1808 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Thomas Blacklock

Samuel Jackson Pratt, in Cabinet of Poetry (1808) 6:385-86.



The biography of few persons is more interesting than that of Thomas Blacklock, a man who had the obstacles of nature and fortune to overcome, before his talents could unfold themselves to view.

He was born at Annan in the county of Dumfries, in 1721, of humble parentage; and before he was six months old, had the misfortune to be totally deprived of sight by the small pox. This rendered him incapable of getting a living by any mechanical trade; but his father finding he possessed an aptitude of learning, used to indulge him by reading to him such books as he could command; and his friends and companions, touched with pity for his situation, and attached to him by the mildness of his disposition, were very assiduous to amuse his infant years by reading poetry to him, in which he took an enthusiastic delight; and from loving and admiring such compositions, he was soon led to imitation. At the age of twelve, he began to write verses; and some of his productions having fallen into the hands of Dr. Stevenson, a physician in Edinburgh, he was carried to that city in 1741, and entered a student in the university, though his classical attainments at that period were extremely limited.

In 1746, he published a small collection of poems, which attracted the notice of Spence, a man who seems to have always cherished the benevolent design of encouraging merit in distress and obscurity, and who wrote a very ingenious and elaborate account of this blind bard which was of essential service to his interests.

After improving himself to an astonishing degree, considering his privation of sight, Blacklock at length took orders, and obtained great reputation as a preacher.

In 1762, he married a Miss Johnstone, daughter of a surgeon in Dumfries, a connection from which he derived the great solace and blessing of his future life.

Soon after, he was ordained minister of Kirkudbright, in a presentation from the crown; but the inhabitants of that parish having taken some unjust and illiberal exceptions to him as a pastor, he resigned his living on a moderate annuity, and returned to Edinburgh, where he adopted the plan of receiving a certain number of young gentlemen into his house, whose studies he superintended with a fidelity and success that gained him applause and encouragement.

Our limits will not allow us to enlarge on the various publications of this extraordinary men. He died in 1791, in the 70th year of his age, with the same composure and equanimity in which he had passed through life, leaving behind him a high character for moral goodness and useful talents. As a poet, if not of the highest class, he is entitled to a rank not inferior to Addison, Parnell, and Shenstone, with respect to proper imagery, correct style, or creative genius. His compositions exhibit ample proofs of ready invention, lively fancy, ardent feeling, correct taste, and a copious command of poetical language. They are the productions of a mind not deficient in fire or enthusiasm; but they are more recommended by simplicity, tenderness, animation, and harmony, than by sublimity, variety, comprehension, or originality; they bear evident marks of poetical genius and classical taste, though we do not find in them the traces of that patient industry which fixes the stamp of faultless accuracy upon every line. Pope seems to have been his model for versification, and it must be allowed that he has copied his pauses, cadence, and cast of diction with considerable success; many passages are written with a correctness and harmony, which rival the best productions of that admirable poet; but another praise, which the good will value, belongs to his poems in a high degree; they breathe the purest spirit of piety, virtue, and benevolence. These indeed are the muses of Blacklock; they inspire his poetry, as they animated his life; and he never approaches the sacred ground on which they dwell, without an expansion of mind, and an elevation of language.