Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/63

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JOHN LEYDEN. 433


served his friends look grave at the expensive turn which their jest had taken, he tore and flung into the sea the order for the money which they had given him, and contented himself with the triumph which his spirit and agility had gained. And this little anecdote may illustrate his character in more respects than one.

In society, John Leyden's first appearance had something that revolted the fastidious and alarmed the delicate. He was a bold and uncompromising dispu- tant, and neither subdued his tone, nor mollified the form of his argument, out of deference to the rank, age, or even sex of those with whom he was maintain- ing it. His voice, which was naturally loud and harsh, was on such occasions exaggerated into what he himself used to call his saw-tones, which were not very pleasant to the ear of strangers. His manner was animated, his movements abrupt, and the gestures with which he enforced his arguments rather forcible than elegant ; so that, altogether, his first appearance was somewhat appalling to persons of low animal spirits, or shy and reserved habits, as well as to all who expected much reverence in society on account of the adventitious circum- stances of rank or station. Besides, his spirits were generally at top-flood, and entirely occupied with what had last arrested his attention, and thus his own feats, or his own studies, were his topic more frequently than is consistent with the order of good society, in which every person has a right to expect his share of conversation. He was indeed too much bent on attaining personal distinc- tion in society to choose nicely the mode of acquiring it. For example, in the course of a large evening party, crowded with fashionable people, to many of whom Leyden was an absolute stranger, silence being imposed for the purpose of a song, one of his friends with great astonishment, and some horror, heard Leyden, who could not sing a note, scream forth a verse or two of some border ditty, with all the dissonance of an Indian war-whoop. In their way home, he ventured to remonstrate with his friend on this extraordinary exhibition, to which his defence was, " Dash it, man, they would have thought I was afraid to sing before them." In short, his egotism, his bold assumption in society, his affectation of neglecting many of its forms as trifles beneath his notice cir- cumstances which often excited against his first appearance an undue and dis- proportionate prejudice were entirely founded upon the resolution to support his independence in society, and to assert that character formed between the let- tered scholar, and the wild rude borderer, the counter part as it were of Ana- dim sis, the philosophic Scythian, which, from his infancy, he was ambitious of maintaining. His humble origin was with him rather a subject of honest pride than of false shame, and he was internally not unwilling that his deportment should to a certain degree partake of the simplicity of the ranks from which he had raised himself by his talents, to bear a share in the first society.

Having thus marked strongly the defects of his manner, and the prejudice which they sometimes excited, we crave credit from the public, while we record the real virtues and merits by which they were atoned a thousand fold. Ley- den's apparent harshness of address covered a fund of real affection to his friends, and kindness to all with whom he mingled, unwearied in their service, and watchful to oblige them. To gratify the slightest wish of a friend, he would engage at once in the most toilsome and difficult researches, and when perhaps that friend had forgotten that he even intimated such a wish, Leyden came to pour down before him the fullest information on the subject which had excited his attention. And his temper was in reality, and notwithstanding an affectation of roughness, as gentle as it was generous. No one felt more deeply for the dis- tress of those he loved. No one exhibited more disinterested pleasure in their success. In dispute, he never lost temper, and if he despised the outworks of