Hugh Blair 1718-1800
Hugh BLAIR 1718-1800
Blair was born in Edinburgh to John Blair and Martha Ogston in 1718. His great-grandfather was Robert Blair (1593-1666), a professor at University of Glasgow and prominent Presbyterian reformer. In 1748, he married Katherine Bannatine (d. 1795).
Blair studied divinity at the University of Edinburgh (1731-1739) after which he served as a Church of Scotland minister, most notably at the High Kirk in St. Giles's Church from 1758-1800. In 1757, Blair was presented an honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity from the University of St. Andrews and was appointed professor of rhetoric at the University of Edinburgh in 1760.
As a prominent academic and literary critic, Blair was in contact with notable figures from the Scottish Enlightenment such as Adam Smith, David Hume, and Lord Kames. He published several works including A Critical Dissertation on the Poems of Ossian, Son of Fingal, and Sermons (5 volumes).
After his death in 1800, Blair's extensive library passed to his nephew Richard Bannatine (d. 1815) with miscellaneous volumes bequeathed to his niece and adopted daughter Elizabeth Hunter and friend Dr. John Hill. The library was well regarded before Blair's passing. Amory (1973) quotes 1801 Scots Magazine obituary calling the library "one of the most numerous yet select private collections in Edinburgh". Part of the library was sold at auction by Elliot's Rooms in Edinburgh in 1801. The auction catalogue lists 645 lots, divided by language and subject for sale over six evenings.
Following the death of Bannatine, the remainder of the library was sold at auction by John Ballantyne in Edinburgh. The auction catalogue lists 705 lots, divided by format with all languages and subjects intermixed. The second sale included some volumes published after Blair's death, as well as books possibly purchased from the 1801 sale. Amory estimates that even with taking these discrepancies into consideration, the extent of Blairs library was around 1,115 lots or about 2,400 volumes.
Overall, Blair's library contained novels, books on travel, Greek and Roman classics, ecclesiastical commentary and history, as well as an assortment of maps and pamphlets. Several volumes were marked 'very rare' or 'extremely rare' by the auctioneers. A few examples noted by Amory are:
Foulis Virgil (B624),
Erasmus' Catechism (B161),
Kilmarnock Burns (B324),
Tracts by Servetus (B571) and Knox (E21)
- A catalogue of part of the library which belonged to Hugh Blair, D.D. &c. To be sold by auction, within Elliot's rooms, at the Cross, Edinburgh : on Monday, 13th April, and five following evenings, Edinburgh, 1801 (copy in the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University, X348 E46 1801/4/13-18).
- Catalogue, &c. First day's sale. Of Dr Blair's library, &c. Monday, 8th April, 1816 [6 days] , Edinburgh, 1816 (copy in the National Library Scotland, K.R.14.e.2(6)).
- Amory, H. ‘Hugh Blair’, Sale catalogues of libraries of eminent persons, ed. A. N. L. Munby, vol. 7, 1973.
- Sher, Richard B. "Blair, Hugh (1718–1800), Church of Scotland minister and literary critic." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.