Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Liston, Henry

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LISTON, HENRY (1771–1836), writer on music, eldest son of Robert Liston, minister of Aberdour, Fifeshire, was born 30 June 1771. He studied for the ministry at Edinburgh University, and in 1793 was presented to the parish of Ecclesmachan, Linlithgowshire, where he remained till his sudden death at Merchiston Hall, Falkirk, on 24 Feb. 1836.

He was for many years clerk of the presbytery of Linlithgow, and became on 2 May 1820 conjunct clerk of the synod of Lothian and Tweeddale. By his wife Margaret, daughter of David Ireland, town clerk of Culross, whom he married 21 Oct. 1793, he was father of Robert Liston [q. v.] and of David Liston, professor of oriental languages at Edinburgh.

Liston had a natural bias for mechanics and music, and became widely known as the inventor of the 'Eucharmonic' organ, designed to give the diatonic scales in perfect tune. The instrument, which was exhibited in London in 1811, was admittedly ingenious; but as he was more of a theorist than a mechanician there were practical difficulties in playing it, which prevented its general use. Its harmony, however, was superior to that of the tempered organs (for technical details see Henry Ward Poole, On Perfect Intonation; Rees, Encyclopædia, art. 'Organ;' Philosophical Mag. xxxvii. 273, 328). Liston's 'Essay on Perfect Intonation' (4to, Edinburgh, 1812) was intended to explain his theory of acoustics and the construction of his organ. He wrote the article 'Music' in the 'Edinburgh Encyclopædia,' and edited 'Horatii Flacci Opera Selecta' (1819), and the sixth book of Cæsar for use in schools. Liston also invented an improved form of plough, which was used in his district.

[Scott's Fasti Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ (Synod of Lothian), pt. i. p. 185; Presbytery and Synod Registers in Edinburgh University Library; New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1843; H. B. McCall's Some Old Families, 1890, 4to; information kindly supplied by Mr. H. B. McCall of Charlesfield, Livingston.]

J. C. H.