Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/62

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


retailer of curious and ancient books, a department in which he possessed ex- tensive knowledge ; Mr Richard Heber, the extent of whose invaluable library is generally known, was, in the winter of 1799-1800, residing in Edinburgh, and a frequenter of course of Mr Constable's shop. In these researches he formed an acquaintance with Leyden, who examined as an amateur the shelves which Mr Heber ransacked as a purchaser, and the latter discovered with plea- sure the unknown author of the poems which have been already alluded to. The acquaintance soon ripened into friendship, and was cemented by mutual ad- vantage. Mr Heber had found an associate as ardent as himself in the pursuit of classical knowledge, and who would willingly sit up night after night to col- late editions, and to note various readings ; and Leyden, besides the advantage and instruction which he derived from Mr Heber's society, enjoyed that of being introduced, by his powerful recommendation, to the literary gentlemen of Edinburgh, with whom he lived in intimacy. Among these may be reckoned the late lord Woodhouselee, Mr Henry Mackenzie, the distinguished author of the Man of Feeling, and the Reverend Mr Sidney Smith, then residing in Edinburgh, from all of whom Leyden received flattering attention, and many important testimonies of the interest which they took in his success. By the same introduction he became intimate in the family of Mr Walter Scott, where a congenial taste for ballad, romance, and border antiquities, as well as a sin- cere admiration of Leyden's high talents, extensive knowledge, and excellent heart, secured him a welcome reception. And by degrees his society extended itself still more widely, and comprehended almost every one who was distin- guished for taste or talents in Edinburgh.

The manners of Leyden, when he first entered into company, were very peculiar ; nor indeed were they at any time much modified during his continu- ing- in Europe ; and here, perhaps, as properly as elsewhere, we may endea- vour to give some idea of his personal appearance and habits in society. In his complexion the clear red upon the cheek indicated a hectic propensity, but with his brown hair, lively dark eyes, and well-proportioned features, gave an acute and interesting turn of expression to his whole countenance. He was of middle stature, of a frame rather thin than strong, but muscular and active, and well fitted for all those athletic exertions in which he delighted to be accounted a master. For he was no less anxious to be esteemed a man eminent for learn- ing and literary talent, than to be held a fearless player at single-stick, a for- midable boxer, and a distinguished adept at leaping, running, walking, climbing, and all exercises which depend on animal spirits and muscular exertion. Feats of this nature he used to detail with such liveliness as sometimes led his au- dience to charge him with exaggeration ; but, unlike the athletic in /Ksop's apologue, he was always ready to attempt the repetition of his great leap at Rhodes, were it at the peril of breaking his neck on the spot. And certainly in many cases his spirit and energy carried him through enterprises which his friends considered as most rashly undertaken. An instrnce occurred on board of ship in India, where two gentlemen, by way of quizzing Leyden's pretensions to agility, offered him a bet of twenty gold mohrs that he could not go aloft. Our bard instantly betook himself to the shrouds, and, at all the risk incident to a landsman who first attempts such an ascent, successfully scaled the main-top. There it was intended to subject him to an unusual practical sea joke, by seizing him up, i. e. tying him, till he should redeem himself by paying a fine. But the spirit of Leyden dictated desperate resistance, and, finding he was likely to be overpowered, he flung himself from the top, and, seizing a rope, precipitated himself on deck by letting it slide rapidly through his grasp. In this operation he lost the skin of both hands, but of course won his wager. But when he ob-