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BY THE EDITOR.
WHEN the author of the following beautiful lite
tle poem determined, at the solicitation of his friends, to make it public, his friend, Dr. Watts, “ offered it to two booksellers of his acquaintance, “ who did not care to run the risk of publishing it.*" But like that stupendous production of genius, * Pa“ radise Lost," whose reception (to the eternal honour of the printer's taste) was exactly similar ; it has since gone through editions almost innumerable. Yet among all the copies that have been so profusely distributed, not one has been found executed in that style which “ The Grave” so eminently deserves. To supply this desideratum, the publisher now presents the public with a copy of the admired poem, worthy the memory of Robert Blair.
Celebrated as this poem bath rendered its author, yet were we in danger of losing every trace of the man, but his name, when he was rescued from oblivion by that laudable interest in behalf of letters which has long marked the character of Dr. Anderson. In his valuable edition of “ The British Poets," we find a
nemoir prefixed to the poems of Blair,
* See a letter of Mr. Blair, inserted in the epistolary correspondence of Dr. Doddridge, published by the Rev. Mr. Stedman of Shrewsbury, in 1790.
from authorities so highly respectable as those of his son Robert Blair, Esq. and Dr. Blair his brother :the former so eminently qualified for his office of solicitor-general for Scotland :—the latter so universally allowed to be an honour to his cloth, and the chief ornament of the pulpit.
It is a common remark, that the lives of men of letters are in general destitute of incident. But it is more particularly the case in such instances as that now before us, of a clergyman, who considered the duties of his profession as sacred, and whose abode was constantly in the country. But as every thing which concerns him must be interesting to his reader, I shall detail the few particulars of his life that we find in the prefaces to the works of the British Poets, and am only sorry that the elegant language of Dr. Anderson is too diffuse for our narrow limits.
Robert Blair, the eldest son of the Rev. David Blair, one of the ministers of Edinburgh, was born in the beginning of the last century. His mother's
Nisbet, daughter of Nisbet, Esq. of Carsin. His grandfather, whose name he bore, was a descendant of the ancient family of Blair, of Blair in Ayrshire, and one who distinguished himself among the Scottish clergy during the civil wars. After perfecting his education in the university of Edinburgh, the author of " The Grave" set out on his travels to acquire that “ public and
private sense of a man”* which beams so conspicu. ous in every line of the poem. When he had passed a considerable time on the Continent, he returned to be ordained to the church of Scotland, and was accordingly presented with the living of Athelstaneford, in East Lothian, on the 5th of January, 1731. He married Isabella Law, daughter of Mr. Law of Elvingston,' a lady of uncommon beauty and
very amiable manners. To the memory of her father, who was a relation of his own, and who had been professor of moral philosophy, in the university of Edinburgh, he addressed the only other piece of poetry he is known to have written. This tribute of friendship was unfortunately called for before his marriage with Miss Law ; and it yet remains a piece not unworthy of the author. The following lines may serve for a specimen of the merits of the poem, although they are not extracted as the most beautiful, but as the most similar to the production of his more matured genius : This earth, yon sun, and those blue tinctur'd skies, Thro’ which it rolls, must have their obsequies : Pluck'd from their orbits shall the planets fall, And smoke and conflagration cover all : What then is man? The creature of a day, By moments spent, and minutes borne away. Time, like a raging torrent, hurries on ; Scarce can we say it is, but that 'tis gone.
Although in “ The Grave” he has shaken off the fetters of rhyme, renounced the character of an imitator, and blazed forth-original in his ideas, in his numbers—in his poetry : yet the hand of Blair is evident in this juvenile performance ; and both poems afford proofs, “ that” to use his own express sion, “ he would be sorry to write any thing unbe“coming his profession as a minister of the gospel.”* The fortune of our author, we are informed, was easy, and his society courted by all. He was learned ;-a man of taste, and of manners the most polite
* See his letter to Dr. Doddridge, Feb. 25, 1741-42, which is written in a style of peculiar ease and modesty, and sets him in so amiable a point of view, that we are sorry we cannot here transcribe it.
and refined. His garden was a sufficient testimony of his being both a botanist and a florist ; and his correspondence with many men of science in Eng. land, prove him to have been possessed of considerable optical, as well as microscopical, knowledge. “ He was a man,” we are told, “ of sincere piety, « and very assiduous in discharging the duties of his « clerical function. As a preacher he was serious “ and warm, and discovered the imagination of a
poet." But his character is best expressed in his own words : Though scrupulously just, yet not severe ; Though cautious, open ; courteous, yet sincere ; Though rev'rend, yet not magisterial; Though intimate with few, yet lov'd by all Though deeply read, yet absolutely free From all the stiffnesses of pedantry ; Though circumspectly good, yet never sour ; Pleasant with innocence, and never more. Religion worn by thee, attractive show'd, And with its own unborrow'd beauty glow'd : Unlike the bigot, from whose wat’ry eyes Ne'er sunshine broke, nor smile was seen to rise ; Whose sickly goodness lives upon grimace, And pleads a merit from a blubber'd face. Thou kept thy raiment for the needy poor, And taught the fatherless to know thy door ; From griping hunger set the needy free ; That they were needy was enough to thee.
Poem to the memory of Mr. Will. LAW. Such was Robert Blair, who died of a fever on the 4th of February, 1746, in the 47th year of his age. Among his most intimate friends he reckoned Doctors Watts and Doddridge, Baker the famous aaturalist, and Colonel Gardiner.