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JOHN CLAUDIUS LOUDON
(imperfectly edited by Tom Turner)
Early life near Edinburgh
John Claudius Loudon was born on the 8th of April, 1783, at Cambuslang, in Lanarkshire, the residence of his mother's only sister, herself the mother of Dr. Claudius Buchanan (the author of a work entitled Christian Researches in Asia), whose labours in India, in attempting to convert and instruct the Hindus, have made his name celebrated in the religious world. Mr. London was the eldest of a large family; and his father, who was a farmer, residing at Kerse Hall, near Gogar, about five miles from Edinburgh, being a man of enlightened mind and superior information, was very anxious that he should have every possible advantage in his education. Strange to say, however, Mr. Loudon, when a boy, though fond of books, had an insuperable aversion from learning languages, and no persuasions could induce him to study Latin and French, though his father had a master from Edinburgh purposely to teach him the latter language. At this early period, however, a taste for landscape gardening began to show itself, as his principal pleasure was in making walks and beds in a little garden his father had given him; and so eager was he to obtain seeds to sow in it, that, when a jar of tamarinds arrived from an uncle in the West Indies, he gave the other children his share of the fruit, on condition of his having all the seeds. While yet quite a child, he was sent to live with an uncle in Edinburgh, that he might attend the classes at the public schools. Here he overcame his dislike to Latin, and made extraordinary progress in drawing and arithmetic. He also attended classes of botany and chemistry, making copious notes, illustrated with very clever pen-and-ink sketches. Still he could not make up his mind to learn French, till one day, when he was about fourteen, his uncle, showing a fine French engraving to a friend, asked his nephew to translate the title. This he could not do; and the deep shame and mortification which he felt, and which he never afterwards forgot, made him determine to acquire the language. Pride, however, and a love of independence, which was ever one of his strongest feelings, prevented him from applying to his father to defray the expense; and he actually paid his master himself, by the sale of a translation which he afterwards made for the editor of a periodical then publishing in Edinburgh. He subsequently studied Italian, and paid his master in the same manner. He also kept a Journal from the time he was thirteen, and continued it for nearly thirty years; writing it for many years in French, in order to familiarize himself with the language.
Among all the studies which Mr. London pursued while in Edinburgh, those he preferred were writing and drawing. The first he learned from Mr. Paton, afterwards father to the celebrated singer of that name; and strange enough, I have found an old letter of his to Mr. Loudon, senior, prophesying that his son John would be one of the best writers of his day - a prophecy that has been abundantly realized, though certainly not in the sense its author intended it. Drawing was, however, his favourite pursuit and in this he made such proficiency, that, when his father at last consented to his being brought up as a landscape-gardener, he was competent to take the situation of draughtsman and assistant to Mr. John Mawer, at Easter Dalry, near Edinburgh. Mr. Mawer was a nurseryman, as well as a planner (as the Scotch call a landscape-gardener); and, while with him, Mr. Loudon learned a good deal of gardening generally, particularly of the management of hothouses. Unfortunately, Mr. Mawer died before his pupil was sixteen; and for three or four years afterwards Mr. London resided with Mr. Dickson, a nurseryman and planner in Leith Walk, where he acquired an excellent knowledge of plants. There he boarded in Mr. Dickson's house; and, though remarkable for the nicety of his dress, and the general refinement of his habits, his desire of improvement was so great, that he regularly sat up two nights in every week to study, drinking strong green tea to keep himself awake; and this practice of sitting up two nights in every week he continued for many years. While at Mr. Dickson's, he attended classes of botany, chemistry, and agriculture; the last under Dr. Coventry, who was then Professor of Agriculture in the University of Edinburgh, and he was considered by that gentleman to be his most promising pupil.
In truth, it has been highly gratifying to me, while turning over family papers to obtain what particulars I could of my husband's early life, to find continually, in old copy and account books, letters which had been no doubt treasured up by his mother, from different persons under whom he had studied, bearing the most honourable testimony to his proficiency in the various branches of his education, and particularly noting his unwearied perseverance in making himself thoroughly master of whatever he undertook. Mr. Loudon was not a man of many words, and he was never fond of showing the knowledge he possessed; but it was astonishing how much he did know on every subject to which he had turned his attention.