Feast of John Stuart Blackie (March 2)   Leave a comment

by Herbert Rose Barraud, published by Eglington & Co, carbon print, published 1890

by Herbert Rose Barraud, published by Eglington & Co, carbon print, published 1890

Above:  John Stuart Blackie, by Herbert Rose Barraud (1890)

Image in the Public Domain



Scottish Presbyterian Scholar, Linguist, Poet, Theologian, and Hymn Writer

Hymnals (especially old ones) constitute a large proportion of the sources for names for the Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.  This is a happy fact, one which leads me to read wonderful hymn texts and to learn about lives I would not have encountered otherwise.  By this method the name of John Stuart Blackie has come to my attention.

Out of Blackie’s vast oeuvre his most enduring literary legacy seems to be a hymn, “Angels Holy, High and Lowly” (1840), a paraphrase of the Song of the Three Young Men, from Daniel 3 in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox canons of scripture.

Angels holy,

High and lowly,

Sing the praises of the Lord!

Earth and sky, all living nature,

Man, the stamp of thy Creator,

Praise him, praise him, God the Lord!


Sun and moon bright,

Night and noon light,

Starry temples azure floor’d,

Cloud and rain, and wild wind’s madness,

Sons of God that shout for gladness,

Praise him, praise him, God the Lord!


Bond and free man,

Land and sea man,

Earth with peoples widely stored,

Wand’rer, lone o’er prairies ample,

Full voic’d choir in costly temple,

Praise him, praise him, God the Lord!


Praise him ever,

Bounteous giver,

Praise him, Father, Friend, and Lord!

Each glad soul its free course winging,

Each glad voice its free song singing,

Praise him, praise him, God the Lord!

–Quoted in The Pilgrim Hymnal (1931/1935)

Those are the words of a great scholar and poet.

John Stuart Blackie was a native of Scotland.  He debuted at Glasgow on July 28, 1809.  His parents were Helen Stodart Blackie and Alexander Blackie, a prominent banker.  Our saint studied at the New Academy then at Marischal College, Aberdeen, before commencing courses at Glasgow University (1825-1826).  For three years (1826-1829) Blackie studied theology at Aberdeen.  In 1829 he began to spend a few years in Europe.  At first he studied theology in Gottingen and Berlin.  Then Blackie accompanied German diplomat and scholar Christian Charles Josias von Bunsen (1791-1860) to Rome.  Time abroad changed Blackie’s desire to become a minister.  Instead he acquiesced to his father’s wishes and studied law.

Blackie studied law, but his destiny was to become a great scholar of the classics.  In 1834 he published a translation of Faust and joined the Faculty of Advocates.  In May 1839 Blackie received an appointment as Chair of Humanity (Latin) at Marischal College, Aberdeen.  He was unable to take up his duties until November 1841, however, for his refusal to sign the Westminster Confession of Faith without any mental reservations proved to be a problem for the presbytery for a while.  Blackie was enthusiastic about reviving the study of the classics, something he did well.  From 1852 to 1882 he served as Professor of Greek at Edinburgh University.  Late in life he endowed a scholarship to enable students to learn Greek in Athens.

Blackie, who married Elizabeth Wyld in 1842, was vocal about his opinions.  He was generally conservative in theology and radical in politics.  His Scottish nationalism manifested itself in political and literary interests.  Blackie apparently affirmed the proposition that Africans and members of the African diaspora bore the image of God, an opinion too radical for some, including one M.S., who wrote The Adamic Race:  Reply to “Ariel,” Drs. Young and Blackie, on the Negro (1868), arguing:

He has an immortal soul, but not after the image of God,

and other racist assertions.  Blackie could be quite progressive, insisting on inherent human equality.

Our saint was a prolific writer on a range of issues.  His published works included the following:

  1. Faust:  A Tragedy (1834);
  2. Education in Scotland:  An Appeal to the Scottish People of the Improvement of Their Scholastic and Academical Institutions (1846);
  3. The Water Cure in Scotland:  Five Letters from Dunoon, Originally Published in the “Aberdeen Herald,” Now Reprinted (1849);
  4. The Lyrical Dramas of Aeschylus, from the Greek, Volumes I and II (1850);
  5. The Pronunciation of the Greek; Accent and Quality:  A Philological Inquiry (1852);
  6. Classical Literature in Its Relation to the Nineteenth Century and Scottish University Education; An Inaugural Lecture Delivered in the University of Edinburgh, November 2, 1852 (1852);
  7. On the Living Language of the Greeks (1853);
  8. On Beauty:  Three Discourses Delivered in the University of Edinburgh; with an Exposition of the Doctrine of the Beautiful According to Plato (1858);
  9. Lyrical Poems (1860);
  10. Homer and the Iliad, Volumes I, II, III, and IV (1866);
  11. On Democracy:  A Lecture Delivered to the Working Men’s Institute, Edinburgh, on the 3d January 1867 (1867);
  12. On Forms of Government:  A Historical Review and Estimate of the Growth of the Principal Types of Political Organism in Europe from the Greeks and Romans Down to the Present Time; A Lecture Delivered in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, By Request of the Constitutional Association, on Wednesday, April 24, 1867 (1867);
  13. Musa Burschicosa:  A Book of Songs for Students and University Men (1869);
  14. War Songs of the Germans with Historical Illustrations of the Liberation War and the Rhine Boundary Question (1870);
  15. Four Phases of Morals:  Socrates, Aristotle, Christianity, Utilitarianism (1871);
  16. Greek and English Dialogues, for Use in Schools (1871);
  17. On Self-Culture, Intellectual, Physical, and Moral:  A Vade Mecum for Young Men and Students (1874);
  18. Horae Hellenicae:  Essays and Discussions on Some Important Points of Greek Philology and Antiquity (1874);
  19. Songs of Religion and Life (1876);
  20. The Language and Literature of the Scottish Highlands (1876);
  21. The Wise Men of Greece in a Series of Dramatic Dialogues (1877);
  22. The Natural History of Atheism (1878);
  23. The Nile Litany (1878);
  24. Lays and Legends of Ancient Greece (1880);
  25. Lay Sermons (1881);
  26. The Scottish Highlanders and the Land Laws:  An Historico-Economical Enquiry (1885);
  27. Messis Vitae:  Gleanings from a Happy Life (1886);
  28. What Does History Teach Us?  Two Edinburgh Lectures (1886);
  29. Lays of the Highlands and Islands (1888);
  30. Life of Robert Burns (1888);
  31. Scottish Song:  Its Wealth, Wisdom, and Social Significance (1889);
  32. A Song of Heroes (1890);
  33. Essays on Subjects of Moral and Social Interest (1890);
  34. Greek Primer, Colloquial and Constructive (1891);
  35. Christianity and the Ideal of Humanity in Old Times and New (1893);
  36. The Day-Book of John Stuart Blackie (1902), selected and edited by Archibald Stodart-Walker;
  37. The Letters of John Stuart Blackie to His Wife, with a Few Earlier Ones to His Parents (1909), edited by Archibald Stodart-Walker; and
  38. Notes of a Life (1910), edited by Archibald Stodart-Walker.

Blackie also wrote Introductions for books:

  1. Geographical Etymology:  A Dictionary of Place-Names, Giving Their Derivations (1887), by Christina Blackie; and
  2. Comhraidhean an Gaidhlig ‘s am Beurla:  Conversations in Gaelic and English (1892), by Duncan Macinnes.

Posthumous books about Blackie included the following:

  1. John Stuart Blackie:  A Biography, Volumes I and II (1895), by Anna M. Stodart;
  2. The Life of Professor John Stuart Blackie, the Most Distinguished Scotsman of the Day (1896), edited by John M. Duncan;
  3. Professor Blackie:  His Sayings and Doings (1896), by Howard Angus Kennedy; and
  4. The Selected Poems of John Stuart Blackie (1896), edited by Archibald Stodart-Walker.

Late in life Blackie wrote of himself:

I am rather a young old boy and I am one of the happiest creatures under the sun at this moment and my amusement is to sing songs.

–Quoted in Albert C. Ronander and Ethel K. Porter, Guide to the Pilgrim Hymnal (Boston, MA:  Pilgrim Press, 1966), page 60

Our saint died at Edinburgh, Scotland, on March 2, 1895.





O God, you have endowed us with memory, reason, and skill.

We thank you for the faithful legacy of [John Stuart Blackie and all others]

who have dedicated their lives to you and to the intellectual pursuits.

May we, like them, respect your gift of intelligence fully and to your glory.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Psalm 103

Philippians 4:8-9

Mark 12:28-34







Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: