Papers of Professor Hugh Blair (1718-1800)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 237 Coll-306
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      4 volumes, 10 letters, 1 portrait.
  • Location
      Dc.2.76/10; Dc.3.42-43; Dc.4.101 Blair; Dc.10.6; Gen. 1990; Gen. 1730/1 Blair; E89.74; E95.60; E99.11; E2006.43

Scope and Content

The papers of Professor Hugh Blair consist principally of correspondence. The material includes: a letter probably to T. Cadell and to William Strahan and A. Constable, between 1778 and 1796 at Dc.2.76/10 which are copies from originals held by the Earl of Rosebery and 'in Edinburgh Public library'; letters to Miss Nancy Ord at Gen. 1730/1 Blair; and, another letter to Cadell and a letter to the Lord provost of Edinburgh at Dc.4.101 Blair. There are also lectures on rheoric and the belles lettres, in manuscript, and including Synopsis, taken down 1765, at Dc.10.6, and lectures, 1779, at Gen. 1990. There are further notes of lectures on rhetoric and belles lettres at Dc.3.42, and sermons from 1800 at Dc.3.43. Included in the collection too are letters (one probably to Lord Keith, 1789), another from 1783, and a note to Dr. Archibald Davidson, 1788, at E95.60, E89.74, and E99.11.

At E2006.43 there is an engraved portrait of Hugh Blair, drawn by W. Evans and engraved by C. Bestland. It is from an original picture by Henry Raeburn in the possession of Sir John Macpherson. It was printed in 1809.

Administrative / Biographical History

The preacher and critic Hugh 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 April 1762.

Blair was part of Edinburgh's distinguished literary circle of the day, and was a contemporary of David Hume, Adam Ferguson, and Adam Smith.

Blair championed the publishing of the Ossian fragments by James Macpherson (1736-1796). Blair's own lectures and sermons were translated and read widely abroad. Professor Hugh Blair died on 27 December 1800.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.

Acquisition Information

Correspondence at Dc.2.76/10 received from Robert Wetherill, 1934. Lectures on rhetoric and the belles lettres received from Mrs. Hamilton Bruce, 1926. Sermons presented by W. Finlayson, 1870. Letter dated 1783 purchased October 1989, Accession no. E89.74. Letter to Lord Keith purchased September 1995, Accession no. E95.60. Note to Dr. Davidson purchased March 1999, Accession no. E99.11. Engraved portrait purchased December 2006, Accession no. E2006.43.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Rice, D. Talbot (comp.). The university portraits. pp.18-21. Edinburgh: University Press, 1957. (2) Stephen, Leslie. and Lee, Sidney (eds.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol.2. Beal-Browell. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1908.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.

Related Material

The local Indexes show other references to Blair related material (check the Indexes for more details): material in the Laing Collection including correspondence at La.II.110, La.II.243, La.II.419, and La.II.509, and at La.III.352; a note from Blair to Professor Joseph Black at Gen. 875/111/29v; letters to Blair at Gen. 1426/74; mentioned in letters at Dk.7.52/6, and Gen. 873/111/114-115; mention of his brother at Dk.7.52/41; and a signature at Gen. 1733/42. In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: lecture notes, Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections and Western Manuscripts, Ref. MS Eng misc d 716; letters to James Boswell, 1763-1792, Yale University Libraries: Beinecke Library, Ref. C156-65 NRA 22146 Boswell; letters (14) to David Hume, c.1763-1776, National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division, Ref. MS.23153 ff.51-64; and, correspondence with Lord Kames, 1774-1782, National Archives of Scotland, Ref. GD24.

Corporate Names