A poet whose verse remains little more than an echo of the prevailing fashion in poetry of his time, the venerable Dr. Blacklock keeps name and fame among eighteenth century singers chiefly by reason of one fact. It was he whose prompt recognition of the genius of Burns arrested that poet on the eve of his departure from Scotland, and effected his introduction to Edinburgh and the greater world of letters.
The son of humble parents who were natives of Cumberland — his father was a bricklayer — Blacklock was born at Annan in Dumfriesshire. When only six months old an attack of smallpox left him blind, and it might have been thought that for the rest of his days he was doomed to the fate of a pauper. His spirit, however, proved itself capable of better things, and throughout life his amiability continually secured him friends who did all in their power to help his interests. At the age of twelve he was writing poetry, and though when he was nineteen his father was killed, his promise attracted a patron in the person of Dr. Stevenson, an eminent physician, who carried him to Edinburgh and supported him there for four years at the Grammar School. He found means also to attend the University, and qualify for the church. Among his friends in Edinburgh was David Hume the historian, who went so far as give up to him his salary as librarian of the Faculty of Advocates. Spence, too, the professor of poetry at Oxford, and friend of Pope, took great pains to introduce Blacklock's verse to the English public; while Beattie, the author of The Minstrel, got him the degree of D.D. from the University of Aberdeen.
In 1762 Blacklock married, and at the same time was presented to the parish of Kirkcudbright. His settlement was resisted, however, on account of his blindness. For many years subsequently the chief part of his livelihood was gained by the keeping of a better-class boarding-school in Edinburgh. Two years after his death an edition of his poems was published, with a life by Henry Mackenzie, the author of The Man of Feeling. His work is also included in Chalmers' English Poets, vol. V.