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The Scottish Nation

MOLYSON, DAVID, a poet of considerable local reputation in Fifeshire, was the eldest son of a small shopkeeper, who had been originally a tailor, and was born in the village of Monimail, May 4, 1789. After receiving the rudiments of his education at the parish school, he was removed to the school of Collessie, where he studied Latin and Greek. He was then sent to learn the trade of a printer with Mr. Robert Tullis, in Cupar-fife. His leisure hours he devoted to the classics, and without the assistance of a teacher he obtained a knowledge of the Italian language. By an arrangement with his employer he was enabled, during his apprenticeship, to attend the university of St. Andrews, where he distinguished himself by his acquirements, and obtained prized in the mathematical, natural philosophy, and Latin classes. Soon after his return to Monimail, he was appointed editor of a daily newspaper in Dublin, called ‘Saunders’ News-Letter,’ where he remained for about two years, when an unfortunate disagreement with the proprietor caused him to resign his situation. During his residence in the Irish capital, he acquired a knowledge of the Spanish and German languages, and became so far master of architecture and drawing, that he once had the intention of going to London and following the profession of an architect.

On leaving Dublin, he returned to Monimail on a visit to his parents, and soon after accepted the situation of conductor of a private academy in Kirkcaldy, of which the Rev. John Martin was one of the chief managers. This office, however, he only held during a few months. Owing to some misunderstanding with one of the managers, he resigned the appointment, in July 1814, and enlisting as a private soldier in the service of the East India Company, immediately embarked for Bombay. In this capacity he soon attracted the notice of his superiors. Having drawn up a memorial for one of his comrades, the officers were struck with the superior style in which it was written, and made inquiry as to the author. Soon after, the following circumstance occurred. The officers of the regiment had been unsuccessfully endeavouring to work some difficult problem in engineering, relative to the throwing of shells, which they left unsolved on the table of their room. Molyson had occasion to see it lying there, when he solved it at once. The officers found it next morning, and on inquiry were informed that private Molyson was the name of the person who had solved the problem which had so much puzzled them, on which they promoted him at once to the rank of sub-conductor of the ordnance. He had also some connection with the post-office, and all the letters which came to soldiers who were dead fell into his possession. Of some of these he made an interesting use afterwards, in a series of articles which he wrote for Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal, entitled ‘The Dead-Letter Box.’

After a residence of twenty-two months in Bombay, his health began to fail under an eastern climate; and, having obtained his discharge, he returned to Scotland with a broken constitution and a small pension of about two shillings a-day. He now took up his residence at Monimail, where he devoted himself to study, and particularly to poetry. During his stay in India, he had made himself thoroughly acquainted with Hindostanee, and in his retirement he translated a long poem from that language, which, on his death, was found among his manuscripts. He wrote a great many poems for Blackwood’s Magazine, the principal of which, entitled ‘Hubert; an Indian Tale,’ in blank verse, extended over six or eight pages of that periodical. He also contributed largely to the Caledonian Magazine, a Dundee publication. About 1829 he was appointed editor of the Fife Herald, which he conducted with talent and spirit during the peculiarly arduous period which followed Earl Grey’s installation into office. Having paid some attention to the Gaelic language, he wrote several papers for the Herald, showing that many places in Fifeshire derive their names from the Gaelic. In July 1831 bad health obliged him to resign his situation, when he returned to his native village, where he commenced the business of a land-surveyor. In this profession he obtained so much employment as enabled him, with the assistance of his pension, not only to support himself, but also to provide for those who remained of his father’s family. His father died July 30, 1832; and to recruit his own health he went with his brother, for a short time, to the fishing village of Buckhaven, an interesting description of which he afterwards contributed to Chambers’ Journal. He died, unmarried, at Monimail, after a lingering illness, March 4, 1834. He was of a modest and retiring disposition, and much esteemed by all who knew him. To him his native village is indebted for a library, of which he was the first suggester and president, and a tribute of esteem and gratitude is recorded in its minutes to his memory.

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