1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Blair, Hugh

BLAIR, HUGH (1718–1800), Scottish Presbyterian divine, was born on the 7th of April 1718, at Edinburgh, where his father was a merchant. Entering the university in 1730 he graduated M.A. in 1739; his thesis, De Fundamentis et Obligations Legis Naturae, contains an outline of the moral principles afterwards unfolded in his sermons. He was licensed to preach in 1741, and a few months later the earl of Leven, hearing of his eloquence, presented him to the parish of Collessie in Fife. In 1743 he was elected to the second charge of the Canongate church, Edinburgh, where he ministered until removed to Lady Yester’s, one of the city churches, in 1754. In 1757 the university of St Andrews conferred on him the degree of D.D., and in the following year he was promoted to the High Church, Edinburgh, the most important charge in Scotland. In 1759 he began, under the patronage of Lord Kames, to deliver a course of lectures on composition, the success of which led to the foundation of a chair of rhetoric and belles lettres in the Edinburgh University. To this chair he was appointed in 1762, with a salary of £70 a year. Having long taken interest in the Celtic poetry of the Highlands, he published in 1763 a laudatory Dissertation on Macpherson’s Ossian, the authenticity of which he maintained. In 1777 the first volume of his Sermons appeared. It was succeeded by four other volumes, all of which met with the greatest success. Samuel Johnson praised them warmly, and they were translated into almost every language of Europe. In 1780 George III. conferred upon Blair a pension of £200 a year. In 1783 he retired from his professorship and published his Lectures on Rhetoric, which have been frequently reprinted. He died on the 27th of December 1800. Blair belonged to the “moderate” or latitudinarian party, and his Sermons have been criticized as wanting in doctrinal definiteness. His works display little originality, but are written in a flowing and elaborate style. He is remembered chiefly by the place he fills in the literature of his time. Blair’s Sermons is a typical religious book of the period that preceded the Anglican revival.

See J. Hall, Account of Life and Writings of Hugh Blair (1807).