1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Hugh Blair

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:217.



The Scottish church at this time also contained some able and accomplished divines. The equality of livings in the northern establishment, and the greater amount of pastoral labour devolved upon its ministers, are unfavourable for studious research or profound erudition. The Edinburgh clergy, however, are generally men of talents and attainments, and the universities occasionally receive some of the best divines as professors. One of the most popular and influential of the Scottish clergy was DR. HUGH BLAIR, born in Edinburgh in 1718. He was at first minister of a country church in Fifeshire, but, being celebrated for his pulpit eloquence, he was successively preferred to the Canongate, Lady Yester's, and the High Church in Edinburgh. In 1759 he commenced a course of lectures on rhetoric and belles lettres, which extended his literary reputation; and in 1763 he published his Dissertation on the Poems of Ossian, a production evincing both critical taste and learning. In 1777 appeared the first volume of his Sermons, which was so well received that the author published three other volumes, and a fifth which he had prepared, was printed after his death. A royal pension of £200 per annum further rewarded its author. Blair next published his Rhetorical Lectures, and they also met with a favourable reception. Though somewhat hard and dry in style and manner, this work forms a useful guide to the young student: it is carefully arranged, contains abundance of examples in every department of literary composition, and has also detailed criticisms on ancient and modern authors. The sermons, however, are the most valuable of Blair's works. They are written with taste and elegance, and by inculcating Christian morality without any allusion to controversial topics, are suited to all classes of Christians. Profound thought, or reasoning, or impassioned eloquence, they certainly do not possess, and in this respect they must be considered inferior to the posthumous sermons of Logan the poet, which, if occasionally irregular, or faulty in style, have more of devotional ardour and vivid description. In society Dr Blair was cheerful and polite, the friend of literature as well as of virtue. His predominant weakness seems to have been vanity, which was soon discovered by Burns, in his memorable residence in Edinburgh in 1787. Blair died on the 27th of December 1800.