Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed.
Glenora Single Malt Whisky

Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.
Scottish Review

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

John Stuart Blackie
Chapter XII. Edinburgh 1852 - 1857


PROFESSOR BLACKIE was the champion of the "forward movement" on the whole campaign of education, and particularly from the old camping- ground of University teaching, and it was in this position that men in advance of their day hailed him with hopeful welcome. His very freedom from sectarian exclusiveness, which had threatened to bar the way, helped to pacify the sectarians after the race was won. Just at first there were sinister murmurs that the Westminster Confession would brandish its flaming sword—with a dying menace—at the gates of Edinburgh University; but these subsided, and his earlier signature was accepted without demur. As he offered a friendly front alike to the Dissenting and to the Established Churches, no denomination could resist his genial unconsciousness of any lingering objection entertained by its own variety of Presbyterianism.

Aberdeen had long outlived its earlier prejudices against his opinions. The man himself was sound, in charity with all men, devout, diligent, a Christian. In Aberdeen there was a widespread regret mingled with the civic pride and congratulation. Divines and scholars alike acknowledged the distinction which he had conferred upon Marischal College, and which shone more conspicuously in the light of his promotion,—for the Aberdonians were not backward to admit merits which Edinburgh claimed from their midst.

His students at Marischal College had signed one of his most influential testimonials, and now offered him a valedictory gift of books. Those of his old students who were attending the Divinity classes in the Edinburgh Free Church College eagerly watched the contest for the Greek Chair, and were found tossing up their caps with enthusiasm at the result. They held, as is recorded in the letter of a fellow-student, that Blackie was the one candidate who could fill the Chair to their content; that although he could not transfer his own learning into less capacious heads, he had the power to animate even the dullest with something of his fire and fervour; that Edinburgh was in great need of just such a spirit in its classical lecture-rooms, where an amiable pedantry had brought study to something very like a standstill.

Personal friends at Aberdeen felt the loss of Professor and Mrs Blackie very keenly, and a large circle in Edinburgh prepared to receive them with hearty welcome. This circle numbered some old friends from Aberdeen, amongst them Professor and Mrs Gregory.

The Edinburgh of 1852 differed much from the Edinburgh of to-day. It was a smaller city, poor rather than rich, its social activities directed by an aristocracy of all the talents rather than by fashion and wealth. The Church, law, medicine, the University, literature and art, combined to produce its keen mental climate. Men's minds were braced into vigorous use in that contentious but wholesome air. They were distinguished and sought after, as they were individual, with wit, wisdom, skill, and conviction for their characteristics. They had not then the cheap qualifications for success which wealth bestows, and which send a languorous current throughout the social body, depressing what is noble and natural, accentuating what is conventional and unnecessary, vulgarising the energy which should be turned to real uses. Dr Guthrie, Dean Ramsay, Dr William Hanna, Lord Neaves, Lord Cockburn, Dr John Brown, Professor Aytoun, Mr Robert Chambers, Miss Catherine Sinclair, Mr D. 0. Hill, Mr George Harvey, Mr Noöl Paton and his brother, Horatio Macculloch, Alexander Smith, are but a few significant names culled from the long social roll-call of that day. To cite all that was brilliant and particular would be to fill a chapter with names not yet forgotten. Christopher North was there, although his locks were tawny-white, and his massive form was seldom seen in the streets; but his blue eyes glistened still when he heard a new canto in the everlasting epic of the rod, and about his brows there hovered that far-derived heredity which linked him to Homeric days.

Amongst such friends the Blackies found a place prepared. They came to Edinburgh in March, and stayed with Mr Stodart in Drummond Place. In April the Professor gave a successful course of lectures at the Philosophical Institution on "The Literature of Greece"; and in May, after his installation, he went to Cambridge, where he was the guest of Mr and Mrs Macmillan, and discussed with his host various forthcoming works which he already planned, and some of which indeed were begun.

One of his earliest cares was to come to a decision about the pronunciation of Greek, and of this his own account may be quoted from the "Notes":—

This question presented itself to me in a more decided attitude than it might have done to many a scholar; partly because I could not do anything merely on the principle of accepting a received tradition, partly because I had always felt convinced that the ear, and not the eye or the understanding, is the main avenue by which the knowledge of languages must be conveyed to a learner. Besides, there was an absolute lawlessness of practice in the matter which it could not be my duty to encourage, one party pronouncing Greek in the Scottish way because it was patriotic, and the other in the English way because it was genteel. To the patriotic party, in so far as patriot- ism might have a saying in such matters, I was naturally inclined. I accordingly set myself without a moment's delay to examine the whole affair scientifically and historically. The result of my investigations appeared in a small volume published at Edinburgh in the year 1852, as a sufficiently distinct manifesto, before I commenced my teaching. The conclusions which I came to were simple and certain. The Scottish pronunciation and the English were alike founded on a historical tradition stand- ing on no firm philological basis. The Scotch, by their more happy preservation of the Catholic pronunciation of Continental nations, happened to be mainly in the right, while the English happened to be altogether in the wrong. As to accentuation—how it came I do not know—my countrymen were not a whit better than their southern neighbours. Both had, partly out of sheer carelessness, partly from some imagined metrical difficulties, convinced themselves that it was a rational and scholar-like practice to hold as not written the real Greek accents, which were carefully printed on every word of every Greek book by a continuous tradition from the Alexandrian grammarians, and to adopt the Latin accentuation instead. My manifesto on the subject was sent forth with little hope of converting anybody from the error of such ways, but only as a basis of practical operations for myself, which it was impossible for any scholar to dispute. And so it turned out.. Nobody disputed my doctrine, but few or none followed my practice.

His pamphlet on the pronunciation of Greek was widely read, and won the approval of the minority of scholars who were not insistent on the sanctity of academic habit. Amongst these was Professor Newman.

If Greek [he wrote] could come by talking, it would indeed be a gain. It will take fifty years at least to persuade the English of it, but every novelty must have a beginning.

The fifty years have nearly run their course, and the prediction is amply verified. During all that time Professor Blackie iterated and reiterated his charge against the teaching of the universities, with so slender a result that they may well be charged with an entire want of conviction of the worth of Greek.

Before the session began he and Mrs Blackie went to Ben Rhydding to try the water-cure established there. The visit was pleasant and profitable, and under both headings may be placed the acquaintance with Miss Elizabeth Pease which it included, and which ripened into a lifelong friendship, favoured by the marriage some years later of Miss Pease to Professor Nichol, and her residence first in Glasgow, and afterwards for many years in Edinburgh.

During the first session of his new work Professor Blackie and his wife lived in lodgings in Princes Street; but they took a house in Castle Street in 1853, and made it their home for seven years. His inaugural lecture was printed and dispersed, and an extract from Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton's response to a copy sent him will sufficiently indicate its tenor:

I have now had leisure to read your pamphlet, in which I have felt great interest. The short paragraph you quote from the modern Greek newspaper is very curious, and leaves no doubt in my mind that the study of Romaic would not only vastly abridge the toil and time consumed now in learning the old Greek, but would also give us a more just and familiar comprehension of the right signification of classic words and phrases. The main distinction, to judge by so short an extract, so far as general style goes, is in the habitual construction of the sentences. The Romaic seems to avoid the inversions common to the old tongue, and in this respect to be similar to the transition of Latin into Italian. Altogether, I think the pamphlet very valuable in its matter, and there is no doubt of its spirit and eloquence as to manner. If I ever get a good three months' summer holiday, I am sufficiently convinced by your treatise to resolve to give myself up to Romaic. Greek can never be a dead tongue; no people that once spoke it can give it up.

The lecture advanced the views which were already associated with the Professor's name. He had begun a translation of Homer some years before, while working for the Homeric Club in Aberdeen, and had already finished a rough recast of the 'Iliad.' The work required a closer personal acquaintance with Greece—its soil, climate, landscape, local conditions, and antiquities - than books could supply, and coupled with these needs was that of a fuller knowledge of the dialects of Greece in their modern forms. He wished to hear them spoken, and to learn their divergences from the language of Homer, upon their own ground. When the session ended he prepared to go to Greece. His equipment was simple enough,—a little store of new clothes, of classics, of Romaic ballads, supplemented by a few introductions, the most valuable of which were to Professor Rangabč and Dr George Finlay. A grey plaid and a broad white hat gave the finishing touches to his travelling costume, and on April 18 he embarked at Leith on the Hamburg steamer, and took train for Berlin on the day of its arrival. A couple of days at Berlin, where he reviewed the haunts of his student days, from the very. position to which they had inspired his aims, and a long, slow journey to Vienna, formed the unexciting prelude to further experiences. From Vienna he made his way, by diligence, through Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, to Trieste, re-covering the old ground which had led him to Italy twenty years earlier. At Trieste he embarked for Athens on a vessel which stopped at Corfu, Cephalonia, and Xante, using up a whole week in the cruise, so that more than a fortnight elapsed between his start from Leith and his finish on May 4 at Athens. But the voyage was fruitful of interesting impressions. On his arrival he presented the two letters already mentioned, and found Dr George Finlay and Professor Rangabč full of kindly attentions. Some passages from his first letter, despatched from Athens, will best express his state of mind in this adventure, at once so new and so checkered with familiar associations.

You will be happy to hear [he wrote to his wife] that I have got a most excellent lodging, clean, neat, healthy, and all that could be desired. The price is 140 drachms a-month, including victuals, the drachm being about 9 pence. The owner of the house expects you to take your victuals from him as part of his profit. I was most fortunate in being brought into an excellent house by Dr Finlay, my learned countryman, who resides here, and who is extremely kind. It is situated on the upper part of the city, in a fine airy situation, quite close to the University, and not far from the palace of King Otho. I was amused when I found myself in University Street, as if the shop could never leave me, and with a large seminary for young ladies exactly opposite my south window! From this window also I have a view open to the pillared range of the Parthenon right in front; while on my right the hill is seen from the brow of which Xerxes, seated on a golden throne, looked out on the narrow firth of Salamis, crowded with the navy of the East; and to my left rises honeyed Hymettus. Behind the house there is a garden, which will soon be richly shaded with the quick-spreading foliage of the vines, and this garden looks out on the famous mountain Lycabettus, which overhangs Athens as Arthur's Seat does Edinburgh. It is an isolated conical hill of a very striking character. I mounted it this morning, and took about two hours to achieve the feat easily. Add to all this, that in my immediate neighbourhood are the streets of Hippocrates and Aristeides, Sophocles and Euripides, and you may imagine that to a classical man no strange lodging could be more familiar. I am both at home here and not at home in a manner that considerably disturbs me, so that as yet I scarcely know where I am nor how to feel, and am habitually overpowered by a pleasant sort of discomfort which 1 should find it difficult to explain. But every new situation makes me feel uncomfortable at first, so I shall just sit quietly in the broad sun that shines here—I speak allegorically—and let the fruit which is now crude ripen in God's time. I am learning many things. What has delighted me most since entering this country, and what I am sure would chiefly delight you, is the natural and strikingly dramatic character of the people and their mode of life. I have a hundred times fancied myself in the midst of some strange melodrama. The dresses of the people are so various and picturesque, the gait of the Greeks and Albanese has something in it so noble and kingly, the contour of their features is often so fine, the expression of the face now blithe and generous, grand and open—now dark, scowling, and savage,—the whole so lively, so easy, natural, and unconstrained, that to a person just slipt from the leading-strings of cold Edinburgh proprieties and etiquettes, the sensation of strange, rich naturalness was magical. Many of the men whom I see give a living idea of a Homeric Agamemnon or Ajax, while others again are like the murderers in "Macbeth" or "Richard," and a great deal more ferocious—cut-throat faces, and yet not without a certain rude grandeur of their own which our English town-bred murderers never have. I understood Mr King's Greek sermon to-day quite well, but I feel great difficulty in following any conversation. The old words are used in new ways. I can only persevere. I have found here my London correspondent Clyde —a light-haired, sunny-faced Scotsman—who is working hard at the modern Greek, and feels more and more persuaded every day that the system he and I are following is at once the easiest and the most direct to a thorough knowledge of the great language. He has been two months in lodgings, and is able to tell me many things that I would not otherwise have got hold of so soon.

As soon as he was settled Professor Blackie began to attend lectures at the University, and made daily some progress in understanding the modern Greek. But the great heat, which he had not foreseen, and which affected his health, interfered with his study both of the language and the antiquities. His outfit had not been chosen in view of excessive heat, and he was obliged to reconstruct it, making purchases of white linen suits, and laying aside the accustomed plaid. As May wore to an end he began a series of excursions, to Argos, Corinth, and Nauplia, in which Mr Clyde was his companion. His courage in talking right and left with the people helped the Professor to make trial of his own repertory, which was rapidly increasing. By the end of May he was better used to the climate, and his life in Athens had rolled into a rut of habit which he described as follows:

In the morning I generally take a walk of about two hours, surveying some part of the ground sacred to scholars. At nine I have breakfast—coffee, omelettes, bread and butter-sheep's butter! In the forenoon I study Greek and topography. At three I dine-soup, fish, roast, boiled, salad, oranges; and in the evening I walk out and enjoy the cool air, and visit some scene of classic interest. Before returning home I generally drop into a coffee-house, with which this place abounds, and taking a small cup of black coffee and a large tumbler of cold water, observe the public idlesse of the Greeks, and muse myself idly on nothing determinate.

Other letters are varied with accounts of dinners at the English and Prussian embassies, and evening parties at the houses of Professors, Chaplains, and Missionaries.

Early in June he was invited to join Professor Kendrick, Mr Arnold, and Mr Chase in an excursion through Northern Greece, and he gladly accompanied them. They spent ten days in visiting Thermopyke, Plataea, Archomenos, Thebes, Delphi, and the range of Parnassus. Their travels were made on horseback, and they took provisions with them to supplement the fare in out-of-the-way places. Some thirty miles was the average day's journey, and the Professor found it most fatiguing. Such continual jolting and shaking, and such monotonous stretching of muscles by no means accustomed to tension, and such confinement of limbs fond of capricious liberty, became a real torture to my impatient spirit." But the mountain breeze of Delphi compensated for much after the heat of Athens. To ascend Parnassus, they exchanged their horses for mules, "the native trotters of the rock, and by the time the sun was passing slantingly through the dark pines, found ourselves in a green hollow on the verge of the snow region of the mountain." Here they found some shepherds at seesaw on a pole in front of a hut rank of its store of cheeses. This was a resting-place, and they dismounted to encamp for the night round a fire outside the hut, at which they cooked their supper. The shepherds cut down branches of the spruce firs, and on the fragrant mattress which they strewed they slept all night under the dewless skies. He longed, as he had done a hundred times in Greece, for George Harvey's presence and recording pencil. Next morning, as they climbed the winding slope of the mountain, something of the afflatus which his Highland Bens were wont to breathe refreshed his spirit, and he broke forth into a descriptive song,—the only song he uttered in Greece.

On June 13 he returned to the hot confinement of Athens. Here he was vexed by a drought of rhyme. "My spiritual steam is low, and though I have several times attempted to write verses in this land so full of poetical temptations, I cannot succeed. I must content myself with the humbler occupations of amassing and arranging materials." A week of the capital now sufficed him, and he started at its end for Sunium and Marathon, returning by the back of Pentelicus. Then a short visit to the Rangabčs at their summer home in Cephissia, on the slopes of Pentelicus, - where green fields and oliveyards and streams of water make an oasis in dusty Attica,—ended in a pleasant experience this pregnant time. For in spite of heat, of illness and discomfort, he had fulfilled many of his desires, and had reaped and garnered seed to be sown in other soil, and to fructify to other uses; and he recorded 1853 as the most memorable year of his life.

He left by steamer about July 3, and was put ashore at Xante, where he spent some days with Mr Lindsay. These, however, were days of lassitude and illness, and were occupied in reading "Lalla Rookh" while stretched on a sofa. He left for Trieste in the steamer Adria, and took rail there for Vienna, whence he steamed up the Danube to Linz, travelled to Munich,—revisiting its Glyptothek for the sake of Greece,—and then sped on to Bonn, where he paid a fleeting visit to his friend Professor Brandes, and whence he hurried home.

I am coming home [he wrote from Vienna], God be praised, much enriched with new ideas and views and feelings in reference to Greek man and Greek nature that books could never have given me. A little living experience of this kind is worth libraries of learning, to me at least, who never had any great capacity for folios.

Amongst his gains was the frequently illustrated observation that the modern Greeks seek to preserve their language pure from foreign influence, and reject Italian, Roumanian, and Turkish words as equivalents for their own far descended and high-sounding epithets. Another gain was the conviction that the translation of Homer which he had begun was unsatisfactory from lack of knowledge, and must be set aside for serious labour at the subject. This labour may be dated from the year which followed his visit to Greece.

During his absence his wife had stayed with old Mr Blackie in Gayfield Square. Her purpose in spending the summer in Edinburgh was the practical one of setting in order and furnishing with care, taste, and economy the house in Castle Street which they had chosen to be their home. Her sister, Miss Augusta Wyld, shared Mr Blackie's hospitality, and helped her in the many details of her undertaking. But they did not purpose to occupy the house immediately on the Professor's return, as some needed refreshing from hills and sea had been planned for August, and was carried out in Arran when he returned.

The Town Council had granted his application for an assistant lecturer, and he chose his old pupil and valued friend Mr James Donaldson, whose help, both initiatory and supplementary, served to relieve the pressure of mere school- mastering, and to give room for more purely professorial work. The two friends were of one mind with regard to the methods of teaching and of pronunciation, and in view of both they studied Modern Greek together in the 'Songs of the Kiephts,' the works of Professor Rangabč, and the newspapers which Dr Finlay sent periodically from Athens. Correspondence. in the language with Athenian friends formed part of their practice, while Dr Finlay kept them in touch with the stir and rumour of unsettled Greece and its disappointing Othonian Government.

A passage in the "Notes" reviews this and subsequent epochs of his teaching, and may be quoted once for all, as it is tedious to recur to this subject in a biography of moderate length :-

The work of the Greek classes—while it lasted no more than five months at full tension—was sufficiently severe. Four hours a-day, and these continuous with only an hour's interval between the forenoon and afternoon. However, I was not the man to fret over the strain of the work; it was not the quantity but the quality of the work that in the least annoyed me. Of these four hours, two were devoted to the junior class, one to each of the senior classes. The best strength of the Professor's brain was consumed for two hours every day in doing work which was beneath the level of the rectorial teaching in the High School. The consequence of heaping such an amount of purely elementary work on his head was to prevent his doing what his best ambition prompted him to do for his wore advanced classes. I at length got the University Commission to appoint a tutor to the junior classes of Greek, Latin, and Mathematics. This adoption of the tutorial system into the Scottish Universities was a most important step in advance. With regard to the special conduct of the class, I confined my activity with the junior class altogether to reading and writing, and the training of the ear by familiar dialogues. To my second class I gave a lecture only once a-week, and to my highest class only twice a-week; and my whole experience as a teacher has convinced me more and more of the wisdom of the Socratic method, by which the function of the teacher is confined as much as possible to teaching the pupil to teach himself. I therefore adopted the habit of starting problems, and ordering papers for their solution, which were afterwards publicly discussed. Formal essays on large subjects I did not prescribe, partly because it was apparent that even the most advanced of my pupils would be more advantageously employed in reading Greek than in writing English, partly because there was large opportunity for writing essays in other classes. For essays I substituted special subjects of study, with special examinations and special distinctions, a procedure which secured all the substantial good of the essay without any of the evil. To kindle if possible some spark of noble enterprise in the new field of Comparative Philology, I gave a special prize every year for studies in the science of languages, the competition for which always produced some half-dozen of very creditable papers. But the greatest and most notable reform which I introduced was the change that, through my agency, assisted by the regulations of the University Commissioners above mentioned, took place in the third or advanced class. This class is one which the Professor is in no wise bound to teach, but is undertaken for the profit and honour of the University. When I commenced teaching, it numbered thirty-nine students. When my system began to produce its full fruits, I was left with only a dozen. Was this a sign of advance? Certainly, and one of the surest. By the elevation which had taken place in the platform of the first two classes, the second class performed for many the functions that had previously been performed by the third. Besides, by the new regulations, for the best type of students only one year's Greek was now required; and for this type, as the first class was too low, the third was too high: so the highest Greek came to be deserted more and more, and towards the end of the session I was sometimes left with only half-a-dozen of students. All this was quite right. I was not long of observing that the third class was not even attended by the best students, but by some who wished in a cheap way to supplement the deficiencies of previous years. So I pitched it up by a bold stroke far above the reach of those fellows, and secured at last a select few to follow me in philosophy, poetry, and philology as far as it might be possible for me to fly, or convenient for them to follow.

The University Commission alluded to in this extract from the "Notes" was that of 1858, which was more due to the demand for reform excited by Professor Blackie's letters, pamphlets, and lectures, than to any other cause. Its main achievement was to substitute a three years' for a four years' course, and so to throw a heavier responsibility upon the secondary schools. It set the ball rolling, sanctioning discontent with the prevailing deadlock in education, and conducting it through sixteen years of legitimate agitation to the Commission of Inquiry which began its work in 1875, and resulted in the Executive Commission of 1890, whose work will call for attention in a future chapter.

In close connection with the Professor's conduct of the Greek class is the opinion, or rather variety of opinions, as to his success in teaching. It seems to be conceded by all students who were really in earnest to learn as much Greek as could be learnt in the contracted sessions of our Universities, that Professor Blackie was a vivid, inspiring, and most helpful teacher; that he grudged no trouble in the class-room, or out of it, to help those who wished to help themselves; that he encouraged such by gifts not only of books but of his leisure; and that more particularly those who were at once diligent and poor found him ready to supplement in the evening and at his own house the instruction of the morning with explanation, with reading, with the use of references, with the loan of books to which they could otherwise have had no access, with the sight of rare illustrations, and above all with the frank and hearty respect which their industry inspired in him, which led him often to express admiration for many a modest and unpretending student in whom the scholarly element, backed by perseverance and undaunted by poverty, grew and developed in his favouring regard. These men fill the desks in Scottish church and school, and are to be found cherishing their old Professor's memory with love and gratitude in many a manse at home and abroad, on African veldt and in Canadian farm, on ranch and sheep-run, wherever Scotchmen penetrate and do their country credit. The opinion of such students as, from lack of intelligence, preferred to make the class-room a bear-garden is without importance. Their genial teacher, indulgent to the young by reason of his own unending youth, of his own sympathy with the freakishness of youth, was perhaps too little versed in pedagogic expedients for class government. Frowns and majesty, the dictatorial brow, the sarcasm edged so keenly that it can even flay the mental epidermis of a rowdy student, were no part of his congenital equipment, and his adoption of their artillery failed at times. But we have ample testimony to his many-sided fitness for work, to his unwearied application of every method which could appeal to the curiosity, to the interest, to the intelligence of his class, which could rouse its members from the half-paralysed stupor into which the teaching of languages is apt to plunge the learner. For many years he worked not merely on the respectable level of the customary professor, but far beyond and above it, making flights and excursions of the most stimulating character, pracising the innovations which are now becoming the commonplaces of reformed teaching, and never stinting the personal labour which might replenish, enrich, and enliven the supply which he controlled.

In the later years of his professoriate it was to some extent noticeable that he had wearied a little of the constant draughts upon his invention and endurance; that his interest was diverted to so many questions of general importance that he overflowed with these at times into devious prologues to Xenophon or Thucydides; and that he became, as men of original incentive are apt to become, somewhat too independent of the conditions imposed by the class-room and the class hours. But many men whose experience of his teaching belongs to this later period are prepared to testify that, notwithstanding his discursiveness, he set them on the right road to discover Greek for themselves, and taught them to take delight in the treasures which it at once stores and distributes.

In the spring of 1854 we find him again lecturing to the members of the Philosophical Institution, and calling down upon himself the natural ire of a Catholic priest amongst their number by an erratic excursion into polemics when treating of the aesthetical character of the medieval Church.

The aesthetics of church architecture engaged his leisure interest this year, and we find him in September making a tour of cathedrals—Durham, Lincoln, Peterborough, Winchester, Salisbury, and Ely. This was interrupted by a few weeks at Moor Park under Dr Lane's care—walking, driving, and rhyming on fine days, dancing jigs in the dining-room and posting up his correspondence when it rained. He enjoyed every hour of his stay, and entreated his wife by every post to join him, but in vain. Mrs Blackie preferred to spend quiet days in summer amongst the friends whom she already knew, to sharing his enterprise amongst strangers. So he cut short the weeks in Surrey, and took up the clue of his cathedral tour, and towards the end of October they forgathered and returned to Edinburgh.

During these summer wanderings the habit of mornings devoted to work was never intermitted. Homer and a goodly pile of Homeric commentators accompanied him this year wherever he went, and we learn that at Moor Park he finished his translation of the first six books of the 'Iliad.'

In Edinburgh his time was amply occupied. Professor Bernays asked him towards the end of the year to take up the subject of old Latin and Greek Inscriptions—Hermeneutics being a branch of archieo1ogy concerning cr which Germany was both urgent and successful. He answered on the first day of 1855:

I find so much to do in rich clover-fields that I cannot be induced to set out on an exploring expedition among cold barren crags for the sake of half-a-dozen saxifrages and other rare flowers, nourished in those frozen regions by snow-water. I have made a vow to keep to one kind of work, and that for which I am plainly cut out by nature. I do not cherish the most distant expectation of becoming an archeologist. I am at my old trade of rhyming again in various shapes-among others, translating Homer's 'Iliad' into English ballad measure. This is my business in the summer months. In winter my strength is so frittered away with teaching—the greater part being of the most elementary character—that I am not able to attempt anything that may in any sense be styled production.

In the summers of 1855 and 1856 he and Mrs Blackie made their headquarters again at Bonn, while he prosecuted his inquiries into German systems of education as far afield as Halle and Berlin.

A letter to the Provost and Town Council of Edinburgh embodied the obvious conclusions which resulted from renewed comparison of the system in Germany with that at home, and the winter of the second year found him putting these conclusions in the van of controversial onset by addressing them to the editor of the 'Times.' The sub- ject had now become familiar, by means of newspapers and pamphlets, to the public concerned, and he met with vigorous co-operation from many sources. His own colleagues in Edinburgh University were at last with him, but for the one exception, his opponent from first to last. He had attained to this important stage, that the academic corporation to which he belonged admitted and cautiously advocated a measure of reform. But his scheme for reform after. the German pattern was not so heartily endorsed, nor was he unduly obstinate on that point. Indeed, when the whole matter came to its practical stage, he forbore both influence and interference. His share was, as Dr Guthrie phrased it, "to wake up the country with his trumpet."

The social life interlinked with these activities was rich and varied. Old friendship drew him always closer to George Harvey and Dr John Brown. Sydney Dobell was often in Edinburgh, and sought his cheerful society. Dr George Finlay appeared in the Modern Athens from time to time, laden with the woes of its old and eponymous metropolis. Thus he announced his arrival in the summer of 1857:

I am still so confused in my head with the heat of Athens, the dust raised by the change of Ministry, the army of occupation, the sweeping of the palace, and our old friend Boreas, that I cannot recollect anything to say to you except that you were never forgotten at the headquarters of marble monuments and marble dust. I hope to be in Edinburgh soon. I remained a week in London talking politics and art, and mixing them up in utter desperation of conveying a meaning to people who, having seen Constantinople, know everything!

Dr John Carlyle was a frequent visitor; with Dr Guthrie and Dean Ramsay he had established the friendliest relations. If he had just lost Sir William Hamilton, the honoured friend of many years, he had gained his philosophic successor, Professor Campbell Fraser, who to a deep and stable concern with ideas added a gentle humour, which played upon the shadowy realities of existence as sunlight plays upon vapour.

Edinburgh was wealthy in possessing, magnetic in attracting, genial souls, and the "light of other days" still sparkled in their intercourse. The Professor had chosen Dr Guthrie to be his pastor in ordinary, and sat Sunday after Sunday in a corner of the big square pew sacred to the elders and to distinguished worshippers -just under the pulpit, where the tall Doctor spake rousing words that moved and swayed the crowd beneath him. For his eloquence, - full of emotion, of simile, of elevation, of conviction, vibrating with love of nature and of man,—Professor Blackie chose him, and because his large sympathy refused all channels dug by sect, and flowed out into the broad stream whose waters God has designed for the refreshing of all mankind. The plaid, the thick stick, the low-crowned hat., the brown wig worn for some years, the finely cut profile, the devout attitude in prayer, the close attention, were all familiar to the congregation of Free St John's during the latter half of Dr Guthrie's ministry.

Connected also with these years was the "Blackie Brotherhood," instituted by the Professor to bring together, at least once in twelve months, a little group of friends belonging to the inner circle. We find twelve of these upon its first roll-call: Mr Hunter of Craigcrook and his son, Mr Kinnear, Dr Lindsay Alexander, Dr Hanna, Dr Walter C. Smith, Professor Campbell Fraser, Dr John Brown, Mr George Harvey, Mr Noöl Paton, Mr D. O. Hill, and Dr Gairdner. Parts in some kind were important to brotherhood, but the essential qualification was moral nobility of character. Poets, painters, philosophers, and divines were only qualified if to their gifts they added the Christian graces of faith, hope, and charity. Atheists and scoffers were classed with bigots and dogmatists, and with the "damnatory orthodox," in disability. Such men are never poets, nor sing the lyrics of love, nature, and good-fellowship, and they would have been out of place in that kindly company, which had a preference for "moral nobility" tempered by song. Their communion, bodily and prandially, was in one of the Princes Street hotels; spiritually, "in that genial region of fervid and flowery spontaneity in which, as in an earthly Paradise, it was the privilege of the Brotherhood to dwell." The "Blackie Brotherhood" lasted for a quarter of a century, and the gaps which death made in its ranks were filled by men with every worthy attribute. It is impossible now to recover its merry jests and sparkling humour. The "snows of yester-year" endure a winter long; its laughter is but a waft of fragrance which no man can register.


Return to Book Index Page

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast