colonsay.
The hardy tar, Britannia's pride,
Shall hang his manly head in woe;
The Bard who told how Nelson
[note] died,
With harp unstrung, in earth lies low.
I see a weeping band arise,
I hear sad music on the gale;
The dirge is sung from Scotia's skies;
Her mountains' sons their loss bewail.
The Minstrel of thy native North
Pours all his soul into the song;
It bursts from near the winding Forth,
And Highland rocks the notes prolong.
Yes, he [note] who struck a matchless lyre,
O'er Flodden's field, and Katrine's wave,
With trembling hand now leads the choir,
That mourn his Leyden's early grave.”