British orientalist and man of letters
Born 1775 Died 1811
John Leyden was born on the 8th of September 1775 at Denholm on the Teviot, not far from Hawick. Leyden's father was a shepherd, but contrived to send his son to Edinburgh University to study for the ministry. Leyden was a diligent but somewhat miscellaneous student, reading everything apparently, except theology, for which he seems to have had no taste. Though he completed his divinity course, and in 1798 received licence to preach from the presbytery of St Andrews, it soon became clear that the pulpit was not his vocation. In 1794 Leyden had formed the acquaintance of Dr Robert Anderson, editor of The British Poets, and of The Literary Magazine. It was Anderson who introduced him to Dr Alexander Murray, and Murray, probably, who led him to the study of Eastern languages. They became warm friends and generous rivals, though Leyden excelled, perhaps, in the rapid acquisition of new tongues and acquaintance with their literature, while Murray was the more scientific philologist.
Through Anderson also he came to know Richard Heber, by whom he was brought under the notice of Sir Walter Scott, who was then collecting materials for his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. Leyden was admirably fitted for helping in this kind of work, for he was a borderer himself, and an enthusiastic lover of old ballads and folk-lore. Scott tells how, on one occasion, Leyden walked 40 miles to get the last two verses of a ballad, and returned at midnight, singing it all the way with his loud, harsh voice, to the wonder and consternation of the poet and his household.
Leyden meanwhile compiled a work on the Discoveries and Settlements of Europeans in Northern and Western Africa, suggested by Mungo Park's travels, edited The Complaint of Scotland, printed a volume of Scottish descriptive poems, and nearly finished his Scenes of Infancy, a diffuse poem based on border scenes and traditions. He also made some translations from Eastern poetry, Persian and Arabic.
At last his friends got him an appointment in India on the medical staff, for which he qualified by a year's hard work. In 1803 he sailed for Madras, and took his place in the general hospital there. He was promoted to be naturalist to the commissioners going to survey Mysore, and in 1807 his knowledge of the languages of India procured him an appointment as professor of Hindustani at Calcutta; this he soon after resigned for a judgeship, and that again to be a commissioner in the court of requests in 1800, a post which required a familiarity with several Eastern tongues. In 1811 he joined Lord Minto in the expedition to Java. Having entered a library which was said to contain many Eastern MSS., without having the place aired, he was seized with Batavian fever, and died, after three days' illness, on the 28th of August 1811.
Being the entry for LEYDEN, JOHN in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.