Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Blair, William (1766-1822)

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1311898Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 05 — Blair, William (1766-1822)1886Thompson Cooper

BLAIR, WILLIAM (1766–1822), surgeon, youngest son of William Blair, M.D., and Ann Gideon, his wife, was born at Lavenham in Suffolk 28 Jan. 1706. He qualified himself for surgical practice in London under Mr. J. Pearson of Golden Square, by whom he was introduced to the Lock Hospital, and on a vacancy was elected surgeon to that charity. Blair was a master of arts, but it is not stated at what university he graduated. He became very eminent in his profession, and was surgeon to the Asylum, the Finsbury Dispensary, the Bloomsbury Dispensary in Great Russell Street, the Female Penitentiary at Cumming House, Pentenville, and the New Rupture Society. He was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, London, and of the medical societies of London, Paris, Brussels, and Aberdeen. For some time he was editor of the ‘London Medical Review and Magazine.' Blair was a very earnest protestant of the methodist persuasion, and laboured zealously in the cause of the British and Foreign Bible Society, to which he presented his valuable collection of rare and curious editions of the Bible, and many scarce commentaries in different languages. Once or twice he attempted lectures on anatomy and other subjects, but with little success. On his wife's death in March 1822 he resolved to give up professional practice, and to retire into the country. He accordingly took a house in the neighbourhood of Colchester, but before the preparations for removing were completed he was seized with illness, and died at his residence in Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, 6 Dec. 1822.

His works are: 1. ‘The Soldier’s Friend, containing familiar instructions to the loyal volunteers, yeomanry corps, and military men in general, on the preservation and recovery of their health,’ London, 1798, 12mo, 2nd edition 1803, 3rd edition 1804. 2. ‘Essays on the Venereal Disease and its concomitant Effects,' London, 1798, 8vo, 3rd edition 1808. 3. ‘Anthropology, or the Natural History of Man, with a comparative view of the structure and functions of animated beings in general,' London, 1805, 8vo. 4. ‘The Vaccine Contest, being an exact outline of the arguments adduced by the principal combatants on both sides respecting Cow-Pox inoculation, including a late official report by the medical council of the Royal Jennerian Society,' London, 1806, 8vo; written in defence of vaccination in answer to Dr, Rowley. 5. ‘Hints for the consideration of Purliarnent in a letter to Dr. Jenner on the supposed failure of vaccination at Ringwood, includinga report of the Royal Jennerian Society, also remarks on the prevalent abuse of variolous inoculation, and on the exposure of outpatients attending at the Small-pox Hospital, London, 1808, 8vo. 6. ‘Prostitutes Peclaimed and Penitents Protected, being an answer to some directions against the Female Penitentiary,' 1809, 8vo. 7. ‘Strietiues on Mr. Hale's reply to the pamphlets lately published in defence of the London Penitentiary,’ 1809, 8vo. 8. ‘The Pastor and Deacon examined, or remarks on the Rev. John Thomas’s appeal in vindication of Mr. Hale’s character, and in opposition to Female Penitentiaries,' 1810, 8vo. 9. ‘The Correspondence on the Formation, Objects, and Plan of the Roman Catholic Bible Society,’ 1814; this engaged him in a controversy with Charles Butler of Linco1n’s Inn (vide Gent. Mag. lxxxiv. pts. i. and ii.), 10. A long and elaborate article on ‘Cipher,’ in Rees’s ‘Cyclopædia’ (1819), vol. viii. The engraved illustrative plates are erroneously inserted under the heading of ‘Writing by Cipher’ in the volume of ‘Plates,' vol. iv. This article is incomparably the best treatise in the English language on secret writing and the art of deciphering. lt includes a cipher method invented b Blair, which he declared to be inscrutable ; but the key was discovered by Michael Gage, who published at Norwich in 1819 (though it is by a typographical error dated 1809) ‘An Extract taken from Dr. Rees’s New Cyclopædia on the article Cipher, being a real improvement on all the various ciphers which have been made public, and is the first method ever published on a scientific principle. Lately invented by W. Blair, Esq., A.M.; to which is now first, added a Full Discovery of the Principle,’ 8vo. 11. An article on ‘Stenograph' in Rees’s ‘Cyclopædia,' vol. xxxiv. 12. ‘The Revival of Popery, its intolerant character, political tendency, encroaching demands, and unceasing usurpation, in letters to William Wilberforce,' London, 1819, 8vo. 13. ‘A New Alphabet of Fifteen Letters, including the vowels,’ in William Harding‘s ‘Universal Stenography,’ 2nd edit. 1824. 14. Correspondence respecting his method of Secret Writing, containing original letters to him on the sulnect from the night Hon. W. Windham, G. Canning, the Earl of Harrowby, J. Symmons of Paddington, and Michael Gage of Swaffham, with the whole of his system of ciphers. Manuscript sold at the dispersion of William Upcott’s collection in 1546.

[MS. Adult. 19170, ff. 23, 24; Page’s suplement to the Suffolk Trave1ler, v. 946; Collet's Relics of Literature, 112; Notes and Queries, lst ser. xii. 384, 2nd ser. iii. 17; Biog. Dict. of Living Authors (1816), 29; Some Account of the Death of William Blair, Lond. (1823). 12mo; Orthodox Journal, iv. 139, 140; Cat. of William Upcott's MSS. and Autographs, art. 23; Gent. Mag. xcii. (ii.) 646, xciii. (i.) 213; Cat. of Printed Books in Brit.. Mus.; Cotton’s Rhemes and Doway, 78, 95, 98, 107, 115.]

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