Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/57

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


themselves so strongly in his domestic affections, in his love of country, and La his unwearied pursuit of knowledge.

With the inmates of his father's house dwelt intelligence, cheerful content and piety ; and, in this scene of the domestic virtues, Leyden was taught to read by his grandmother, under whom he soon acquired a familiar acquaintance with the events recorded in the sacred volume, the historical passages in the Old Tes- tament having first attracted his attention. There is no circumstance from which we should so readily entertain good hopes of the future conduct of a boy, as that of his having been imbued with his earliest letters by so venerable an instructress ; for it argues not only an attentive care to make him spell and pro- nounce words correctly, but an anxious discharge of the parental duties on the part of the family from whom he is sprung, which cannot fail to produce the best effects on the heart of the young pupil an effect how different from that which other fathers are doomed to witness, who, as soon as their children's age admits of their removal, despatch them to distant schools to be brought up as well as taught by strangers, and think they have done all that can reasonably be expected from them when they disburse the sums necessary for the mainte- nance of their offspring ! It was considered the highest praise of a Roman ma- tron of rank that " she staid at home and span," domum mansit, lanam fecit ; but by far more honourable is the epitaph which might with truth be engraved on the tombstones of many Scottish women of the humblest rank " she taught her grandchildren to read." The moral worth which such a system of affection- ate training keeps alive in the land cannot be too highly estimated ; and, as if to prove its advantage, such men as Leyden now and then emerge from useful obscurity, and make the beauty of their home-bred virtues conspicuous to all the world.

Leyden's taste for reading, once kindled, spread like the moorburn on his native heaths, first over the books in his father's possession, and then to the shelves of the neighbours. Some popular works on Scottish history supplied the inspiring recital of the deeds of Wallace and Bruce, which, beyond their im- mediate benefit, have continued as examples through succeeding ages to cherish sentiments of independence in every generous bosom. Among the other pro- ductions with which he was greatly delighted, have been enumerated the poems of Sir David Lindsay, Paradise Lost, Chapman's translation of Homer, and the Arabian Nights Entertainments. An odd volume of the last-named work he ob- tained, when he was about eleven years old, by a resolute perseverance of solici- tation quite commensurate with the ardour of his subsequent literary career. He had received from a companion some account of its contents, and been told that the treasure belonged to a blacksmith's apprentice who resided, at some miles' distance from his father's house. The very next morning, Leyden waded through the snow in the hope of being allowed to peruse a part of the volume in the owner's presence for he had no title to expect a loan of it in any other way ; and that he might have leisure to do so, he set out betimes. On reaching the smithy, learning that the lad had gone from home to do some work, he pro- ceeded to the place, and, having preferred his request, met with a refusal. But he was not to be so dismissed, and continuing beside the lad the whole day, he either succeeded in gaining his good graces, or prevailed by the mere force of pertinacity, so that he got the book as a present, and returned home by sunset, " exhausted by hunger and fatigue," says Sir Walter Scott, "but in triumphant possession of a treasure for which he would have subjected himself to yet greater privations."

At nine years of age Leyden had been sent to the parish school of Kirktown, where, to writing and arithmetic, he added a little knowledge of Latin gram*