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TO THE READER.
[PREFIXED TO VOL. V. OF ORIGINAL EDITION.]
After the very favourable reception which the Four former Volumes of my Sermons have met with, both at home and abroad, I had resolved not to presume on offering any more to the Public. To this publication of another Volume, my present situation gave rise, being now, by the infirmity of very advancedage, laid aside from all the labours of the pulpit ; and possessing, of course, more retirement and leisure than formerly, it occurred to me, sometimes, to look back into sermons, most of which had been composed a great many years ago, with a view to observe how far they agreed in the strain of thought with those which I had written at a later period. In reviewing them, passages sometimes appeared which I imagined might be serviceable, either for admonition or consolation, to various classes of persons; and the thought began to arise in my mind, that by employing my present leisure, as long as health allowed, in preparing some of those Discourses for the press, it might be in my power to be still of some use in the world. Encouraged by this idea, I went on to revise and correct one sermon after another, often making alterations and additions, till the present Volume arose.
Though the subjects of these Sermons be different from those which I formerly published, some of the same sentiments and expressions may occasionally be found to be repeated in them. This is apt to happen, partly from that similarity of thought and style which will run through all the compositions of an author who is not copying others, but writing from his own reflections; and partly, from the coincidence of some general topics and allusions which recur frequently in serious discourses of the practical kind. Where any instances of this nature presented themselves to my memory, I found, that without altering the strain of the sermon, I could not altogether suppress and omit them; and as it is not often they occur, I did not think it requisite that they should be omitted. If the sentiment, where first introduced, was in any degree useful or important, the renewal of it, when brought forth under some different form, enlarged perhaps, or abridged, or placed in connexion with some other topic, may be thought to strengthen and confirm the impression of it.-With regard to errors or inaccuracies of any other kind, the Author must trust to the indulgence of the candid Reader.
THE AUTHOR'S LIFE.
DR. HUGH BLAIR was born in Edinburgh, on the 7th day of April, 1718. His father, John Blair, a respectable merchant in that city, was a descendant of the ancient family of Blair in Ayrshire, and grandson of the famous Mr. Robert Blair, Minister of St. Andrew's, Chaplain to Charles I., and one of the most zealous and distinguished clergymen of the period in which he lived. This worthy man, though firmly attached to the cause of freedom, and to the Presbyterian form of church-government; and though actively engaged in all the measures adopted for their support; yet, by his steady, temperate conduct, commanded the respect even of his opponents. In preference to all the other ecclesiastical leaders of the covenanting party, he was selected by the king himself to fill an office which, from the circumstances of the time, gave frequent access to the royal person : "because, said his majesty, “ that man is pious, prudent, learned, and of a meek and moderate calm temper.”— His talents seem to have descended as an inheritance to his posterity. For, of the two sons who survived him, David, the eldest, was a clergymán of eminence in Edinburgh, father to Mr. Robert Blair, minister of Athelstonford, the celebrated author of the poem entitled “The Grave;" and grandfather to his majesty's solicitor-general for Scotland, whose masculine eloquence, and profound knowledge of law, have, in the public estimation, placed him indisputably at the head of the Scottish bar. From his youngest son Hugh, who engaged in business as a merchant, and had the honour to fill a high station in the magistracy of Edinburgh, sprung the learned clergyman who is the subject of this narrative.
The views of Dr. Blair, from his earliest youth, were turned towards the church, and his education received a suitable direction. After the usual grammatical course at school, he entered the Humanity Class in the University of Edinburgh, in October, 1730, and spent eleven years at that celebrated seminary, assiduously employed in the literary and scientific studies prescribed by the church of Scotland to all who are to become candidates for her licence to preach the gospel. During this important period, he was distinguished among his companions both for diligence and proficiency; and obtained from the professors under whom he studied, repeated testimonies of approbation. One of them deserves to be mentioned particularly, because, in his own opinion,
it determined the bent of his genius towards polite literature. An essay, Ilepà toū kaloī, or, On the Beautiful,” written by him when a student of logic in the usual course of academical exercises, had the good fortune to attract the notice of Professor Stevenson, and, with. circumstances honourable to the author, was appointed to be read in public at the conclusion of the session. This mark of distinction made a deep impression on his mind; and the essay which merited it, he ever after recollected with partial affection, and preserved to the day of his death as the first earnest of his fame.
At this time, Dr. Blair commenced a method of study which contributed much to the accuracy and extent of his knowledge, and which he continued to practise occasionally even after his reputation was fully established. It consisted in making abstracts of the most important works which he read, and in digesting them according to the train of his own thoughts. History, in particular, he resolved to study in this manner; and, in concert with some of his youthful associates, he constructed a very comprehensive scheme of chronological tables, for receiving into its proper place every important fact
that should occur. The scheme devised by this young student for his own private use was afterward improved, filled up, and given to the public, by his learned friend Dr. John Blair, prebendary of Westminster, in his valuable work, " The Chronology and History of the World."
In the year 1739, Dr. Blair took his degree of A. M. On that occasion he printed and defended a thesis, " De Fundamentis et Obligatione Legis Naturæ,” which contains a short, but masterly, discussion of this important subject, and exhibits, in elegant Latin, an outline of the moral principles which have been since more fully unfolded and illustrated in his sermons.
The university of Edinburgh, about this period, numbered among her pupils many young men who were soon to make a distinguished figure in the civil, the ecclesiastical, and the literary history of their country. With most of them Dr. Blair entered into habits of intimate connexion, which no future competition or jealousy occurred to interrupt, which held them united through life in their views of public good, and which had the most beneficial influence on their own improvement, on the progress of elegance and taste amongst their contemporaries, and on the general interests of the community to which they belonged.
On the completion of this academical course, he underwent the customary trials before the Presbytery of Edinburgh, and received from that venerable body a licence to preach the gospel, on the 21st of October, 1741. His public life now commenced with very favourable prospects. The reputation which he brought from the university was fully justified by his first appearances in the pulpit; and, in a few months, the fame of his eloquence procured for him a presentation to the parish of Colessie in Fife, where he was ordained to the office of the holy ministry, on the 23d of September, 1742. But he was not permitted to remain long in this rural retreat. A vacancy in the second charge of the Canongate of Edinburgh, furnished to his friends an opportunity of recalling him to a station more suited to bis talents. And though one of the most popular and eloquent clergymen in the church was placed in competition with him, a great majority of the electors decided in favour of this young orator, and restored him in July, 1743, to the bounds of his native city.
In this station Dr. Blair continued eleven years, discharging with great fidelity and success the various duties of the pastoral office. His discourses from the pulpit in particular attracted universal admiration. They were composed with uncommon care; and, occupying a middle place between the dry metaphysical discussion of one class of preachers, and the loose incoherent declamation of another, they blended together, in the happiest manner, the light of argument with the warmth of exhortation, and exhibited captivating specimens of what had hitherto been rarely heard in Scotland, the polished, well compacted, and regular didactic oration.
In consequence of a call from the Town-Council and General Session of Edinburgh, he was translated from the Canongate to Lady Yester's, one of the city churches, on the 11th of October, 1754; and on the 15th of June, 1758, he was promoted to the High Church of Edinburgh, the most important ecclesiastical charge in the kingdom. To this charge he was raised at the request of the Lords of Council and Session, and of the other distinguished official characters who have their seats in that church. And the uniform prudence, ability, and success, which, for a period of more than forty years, accompanied all his ministerial labours in that conspicuous and difficult station, sufficiently evince the wisdom of their choice.
Hitherto his attention seems to have been devoted almost exclusively to the attainment of professional excellence, and to the regular discharge of his parochial duties. No production of his pen had yet been given to the world by himself, except two sermons preached on particular occasions ; some translations, in verse, of passages of Scripture, for the psalmody of the church; and a few articles in the Edinburgh Review ; a publication begun in 1755, and conducted for a short time by some of the ablest men in the kingdom. But standing as he now did at the head of his profession, and released by the labour of former years from the drudgery of weekly preparation for the pulpit, he began to think seriously of a plan to teach others that art, which had contributed so much to the establishment of his own fame. With this view, he communicated to his friends a scheme of Lectures on Composition; and, having obtained the approbation of the university, he began to read them in the college on the 11th of December, 1759. To this undertaking he brought all the qualifications requisite for executing it well; and along with them a weight of reputation, which could not fail to give effect to the lessons he should deliver. For besides the testimony given to his talents by his successive promotions in the church, the university of St. Andrew's, moved chiefly by the merit of his eloquence, had, in June, 1757, conferred on him the degree of D. D. a literary honour which, at that time, was very rare in Scotland, Accordingly, his first Course of Lectures was well attended, and received with great applause. The patrons of the university, convinced that they would form a valuable addition to the system of
а education, agreed in the following summer to institute a rhetorical class, under his direction, as a permanent part of their academical establishment; and on the 7th of April, 1762, his majesty was graciously pleased“ To erect and endow a Professorship of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres in the university of Edinburgh, and to appoint Dr. Blair, in consideration of his qualifications, Regius Professor thereof, with a salary of 701." These Lectures he published in 1783, when he retired from the labours of the office; and the general voice of the public has pronounced them to be a most judicious, elegant, and comprehensive system of rules for forming the style and cultivating the taste of youth.
About the time in which he was occupied in laying the foundations of this useful institution, he had an opportunity of conferring another important obligation on the literary world, by the part which he acted in rescuing from oblivion the poems of Ossian. It was by the solicitation of Dr. Blair and Mr. John Home, that Mr. Macpherson was induced to publish his “ Fragments of Ancient Poetry;" and their patronage was of essential service in procuring the subscription which enabled him to undertake his tour through the Highlands for collecting the materials of Fingal, and of those other delightful productions which bear the name of Ossian. To these productions Dr. Blair applied the test of genuine criticism, and soon after their publication gave an estimate of their merits in “ A Dissertation,” which, for beauty of language, delicacy of taste, and acuteness of critical investigation, has few parallels. It was printed in 1763, and spread the reputation of its author throughout Europe.
The great objects of his literary ambition being now attained, his talents were for many years consecrated solely to the important and peculiar employments of his station. It was not till the year 1777, that he could be induced to favour the world with a volume of the sermons which had so long furnished instruction and delight to his own congregation. But this volume being well received, the public approbation encouraged him to proced; three other volumes followed at different intervals; and all of them experienced a degree of success of which few publications can boast. They circulated rapidly and widely wherever the English tongue extends; they were soon translated into almost all the languages of Europe; and his present majesty, with that wise attention to the interests of religion and literature which distinguishes his reign, was graciously pleased to judge them worthy of public reward. By a royal mandate to the exchequer of Scotland, dated