John Stuart Blackie

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John Stuart Blackie
John Blackie.jpg
John Stuart Blackie, by Elliott & Fry, Albumen Cabinet Card, 1870s.
Born (1809-07-28)28 July 1809
Glasgow, Lanarkshire
Died 2 March 1895(1895-03-02) (aged 85)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Nationality Scottish
Occupation scholar, intellectual
Blackie's Signature.jpg
memorial to John Stuart Blackie in St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh
John Stuart Blackie's grave, Dean Cemetery

Prof John Stuart Blackie FRSE (28 July 1809 – 2 March 1895) was a Scottish scholar and man of letters.


He was born in Glasgow, on Charlotte Street, the son of Aberdeen banker, Alexander Blackie (d.1846) and Helen Stodart.[1] He was educated at the New Academy and afterwards at the Marischal College, in Aberdeen, where his father was manager of the Commercial Bank.

After attending classes at Edinburgh University (1825–1826), Blackie spent three years at Aberdeen as a student of theology. In 1829 he went to Germany, and after studying at Göttingen and Berlin (where he came under the influence of Heeren, Otfried Müller, Schleiermacher, Neander and Böckh) he accompanied Bunsen to Italy and Rome. The years spent abroad extinguished his former wish to enter the Church, and at his father's desire he gave himself up to the study of law.

He had already, in 1824, been placed in a lawyer's office, but only remained there six months. By the time he was admitted a member of the Faculty of Advocates (1834) he had acquired a strong love of the classics and a taste for letters in general. A translation of Goethe's Faust, which he published in 1834, met with considerable success, winning the approbation of Carlyle. After a year or two of desultory literary work he was (May 1839) appointed to the newly instituted chair of Humanity (Latin) in the Marischal College.

Difficulties arose in the way of his installation, owing to the action of the Presbytery on his refusing to sign unreservedly the Confession of Faith; but these were eventually overcome, and he took up his duties as professor in November 1841. In the following year he married. From the first his professorial lectures were conspicuous for the unconventional enthusiasm with which he endeavoured to revivify the study of the classics; and his growing reputation, added to the attention excited by a translation of Aeschylus which he published in 1850, led to his appointment in 1852 to the professorship of Greek at Edinburgh University, in succession to George Dunbar, a post which he continued to hold for thirty years.

He was somewhat erratic in his methods, but his lectures were a triumph of influential personality. A journey to Greece in 1853 prompted his essay On the Living Language of the Greeks, a favorite theme of his, especially in his later years; he adopted for himself a modern Greek pronunciation, and before his death he endowed a travelling scholarship to enable students to learn Greek at Athens.

Scottish nationality was another source of enthusiasm with him; and in this connection he displayed real sympathy with highland home life and the grievances of the crofters. The foundation of the Celtic chair at Edinburgh University was mainly due to his efforts. In spite of the many calls upon his time he produced a considerable amount of literary work, usually on classical or Scottish subjects, including some poems and songs of no mean order.

Blackie was a Radical and Scottish nationalist in politics, of a fearlessly independent type; possessed of great conversational powers and general versatility, his picturesque eccentricity made him one of the characters of the Edinburgh of the day, and a well-known figure as be went about in his plaid, worn shepherd-wise, wearing a broad-brimmed hat, and carrying a big stick.

In the 1880s and 1890s, he lectured at Oxford on the pronunciation of Greek, and corresponded on the subject with William Hardie. In May 1893, he gave his last lecture at Oxford, but afterwards admitted defeat, stating: "It is utterly in vain here to talk reasonably in the matter of Latin or Greek pronunciation: they are case-hardened in ignorance, prejudice and pedantry".[2]

He died at 9 Douglas Crescent[3] in Edinburgh.[4] He is buried in Dean Cemetery to the north side of the central path in the north section of the original cemetery. His nephew and biographer, Archibald Stodart Walker (1869-1934) is buried with him.


Blackie married Elizabeth (known as Eliza) Wyld in 1842. They had no children. She is buried with him.[5]

He was the uncle of Sir Alexander Kennedy.



The hymn he wrote on his honeymoon, "Angels holy, high and lowly," has been called his most enduring work.[6]

Amongst his political writings, may be mentioned:

Selected articles


  2. Wallace, Stuart, John Stuart Blackie: Scottish Scholar and Patriot (Edinburgh University Press, 2006, ISBN 978-0-7486-1185-0) p. 189 online at
  4. "Death of John Stuart Blackie; The Life Related in the Works of Scotland's Great Scholar," The New York Times, 3 March 1895.
  6. Wikisource-logo.svg Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Blackie, John Stuart". Encyclopedia Americana.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Wikisource-logo.svg Wood, James, ed. (1907). "Blackie, John Stuart". The Nuttall Encyclopædia. London and New York: Frederick Warne.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Jones, Ernest Charles. Democracy Vindicated: A Lecture Delivered to the Edinburgh Working Men's Institute on 4 January 1867, in Reply to Professor Blackie's Lecture on Democracy, Delivered on the Previous Evening, Andrew Elliot, 1867.


Further reading

External links