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The Scottish Nation

LEYDEN, JOHN, M.D., a distinguished poet and linguist, was born at Denholm, Roxburghshire, September 8, 1775. His ancestors, for several generations, were farmers, and his father was all his life engaged in rural occupations. Hi received the rudiments of his education at the parish school of Kirktown. His desire for learning determined his parents to train him for the church, and after acquiring Greek and Latin, under the charge of Mr. Duncan, a Cameronian minister at Denholm, he was entered a student at the university of Edinburgh in November 1780. Besides the theological, he also attended the medical classes, and in addition to the learned languages acquired French, Spanish, Italian, German, and the ancient Icelandic. In 1796, on the recommendation of Professor Dalzell, he became private tutor to the sons of Professor Campbell of Fairfield, whom, during the winter of 1798, he accompanied to St. Andrews.

      The travels of Mungo Park, and the progress of discovery in Africa, having directed his attention to the history of that interesting quarter of the world, in 1799 he published a small octavo volume, entitled ‘Historical and Philosophical Sketch of the Discoveries and Settlements of the Europeans in Northern and Western Africa, at the close of the eighteenth Century;’ an enlarged edition of which was afterwards published by Mr. Hugh Murray, in 3 vols. 8vo. About 1799 and 1800 he contributed various poetical pieces, both original and translated, to the Edinburgh Magazine, which attracted considerable notice at the time. By Mr. Richard Heber, then residing in Edinburgh, whose acquaintance he had made in Mr. Constable’s shop, he was introduced to the best society of the Scottish capital, and became the friend of Scott, Lord Woodhouselee, Mr. Henry Mackenzie, and other eminent literary men. Although Leyden displayed in company a bluntness and independence of manner, with a disposition to egotism, and a fondness for disputation which were far from agreeable, he was by no means ignorant of the rules of good breeding; and the better qualities of his character commanded the respect and admiration of all who knew him.

      In 1800 he was licensed to preach, but his style was unpopular, and he himself was dissatisfied with his own discourses. In 1801 he contributed the ballad called the Elfking to Mr. Lewis’ ‘Tales of Wonder;’ and in 1802 he assisted Mr. Walter Scott in procuring materials for the ‘Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border,’ to which he furnished some spirited ballads. He also republished ‘The Complaynt of Scotland,’ an ancient and rare tract, with a learned Preliminary Dissertation, Notes, and a Glossary; and edited ‘Scottish Descriptive Poems,’ consisting of a new edition of Wilson’s ‘Clyde,’ with a reprint of an interesting poem, entitled ‘Albania,’ being a panegyric on Scotland, written in nervous blank verse, by an anonymous author, in the beginning of the eighteenth century. The Edinburgh Magazine being, in 1802, united with the old Scots Magazine, Mr. Leyden conducted this publication for about six months, contributing to it several occasional pieces of prose and poetry. In 1803, on the eve of his leaving Britain for ever, he published ‘The Scenes of Infancy,’ a pleasing poem, descriptive of Teviotdale.

      In 1802 Leyden had commenced overtures to the African Society, to be employed on an expedition into the interior of Africa. To prevent the execution of this project, some of his friends applied on his behalf to the Right Hon. William Dundas, who procured for him the appointment of assistant-surgeon in the East India Company’s service, on the Madras establishment. After six months’ unremitting application to the study of medicine, he was successful in obtaining his diploma as surgeon, and soon after took his degree of M.D. He arrived in Madras in 1803, and immediately directed his attention to the acquirement of the Oriental languages. He was speedily nominated surgeon to the commissioners appointed to survey the ceded districts, but his health gave way under the climate, and he was obliged to retire to Prince of Wales’ island, where he resided for some time. His application to study was incessant, and even severe illness could not induce him to relax from his unwearied pursuit of knowledge. In addition to the Sanscrit, Arabic, Persian, and Hindustani, he made himself master of many of the languages spoken in the Deccan, and obtained an extensive knowledge of the Malay and other kindred tongues. By the influence of the governor-general, Lord Minto, he was promoted to the professorship of Hindustani in Bengal college, and shortly afterwards was appointed to the office of a judge of the Twenty-four Purgunnahs of Calcutta. In 1809 he was constituted one of the commissioners of the court of requests, and in the following year assay-master of the Calcutta mint. In August 1811 he accompanied Lord Minto in the expedition against Java, and died in that island, on the 28th of the same month, after three days’ illness.

      In the tenth volume of ‘Asiatic researches’ will be found an interesting treatise by Leyden ‘On the Languages and Literature of the Indo-Chinese Nations;’ and in the eleventh volume, some striking observations ‘On the Rosheniah Sect,’ a class of heretics among the Afghans. His translation of the ‘Malay Annals’ was published after his death by his friend Sir Stamford Raffles; and the other MSS. which he left behind him consisted of valuable treatises on Oriental literature, with various translations and several grammars of different Eastern languages. His ‘Poetical Remains,’ with a Memoir of his Life, by the Rev. James Morton, were published in one volume 8vo, in 1819. In 1826 appeared ‘Memoirs of the Emperor Baber,’ an Indian hero, translated by Leyden. An animated sketch of his life is to be found among the Miscellaneous Prose Works of Sir Walter Scott.

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