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Anthony Blackwall (1672(-4?) - 1730) Classics Scholar

The following newspaper article is pasted in the back of the manuscript "The Descent and History of the family of Blackwall de Blackwall in the county of Derby", owned by John Mair of Islay, Alberta, Canada. No source or date for the article are given. (please tell us if you know).
Transcribed by Paul Petersen August 1996.


The third in our series features Anthony Blackwall whose picture (above (pictureTBD, volunteers?)) is taken from an engraving in Derby Art Gallery.


Midway between Ashbourne and Wirksworth, where the hills sweep down boldly from Hognaston, and tinkling streams make their way to secluded meadows, Anthony Blackwall, famed headmaster of Derby School and celebrated classical scholar, was born in 1674.

Here, within the parish of Kirk Ireton in the tiny Derbyshire hamlet that bears the family name, the Blackwalls had lived for generations: and it was in this wild and lovely part of the county that the boy whose writings were to have a profound effect upon the whole of Christendom spent his childhood. At about the age of eight he went to the old Derby Grammar School in St. Peter's Churchyard, where began a lifetime of study.

Founded in 1215, when King John was summoning his barons to Runnymede, Derby School had, by that time, acquired a reputation in the county for its sound teaching, and it was a wise choice when Anthony Blackwall was sent there. So diligently did he absorb his lessons that by the age of sixteen he was awarded a sizarship (scholarship with certain duties) to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, which he entered on September 30, 1690.


During his university years, Anthony took his B.A. and M.A. degrees and shortly afterward, being then only twenty-four, he returned to Derbyshire and became headmaster of his old school.  Coupled with this appointment was the position of Friday lecturer of All Saints' Church, for which he received the sum of oe20 per year, given by Richard Crawshaw, of Markeaton.

Anthony Blackwall, who was soon known affectionately the "the good old schoolmaster," remained at Derby School for nearly twenty-four years, and has since been recognised as one of Derbyshire's great head-masters. This acknowledgement of his merits was due to his outside activities in the field of literature as well as the number of eminent men who had once been his pupils. At Derby School he evolved his own system of teaching Latin grammar, which friends later persuaded him to make public. Modestly and reluctantly Blackwall agreed to an anonymous version, saying that he "did not wish to prescribe rules of teaching to others."

Apart from his school duties, Blackwall's chief interest lay in the study of works by the old Greek writers, and in 1706 his first literary venture, the translation of a greek thesis, was published. It was not until 1718 that his well-known "Introduction to the Classics" appeared, vividly written from his rich store of knowledge. Other editions of this popular work followed, up to and after his death, and nearly a hundred years later it was again re-issued as "Blackwall's Introduction to the Classics."


In his forty-eighth year, Blackwall came under the influence of Sir Wolstan Dixie of Leicestershire and, at his request, at last left Derby to take over the grammar school at Market Bosworth.  With fewer distractions here than in a growing town like Derby, he produced the first volume of his most memorable work, "The Sacred Classics."

In Blackwall's own word he "humbly offered to prove the Purity, Propriety and True Eloquence of the New Testament," refuting those who, until then had believed much of the book to be falsely translated. He had delved deep for proof that this was the original work of the most reputable old Greek writers. Many learned men spoke openly of Blackwall's wasted labour, but their dissenting voices did not daunt this great Derbyshire scholar, who remained confident of the integrity of his work.

The "good old schoolmaster" did not stay long at Market Bosworth, for when the offer came from Sir Henry Atkins, one of his old pupils, of a living in Surrey, he went up to London to await ordination. During his examination (by a young chaplain, on the Greek Testament, a bishop, who was an old friend of his, interrupted by saying, "Mr. Blackwall knows more of the Greek Testament than you do, or I to help you!" But Blackwall's restless mind was not a home in the duties of a parish priest; and within three years he came back to teach at Market Bosworth, at a salary considerably less than he had received as an incumbent.


Unfortunately his return period in Leicestershire was to be of short duration, for he died in the following year. During those few months, though, he had the good fortune to meet Samuel Johnson, who was then unknown and, being "in a forlorn state of circumstances," quite glad to work at the school as "usher." The dates of the great man's arrival and departure are not very clear, but for some months at least he was Blackwall's assistant.  By all accounts it was an unenviable position, and Sir Wolstan Dixie's control of the school is said to have "weighed very heavily upon him." In later life Dr. Johnson preferred to forget these "lean" years.

A few months before he died, Anthony Blackwall completed the final volume of his "Sacred Classics," and before laying down his pen wrote, "The task has been done not without very great labour and pains, though accompanied with pleasure." And among those pleasures, no doubt, he counted the friendship of the famous Dr. Ralph Doddridge, who later founded the first Nonconformist training college, and was the writer of many well-known hymns.

He spoke highly of the value of Blackwall's work. In his appreciation of the "Sacred Classics," Doddridge was more farseeing than many of the Church of England dignitaries, who were at the time among Blackwall's sternest critics. But long after his death they came to realise the oundness of the ideas that he had expressed on the New Testament.


More than a century was to elapse before theological students began to appreciate fully Blackwall's immense work on the New Testament. He was a thinker who was to least a hundred years ahead of his time, and like many others he had not found it easy to convince his contemporaries. Although it is the ideas contained in the volumes that have since been adapted for general use, there is no doubt that specialists still find interest in the books as originally written.

Anthony Blackwall spent the last eight years of his short life away from Derby, but he retained many intimate connections with the town. His second wife was the widow of Mr. Cantrell, his redecessor at Derby School, and the mother of Henry Cantrell, one-time vicar of St. Alkmund's. And among his grandchildren one married a Derby bookseller named William Cantrell.

When death came peacefully on April 8, 1730, at the school-house, Market Bosworth, Anthony Blackwall's passing gave far less concern than would have been so a hundred years later. Only then was the true greatness of his writing accepted and Derbyshire has much to be proud of in this forthright Christian thinker.

This newspaper article on the Scholar, Anthony Blackwall has been transcribed August 1996 by Paul Petersen. Thank you Paul. DCB


The article was pasted into a copy of the book "The Descent and History of the family of Blackwall de Blackwall in the county of Derby. This book, which is owned by my wife's uncle in Alberta, seems to be a hand made copy of the one that is on the video tape you sent to me. It looks like it was done, in part, by the same person that did the book in England as the illustrations are very similar in style. A second part of the book is in a totally different hand. On blank pages in the back of the book, a number of newspaper articles have been pasted. However, there is no information as to the dates of publication or the names of the newspapers from which they are clipped. (If anyone can identify the source of this article please tell us. DCB)

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