Prof. William Edmondstoune Aytoun

1813 - 1865

Poet, author and critic. Born into a legal family at 21 Abercromby Place in the New Town of Edinburgh, Aytoun was educated at Edinburgh Academy and the University of Edinburgh, where he studied law. He qualified as a solicitor in 1835 and was called to the Scottish bar five years later. However the influence of his mother, Joan, and time in Europe had convinced Aytoun that literature would bring him greater interest and he published Poland, Homer, and other Poems (1832), began translating and contributing to Blackwood's Magazine. In 1845 he was appointed Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature at the University of Edinburgh.

His other works included Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers (1848), a collection of Jacobite ballads, followed by the Ballads of Scotland (1858). He helped keep alive a romantic picture of the heroic Jacobites as well as the poetic and musical traditions of the Highlands. He also published numerous humorous and satirical articles.

His political allegiances gained him the title of Sheriff of Orkney and Shetland in 1852. Aytoun was married twice; first to Jane, the daughter of his friend Professor John Wilson (1785 - 1854) at St. John's Church, Edinburgh. Jane died in 1859 and, in 1863, Aytoun married Fearne Kinnear at the same church.

Aytoun died at Blackhills near Elgin and lies buried in Dean Cemetery in Edinburgh. He is remembered as a leading figure in the blossoming of Scottish humorous satire and has been referred to as the first modern professor of English Literature.

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