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Aytoun was the only son of a prosperous Edinburgh family. The fierce Jacobitism and love of ballads of his mother, Joan Keir Aytoun, had a lasting influence upon Aytoun's own political and literary preferences. His father, Roger Aytoun, was a leading writer to the Signet; this was a superior order of solicitors peculiar to Scotland, among whose privileges was that of appearing before the Court of Sessions, the supreme civil court of the kingdom. Roger Aytoun planned William's education carefully, preparing him with a private tutor for three years before sending him to the newly opened Edinburgh Academy in 1824 and to Edinburgh University in 1828. The university curriculum was basically classical, but Aytoun followed his own interests, reading widely in British literature and history, and becoming a member of the Speculative Society. His chief concern, however, was already the writing of poetry.

Aytoun finished Poland, Homer, and Other Poems in 1830, but the six poems were not published until 1832. Although "Poland" expresses sympathy for the Poles' struggle to regain their independence from Russia, the other poems reflect Aytoun's increasing conservatism. In them, he contrasts the virtue and nobility of the "bright ages" with the vice and sordidness of the present. This contrast became a recurrent theme in Aytoun's poetry.

After he had completed his university studies, Aytoun complied reluctantly with his father's wishes and entered the legal profession. He became a ..
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