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John Leyden

Leyden, John (1775–1811). Poet and Orientalist, born at Denholm, Roxburghshire, gave early evidence of superior ability, and his father, who was a shepherd, destined him for the Church. He accordingly entered the University of Edinburgh, where he had a brilliant career, showing a special aptitude for languages and natural history. In 1800 he became a licentiate of the Church, but continued his scientific and linguistic studies, and also began to write. In 1799 he had published a sketch of the Discoveries and Settlements of the Europeans in Northern and Western Africa, and he contributed to Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, and to “Monk” Lewis’s Tales of Wonder. His enthusiasm for Oriental learning led to application being made on his behalf to Government for some situation which would make his acquirements available for the public service, but the only opening which could be obtained was that of a ship’s surgeon. By extraordinary exertions L. qualified himself for this in a few months, and set sail for the East, after finishing his poem, Scenes of Infancy. Soon after his arrival at Madras his health gave way, and after some time passed in Prince of Wales Island he visited the Malay Peninsula, and some of the East Indian Islands, collecting vast stores of linguistic and ethnographical information, on which was founded his great Dissertation on the Indo–Persian, Indo–Chinese, and Dekkan Languages (1807). Soon after this L. was appointed a prof. in the Bengal College, and a little later a judge in Calcutta. In 1811 he accompanied the Governor–General, Lord Minto, to Java. His health, however, had been undermined by his almost super-human exertions, and immediately after landing he contracted a fever, of which he died in three days at the early age of 36. Two Oriental works translated by him, Sejârah Malâyu (Malay Annals) and Commentaries of Baber were published respectively in 1821 and 1826.

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