Edinburgh: The Blind Poet
The Blind Poet is a small pub near the University of Edinburgh. A cosy, literary pub in the Southside of Edinburgh. They attract a mixed bunch, students, locals and tourists alike. Best known for the three B’s – Beer, Banter and Bands; they feature live music several times a week, usually something rock/pop/country based, and also have a weekly open-mic night where anyone can get up and strut their stuff.
For those who like to stretch their brains a little they run a quiz every Sunday evening, and there’s usually a cryptic crossword on the go. They’ve also got a large set of antique Encyclopedia Britannica which make for entertaining browsing! There Ragged University has run numerous events in The Blind Poet with staff who enjoy bringing new life in…
Named After Thomas Blacklock
Thomas Blacklock was born in Annan in 1741, the son of a Cumberland bricklayer. Before he reached six months he contracted smallpox, which he survived, but was left completely blind – Jenner was not to discover the smallpox vaccination for another 55 years, technically making Blacklock one of the lucky ones.
His parents cared for their son admirably, and he later talked of them with “the greatest warmth of gratitude and affection”, but in 1721 (when Blacklock was 19) his father died in an accident. A friend owned a malt roasting kiln which was burning the grain. Blacklock Snr offered to check the brickwork as a favour, but while he was inspecting it the main beam collapsed, crushing him under eighty tons of malted barley. With his financial support gone, Thomas was forced to make a living elsewhere, and at the invitation of one Dr Stevenson he moved to Edinburgh to complete the schooling started by his parents.
Poetry was the main form of commercial writing in 18th Century Scotland, prose a very poor second, and Blacklock quickly developed a reputation, especially (and ironically) of visually vivid poetry. After writing two volumes he found himself financially self-sufficient and moved into Nicolson House, the large residential house (then on the outskirts of the city) which now houses The Peartree, the Blind Poet pub and The Counting House. Edinburgh University was well established at this point in history, and local students would frequent the house, cooking and cleaning for the now Doctor Blacklock, and receiving informal tuition in poetry, Latin, Greek and French in return.
In 1786 a contemporary of Blacklock’s indroduced him to a young Ayreshire poet by the name of Robert Burns. Burns was establishing a reputation as a poet, but had become disillusioned and was planning to emigrate to Jamaica. Blacklock encouraged the young Burns to persevere with his poetry and to mix with the Edinburgh literary circles where he was already well thought of. Burns later recorded his decision in a letter to Dr Moore:
I had taken the last farewell of my friends; my chest was on the road to Greenock; I had composed my last song I should ever measure in Caledonia… when a letter from Dr Blacklock to a friend of mine overthrew all my schemes by rousing my poetic ambition. The Doctor belonged to a set of Critics for whose applause I had not even dared to hope. His idea that I would meet with every encouragement for a second edition fired me so much that away I posted to Edinburgh without a single acquaintance in town.
This one letter of encouragement to a young poet would prove enormously influential – the Burns suppers celebrated the world over owe almost as much to Edinburgh’s Blind Poet as they do to Burns himself.
Dr Blacklock died in 1791 at the age of 70. He is buried in St Cuthbert’ Chapel around thirty metres from the pub that bears his name, and shares the graveyard with one William Topaz McGonagall.
Hi I’m George Fyvie I run Pear Tree House Partnership which encompasses The Pear Tree (with Edinburgh’s biggest beer garden), The Counting House function suites and the Blind Poet live music bar. I have been in the bar trade for 19 years now and I have always believed that the “pub” is a local community hub and should always be giving back to the community as much as it receives.
I have been involved with housing various groups over the years, from Edinburgh Forteans society, Edinburgh Sceptics, Games clubs, book clubs – you name it! I always enthusiastically embrace different groups and help them as much as I can.
When Alex Dunedin described ragged university to me I thought to myself – what a great concept, id love to help – what can I do to support him. Then I thought to myself – of course – become a community hub for him to approach and meet people from all walks of life, from university lecturers and judges to authors to your average Joe Bloggs.
I also offered him the use of the Counting House- a perfect venue to host talks and use the space for providing free education. Ragged is a fantastic concept and deserves to be fully embraced by the masses who wish to learn and expand upon the fountain of knowledge and I for one will always be an advent supporter.
George Fyvie – ‘To receive guests is to take charge of their happiness during the entire time they are under your roof’ Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. (1755-1826)