Hugh Blair (1718-1800)

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Hugh Blair (1718-1800) by David Martin, ca. 1775, University of Edinburgh Fine Art Collection (EU0029)

Hugh Blair (1718-1800) was created Regius Professor of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres in 1762, holding the post until 1784. His appointment marked the beginning of the teaching of English Literature at Edinburgh University and the birth of the oldest English department in the world.

Blair was born in Edinburgh on 7 April 1718. He entered Edinburgh University in 1730, graduating in 1738 or 1739 with the degree of M.A. and writing a thesis entitled 'De fundamentis et obligatione legis naturae'. In 1741, Blair became licensed to preach and held successively a parish in Fife, Lady Yester's Church in Edinburgh, Canongate Parish in the city, and Edinburgh's St. Giles'. The latter charge was given in June 1758 and he held it until his death in 1800.

In 1759 Blair started giving lectures on composition at Edinburgh University and in 1760 he was made Professor of Rhetoric, an appointment which was transferred to the Professorship of Rhetoric and Belles-Lettres in June 1762.

Blair was part of Edinburgh's distinguished literary circle of the day, and was a contemporary of David Hume (1711-1776), Adam Ferguson (1723-1816), and Adam Smith (1723-1790). Blair championed the publishing of the Ossian fragments by James Macpherson (1736-1796). His own lectures and sermons were translated and read widely abroad.


Creation of Chair of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, 1760