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Kay's Originals Vol. 1


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 121 the pastorship of Lady Yester’s Chum4 by the Town Council of Edinburgh ; and again by the same body, in 1758, he was translated to one of the charges in the High Church. About the same period, the degree of D.D. was conferred upon him by the University of St. Andrews. In 1759, Dr. Blair commenced the delivery of those lectures on “ Rhetoric and the Belles Lettres,” afterwards given to the public in a printed form, and which have since continued to hold precedence as a standard work on literary composition. The lectures were undertaken with the concurrence of the University ; and so popular did they at once become, that in 1761 the Town Council procured from Government an endowment of 370 a-year towards instituting a historical class in connection with the College, of which Dr. Blair was appointed Professor. Hitherto, except in the case of one or two sermons on particular occasions, which were printed, the Doctor had not appeared as an author before the world. The deep interest w-hich he took, however, in the exertions of Macpherson to recover the traditional poetry of the Highlands, led him to publish, in 1763, “ a critical Dissertation on the Poems of Ossian,” which was held by the advocates for their authenticity to be one of the finest specimens of “critical composition in the English language.’’ Although his style of pulpit oratory had become an object of very general imitation among the young clergy, and although he had been repeatedly urged to favour the world with some of those productions which had captivated so many hearers, it was not till 1777 that he was induced to think of publishing. In that year he -transmitted the MS. of his first volume of sermons, through the medium of Mr. Creech, to an eminent publisher in London (Mr. Strachan), with a view to the disposing of the copyright. Strachan, presuming probably on a very general feeling of aversion then existing .in the public mind towards clerical productions, sent a discouraging answer to Dr. Blair. In the mean time the MS. had been handed to Dr. Johnson for perusal, who, after Strachan’s unfavourable letter had been despatched to the north, sent a note to the publisher, in which he says, “I have read over Dr. Blair’s first sermon with more than approbation; to say it is good, is to say too little.” This judgment, strengthened by a conversation afterwards held with Dr. Johnson, soon convinced Mr. Strachan of the error he had committed. He therefore wrote a second time to Dr. Rlair, inclosing Johnson’s note, and agreeing, in conjunction with Mr. Cadell and Mr. Creech of Edinburgh, to purchase the volume for one hundred pounds.’ The popularity of these sermons exceeded all anticipation ; Dr. Blair was thefirst person who introduced the Poems of Osaian to the notice of the world ; first, by the “Fragments of Ancient Poetry “ which he published ; and next, by setting on foot an undertaking for collecting and publishing the entire poems. He used to boast of this, but he little dreamed that the lapse of a few years would produce so general a change in public opinion as to the authenticity of these remarkable productions. a The MS. was first submitted to the perusal of Mr. Creech, who was so highly taken with it, that he made an offer off-hand to the author of one hundred guineas. Dr. Blair was so much struck with the amount, as to be almost incredulous of the verity of Mr. Creech’s offer. “Will you indeed ! ” was his exclamation. R
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123 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. so much so, that the publishers presented the author with two additional 6ums of money, by way of compliment. Not long after its first publication, the volume attracted the notice of George 111. and his consort--a portion of the sermons, it is said, having been first read to their Majesties in the royal closet by the eloquent Earl of Mansfield. So highly did their Majesties esteem the merits of the author, that a pension of €200 was settled upon him. The Doctor afterwards published other three volumes of sermons, all of which met an equally flattering reception, and were translated into almost all the European languages. Upon occasion of the publication of Dr. Blair’s Lectures, Logan the poet addressed a letter to Dr. Gilbert Stuart, at that time editor of the “English Review and Political Herald,” from which the following beautiful extracts have been taken : - I need not tell you that I am very much interested in the fate and fame of all his works. Besides his literary merit, he hath borne his faculties so meekly in every situation, that he is entitled to favour as well as candour. He has never with pedantic authority opposed the career of other authors, but has, on the contrary, favoured every literary attempt. He has never studied to push himself immaturely into the notice of the world, but waited the call of the public for all his productions; and now, when he retires from the republic of letters into the vale of ease, I cannot help wishing success to Fingal’ in the last of his fields. * * * * Your influence to give Dr. Blair his last passport to the public will be very agreeable to the Ziterati here, and will be a particular favour done to me. It will still farther enhance the obligation if you will write me such a letter as I can show him, to quiet his fean.’’ Dr. Blair retired from the Professorship in 1788, in consequence of advanced age, and in a few years afterwards found himself also unable to discharge the duties of the pulpit. Such, however, was the vigour of his intellect, that in 1799, when past his eightieth year, he composed and preached one of the most effective sermons he ever delivered, in behalf of the Fund for the Benefit of the Sons of the Clergy, the subject of which was-“ The compassionate beneficence of the Deity.” In addition to his acquirements in theology and general literature, Dr. Blair was intimately acquainted with some of the sciences ; while it may be worthy of remark, he also indulged to a considerable extent in light reading. “The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments,” and ‘‘ Don Quixote,” were among his especial favourites. He was also an admirer of Mrs. Anne Radcliffe’s talents for romance, and honoured Mr. Pratt’s ‘‘ Emma Corbett ” with particular praise. In Church politics, although the Doctor took no active part, he was, like his intimate friend Principal Robertson, a decided Moderate, and was zealous to adopt any means of improving the worship of the Church of Scotland, where such could be done This allusion, considering the share Dr. Blair had in bringing the worka of Ossian to light, is “Dr. Blair’s Lectures are to be published sometime in spring. extremely appropriate,
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