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The Scottish Nation
Miller


MILLER, the name of a family possessing a baronetcy of Great Britain, conferred in 1788 on Sir Thomas Miller of Barskimming in Ayrshire, and Glenlee in Galloway, a distinguished lawyer and judge, second son of Mr. William Miller, writer to the signet. He was born 3d November 1717, and admitted advocate at the Scottish bar, 21st February 1742. In 1748 he was nominated sheriff of the stewartry of Kirkcudbright, and the same year was elected joint principal clerk of the city of Glasgow. These offices he resigned in 1755 on being appointed solicitor to the excise in Scotland. On 17th March 1759 he became solicitor-general, and on 30th April 1760, he was constituted lord-advocate. The following year he was chosen M.P. for Dumfries. In November 1762 he was elected rector of the university of Glasgow, and on 14th June 1766, on the death of Sir Gilbert Elliot of Minto, appointed lord-justice-clerk. On 15th January 1788, he succeeded Robert Dundas of Arniston as president of the court of session, and on February 19 of the same year was created a baronet. He died at his seat of Barskimming September 27, 1789. He was twice married, and by his first wife, a daughter of John Murdoch, Esq. of Rosebank, lord provost of Glasgow, he had a son and a daughter. Burns, in his ‘Vision,’ alludes to Sir Thomas Miller as “An aged judge dispensing good.”

The son, Sir William Miller, second baronet, also an eminent judge, was admitted advocate, 9th August 1777. At the keenly contested election in 1780, he was returned M.P. for the city of Edinburgh, in opposition to Sir Lawrence Dundas, and took his seat in parliament; but was unseated upon a petition, and his opponent declared duly elected. On 23d May, 1795, he was appointed a lord of session, when he took the title of Lord Glenlee. He resigned his seat in 1840, having been a judge for above forty-five years. Besides being an accomplished scholar, he was esteemed one of the best lawyers of his time on the Scottish bench. He died in 1816. He was the senior vice-president of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and was frequently vice-president of the Society of Scottish Antiquaries, of which he was the first admitted fellow (of date 1781), and oldest member. He married Grizel, daughter of George Chalmers, Esq., by whom he had 6 sons and 3 daughters.

His eldest son, Thomas Miller, Esq., predeceased his father in 1827. by his wife, the youngest daughter of Sir Alexander Penrose-Gordon-Cumming, baronet, he had five sons. The eldest son, Sir William Miller, third baronet, born in Edinburgh in 1815, married in 1839 the eldest daughter of Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas M’Mahon, baronet, K.C.B., issue, 2 sons and 2 daughters. He was educated at Eton, and was for some years an officer in the 12th Lancers; appointed a magistrate for Ayrshire in 1838, succeeded his grandfather as 3d baronet, May 9, 1846, made a knight commander of the order of the Temple in January the same year.

The second son of the second baronet, Lieutenant-colonel William Miller, 1st Foot guards, was mortally wounded at Quatre Bras, June 16, 1815, and died at Brussels the following day. “In his last mortal scene,” says a letter dated Brussels, June 23, 1815, published at the time, “he displayed the soul and the spirit of a hero. On finding himself wounded, he sent for Colonel Thomas (who was killed two days afterwards, at Waterloo) – “’Thomas,’ said he, ‘I feel I am mortally wounded; I am pleased to think that it is my fate rather than yours, whose life is involved in that of your young wife.’ After a pause, he said faintly, ‘I should like to see the colours of the regiment once more before I quit them for ever.’ They were brought to him, and waved round his wounded body. His countenance brightened, he smiled; and declaring himself satisfied, he was carried from the field. In all this you will see the falling of a hero – a delicacy of sentiment, a self-devotion, and a resignation, which have never been surpassed.” His remains were interred at Brussels, in a cemetery where lie many of the more distinguished of the heroes who fell at Quatre Bras and Waterloo. On a monumental stone erected to his memory, with a suitable inscription, it is stated that he was thirty-one years old at the time of his death.

MILLER, HUGH, the first of Scottish geologists, was born in Cromarty, in the north of Scotland, October 10th, 1802. His father, the owner and commander of a sloop in the coasting trade, who had served in the British navy, perished in a storm in November 1807, when Hugh was just five years of age. He was descended from a long line of seafaring men, and he mentions two uncles of his father, sailors, one of whom had sailed round the world with Anson, and the other, like himself, perished at sea. The paternal grandfather of Hugh, when entering the firth of Cromarty, was struck overboard during a sudden gust, by the boom of his vessel, and never rose again. His great-grandfather, whose name was John Feddes, was one of the last of the buccaneers.

Previous to his father’s death, Hugh had been sent to a dame’s school, where he remained a year, and was taught to pronounce his letters in the old Scottish mode, a peculiarity which he could never get quit of. He was subsequently transferred to the parish grammar school, where he made some progress in the rudiments of the Latin language. He was a great reader, and as he read every book that came in his way, he thus came to acquire, in course of time, a vast fund of information.

Even at this early period his turn for geological enquiries began to develop itself. “The shores of Cromarty,” he says, in his ‘Schools and Schoolmasters,’ “are strewed over with water-rolled fragments of the primary rocks, derived chiefly from the west during the ages of the boulder clay; and I soon learned to take a deep interest in sauntering over the various pebble-beds when shaken up by recent storms, and in learning to distinguish their numerous components.” From his uncle Sandy, whom he used frequently to accompany in his evening walks along the seashore, he derived some insight into natural history, and especially conchology. He subsequently extended his researches to the Hill of Cromarty and the caves in the Cromarty Sutors, and began to make collections. Even in his school days he set about writing poetry, so that he soon came to be looked upon as a sort of village prodigy. He was afterwards sent to a subscription school which had been opened in his native place, where he only remained a few months. On quitting it, which he did abruptly, in consequence of a severe drubbing which he had received from the schoolmaster, he revenged himself by writing a satirical poem, which he styled ‘The Pedagogue.’

At the age of 17 he was bound apprentice to an uncle-in-law, a stone mason, to serve for the space of three years. He was set to work in the quarries of Cromarty. “The quarry,” he says, “in which I commenced my life of labour was a sandstone one, and exhibited in the section of the furze-covered bank which it presented, a bar of deep red stone beneath, and a bar of pale red clay above. Both deposits belonged to formations equally unknown at the time to the geologist. Save for the wholesome restraint that confined me for day after day to this spot, I should perhaps have paid little attention to either. It was the necessity which made me a quarrier that taught me to be a geologist.” Though both a skilful and vigorous workman, he never seems to have taken kindly to his trade; nor did he either associate or sympathize with his fellow-masons. He was seldom with his fell-w-masons, except when at work, and he spent the hours, which they devoted to jollity and drinking, in a close and enthusiastic reading of poetry and science.

After working for some years as a country mason, storing his mind all the time, by reading and observations, with a knowledge of the facts and processes of nature, Mr. Miller, on reaching the age of twenty-one, resolved upon going to Edinburgh, and making his way as a mechanic among the stone-cutters of the Scottish capital, perhaps, as he says, the most skilful in their profession in the world. He soon got employment from a master-builder, and was engaged to work at a manor house near the village of Niddry Mill, a few miles to the south of Edinburgh, at twenty-four shillings a-week wages. On a reduction of the wages of the men to fifteen shillings, a strike took place, in which, however, he took no part.

In 1824 occurred the memorable fires in the parliament close and High Street of Edinburgh, and a building mania having thereafter set in, which ended disastrously in a year or two, mason-work was for a time exceedingly plentiful in that city. Mr. Miller, however, finding his lungs affected, from the dust of the stone which he had been hewing for the previous two years lodging in them, instead of taking employment in Edinburgh, returned to Cromarty to recruit his health. “I was,” he says, “too palpably sinking in flesh and strength to render it safe for me to encounter the consequences of another season of hard work as a stone-cutter. From the stage of the malady at which I had already arrived, poor workmen, unable to do what I did, throw themselves loose from their employment, and sink in six or eight months into the grave – some at an earlier, some at a later period of life; but so general is the affection, that few of our Edinburgh stone-cutters pass their fortieth year unscathed, and not one out of every fifty of their number ever reaches his forty-fifth year.”

On recovering from a long and depressing illness, he resolved upon following a higher branch of the art than ordinary stone-cutting. This was the hewing of ornate dial stones, sculptured tablets and tombstone inscriptions. It was an advantage to him that his new branch of employment brought him sometimes for a few days into country districts, and among solitary churchyards, which presented new fields of observation, and opened up new tracts of inquiry. But of this sort of work there was not a superabundance, at least in that locality, and about the end of June 1828, Mr. Miller found that he had nothing to do, and acting on the advice of a friend, who believed that his style of cutting inscriptions could not fail to secure for him a good many little jobs in the churchyards of Inverness, he visited that place, and inserted a brief advertisement in one of the newspapers, soliciting employment. While waiting for it, he was accosted one day in the street by the recruiting sergeant of a Highland regiment, who asked him if he did not belong to the Aird. “No, not to the Aird, to Cromarty,” he replied. “Ah! To Cromarty – very fine place! But would you not better bid adieu to Cromarty, and come along with me? We have a capital grenadier company; and in our regiment a stout steady man is always sure to get on.” Mr. Miller thanked him, but of course declined the invitation.

While at Inverness he first “rushed into print.” Selecting some of his best pieces in verse, he got them printed in a volume in the office of the Inverness Courier, the editor of that paper, Mr. Robert Carruthers, inserting from time to time some of them in his “poet’s corner.” The volume was published without his name. On the title-page it was simply intimated that the poems had been “written in the leisure hours of a journeyman mason,” and, thus modestly announced, the book, for a first effort, was very favourably received. On his return to Cromarty he began to contribute a series of letters, on the herring fishery, to the newspaper above mentioned. These letters attracted attention, and were republished, on his behalf, by the proprietors of the paper, “in consequence of the interest they had excited in the northern counties.” His Verses and his Letters soon enlarged the circle of his friends, and amongst others, Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, baronet, author of the ‘Wolf of Badenoch,’ and other works, Miss Dunbar of Boath, and Principal Baird of Edinburgh, showed him much kindness. The latter urged him to quit the north and proceed to Edinburgh, as the proper field for a literary man in Scotland, but as he did not think that he could enj9y equal opportunities of acquainting himself with the occult and the new in natural science, as when plying his labours in the provinces as a mechanic, he determined to continue for some years more in the country. At the principal’s desire, however, he wrote for him an autobiographic sketch of his life, to his return from Edinburgh to Cromarty in 1825.

Mr. Miller next set himself to record, in his leisure hours, the traditions of his native place and the surrounding district, and a bulky manuscript volume soon grew up under his hands. All this time he lost no opportunity of continuing his geological researches, and, gradually advancing in discoveries, in course of time he came to have a thorough knowledge of the extinct organisms of the primitive world. Many of his friends wished to fix him down to literature as his proper walk, but he himself thought that his special vocation was science, and he accordingly devoted his mind to it with an ardour that soon enabled him to attain to surpassing excellence even as a literary man. After the passing of the Reform Bill, he was elected a member of the town council of Cromarty, but he never attended but one meeting of the council.

It was in his working attire that he first met the lady who was destined to become his wife. He had been hewing, he tells us, in the upper part of his uncle’s garden, and had just closed his work for the evening, when three ladies made their appearance to see a curious old dial stone which he had dug out of the earth long before. With the youngest of the three he afterwards had many opportunities of meeting, and at length they came to a mutual understanding. It was agreed between them that if in the course of three years no suitable field of exertion should open for him at home, they should marry and emigrate to the United States. Two years of the time agreed upon had passed, and he was still an operative mason, when in 1834 a branch of the Commercial Bank of Scotland being established in Cromarty, the office of accountant was offered to him by Mr. Ross the agent. He was at this time thirty-two years of age, and although afraid that he would make but an indifferent account, never having had any experience in figures, he was yet induced to accept the appointment. He was accordingly sent to the parent bank at Edinburgh, to acquire the necessary instructions to fit him for his new situation.

On his arrival, he was ordered to the Commercial Bank branch at Linlithgow, to be initiated into the proper system of book-keeping, Being, as he says himself, “altogether deficient in the cleverness that can promptly master isolated details, when in ignorance of their bearing on the general scheme to which they belong,” he was at first rather at a loss, and was looked upon by the local agent as particularly stupid. But as soon as he came to comprehend the central principle by which the system was governed, he at once showed his competence to manage the business of the bank. In the arena of science this law ruled his genius with a necessity not less inexorable than in the commercial field. From the centre of any science, when once he was able to master it, he could proceed with the utmost ease, but he invariably found that when he attempted to approach as if from the outside, the details baffled and repulsed him.

After two months’ probation in the branch bank at Linlithgow, he returned to Cromarty, and straightway commenced his new course as an accountant, at a salary of £80 a-year. When fairly seated at the desk he felt, he says, as if his latter days were destined to differ from his earlier ones, well nigh as much as those of Peter of old, who, when he was “young, girded himself, and walked whither he would, but who, when old, was girded by others, and carried whither he would not.” A sedentary life had at first a depressing effect on his intellectual pursuits, and for a time he intermitted them almost entirely, but as he became inured to it, his mind recovered its spring, and, as before, he began to occupy his leisure hours in literary and scientific exertions. The publication, in 1835, of his ‘Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland,’ made his name known in literary circles. With a few exceptions, the book was highly commended by the critics. He relates, with a very natural feeling of satisfaction, that “Leith Hunt gave it a king and genial notice in his Journal; it was characterized by Robert chambers not less favourably in his; and Dr. Hetherington, the future historian of the Church of Scotland and of the Westminster Assembly of Divines – at that time a licentiate of the church – made it the subject of an elaborate and very friendly critique in the ‘Presbyterian Review.’ Nor was I less gratified,” he continues, “by the terms in which it was spoken of by the late Baron Hume, the nephew and residuary legatee of the historian – himself very much a critic of the old school – in a note to a north country friend. He described it as a work ‘written in an English style which’ he ‘had begun to regard as one of the lost arts.’” The work, however, from the local nature of the subjects, attained to no great popularity, but as the author’s reputation increased, its later editions have sold better than the first.

After a courtship of five years, he married the young lady formerly mentioned, Lydia Fraser, who was then residing with her mother in Cromarty, engaged in teaching. After their marriage, his wife continued to take a few pupils, and at this time, he tells us, the united earnings of the household did not much exceed a hundred pounds a-year. He, therefore, began to add to his income by writing for the periodicals. To Wilson’s ‘Border Tales,’ commenced in 1835, he contributed, after the death of Mr. John Mackay Wilson of Berwick-upon-Tweed, their originator, several stories, for which he got £25 in all, being at the rate of three guineas a-piece, the stipulated wages for filling a weekly number. For supplying the same space with a tale weekly, which he did for three of four weeks, the writer of this got five pounds each story from the proprietors of the new ‘Tales of the Borders,’ published in Glasgow in 1848.

Finding that some of his stories were rejected by the editor, Mr. Miller ceased to write for the ‘Border Tales.’ He then made an offer of his services to Mr. Robert Chambers, by whom they were accepted, and for the two following years he occasionally contributed papers to Chambers’ Journal, with his name attached to his several articles.

He still continued his researches among the rocks in the neighbourhood of Cromarty, in determining the true relations of their various beds and the character of their organisms. To enable him to examine the best sections of the Sutors and the adjacent hills, with their associated deposits, which cannot be reached without a boat, he purchased a light little yawl, furnished with mast and sail, and that rowed four oars, to enable him to carry out his explorations. At this time a letter of his on a local subject, inserted in one of the district papers, procured him the offer of a newspaper editorship, which, not deeming himself qualified for it, he at once declined.

Amongst his other occupations at this busy period of his life was writing the memoir of a deceased townsman, Mr. William Forsyth of Cromarty, at the request of his relative and son-in-law, Mr. Isaac Forsyth, bookseller, Elgin. This little work was not intended for publication, being printed for private circulation among Mr. Forsyth’s friends. His career hitherto had been prosperous for a person in his condition in life. From the humble and obscure position of a journeyman stone-mason, he had attained to that of an accountant in a bank. He was known as an author and respected as an explorer in geological science. In private he had made “troops of friends,” and altogether he had “got on” in the world better than in his early days he could have had any reason to expect. He was now to be removed to a higher sphere, and to be placed in circumstances more favourable for the full development of his genius, and the complete display of his extraordinary attainments, than any that even his wildest ambition could have hoped for a few years before.

He had taken very little interest in the Voluntary controversy, but when the Non-intrusion question came to be agitated, he deemed it time to buckle on his armour, in other words, to take up his pen manfully in behalf of the rights of the church when assailed by the civil courts. The famous Auchterarder case was the occasion of his first appearance as a writer in the field of ecclesiastical controversy, in which he was destined to take such a prominent and influential part. The campaign was a prolonged one, and ended, as every body knows, in the disruption of the Established Church of Scotland. At no time of his life did he exhibit greater energy of intellect than as the champion of the non-intrusion and Free church party in the church, although it must be confessed that, sometimes led away alike by prejudice and zeal, he proved himself less the judicious and discriminating advocate than the bitter and uncompromising ecclesiastical partisan.

The struggle began in 1834, with the passing of the celebrated “Veto Act,” founded on the early principle of the church, that ministers should not be intruded on parishes contrary to the consent of the parishioners. As the church thus considered the acceptability of a presentee a necessary qualification, the object of the act was to instruct all presbyteries to reject presentees to whom a majority of male heads of families, communicants, objected. In the case of the Auchterarder presentation, when this was acted upon, the presentee brought an action in the court of session, to declare it an undue interference with his civil rights. The church, in reply, contended that the matter was purely ecclesiastical, and altogether beyond the jurisdiction of the civil courts. The court of session thought otherwise, and, in March 1838, decided that as patronage had been constituted property by act of parliament, the obnoxious presentee, Mr. Young, was entitled to be “intruded upon” the reclaiming parish, as the rights of the patron must be maintained. The church appealed to the House of Lords, who, in May 1839, confirmed the judgment of the court of session. The General Assembly declined to implement the decision of the civil tribunals, holding itself irresponsible to any civil court for its obedience to the laws of Christ.

On reading Lord Brougham’s speech, and the decision of the House of Lords, in the Auchterarder case, Mr. Miller felt deeply the peril of the church. That night, he tells us, he slept none, and in the morning, determined upon taking the popular view of the question, he commenced his famous ‘Letter from one of the Scottish People to the Right Hon. Lord Brougham and Vaux, on the opinions expressed by his Lordship in the Auchterarder case.’ That letter had an important and decisive effect of his after life. On finishing it, he dispatched the manuscript to the manager of the Commercial Bank at Edinburgh, Mr. Robert Paul, from whom he had already experienced some kindness, and who, in the great ecclesiastical struggle, took a decided part with the church. That gentleman, after reading it, hastened with it to his minister, the Rev. Mr. afterwards Dr. Candlish of St. George’s, who, recognizing the ability it displayed and its popular character, urged its immediate publication. It was accordingly put into the hands of Mr. John Johnstone, the then well-known Church bookseller. The evangelical party in the church had been for some time anxious to establish an ecclesiastical newspaper in Edinburgh for the support of their principles, and a meeting of ministers and elders had been held in that city, shortly before, to take measures for the purpose. A properly qualified editor was wanted, and on reading the manuscript of Mr. Miller’s ‘Letter to Lord Brougham,’ Dr. Candlish instantly fixed upon its writer as the very person they had been looking for to fill that office.

Meanwhile the ‘Letter’ was published in the form of a pamphlet, and was at once successful. It ran rapidly through four editions of a thousand copies each, and was read pretty extensively by men who were not Non-intrusionists. “Among these,” says its author, “there were several members of the ministry of the time, including Lord Melbourne, who at first regarded it, as I have been informed, as the composition, under a popular form and a nom-de-guerre, of some of the Non-intrusionist leaders in Edinburgh; and by Mr. Daniel O’Connell, who had no such suspicions, and who, though he lacked sympathy, as he said, with the ecclesiastical views which it advocated, enjoyed what he termed its ‘racy English,’ and the position in which it placed the noble lord to whom it was addressed.” Mr. W. E. Gladstone, too, in his elaborate work on ‘church Principles Considered in their Results,’ noticed it very favourably. His words are: “Over and above the judicial arguments in the reports of the Auchterarder and Lethendy cases, the church question has been discussed in a great variety of pamphlets, some of them very long and very able, others of them very long without being particularly able, and one of them particularly able without being long; I mean the elegant and masculine production of Hugh Miller, entitled ‘A Letter to Lord Brougham.’”

Almost immediately after its publication, Mr. Miller received a letter from Edinburgh, requesting him to meet there with the leading non-intrusionists. He accordingly proceeded to the capital, and agreed to undertake the editorship of their projected newspaper, the Witness. He then returned to Cromarty to make arrangements for finally quitting that place. He closed his connexion with the bank, and devoted a few weeks very sedulously to geology, and was fortunate enough to find specimens on which Agassiz founded two of his fossil species. On leaving his native town he was presented with an elegant breakfast service of plate from a numerous circle of friends, of all shades of politics and both sides of the church, and was entertained at a public dinner. After being fifteen years a journeyman stone-mason, and five years a bank accountant, he was now at last placed in his true position, and was enabled to give those wonderful works to the press which have procured for him a world-wide reputation.

The Witness commenced at the beginning of 1840. During the first twelvemonth, he wrote for its columns a series of geological chapters, which attracted the notice of the geologists of the British Association, assembled that year at Glasgow. In the collected form they were afterwards published, under the title of ‘The Old Red Sandstone; or New Walks in an Old field.’ Of this work the Westminster Review said: “The geological formation known as the Old red Sandstone was long supposed to be peculiarly barren of fossils. The researches of geologists, especially those of Mr. Miller, have, however, shown that formation to be as rich in organic remains as any that has been explored. Mr. Miller’s exceedingly interesting book on this formation is just the sort of work to render any subject popular. It is written in a remarkably pleasing style, and contains a wonderful amount of information.” The Witness, in the meantime, under his editorship rose rapidly in circulation. That paper, indeed, owed its success to his able articles, literary, ecclesiastical, and geological, and during the course of the first three years his employers raised his salary to £400. He had published another pamphlet on the church question, entitled ‘The Whiggism of the Old School, as exemplified by the past history and present condition of the Church of Scotland,’ which soon reached a second edition.

As the crisis of the church’s fate approached, Mr. Miller’s consummately able articles in the Witness greatly aided in enlightening the public mind on those principles on which the Free church was formed, and he may be said to have exercised an influence among the supporters of the spiritual independence of the church as great as that even of Dr. Chalmers himself. His mastery of the English language was complete, and to this he added a singular felicity of reasoning and a wonderful vividness of imagination not usually combined. In originality and appropriateness of illustration, and graphic force and telling significancy of diction, no contemporary could compete with him. In the early years of the Witness, a twice-a-week paper, his was indeed a life of strife and toil. In the circumstances of the time, when polemical feeling was carried beyond due bounds on both sides, as the editor of the principal, and for a while the only, non-intrusion paper in the kingdom, it was impossible but that his combative spirit would be exerted to the utmost. He had to contend with many fierce and unscrupulous enemies, as almost the entire newspaper press was against him and the principles for which he so ably and fearlessly contended. “For full twenty years,” he says, “I had never been engaged in a quarrel on my own account: all my quarrels, either directly or indirectly, were ecclesiastical ones; -- I had fought for my minister, or for my brother parishioners; and fain now would I have lived at peace with all men; but the editorship of a non-intrusion paper involved, as a portion of its duties, war with all the world.” This truth he experienced to its fullest extent, but he was a match for all opponents, and at length few indeed were the antagonists willing to cope with him. From Dr. Chalmers, himself “the greatest living Scotsman” of his day, he obtained that proud title, and while in public this self-educated and self-reliant working-man showed no mercy to those who entered the lists against him, or assailed the principles of the Free church, in private he was a singularly manly, modest, and sensitive being, whose demeanour, in itself invariably respectful, was at all times calculated to win the respect of those who came personally in contact with him. With his retiring and unassuming manners, his life was, for his position, as editor of such a paper as the Witness, a remarkably secluded one. Besides furnishing those splendid articles to its columns which were the admiration of all who read them, and most of which have been republished in some one or other of his works, he continued to devote himself, with characteristic ardour, to the prosecution of scientific inquiries, and made frequent pedestrian excursions, for geological purposes, to different parts of the country. Being now in circumstances to follow the natural bent of his genius and inclination, and develop that power of observation and research which he had cultivated from his early boyhood, whenever opportunity enabled him to put it in practice, he became known over the empire as a discoverer in sciences, and as one of the best and most effective writers of his time.

His celebrated work on the ‘Old Red Sandstone’ was published in 1841. While it placed him in the very front rank of geologists, it charmed non-scientific readers by its marvelous powers of description and the fascinating graces of its style. A succeeding work, ‘First Impressions of England and its People,’ was written after a visit to England, which he made in 1847. The principal characteristic of this small book was earnest and vigorous thought. In 1849 he produced another geological work of even a more profound character than his former publications, entitled ‘Footprints of the Creator, or the Asterolepis of Stromness,’ which Dr. Buckland, who said that he “would give his left hand to possess such powers of description as this man had,” made one of the textbooks for his geological lectures at Oxford. Other teachers of geology in our universities followed his example. It was written chiefly with the view of exposing the flimsy sophistries and atheistical tendency of a work published anonymously shortly before, with the specious title of ‘Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation,’ and was well described as a contribution to natural theology of inestimable importance.

In 1845, on the retirement of Mr. Johnstone from the joint proprietorship of the Witness, Mr. Miller purchased his share of that prosperous and influential journal. Subsequently he and his co-partner, Mr. Fairley, were enabled to pay up the sum of one thousand pounds which had been advanced at its starting, by a committee of Non-intrusion ministers and elders, and which gave them a certain control over its management. This being at last satisfactorily got quit of, thenceforward, in the eyes of the public, who were ignorant of what took place behind the scenes, the paper assumed a more independent and commanding tone than formerly.

Mr. Miller’s habits of composition were peculiar. His mind, with all its weight and force, and in spite of the rich intellectual stores which he possessed, wanted elasticity, and he was in general a slow and cautious writer. Before putting pen to paper on any subject, he spent a long time in deep thought, arranging, as it were, all its details within himself, meanwhile balancing the poker or the tongs in his hands, or gazing musingly into the fire. The author of this work was associated with him for some time as sub-editor of the Witness, and had many opportunities of observing his characteristics. He was fond of athletic exercises, and took delight in such acts as leaping upon the table, poising a chair by one of its hind legs in his right hand, and doing other feats of strength, in which no one present could compete with him. He also took a pride in snuffing a candle by the mere wave of his arm, when no other arm, though half-a-yard nearer, could do it.

In 1855, he published an autobiographical work, entitled ‘My Schools and Schoolmasters,’ giving an account of his own self-education and the means by which he overcame the difficulties of his position. Although necessarily somewhat egotistical, it furnishes a very interesting as well as most instructive history of his youth and early manhood, and describes, in his own characteristically attractive style, the progress of his unassisted intellectual training.

Recognised as the most eloquent living expositor of the profoundest truths of geology, in the latter years of his life he was induced to give a series of lectures on his favourite science. As a lecturer, however, he did not make the same distinguished appearance as a writer. His accent was against him, being that of the Cromarty Scottish, which, with his natural bashfulness and not very graceful address, rendered his delivery bad as a lecturer. His lectures were, therefore, not unfrequently read for him by others. Nevertheless, his high reputation as a geologist and the .peculiar prestige of his name, rendered them highly popular. Whenever he made his appearance as a lecturer, the lecture-room was crowded. He began, we think, in Portobello, where, at a place called shrub Mount, he latterly resided. He subsequently lectured in the Edinburgh Philosophical Institution, and of the eminent men whom that association has engaged to deliver lectures, no one commanded such audiences as assembled in their hall to listen to his prelections. His lectures were also most acceptably and even enthusiastically received by crowded audiences when he appeared before the Christian Institutes of London and Glasgow. But, as we have said, from the uncouthness of his pronunciation, and his want of fluency, his carefully written and elaborately prepared lectures were, in these cities, read by others, he himself sitting by. His services were always cheerfully and readily given, as far as time and strength would allow, often, indeed, beyond his strength, solely from the desire to do good. With characteristic generosity his lectures were given gratuitously, as he invariably refused payment for them, being only anxious to be serviceable to the cause of popular education.

His latest work, ‘The Testimony of the Rocks,’ embodies his lectures, twelve in number, on geological science. A prefatory note informs the reader that four of them were delivered before the members of the Edinburgh Philosophical Institution, one in Exeter Hall, London, and two in Glasgow; while two others were read before the Geological Section of the British Association in 1855. Of the five others, written mainly to complete, and impart a character of unity to the volume into which they have been introduced, three were addressed, viva voce, to popular audiences. The third was published both in this country and in America, and translated into some of the continental languages. The rest appeared in the volume for the first time.

This, the greatest effort of his genius, proved fatal to him. In the preparation of it for the press, his intellect exhausted itself. So great was the intensity with which he wrote upon it that his brain gave way, and he fell a victim to mental overwork. The circumstances of his death are mournful in the extreme. The statement published by his friends in the Witness, when that event took place, relates them so minutely, and describes the state of his mind for some time previously so fully, that it cannot fail to be adopted, in its main points, by every one who narrates the story of his life. For months his overtasked intellect had given evidence of disorder. He became the prey of false or exaggerated alarms, and fancied that, occasionally, for brief intervals, his faculties quite failed him. He laboured too closely on his treatise on the ‘Testimony of the Rocks,’ devoting to it all the day, and often half the night. This overtoiling of the brain told so fearfully on his mental powers that there can be no doubt that, latterly, his understanding was completely shattered. To guard against the apprehended attacks of robbers he was accustomed, when out of doors after nightfall, to carry a loaded pistol with him. He also followed the same practice when traveling, or when on his pedestrian excursions. It was mentioned in one of the local newspapers that, once being touched on the shoulder by one of his oldest friends from the country in a well-frequented street in Edinburgh, that gentleman was amazed by his suddenly turning round and presenting a pistol at him. This dangerous habit of carrying loaded fire-arms he is supposed to have acquired when he was accountant in the Cromarty branch of the Commercial bank, and employed occasionally to convey specie to the other branches.

In July, 1855, when residing at Portobello, about three miles from Edinburgh, he had furnished himself with a revolver. An impression took possession of his mind that his house would some night be broken into, and robbed. His museum, situated in a separate outer building, was especially, he thought, exposed to the depredations of burglars. Connected with this morbid fear of thieves was the strange fascination which descriptions of house robberies in the newspapers had for him, and he was haunted with the idea that robbers and other desperate characters were continually prowling about his premises. To guard against their assaults, he nightly placed his revolver within his reach on going to bed, beside it lay a broad-bladed dagger, whilst behind him, at his bedhead, stood a ready claymore.

A week or two before his death, the most alarming indication of his mental malady presented itself, in sudden and singular sensations in his head. It was only, however, in lengthened intervals that they came, and mostly at night, but during the short time that they lasted, they were extremely violent. Up to Monday, the 22d December, 1856, two days before his death, he had spoken of them to no one, but about ten o’clock of that day he called on Dr. Balfour in Portobello, to consult him in regard to them. That gentleman, in a communication which he afterwards drew up, thus describes what took place: -- :On my asking him what was the matter with him, he replied, ‘My brain is giving way. I cannot put two thoughts together to-day; I have had a dreadful night of it. I cannot face another such. I was impressed with the idea that my museum was attacked by robbers, and that I had got up, put on my clothes, and gone out with a loaded pistol to shoot them. Immediately after that I became unconscious. How long that continu3d I cannot say; but when I awoke in the morning I was trembling all over, and quite confused in my brain. On rising, I felt as if a stiletto was suddenly, and as quickly as an electric shock, passed through my brain from front to back, and left a burning sensation on the top of the brain, just below the bone. So thoroughly convinced was I that I must have been out through the night, that I examined my trousers to see if they were wet or covered with mud, but could find none.’ He further said, ‘I may state that I was somewhat similarly affected through the night twice last week, and I examined my trousers in the morning, to see if I had been out. Still the terrible sensations were not nearly so bad as they were last night; and I may further inform you that, towards the end of last week, while passing through the Exchange in Edinburgh, I was seized with such a giddiness that I staggered, and would, I think have fallen, had I not got into an entry, where I leaned against the wall, and became quite unconscious for some seconds.’” Dr. Balfour told him that he was overworking his brain, and agreed to call on him on the following day, to make a fuller examination. Mrs. Miller, that same forenoon, went to Edinburgh to consult Professor Miller, one of the most eminent surgeons of that city, as to her husband’s health. What follows may be given almost in the words of the narrative of his melancholy fate which appeared in the Witness newspaper: -- “I arranged,” says that gentleman, “to meet Dr. Balfour at shrub Mount, (Mr. Hugh Miller’s house,) on the afternoon of next day. We met accordingly at half-past three on Tuesday. He was a little annoyed at Mrs. Miller’s having given me the trouble, as he called it, but received me quite in his ordinary kind, friendly manner. We examined his chest, and found that unusually well; but soon we discovered that it was head symptoms that made him uneasy. He acknowledged having been night after night up till very late in the morning, working hard and continuously at his new book, ‘which,’ with much satisfaction, he said, ‘I have finished this day.’ He was sensible that his head had suffered in consequence, as evidenced in two ways; first, occasionally, he felt as if a very fine poignard had been suddenly passed through and through his brain. The pain was intense, and momentarily followed by confusion and giddiness, and the sense of being ‘very drunk’ – unable to stand or walk. He thought that a period of unconsciousness must have followed this – a kind of swoon, but he had never fallen. Second, what annoyed him most, however, was a king of nightmare, which for some nights past had rendered sleep most miserable. It was no dream, he said; he saw no distinct vision, and could remember nothing of what had passed accurately. It was a sense of vague and yet intense horror, with a conviction of being abroad in the night wind, and dragged through places as if by some invisible power. ‘Last night,’ he said, ‘I felt as if I had been ridden by a witch for fifty miles, and rose far more wearied in mind and body than when I lay down.’ So strong was his conviction of having been out, that he had difficulty in persuading himself to the contrary, by carefully examining his clothes in the morning, to see if they were not wet or dirty; and he looked inquiringly and anxiously to his wife, asking if she was sure he had not been out last night, and walking in this disturbed trance or dream. His pulse was quiet, but tongue foul. The head was not hot, but he could not say it was free from pain. But I need not enter into professional details. Suffice it to say, that we came to the conclusion that he was suffering from an overworked mind disordering his digestive organs, enervating his whole frame, and threatening serious head affection. We told him this, and enjoined absolute discontinuance of work – bed at eleven, light supper (he had all his life made that a principal meal), thinning the hair of the head, a warm sponging-bath at bed-time, &c. To all our commands he readily promised obedience, not forgetting the discontinuance of neck-rubbing, to which he had unfortunately been prevailed to submit some days before. For fully an hour we talked together on these and other subjects, and I left him with no apprehension of impending evil, and little doubting but that a short time of rest and regimen would restore him to his wonted vigour.”

After the professor’s departure, as it was near the dinner hour, the servant entered the room to lay the cloth. She found Mr. Miller in the room alone. Another of the paroxysms was on him. His face was such a picture of horror, that she shrunk in terror from the sight. He flung himself off the sofa, and buried his head, as if in agony, upon the cushion. Again, however, the vision flitted by, and left him in perfect health. The evening was spent quietly with his family. During tea he employed himself in reading aloud Cowper’s ‘Castaway,’ the ‘Sonnet on Mary Unwin,’ and one of his more playful pieces, for the special pleasure of his children. Having corrected some proofs of the forthcoming volume, he went up stairs to his study. At the appointed hour he had taken the bath, but unfortunately, his natural and peculiar repugnance to physic had induced him to leave untaken the medicine that had been prescribed. He had retired into a sleeping-room – a small apartment opening out of his study, and which for some time past, in consideration of the delicate state of his wife’s health, and the irregularity of his own hours of study, he occupied at night alone – and lain sometime upon the bed. The horrible trance, more horrible than ever, must have returned. All that can now be known of what followed is to be gathered from the facts, that next morning his body, half-dressed, was found lying lifeless on the floor – the feet upon the study rug, the chest pierced with the ball of the revolver pistol, which was found lying in the bath that stood close by. The deadly bullet had perforated the left lung, grazed the heart, cut through the pulmonary artery at its root, and lodged in the rib in the right side. Death must have been instantaneous.
On looking round the room in which the body had been discovered, a folio sheet of paper was seen lying on the table. On the centre of the page the following lines were written – the last which that pen was ever to trace: --

“Dearest Lydia,
“My brain burns. I must have walked; and a fearful dream rises upon me. I cannot bear the horrible thought. God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon me. Dearest Lydia, dear children, farewell. My brain burns as the recollection grows. My dear dear wife, farewell.
“Hugh Miller.”

A post-mortem examination of the body was made by Professor Miller, and Drs. A. H. Balfour, W. T. Gairdner, and A. M. Edwards. The following is the conclusion to which they came: --

“Edinburgh, December 26, 1856.
“We hereby certify on soul and conscience, that we have this day examined the body of Mr. Hugh Miller, at Shrub Mount, Portobello.
“The cause of death we found to be a pistol-shot through the left side of the chest; and this, we are satisfied, was inflicted by his own hand.
“From the diseased appearances found in the brain, taken in connection with the history of the case, we have no doubt that the act was suicidal, under the impulse of insanity.”

It is impossible to convey any adequate idea of the gloom which pervaded Edinburgh on the particulars of Hugh Miller’s lamentable death being known. And this gloom was deepened by the occurrence of another sad tragedy in connexion with the fatal revolver with which he had terminated his life. After the medical inquiry into the cause of his death had been completed, Professor Miller took the revolver to the gunsmith in Edinburgh from whom it had been purchased by Mr. Miller, to ascertain how many shots had been fired, and how many still remained in the chamber. In the master’s absence, the foreman, Thomas Leslie, received the weapon from the professor, and looked into the muzzle, holding the hammer with his fingers, while he turned the chamber round to count the charges. The hammer slipped from his fingers, struck the cap, and the charge in the barrel exploded. The charge entered his right eye and penetrated the brain, and he fell dead on the floor. – Subjoined is Mr. Miller’s portrait:


[portrait of Hugh Miller]

Mr. Miller was buried in the Grange cemetery, on the south side of Edinburgh, his grave being on the same line, and a few paces distant, from that of Dr. Chalmers. The attendance of mourners at the funeral was very great, and the concourse of spectators equally so. At one part of the route the procession was joined by the kirk session of Free St. John’s church, of which Mr. Miller was a deacon, by the members of the Royal Physical Society, by the compositors in the Witness office, and by several hundreds of gentlemen. Along all the streets through which the procession passed, the shops were shut at the request of the magistrates.

In person Mr. Miller was large and muscular. He had a stalwart form, and a broad and massy forehead, with a singular conformation of head. No one could see him without being convinced that there was something remarkable about him, and the individuality of his appearance was rendered the more striking by the homely dress, including the plaid thrown across the shoulder, in which he was accustomed to attire himself. It was emphatically said of him by the duke of Argyle, that “Hugh Miller was not a learned man. He knew no language but his own. He could read nothing but English; and yet, by careful and industrious habits, by spending his spare hours on the writings of the greatest authors to whom he could get access, he was enabled to write books which have attained a classical rank in the literature of the English language.”

His townsmen have erected a statue of him at Cromarty. His much-cherished geological collection was, in 1858, purchased by government for £500, to be preserved in the Museum of the university of Edinburgh. An additional sum of £600, subscribed by various persons, with a view to its private purchase, was paid over to his widow, making in all £1,100, which the family received for this memento of her husband’s scientific labours.

The ‘Testimony of the Rocks’ was published soon after his death, and from the peculiar circumstances in which it appeared, as well as from its own extraordinary merits, it attracted an unusual share of public attention. Its object is to demonstrate the bearing which geology has on both natural and revealed religion, and whatever may be the opinions entertained of the author’s peculiar and thoroughly original views as to the creation and deluge, the work must certainly be considered one of the most remarkable contributions to science of the present century. He had long projected a great work on ‘The Geology of Scotland,’ as the completion of his scientific labours, and one on which his reputation was permanently to rest, but his strong intellect had run its course, and it never shone clearer, as appears conspicuous on every page of his final volume, than just before it suddenly sunk in darkness, to be resumed no more in this world.

Mr. Miller left a family of two sons and a daughter. The eldest son was fourteen years old at the time of his father’s death. He himself was 54 years of age when that event took place.

The works of Hugh Miller are:

Poems written in the Leisure Hours of a Journeyman Mason. Inverness, 1829. 12mo.

On the Herring Fishery. A pamphlet. Inverness, 1829. Contributed originally in a series of letters to the Inverness courier.

Letter from one of the Scottish People to the Right Hon. Lord Brougham and Vaux, on the opinions expressed by his Lordship on the Auchterarder case. Edinburgh, 1839. Fourth edition, 1857.

The Whiggism of the Old School, as exemplified by the past history and present condition of the Church of Scotland. Edinburgh, 1839, 8vo. Second edition.

Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland. Edinburgh, 1835. Fifth edition, crown 8vo. 1857.

The Old Red Sandstone; or New Walks in an Old Field. Edinburgh, 1841, crown 8vo, with plates. 7th edition, 1857.

The Fossiliferous Deposits of Scotland; being an address to the royal Physical Society, delivered 22d November 1854. Edinburgh, 12mo, 1854.

The Sites Bill and the Toleration Laws. Being an Examination of the Resolutions of the Rev. Dr. Alexander of Argyle Square Chapel Congregation. Edinburgh, 1848, 12mo.

First Impressions of England and its People. Edinburgh, 1847. fourth edition, 1857, crown 8vo.

Footprints of the Creator; or, The Asterolepis of Stromness. London, 1849, 16mo. Sixth edition, foolscap 8vo, 1857, with numerous woodcut illustrations.

The Two Parties in the Church of Scotland Exhibited as Missionary and Anti-Missionary. Their contendings in these opposite characters in the Past and their Statistics now. Edinburgh, 1842, 8vo. Second edition.

Words of Warning to the People of Scotland on Sir Robert Peel’s Scottish Currency Bill. Edinburgh, 1844, 8vo.

My Schools and Schoolmasters; or, The Story of my Education. Edinburgh, 1854. 8th edition, crown 8vo, 1857.

The Testimony of the Rocks; or, Geology in its bearing on the Two Theologies – Natural and Revealed. Posthumous. Edinburgh, 1857, post 8vo, profusely illustrated.

The Cruise of the Betsey; or, A Summer Ramble among the Fossiliferous Deposits of the Hebrides. With Rambles of a Geologist; or, Ten Thousand miles over the Fossiliferous Deposits of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1858, 8vo. Posthumous.

He also contributed an account of the geology of the Bass Rock to a work, published in 1850, having for its object a full description of that once celebrated state prison.

A Sketch Book of Popular Geology. Posthumous. Edited by his widow. Being Lectures delivered before the Philosophical Institution of Edinburgh. With an Introductory Preface. By Mrs. Miller. Edinburgh, 1859, 8vo.

On Mr. Miller’s widow government settled a pension of £70, and on his aged mother at Cromarty, one of £30.


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