Blair, Robert (1741-1811) (DNB00)

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BLAIR, ROBERT, of Avontoun (1741–1811), judge, was the third son of the Rev. Robert Blair, the author of the ‘ Grave ’ [q. v.], and Isabella his wife, the daughter of Mr. William Law of Elvingston, East Lothian. He was born in 1741 at Athelstaneford, where his father was the minister. Young Blair commenced his education at the Grammar school at Haddington, where he formed a friendship with Henry Dundas, afterwards Viscount Melville, which only ended with their lives. From Haddington he was removed to the high school at Edinburgh, and thence was transferred to the university. In 1764 he was admitted a member of the Faculty of Advocates, and soon obtained a considerable practice at the bar, where he and Henry Erskine were often pitted against each other. In 1789 Blair was appointed by his friend Dundas one of the depute advocates, which office he continued to hold until 1806. For some years also he was one of the assessors ofthe city of Edinburgh. In 1789, at the age of forty-seven, Blair became solicitor-general for Scotland. This post he continued to occupy until the change of ministry which was occasioned by Pitt’s death in 1806. During this period he twice refused the offer of a seat on the judicial bench, and both in 1802 and 1805 declined to accept the office of lord advocate. In 1801 he was elected dean of the faculty of advocates. Upon the return of his friends to power in 1807 he refused the oliices of solicitor-general and lord advocate, but in the next year, upon the resignation of Sir Ilay Campbell, he accepted the presidency of the college of justice. This dignity, however, be did not long enioy. He died suddenly on 20 May 1811. His old friend, Viscount Melville, who came to Edinburgh purposely to attend the funeral, was taken ill, and died on the very day the resident was buried. This singular coincidence gave rise to a ‘Monody on the Death of the Right Hon. Henry Lord Viscount Melville, and Right Hon. Robert Blair of Avontown, Lord President of the College of Justice’ (Edinburgh, 1811), written by an anonymous author. Blair married Isabella Cornelia, the youngest daughter of Colonel Charles Craigie Halkett of Lawhill, Fifeshire. His widow, one son, and three daughters, survived him; but he left them so badly off that a pension was granted by the crown to his widow and daughters through the instrumentality of Mr. Perceval. He was a man of a very powerful understanding, with a thoroughly logical mind and a firm grasp of legal principles, but without any gift of eloguenee or even of fluency of speech. He ha such ‘an innate love of justice and abhorrence of iniquity,’ and took so liberal and enlarged a view of law, that he was eminently qualified to fill the post which he held for so short a time. It is somewhat remarkable that Blair never sat in parliament. As a recreation he took much pleasure in agricultural pursuits, and he brought his small estate at Avontoun, near Linlithgow, to the highest state of cultivation. His statue by Chantrey stands in the first division of the inner house of the Court of Session. Two portraits of him were taken by Kay of Edinburgh, one in 1793, and the other in 1799, etchings of which will be found in vol. i. of Kay's ‘Portraits,’ Nos. 127-8.

[Law Review, ii. 341-52; Kay's Original Portraits and Caricature Etchings, 1877, i. 318-6; Edinburgh Review, lxix. 3l-2, 281-3; Scots Magazine, 1811, pp. 403-7.]

G. F. R. B.