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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
Thomas Blair, of the Stamp Office


Mr. Blair was Deputy-comptroller of the Stamp Office. To this situation he had been appointed in 1784, and he continued until his death to discharge the duties of the office with credit to himself and advantage to the establishment. In growth the Deputy-comptroller was somewhat stunted; but however niggardly nature had been to him in point of length, she amply compensated for the deficiency in rotundity of person. To use a common phrase, he was "as broad as he was long." This adjustment, however, by no means proved satisfactory to the aspiring mind of Mr. Blair. Like a certain nobleman, of whom Dean Swift has said—

"Right tall he made himself for show,
Though made full short by God;
And when all other Dukes did bow,
This Duke did only nod "—

the Deputy was anxious on all occasions to make himself "right tall;" and, we doubt not, would have eagerly submitted to any process by which his stature could have been increased. As it was, he managed matters to the best advantage, and even with some degree of ingenuity. He always wore a high-crowned cocked-hat; and his neatly frizzled and powdered wig was so formed, by the aid of wires, that it sat at least an inch above the scalp of his sconce—thus to keep up the deception which the high-crowned hat could not in all circumstances be supposed to maintain.

Notwithstanding these little weaknesses, Mr. Blair was a worthy sort of personage, and a jolly companion at the social board. The gentlemen of the Stamp Office were not deficient in the spirit of good-fellowship peculiar to the times. Once a year they were in the habit of dining together (at their own expense) in Fortune's Tavern, Old Stamp Office Close ; and as the friends of the higher officers were admitted to such meetings, a very select and comfortable party was generally formed. On these occasions,

"When smoking viands crowned the festive board,"

none maintained the characteristics of a genuine denizen of "Auld Reekie" with greater ability than Mr. Blair; and whether it might be in the demolition of a sirloin or in the dissection of a capon, his power in the one and his science in the other were equally apparent.

At such jovial meetings the Deputy seldom failed to be very merry; and there was no small degree of wit beneath his elastic wig. He had always some extraordinary incident to narrate, and he generally was himself the hero of the tale. It would be as endless as unprofitable to draw upon the stores of the wonderful which have been preserved by tradition. One specimen may suffice. Among other qualifications, he used to descant largely on the extent and retentive power of his memory—"Bless me," he would say, in reply to some incredulous non mi recordo—"I mind the very hour of my birth, and perfectly recollect of my good old mother bidding the midwife close the shutters, lest my ej^es should be hurt with the light! "

Mr. Blair resided, according to the veritable Peter "Williamson, in Buccleuch Street, so late as 1792. He afterwards occupied a house at Hope Park End, and latterly in Bose Street, where he died on the 2nd September, 1800. He left a daughter, who became the wife of the minister of the parish of Moreham.


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