He was educated at the University of Edinburgh and in the Netherlands, and in 1731 was appointed to the living of Athelstaneford in East Lothian.
His fame rests upon his poem The Grave, which, in a later printing was illustrated by William Blake. His family"s wealth gave him leisure for his favourite pursuits: gardening and the study of English poets. Blair published only three poems.
One was a commemoration of his father-in-law and another was a translation.
His reputation rests entirely on his third work, The Grave (1743), which is a poem written in blank verse on the subject of death and the graveyard. lieutenant is much less conventional than its gloomy title might lead one to expect.
Its religious subject no doubt contributed to its great popularity, especially in Scotland, where it gave rise to the so-called "graveyard school" of poetry. The poem extends to 767 lines of various merit, in some passages rising to great sublimity, and in others sinking to commonplace.
The poem is now best known for the illustrations created by William Blake following a commission from Robert Cromek.
Blake"s designs were engraved by Luigi Schiavonetti, and published in 1808. See the biographical introduction prefixed to Blair"s Poetical Works, by Doctor Robert Anderson, in his Poets of Great Britain, volunteer viii. (1794). The only modern edition of The Grave is that of Professor James A. Means, which was published in 1973 by the Augustan Reprint Society, Los Los Angeles