Sir John Malcolm's perspective on Leyden

Sir John Malcolm's letter to the Editor of the Bombay Courier, written after Leyden's death in 1811. Reprinted in Reith's Life of John Leyden (1923), pages 340-343:

...It will remain with those who are better qualified than I am to do justice to the memory of Dr Leyden. I only know that he rose by the power of native genius from the humblest origin to a very distinguished rank in the literary world. His studies included almost every branch of human science, and he was alike ardent in the pursuit of all. The greatest power of his mind was shewn, perhaps, in his acquisition of modern and ancient languages. He exhibited an unexampled facility not merely in acquiring them, but in tracing their affinity and connection with each other; and from that talent, combined with his taste and general knowledge, we had a right to expect, from what he did in a very few years, that if he had lived he would have thrown the greatest light upon the most abstruse parts of the history of the East. In this intricate and curious but rugged path we cannot hope to see his equal.

[. . .]

It is pleasing to find him on whom Nature has bestowed eminent genius possessed of those more essential and intrinsic qualities which give the truest excellence to the human character. The manners of Dr Leyden were uncourtly, more perhaps from his detestation of the vices too generally attendant on refinement, and a wish (indulged to excess from his youth) to keep at a marked distance from them, than from any ignorance of the rules of good breeding. He was fond of talking; his voice was loud and had little or no modulation; and he spoke in the provincial dialect of his native country...Though he was distinguished by his love of liberty and almost haughty independence, his ardent feelings and proud genius never led him into any licentious or extravagant speculation on political subjects. He never solicited favour, but he was raised by the liberal discernment of his noble friend and patron, Lord Minto, to situations that afforded him an opportunity of shewing that he was as scrupulous and as inflexibly virtuous in the discharge of his public duties as he was attentive in private life to the duties of morality and religion.

The temper of Dr. Leyden was mild and generous, and he could bear with perfect good humor raillery on his foibles...His memory was most tenacious, and he sometimes loaded it with lumber. When he was at Mysore, an argument arose one day upon a point of English history. It was agreed to refer it to Leyden, and to the astonishment of all parties, he repeated verbatim the whole of an Act of Parliament in the reign of James I relative to Ireland, which decided the point in dispute. On being asked how he came to charge his memory with such extraordinary matter, he said that several years before, when he was writing on the changes which had taken place in the English language, this Act was one of the documents to which he had referred as a specimen of the style of that age; and that he had retained every word in his memory...

These anecdotes will display more fully than any description I can give the lesser shades of the character of this extraordinary man. An external manner certainly not agreeable and a disposition to egotism were his only defects. How trivial do these appear at a moment when we are lamenting the loss of such a rare combination of virtues, learning, and genius as were concentrated in the late Dr. Leyden.

Source: Reith, John. Life of Dr. John Leyden: Poet and Linguist. Galashiels: A. Walker & Son, 1923. 340-343.