Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/59

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JOHN LEYDEN. 429


of his classical attainments, that at a later period, to use his own expression, " he passed muster pretty well when introduced to Dr Parr."

Leyden was now at the fountain-head of knowledge, and availed himself of former privations by quaffing it in large draughts. He not only attended all the lectures usually connected with the study of theology, but several others, parti- cularly some of the medical classes, a circumstance which afterwards proved important to his outset in life, although at the time it could only be ascribed to his restless and impatient pursuit after science of every description. Admission to these lectures was easy from the liberality of the professors, who throw their classes gratuitously open to young men educated for the church, a privilege of which Leyden availed himself to the utmost extent. There were indeed few branches of study in which he did not make some progress. Besides the learned languages, he acquired French, Spanish, Italian, and German, was familiar with the ancient Icelandic, and studied Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian.

But though he soon became particularly distinguished by his talents as a lin- guist, few departments of science altogether escaped his notice. He investigated moral philosophy with the ardour common to all youths of talent who studied ethics under the auspices of professor Dugald Stewart, with whose personal notice he was honoured. He became a respectable mathematician, and was at least superficially acquainted with natural philosophy, natural history, chemistry, bo- tany, and mineralogy. These various sciences he acquired in different degrees, and at different times, during his residence at college. They were the fruit of no very regular plan of study : whatever subject interested his mind at the time attracted his principal attention till time and industry had overcome the difficul- ties which it presented, and was then exchanged for another pursuit. It seemed frequently to be Leyden's object to learn just so much of a particular science as should enable him to resume it at any future period ; and to those who objected to the miscellaneous, or occasionally the superficial nature of his studies, he used to answer with his favourite interjection, " Dash it, man, never mind : if you have the scaffolding ready, you can run up the masonry when you please." But this mode of study, however successful with John Leyden, cannot be safely recommended to a student of less retentive memory and robust application. With him, however, at least while he remained in Britain, it seemed a matter of little consequence for what length of time he resigned any particular branch of study ; for when either some motive or mere caprice induced him to resume it, he could with little difficulty re-unite all the broken associations, and begin where he left off months or years before, without having lost an inch of ground during the interval.

The vacations which our student spent at home were employed in ar- ranging, methodizing, and enlarging the information which he had acquired during his winter's attendance at college. His father's cottage affording him little opportunity for quiet and seclusion, he was obliged to look out for accom- modations abroad, and some of his places of retreat were sufficiently extraordi- nary. In a wild recess, in the dean or glen which gives name to the village of Denholm, he contrived a sort of furnace for the purpose of such chemical ex- periments as it 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, (except- ing 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,