Reith's bibliographic essay on Leydenalia

John Reith's Life of Dr. John Leyden: Poet and Linguist (1923) provides a short bibliographic essay on the strengths and weaknesses of earlier Leyden biographies. Reith was the author of the only full book dedicated to Leyden's life and works, and positioned himself as the definitive Leyden source. The articles published on Leyden in the 20th century draw heavily on many of the sources that Reith critiques. The section reproduced below comes from Reith's "Preface," pages i-ii:


The following Work professes to be a more complete and exhaustive Life of the Poet and Linguist than any that has yet appeared. In saying this, the Writer wishes to make no reflection on previous biographer, who were all more or less handicapped in various ways.

1. The first sketch by Scott in the Edinburgh Annual Register for 1811 must have been dashed off against time and limited in space. The news of Leyden's death could not have reached Edinburgh sooner than the month of January or Feb. 1812, when the Annual was due to be published. The writer seems to have trusted very much to his general recollection of the events of Leyden's life, and could have had no full particulars of his Indian career.

2. Rev. James Morton, the Poet's cousin, writing a few years later, had a more intimate knowledge of the subject, and fuller sources of information in the shape of innumerable letters and other documents. Good use he made of his advantages, and produced a model biography. The one disadvantage under which he laboured was in being circumscribed for space in respect of the Life being merely an Introduction to the Poems, which at that time (1819) formed the more important part of the publication.

3. Mr Robert White of Newcastle's scrappy Supplement to Scott's sketch, published in 1858, while adding something and subtracting or correcting something, and using Morton's material besides, did not withal make out of the two a full, smooth-flowing narrative, which a biography ought to be.

4. Rev. W.W. Tulloch's short sketch for the Kelso centenary edition of the Scenes of Infancy, although admirably written, certainly supplied nothing new.

5. In Nimmo's centenary edition, the Poems in which were edited by Mr Robert Cochrane, Mr Thomas Brown's Life is complete and exhaustive but for material that has come to light since. The material, indeed, is more conspicuous for its abundance than for its clear and coherent arrangement.

(From: John Reith, Life of Dr. John Leyden: Poet and Linguist. Galashiels: A. Walker & Son, 1923. i-ii)