1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Blackie, John Stuart

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BLACKIE, JOHN STUART (1809-1895), Scottish scholar and man of letters, was born in Glasgow on the 28th of July 1809. He was educated at the New Academy and afterwards at the Marischal College, in Aberdeen, where his father was manager of the Commerical Bank. After attending classes at Edinburgh University (1825-1826), Blackie spent three years at Aberdeen as a student of theology. In 1829 he went to Germany, and after studying at Göttingen and Berlin (where he came under the influence of Heeren, Ottfried Müller, Schleiermacher, Neander and Böckh) he accompanied Bunsen to Italy and Rome. The years spent abroad extinguished his former wish to enter the Church, and at his father's desire he gave himself up to the study of law. He had already, in 1824, been placed in a lawyer's office, but only remained there six months. By the time he was admitted a member of the Faculty of Advocates (1834) he had acquired a strong love of the classics and a taste for letters in general. A translation of Faust, which he published in 1834, met with considerable success. After a year or two of desultory literary work he was (May 1839) appointed to the newly-instituted chair of Humanity (Latin) in the Marischal College. Difficulties arose in the way of his installation, owing to the action of the Presbytery on his refusing to sign unreservedly the Confession of Faith; but these were eventually overcome, and he took up his duties as professor in November 1841. In the following year he married. From the first his professorial lectures were conspicuous for the unconventional enthusiasm with which he endeavoured to revivify the study of the classics; and his-growing reputation, added to the attention excited by a translation of Aeschylus which he published in 1850, led to his appointment in 1852 to the professorship of Greek at Edinburgh University, in succession to George Dunbar, a post which he continued to hold for thirty years. He was somewhat erratic in his methods, but his lectures were a triumph of influential personality. A journey to Greece in 1853 prompted his essay On the Living Language of the Greeks, a favourite theme of his, especially in his later years; he adopted for himself a modern Greek pronunciation, and before his death he endowed a travelling scholarship to enable students to learn Greek at Athens. Scottish nationality was another source of enthusiasm with him; and in this connexion he displayed real sympathy with Highland home life and the grievances of the crofters. The foundation of the Celtic chair at Edinburgh University was mainly due to his efforts. In spite of the many calls upon his time he produced a considerable amount of literary work, usually on classical or Scottish subjects, including some poems and songs of no mean order. He died in Edinburgh on the 2nd of March 1895. Blackie was a Radical and Scottish nationalist in politics, but of a fearlessly independent type; he was one of the “characters” of the Edinburgh of the day, and was a well-known figure as he went about in his plaid, worn shepherd-wise, wearing a broad-brimmed hat, and carrying a big stick. His published works include (besides several volumes of verse) Homer and the Iliad (1866), maintaining the unity of the poems; Four Phases of Morals: Socrates, Aristotle, Christianity, Utilitarianism (1871); Essay on Self-Culture (1874); Horae Hellenicae (1874); The Language and Literature of the Scottish Highlands (1876); The Natural History of Atheism (1877); The Wise Men of Greece (1877); Lay Sermons (1881); Altavona (1882); The Wisdom of Goethe (1883); The Scottish Highlanders and the Land Laws (1885); Life of Burns (1888); Scottish Song (1889); Essays on Subjects of Moral and Social Interest (1890); Christianity and the Ideal of Humanity (1893). Amongst his political writings may be mentioned a pamphlet On Democracy (1867), On Forms of Government (1867), and Political Tracts (1868).

See Anna M. Stoddart, John Stuart Blackie (1895); A. Stodart-Walker, Selected Poems of J. S. Blackie, with an appreciation (1896); Howard Angus Kennedy, Professor Blackie (1895).