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The Life of Hugh Miller
Chapter I


His Parentage— The story of the little doggies— His Father goes to sea—The Character of his Father —The Mutiny—Service in the Royal Navy—His Father's first marriage and early bereavement—The Shipwreck.

The life of Hugh Miller is that of no ordinary man and is fraught with no ordinary lessons. The triumphs achieved by such a man as George Stephenson were great triumphs, but not so great nor beneficial in their issues as those achieved by Hugh Miller. The Northumbrian miner had, doubtless, greater difficulties to contend with in prosecuting his education in the department of letters than any which met the Cromarty mason; for the latter received a more liberal education it school than boys in the rank of life in which he was born generally receive in any part of Scotland. The difference between George Stephenson and Hugh Miller does not lie so much in the relative range and grasp of their mental capacities, as in the relative value to mankind of their respective life labours; and although those of the former fill a larger space in the world's history, there can, we think, be no doubt that the life of the latter will ultimately yield more precious benefits to the species than even that of the former. The stock from which Hugh Miller sprung was a right noble stock; and it is proper, before attempting to unfold his life, that we devote some attention to his progenitors. Next to information respecting a great man himself, we naturally desire information regarding the line from which he descended. What would mankind not give to know intimately what sort of man the father of Shakespere was, for example! Some meagre details we indeed possess of that gentleman, but these serve rather to whet than to satisfy our curiosity respecting him. Fortunately for us, Hugh Miller wrote the story of his own life before his eye was dim or his natural strength abated; and in that delightful book, " My Schools and Schoolmasters, " he has not only drawn himself in juster proportions than any one else could have done, but he has presented us with a striking portrait of his father, and bold outlines, which the imaginative reader ean easily fill up, of his grandfather and several of his more immediate relatives.

It must be highly satisfactory to those of us who respect a man in proportion to the strength of his claims to an ancestry which has made some noise in the world, to know that the ancestry of Hugh Miller originated in an antiquity so remote that it can, with difficulty be traced to its source, and that, if it did not distinguish itself by plundering its neighbours upon land, as the ancestry of many of our nobler families has done, it is by no means certain that it invariably respected the distinction between "mine and thine" upon the sea. Hugh Miller himself says that he " was descended from a long line of seafaring men—skilful and adventurous sailors—some of whom had coasted along the Scottish shores as early as the times of Sir Andrew Wood, and the 4 bold bartons, and mayhap helped to man that varra monstrous schippe, the "Great Michael," (the "Great Eastern" of her time) that cumbered all Scotland to get her to sea. Although there is apparently no proof of any of the family having been sea rovers in those early days he would be a bold man who would affirm that they had not. It is certain, however that in later times one of them did cruise in the Spanish main, and helped himself to Spanish gold with no scrupulous hand. This respectable gentleman, who was named John Fiddes, was one of the last of the buccaneers, and as we shall see, had a trick of revisiting this earth long after he ought to have ceased to take any interest in its affairs.

The family, we are informed, took as naturally to the water as the Newfoundland dog or the duckling, and, as the sea had been by no means so tender to the family as it ought to have been, considering their affection for it, the mother of Hugh Miller's father attempted to avert from her son what seemed to be the hereditary fate, by committing him to the care of a sister who was married to a farmer and lived at some distance from the sea. This arrangement might have had the desired result, but—

"There's a Divinity doth shape our ends,
Rough hew them as we will; "

and the divinity who marred the judicious rough hewing of good Mrs. Miller of Cromarty was Mercy. This is how it happened—"Rather more than eighty years ago," aays Hugh Miller, in "My Schools and Schoolmasters" a stout little boy in his sixth or seventh year, was despatched from an old-fashion farm-house, in the upper part of the parish of Cromarty, to drown a litter of puppies in an adjacent pond. The commision seemed to be not in the least congenial. He sat down beside the pond to cry over his charge, and, finally, after wasting much time in a paroxysm of indecision and sorrow, instead of committing the puppies to the water, he tucked them up in his little kilt, and set out by a blind pathway, which went winding through the stunted heath of the dreary Malbouy Common, in a direction opposite to that of t\e farm-house—his home for the two previous twelvemonths. After some doubtful wandering on the waste, he succeeded in reaching before nightfall the neighbouring seaport town, and presented himself, laden with his charge at his mother's door. The poor woman, a sailor's widow in very humble circumstances, raised her hands in astonishment: "Oh, my unlucky boy," she exclaimed, "What's this?—what brings you here?" "The little doggies, mither," said the boy, "I couldna drown the little doggies, and I took them to you. "

History is silent respecting the fate of the "little doggies;" but we trust they were saved from premature death by drowning, and lived to remember their youthful benefactor with gratitude. It was this tenderness of heart for the poor puppies which deranged all the well-laid plans of the sailor's widow. The boy would not return to the farm; and as a mother will rather break her own heart than refuse a son anything upon which he has set the affections of his, she permitted him to follow the family profession. That bold coast line of Cromarty is the sort of soil upon which brave and sturdy men are raised; and by and by the boy who was too tender hearted to drown the "doggies," grew up to be a brave and sturdy man. His height never exceeded five feet eight inches; but he was broad shouldered, deep chested, strong limbed, and so compact of bone and muscle, that in a ship-of-the-line, in which he afterwards sailed, there was not, says his son, among five hundred able-bodied seamen, a man who could lift so great a weight, or grapple with him upon equal terms. He was, however, something more than a strong-bodied man, his mind was equally vigorous, and as his education had been neglected in youth, he perfected it under the care of an Irishman, during the long Indian and Chinese voyages. He soon learned to keep a log book, and to take a reckoning, and acquired a keen taste for reading. He was also a careful, prudent, and sober man, and made his first money by storing up instead of drinking his grog, adding to the stock, thus acquired, by trading on a small scale on his own account with the natives of foreign parts in articles of curiosity and vertu, for which his son suspects the Custom-house dues were not always paid. A sterling man he seems to have been, with a clear head, a fresh, warm heart, and a character against which no breath of calumny could be breathed; but he had his wild blood in him, too, which could boil up on occasion when provoked, as the following anecdote proves:—"On a protracted and tedious voyage in a large East Indiaman, he had, with the rest of the crew, been subjected to harsh usage by a stern capricious captain; but, secure of relief on reaching port he had borne uncomplainingly with it all. His comrade and quondam teacher, the Irishman, was, however, less patient; and for remonstrating with the tyrant, as one of a deputation of the seamen, in what was deemed a mutinous spirit, he was laid hold of, and was in the course of being ironed down to the deck under a tropical sun, when his quieter comrade, with his blood now heated to the boiling point, stepped aft, and, with apparent calmness, re-stated the grievance. The captain drew a loaded pistol from his belt; the sailor struck up his hand; and as the bullet whistled through the rigging above, he grappled with him and disarmed him in a trice. The crew rose, and in a few moments the ship was all their own. But having failed to calculate on such a result, they knew not what to do with their charge; and acting under the advice of their new leader, who felt to the full the embarrassing nature of their position, they were content simply to demand the redress of their grievances as their terms of surrender ; when untowardly for their claims, a ship of war hove in sight much in want of men, and bearing down upon the Indiaman, the mutiny was at once suppressed and the leading mutineers sent aboard the armed vessel, accompanied by a grave charge, and the worst possible of characters. Luckily for them, however, and especially luckily for the Irishman and his friend, the war-ship was so weakened by scurvy—at that time the untamed pest of the navy—that scarce two dozen of her crew could do duty aloft. A fierce tropical tempest, which broke out not long after, pleaded powerfully in their favour, and the affair terminated in the ultimate promotion of the Irishman to the office of ship-schoolmaster, and of his Scotch comrade to the captaincy of the fore-top. "

Such were the circumstances under which the father of Hugh Miller entered H. M.'s service in the Royal Navy. He did not like the service, although he was a loyal seaman both in storm and battle, and had several opportunities of distinguishing himself before an enemy. He was in the celebrated action off the Dogger Bank, and, as the ship was indifferently manned at the time, the sturdy Miller served a gun against two of the crew. Strong as he was, such labour was too much for him, and when the enemy drifted to leeward and the excitement of the battle had passed away, he was so much exhausted that he was unable to lift a marling-spike to the level of his face. While in this condition, a signal passed along the line that the Dutch fleet were bearing down to renew the engagement, and so readily did the spirit of the man respond to the trumpet call of duty that he renewed his former labour and felt as vigorous as he had done when the action commenced.

As we have already stated, he did not like the navy. It was a very different place then than it is now, and accordingly he gave it the slip one fine morning, and, coming home, found himself possessed of as much money as enabled him to buy a fine large sloop and marry his cousin's daughter, of whom he had become enamoured when he was a little boy learning his letters with his cousin just mentioned. He found this cousin living in a house which had been left her by their mutual grandfather—the Spanish buccaneer, John Fiddes—a house three rooms in length, with the windows of its second storey half buried in the eaves, a style of habitation common to that age and district of country. This house was refitted with the sailor's money, but the sailor's wife had a weakly constitution, unfitted for this rude world with its cruel shocks and sorrows, and she was not destined to cheer the home of her sailor husband long. Her constitution received a violent shock on one occasion on witnessing that husband plunge into the sea during a strong receeding tide, to save one of his men from drowning and she had not recovered that when she sustained a second blow, by a half-witted creature suddenly communicating to her a false report that her husband's sloop, husband and all, had been captured by the French. In less than a week after this intelligence reached her, she was dead, and long before her husband's return from his voyage she had been laid in the quiet family burying-place. The reader must imagine the sorrow of the tender-hearted seaman upon his return to his wifeless home. The hand of time, however, is as tender as it is ruthless and the sore wound healed up, and prosperity attended the voyager. A site was purchased for a new house beside that which had been built with the Spanish doubloons of buccaneering John, and a house was ultimately built upon it for himself and his mother-in-law, which cost four hundred pounds. But the new house was not to be inhabited by its builder, for we are informed that, ere it was fairly finished he was overtaken by a calamity which, to a man of less energy, would have been ruin.

"Early in November, 1797," says Hugh Miller, "two vessels, the one a smack in the London and Inverness trade, the other the master's (his father's) square-rigged sloop, lay wind-bound for a few days on their passage north, in the port of Peterhead. The weather, which had been stormy and unsettled,-moderated towards the evening of the fifth day of their detention, and the wind chopping suddenly into the east, both vessels loosed from their moorings, and as a rather gloomy day was passing into still gloomier night, they bore out to sea. The breeze soon freshened into a gale; the gale swelled into a hurricane, accompanied by a thick snow storm, and when early next morning the smack opened the Firth, she was staggering under her storm-jib, and mainsail reefed to the cross. Whatever wind may blow, there is always shelter within the Suters, and she was soon riding at anchor in the roadstead; but she had entered the bay alone, and when the day broke, and for a brief interval the driving snow-rack cleared up towards the east, no second sail appeared in the offing. "Poor Miller" exclaimed the master of the smack, "if he does not enter the Firth ere an hour, he will never enter it at all. Good sound vessel, and better sailor never stepped between stem and stern; but last night has, I fear, been too much for him. He should have been here long ere now." The hour passed away, and the day itself wore heavily in gloom and tempest, and as not only the master, but the crew of the sloop were natives of the place, groups of the townfolks might be seen, so long as the daylight lasted, looking out into the storm for the salient points of the old coast-line that, rising immediately behind the houses, commands the Firth. But the sloop came not, and before they had retired to their homes a second night had fallen dark and tempestuous as the first.

"Ere morning the weather moderated, a keen frost bound up the wind in its icy fetters, and during the following day, though a heavy swell continued to roll shorewards between the Suters, and sent up its white foam high against the cliffs, the surface of the sea had become glassy and smooth. But the day wore on, and evening again fell, and even the most sanguine relinquished all hope of ever again seeing the sloop or the crew. There was grief in the master's dwelling—grief in no degree the less poignant from the circumstance that it was the tearless uncomplaining greif of rigid old age. Her two youthful friends and their mother watched at the window now> as it seemed left alone in the world. The town clock had struck the hour of midnight, and still she remained, as if fixed to her seat, absorbed in silent stupifying sorrow, when a heavy foot was heard pacing along the now silent street. It passed and and returned, ceased for a moment nearly opposite the window, then approached the door, where there was a second pause; and then there succeeded a faltering knock that struck on the very hearts of the inmates within. One of the girls sprang up, and on undoing the bolt, shrieked out, as the door fell open, "Oh, Mistress, here is Jack Grant, the mate!". Jack, a tall, powerful seaman, but apparently in a state of utter exhaustion, staggered, rather than walked, in, and flung himself into a chair. 'Jack,' said the old woman, seizing him convulsively by both his hands, 'where's my cousin? where's Hugh?' 'The master's safe and well,' said Jack, 'but the poor 'Friendship' lies in spales on the bar of Findhorn.' 'God be praised,' ejaculated the widow, 'let the gear go!' "


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