Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

John Stuart Blackie
Chapter X. Aberdeen and University Reform 1842 - 1850

DURING the first year of his work in Aberdeen, Professor Blackie's public and private engagements interrupted the flow of his contributions to magazine literature. But after marriage he returned to this field of labour, and during his leisure hours in the following winter he prepared a review of Klopstock's collected works, which appeared in the 'Foreign Quarterly Review' for January 1843; and an article on Professor Steffens's personal memoirs of the German movement against Napoleon, for the April number of the same Review.

Before the session began he made a second effort to secure his full professorial fees, and gained a partial victory over the grudging Senate. lie secured a fee of two guineas from each student of the second class for three hours' teaching. This raised his full salary to about £350, a sum which—when mulcted of the interest due to Miss Stodart, of the payments expected from Scotch Professors to public and ceremonious demands, of the money spent on essential books —left a mere sufficiency for current needs and private charities. But Mrs Blackie brought to the management of this small income a singular gift for wise economy; and wholesome food, books, and warmth were always forthcoming, although these excluded every amenity of home embellishment for some years. It was a trial to her fine taste to endure the horse-hair chairs and sofas which meagrely furnished their little parlours; but her hand had the magic touch which gives grace, and these stiff essentials, anew distributed, grew pliant and comfortable at her desire. She sped from room to room, pouncing upon disorder and making home fair and friendly to the eye, with such swift movement and sure hand, that her husband called her "Oke," the swift one, and the name clung to her always.

When the session was over, they moved from Dee Street in New Aberdeen to High Street, close to the Town-hall of Old Aberdeen. Here, for £30 a-year, they got a charming house, one of its sitting-rooms thirty feet long, in which the Professor could march from end to end, while he rolled out the lines of strophe and antistrophe from "Agamemnon" or "The Eumenides." They were here in closer social touch with their circle of friends who lived in Old Aberdeen. The courtesies of the academical world were solemn, and they were relieved to live amongst friendly folks, whose incomes were small like their own, and whose kindliness adorned their hospitalities. The Gerards, Principal and Mrs Jack, Dr and Mrs Forbes, the Buchans, Professor and Mrs Gregory, and many maiden ladies old and young, who lived in pleasant little homes, and suggested to the Professor the title of Parthenopolis for Old Aberdeen, welcomed him and Mrs Blackie to their quarter. They were both great favourites in the City of Spinsters, where there were many tea-drinkings and junketings, cheery and informal.

But in spite of this change for the better, a fit of the old dejection seems to have lured John Blackie into its depths about the very time that the flitting was accomplished. Perhaps he was overworked, and the strain of his gallant fight against prejudice and stupidity was beginning to tell. Unhappily, too, some book of Unitarian sermons had drifted into the current of his life, and he had thought fit to read them. They set in motion that flickering pulse of unbelief which beats intermittently in every serious mind. He began to waste his strength once more in vain questionings, letting his faith ebb. More was due to physical exhaustion than to mental change. He was worn out with the duties of the session, which he supplemented with such strenuous undertakings at home. Besides, the government of his class was always a serious difficulty. It was most distasteful to him to pose as a stern taskmaster, and by fines and impositions to secure respect from youths whom he would gladly have greeted as fellow-students, and the disorder, over which the pedagogue and not the man prevailed, discouraged him daily. As he never bent to the storm, it was not wonderful that the spring should have found him worn out. Besides, he was subject to a recurrent ailment at that season which must of itself have reduced his strength.

There is no doubt that he reviewed his position under the influence of these conditions, and fell into sore distress. It seemed to him that he must give up the Humanity Chair, become perilous to one at variance not only with the Calvinism which overshadowed it, but with the fundamental doctrine of Christianity. He wrote to Mr Anderson of Banchory for advice, and in the meantime was withdrawn into silence and depression. His wife sought in vain to comfort him. The problem, which he believed to be mental,—but which was no more than a mood, transient as the physical weakness which induced it,—was not to be solved by wifely solicitude. Early in May Mr Anderson's letter arrived.

To me it appears [he wrote] that you look at Calvinism entirely on the side of its "eternal decrees." Now I think you cannot get rid of these doctrines even as a Rationalist; at least I never could. They are universals which enter into every system; and I do most seriously assure you, after some consideration and practical acquaintance with their tenets, that Unitarianism, objectively, is far more untenable, and, subjectively, far more heartless and cold. I know not a more forced and unnatural system, when considered as connected with a belief in a supernatural revelation. That you should be inclined to universalism I do not wonder; and that you should be yet without belief in a positive revelation in Christianity, knowing your natural tendency and historical development, though I regret, I can admit; but that you will long be captivated with the quagmires and bogs of Unitarianism I do not believe. Consider, my dear sir, you have but heard one of their ministers, and have not seen the coldhearted piety their religion begets. Think also that the irksomeness you feel at not being free to express all your opinions, though quite free to think and form them, is a part of the discipline of Providence. Reflect also that your spiritual life and faculties are but in progress of development, and sure I am, if you will wait twelve months, the objective will be seen differently, the subjective being different. I highly respect your feelings, and deeply sympathise with you. These oaths and tests are abominable things, and the history of them, when written, will reveal a tissue of iniquitous cruelties. Tholuck said to me once that "when the man became a perfect Christian he outgrew ordinances." I thought of Milton. But, for example and for sympathy, attendance on public worship is a duty to many to whom it would not be otherwise.

This wise friend presented the difficulty in a new light, as one to be solved by no miraculous interposition, far less by rash action, but by patient waiting for the truth to which the honest mind attains in time. John Blackie cast off once and for ever the gloom which had beset him. He unfurled the flag under which his lifelong work was done, the flag which bore this scroll, "Trust in the Lord, and be thou doing good." By the month of July he was able to say: "What I want are three things—ist, a great cause; 2d, a great battle; 3d, a great victory."

During the months of June, July, and August, Mrs Blackie was in Edinburgh and at Gilston. Her health had given way; the cold spring had brought bronchitis and a touch of pneumonia with it, due as much to economy of household comfort as to the weather. Her husband found her much better, when he joined her in August, after a strenuous summer session occupied with German classes and reviews for the magazines. Debts pressed sorely upon him, and he cleared off a fair proportion by this work.

Incidents of the next few years are hard to disentangle from his correspondence, which is occupied more with the subjects engrossing his mind than with details which can be chronicled. But that correspondence was with men known and still remembered. Thus Mr R. H. Home, the author of Orion,' warned him against publishing poetry for profit, and this letter indicates that in 1844 he already contemplated the issue both of 'Aschylus' and of original verses. On the other hand, Mr Macdonald of Rammerscales, an ardent and accomplished classic, encouraged him in the matter of schylus,' as did Mr Theodore Martin, from whose letter we may quote :-

I am right glad to find you at work again in this field. I have always thought it the true one for you, and cheerfully would I undertake to read your MS. and give you any suggestions if you would trust me with the duty. You are right in avoiding rhyme in the choruses; but you must be full of a true lyrical inspiration to hit those subtle rhythmical melodies which must come in their place. Popularity is not so much out of the question as you think. Give the world a fine English version of 'schylus,' and there is a large enough English public who will buy to make it pay.

He made a tour of the better known schools in Edinburgh and Glasgow during May 1844, and combined with this a first visit to Ayr and the country of Burns. On his way back from Glasgow he spent a few days in Edinburgh at the time of the General Assemblies, and heard with much interest an address from the Rev. Robert Macdonald of Blairgowrie, in the Free Church Assembly gathered in Tanfield Hall. Mr Macdonald was one of the most eloquent special pleaders in the young Church, and his call upon the audience for funds to raise a Free Church College was a burst of impassioned oratory, which moved the Professor not merely to emotional sympathy, but into a contribution of £5 to the cause. He was averse to much of the more turbulent feeling which the Disruption had caused, turning at once from the coldness of Moderatism and from the over-jubilant exultation of the Dissenters; but he was true to his instinct of appreciating warmly all that was best in either party, and the scheme appealed directly to the conviction, which experience had forced upon him, that every effort after untrammelled education was to be welcomed and helped. In the session 1844-45 he re-matriculated as a semi, and attended lectures to complete his undergraduate course, interrupted twice in his youth. His senior students were his fellows at Professor Macgillivray's class of Natural History, and in the succeeding sessions he followed the Natural Philosophy and Moral Philosophy courses as a tertian and a magistrand.

During the summer of 1845, while Mrs Blackie was at Peebles with Mr and Mrs Stodart, he remained busy in Aberdeen until August, when he started on a walking tour expressly planned to visit the Roman stations and camps, for a lecture on "The Romans in Scotland," with which he proposed to start the next session of work. He had furnished himself with many maps and books to further his researches. At Fettercairn, resting in the post-office, he drew these out of his coat-pockets. "You'll be in the book-line?" asked the worthy postmaster, and what answer could he give but that he was?

His father had retired from banking and left Aberdeen. He was then at Darnick near Melrose, and Professor Blackie joined him there in September, and after a month's peregrination in the valley of the Tweed, he went to Gilston with his wife.

The Test Acts engaged his public utterances in the autumn of this year. Opposition was made to Sir David Brewster's election as Principal of St Andrews because he adhered to the Free Church party. This roused the Professor's indignation, and he wrote an energetic pamphlet upon "Subscription to Articles," which gave to the general movement for the abolition of University Tests a considerable propulsion.

A high degree of impatience with clerical influence on education is visible in his attitude at this time, and a strong bias in favour of secular schools. His first pamphlet on the whole question of education in Scotland belongs to this year, 1845. It was an address to his students, and was a Latin composition with a short English preface. It reprobated the exclusion from the great centres of learning of all such subjects as could help to make men more capable of the practical work to which they were called at the close of their student days. Alike in the English and the Scotch Universities, modern languages, historical research, and the sciences were either condemned to a position inferior to the Latin and Greek languages, or wholly ignored, while these languages, so supremely valued, were pedantically taught, and inspired few to use the treasures of history, poetry, and philosophy to which they gave admission.

This Latin address was followed in 1846 by a pamphlet in English, embodying his experience in Marischal College. It protested forcibly against filling the University benches with boys ignorant almost of the alphabets of Greek and Latin, and needing the drudgery of school mastering. It was a mockery for Scotland to regard herself as the best-educated country of the kingdom when the grammar-schools failed to furnish boys with even the rudiments of ancient geography, and when the letters of the Greek alphabet were the whole equipment with which their scholars were sent up to the Greek class-rooms of the Universities. Here and there in Scotland the rectors of the grammar-schools were men of classical attainment. We hear of teachers whose scholars were fired by their enthusiasm to follow them not only along the beaten highroad, but into the by-paths and recesses of Latin literature; but such were few, and notable in their place and day. The general standard was low, and custom had led the public to regard the Universities as the proper field for classics, so that boys of fifteen years, and sometimes less, scrambled out of school into college in every stage, from crass to comparative ignorance. The pamphlet demanded for all the classes in the University curriculum an entrance examination by no means stringent, but at the least insisting upon some definite elementary knowledge which should stimulate the teaching in schools, and afford to the teaching in Universities ground upon which to erect its legitimate superstructure.

In Marischal College several Professors, and particularly Dr Cruikshank, Professor of Mathematics, had already established a slight examination for students entering the Humanity classes,& and these gentlemen were stimulated by this pamphlet to create similar examinations for Greek, Mathematics, and Natural Philosophy.

The pamphlet received a still wider acknowledgment. Dr Chalmers, who had for thirty years raised his voice in protest against the degradation of University teaching, wrote to its author in full sympathy:

To the Universities there should remain the high function of elevating the Literature and Science of our land purely for their own sakes, and apart from their subserviency to any merely professional object. What a glorious country it would make if, for the expense of some £10,000 or £20,000 a-year more, we could get the Universities placed in those higher regions of philosophy and taste where they might contribute to the indefinite elevation of our national authorship in every department! I rejoice in your having advocated a high system of preliminary scholarship that might enable us all to take up higher positions in our respective territories.

Lord Cockburn endorsed the pamphlet with characteristic vigour:

The true way to feed our colleges is to educate the people generally. Hence the incalculable importance of the approaching move about the parish schoolmaster. If salaries are to be raised without introducing a system for raising the style of education, we only aggravate the ,drone-acre of the drones we already have. The priests play the devil with everything of the kind. Education will be right exactly in proportion as secular sense and vigour are allowed to supersede clerical ignorance and intolerance. Go on repeating the appeals. It is only by repetition of blows that such arguments succeed. It is not by stamping—a solitary stroke—but by engraving—a thousand touches—that the public mind is impressed.

These extracts are sufficient to show how hearty a God-speed Professor Blackie received from men qualified to judge of his campaign. But from within the Universities hardly a single voice of encouragement was heard. To infringe upon the status quo of bodies triply guarded by age, wont, and academical infallibility was quixotic. And yet he meant to dare the adventure. They had ceased to be the centres of such culture as was needed in Scotland, if she were to maintain her ground as a self- educating nation. They neither supplied professional needs nor the training demanded for commercial and agricultural progress. Their various schools were retrograde; only medicine advanced with the age, and admitted growth in all its departments commensurate with their development abroad. In their Divinity schools there was neither research nor criticism, but a mere empiric course of tuition. While in Germany colleges existed for full training and research in every branch of science applicable to industry and agriculture, there was no equivalent in our iron-bound institutions. And the classics which they purported to bestow were so hindered and handicapped by freedom of access, that it was ridiculous to expect such scholarship from Edinburgh and Aberdeen as Oxford could produce, thanks specially to her system of entrance examinations.

In Aberdeen, too, the matter was aggravated by disunion between the Colleges. Marischal and King's Colleges stood within a mile of each other, and yet at that time they united for no purpose whatever. Their Chairs were shabbily endowed, and each had its counterpart in the other College. Both Professors and students suffered from the disunion, and yet the Colleges eyed each other with disfavour. By union and co-operation the results would have doubled, as they learnt twelve years later, but they had become dotard with vested interests, and impotent to make larger endeavour.

In 1848 Professor Blackie returned to the campaign. Early in that year he addressed to the 'Scotsman' newspaper a series of eight letters embodying not only the disabilities of the Scottish Universities when compared with those of Germany, but suggesting a plan of reform which by entrance examinations, enlarged curriculum, elevation of the treatment of subjects, union of Colleges where it was clearly in the interest of education, emancipation from clerical dictation, and freedom from tests—should raise their entire standard. In these letters he appealed to all interested in Scottish education to demand its reform.

His gauntlet was taken up by Professor Pillans, the occupant of the Humanity Chair in the University of Edinburgh. He published a pamphlet whose chief argument against such reforms was that they would diminish the numbers in the University classes, and the fees correspondingly. His pamphlet made ingenuous admission of the low state of learning, but regarded it as a condition so hard and fast that it had to be reckoned with as beyond remedy. He felt it to be chiefly important that no attempt should be made to remedy it. He was patriotically indignant that Professor Blackie should discover matter for emulation in the German Universities, and he made the mistake of classing the English with the Scottish Universities in their want of entrance examinations. This answer to Professor Blackie's challenge came from an important centre, although the knight appeared on the field with holes in his armour at which the champion of reform was quick to point his steel.

Professor Blackie published his eight articles in pamphlet form, prefaced by a letter which drew attention to the errors in fact and to the flimsiness in argument which characterised the Edinburgh Professor's utterance. This letter indicates clearly what Professor Blackie meant by University teaching as distinguished from the mere drill in language, which properly belongs to the school-room:

In the studies that belong to the Greek and Latin classes, as taught in a school, the acquisition of a mere language as a future intellectual tool necessarily occupies the principal place. In other words, the language-master or grammarian in the school lays the foundation on which, in the University, the Professor of Literature, History, or Science is to pile the superstructure. Now this superstructure in Universities normally constituted, for the Greek and Latin classes, may be schemed as follows:-

1st. The aestlietical exhibition of ancient literature, comprising the elegant reading and declamation of the classic authors; also original composition in the Greek and Latin languages.
2d. The critical history of ancient literature.
3d. The social and political history of ancient nations.
4th. Archeology; or the history of the arts and sciences among the ancients, as they are illustrated in existing monuments of architecture, sculpture, painting, &c.
5th. Philology; or the scientific anatomy and physiology of the ancient languages.
6th. Hermeneutics; or the science of interpretation— including whatever relates to the deciphering of ancient writings and inscriptions, and the right constituting of the text of ancient writers.

These departments of the vast subject of "humane letters," however various and diverse, agree in this one point—that before they can be entered on profitably, they presuppose a knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages, as much as a workman's work presupposes the existence of his tools.

And after correcting Professor Piflans's mistakes with regard not only to the German Universities, but to those of Oxford and Aberdeen, he concluded by sketching, as entrance examination,

the barrier which I propose to erect against the intrusion of unripe boys and untrained clowns into our initiatory classes. I shall confine myself to Latin and Greek, leaving to others to detail any other tests of admission that may seem to them expedient. I propose that no person shall receive a matriculation ticket as a student in any Scottish University for the first year who shall not be able-

1st. To read ad aperturam any passage of Livy not containing any peculiar difficulty; not with perfect accuracy, of course, but in such a manner as to show a fair average ability of using the Latin language as a means of unlocking the treasures of ancient literature.
2d. To translate a passage of common narrative English into Latin, without making any gross blunder in the flexion of words or the structure of sentences.
3d. To translate ad aperturam one or other of the four Gospels in Greek, and to answer questions on the grammar of the Greek language.
4th. To show a knowledge of the most general outlines of Greek and Roman history and geography.
5th. To show a knowledge of the common principles of Latin prosody and versification.

This pamphlet was widely read. There had already been many deliverances on the state of education in Scotland. Lord Brougham, Dr Chalmers, the editor of the 'Scottish Guardian,' and others, had loudly proclaimed its need of reform; practical teachers of special subjects had tried to call attention to their particular disabilities, and now the most resonant of these voices, if not yet the most influential, iterated and reiterated its appeal, demanding a herculean task, which the slow processes of Commission have barely effected in fifty years. His voice revived the clamour for reform, with its inseparable counter-clamour of resistance. Something fresh and emphatic gave a new authority to his summons, which roused not only the vigorous adhesion of all who recognised its sense, but also the irritated attention of those who, crystallised in the threat- ened system, detested the clanging which disturbed their repose.

Professor Blackie's name was now associated with reform of a definite character. In his eight letters he had sketched a scheme which affected nearly every point in question, and he received letters of warm encouragement from educationists at home and abroad. The subject made constant demands on his time and attention during these years.

But in spite of this preoccupation he found leisure in the summer of 1846 to finish his translation of "The Persians" and of "Agamemnon," and in the following summer he completed his 'Ęschylus.' His faculty for work grew with its employment; it is impossible to give in detail all that he accomplished in fields of labour outside, his main subjects. He acted up to such inspiring sooth-words as the following, taken from the German in July 1846:-

"Dare a great thing. The thing thou triest
Lifts thy straining mind;
Though thou may'st not reach the highest,
Something high thou'lt find."

In the spring of 1847 he was in Edinburgh, giving at the Philosophical Institution a course of six lectures upon his "great cause," education. They received much attention, and he found himself lionised by the Modern Athenians. He was glad to believe that his lectures had begun the agitation of the public mind on the question of educational reform. "To be called on," he wrote, "to break down a mountain with a pocket-hammer, —this is my Aberdeen task; here I get gunpowder."

In 1847, early in August, he started by himself on his first Highland tour. He traversed Hugh Miller's country, and visited Dingwall, Inverness, Fort William, Ballachulish, and Oban. From the little inn at Ballachulish he climbed Ben Nevis, walked to the head of Glenroy and back again, and explored Glencoe. His adventures filled constant letters to his wife, who was at Gilston. When he and some fellow-pedestrians from the inn had climbed up about 3000 feet of Ben Nevis, a sudden curtain of mist surrounded them, becoming thicker as they cautiously crept upwards, and hiding the wonderful view. But they made out the summit, and pledged each other from their flasks and toasted their absent wives, and so descended thwarted but undismayed. Indeed his cheerful spirit conceived of the mist as a benefit. "I am convinced that, for a truly sublime effect on the imagination, we were much the better of the mist."

This walking tour had been undertaken as much for the benefit of his health as for the sake of the Western Highlands. The pressure of work had brought back the ailments of his Gottingen days, and he had recourse to the remedy which then removed them. He returned to Gilston recovered in health, and full of the exceeding charm of the country which he had visited—a charm of nature at her grandest, but so arrayed in light and colour, so varied, so fresh and magnetic, that the spell which it laid upon him was never broken. In those days no crowds of tourists invaded the glens and steamed up the lochs; the land was innocent of hotels; the bay of Oban was encircled by a row of white houses; everywhere the breezy heights were purple with heather, or green with larch and oak, not dull with villa lodgings and hideous hydropathics. At Port Appin, on his way back, his luggage was sent ashore by mistake, and he was obliged to follow it, as it held the MS. of his translation of 'schylus,' and so he wasted a day which had been destined for Staffa.

The end of April and part of May in 1848 were devoted to a course of lectures on "Ancient Rome," given in Edinburgh at the Philosophical Institution on Tuesdays and Fridays, and in Glasgow on Mondays and Thursdays. They were attended by crowded audiences, and many old friends mustered on the benches - Robert Horn, 'William Aytoun, Dr John Brown, and others; while on one occasion the chair was filled by Christopher North himself. But the effort was too great, and he returned to Aberdeen suffering from severe headaches, which continued throughout the summer.

Towards the end of May he and Mrs Blackie went to London. His sister Helen had married Mr Kennedy, an excellent Congregational minister, and was settled in Stepney, Mr George Stodart lived in Russell Square, and they stayed some time with these relatives. The Professor called on Mr and Mrs Carlyle at Chelsea, and made the acquaintance of Dr John Carlyle, the well-known student of Dante, who was staying with his brother. He described an evening with "the Prophet" in a letter to Miss Augusta Wyld :-

Thomas Carlyle is really a notable monster, and to be respected for the many noble thoughts he has elaborated and for the words of wisdom which he has flung abroad to bear divine fruit among foolish-hearted men; but I can't help thinking, face to face in a small parlour he is rather terrible, and I fancy prophets are best exhibited in the pulpit, or in the wilderness. A few grand moral instincts burn so intensely in the hearts of these men that they have no room for anything else: they rush out from their smoking sanctuary with a flaming sword in their hand, and whoever follows them not and fights is accounted a heretic., Scottish and English Universities, British Houses of Parliament, orthodox theologies, railroads, and free trade, were all shaken out and sifted under the category of Sham; while Oliver Cromwell and his Ironsides, and the old Covenanters who sang psalms and handled pikes on Dunse Moor, were held up to admiration as the only heroes in this country for the last two hundred years.

Amongst the many new acquaintances whom this stay in London procured for him were Dr Thiriwall and Professor Newman, the latter of whom was much to his mind:-

He is a thorough scholar, but not in the least infected with the vulgar English idolatry of deifying the past and depreciating the present. On the contrary, he takes a living interest in the politics of the present day, and shows that he considers learning as valuable only in so far as it can be made to bear on the grand interests of a progressive humanity. He is a slender man with a pale face, but looking clearness, and kindness, and sincerity.

The Chartist Riots were in full swing during the month of June that year, and Mrs Blackie was unable to accompany her husband on his wanderings throughout the Metropolis. He left her in her uncle's care about the middle of the month, and paid visits to Leicester, Lutterworth, and Oxford. He broke the journey to Lutterworth by a walk to Naseby, leaving the coach about three miles from the battle-field, to which he was guided by a village lad, who explained the cause of the battle: "The parties couldn't agree about a new kind of Methodism, and fell a- fighting."

From Oxford he wrote to his wife, fixing a day for her journey thither, and she joined him on June 29. They lived in lodgings in High Street, their landlord being cook at one of the colleges. He was a grave personage, with a soul above saucepans. He disapproved of the feasts and junketings of Commemoration Week, which was celebrated during their stay. "These 'ere 'ails," said he, "are 'ails of larnin', and should behave as such." As they did not share his prejudice, and had introductions to many of the University dons, their days were filled with gaieties, and the time-honoured hospitalities of Oxford were lavishly extended to them.

The Professor was delighted with the beauty of the University buildings. He wrote:

The uncommon succession of hoary, time - battered towers and turrets gives something very solemn and almost sacred to the streets of this place.

And he added:

One can hardly be surprised to find Toryism of all kinds, political and ecclesiastical, so prosperous here; the real wonder is, that Puseyism should be of such modern growth in such a place, and that all are not Papists.

In Oxford he made many acquaintances—Mr Jowett, then Fellow of Balliol, and the Rev. A. P. Stanley being amongst the most distinguished. The visit lasted all July. But it did not serve to rid him of the depressing headaches from which he suffered; nor did it serve to rid him of a rooted prejudice against Oxford methods and results. To Oxford, Professor Blackie refused justice then and always; and it must be conceded that whatever ground there was for his animadversions, he failed to state them in a manner which could either conciliate Oxford or convince outsiders of their worth. The graver manners, the reserve, the social etiquette, the courtesies of debate, the overstrained propriety, vexed his more aggressive nature, turned his sportive attacks into affronts, and maimed his spontaneity. He seldom appeared to advantage in Oxford, although he was always welcomed there with a hospitality most honouring to the University.

This year, 1848, was signalised by a final and successful effort to bring the fees of the Humanity classes up to the general standard of Marischal College. They were raised to three guineas for each student of the first class, and the hours were increased to twelve weekly, while attendance at the second class was made optional.

In spite of a summer full of varied experiences, he returned to the work of a new session feeling far from well, the nervous exhaustion of too much work making him a prey to headache and to other ailments. These increased as the session progressed, and he was compelled to give up teaching for several months. These fallow months were a sore trial to his impatient spirit, but they were absolutely necessary. Early in 1849 he began to revise and correct his translation of 'isehylus,' and to plan for its publication. Mr Carlyle heard of his project, and wrote to him on April 16, 1849 :-

You are engaged on 'Ęschylus,' they tell me—which, beyond doubt, is a good book to try. A Body of Greek Literature (small rigorously selected body), Body of Greek Dramatists first of all, is what the world now emphatically demands of the Scholar-Guild, which it has kept up this long time "regardless of expense," and I must say with intrinsically and somewhat astonishing result hitherto! For what we wanted was not learned battlement about Greek Heroes and Myths, but wise speech, melodious by its depth and truth about British Heroes and Facts;—good Heavens! it is strange that men ever could have forgotten this! However, we do expect now, as I say, a kind of real Heathen Greek Bible (or set of select small books we can read) from our expensive Professors of Classicality,—terribly expensive if we compute all they have cost us!—and for this object I think they will never get a better model than the Divine Hebrew Bible, and the singularly successful method hit upon for "translating" this—for carrying this over to us and making it ours.

In May Mrs Blackie took the sceptre into her own hands, and made plans for her invalided husband for the first time since their marriage. A hydropathic house had been opened at Dunoon by Dr East., which was not a mere cheap hotel, but a practical water-cure establishment. Mrs Blackie inclined to try the new cure upon the Professor, and he, willing to be set upon his feet again by whatever remedy, yielded to her wish. They spent May and June at Dunoon with Dr East, and before six weeks were over, the patient was not merely cured, but was climbing every mountain in the neighbourhood, and singing on their tops a pan to the Doctor, which resolved itself at last into a prose pamphlet on his treatment. He sent a copy of this to Mr Carlyle, and it was thus acknowledged:

Many thanks for your friendly remembrance of me at the Water-cure Establishment. I have often thought of that adventure; and believe it might really alleviate and almost free me for a time. But for a cure;—alas! that lies beyond the reach of Ęsculapian or other aid, and will never be my portion in this lower world! The inner man is too tumultuous for the outer (who is but a lean fellow, as you may see); there, once for all, lies the fact, and no Doctor of Medicine, but only Medea with her renovating kettle (if that terrible process were worth while, at this advanced stage of the business), could make a change therein. Happy he who is not lean, if not stupid; next happy he who is of feline fibre, more or less, and can content himself with the inevitable.

Later in the year Mr Carlyle, continuing to be interested in the translation of 'Ęschylus,' took considerable trouble to find the right publisher for this canonical book of the "Heathen Bible." He selected G. W. Parker, West Strand, who agreed to publish it at the translator's own expense, as he had already lost considerably by undertaking to launch translations from the Greek. The sum required for its publication was £160, and at first there seemed little hope of providing so much. But Mrs Blackie came to the rescue with a courageous proposal. She had weighed the expense of housekeeping against that of living in lodgings, and suggested that they should sell their furniture, give up the house in the High Street, and live during the session in lodgings near Marischal College. By going to visit friends ii summer they might pay for 'schylus' at the end of two years. Her plan was adopted, and the horsehair furniture went to the hammer. It may be suspected that she bore its loss with equanimity.

Lodgings were taken in a house in Union Street,—just two rooms, to make the economy thorough. The Professors of Marischal College were scandalised at the indignity, and forbore to visit their colleague. But the friends in Old Aberdeen, who were admitted to confidence, tempered the cold wind of academical dudgeon by constant visits. The manuscript of 'Ęschylus' was placed in Parker's hands, and by June it was issued.

Letters from Mr Carlyle, Professor Newman, Leigh Hunt, Arthur Clough, "Orion," and many other qualified judges, poured in upon the translator during the year. Perhaps quotations from Leigh Hunt's letters will have the charm of rarity :-

I have read with great interest and refreshment the "Prolegomena," full of musical matters of which I am fond, and to which there is a wonderful dearth of attention amongst almost all English poets,—those counted most musical not excepted,—and am now full-tilt, or rather full - tumbling, amidst those billows of song which you have set rolling, and foaming, and harmoniously conflicting, and disclosing their almost too dazzling treasures of expression and imagery, after right schylean mode;— certainly no "waveless sea" beneath a "windless air."

And later he wrote:

With the exception of some condescensions to conventional helps of phraseology, chiefly in the rhymed passages, I should say that your version is right masculine and Ęschylean, strong, musical, conscious of the atmos- phere of mystery and terror which it breathes in, and in all respects deeply feeling. I admire the just and impassioned prominence which your learning and love of music combined have enabled you to give to the lyrical nature of these fine, Cassandra - voiced, ringing old dramas; though I could not but think sometimes of Butler's verses about the gods chancing to:

"Have piques
Against an ancient family of Greeks,
That other men may tremble and take warning
How such a fatal progeny they're born in."

Mr Carlyle was equally eulogistic of the blank- verse translation, but, unlike Leigh Hunt, protested against the rhythmic choruses, of which he wrote :-

I have also dipped here and there into the rhythmic matter; find it spirited and lively to a high degree, and indeed replete with ingenuity and talent;—the grimmer is my protest against your having gone into song at all with the business.

The rhymes which he abhorred were not attempted in the first cast. They were due to Professor Aytoun's advice. Supping with the Jacobite poet one evening, Professor Blackie had read a couple of the dramas to him, and had invited his criticism. He urged him to alter the blank-verse choruses into rhyme, and except in "Prometheus Bound," his opinion prevailed.

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