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The Scottish Nation

BLACKWELL, THOMAS, an eminent scholar and author, was born at Aberdeen, August 4, 1701. His father, the Rev. Thomas Blackwell, was for some time one of the ministers of Aberdeen. In 1717 he was appointed principal of Marischal College in that city, and died in 1728. He bestowed the greatest attention on the education of his sons, Thomas and Alexander, a notice of whom follows. After receiving the rudiments of his education at the grammar school of his native City, Thomas was sent to study in Marischal College, where he took the degree of master of arts in 1718. Being deeply versed in the Greek language and literature, he was, in December 1723, appointed by the Crown, professor of Greek in the university where he had been educated. In 1737 he published at London, without his name, ‘An Inquiry into the Life and Writings of Homer,’ 8vo; “a production,” says Dr. Irving, “which displays more erudition than genius, and more affectation than elegance.” In 1748 he published anonymously, ‘Letters concerning Mythology,’ 8vo, which, says the same author may be classed among pompous trifles. the same year, on the death of Principal Osborn, he was appointed principal of Marischal College by the Crown, on whom the patronage had devolved on the forfeiture of the Marischal family in 1716. Soon after he married the daughter of a merchant in Aberdeen, by whom he had no children. At the commencement of the session, 1752, on his recommendation, a new order in teaching the sciences was introduced into Marischal College, being that now in operation; the plan of academical education previously in use being found insufficient. In the same year he took the degree of doctor of laws, and in 1753 he published the first volume of his ‘Memoirs of the Court of Augustus,’ 4to. The second volume appeared in 1755, and the third, which was posthumous, and left incomplete by the author, was prepared for the press by John Mills, Esq., and published in 1764. this work was severely criticised by Dr. Johnson, and, like all Blackwell’s productions, is now seldom looked into. On account of declining health, Dr. Blackwell was advised to travel, but could proceed no farther than Edinburgh, where he died of a consumptive disease, March 6, 1757, in his 56th year. His widow survived him for many years, and in 1793, she founded a professorship of chemistry in Marischal College. She also left a premium of Ł10 sterling to be annually given to the person who should compose and deliver the best discourse in the English language upon a certain specified subject. – Biog. Brit. – Blackwell’s works are:

      Inquiry into the Life and Writings of Homer. Lond. 1735. 2d. edit. 1736, 8vo.

      The Dangers of the Rebellion, and our happy Deliverance, considered, and a suitable consequent behaviour recommended. Psalm cxxix. 5. 1746, 4to.

      Proofs of the Inquiry into the Life and Writings of Homer. Lond. 1747, 8vo.

      Letters concerning Mythology. Lond. 1748, 8vo.

      Memoirs of the Court of Augustus. Edin. 1753 – 1755, 2 vols. 4to. Lond. 1764, 3 vols. 4to. The same work continued and completed from the Author’s original papers, by John Mills, Esq., forming a 3d volume. 1764, 3 vols. 4to.

      Letter to Mr. J. Ames, relating to an ancient Greek Inscription. See Archaeologia, vol. i. p. 333. 1770.

BLACKWELL, ALEXANDER, a man of great natural genius, and an accomplished Greek and Latin scholar, brother of the preceding, was born in Aberdeen about the beginning of the eighteenth century. In the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 7th edition, he is stated to have been the son of a dealer in knit-hose in Aberdeen; but this is evidently a mistake, his father, as stated in the preceding life, being one of the ministers of Aberdeen, and principal of Marischal College. After completing his academical education at Marischal College, he went to Leyden, where he studied physic under the celebrated Boerhaave, and took the degree of M.D. ELIZABETH, his wife, the authoress of the most extraordinary botanical work of her day, was the daughter of a stocking merchant in Aberdeen of the same name, and probably a relative of her husband, to whom she was secretly married; and some accounts say that he eloped with her to London; but it appears that he had first endeavoured to establish a practice in his native city, and not succeeding, he removed to the British metropolis, and became corrector of the press to Mr. Wilkins, a printer. He afterwards commenced the printing business himself in the Strand; and continued to carry it on till 1734, when, in consequence chiefly of an action being brought against him for not having served a regular apprenticeship to the trade, he became involved in debt, and was thrown into prison. Luckily his wife possessed a taste for the drawing and colouring of flowers, which she now turned to account. Engravings of flowers were then very rare, and Mrs. Blackwell thought that the publication of an Herbal might yield her such a remuneration as would enable her to discharge her husband’s debts. Having submitted her first drawings to Sir Hans Sloane and Dr. Mead, these eminent physicians encouraged her to proceed with the work. She also received the kindest countenance from Mr. Philip Miller, then well known as a writer on horticulture. She was also patronised by Mr. Rand of the botanical garden at Chelsea, by whose advice she, in the year 1735, took lodgings in the neighbourhood of this garden, for more ready access to those flowers and plants which she required for her work, and proceeded to make drawings of them, thereafter engraving them on copper, and colouring the work herself. Her husband added the Latin names of the different plants, and a brief description of each, chiefly taken, by permission, from Miller’s ‘Botanicum Officinale.’ The first volume of her Herbal, containing 252 plates, appeared in 1737; and the second, with 248 plates, in 1739. It was published in a complete form, under the title of ‘A curious Herbal, containing five hundred Cuts of the most useful Plants which are now used in the practice of Physic, engraved on folio copperplates, after drawings taken from the Life, by Elizabeth Blackwell; to which is added a short Description of the Plants, and their common uses in Physic,’ folio. this work raised Mrs. Blackwell very high in public estimation, and by its means she was enabled to free her husband from prison. The college of physicians, to whom she was permitted to present in person the first volume on its completion, not only made her a handsome present, but gave her a testimonial, signed by the president and censors of the institution, strongly recommendatory of her work.

      After his release, the duke of Chandos employed Blackwell to superintend some agricultural operations at Cannons. Having published a work on agriculture, a copy of it was transmitted to the king of Sweden by his ambassador in this country; in consequence of which he was offered an engagement at Stockholm, which he accepted. About 1740, leaving his wife and child in London, he sailed for the Swedish capital. On his arrival he was ordered apartments in the house of the prime minister, and allowed a pension. Having, during a dangerous illness of the king, prescribed with success for his majesty, he was, on his recovery, appointed one of the king’s physicians. At this time he was in the full enjoyment of the favour of the court, and having submitted to the king a scheme for draining certain large fens and marshes, this was tried, and found to be successful. To his wife, who was on the point of joining him, he remitted large sums of money; but his career in Sweden was destined soon to come to a fatal close. He was arrested on suspicion of being concerned in a plot with Count Tessin to overturn the government, and alter the line of succession. After being subjected to the torture, he was tried before a royal commission, and sentenced to be broken alive on the wheel, for which beheading was afterwards substituted. He was executed August 9, 1748, protesting his innocence to the last. Having prayed for a short time, he laid his head on the block, but in a wrong posture, on which, in the spirit of jesting which distinguished Sir Thomas More at his execution, he excused himself for his awkwardness, as it was his first experiment in that way. The date of his wife’s death is unknown. an edition of her work was published on the continent.

Blackwell entry in the Dictionary of National Biography

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