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While thus I mused still gazing, gazing still,
Two shadows then I saw, two voices heard,
JOHN LEYDEN (1775–1811), a distinguished oriental scholar as well as poet, was a native of Denholm, Roxburghshire. He was the son of humble parents, but the ardent Borderer fought his way to learning and celebrity. His parents, seeing his desire for instruction, determined to educate him for the church, and he was entered of Edinburgh College in the fifteenth year of his age. He made rapid progress; was an excellent Latin and Greek scholar, and acquired also the French, Spanish, Italian, and German, besides studying the Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian. He became no mean proficient in mathematics and various branches of science. Indeed, every difficulty seemed to vanish before his commanding talents, his retentive memory, and robust application. His college vacations were spent at home; and as his father's cottage afforded him little opportunity for quiet and seclusion, he looked out for accommodations abroad. In a wild recess,' says Sir Walter Scott, ‘in the den or glen which gives name to the village of Denholm, he contrived a sort of furnace for the purpose of such chemical experiments as he was adequate to performing. But his chief place of retirement was the small parish church, a gloomy and ancient building, generally believed in the neighbourhood to be haunted. To this chosen place of study, usually locked during week-days, Leyden made entrance by means of a window, read there for many hours in the day, and deposited his books and specimens in a retired pew. It was a well-chosen spot of seclusion, for the kirk-rexcepting during divine service—is rather a place of terror to the Scottish rustic, and that of Cavers was rendered more so by many a tale of ghosts and witchcraft of which it was the supposed scene, and to which Leyden, partly to indulge his humour, and partly to secure his retirement, contrived to make some modern additions.
• The nature of his abstruse studies, some specimens of natural history, as toads and adders, left exposed in their spirit-phials, and one or two practical jests played off upon the more curious of the peasantry, rendered his gloomy haunt not only venerated by the wise, but feared by the simple of the parish.' From this singular and romantic study, Leyden sallied forth, with his curious and various stores, to astonish his college associates. He already numbered among his friends the most distinguished literary and scientific men of Edinburgh. On the expiration of his college studies, Leyden accepted the situation of tutor to the sons of Mr. Campbell of Fairfield, whom he accompanied to the university of St. Andrews. There he pursued his own researches connected with oriental learning, and in 1799, published a sketch of the Discoveries and Settlements of the Europeans in Northern and Western Africa.' He wrote also various copies of verse and translations from the northern and oriental languages, which he published in the 'Edinburgh Magazine.' In 1800, Leyden was ordained for the church. He continued, however, to study and compose, and contributed to Lewis's “Tales of Wonder' and Scott's 'Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.' So ardent was he in assisting the editor of the ‘Minstrelsy,' that he on one occasion walked between forty and fifty miles, and back again, for the sole purpose of visiting an old person who possessed an ancient historical ballad. His strong desire to visit foreign countries induced his friends to apply to government for some appointment for him connected with the learning and languages of the east.
The only situation which they could procure was that of surgeon's assistant; and in five or six months, by incredible labour, Leyden qualified' himself, and obtained his diploma. “The sudden change of his profession,' says Scott, 'gave great amusement to some of his friends. In December 1802, Leyden was summoned to join the Christmas fleet of Indiamen, in consequence of his appointment as assistant-surgeon on the Madras establishment. He finished his poem, the Scenes of Infancy,' descriptive of his native vale, and left Scotland for ever. After his arrival at Madras, the health of Leyden gave way, and he was obliged to remove to Prince of Wales Island. He resided there for some time, visiting Sumatra and the Malayan peninsula, and amassing the curious information concerning the language, literature and descent of the Indo-Chinese tribes, which afterwards enabled him to lay a most valuable dissertation before the Asiatic Society at Calcutta. Leyden quitted Prince of Wales Island, and was appointed a professor in the Bengal College.
This was soon exchanged for a more lucrative appointment, namely, that of a judge in Calcutta. His spare time was, as usual, devoted to oriental manuscripts and antiquities. “I may die in the attempt,” he wrote to a friend, 'but if I die without surpassing Sir William Jones a hundredfold in oriental learning, let never a tear from me profane the eye of a borderer.' The possibility of an early death in a distant land often crossed the mind of the ambitious student. In his ‘Scenes of Infancy,' he expresses his anticipation of such an event:
The silver moon at midnight cold and still,
And sweetly sleep in thy paternal grave.' In 1811, Leyden accompanied the governor-general to Java. “His spirit of romantic adventure,' says Scott, 'led him literally to rush upon death ; for, with another volunteer who attended the expedition, he threw himself into the surf, in order to be the first Briton of the expedition who should set foot upon Java. When the success of the well-concerted movements of the invaders had given them possession of the town of Batavia, Leyden displayed the same ill-omened precipitation, in his haste to examine a library, or rather a warehouse of books. The apartment had not been regularly ventilated, and either from this circumstance, or already affected by the fatal sickness peculiar to Batavia, Leyden, when he left the place, had a fit of shivering, and declared the atmosphere was enough to give any mortal a fever. The presage was too just: he took his bed, and died in three days (August 28, 1811), on the eve of the battle which gave Java to the British Empire. The Poetical Remains of Leyden' were published in 1819, with a 'Memoir of His Life' by the Rev. James Morton. Sir John Malcolm and Sir Walter Scott both honoured his memory with notices of his life and genius. The Great Minstrel has also alluded to his untimely death in his 'Lord of the Isles':
Scarba's Isle, whose tortured shore
Scenes sung by him who sings no more,
And mute his tuneful strains ;
Has Leyden's cold remains. The allusion here is to a ballad by Leyden, entitled “The Mermaid," the scene of which is laid at Corrievreckan, and which was published with another, “The Cout of Keeldar,' in the 'Border Minstrelsy.' His longest poem is his 'Scenes of Infancy,' descriptive of his native vale of Teviot. His versification is soft and musical; he is an elegant rather than a forcible poet. His ballad strains are greatly superior to his ‘Scenes of Infancy' (1803). Sir Walter Scott has praised the opening of the “The Mermaid, as exhibiting a power of numbers which, for mere melody of sound, has seldom been excelled in English poetry
Sonnet on the Sabbath Morning
Ode to an Indian Gold Coin.
What vanity has brought thee here?
So bright, whom I have bought so dear?
The tent-ropes flapping lone I hear
The jackal's shriek bursts on mine ear
Where cane-tufts shadow all the wild,
Of Teviot loved while still a child,
Of castled rocks stupendous piled
Where loves of youth and friendships smiled,
The perished bliss of youth's first prime,
That once so bright on fancy played, * Jeffrey considered (Edinburgh Review, 1805) that Grahame borrowed the opening description in his
Sabbath from the above sonnet by Leyden. The images are common to poetry, besides being congenial to Scottish habits and feelings.
Revives no more in after-time.
Far from my sacred natal clime,
The daring thoughts that soared sublime
Gleams baleful as the tomb-fire drear.
My lonely widowed heart to cheer;
Her eyes are dim with many a tear,
Her fond heart throbs with many a fear!
I left a heart that loved me true!
To roam in climes unkind and new.
The cold wind of the stranger blew
Dark and untimely, met my view-
A wanderer's banished heart forlorn,
Of sun-rays tipt with death was borne ?
From love, from friendship, country, torn,
Vile slave, thy yellow dross I scorn!
From the · Mermaid'
The murmurs of the mountain bee; Disperses wide the foamy spray, How softly mourns the writhèd shell And echoing far o'er Crinan's shore, Of Jura's shore, its parent sea!
Resounds the song of Colonsay : But softer floating o'er the deep,
*Softly blow, thou western breeze, The mermaid's sweet sea-soothing lay, Softly rustle through the sail! That charmed the dancing waves to sleep, Soothe to rest the furrowy seas, Before the bark of Colonsay.
Before my love, sweet western gale! Aloft the purple pennons wave,
"Where the wave is tinged with red, As, parting gay from Crinan's shore, And the russet sea-leaves grow, From Morven's wars, the seamen brave Mariners, with prudent dread.
Their gallant chieftain homeward bore. Shun the shelving reefs below.
Still blamed the lingering bark's delay ; Bend your course by Scarba's shore ;:
Shun, O shun, the gulf profound, The lovely maid of Colousay.
Where Corrievreckan's surges roar! 6 And raise,' he cried, 'the song of love, If from that unbottomed deep,
The maiden sung with tearful smile, With wrinkled form and wreathed train,
The sea-snake heave his snowy mane. ""When on this ring of ruby red
• Unwarp, unwind his oozy coils, Shall die," she said, “the crimson hue, Sea-green sisters of the main, Know that thy favourite fair is dead. And in the gulf where ocean boils,
Or proves to thee and love untrue,". The unwieldy wallowing monster chain.