Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/58

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428 JOHN LEYDEN.


mar. lie continued here three years, with the interval of two very long vaca- tions, in consequence of the death of one teacher and the removal of another. At these times he assumed the plaid, and looked after his father's flock when his assistance vas needed. His parents now clearly perceived that the bent of their son's mind was for learning, and he was accordingly placed under the charge of Mr Duncan, a Cameronian minister at Denholm, who instructed a few pupils, he could not usually draw together more than five or six, in Greek and Latin. " Of the eagerness of his desire for knowledge," says the Rev. James Morton, " it may not be improper to relate an anecdote which took place at this time : Denholm being about three miles from his home, which was rather too long a walk, his father was going to buy him an ass to convey him to and from school. Leyden, however, was unwilling, from the common prejudice against this animal, to encounter the ridicule of his schoolfellows by appearing so ignobly mounted, and would at first have declined the offered accommodation. But no sooner was he informed that the owner of the ass happened to have in his possession a large book in some learned language, which he offered to give into the bargain, than his reluctance entirely vanished, and he never rested un- til he had obtained this literary treasure, which was found to be the Calepini Dictionarium Octolingue."

After he had enjoyed the advantage of Mr Duncan's instructions for two years, it was judged that he was qualified for college ; and in November, 1790, his father accompanied him half-way to Edinburgh, with a horse which they rode alternately; he performed the rest of the journey on foot His views being directed to the church, he began the usual course of study by attending the Greek and Latin classes ; in the preparations for which he was assiduous, allotting a stated portion of time daily to the tasks of each professor, and em- ploying the remaining hours in desultory reading, from which, having the com- mand of the college library, he was not deterred, like some young men, by any difficulty of determining which books it would be most proper and advantageous for him to read first. His public appearances threatened at the outset to draw down upon him some degree of ridicule ; but professor Dalzell used to describe with some humour, the astonishment and amusement excited in his class when John Leyden first stood up to recite his Greek exercise. The rustic yet un- daunted manner, the humble dress, the high harsh tone of his voice, joined to the broad provincial accent of Teviotdale, discomposed on this first occasion the gravity of the professor, and totally routed that of the students. But it was soon perceived that these uncouth attributes were joined to qualities which com- manded respect and admiration. The rapid progress of the young rustic at- tracted the approbation and countenance of the professor, who was ever prompt to distinguish and encourage merit ; and to those among the students who did not admit literary proficiency as a shelter for the ridicule due since the days of Juvenal to the scholar's worn coat and unfashionable demeanour, Leyden was in no respect averse from showing strong reasons adapted to their comprehension, and affecting their personal safety, for keeping their mirth within decent bounds. 1

The Greek language was long his favourite study, and, considering his op- portunities, he became much more intimately acquainted with its best authors than is usual in Scotland, even among those who make some pretensions to lite- rature. The Latin he understood thoroughly ; and it is perhaps the best proof