Hugh Blair (1718-1800)
Hugh Blair was a leading figure in the Church of Scotland. He was one of the ‘literati’, Edinburgh’s intellectual élite, an early member of the Select Society and early fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. As Professor of Rhetoric at the University of Edinburgh from 1760, he held the first dedicated chair of English in any university.
Blair gave public lectures on English language, literature and literary criticism. He chaired a sub-society created by the Select Society, called the ‘Society for Promoting the Reading and Speaking of the English Language’.
Blair was closely linked with the appearance and growth in popularity of the controversial Ossian poems, ostensibly translated by James Macpherson. He arranged for the publication of the poems and wrote a preface to MacPherson’s ‘Fragments of ancient poetry’, first published in 1760.
In subsequent debates about the authenticity of the Ossian poems, Blair strongly defended the poems as authentic examples of ancient Gaelic literature. In 1763, he published ‘A critical dissertation on the poems of Ossian’ in which he argued that they were genuine. This dissertation established Blair’s reputation as a literary critic.