1807 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Thomas Blacklock

Robert Southey, in Specimens of Later English Poets (1807) 3:357-58.



Thomas Blacklock, though born in Scotland, was the son of English parents, his father was a bricklayer: at the age of six months he was deprived of his sight by the smallpox; this calamity was counterbalanced by an acute and comprehensive mind, and an amiable disposition; he acquired an early taste for poetry, by hearing it from his father's readings; as he advanced in age, he acquired the Latin, Greek, and French languages, and a knowledge of Philosophy; his poems are very extraordinary productions, and demonstrate the power of genius, to overcome obstacles, which even nature has thrown in its way; the combined powers of his other senses, and the ideas he received through them, enabled him to form such associations, as that of sight would have assisted to supply him with, and it very seldom occurs in reading his works, that any trace of the deficiency of this sense can be discovered. The author of his life says, "Mr. Blacklock is very descriptive in many parts of his poems; but 'tis easy to be observed, that, where his descriptions are of any length, they are generally not descriptions of things, but of passions."

His idea of brightness and glory, seems to be that of something which gives pleasure to the eye, as smoothness to the touch, and he endeavoured to explain it thus. "He took out his glass, and carrying his hand gently backward and forward on the case of it, he said that it gave him an idea of much great smoothness. Now this, says he, we may carry higher and higher in the mind; and the highest idea of smoothness, is my idea of glory." — This might puzzle a metaphysician, or provoke his pride to a smile; but few metaphysicians have written so well as this poor blind man. He also said, that "A brisk tune was much more like the rays of the sun, than a melancholy one."

Much of the correctness of his images and epithets, is to attributed, of course, to imitation of the works of others, though his imitation is not of the commonplace sort; but such as his memory and cultivated mind furnished him with the means of employing. Once he speaks of a sun-beam as something pointed, and the designation of wine in the Egyptian is very curious.