Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/67

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


ney of discovery through the interior of that continent an enterprise which sad examples have shown to be little better than an act of absolute suicide. To di- vert his mind from this desperate project, a representation was made to the Right Hon. William Dundas, who had then a seat at the Board of Control, stating the talents and disposition of Leyden, and it was suggested that such a person might be usefully employed in investigating the language and learning ot the Indian tribes. Mr Dundas entered with the most liberal alacrity into these views; but it happened, unfortunately as it might seem, that the sole appoint- ment then at his disposal was that of surgeon's assistant, which could only be held by a person who had taken a surgical degree, and could sustain an examination before the medical board at the India house. It was upon this occasion that Leyden showed, in their utmost extent, his wonderful powers of application and comprehension. He at once intimated his readiness to accept the appointment under the conditions annexed to it, and availing himself of the superficial infor- mation he had formerly acquired by a casual attendance upon one or two of the medical classes, he gave his whole mind to the study of medicine and surgery, with the purpose of qualifying himself for his degree in the short space of five or six months. The labour which he underwent on this occasion was incredible ; but with the powerful assistance of a gentleman of the highest eminence in his profession, (Mr John Bell of Edinburgh,) he succeeded in acquiring such a know- ledge of this complicated and most ditticult art, as enabled him to obtain his diploma as surgeon with credit, even in the city of Edinburgh, so long famed for its medical school, and for the wholesome rigour adopted in the distribution of degrees. Leyden was, however, incautious in boasting of his success after so short a course of study, and found himself obliged, in consequence of his impru- dence, to relinquish his intention of taking out the degree of M. D. at Edinburgh, and to have recourse to another Scottish university for that step in his profession. Meanwhile the sudden exchange of his profession gave great amusement to some of his friends, especially when a lady having fainted in a crowded assembly, Dr Leyden advanced to her assistance, and went through the usual routine of treat- ment with all the gravity which beseemed his new faculty. In truth, the imme- diate object of his studies was always, in season and out of season, predominant in Leyden's mind, and just about this time he went to the evening party of a lady of the highest rank with the remnants of a human hand in his pocket, which lie had been dissecting in the morning, and on some question being stirred about the muscular action, lie was with difficulty withheld from producing this grisly evidence in support of the argument which he maintained. 'J he character of Leyden cannot be understood without mentioning those circumstances that are allied to oddity ; but it is not so easy to body forth those qualities of energy, ap- plication, and intelligence, by which he dignified his extravagancies, and vindi- cated his assumption of merit, far less to paint his manly, generous, and friendly disposition.

In December 1802, Leyden was summoned to join the Christmas fleet of In- diamen, in consequence of his appointment as assistant-surgeon on the Madras establishment. It was sufficiently understood that his medical character was only assumed to bring him within the compass of Mr Dundas's patronage, and that his talents should be employed in India with reference to his literary re- searches. He was, however, pro forma, nominated to the Madras hospital. While awaiting this call, he bent his whole energies to the study of the oriental languages, and amused his hours of leisure by adding to the Scenes of Infancy, many of those passages addressed to his friends, and bearing particular reference to his own situation on the eve of departure from Scotland, which, flowing warm from the heart, constitute the principal charm of that impressive poem. Mr