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

Significant Scots
Robert Blair

BLAIR, ROBERT, author of "The Grave, a Poem," was the eldest son of the Rev. David Blair, one of the ministers of Edinburgh, and chaplain to the King, who, in his turn, was son to the subject of the preceding article. The mother of the author of "The Grave,’ was a Miss Nisbet, daughter of Mr Nisbet of Carfin. He was born in the year 1699, and after the usual preparatory studies, was ordained in 1731, minister of Athelstaneford, in East Lothian, where he spent the remainder of his life. Possessing a small fortune in addition to his stipend as a parish-clergyman, he lived, we are told, rather in the style of a country gentleman than of a minister, keeping company with the neighbouring gentry, among whom Sir Francis Kinloch of Gilmerton, patron of the parish, was one of his warmest friends. Blair, we are further informed, was at once a man of learning, and of elegant taste and manners. He was a botanist and florist, which he showed in the cultivation of his garden; and was also conversant in optical and microscopical knowledge, on which subjects he carried on a correspondence with some learned men in England. He was a man of sincere piety, and very assiduous in discharging the duties of his clerical functions. As a preacher, he was serious and warm, and discovered the imagination of a poet. He married Miss Isabella Law, daughter of Mr Law of Elvingston, who had been Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh; by this lady, who survived him, he had five sons and one daughter. His fourth son, who bore his own name, arose, through various gradations of honour at the Scottish bar, to be President of the Court of Session.

Blair had turned his thoughts, at an early period of life, to poetry. While still very young, he wrote some verses to the memory of his future father-in-law, Mr Law, who was also his blood relation. We have his own testimony for saying, that his "Grave" was chiefly composed in that period of his life which preceded his ordination as a parochial clergyman. An original manuscript of the poem, in the possession of his son the Lord President, was dated 1741-2; and it appears, from a letter written by the author to Dr Doddridge, in February that year, that he had just been endeavouring, through the influence of his correspondent, Dr Isaac Watts, to induce the London booksellers to publish it. It was rejected by two of these patrons of literature, to whom it had been recommended by Dr Watts; but was finally printed in London, in 1743, "for Mr Cooper." The author appears to have been seriously anxious that it should become a popular work, for he thus writes to Dr Doddridge: - "In order to make it more generally liked, I was obliged sometimes to go cross to my own inclination, well knowing that, whatever poem is written upon a serious argument, must, upon that very account, be under serious disadvantages; and therefore proper arts must be used to make such a piece go down with a licentious age, which cares for none of those things." This is not very clearly intelligible but perhaps alludes to the plain, strong, rational, and often colloquially familiar language of the poem, which the plurality of modern critics will allow to be its best feature. "The Grave" is now to be esteemed as one of the standard classics of English poetical literature, in which rank it will probably remain longer than many works of greater contemporary, or even present fame.

Return to our Significant Scots 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