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Significant Scots
Professor John Stuart Blackie


John Stuart Blackie
(1809-1895)
Professor of Greek at the University of Edinburgh

Blackie was one of one of the best-known Scotsmen of his time. Born in Glasgow and educated in Aberdeen, his first degree from Marischal College, Aberdeen was followed by three 'Wanderjahre' spent at the Universities of Göttingen and Berlin and in Rome. These gave him a life-long love, first of the German language, German student life, songs and culture, and secondly of the Greek language and antiquity. The first were later to inform several of his own books, notably "Musa burschicosa" (1869), "War songs of the Germans" (1870) and "Scottish song"(1889) as well as the initial compilation of "The Scottish Students' Song Book" (1891), of which his nephew Archibald Stoddart-Walker was one of the first editors.

Declining to enter the church he took a law degree at the University of Edinburgh and joined the Scottish bar. In 1839 was appointed Professor of Humanity at Marischal College, Aberdeen and in 1860 he achieved his ambition when he was appointed to the Chair of Greek at the University of Edinburgh.

At Edinburgh he became a charismatic teacher and a popular lecturer on many subjects. He espoused the causes of educational reform and the Gaelic language, and almost single-handed raised the £12,000 needed to endow the new Chair of Celtic at Edinburgh. His death was the occasion for a national day of mourning, and his funeral stopped the City of Edinburgh in its tracks.

HYMN - 'A Heart From Self Set Free'
by Professor John Stuart Blackie of Edinburgh (1809-1895)

Thomas Carlyle wrote of John Stuart Blackie: 'A man of lively intellectual faculties, of ardent friendly character, and of wide speculation and acquirement, very fearless, very kindly, without ill-humour, and without guile.'

Air- ‘Belmont’

O for a heart from self set free,
And doubt and fret, and care,
Light as a bird, instinct with glee,
That fans the breezy air!

O for a mind whose virtue moulds
All sensuous fair display,
And, like a strong commander, holds
A world of thoughts in sway!

O for an eye that’s clear to see,
A hand that waits on Fate,
To pluck the ripe fruit from the tree,
And never comes too late!

O for a life with firm-set root,
And breadth of leafy green,
And flush of blooming wealth, and fruit
That glows with mellow sheen!

O for a death from sharp alarms
And bitter memories free:
A gentle death in God’s own arms,
Whose dear Son died for me!

Extract from a letter from John Stuart Blackie to his nephew, Archibald Stodart Walker …..

‘I know you will have the good sense not to be offended with the rough and unceremonious way in which I have sometimes contradicted your propositions. Contradiction is useful for all, and those who cannot learn from contradiction will remain mere special pleaders for their own point of view all their lives, and never know what wisdom means.

The grand thing is to start in life with a deep conviction of the vastness of the world and the smallness of man, and to fling out broad arms of loving appreciation and reverential regard to all the phases of the true, the good, and the beautiful, which make up this eternal divine miracle called the world, which is in very deed the living architecture, poetry, sculpture, painting, and music of the one self-existent, plastic, all-embracing logos of which the biggest man is only a small fraction.

Above all things, avoid the temptation of wishing to appear clever and smart; cleverness is only valuable as an unconscious accompaniment of an honest reality, such as the bicker of a mountain tarn or the flashing of a trout in a stream. Read the Sermon on the Mount, or the Twelfth of Romans, or I Cor. xiii., at least once a week, and act them out every day of the week and every hour of the day.

Know above all things what Goethe preaches as emphatically as St Paul, that love is the fulfilling of the law; it is the regular steam powder of the soul, or electricity of the moral world, “knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth." There is no constructive, no shaping power, in mere knowledge, it merely supplies materials for the motive power, and the regulative reason to use, for the realisation of a noble ideal divinely rooted in the nature of a noble soul.’

THE SONG OF THE HIGHLAND RIVER
by John Stuart Blackie

Dew-fed am I
With drops from the sky,
Where the white cloud rests on the old grey hill;
Slowly I creep
Down the precipice steep,
Where the snow through the summer lies freezingly still;
Where the wreck of the storm
Lies shattered, forlorn
I steal 'neath the stone with a tremulous rill;
My low-trickling flow
You may hear, as I go
Down the sharp-furrowed brow of the old grey hill,
Or drink from my well.
Grass-grown where I dwell,
In the clear granite cell of the old grey hill.
In the hollow of the hill
With my waters I fill
The little black tarn where the thin mist floats;
The deep old moss
Slow-oozing I cross,
Where the lapwing cries with its long shrill notes
Then fiercely I rush to the sharp granite edge,
And leap with a bound o'er the old grey ledge;
Like snow in the gale,
I drive down the vale,
Lashing the rock with my foamy flail;
Where the black crags frown,
I pour sheer down.
Into the caldron boiling and brown;
Whirling and eddying there I lie.
Where the old hawk wheels and the blast howls by.
From the treeless brae
All green and grey,
To the wooded ravine I wind my way.
Dashing, and foaming, and leaping with glee.
The child of the mountain wild and free.
Under the crag where the stone crop grows.
Fringing with gold my shelvy bed,
Where over my head
Its fruitage of red.
The rock-rooted rowan tree blushfully shows,
I wind, till I find
A way to my mind.
While hazel, and oak, and the light ash tree,
Weave a green awning of leafage for me.
Fitfully, fitfully, on I go,
Leaping, or running, or winding slow.
Till I come to the linn where my waters rush.
Eagerly down with a broad-faced gush,
Foamingly, foamingly, white as the snow.
On to the soft green turf below;
Where I sleep with the lake as it sleeps in the glen,
'Neath the far-stretching base of the high-peaked Ben.
Slowly and smoothly my winding I make,
Bound the dark-wooded islets that stud the clear lake;
The green hills sleep
With their beauty in me,
Their shadows the light clouds
Fling as they flee,
While in my pure waters pictured I glass
The light-plumed birches that nod as I pass.
Slowly and silently on I wend,
With many a bay and many a bend.
Luminous seen like a silvery line
Shimmering bright in the fair sunshine.
Till I come to the pass, where the steep red scaur
Gleams like a watch-fire seen from afar,
Then out I ride,
With a full-rolling pride,
While my floods like the amber shine;
Where the salmon rejoice
To hear my voice,
And the angler trims his line.
Gentlier now, with a kindly slope,
The green hills lie to the bright blue cope.
And wider the patches of green are spread,
Which Time hath won from my shifting bed.
And many a broad and sunny spot.
Where my waters wend.
With a larger bend.
Shows the white-fronted brown-thatched cot.
Where the labouring man with sweatful care.
Hath trimmed him a garden green and fair,
From the wreck of the granite bare.
And many a hamlet, peopled well
With hard-faced workmen, smokes from the dell;
Cunning to work with axe and hammer,
Cunning to sheer the fleecy flock,
Cunning, with blast and nitrous clamour,
To split the useful rock.
And many a rural church far-seen
Stands on the knolls of grassy green,
Where my swirling current flows;
And, with its spire high-pointed, shows
How man, that treads the earthy sod.
Claims fatherhood from God.
Now broader and broader my rich bed grows.
And deeper and deeper my full tide flows;
And, while onward I sail.
Like a ship to the gale.
With my big flood rolling amain,
The glen spreads out to a leafy vale.
And the vale spreads out to a plain.
And many a princely mansion good
Looks from the old thick-tufted wood,
On my clear far-winding line.
And many a farm, with acres spread,
Slopes gently to my fattening bed,
The farm, whose broad and portly lord
Loads with rich fare the liberal board.
And quaffs the ruby wine.
And richly, richly, round and round.
With green and golden pride, the ground
Swells undulant, gardened o'er and o'er
With beauty's bloom, and plenty's store;
And many a sheaf of yellow com,
The farmer's healthful gain.
Up my soft-shaded banks is borne,
On the huge slow-labouring wain.
And many a yard well stacked with hay.
And many a dairy's trim array.
And many a high-piled bam I see.
And many a dance of rustic glee,
Where sweats the jocund swain.
And many a town thick-sown with steeples
With various wealth my border peoples,
And studs my sweeping line;
While frequent the bridge of well-hewn stone,
Arch after arch, is proudly thrown,
My busy banks to join;
Thus through the plain I wend my fruitful way,
To meet the sounding sea, and swell the briny bay.
The briny bay! how fair it lies
Beneath the azure skies!
With its wide sweep of pebbly shore,
And the low far-murmuring roar
Of wave and wavelet sparkling bright
With a thousand points in the dancing light.
There round the promontory's base.
Bluff bulwark of the bay.
Free ranging with a lordly grace,
I wind my surging way.
To mingle with the main. Where wide
This way and that my turbid tide
Is spread, behold in pennoned pride
Strong Neptune's white-winged couriers ride!
From east to west.
Upon my breast.
Rich bales they bear, to swell the stores
Of merchant kings, who on my shores
Pile their proud palaces. Busily plying,
And with fleet winds in fleetness vying,
The fire-fed steam-consuming boat
Casts from its high-reared iron throat,
The many-volumed smoke, while heaves
Beneath the boiling track it leaves
My furrowed flood. Line upon line,
The ships that crossed the fretful brine,
Far-stretching o'er my spacious strand,
A myriad-masted army stand;
While many a pier, and many a mole,
Breaks my strong current as I roll;
And block and bolt, and bar and chain.
With giant-gates my flood detain,
To serve the seaman's need. Around,
Thick as a forest, from the ground
Street upon street, the city rears
Its pride, in strangely-clambering tiers
Of various-fashioned stone, while domes,
And spires, and pinnacles, and towers.
And wealthy tradesmen's terraced bowers
Nod o'er my troubled bed,
And Labour's many-chambered homes,
In straggling vastness, spread
Their smoking lines. Thus, where I flow,
The stream of being, growing as I grow,
Floods to a tumult, and much-labouring man.
Who, with my small beginnings, small began,
Ends where I end, and crowns his swelling plan.

A SONG OF BEN LEDI
(Perthshire)
John Stuart Blackie

Come, sit on Ledi’s old grey peak,
And sing a song with me,
Where the wild bird whirrs o'er the mosses bleak,
And the wild wind whistles free!
’Tis sweet to lie on the tufted down,
Low, low in the gowany glen;
But proud is the foot that stands on the crown
Of the glorious Ledi Ben.

Come hither, ye townsmen, soot-besoiled,
Who cower in dingy nooks,
On whom no ray of the sun hath smiled,
To shame your sombre looks.
Come, closely mewed in steaming lanes,
Whom musty chambers pen,
And look abroad on the world of God
From the top of this glorious Ben!

Come ye who sit with moody pains,
And curious-peering looks,
Clogging the veins of your laden brains
With the dust of your maundering books.
Not in your own dim groping souls,
Nor in words of babbling men,
But here His wonders God unrolls—
On the peak of the Ledi Ben.

Look forth on these far-stretching rows
Of huge-ridged mountains high;
There God His living Epos shows
Of powers that never die.
Far north, far west, each glowing crest
Thy sateless view may ken,
Where proudly they stand to rampart the land,
With this glorious Ledi Ben.

And lo! where eastward, far beneath,
The broad and leafy plain
Spreads on the banks of silvery Teith
Stout labour’s fair domain;
The smoke from the long white-glancing town,
The loch that gleams in the glen,
All rush to thine eye when castled high
On this glorious Ledi Ben.

Come, sit with me, ye sons of the free,
Join hearty hand to hand,
And claim your part in the iron heart
Of the Grampian-girded land;
Soft lands of the South on rosy beds
May cradle smoother men,
But the Northern knows his strength when he treads
The heath of the old grey Ben.

Come, sit with me and praise with glee,
On the peak of this granite Ben,
The brave old land, where the stream leaps free
Down the rifts of the sounding glen.
Land of strong hands and glowing hearts,
And mother of stalwart men,
Who nurse free thoughts where the wild breeze floats
On the peak of the Ledi Ben.

A SONG OF GEOLOGY
by John Stuart Blackie

I'll sing you a ditty that needs no apology —
Attend, and keep watch in the gates of your ears!—
Of the famous new science which men call geology,
And gods call the story of millions of years.
Millions, millions — did I say millions?
Billions and trillions are more like the fact!
Millions, billions, trillions, quadrillions,
Make the long sum of creation exact!

Confusion and Chaos, with wavering pinion,
First swayed o'er the weltering ferment of things,
When all over all held alternate dominion,
And the slaves of to-day were to-morrow the kings.
Chaos, chaos, infinite wonder!
Wheeling and reeling on wavering wings;
Whence issued the world, which some think a blunder,
A rumble, and tumble, and jumble of things!

The minim of being, the dot of creation,
The germ of sire Adam, of you and of me,
In the folds of the gneiss in Laurentian station.
Far west from the roots of Cape Wrath you may see.
Minims of beings, budding and bursting,
All on the floor of the measureless sea!
Small, but for mighty development thirsting,
With throbs of the future, like you, sir, and me!

The waters, now big with a novel sensation.
Brought corals, and buckles, and bivalves to view,
Who dwell in shell-houses, a soft-bodied nation;
But fishes with fins were yet none in the blue.
Buckies and bivalves, a numberless nation!
Buckies, and bivalves, and trilobites too!
These you will find in Silurian station,
When Ramsay and Murchison sharpen your view.

Then fins were invented; when Queen Amphitrite
Stirred up her force from Devonian beds,
The race of the fishes in ocean grew mighty,
Queer-looking fishes with bucklers for heads.
Fishes, fishes— small greedy fishes!
With wings on their shoulders, and horns on their heads,
With scales bright and shiny, that shoot thro' the briny
Cerulean halls on Devonian beds!

God bless the fishes! — but now on the dry land,
In days when the sun shone benign on the poles,
Forests of fern in the low and the high land
Spread their huge fans, soon to change into coals!
Forests of fern — a wonderful verity!
Rising like palm-trees beneath the North Pole;
And all to prepare for the golden prosperity
Of John Bull reposing on iron and coal.

Now Nature the eye of the gazer entrances
With wonder on wonder from teeming abodes;
From the gills of the fish to true lungs she advances,
And bursts into blossoms of tadpoles and toads.
Strange Batrachian people, triassic all,
Like hippopotamus huge on the roads!
You may call them ungainly, uncouth, and unclassical,
But great in the reign of the trias were toads!

Behold, a strange monster our wonder engages.
If dolphin or lizard your wit may defy,
Some thirty feet long on the shore of Lyme-Regis,
With a saw for a jaw, and a big staring eye.
A fish or a lizard? an ichthyosaurus,
With a big goggle-eye and a very small brain,
And paddles like mill-wheels in clattering chorus,
Smiting tremendous the dread-sounding main.

And here comes another! can shape more absurd be,
The strangest and oddest of vertebrate things?
Who knows if this creature a bird or a beast be,
A fowl without feathers, a serpent with wings?
A beast or a bird — an equivocal monster!
A crow or a crocodile, who can declare?
A greedy, voracious, long-necked monster,
Skimming the billow, and ploughing the air.

Next rises to view the great four-footed nation.
Hyenas and tapirs, a singular race,
You may pick up their wreck from the great Paris basin,
At the word of command every bone finds its place.
Palaeothere, very singular creature!
A horse or a tapir, or both can you say?
Showing his grave pachydermatous feature,
Just where the Frenchman now sips his cafe.

And now the life-temple grows vaster and vaster,
Only the pediment fails to the plan;
The winged and the wingless are waiting their master,
The mammoth is howling a welcome to man.
Mammoth, mammoth! mighty old mammoth!
Strike with your hatchet, and cut a good slice;
The bones you will find, and the hide of the mammoth,
Packed in stiff cakes of Siberian ice.

At last the great biped, the crown of the mammals.
Sire Adam, majestic, comes treading the sod,
A measureless animal, free without trammels,
To swing all the space from an ape to a god.
Wonderful biped, erect and featherless!
Sport of two destinies, treading the sod,
With perilous licence, unbridled and tetherless,
To sink to a devil or rise to a god.

And thus was completed — miraculous wonder!
The world, this mighty, mysterious thing;
I believe it is more than a beautiful blunder,
And worship, and pray, and adore, while I sing.
Wonder and miracle! God made the wonder;
Come, happy creatures, and worship with me!
I know it is more than a beautiful blunder.
And I hope Tait, and Tyndall, and Huxley agree.

THE BOULDER
by John Stuart Blackie

Thou huge grey stone upon the heath,
With lichens crusted well,
I marvel much, if thou found breath.
What story thou would'st tell.
Oft wandering o'er the birch-grown hill,
To hear the wild winds moan,
I wonder still what chance or skill
Hath pitched thee here alone.

Where wert thou when Sire Adam first
Drew his mischanceful breath.
And in the bowers of bliss was cursed
With everlasting death,
Then when the damned fiend, who loves
The mask of snake and toad.
Crept into Paradisian groves,
And stole Eve's heart from God.

Thee in some seaward glen, I ween,
On sharp Loffodin's shore,
In frozen folds of gleaming green
The giant glacier bore.
Then down the steep it harshly slid,
Till, loosen'd from the high land.
With wrench enorm its compact form
Was launch'd, a floating island,

Into the Arctic deep. And thou.
In its stark bosom buried,
Through seas which huge Leviathans plough,
To this South strand wert hurried.
Then, from its cold close gripe unbound
By sunmier's permeant breath.
Thy wandering bulk a station found
On this wide sandy heath.

And here thy watch hath been, God knows
How long, and what a strange
Masque of Time's motley-shifting shows
Hath known thee without change.
Seas thou hast seen to dry land turned,
And dry land turned to seas,
And fiery cones that wildly burned,
Where flocks now feed at ease.

By thee the huge-limbed breathing things,
Crude Earth's portentous race,
Passed, and long lizard-shapes with wings
Swept o'er thy weathered face.
To thee first came man's jaded limb
From Eastern Babel far ;
Around thee rose the Druid's hymn,
And the cry of Celtic war.

By thee the Roman soldier made
The mountain-cleaving road.
The Saxon boor beside thee strayed,
The lordly Norman strode.
The Papal monk thy measure took ;
The proud priest triple-crowned
Mumbled a blessing from his book.
And claimed the holy ground.

By thee the insolent Edward passed,
When mad with eager greed,
A bridge of law-spun lies he cast
Across the Scottish Tweed.
And thou that vengeful day didst know,
When strong with righteous scorn
Young Freedom rose, and smote the foe,
At glorious Bannockbum.

Thou saw'st, when 'neath thy hoary shade
Upon the old brown sod
The plaided preacher sat, and made
His fervent prayer to God,
What time men tried by courtly art
To trim, and craft of kings.
The faith that soars from a people's heart,
And flaps untutored wings.

Thou sav'st, from out old unkempt bowers,
Huge peopled cities rise.
And merchant kings with stately towers
Invade the troubled skies.
Thick rose the giant vents, that mar
Heaven's lustrous blue domain,
And whirling wheel and hissing car
Disturb thy silent reign.

And thou — but what thou yet mayst see
The pious Muse withholds ;
The curious art be far from me,
To unroll Tune's fateful folds.
When Earth, that wheels on viewless wing,
Is twenty centuries older.
Some bard, where Scotland was, shall sing
The story of the Boulder.


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