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7 Oct 2021

A private poet: Literary Pastimes of Early Life

Written by Taylah Egbers, Visitor Services Supervisor at the Hill House
The beautiful front cover of Dr Walter G Blackie's published poetry, designed by Talwin Morris
This book is a collection of works produced and shown to a very limited circle of Dr Walter Graham Blackie’s (1816–1906) friends. It was at the request of his family that this small volume was created for private circulation, with our copy being number 3 of only 99.

The Blackie family were meticulous at recording their family memories through images, stories, and detailed books. The family, particularly Walter W Blackie (the original owner of the Hill House), kept the details of many holidays, sailing trips and life events.

This particular book, Literary Pastimes of Early Life (1899), was gifted to Walter W Blackie’s son (also named Walter!) by the author himself, Dr Walter G Blackie (his grandfather/Walter W Blackie’s father). Though this book was printed for a very limited circle of friends, some of the works did appear in The Book of Scottish Song (1843) and The Book of Scottish Ballads (1845), and several in a series of small almanacs issued by the Blackie and Sons publishing company.

The title page and author's photograph in Literary Pastimes of Early Life

Literary Pastimes of Early Life features 19 individual poems about love, Christmas, friendship, and family. It is interesting to note that four of these poems have been translated from German; several members of the Blackie family were bilingual and spent a lot of time in Germany. Dr Walter G Blackie gained his doctorate from the University of Jena whilst on a five-month trip to Germany in 1840. His son, Walter W Blackie, also attended school in Germany as a young man.

A black and white photograph of an older gentleman, Walter W Blackie, in a suit with the jacket buttoned up, standing on a gravel path in the garden of the Hill House. A corner of the house is just visible.
Walter W Blackie in the gardens of the Hill House

The cover for Literary Pastimes of Early Life (seen in the below images) was designed by artist Talwin Morris. Morris was the art director for the Blackie and Sons publishing company, and during his time with the business created many unique and recognisable book designs. Morris is also the connection as to how Walter W Blackie and Charles Rennie Mackintosh were first introduced; the pair would later work together on the creation of the Hill House.

This book is a stunning olive-green colour with an organic line design, highlighted with accents of gold. Entwined on the back cover are the initials for WGB (author), with the front cover featuring Morris’ signature: two dots, followed by a pause and a final single dot. The stylised rendition of Morris’ initials in Morse code is also paired with his elongated TM monogram, found in the lower right-hand corner.

Inside the book, the team also found a lovely author’s note, which says, ‘With the author’s compliments. 1 Belhaven Terrace, Glasgow.’ This was the Blackie family home at the time of the book’s creation in 1899, where they had lived since 1867.

Here is a favourite poem of the Hill House team, ‘Song of the stars’, as it appears in the book (or read on for a typed version).

Song of the stars (1842)

Let sages tell of orbs so fair,

Of sun, and moons, and stars;

And praise the planets ev’ry one–

Earth, Venus, Vesta, Mars;–

I’ll sing of orbs more beauteous far

Than e’er by sage were seen,

Though search’d be all the whirling worlds

That deck the vault serene;–

I’ll sing the stars on earth that dwell,

And beam with living love;

Fair woman’s eyes, whose lustre pales

All stars of heav’n above.

The stars of earth are beauteous gems,

Of many a varied hue;

But dearest of them all to me

Are eyes of bonnie blue.

Blue are the mountains of our land,

And blue her lakes so clear,

Her glens are blue, but bluer far

The eyes of Sally dear.

Of stellar orbs let sages watch

The flight through boundless skies;

I’d rather watch the livelong night,

The beams of Sally’s eyes.

Then sing! then sing! my Sally’s eyes!

Which beam with living love,

Whose lustre pales all starry gems

That spangle heav’n above.


Literary Pastimes of Early Life is one of many interesting memories left by the Blackie family. The Hill House was their home for nearly 50 years, and with that comes many fascinating stories waiting to be discovered in our collection.

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