Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dr. Hugh Blair

Hugh Blair was an important part of the Scottish Enlightenment, though he was taken in by the Ossian poem fraud.  Born on April 7, 1718, Blair rose to prominence through study of moral philosophy and literature.  Blair helped Robert Burns get established, and more directly for Walter Scott fans, recognized something in Scott when he examined him at an early age.  It is interesting to note in the following brief biography written by J.W. Lake (published in "The Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott") that Scott was not considered a good student, early in life.

Walter, from the tenderness of his constitution, and the circumstance of his lameness, occasioned by a fall from his nurse's arms at two years of age, was in a great measure brought up at home, under the immediate care and instruction of this I excellent parent, to whom he was much attached through life, and whose loss he sincerely lamented. Of his early pursuits little is known, except that he evinced a genius for drawing landscapes after nature.—At a proper age he was sent to the High School at Edinburgh, then directed by Dr Alexander Adam. In this school, young Scott passed through the different forms without exhibiting any of those extraordinary powers of genius, which are seldom remembered till the person to whom they are ascribed has become, by the maturity of his talents, an object of distinction. It is said, that he was considered in his boyhood rather heavy than otherwise, and that the late Dr Hugh Blair had discernment enough to predict his future eminence, when the master of the school lamented his dulness; but this only affords another instance of the fallacy of human opinion in pronouncing upon the real capacity of the youthful understanding. (1) Barrow, the greatest scholar of his age, was discarded as a blockhead by successive teachers; and his pupil, the illustrious Newton, was declared to be fit for nothing but to drive the team, till some friends succeeded in getting him transplanted to college.


(1) The prediction of Dr Blair, here alluded to, arose out of the following circumstances. Shortly after Dr Paterson succeeded to the grammar-school, Musselburgh, where Walter Scott was a short time a pupil, Blair, accompanied by some friends, paid him a visit; in the course of which he examined several of his pupils, and paid particular attention to young Scott. Dr Paterson thought it was the youth's stupidity that engaged the doctor's notice, and said, My predecessor tells me, that boy has the thickest skull in the school. "May be so, replied Dr Blair, but through that thick skull I can discern many bright rays of future genius.

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