Hidden History: Writing and Watermarks–John Rennie Blake

Between 1871 and 1877, Davidson College was without a president. The College was not, however, lacking in leadership. Following President George Wilson McPhail’s death in 1871, the Board of Trustees decided to replace the role of president with a chairman. The new role was assumed by Professor John Rennie Blake (1825-1900) from Greenwood, South Carolina. Professor Blake was educated at the University of Georgia and Harvard University’s Lawrence Scientific School. Prior to his election as a professor of Natural Philosophy in 1861, Professor Blake also served as an educator at the Presbyterian Female School in  Georgia and LaGrange Synodical College in Tennessee. Although governing a college during post-civil war reconstruction was no easy feat, Davidson produced two notable alumni under Professor Blake: Woodrow Wilson (attending from 1873-1874) and Robert Broadnax Glenn (class of 1875) who went on to be the first Davidson alum elected governor of North Carolina. Unfortunately for Professor Blake, the Board of Trustees moved to reinstate the office of the president to the college in 1877 and, not being ordained by the Presbyterian Church, Blake was ineligible for presidency. However, he remained on campus acting as the College’s Vice-President and teaching astronomy and natural philosophy courses until resigning in 1885.

The Davidson College Archives holds a document by Professor Blake with a remarkably clear watermark and a reflection on the importance of classic poetry, transcribed below. Favorite Watermark.png

The Poet – John Rennie Blake (date unknown)

We would fain survey the unfading laurels won by the Poets tunefull [sic] hands. And who merites [sic] more the praise and love of man? They enhance the glories of worthy, and the depravities of the aricious [sic]. They beat the strains gentle yet startling which the wourld [sic] hears and bending listens with alternate ebbs and flows of soul as glory, or crime is the burden of the song. He may not now—as once—like the schrill [sic] tones of the clarion call to battle but he can breath a melody that will come upon the troubled heart “like an angel’s whisper.” We “brings fresh showers to the fainting flowers.” The stern realities of life melt by the soft touch of his magic wound with his sweets that sink into the inmost heart. He creates “pure fountains of thought” whose cooling waters “change the barren desert of the heart into a green oasis, as reviving to the troubled soul, as the breath to the fevered brow. The tears of bitterness, the sighs of woe—the greifs [sic] an cares that embitter the young heart—die silently away before the magic influence of the poet. Who can tell the genial flow of soul, the fervent gushings of feeling, and the divings of thought into thoughs [sic] boundless sea to bring to light some “precious pearl of truth,” that have been incited by such gifted minds, and eloquent tongues. What patriot amid the general rejoicings and the glory of his country does not see that glory enhanced and illuminated by the shining literary lights that start its skies. Supose [sic] that the sacred scroll bearing the gilded, and emblazoning names of Shakespeare, Milton, Biron [sic], and many others, should be cast into the fountain of oblivion. Is that would then harmonize the discordant elements that would then rime [sic] throughout Old Europe. Around what human after could mankind then bow in common and mutual veneration But thanks to the age those names can never perish. What lights in the distance “which lends an enhancement to the view” would then shine upon the path of the solitary scholar to pilot him to the temple of fame. The influence of the tryumphs [sic] of poetry are coexistent with time. In conclusion I will give an example of genuine poetry which cannot fail to touch the coldest heart.  

Jack and Bill went up the hill 

After a bucket of water 

Jack fell down and broke his crown 

And Bill came tumbling after 

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