The Reverend Dr. Thomas Blacklock, — a man very extraordinary at once for his talents as a poet and philosopher, for his acquired knowledge as a scholar, and his virtues as a man and a Christian, — had the misfortune to lose his sight by the small-pox before he was six months old; an age so early, as not to leave with him the slightest remembrance of his having ever possessed that blessing. Though his father was in no higher station than a bricklayer, he gave his son such acquaintance with books as he could, by reading, to amuse him; and his companions assisted in the task, by whose means he acquired some knowledge of Latin. At nineteen he lost his father; yet he was not left destitute of friends, whom Providence brought to his aid. Among others, Dr. Stevenson, physician in Edinburgh, having accidentally learned his history, gave to his natural endowments the assistance of a classical education in that university. His acquired knowledge of ancient and modern languages, and of various branches of science, was truly astonishing, not only as an instance of the strongest and most retentive memory, but of the native powers of mind, applied to the most abstruse subjects, under circumstances the most unpropitious.
While at Edinburgh, he published a volume of poems, which attracted the notice of Mr. Spence, prebendary of Durham, who wrote an account of his life and character, prefixed to an edition published afterwards in London by subscription. If the descriptions and imagery, which his poetry exhibits, be deemed the result of memory merely, of things of which he never could have had any knowledge, the reader will at the same time find in them the qualities of fancy, tenderness, and sublimity, the thoughts, as well as the elegance and vigour of expression, which characterise the genuine productions of the poetical talent. One other praise, says his biographer, which the good will value, belongs to them in a high degree; they breathe the purest spirit of piety, virtue, and benevolence.
After applying some time to the study of theology, he became a minister of the church of Scotland, and is said to have excelled as a preacher. But the inhabitants of the parish in which he had been placed, having, through prejudice formed against him from his want of sight, made strong opposition to his settlement, he resigned the living, on receiving a small annuity, and returned to Edinburgh, where he ever after resided.
Beside his poetical compositions, he published several works in prose, of a moral and religious tendency, which do him honour as a philosopher and a Christian, particularly, Paraclesis, or, Consolations deduced from Natural and Revealed Religion, in two Dissertations: the first, supposed to be written by Cicero, and translated by Dr. Blacklock; the other, original, by himself. In the Encylopaedia Britannica, the article on the Blind, written by him, is both curious and instructive.
To those qualities of mind, whether native or acquired, for which be was so remarkable, Dr. Blacklock added the utmost goodness of heart, as well as gentleness of manner, but accompanied with the keenest sensibility. In his friendship he was warm to enthusiasm. Of this his correspondence with Dr. Beattie affords a striking proof. Their spirits were congenial, and they loved each other with great affection.
Dr. Beattie's and Dr. Blacklock's first intercourse seems to have arisen from a present, which Dr. Blacklock had sent him of his works, accompanied by a copy of verses; to which Dr. Beattie replied in a similar manner. It is an ethic epistle, and, in my opinion, of so much merit, that I am sorry Dr. Beattie has left it out of the later editions of his poetical works.
His peculiar misfortune gave him a high relish for the pleasures of conversation. In the circle of his friends he seemed to forget the privation of sight, and the melancholy which at other times it produced; and he entered, with the cheerful playfulness of a young man, into all the sprightly narrative, the sportful fancy, and the humorous jest, that rose around him.
Of music he was uncommonly fond; as was extremely natural for one who was blessed with a musical ear, and who found in it a greater source of delight, from the want of other pleasures from which he was shut out by his blindness. He sung with taste; and always carried in his pocket a small flageolet, on which he was by no means averse from being asked to perform, for the amusement of those with whom he happened to be in company.
With Dr. Blacklock I had the happiness of being well acquainted; and I look back with gratitude to his memory, for the many instructive hours which I have enjoyed in his company.
The last act of Dr. Beattie's friendship for Dr. Blacklock, was the composition of the following elegant and classical inscription, which is engraved on his monument at Edinburgh, where he died the 7th July 1791, in the seventieth year of his age.
THOMAE BLACKLOCK, D.D.
Probo, Pio, Benevolo,
Omnigena Doctrina erudito,
Ab incunabulis usque
At hilari, faceto,
Amicisque semper carissimo;
Qui Natus xxi. Novemb. MDCCXXI.
Obiit vii. Julii MDCCXCI:
Vidua ejus SARA JOHNSTON