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LIFE OF DR. HUGH BLAIR.
DR. HUGH BLAIR was born in Edinburgh on the 7th of April, 1718. He was descended from the ancient and respectable family of Blair, in Ayrshire. His great grandfather, Mr. Robert Blair, minister of St. Andrews, and chaplain to Charles I. was distinguished by his firm attachment to the cause of freedom, aud his zealous sup. port of the Presbyterian form of church government, in the time of the civil wars. The talents of this worthy man seem to have descended as an inheritance to his posterity. Of the two sons who survived him, David, the eldest, was one of the Ministers of the Old Church in Edinburgh, and father of Mr. Robert Blair, minister of Athelstaneford, the celebrated author of the poem, entitled “The GRAVE," and grandfather of Lord President Blair, distinguished by his masculine eloquence, profound knowledge of law, and hereditary love of Literature. From his youngest son Hugh, sprung Mr. John Blair, who was a respectable merchant, and one of the Magistrates of Edinburgh. He married Martha Ogston; and the first child of this marriage was the excellent person who is the subject of this narrative.
In consequence of some misfortunes in trade, his father retired from mercantile business, and obtained an office in the excise; yet his fortune was not so much impaired as to prevent him from giving his son a liberal education.
From his earliest youth his views were turned towards the clerical profession, and his education received a suitable direction. After going through the usual grammatical course at the High-school, he entered the Humanity class, in the University of Edinburgh, in October, 1730, and spent eleven years in that celebrated seminary in the study of literature, philosophy, and divinity. In all the classes he was distinguish ed among his companions, both for diligence and proficiency; but in the Logic class he attained particular distinction, by an Essay On the Beautiful; which had the good fortune to attract the notice of Professor Stevenson, and was appointed to be read publicly at the end of the session, with the most flattering marks of the Professor's approbation. This mark of distinction made a deep impression on his mind, and determined the bent of his genius towards polite literature.
At this time he formed a plau of study, which contributed much to the accuracy and extent of his knowledge. It consisted in making abstracts of the most important works which he read, and in digesting them according to the train of his own thoughts. History, in particular, he resolved to study in this manner, and constructed a very comprehensive scheme of chronological tables for receiving into its proper place every important fact that should occur. This scheme has been given to the world in a more extensive and correct form by his learned friend Dr. John Blair, Prebendary of Westminster, in his “ Chronology and History of the World."
In 1739, he took the degree of Master of Arts; and on that occasion, printed and defended a thesis, De fundamentis el obligatione Legis Nature, which exhibits an outline of the moral principles by which the world was afterward to profit in his Sermons.
At this period he was engaged as a tutor in the family of Lord Lovat, and spent one summer in the north country, attending his Lordship's eldest son, afterward General Fraser. When his pupil was appointed to the command of the 71st Regiment, he testified his respect for his old tutor, by making him chaplain to one of its battalions.
On the completion of his academical course, he was licensed to preach the Gospel by the Presbytery of Edinburgh, on the 21st of October, 1741. His first appearances in the pulpit fully justified the expectations of his friends, and, in a few months, the fame of his eloquence procured for him a presentation to the church of Collessie, in Fifeshire, where he was ordained minister on the 230 September, 1742.
He was not permitted to remain long in the obscurity of a country parish. In consequence of a vacancy in the second charge of the Cannongate of Edinburgh, which was to be supplied by popular election, his friends were enabled to recall him to a station more suited to his talents. Though Mr. Robert Walker, a popular and eloquent preacher, was his competitor, he obtained a majority of votes, and was admitted on the 14th of July, 1743. In this station he continued eleven years, assiduously devoted to the attainment of professional excellence, and the regular discharge of his parochial duties.
In 1748, he married his cousin, Catharine Bannatyne, daughter of the Rev. James Bannatyne, one of the ministers of Edinburgh; a woman distinguished for the strength of her understanding, and the prudence of her conduct. In consequence of a call from the Town Council of Edinburgh, he was translated from the Cannongate to Lady Yes. ter's church, in the city, on the 11th of October, 1745; and from thence to the first charge in the High Church, on the 15th of June, 1758, the most respectable clerica! situation in the kingdom. The uniforın prudence, ability, and success, which for a period of more than fifty years, accompanied all his ministerial labours in that conspi cuous and difficult charge, sufficiently evince the wisdom of their choice. His dis courses from the pulpit were composed with uncommon care, and attracted univer. sal admiration.
In June, 1757, the University of St. Andrews showed its discernment by conferring on him the degree of Doctor in Divinity; an academical honour which at that time was very rare in Scoiland.
His fame as a preacher was by this time established, but no production of his pen had yet been given to the world except two Sermons, preached on particular occasions, some translations, in verse, of passages of Scripture for the Psalmody of the church, and the article on Dr. Hutcheson's "System of Moral Philosophy," in the “ Edinburgh Review;" a periodical work begun in 1755. Of this paper two numbers only appeared, in which his learned friends Dr. Adam Smith, Dr. Robertson, and Mr. Wedderburn, afterwards Earl of Roslin, had a principal share.
At an early period of his life, while he, and his cousin Mr. George Bannatyne, were students in Divinity, they wrote a poem entitled The Resurrection, copies of which were handed about in manuscript. No one appearing to claim the performance, an edition of it was published in 1749, in folio, to which the name William Douglas, M.D. was appended as the author.
Besides the compositions above mentioned, he was by some supposed to have repelled an attack on his friend Lord Kaimes, by Mr. George Anderson, in his “ Analysis of the Essays on Morality,” &c. in a pamphlet entitled Obserrations on the Analysis, &c. 8vo. 1755, and was believed likewise to have lent his aid in a formal reply made by Lord Kaimes himself, under the title of Observalions against the Essays on Moralily and Nalural Religion, examined, 8vo. 1756.*
Having now found sufficient leisure, from the laborious duties of his profession, to turn his attention to general literature, he began seriously to think on a plan for teaching to others that art which had contributed so much to the establishment of his own fame. Encouraged by the success of his predecessors, Dr. Smith, and Dr. Watson, and the advice of his friend Lord Kaimes, he prepared with this view, a course of Lectures on Composition, and having obtained the approbation of the University, he began to read them in the College on the 11th of December, 1759. To this undertaking he brouglit all the qualifications requisite for executing it well; and along with them a weight of reputation which could not fail to give effect to the lessons he should teach. Accordingly, his first course of Lectures was well attended, and received with great applause,
In August, 1760, the Town Council of Edinburgh instituted a Rhetorical class in the University under his direction, as an addition to the system of academical education. And, in April, 1762, on a representation to his Majesty, setting forth the advantages of the institution, as a branch of academical education, the King, “in consideration of his approved qualifications,” erected and endowed his establishment in the University, by appointing him the first Regius Professor of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, with a salary of £70.
In 1760, he was made the instrument of introducing into the world, “ Fragments of Ancient Poetry, collected in the Highlands of Scotland, and translated from the Gaelic or Erse language," 12mo, to which he prefixed a Preface. These “Fragments" were communicated by Mr. Macpherson, and followed in the same year, by "Fingal" and “Temora,” published by him as translations of complete and regular epic poems, the production of Ossian, a Highland bard, of remote antiquity. Being himself persuaded of their being completely genuine, he published in 1762, A Critical Dissertation on the Poems of Ossian, &c. 4to. in proof of their antiquity, and illustrative of their beauties, which spread the reputation of its author throughout Europe. Of those who
Lord Woodhouselee's Life of Lord Kaimes, Vol. I. p. 142.
attended to the subject, a greater number were disposed to agree with him as to the beauty of the Poems, than as to their authenticity. At the head of this set of critics was Dr. Johnson, who in bis “Journey to the Western Islands," strenuously maintained their being altogether a forgery. Mr. Macpherson, the pretended translator, carefully reserved his latent claims to the rank and merit of an original poet, and did not conceal from those with whom he was particularly intimate, that the poems were entirely his own composition."
In 1773, it fell to his share to form the first uniform edition of the Works of the British Poets, which appeared in these kingdom3, printed at Edinburgh, in 42 vols, 12mo. ror Messrs. Creech and Belfour. The elegance of this edition is no compensation for its incompleteness; the contracted list of authors, marked out by the editor, including none of those who have been denominated our older classics, except Milton and Cowley. His industry and taste were also exercised, about this time, in superintending an edition of the Works of Shakspeare, printed at Edinburgh, by Martin and Wotherspoon, in 10 vols. 12mo.
Though his productions for the pulpit had long furnished instruction and delight to his own congregation, yet it was not till the year 1777 that he gave to the world the first volume of bis Sermons, which was printed at London in 8vo. for Messrs. Strahan and Cadell, Loodon, and had a very extensive sale.
It is remarkable, that when he transmitted his manuscript to Mr. Strahan the printer, after keeping it by him for some time, he wrote a letter to him, declining the publication. Having, however, sent one of the sermons to Dr. Johnson, for the sake of his opinion, he received from him, after the unfavourable letter was despatched, the following note:
“I have read over Dr. Blair's first Sermon with more than approbation;' to say it is good, it is to say too little. It is excellently written, both as to doctrine and language."
Soon after, Mr. Strahan had a conversation with Dr. Johnson concerning the publication, and very candidly wrote again to Dr. Blair, enclosing Dr. Johnson's note, and agreeing to purchase the volume for one hundred pounds.
This volume of discourses was followed, at different intervals, by three other volumes, each succeeding volume increasing the sale of the former volumes. One hundred pounds were given for the first volume, which, in consequence of the extensive sale, the proprietors doubled. They gave bin £300 for the second, and £600 for each of the third and fourth volumes.
These discourses experienced a success unparalleled in the annals of pulpit eloquence. They circulated rapidly and widely wherever the English tongue extends, were soon translated into almost all the languages of Europe, and were judged worthy of a public reward by his Majesty, who, in the year 1780, was graciously pleased to grant the author a pension of £200, which continued till his death. It is said, that they were read to the Royal family by the Earl of Mansfield, and that her Majesty honoured them with her approbation, and took an active part in procuring him this proof of the Royal favour.
Hitherto, the writers of sermons, among the Scottish preachers, had produced no models of a refined and polished eloquence. Their discourses abounded in cold divi. sions, metaphysical discussion, or loose and incoherent declamation. Among his contemporaries, some preachers had distinguished themselves by the good sense, sound reasoning, and inanly simplicity of their pulpit compositions. " But the polish of Dr. Blair, which gave elegance to sentiments not too profound for common comprehension, nor too obvious to be uninteresting, was wanting to render this species of composition popolar, and generally pleasing. By employing the utmost exertions of a vigorous mind, and of patient study, to select the best ideas, and to prune off every superfluous thought, by taking pains to enbellish them by all the beauties of language and elegant espression, and by repeatedly examining with the severity of an enlightened critic, every sentence, and erasing every harsh and uncouth phrase, he has produced the most elegant models of pulpit composition that have yet appeared in these kingdoms.”
To the enjoyment of the praise of polished eloquence, there are other men who par. ticipate with Dr. Blair; but in the application of talents and of learning, to render mankind wiser or better, there are few literary characters who can claim an equal share; and, though the highest praise is due to his compositions for the pulpit, considered as the productions of genius and of taste, yet, when they are regarded in this more important light, they entitle him to that still more honourable fame, which is the portion of the wise and good alone, and before which all literary splendour disappears.
* Anderson's Life of Johnson, Sd edition, p. 342.
Boswell's Life of Lnhson, Vol. III. p. 100.
After reading his course of Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres in the University above twenty years, he retired from the discharge of his academical duties in 1783. His academical prelections constitute an era in the history of the progress of taste and elegance in Scotland. His classical taste, his aversion from refinement and skepticism, his good intentions, his respect for received opinions, his industry, and his experience in the art of teaching, enabled him to present to young men, aiming at literary composition, a most judicious, elegant, and comprehensive system of rules for forming their style, and cultivating their taste.
The same year, he published his Lectures on Rheloric and Belles Lellres, in 2 vols. 4to. which brought him a considerable accession of emolument and fame. They have been frequently reprinted in 3 vols. 8vo. and deservedly occupy a place in our schools and universities, as an excellent elementary treatise on the studies of composition and eloquence. They contain an accurate analysis of the principles of literary composition, in all the various species of writing; a happy illustration of those principles by the most beautiful and apposite examples, drawn from the best authors, both ancient and modern, and an admirable digest of the rules of elocution, as applicable to the oratory of the pulpit, the bar, and the popular asseinbly. They do not aim at being purely original; for this would have been to circumscribe their utility ; neither in point of style are they polished with the same degree of care as his Sermons : yet, so useful is the object of these Lectures, so comprehensive their plan, and such the excellence of the matter they contain, that, if not the most splendid, they will perhaps prove the most durable monument of his reputation.
From this period his talents were consecrated solely to the instruction of his congregation, and the private and unseen labours of his office; preparing for the world the blessings of elegant instruction, and tendering to the mourner the lessons of divine consolation. From that part of his professional duty, which regarded the government of the church, he was prevented by his timidity and diffidence in his abilities, from taking any active part; but he was steadily attached to the cause of moderation, and his opinion was eagerly courted by Dr. Robertson, Dr. Drysdale, Dr. Hill, Dr. Finlay. son, and others, who managed ecclesiastical business. The outline of the pastoral admonition, which the General Assembly, in 1799, addressed to the people under their charge, proceeded from his pen.
In the course of his life he had frequently visited London, and had been introduced to the acquaintance of Dr. Johnson, Dr. Percy, afterward Bishop of Dromore, and other distinguished literary characters in England. On the recommendation of Dr. Percy, the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland committed to him the care of their second son, Lord Algernon Percy, afterward Earl of Beverley, when he prosecuted his studies at the University of Edinburgh. Among his countrymen, Lord Kaimes, David Hume, Dr. Smith, Dr. Robertson, Dr. Ferguson, Mr. John Home, and Dr. Carlyle, were the persons with whom he lived in habits of intimacy, and with whom, during the greater part of his life, he maintained social intercourse.
Upon the death of Dr. Robertson, Principal of the University of Edinburgh, in the year 1793, the unanimous voice of the country acknowledged his claim to be appointed the successor of that illustrious man. When the Magistrates and Council of Edinburgh gave the appointment to another, it is certain that he felt the oversight as injurious to his pretensions. Flattered with the respect of the world, and unaccustomed to disap pointments during a long life, that had been devoted to literary pursuits, he could ill brook any neglect, when that life was drawing to a close.
In the year 1795, he suffered a heavy domestic calamity by the death of Mrs. Blair, who had shared, with the tenderest affection, in all his fortunes, and contributed near half a century to his happiness and comfort. By her he had a son, who died in infancy, and a daughter, of a most amiable disposition, and elegant accomplishments, who diéd at the age of twenty.
For some years he had felt himself unequal to the fatigue of instructing his congre gation from the pulpit, yet he continued to the end of his life in the active and cheerful discharge of all his other official duties. At the solicitation of his friends, he preached the annual Sermon for the benefit of the Sons of the Clergy of Scotland in 1797, which produced a liberal collection, and closed the labours of the pulpit.
Though his bodily constitution was not robust, yet he enjoyed a general state of good health, and, through habitual cheerfulness, temperance, and ease, survived the usual term of human life. During the suminer before his death, he was employed in preparing the last volume of his Sermons for the press, and evinced his usual vigour of understanding, and capacity of exertion. A few days before he died he had no com plaint; but on the 24th of December, 1800, he felt a pain in his bowels, which was not then suspected to proceed from an inguinal hernia, which he considered as trilling. On the afternoon of the 26th, the pain increased, and the symptoms became violent
and alarming. In consequence of an incarceration of the hernia, it produced a complete stoppage in the bowels, and an inflammation commenced, which it was impossible to resist. Retaining to the last moment the full possession of his mental faculties, he expired on the morning of the 27th, with the composure and hope of a Christian pastor, in the 83d year of his age, and the 59th of his ministry.
He bequeathed his house in Argyle-Square, which had been his residence above thirty years, and his personal property, which was considerable, to his relation, Mr. Richard Bannatyne, merchant in Edinburgh, with an explicit injunction, suggested by an excusable solicitude for his reputation, that all his manuscript sermons and letters should be destroyed.
The Sermons which he had transcribed, and, in many parts, re-composed for the press, after he had completed his eighty-second year, were delivered to the publishers about six weeks before his death, and printed in 1801, with a short account of his life, written by his friend and colleague, Dr. Finlayson; who himself now needs a similar memorial of his talents and virtues. He had himself paid a similar tribute to the memory of his colleague Mr. Robert Walker, by prefixing a candid and affectionate Preface to the last volume of his Sermons. A more ample and elaborate account of his life and writings, drawn up at his request, by Dr. John Hill, Professor of Humanity in the University of Edinburgh, was printed in 1807, when the writer himself was beyond the reach of praise or censure.
The name of Dr. Blair needs no panegyric. His literary honours are a trophy which he has erected for himself, and which time will not destroy. Posterity will justly regard him as a benefactor of the human race, and as no ordinary instrument, in the hand of God, for refining the taste, improving the morality, and promoting the religion of the Christian world.
RECOMMENDATIONS TO G. & C. & L. CARVILL'S STEREOTYPE EDITION OF PLAIR'S LECTURES ON
RHETORIC AND BELLES LETTRES.
quality of popully
part, we are
From the New York Evening Post, September | many more, some of which, it is obvious, must have 25th, 1829.
rendered the sense doubtful, have been corrected in Blair's Lectures. The excellence of Dr. Blair's ||
this edition. Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, has been so
But, although it is important to have the work long and generally acknowledged, that the work has
freed from inaccuracies of these kinds, yet the edi
tion which the Messrs. Carvill are about to publish, acquired the authority of a standard, and is the one
has a still stronger recommendacion. To every lecmoet used in our colleges and principal seminaries.
ture, Mr. Mills has affixed a list of questions, which The best and most correct edition of this work hith
embrace the whole subject matter, and to be able to erto before the American public, is one that was published about three years ago, by Mr. G. F. Hopkins,
answer which necessarily implies a sufficient ac
quaintance with the author. It is remarked in the from stereotype plates, the proofs from which were rerized by several distinguished literary gentlemen,
editor's preface, that this method of forwarding the with an especial view to the correction of whatever
end of tuition by questions, has been objected to by ETTors might have occurred in the quotations from
some well informed gentlemen ; but we are inclined the Latin and Greek. From these plates the brothers
to think, that their objections must have had refe
rence to the numerous interpolations, notes, and Carvill are now about to publish another edition, but
interrogatories, with which many excellent books on in order to render it still more deserving of patronage,
education have been encumbered by quacks in litethan any previous one, they have not only been at Ercater cost with regard to the quality of paper, &c.
rature, desirous of the reputation of authorship, but hare procured the entire work to be carefully
without possessing the ability to write. For our own Tead by Mr. Abraham Mills, teacher of Rhetoric and
part, we are well convinced that the questions which
Mr. Mills has added to the lectures, cannot but have Pelles Lettres, whose edition of Burke on the Sub
a tendency to fix the topics of discussion more firmly Inne and Beautiful, our readers may remember that
on the mind of the student. In addition to the ques. we mentioned with deserved approbation. In the course of his examination, Mr. Mills has discovered
tions, an analysis, or brief of the contents of each
lecture, is given, by a perusal of which, after the a very great number of errors, (not less than eighteen
lecture has been read, all its topics, and in their prohundred in all,) of greater or less moment, but all of sufficient magniwde to require correction. We have
per order, are brought at once to mind. In every rea copy before us containing his annotations, and in
spect, both as regards the additions and corrections
1 of the editor, and the quality of the paper and typoboking over it, have remarked a great number of in
graphy, this edition of Blair's Lectures, more than sances where verbal inaccuracies had occurred, and
any other we have seen, is worthy of public patronwhere, by the substitution of a word that had been omitted, or the restoration of the one intended by the
age. author, for the improper one that had crept into its place, and been hitherto overlooked, the sense, from
From the Morning Courier and Enquirer, Sep being obscure in some cases, and in others unintelli
tember 29th, 1829. gible, has been rendered perfectly plain. Besides Blair's Lectures.---Messrs. G. & C. & H. Carthese important alterations and amendments, the I vill have published a stereotyped edition of Blair's punctuation, which was before very imperfect, has Il Lectures, adapted to the use of schools, by Mr. Abraundergone careful revision: and a good number of Ilham Mills, one of our most respectable and popular merely literal errors of the press, such as passing Il teachers. We have examined this work, and card instead of passion, seeks instead of speaks, and I fully compared it with the most approved American
added to the lo