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Leighton, Robert (1822-1869) (DNB00)


LEIGHTON, ROBERT (1822–1869), Scottish poet, born in Dundee 20 Feb. 1822, was son of David L. Leighton, who died in 1828. In 1834 his mother was married to a farmer named Fleming, of East Friarton, Fifeshire, where Leighton acquired the knowledge afterwards utilised in his ‘Wee Herd Loon.’ On his mother's death in 1835 he settled with his brother William, a shipowner, in Dundee, attending the academy there till 1837, when he entered his brother's office. In 1842–3 he went round the world as a supercargo in one of William Leighton's ships, visiting Sydney and returning by Valparaiso. He then entered the service of the London and North-Western Railway at Preston, where he married in 1850 Miss Jane Campbell, daughter of a retired Scottish schoolmaster resident in Liverpool. His wife is the ‘Eliza’ of his dramatic and reflective poems. From 1854 to 1858 he managed at Ayr a branch business of a firm of Liverpool seed merchants. In 1858 he visited his brother William, who had settled in America, and subsequently travelled for the Liverpool firm in the agricultural districts of England, Scotland, and Ireland. In March 1867 he met with an accident near Youghal, and became a helpless invalid. He died at Liverpool, 10 May 1869.

Before 1843 Leighton had contributed ‘Ye Three Voyces’ to Jerrold's ‘Shilling Magazine.’ In 1849 he wrote for a Dundee pamphlet several poems and songs, one of which, ‘Jenny Marshall's Candy, O,’ was so generally sung that it vastly improved the business it celebrated. In 1855 appeared ‘Poems by Robin,’ and in 1861 and 1866 ‘Poems by Robert Leighton,’ the second issue being an enlargement of its predecessor. ‘Scotch Words’ and ‘The Bapteesement o' the Bairn’ were published in a pamphlet in 1870. Both are clever vernacular poems, and the second is not only a droll tale but also a shrewd criticism of Scottish Calvinistic narrowness. In 1872 a pamphlet appeared, containing a number of pieces, of which the chief were ‘The Laddie's Lamentation on the Loss o' his Whittle,’ an early composition which Leighton was famous for reciting, and ‘The Centenary of Robert Burns,’ which Leighton recited at the Ayr gathering in 1859. Leighton's complete works are included in the two volumes, ‘Reuben and other Poems,’ 1875, and ‘Records and other Poems,’ 1880. ‘Reuben’ is a closet drama, bright and vigorous in characterisation, and lighted with melodious lyrics. Writing to William Leighton in 1871, Emerson paid a high compliment to Leighton's ‘purity and manliness of thought, and the deep moral tone which dictated every verse.’

[Information from Leighton's son, Mr. R. Leighton, Lowestoft; Biography prefixed to Scotch Words, &c.; Christian Leader, 20 Aug. 1885; Grant Wilson's Poets and Poetry of Scotland.]

T. B.