Hugh Miller: Miscellanea (1)

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First Impressions of England and the People.  By HUGH MILLER, author of the “Old Red Sandstone.” London: John Johnstone, 26 Pater Noster Row; and 15 Prince’s street, Edinburgh. 1847.

    WE presume it is not necessary formally to introduce Hugh Miller to our readers.  The author of the “Old Red Sandstone” placed himself by that production, which was his first, among the most successful geologists and the best writers of the age.  We well remember with what mingled emotions of admiration and delight we first read that work.  Not that it was any thing remarkable for one, who had spent the prime of life digging in a stone quarry, to have met with many strange things, or to have collected even a museum of curiosities; but that such a man, without an education, and cut off from intercourse with those who could assist him, should have grasped at once the leading principles of geological science which had been so long in obtaining a foothold even in the scientific world; that, alone and unacquainted with the successful researches of the devotees of that science, he should have prosecuted his investigations through twenty years of patient, or should we not rather say, of enraptured thought, spending months upon a single fossil and returning time and again to the same specimen, till at length after long delay the truth revealed itself to him; that, thus accumulating facts and observations, he should have worked out for himself the general principles of the Inductive Philosophy, and should have established in its true position one of the grand systems of creation which had been almost rejected, “The Old Red Sandstone”—was to us a remarkable phenomenon, though we know not whether it is more remarkable than are the classic purity and the poetic beauty of style with which these discoveries are narrated.

    We have little other knowledge of Mr. Miller, than what we glean from his writings.  We are informed that he is now a prominent member of the Free Church of Scotland, and Editor of “The Witness” newspaper, which is devoted to its support.  Thirty years ago he was “a slim, loose-jointed boy,” who “one morning in February, a little before sunrise,” left his home to make his first acquaintance with a life of labor and restraint—to work at what Burns has instanced in his “Twa Dogs,” as one of the most disagreeable of all employments, to work in a quarry.  But he was no common boy.  “I had been a wanderer,” he tells us, “among rocks and woods, a reader of curious books when I could get them, a gleaner of traditionary stories, fond of the pretty intangibilities of romance and of dreaming when broad awake.”  But a trivial event soon happened, which converted the intangibilities of these day-dreams into realities more wonderful than any thing the fancy could conjure up, and for the marvels of traditionary stories, substituted the real history of transactions, authenticated by evidence more sure than human testimony itself.  “In the course of my first day’s employment, I picked up,” he says, “a nodular mass of blue limestone, and laid it open by a stroke of the hammer.  Wonderful to relate, it contained inside a beautifully finished piece of sculpture—one of the volutes apparently of an Ionic capital; and not the far-famed walnut of the fairy tale, had I broken the shell and found the little dog lying within, could have surprised me more.  Was there another such curiosity in the whole world?  I broke open a few other nodules of the same appearance, for they lay pretty thickly on the shore, and found that there might be.  In one of these there were what seemed to be scales of fishes, and the impressions of a few minute bivalves, prettily striated; in the centre of another there was actually a piece of decayed wood.  Of all nature’s riddles these seemed to me to be at once the most interesting and the most difficult to expound.  I treasured them carefully up.”  The boy was no longer a dreamer.  He saw in that nodule of blue limestone, what made him thereafter “an explorer of caves and ravines, a loiterer along sea shores, a climber among rocks.”  He was not long in discovering that what “appeared to be scales of fishes” were veritable scales, and not well executed forgeries; recognizing in this single case one of the fundamental facts of geological science, and at once seizing upon the true interpretation of those phenomena of nature.—”I fain wish I could communicate to the reader the feeling with which I contemplated my first-found specimen of the winged fish.  It opened with a single blow of the hammer; and there, on a ground of light colored limestone, lay the effigy of a creature fashioned apparently out of jet, with a body covered with plates, two powerful looking arms articulated at the shoulders, a head as entirely lost in the trunk as that of the ray or the sun-fish, and a long angular tail.”  The observant boy who carefully treasured up” the nodules of blue limestone, here presents himself as the well instructed geologist and successful investigator.  It is now ten years since that apparently trivial circumstance occurred, but they have been years filled, we may be sure, with varied observation and much reflection—with doubts and resolutions of doubts—with errors and corrections of errors—with hopes of discoveries, with disappointments and with triumphs—with conjectures now proving to be baseless and now passing into knowledge—with all the diversified states of mind which belong to the observer and the man of science.  Within this period, Mr. Miller had wrought out for himself many of the recognized conclusions of geological science: but here is a discovery which is to lead him on step by step, till he shall have disinterred a whole kingdom of animal remains from their rocky tombs; thus revealing a series in the rank of created beings before unknown and marking out another great epoch in the history of our globe.  Previous to these investigations it was a pretty general opinion among geologists that the Old Red Sandstone was a mere local deposit, its upper beds having the fossils of the Coal Measures, and the lower graduating apparently into the Silurian system.  Mr. Miller demonstrated, on the contrary, that it abounded in fossils and that these were of a peculiar and distinctive kind.  None of the acknowledged systems had any like them.  They were indeed, strange enough, according to Mr. Miller’s description “Creatures whose very type is lost—fantastic and uncouth, and which puzzle the naturalists to assign them even their class—boat-like animals, furnished with oars and a rudder—fish plated over, like the tortoise, above and below, with a strong armor of bone, and furnished with but one solitary rudder-like fin; other fish less equivocal in their form, but with the membranes of their fins covered with scales—creatures bristling over with thorns—others glistening in an enamelled coat, as if beautifully japanned—and all of them testifying of a remote antiquity whose ’fashions have passed away.’”

    Thus after ten years’ search, the fossils had been found; but it was to take another ten years’ search to assign them their proper place in the scale of creation. “I was acquainted with the Old Red Sandstone of Ross and Cromarty nearly ten years, ere I had ascertained that it is richly fossiliferous; I was acquainted with it for nearly ten years more ere I could assign to its fossils their exact place in the scale.”  Let us pass over the interval and note only the moment of discovery.  “I was spending a day early in the winter of 1839, among the nearly vertical strata that lean against the Northern Sutor.  I had passed over the section twenty times before, and had carefully examined the limestone and the clay, but in vain.  On this occasion, however, I was more fortunate.  I struck off a fragment.  It contained a vegetable impression of the same character with those of the ichthyolite bed; and after an hour’s diligent search, I had turned from out the heart of the stratum, plates and scales enough to fill a shelf in a museum—the helmet-like snout of an Osteolepis, the thorn-like spine of a Cheiracanthus, and a Coccosteus, well nigh entire.  I had at length, after a search of nearly ten years, found the true place of the ichthyolite bed.  The reader may smile, but I hope the smile will be a good natured one; a simple pleasure may not be the less sincere on account of its simplicity; and ‘little things are great to little men.’”  This day’s work completed his great discovery.  He has now demonstrated it by the sure process of the Inductive Philosophy.

    “The Old Red Sandstone” was published not long after this event, and rarely, taking into view all the circumstances of the case, has a more remarkable book come from the press.  For, besides the important contributions which it made to the science of geology, it was written in a style which placed the author at once among the most accomplished writers of the age.  He proved himself to be in prose, what Burns had been in poetry.  We are not extravagant in saying that there is no geologist living who in the descriptions of the phenomena of the science has united such accuracy of statement with so much poetic beauty of expression.  What Dr. Buckland said was not a mere compliment, that “he had never been so much astonished in his life, by the powers of any man, as he had been by the geological descriptions of Mr. Miller.  That wonderful man described these objects with a felicity which made him ashamed of the comparative meagreness and poverty of his own descriptions in the Bridgewater Treatise which had cost him hours and days of labor.”  For our own part we do not hesitate to place Mr. Miller in the front rank of English prose writers.  Without mannerism, without those extravagances which give a factitious reputation to so many writers of the day, his style has a classic purity and elegance, which remind one of Goldsmith and Irving, while there is an ease and a naturalness in the illustrations of the imagination, which belong only to men of true genius.

    At what time Mr. Miller left the stone quarry, and first became an author, we do not know; nor have we seen any of his subsequent scientific publications.  None of his works we believe have been re-published in this country, though our enterprising publishers have hardly shown their usual sagacity in allowing such a writer to escape them.  It was by accident, “His First Impressions of England and the People,” fell into our hands.  It seems to us to contain more sound thought and more polished composition than any book of travels we have recently read, and we shall not hesitate to make copious extracts from it, as we may assume that not many of our readers have seen the work.

    Mr. Miller was just the man to visit England. His first impressions are worth more than most travelers’ last ones.  A man of genius, with all his native freshness preserved by a devotional spirit, he was ready to welcome every thing good and beautiful and grand, which he might meet with, while at the same time he has that robust strength of mind, which would save him from being imposed upon by any mere pretenses.  Born and bred among the people, he is possessed of a broad sympathy with humanity.  Above all, he is a man of piety, a strong minded, pure hearted Scotch Calvinist.  It hardly need be added after this that he is a liberal in politics.

    Mr. Miller did not go into England to pick up the floating anecdotes of the literary celebrities of the day—to report personal adventures—to catch and paint the varying fashions of the times —or even to visit great men.  He wished to observe the religious institutions of England, to study the character and condition of the people, to see her magnificent works of art, to visit the scenes renowned in literature, and not least, to examine the geological systems of the country.  Hence, his remarks are never trivial; they have a permanent value.  He grapples with great and interesting questions, with Puseyism—with Popery—with the scriptural difficulties connected with geology; and, besides there are interspersed many fine criticisms on literature.

    Mr. Miller visited York, Manchester, Birmingham, Dudley, Stourbridge, Hageley Park, the Leasowes, Olney, the Avon, and finally London.  We will not follow him in his peregrinations.  We shall merely select a few topics, the remarks upon which can be presented entire.  Mr. Miller first visited York, and we give “the first impressions” which York Minster with its Cathedral service made upon him.

    “Old sacerdotal York, with its august Cathedral, its twenty-three churches in which divine service is still performed, its numerous ecclesiastical ruins besides,—monasteries, abbeys, hospitals and chapels,—at once struck me as different from any thing I had ever seen before.  St. Andrews, one of the two ancient archiepiscopal towns of Scotland, may have somewhat resembled it on a small scale in the days of old Cardinal Beaton: but the peculiar character of the Scottish Reformation rendered it impossible that the country should possess any such ecclesiastical city ever after.  Modern improvement has here and there introduced more of its commonplace barbarisms into the busier and the genteeler streets than the antiquary would have bargained for; it has been rubbing off the venerable rust, somewhat in the style adopted by the serving maid, who scoured the old Roman buckler with sand and water till it shone: but York is essentially an ancient city still.  One may still walk round it on the ramparts erected in the times of Edward the First, and tell all their towers, bars, and barbicans; and in threading one’s way along antique lanes, flanked by domicils of mingled oak and old brick work, that belly over like the sides of ships, and were tenanted in the days of the later Henries, one stumbles unexpectedly on rectories that have their names recorded in Doomsday Book, and churches that were built before the conquest.  My first walk through the city terminated, as a matter of course, at the Cathedral, so famous for its architectural magnificence and grandeur.  It is a noble pile—one of the sublimest things wrought by human hands, which the island contains.  As it rose gray and tall before me in the thickening twilight, I was conscious of a more awe-struck and expansive feeling than any mere work of art had ever awakened in me before.  The impression more resembled what I have sometimes experienced on some solitary ocean shore, o’erhung by dizzy precipices, and lashed high by the foaming surf; or beneath the craggy brow of some vast mountain, that overlooks, amidst the mute sublimities of nature, some far-spread uninhabited wilderness of forest and moor.  I realized better than before, the justice of the eulogium of Thompson on the art of architecture, and recognized it as in reality

“The art where most magnificent appears The little builder, man.”

It was too late to gain admission to the edifice, and far too late to witness the daily service; and I was desirous to see not only the stately temple itself, but the worship performed in it.  I spent, however, an hour in wandering around it—in marking the effect on buttress and pinnacle, turret and arch, of the still deepening shadows, and in catching the general outline between me and the sky.  The night had set fairly in long ere I reached my lodging house.  York races had just begun; and, bad as the weather was, there was so considerable an influx of strangers in the town, that there were few beds in the inns unoccupied, and I had to content myself with the share of a bed-room in which there were two.  My co-partner in the room came in late and went away early; and all I know of him, or shall perhaps ever know, is, that after having first ascertained, not very correctly as it proved, that I was asleep, he prayed long and earnestly; that, as I afterward learned from the landlord, he was a Wesleyan Methodist, who had come from the country, not to attend the races, for he was not one of the race-frequenting sort of people, but on some business, and that he was much respected in his neighborhood, for the excellence of his character.  Next morning I attended service in the Cathedral; and being, I found, half an hour too early, spent the interval not unpleasantly in pacing the aisles and nave, and studying the stories so doubtfully recorded on the old painted glass.  As I stood at the western door, and saw the noble stone roof stretching away more than thirty yards over head, in a long vista of five hundred feet, to the great eastern windows, I again experienced the feeling of the previous evening.  Never before had I seen so noble a cover.  The ornate complexities of the groined vaulting—the giant columns, with their foliage-bound capitals, sweeping away in magnificent perspective—the colored light that streamed through more than a hundred huge windows, and but faintly illumined the vast area after all—the deep withdrawing aisles, with their streets of tombs—the great tower under which a ship of the line might hoist top and top-gallant mast, and find ample room over head for the play of her vane—the felt combination of great age and massive durability, that made the passing hour in the history of the edifice but a mere half-way point between the centuries of the past and the centuries of the future—all conspired to render the interior of York Minster one of the most impressive objects I had ever seen.

    “The presiding churchman on the occasion was Dean Cockburn —a tall, portly, old man, fresh complexioned and silvery-haired, and better fitted than most men to enact the part of an imposing figure in a piece of impressive ceremony.  I looked at the Dean with some little interest: he had been twice before the public during the previous five years—once as a dealer in church offices, for which grave offense he had been deprived by his ecclesiastical superior the Archbishop, but reponed by the Queen—and once as a redoubtable asserter of what he deemed Bible cosmogony, against the facts of the geologists.  The old blood-boltered barons who lived in the times of the Crusades used to make all square with Heaven, when particularly aggrieved in their consciences, by slaying a few score of infidels apiece; the Dean had fallen, it would seem, in these latter days, on a similar mode of doing penance, and expiated the crime of making canons residentiary for a consideration, by demolishing a whole conclave of geologists.  The Cathedral service seemed rather a poor thing on the whole.  The coldly read or fantastically chaunted prayers, commonplaced by the twice-a-day repetition of centuries—the mechanical responses—the correct inanity of the choristers, who had not even the life of music in them—the total want of lay attendance, for the loungers who had come in by the side door went off en masse when the organ had performed its introductory part, and the prayer begun—the ranges of empty seats, which, huge as is the building which contains them, would scarce accommodate an average-sized Free Church congregation—all conspired to show that the Cathedral service of the English church does not represent a living devotion, but a devotion that perished centuries ago.  It is a petrifaction—a fossil, existing, it is true, in a fine state of keeping, but still an exanimate stone.  Many ages must have elapsed since it was the living devotion I had witnessed on the previous evening in the double-bedded room—if, indeed, it was ever so living a devotion, or aught, at best, save a mere painted image.”

    We pass from York to Manchester.  Mr. Miller attended divine service on the Sabbath in the Collegiate Church.  But he does not appear to have been better pleased with the sermon he there heard than he had been with the manner of performing the Cathedral service in York Minster.  Indeed, it must be confessed, that a sermon in defense of Saints’ days was not just the thing to edify a Scotch Calvinist.  However, our traveler seems to have listened to it with much good humor.  We hope our Episcopal readers will receive the account of it in the same spirit.

    “It is rather difficult for a stranger in such a place to follow with strict attention the lesson of the day.  To the sermon, however, which was preached in a surplice, I found it comparatively easy to listen.  The Sabbath—a red-letter-one—was the twice famous St. Bartholomew’s day, associated in the history of Protestantism with the barbarous massacre of the French Huguenots, and in the history of Puritanism with the ejection of the English non-conforming ministers after the Restoration; and the sermon was a labored defense of Saints’ days in general, and of the claims of St. Bartholomew’s day in particular.  There was not a very great deal known of St. Bartholomew, said the clergyman; but this much at least we all know—he was a good man—an exceedingly good man; it would be well for us all to be like him; and it was evidently our duty to be trying to be as like him as we could.  As for Saints’ days, there could be no doubt about them; they were very admirable things; they had large standing in tradition, as might be seen from ecclesiastical history, and the writings of the later fathers; and large standing too, in the Church of England—a fact which no one acquainted with ‘our excellent Prayer book’ could in the least question; nay, it would seem as if they had some standing in Scripture itself.  Did not St. Paul remind Timothy of the faith that had dwelt in Lois and Eunice, his grandmother and mother? and had we not therefore a good scriptural argument for keeping Saints’ days, seeing that Timothy must have respected the saint his grandmother?  I looked around me to see how the congregation was taking all this, but the congregation bore the tranquil air of people quite used to such sermons.  There were a good many elderly gentlemen who had dropped asleep, and a good many more who seemed speculating in cotton; but the general aspect was one of heavy inattentive decency.

    “My fellow-guests in the coffee-house where I lodged were, an English Independent, a man of some intelligence—and a young Scotchman, a member of the Relief body.  They had been hearing, they told me, an excellent discourse, in which the preacher had made impressive allusions to the historic associations of the day; in especial, to the time

‘When good Coligny’s hoary hair was dabbled all in blood.’

I greatly tickled them by giving them, in turn, a simple outline without note or comment, of the sermon I had been hearing.  The clergyman from whom it emanated, maugre his use of the surplice in the pulpit and his zeal for Saints’ days, was, I was informed, not properly a Puseyite, but rather one of the class of High Churchmen that germinate into Puseyites when their creed becomes vital within them.  For the thorough High Churchman bears, it would appear, the same sort of a resemblance to the energetic Puseyite, that a dried bulb in the florist’s drawer does to the bulb of the same species in his flower-garden, when swollen with the vegetative juices and rich in leaf and flower.”

    Our next extracts shall be from the geological portions of the work.  Mr. Miller devotes a chapter to answering the common arguments which are brought forward against the conclusions of geology, on the ground that they conflict with the statements of the Bible.  We think his explanations the best for popular purposes of any that we have seen.  We will confine our selection to a single topic.  Geologists have inferred the great antiquity of creation from the existence of organic remains buried in the deep strata of the earth.  But the propriety of this inference has been denied by those who would make the creation of the entire earth contemporaneous with the creation of man and of the present races of animals.  This denial is founded on the argument that God might have created these fossils just as they now exist.  Mr. Miller makes the following quotation to this effect from an English religious newspaper, called “The Record.”  “The earth for anything that appears to the contrary may have been made yesterday.”  He thus replies.

    “We stand in the middle of an ancient burying-ground in a northern district.  The monuments of the dead, lichened and gray, rise thick around us; and there are fragments of mouldering bones lying scattered amid the loose dust that rests under them, in dark recesses impervious to the rain and the sunshine.  We dig into the soil below; here is a human skull, and there numerous other well known bones of the human skeleton—vertebræ, ribs, arm and leg bones, and those of the jaw, breast and pelvis.  Still, as we dig, the bony mass accumulates—we disinter portions, not of one but of many skeletons, some comparatively fresh, some in a state of great decay; and with the bones there mingle fragments of coffins, with the wasted tinsel-mounting in some instances still attached, and the rusted nails still sticking in the joints.  We continue to dig, and, at a depth to which the sexton almost never penetrates, find a stratum of pure sea-sand, and then a stratum of the sea-shells common on the neighboring coast—in especial, oyster, muscle, and cockle shells.  We dig a little further, and reach a thick bed of sandstone, which we penetrate and beneath which we find a bed of impure lime, richly charged with the remains of fish of strangely antique forms.  ‘The earth, for anything that appears to the contrary, might have been made yesterday!’  Do appearances such as these warrant the inference?  Do these human skeletons, in all their various stages of decay, appear as if they had been made yesterday?  Was that bit of coffin, with the soiled tinsel on the one side, and the corroded nail sticking out of the other, made yesterday?  Was yonder skull, instead of ever having formed part of a human head, created yesterday, exactly the repulsive-looking thing we see it?  Indisputably not.  Such is the nature of the human mind—such the laws that regulate and control human belief—that in the very existence of that church-yard, we do and must recognize positive proof that the world was not made yesterday.

    “But can we stop in our process of inference at the mouldering remains of the church-yard?  Can we hold that the skull was not created a mere skull, and yet hold that the oyster, muscle, and cockle shells beneath are not the remains of molluscous animals, but things created exactly in their present state, as empty shells?  The supposition is altogether absurd.  Such is the constitution of our minds, that we must as certainly hold yonder oyster-shell to have once formed part of a mollusc, as we hold yonder skull to have once formed part of a man.  And if we can not stop at the skeleton, how stop at the shells?  Why not pass on to the fish?  The evidence of design is quite as irresistible in them as in the human or molluscous remains above.  We can still see the scales which covered them occupying their proper places, with all their nicely designed bars, hooks and nails of attachment; the fins which propelled them through the water, with the multitudinous pseudo-joints, formed to impart to the rays the proper elasticity, lie widely spread on the stones; the sharp pointed teeth, constructed like those of fish generally, rather for the purpose of holding fast slippery substances than of mastication, still bristle in their jaws; nay, the very folates, spines, and scales of the fish on which they had fed, still lie undigested in their abdomens.  We can not stop short at the shells; if the human skull was not created a mere skull, nor the shell a mere dead shell, then the fossil fish could not have been created a mere fossil.  There is no broken link in the chain at which to take our stand; and yet having once recognized the fishes as such—having recognized them as the remains of animals and not as stones that exist in their original state,—we stand committed to all the organisms of the geological scale.”

    We can not refrain from two quotations more, of a geological character, they are so poetically beautiful.  “Metaphysic theology furnishes no real argument against the ‘infinite series’ of the atheist.  But geology supplies the wanting link, and laughs at the idle fiction of a race of men without beginning, infinite series of human creatures!  Why, man is but of yesterday.  The fish enjoyed life during many creations—the bird and reptile during not a few—the marsupial quadruped ever since the time of the Oolite—the sagacious elephant in at least the latter ages of the Tertiary.  But man belongs to the present creation and to it exclusively.  He came into being late on the Saturday evening.  He has come as the great moral instincts of his nature so surely demonstrate, to prepare for the sacred to-morrow.”

    To this we append the following reflections upon the skeleton of Guadeloupe.

    “Mysterious frame-work of bone locked up in the solid marble—unwonted prisoner of the rock!—an irresistible voice shall yet call thee from out the stony matrix.  The other organisms, thy partners in the show, are incarcerated in the lime for ever—thou but for a term.  How strangely has the destiny of the race to which thou belongest re-stamped with new meanings the old phenomena of creation!  I marked as I passed along, the prints of numerous rain-drops indented in a slab of sandstone.  And the entire record, from the earliest to the latest times, is a record of death.  When that rain-shower descended, myriads of ages ago, at the close of the Palæozoic period, the cloud, just where it fronted the sun, must have exhibited its bow of many colors; and then, as now, nature, made vital in the inferior animals, would have clung to life with the instinct of self-preservation, and shrunk with dismay and terror from the approach of death.  But the prismatic bow strided across the gloom, in blind obedience to a mere optical law; bearing inscribed on its gorgeous arch no occult meaning; and death, whether by violence or decay, formed in the general economy but a clearing process, through which the fundamental law of increase found space to operate.  But when thou wert living, prisoner of the marble, haply as an Indian wife and mother, ages ere the keel of Columbus had disturbed the waves of the Atlantic, the high standing of thy species had imparted new meanings to death and the rainbow.  The prismatic arch had become the bow of the covenant, and death a great sign of the unbending justice and purity of the Creator, and of the aberration and fall of the living soul, formed in the Creator’s own image—reasoning, responsible man”

    The following extracts will present our author in a new aspect.  Mr. Miller shows himself to be not less a profound critic than a good writer.  It is somewhat venturesome to pronounce any criticism on Shakspeare to be absolutely new, but we do not remember to have seen the topic elsewhere so fully handled.  The assemblage of great men in the second extract, and the estimate which Mr. Miller places upon them, point out the authors whose productions are most congenial to him.  We have already said that the elegance and beauty of Mr. Miller’s own writings are to us as wonderful a phenomenon as are his geological science and skill.  We wish we were able to give an account of the process by which he has made himself one of the best writers of his age, but we have not the materials.  Undoubtedly, however, one part of the process was the study of those great authors whom he here commemorates.

    After speaking of “Hero-Worship” as forming, however much perverted, one of the original elements of the mental constitution, and saying that it must find something higher than mere man to worship, he asks—“Did Shakspeare, with all his vast knowledge, know where its aspirations could be directed aright?  The knowledge seems to have got somehow into his family; nay, she who appears to have possessed it, was the much loved daughter on whom his affections mainly rested,

‘Witty above her sex; but that’s not all—
 Wise to salvation was good Mistress Hall.’

    So says her epitaph in the chancel, where she sleeps at the feet of her father.  There is a passage in the poet’s will, too, written about a month ere his death, which may be, it is true, a piece of mere form, but which may possibly be something better.  ‘I commend my soul into the hands of God my Creator, hoping, and assuredly believing, through the only merits of Jesus Christ, my Savior, to be made partaker of life everlasting.’  It is, besides, at least something, that this play-writer and play-actor with wit at will, and a shrewd appreciation of the likes and dislikes of the courts and monarchs he had to please, drew for their amusement no Manse Headriggs or Gabriel Kettledrumles.  Puritanism could have been no patronizer of the Globe Theatre.  Both Elizabeth and James hated the principle with a perfect hatred, and strove hard to trample it out of existence; and such a laugh at its expense as a Shakspeare could have raised, would have been doubtless a high luxury; nay, Puritanism itself was somewhat sharp and provoking in those days, and just a little coarse in its jokes, as the Martin Mar-Prelate tracts serve to testify; but the dramatist, who grew wealthy under the favor of Puritan-detesting monarchs, was, it would seem, not the man to make reprisals.  There are scenes in his earlier dramas, from which, as eternity neared upon his view, he could have derived little satisfaction; but there is no ‘Old Mortality’ among them.  Had the poor player some sense of what his beloved daughter seems to have clearly discovered—the true ‘Hero-Worship?’  In his broad survey of nature and of man, did he mark one solitary character standing erect amid the moral waste of creation, untouched by taint of evil or weakness—a character infinitely too high for even his vast genius to conceive or his profound comprehension to fathom?  Did he draw near to inquire, and to wonder, and then fall down humbly to adore?“

    We conclude our extracts with the following acknowledgment.

    “Nothing in the English character so strikingly impressed me as its immense extent of range across the intellectual scale.  It resembles those musical instruments of great compass, such as the pianoforte and the harpsichord, that sweep over the entire gamut, from the lowest note to the highest; whereas the intellectual character of the Scotch, like instruments of a narrower range such as the harp and the violin, lies more in the middle of the scale.  By at least one degree, it does not rise so high; by several degrees it does not sink so low.  There is an order of English mind to which Scotland has not attained: our first men stand in the second rank, not a foot breadth behind the foremost of England’s second-rank men; but there is a front rank of British intellect in which there stands no Scotchman.  Like that class of the mighty men of David, to which Abishai and Benaiah belonged—great captains, ‘who went down into pits in the time of snow and slew lions,’ or ‘who lifted up the spear against three hundred men at once and prevailed’—they attain not, with all their greatness, to the might of the first class.  Scotland has produced no Shakspeare; Burns and Sir Walter Scott united would fall short of the stature of the giant of Avon.  Of Milton we have not even a representative.  A Scotch poet has been injudiciously named as not greatly inferior, but I shall not do wrong to the memory of an ingenious young man, cut off just as he had mastered his powers, by naming him again in a connection so perilous.  He at least was guiltless of the comparison; and it would be cruel to involve him in the ridicule which it is suited to excite.  Bacon is as exclusively unique as Milton, and as exclusively English; and though the grandfather of Newton was a Scotchman, we have certainly no Scotch Sir Isaac.  I question, indeed, whether any Scotchman attains to the powers of Locke; there is as much solid thinking in the ‘Essay on the Human Understanding,’ greatly as it has become the fashion of the age to depreciate it, and notwithstanding his fundamental error, as in the works of all our Scotch metaphysicians put together.”

    We can stop at no better place in our quotations, than with this noble and just tribute to the great English philosopher.

    Since this article was written and in part printed, we have read in the reprint of the North British Review, a notice of a new work by Mr. Miller entitled, “Footprints of the Creator, or the Asterolepis of Stromness.”  We hope this work will be made accessible to the American reader as we are sure it contains matter of high importance.  We have another reason for referring to this notice—which is, that the two articles, both in the estimate which is placed upon Mr. Miller as a geologist and a writer, and in the use which is made of the same materials, have many things in common, though they were written independently of each other.



25 September, 1855.



[ED.—only a passing reference to Miller, but readers might be interested to read his views on the Highland clearances,  here and here.]

    Sir,—A few years ago, Mr. Hugh Miller, the celebrated self-taught geologist, feeling indignant at the ruthless treatment inflicted on the Highlanders, took up their cause, and eloquently pleaded for the rights of the humankind of the Scottish mountains as of paramount consideration compared with moorcocks, partridges, or deer, which have now for many years been the lords of creation in highland regions once tenanted by the proud and gallant races whose loss to the country you so truly deplore.  Mr. Miller's pamphlet was extensively read and admired, and so considerable was the sensation it excited that even the Duke of Sutherland's agent in the Highlands (Mr. Loch) felt it incumbent on him to come forward— not for the first time—and explain how it was that the late Duke entered upon the iron task of clearing his Sutherland estates of men, and leaving them free for the sheep-walk and the deer forest.  The plea put forward was the innate incapacity of the Highlanders for agricultural pursuits, and the desire of the Duke to benefit both his estates and his tenants by either inducing them to emigrate to Canada, or to form themselves into townships on the coast for the purpose of fishing in the deep seas.  The emigration scheme was more to the taste of the Highlanders than fishing, and there are now several districts in Canada that are inhabited by these emigrants and their descendants, who "have called the land after their own names," although they no doubt still think, with a pang of regret which only the exile and the banished can feel, on the beloved and romantic land from which they were driven.

    A warm-hearted and gallant race they were, and their loss is deeply felt by the native land; for although, like their brethren in blood the Irish, they are less fitted to excel in industrial pursuits than the Saxon, yet their noble spirit of independence, their love of their chiefs and clans, and their identification of a past era of poetry and song, all combine to render then a most valuable element in our national character, blended, as it is, of such varied, yet happily combining races.

    Your reasonable advocacy of a more humane, as well as congenial treatment, at the present warlike period, of the few of the Gaelic race still left will be heard among their hills, and warm up their own blood with a kindly and grateful thrill.  Their hearts are formed by nature to respond to every martial and soldier-like appeal, and it is not from want of ardour to join our troops in the Crimea that so few men can be obtained from the Highlands at the present moment; the men themselves are not to be found.
                                                        I am, Sir, your respectfully,


Sept. 22.



Monday, Dec 29, 1856.


    A post mortem examination of the body of Hugh Miller was made at his house in Portobello, on Friday, by Professor Miller and other medical gentlemen.  The following is the conclusion to which they have come:—

    "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 connexion with the history of the case, we have no doubt that act was suicidal, under the impulse of insanity."

    The following few lines to his wife, found written on a folio sheet lying on the table beside his corpse, gives painful evidence of the awful intensity of the disease:—

    "Dearest Lydia,—My brain burns.  I must have walked; and a fearful dream arises 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,

    "For some months past" states the witness of Saturday "his over-tasked intellect had given evidence of disorder.  He became the pray of false or exaggerated alarm.  He fancied,—if, indeed, it was a fancy,—that, occasionally, and for brief intervals, his faculties quite failed him, that his mind broke down.  He was engaged at this time with a treatise on the Testimony of the Rocks, upon which he was putting out all his strength, working at his topmost pitch of intensity.  That volume will in a few weeks be in the hands of many of our readers; and, while they peruse it with the saddened impression that the intellect and genius of the author poured out their latest treasure in its composition, they will search through it in vain for the slightest evidence of feebleness or decaying power.   Rather let us anticipate the general verdict that will be pronounced upon it, and speak of it as one of the ablest of all his writings.  But he wrought at it too eagerly.  Hours after midnight the light was seen to glimmer through the window of that room which within the same eventful week was to witness the close of the volume and the close of the writer's life.  This overworking of the brain began to tell upon his mental health.  He has always been somewhat moodily apprehensive of being attacked by footpads, and had carried loaded firearms about his person.  Latterly, having occasion sometimes to return to Portobello from Edinburgh at unseasonable hours, he had furnished himself with a revolver.  But now, to all his old fears as to attacks upon his person, there was added an exciting and overmastering impression that his house, and especially that Museum, and the fruit of so much care, which was contained in a separate outer building, were exposed to the assault of burglars.  He read all the recent stories of house robberies.  He believed that one night lately an actual attempt to break in upon his museum had been made.  Visions of ticket-of-leave men prowling about his premises haunted him by day and by night.  The revolver which lay nightly near him was not enough; a broad-bladed dagger was kept beside it, while behind him, at his bead-head, a claymore stood ready at hand.  A week or so ago a new more aggravated feature of cerebral disorder showed itself in sudden and singular sensations in his head.  They came on only after lengthened intervals.  They did not last long, but were intensely violent.  That terrible idea that his brain was deeply and hopelessly diseased, and that his mind was on the verge of ruin, took hold of him, and stood out before his eye in all that appalling magnitude in which such an imagination as his alone could picture it."

    Up to Monday last it appears he had spoken to no one of these mental paroxysms.  On Monday he called on Dr. Balfour in Portobello.  "On my asking," says Dr. Balfour, in a communication to the witness what was the matter with him, he replied, "My brain is giving way.  I cannot put two thoughts together today.  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 continued I cannot say; but when I awoke in the morning I was trembling all over, and quite confused in my brain.  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."

    The next day a consultation was held between Dr. Balfour and Professor Miller, the result of which the latter thus communicates:—

    "We examined his chest, and found that unusually well; but soon we discovered that was head symptoms that made him easy.  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 poniard 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 kind 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 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 50 miles, and rose far more wearied in mind and body than when I lay down.'"

    "Suffice it to say," adds Professor Miller, "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 all work—bed at 11, 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.  For fully an hour we talked on this 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."

    Shortly afterwards states the witness the servant entered the dining room to spread the table—

    "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 shrank in terror from the sight.  He flung himself on 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 the family.  During tea he employed himself to read aloud Cowper's Cast-away, the 'Sonnet of 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 his 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 might alone—and laid some time 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 upon 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 bullet had perforated the left lung, grazed the heart, and cut through the pulmonary artery at its root, and lodged in the rib in the right side.  Death must have been instantaneous."

    The terrible story of Mr. Miller's death has created a still deeper gloom in Edinburgh by the publication of these particulars.  But another sad tragedy in connection with his fate had at the same time to be disclosed.  After the judicial and medical inquiry on Friday Professor Miller took the pistol to the gunsmith from which it had been purchased by Mr. Miller in July, 1855, in order to ascertain how many shots had been fired and how many were still in the chamber.  In the master's absence, the foreman, Thomas Leslie, an old and experienced workman, received the pistol from Professor Miller, and unfortunately, instead of taking off the chamber, he 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.  Professor Miller, still standing outside the counter, exclaimed, "That's a narrow escape," but unhappily it was not so, for as the smoke cleared away he saw the poor man's head gradually droop and his body then fall lifeless to the floor.  The charge had entered his right eye and penetrated the brain.  Leslie was a steady, trustworthy man, and had been 25 years in his present employment.  He left a widow and family of eight children.


(From the Literary Gazette).

Hugh Miller was born at Cromarty in 1816.  In his early life he worked as a labourer in the Sandstone quarries of his native district, and afterwards as a stone-mason in different parts of Scotland.  In a work published in 1854, My Schools & Schoolmasters, or the story of my Education, Mr. Miller gives a most interesting account of his early history, and to the training and self-culture which he rose to honourable rank in literature and science.  Notwithstanding the unpretending statements of this narrative, and the disavowal of any other elements of success than are within ordinary reach, every reader of that book feels that homage is due to a genius original and rare, as well as to natural talents and diligently and judiciously cultivated.  While professedly written for the benefit of the working classes of his own country, there are few who may not derive pleasant and profitable lessons from this most remarkable piece of autobiography.  After being engaged in manual labour for about 15years, Mr. Miller was for some time manager of a bank that was established in his native town.  While is this position, a pamphlet that he published on the ecclesiastical controversies which then distracted Scotland, attracted the attention of the leaders of the party who now form the Free Church, and they invited him to be editor of the Witness newspaper, then about to be established for the advocacy of their principles.  Mr. Miller had already published a volume of Legendary Tales of Cromarty, of which the late Baron Hume, nephew of the historian, himself a man of much judgment and taste, said it was "written in an English style, which he had begun to regard as one of the lost arts."  The ability displayed by Mr. Miller as editor of the Witness and the influence exerted by him on ecclesiastical and educational events in Scotland are well known.  Mr. Miller did not confine his newspaper to topics of local or passing interest.  In its columns he made public his geological observations and researches, and most of his works originally appeared in the form of articles in that newspaper.  It was in 1840, the year at which the autobiographical memoir closes, that the name of Hugh Miller became widely known beyond his own country.  At the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Glasgow that year Sir Roderick, then Mr. Murchison, gave an account of the striking discoveries recently made in the old red sandstone of Scotland.  M. Agassiz, who was present, pointed out the peculiarities and the importance of these discoveries, and it was on this occasion that he proposed to associate the name of Mr. Miller with them by the wonderful fossil, the Pterichthys Milleri, specimens of which were then under the notice of the section.  Dr. Buckland, following M. Agassiz, said that "he never had been so much astonished in his life by the powers of any man as he had been by the geological descriptions of Mr. Miller.  He described these objects with a felicity which made him ashamed of the comparative meagreness and poverty of his own descriptions in the Bridgewater Treatise, which had cost him hours and days of labour.  He (Dr. Buckland) would give his left hand to possess such powers of description as this man, and if it pleased Providence to spare his useful life he, if any one, would certainly render the science attractive and popular, and do equal service to the theology and geology."  At the meeting of the association the language of panegyric of mutual compliment is not unfrequent, and does not signify much; but these were spontaneous tributes of praise to one comparatively unknown.  The publication of the volume on the Old Red Sandstone, with the details of the author's discoveries and researches, more than justified all the anticipations that had been formed.  It was received with highest approbation, not by men of science alone for the interest of its facts, but by men of letters for the beauty of its style, Sir Roderick Murchison, in his address to the Geological Society that year, "hailed the accession to their science of such a writer," and said that "his work is, to a beginner, worth a thousand didactic treatises."  The Edinburgh Review spoke of the book being "as admirable for the clearness of its descriptions and the sweetness of its composition as for the purity and gracefulness that pervade it."  The impression made by such a testimony was the more marked that the reviewer spoke of the writer as a follow-countryman, "meritorious and sell-taught."  In 1847 appeared First Impressions of England and its People, the result of a tour made during the previous year.  Some parts of this book, especially the account of the pilgrimages, to Stratford-on-Avon, and the Leasowes, and Olney, and other places memorable for their literary associations, are as fine pieces of descriptive writing as the English language possesses.  This magic of style characterized all his works, whether those of a more popular kind, or his scientific treatises, such as the Old Red Sandstone, and Footprints of the Creator, a volume suggested by Vestiges of Creation, and subversive of the fallacies of that superficial and plausible book.  Not one of the authors of our day has approached Huge Miller as a master of English composition, for the equal of which we must go back to the times of Addison, Hume, and Goldsmith. Other living writers have now a wider celebrity, but they owe it much to the peculiarity of their style or the popularity of their topics.  Mr. Miller has taken subjects of science, too often rendered dry and repulsive, and has thrown over them an air of attractive romance.  His writings on literature, history and politics are known to comparatively few, from having appeared in the columns of a local newspaper.  A judicious selection from his miscellaneous articles in the Witness would widely extend his fame, and secure for him a place in classic English literature as high as he held during his life as a periodical writer and as a scientific geologist.  The personal appearance of Mr. Miller, or "Old Red," as he was familiarly named by his scientific friends, will not be forgotten by any who have seen him.  A head of great massiveness, magnified by an abundant profusion of sub-Celtic hair, was set in a body of muscular compactness, but which in later years felt the undermining influence of a life of unusual physical and mental toil.  Generally wrapped in a bulky plaid, and with a garb ready for any work, he had the appearance of a shepherd from the Ross-shire hills rather than an author and a man of science.  In conversation or in lecturing the man of original genius and cultivated mind at once shone out, and his abundant information and philosophical acuteness were only less remarkable than his amiable disposition, his generous spirit, and his consistent, humble piety.  Literature and science have lost in him one of their brightest ornaments, and Scotland one of its greatest men.






(p. 933)

    Those who are acquainted with the personal history of Hugh Miller, and have been moved to sadness by the melancholy termination of his career, especially those who have read his published works, and have been charmed with their graphic style, vigorous reasoning and richness of thought and information, will welcome “The Cruise of the Betsey,” the new volume which has been given to the public since his death.

    The two series of sketches, embraced in this first volume of his post-humous works, were published originally in the “Witness,” when that paper was under Mr. Miller’s editorship.  They have been revised for the present issue by a friend of the author, to whom the task was assigned by Mrs. Miller, when prevented from executing it herself by protracted illness, the result, in part at least, of her sudden and overwhelming bereavement.

    The title of the volume is amply descriptive of its contents.  It is full of incident, racy and vigorous in style, rich in facts of Geology and Natural History, and, withal, abundantly entertaining and instructive, from the insight which it gives, not only into the habits and opinions of the author, but also into the manners, customs and scenery of Scotland.  The ever reverent spirit and unaffected piety of this distinguished though self-made Geologist, lend an additional charm and value to this, as to all his other works.

    We have received from Messrs. Gould & Lincoln a copy of their new edition of “The Old Red Sandstone.“  These publishers have the honor, we believe, of first presenting this incomparable work to the American public.  We have, on various occasions, expressed our high admiration of this author, and we have never seen reason for changing the opinion which we early formed, that in point of mere literary excellence Hugh Miller is among the foremost writers of our age.  We need not, therefore, in this notice, do more than mention the peculiarities of the present edition.  “The Old Red Sandstone” was first published in 1841.  A new edition appeared in 1842, containing some new matter.  The third edition, which was issued, 1846, contained not only considerable additions but some modifications of views in particular instances.  The fourth, fifth and sixth editions were mainly reprints of the third.  The edition, now under notice, is the last, and has been prepared under the supervision of Mrs. Miller, since her husband’s death.  The text and the notes of Mr. Miller are preserved without change, but a few notes have been added by a friend, to point out certain modifications which it was known Mr. Miller’s views had undergone.  The reprint is from this edition, and its mechanical elegance is highly creditable to the American publishers.

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.  By HUGH MILLER, LL. D., author of the Old Red Sandstone, Footprints of the Creator, My Schools and Schoolmasters, The Testimony of the Rocks, etc. Boston: Gould & Lincoln.

  The Old Red Sandstone; or, New Walks in an old Field.  To which is appended a series of geological papers, read before the Royal Physical society of Edinburgh.  By HUGH MILLER, LL. D.  Illustrated with numerous engravings.  A new, improved, and enlarged edition.  Boston: Gould & Lincoln.








From The Edinburgh Review.

  1. The Cruise of the Betsey, or a Summer Ramble among the Fossiliferous Deposits of the Hebrides, with Rambles of a Geologist. By Hugh Miller. Edinburgh: 1858.

  2. The Old Red Sandstone, or New Walks in an Old Field. By Hugh Miller. Ninth Edition, 1858.

  3. First Impressions of England and its People. By Hugh Miller. Sixth Edition, 1857.

  4. Footprints of the Creator, or the Asterolepis of Stromness. By Hugh Miller. London: 1849.

  5. My Schools and Schoolmasters, or the Story of my Education. By Hugh Miller. Edinburgh: 1854.

  6. The Testimony of the Rocks, or Geology in its Bearings on the Two Theologies, Natural and Revealed. By Hugh Miller. Edinburgh: 1857.

    NO common interest attaches to the life and labours of the remarkable man whose writings we have placed at the head of this article.  Those writings have attained a very high place in the literature of his own time, and there are good grounds for believing that this place will be permanent in the literature of the English language.  They belong to the history of Science, and mark an important epoch in the progress of discovery.  This, no doubt, is true more or less of many works which are afterwards forgotten, and of many contributions to our knowledge which fall into the general inheritance with but little recollection of the quarter from which they came.  But there are many guarantees against such being the fate of the works of Hugh Miller.  The interest of his narrative, the purity of his style, his inexhaustible faculty of happy and ingenious illustration, his high imaginative power—so essential to the completeness of high intellectual faculties,—and that light of genius which it is so difficult to define, yet so impossible to mistake, all promise to secure for the author of the “Old Red Sandstone” the lasting admiration of his countrymen.  Those who in after times desire to make themselves acquainted with the subject on which Hugh Miller specially employed his pen, are little likely to seek their information in any other form than that in which it was originally conveyed.

    Hugh Miller was born in the little town of Cromarty, on the north-eastern shores of Scotland, in the second year of the present century.  His father, the owner and master of vessels employed in the coasting trade, perished at sea in 1807; and his mother was left dependent in a great measure for her own support and the education of her family upon the generosity of her kindred.  Her two brothers, one of whom was a carpenter and the other a harness maker, were her principal support.  To the manly and simple virtues of these two uncles Hugh Miller has left, in one of the most delightful of his works, a grateful and enduring tribute.  Hugh, having learned his letters and his spelling under the tuition of a worthy woman, whose establishment was of the humblest kind, passed in due course to the parish school.  There he seems to have been no otherwise distinguished than as a harum-scarum boy—with a turn for any literature but that which belonged to school,—a reader of strange books—a teller of queer stories—a leader in expeditions among the caves and precipices of the neighbouring coast.  But in the learning which all scholars of his class in Scotland look to as the principal object of ambition, viz., that which may fit them for the ministry of the Church, Miller, much to the disappointment of his uncles, made no progress whatever.  Accordingly when the years of boyhood had been spent, and the necessity of self-support came upon him, he had no other resource than some manual occupation.  One of his cousins was a mason; and he had observed that this employment left him, during a considerable portion of the year, long intervals of leisure.  This, therefore, was the handicraft which he chose, and at seventeen years of age he began work as an apprentice.  During the three years of the term of service he seems to have been exclusively employed in his native county, and chiefly in his native district.  From the narrative he has left us of this portion of his life it would appear that his acquaintance with men and manners had never even extended so far as the neighbouring town of Inverness.  His working seasons were spent wherever his master could get a job—sometimes in building farm-houses, farm-steadings or lodges at the neighbouring country houses—sometimes in the coarser operations of opening quarries and building dykes.  About a year after his apprenticeship had expired, work became scarce in the North, and the great building speculations of 1824-25 having begun, Miller was induced to “try whether he could not make his way as a mechanic among the stone-cutters of Edinburgh—perhaps the most skilful—is their profession in the world.”

    Probably no man who was himself destined to add to the literary celebrity of Scotland had ever so singular an introduction to the society of its capital.  That society then numbered among its members such men as Dugald Stewart, and Jeffrey, and Wilson, and the Ettrick Shepherd, and Sir Walter Scott.  But none of these men had the Cromarty mason an opportunity of seeing,—even in the street.  During the ten months of his residence Miller spent his time in stone-cutting for the Mansion House of Niddry—a place lying in the hollow that intervenes between Arthur’s Seat and the heights which are crowned by the ruins of Craigmillar.  He worked with a squad of wild, dissipated masons, associated with those rudest of the labouring classes—there peculiarly rude—who find employment around the outskirts of our large towns.  He was lodged in the same room with a farm-servant and his wife, of whom he tells us that the man “in his journey through life had picked up scarce an idea;” and that the woman, “though what in Scotland is called a ‘fine body,’ was not more intellectual than her husband.”

    Returning to his native town with impaired health, Miller spent some of the following years in the lighter work of his profession, such as the preparation of tombstones in the country churchyards of Cromarty and Ross.  The support which habits of temperance and frugality enabled him to derive from these sources of employment failing him in 1828, he repaired to Inverness.  There he made his first not very promising attempt to enter on the field of literature.  He sent to the “Inverness Courier” some verses of very moderate merit, which were, not unnaturally, rejected.  Piqued by this result, he determined on publishing them with others in a separate form, and having employed for his purposes the printer of the “Courier,” he became personally known to the editor, a gentleman of the name of Carruthers, to whom the high merit belongs of having early discovered the abilities and encouraged the exertions of his humbler countryman.  Miller’s verses were published anonymously as the productions of a “journeyman mason.”  This title implies an apology, which in some respects was not needed, and in others was perhaps not sufficient.  Miller’s verses testified to knowledge and accomplishments for the want of which his position in life would have accounted, and they were chiefly deficient in those qualities which may be and often are most independent of education and of culture.  The truth is that poetry cannot be judged by any standard lower than her own.  Her brightest flowers have sprung, at times, from uncultivated ground; and the country which has listened to such immortal song from her “Ayrshire ploughman” cannot be called upon to accept at more than their intrinsic worth the offerings of a “journey-man mason.”  Yet Miller’s failure to rise to any degree of superiority in this department of literature is another among the many proofs how subtle are the elements on which the gift of true poetry depends.  We shall see how vivid his powers of imagination were, how great his command of language, and how fine his ear for its harmony in prose.  He soon began to discover the direction in which he might attain success.

    During the next few years in which he continued to work as a mason in his native town, the friendly editor afforded him an opportunity for occasional contributions on subjects of local interest; and these, together with his poems, soon brought him a certain celebrity in the North.  They brought him, however, little else; and as about this time he had become engaged in marriage, and as the scanty earnings of his labour afforded him no very bright prospects of supporting a wife and family, he seems to have seriously contemplated emigration to America.  Fortunately a new and very unexpected employment was proffered to him.  It was proposed to establish in Cromarty a branch agency of one of the great banking companies which play so considerable a part in the social economy of Scotland.  Connected with this agency Miller was nominated to the office of accountant, for which it was necessary that he should prepare himself by some preliminary instruction.  For this purpose he repaired to the Low Country in 1834; and in the course of a few months returned to Cromarty, not only thoroughly master of the more mechanical duties of his office, but with such a knowledge of the principles of banking that he afterwards took an able and active part in the discussion of that difficult and complicated subject.

    It was at this time that he published, under the advice of the late Sir. T. D. Lauder, his volume on “Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland,” a work for which he had been long collecting the materials.  The somewhat wider reputation which this volume gave him was far less important than the wider personal acquaintance to which it was the means of introduction.  During the few following years in which he resided in Cromarty, his connexion with literature was extending, and his connexion with science had begun.  But his labours continued to be comparatively obscure, until an event occurred which brought him into a more prominent position, and afforded him the means of speaking to the world.  In 1839 the House of Lords decided on appeal against the right of the Assemblies of the Scottish Church to regulate, as they had proposed to do, the admission of ministers.  Hence the controversy which for three years raged with increasing violence throughout the country, and ended in the calamitous division of 1843.  Englishmen never understood that controversy, and probably never will.  But it stirred the feelings and the intellect of Scotland to their very depths.  Unfortunately it fell to be decided mainly by English Lawyers and English statesmen, and by some who though not without knowledge of Scotland and its law, belonged to a school of religion and of politics widely separated from the habits and traditions of their native country.  Among these was Henry Brougham.  Miller, like the vast majority of his class at that time, was a liberal in politics, and had sympathised in all the causes to which that eminent man had so long devoted his versatile and brilliant powers.  He was pained and alarmed by the tone and arguments of the speech in which Lord Brougham supported the finding of the House of Lords.  In the course of a week he wrote and dispatched to a friend in Edinburgh the MS. of “A Letter from one of the Scotch People to Lord Brougham, &c.”  This vigorous production commanded immediate notice.  The leaders of the Non-Intrusion Party were in want of a journal to espouse their cause against a press all but universally hostile: and for the establishment of such a journal no common abilities were required.  The task was offered to and accepted by Miller.  He became the editor, and ultimately the proprietor, of the “Witness Newspaper,” which under his guidance continued to advocate with ability and success the opinions of the Free Church.

    We say nothing here of his controversial writings.  They were able, varied, picturesque, sometimes philosophical, but too often bitter, and not unfrequently wanting that taste and refinement in which on other subjects he never failed.  It was in the columns of the same journal that several of those works appeared on which his fame will securely rest.  The scientific world were astonished by a series of papers remarkable indeed for the beauty and purity of their style, but much more remarkable for still higher qualities—papers, which lighted up with all the graces of imagination the details of a science usually obscure and dry; founded its conclusions on extraordinary powers of analysis, and connected the whole with the noblest speculations on the history and destiny of the world.  Thus appeared in succession “The Old Red Sandstone,” “First impressions of England and its People;” “My Schools and Schoolmasters,” besides many occasional papers on literature and science.

    In reviewing these works, and especially the circumstances under which they were produced, we must not fail to take due account of that which underlies every possibility of success in the higher walks of intellectual exertion.  Miller in one of his works has spoken of “that mysterious substance on whose place and development so very much in the scheme of creation was destined to depend.”  He was himself, alas, to afford a new example of the mutual dependence between the action of the mind and the physical condition of the organ with which it holds mysterious alliance.  Beyond all doubt he was born with a powerful instrument at his command.  His mind was large, sensitive, and finely strung.  Genius had endowed him with her incommunicable gifts.  And as for higher excellence this is an all-sufficient explanation, so also is it the real source of the main elements of. literary skill.  A bad style is generally indicative of a feeble intellect.  Clear conceptions will find, for the most part, clear expression: and even when the task of the writer is to render back faint and distant echoes which have reached no other ear than his, the same faculty which enables himself to catch them, will often without an effort make them audible to the world.  There was nothing in Miller’s works which so much surprised the public as their mere literary merit.  Where could this Cromarty mason have acquired his style?  The surprise was natural.  Miller was what from his position in life he might he presumed to be,—he was, in the technical sense of the word, an uneducated man.  He knew little of any language but his own; and even this he never could pronounce intelligibly to an English ear.  In this sense he was far less educated than many of his own class in his own country, or than his opportunities might have enabled him to be.  The clergy of Scotland have almost all received more than the elements of education at its parish schools; and at least a rudimentary knowledge of the learned languages is generally attainable within their walls.  These opportunities were not altogether wanting to him; but, as he himself tells us, they were neglected.  Yet the truth is, that Miller had an education, in the higher senses of the word, with which few other educations can compare.  There is no culture like that of one who loves reading, and has only a few of the best books to read.  His writings show an extensive knowledge of English literature; but it was gathered slowly, through the course of years, from volumes acquired singly and at intervals,—from his father’s shipwrecked shelves,—from patronizing dominies—”sticket ministers,” and travelling pedlars.  Miscellaneous as this reading was, he seems to have liked best that which was best worth liking.  The great classic writers of English literature were his chosen friends.  He read them in long solitary evenings; and in evenings not solitary, but loud with conversation which he could not enjoy.  He read them in the intervals of labour, straining his eyes over their pages by the light of bothy-fires, and the long glow of northern summer nights.  The enjoyment he had in them defended him from temptations for the terrible strength of which over the labouring classes we sometimes perhaps make hardly enough allowance.  The drinking vices of many callings are nearly connected with physical trials.  Miller tells us that under the influence of discomfort and fatigue he had begun to yield; when retiring one night to his hour of reading, he found the stately sentences of Bacon emptied of all their noble meaning.  The resolution taken in that moment of conscious debasement was ever after kept.  His opportunities of self-improvement were never again thus voluntarily lost.  Passing from the illustrious names—

                                                         “That fill
 The spacious times of great Elizabeth
 With sounds that echo still,”

he became familiar in the same way with most of the poets and novelists of the later stages of English literature—with Pope and Dryden, with Swift and Richardson, with Gray and Cowper, with Addison and Goldsmith.  A retentive memory kept for him all he read; a fine natural taste determined his likings well, and a genial disposition made him live with those whose writings he admired.  The degree in which he had lived with them became evident in his “First Impressions of England and its People.”  He never crossed the border till he was far advanced in life.  But when he did so, it is impossible to mistake the familiar greeting with which he hailed the homes of England most associated with the genius, the virtue or the piety of her sons.  With what tenderness of feeling he describes his visit to Olney, and how often must he have traced before in imagination those old avenues in the park of the Throckmortons, which were the favourite resort of Cowper, “the sweet poet,” as Miller fondly calls him, “who first poured the stream of divine truth into the channels of our literature.”  All the woods and fields round “Yardley Oak” had long been as familiar to him as the wave-worn Sutors of Cromarty, or the fine outline of Ben Wyvis.  Probably few men now read the poetry of Shenstone, and the landscape gardening of the Leasowes is pretty well forgotten.  But all its old ponds and waterfalls, its glades and vistas, had been known to Miller, and he spends some hours in tracing their decay.  At Hagley he was at home in the landscape of “the Seasons,” and not less in the personal history of those from whose descriptions it was known.  He recounts the strangely contrasted character of the elder and the younger Lyttleton, and its parish church, as over the grave of a friend, he repeats to himself the famous Monody.  In the streets of London his recollections were of the houseless wanderings and poverty of Otway, and Butler, and Chatterton, and Savage, and Crabbe, and Johnson.  Not very many of nose who pass through colleges and schools were as worthy as this Cromarty mason to tread the pavement of Poets’ Corner; not many could say with equal truth,—“I had got fairly among my patrons and benefactors.  How often, shut out for months and years together from all literary converse with the living, had they been almost my only companions,—my unseen associates, who in the rude workshed lightened my labour by the music of their numbers; and who in my evening walks, that would have been so solitary hut for them, expanded my intellect by the solid bulk of their thinking, and gave me eyes, by their exquisite descriptions, to look at nature.” (First Impressions, ch. xviii.)

    With such love for such teachers we may cease to wonder at Miller’s command over the resources of the English language.  Nor must we omit to mention the influence of other circumstances in his condition.  Cromarty, without being itself very picturesquely situated, is within view of great natural features.  There is the sea in both its aspects,—the long swell of comparatively open water, and the quiet recesses of a noble harbour, the best and almost the only one along hundreds of miles of coast.  Both were associated in his early memory with those eventful moments and vicissitudes in life of which in all ages they have been taken as the type.  He had watched his father’s vessel going and returning, until at last he had watched in vain.  Then upon the other side was a view of the everlasting hills.  The outer borders of a Highland country are in many respects more favourable to enjoyment of its beauty than the interior.  A low horizon, with a distant outline, is an inexhaustible source of variety and interest.  Every change of atmosphere is as it were a change of country.  Evening is more beautiful than elsewhere, and the working man, called to early labour, sees as he can see in no other situation the effect of “morning spread upon the mountains.”  Miller’s enjoyment of nature was intense, enlightened by the happy union of science and of taste.  The introductory chapter of the “Old Red Sandstone” describes his first day of labour in opening a quarry on the upper shores of the Cromarty Firth.  It is but one of his lighter sketches, but drawn with truth and feeling.

    But we pass from the literary framework of his thinking to the solid materials they contained.  Miller’s mastery over the science which he has done so much to illustrate, was acquired under similar circumstances of apparent difficulty and of real advantage.  Making again due allowance for the natural powers of a mind which observed every thing, and reasoned on every thing it observed, his scientific education was the most perfect in the world.  There is no knowledge so thorough as that which is gained at last after years of baffled and wondering inquiry.  His facts were accumulated for himself, and his calling supplied him with abundant opportunities for collecting them.  On the first day on which he began labour in a quarry, a great slab of rock had to be lifted from its bed, and when that bed was exposed to view, it presented on its surface the grainy ripple of primeval seas.

    “It was ridged and furrowed like a bank of sand that had been left an hour before. I could trace every bend and curvature, every cross hollow and counterridge of the corresponding phenomena—for the resemblance was no half resemblance; it was the thing itself; and I had observed it a hundred and a hundred times, when sailing my little schooner in the shallows left by the ebb.” (Old Red, ch. i.)

    Whilst soon after similarly employed in another part of the same district, he found an ammonite—that noble convoluted form so often repeated in different provinces of the Natural Kingdom, and, at second hand, in not a few departments of decorative art.  Looking at this object in reference to this form alone, Miller speaks of it as it then not unnaturally appeared to him—”a beautifully finished piece of sculpture—one of the volutes apparently of an Ionic capital.”  A fellow workman told him of a spot on the neighbouring coast, where these and other stones “like thunderbolts” were found.  The first half-holiday was devoted to the search; and what he found in the rocks he was in search of, can be told in no words half so descriptive as his own:—

    “I found them composed of thin strata of limestone, alternating with thicker beds of a black, slaty substance, which, as I ascertained in the course of the evening, burns with a powerful flame and emits a strong bituminous odour.  The layers with which the beds readily separate, are hardly an eighth of an inch in thickness, and yet on every layer there are the impressions of thousands and tens of thousands of the various fossils peculiar to the Lias.  We may turn over wonderful leaves one by one like the leaves of an herbarium and find the historical records of a former creation in every page: scallops and gryphites and ammonites of almost every variety peculiar to the formation, and at least some eight or ten varieties of belemnites; twigs of wood, leaves of plants, cones of an extinct species of pine; bits of charcoal, and the scales of fishes; and as if to render their pictorial appearance more striking, though the leaves of this interesting volume are of a deep black, most of the impressions are of a chalky whiteness.  I was lost in admiration and astonishment, and found my very imagination paralysed by an assemblage of wonders that seemed to outrival, in the fantastic and the extravagant, even its wildest conceptions.  I passed on from ledge to ledge like the traveller of the tale through the City of Statues.” (Old Red, ch. i.)

    Strange and ancient as were the fossils of the Lias, he soon broke ground upon remains less beautiful but infinitely more uncouth, and, as he afterwards came to know—older by unnumbered ages.  In puzzling over these strata of the Lias, and trying to understand their relation to the adjacent rocks, he did what must be done under such circumstances—he formed a theory,—and if that theory were right, he concluded he should find the same beds recurring at another point of the coast in a bay close to his native town.  And so, “one delightful morning in August 1830,” he set out to explore the rocks exposed there by the lowest ebb.  He soon found some strata abounding in calcareous nodules.

    “So thickly are the nodules spread over the surface of some of the beds, that they reminded me of floats of broken ice on the windward side of a lake after a few days’ thaw, when the edges of the fragments are smoothed and rounded, and they press upon one another, so as to cover, except in the angular interstices, the entire surface.  I set myself carefully to examine.  The first nodule I laid open contained a bituminous-looking mass, in which I could trace a few pointed bones and a few minute scales.  The next abounded in rhomboidal and finely enamelled scales of much larger size and more distinct character.  I wrought on with the eagerness of a discoverer entering for the first time in a terra incognita of wonders.  Almost every fragment of clay, every splinter of sandstone, every limestone nodule, contained its organism—scales, spines, plates, hones, entire fish; but not one organism of the Lias could I find—no ammonite, no belemnites, no gryphites, no shells of any kind; the vegetable impressions were entirely different; and not a single scale, plate or ichthyodorulite, could I identify with those of the newer formation.  I had got into a different world, and among the remains of a different creation; but where was its proper place in the scale?  The beds of the little bay are encircled by thick accumulations of diluvium and débris, nor could I tract their relation to a single known rock.  I was struck, as I well might, by the utter strangeness of the forms—the oar-like arms of the Pterichthys, and its tortoise-like plates—the strange buckler-looking head of the Coccosteus, which, I suppose, might possibly be the back of a small tortoise, though the tubereles reminded me rather of the skin of the shark—the polished scales and plates of the Osteolepis—the spined and scaled fins of the Cheiracanthus—above all, the one-sided tail of at least eight out of the ten or twelve varieties of fossil which the deposit contained.  All together excited and astonished me. . . . . . I wrought on till the advancing tide came splashing over the nodules, and a powerful August sun had risen towards the middle sky; and were I to sum up all my happier hours, the hour would not be forgotten in which I sat down on a rounded boulder of granite, by the edge of the sea, when the last bed was covered, and spread out on the beach before me the spoils of the morning." (Old Red, ch. vi.)

    Miller was not then aware of the value of his discovery.  Geology is so young a science that even small portions of a single life have seen great changes in its progress.  It was only in the earlier years of the present century that its foundation, as a science properly so called, was laid in the establishment of the great principle that strata are to be identified by their imbedded fossils—that different ages of creation have been distinguished by different forms of animal and vegetable life, and that by the remains of these, under every variety of colour and of texture, the same formation can always be detected.  It was upon the rich and abundant fossils of that very formation which first arrested the attention of Miller, the Lias, which with the superincumbent Oolite covers a large part of England, that this principle had been first established and applied.  Under its guidance the leading masses of the “secondary rocks” were soon classified and arranged.  The wonderful remains of the carboniferous vegetation had been long practically known, and under the new law this great system of deposits had speedily its true place assigned to it with reference to the strata both above and under it.  With respect to one of these it was known by costly experience that the coal-measures were frequently overlaid by beds of red sandstone, sometimes of such enormous thickness as to render hopeless all access to the treasures underneath.  With respect to another, it was also known that these same coal-measures were underlaid by other masses of red sandstone in which no coal was found.  These relative positions had assigned to the first the name of the “New,” and to the last that of the “Old Red Sandstone.”  Both came rather slowly to be separated from the coal-measures, or to be regarded in any other light than as the floor and the roof respectively of the carboniferous strata.  Rising from under the coal-basins of Shropshire and South Wales the “Old Red” was seen to spread over a large part of the western and south-western counties of England.  It rose to high mountains in Brecon and Carmarthen, and beds of the same deposit gave their rich and peculiar colouring to the beautiful shores of Devon.  In Scotland likewise considerable districts of country were occupied by strata whose relation to the primary rocks beneath indicated the same relations.  But throughout all these areas in both countries hardly any organic remains had been discovered.  In 1827 the sagacity of Murchison and Sedgwick referred to the “Old Red“ certain rocks in Caithness which were largely quarried for flagstones and which were found to contain the remains of some peculiar fish.  Soon after, the late Professor Fleming, to whom science in many departments owes so much, discovered in Forfarshire some similar remains, and Sir Charles Lyell was an early contributor from the same field.  But a few ambiguous impressions as, if of miniature shields and bucklers, were all that for long rewarded the search of English geologists in the “Old Red” strata of that country.  So late as 1836, when Buckland published his celebrated Bridgewater Treatise, we find no engraving, such as is given for other strata, to indicate any forms of life peculiar to the ages of the Old Red Sandstone; and a short note, appended apparently after the text had been prepared, disposes of the Scotch discoveries as of interest indeed, but still only as disclosing remains of fish closely related to those connected with the coal.  Miller, in his walk on “that delightful morning of August, 1830,”—six years earlier, had lighted on a stratum of these “Old Red” rocks which revealed in a moment the strange and peculiar creatures which had lived during the ages of their deposition, and which had perished as utterly before the carboniferous vegetation had begun to grow, as this vegetation again had perished before the introduction of the lizards and ammonites of the Lias.

    For several years he worked on, entirely unassisted from without, but applying with assiduous labour to the collection of his specimens, and with powers of curious and accurate analysis to the structure of the animals he discovered.  In the conclusions to which his discoveries would have led he was anticipated by a distinguished countryman.  Murchison, during the progress of his great work on the Silurian System, was gathering during the same years some additional evidence to that which was already known of the organisms of the “Old Red,”—evidence which, with his eye for rapid yet sound generalization, enabled him to appreciate more justly the true importance of the “Old Red,” as the remains of ages wholly separate from those which produced the coal-measures.  This view was maintained in the “Silurian System,” published in 1839.  Meanwhile Miller, to use the sailor’s phrase, was “coming up with a wet sail.”  He had communicated to Murchison some of his specimens, and had received from him encouragement and assistance; following up his own researches, he very soon made himself master also of the literature of the rising science, dovetailing it with nice and curious connexion into his own earlier reading.  He worked with such a will, and, consequently, with such success, that in the very first year of his residence in Edinburgh as editor of the “Witness,” he published in that journal the series of papers which constitute his work on the "Old Red Sandstone,” the first, the freshest, and, we think, the best of all his scientific writings.

    The jealousy which exists among men of science has often been the subject of invidious remark.  On this occasion there was nothing but the most generous emulation in acknowledging the new author’s extraordinary powers.  At the meeting of the British Association held at Glasgow in 1840, Murchison introduced the subject of Miller’s discoveries, and referred to his recent papers in terms of just and hearty admiration.  Buckland, the accomplished and eloquent Professor of Oxford, declared “he would give his right hand to possess such powers of description as this man,” and spoke of the comparative meagreness and poverty of his own.  The real charm, however, as well as the real value of his work, lay deeper than its mere descriptions.  Miller’s mind was intensely interested in the questions which geology suggested, and to these all his descriptions are subordinate.  We can only take a few as an example.  How came so many strata of the Old Red Sandstone to be so barren of fossil remains, giving the idea of such long periods of time almost destitute of life?  A very important question this—touching as it does upon the peculiar conditions requisite for the preservation of such remains, and the safety of building conclusions upon their absence.  Miller sees one explanation in his walk upon the beach.  He recurs to his favourite bay.

    “It was laid bare by the tide this morning far beyond its outer opening; and the huge table-like boulder, which occupies nearly its centre, held but a middle place between the still-darkened flood-line that ran high along the beach, and the brown line of ebb that bristled far below with forests of the rough-stemmed tangle.  This little bay or inflection of the coast serves as a sort of natural wear in detaining floating drift-weed, and is often found piled, after violent storms from the east, with accumulations, many yards in extent and several feet in depth, of kelp and tangle, mixed with zoophytes and mollusca, and the remains of fish killed among the shallows by the tempest.  Early in the last century, a large body of herrings, pursued by whales and porpoises, were stranded in it, to the amount of several hundred barrels; and it is said that salt and cask failed the packers when but comparatively a small portion of the shoal were cured, and that by much the greatest part of them were carried away by the neighbouring farmers for manure.  Ever since the formation of the present coast-line, this natural wear has been arresting, tide after tide, its heaps of organic matter, but the circumstances favourable to their preservation have been wanting: they ferment and decay when driven high on the beach; and the next spring-tide, accompanied by a gale from the west, sweeps every vestige of them away; and so, after the lapse of many centuries, we find no other organisms among the rounded pebbles that form the beach of this little bay, than merely a few broken shells and occasionally a mouldering fish-bone.  Thus, very barren formations may belong to periods singularly rich in organic existences.” (Old Red, ch. vi.)

    Again, the barrenness of these strata is less astonishing than the fertility of others.  Certain beds suddenly turn up, extending, perhaps, over wide areas of country, which seem almost entirely composed of animal remains.  Here an opposite difficulty is presented, and we are almost tempted to ask—Is life any where as concentrated and as abundant now?  Miller, in imagining that old world, always connects it with what he has seen of nature in its existing aspect.

    “Here we first find proof that this ancient ocean literally swarmed with life—that its bottom was literally covered with miniature forests of algae, and its waters darkened by immense shoals of fish.  In middle autumn, at the close of the herring season, when the fish have just spawned, and the congregated masses are breaking up on shallow and skerry, and dispersing by myriads over the deeper seas, they rise at times to the surface by a movement so simultaneous, that for miles and miles around the skiff of the fisherman nothing may be seen but the bright glitter of scales, as if the entire face of the deep were a blue robe spangled with silver.  I have watched them at sunrise at such seasons on the middle of the Moray Firth, when, far as the eye could reach, the surface has been ruffled by the splash of fins as if a light breeze swept over it, and the red light has flashed in gleams of an instant on the millions and tens of millions that were leaping around me, a hand-breadth into the air, thick as hailstones in a thundershower.  The amazing amount of life which the scene included has imparted to it an indescribable interest.  On most occasions the inhabitants of ocean are seen but by scores and hundreds; for in looking down into their twilight haunts, we find the view bounded by a few yards, or at most a few fathoms; and we can but calculate on the unseen myriads of the surrounding expanse, by the seen few that occupy the narrow space visible.  Here, however, it was not the few, but the myriads, that were seen—the innumerable and inconceivable whole all palpable to the sight as a flock on a hillside; or at least, if all was not palpable, it was only because sense has its limits in the lighter as well as in the denser medium,—that the multitudinous distracts it, and the distant eludes it, and the far horizon bounds it.  If the scene spoke not of infinity in the sense in which Deity comprehends it, it spoke of it in at least the only sense in which man can comprehend it.” (Old Red, ch. xii.)

    But we must pass to descriptions of another kind.  Those old shoals of fish—what were they?  Could they in respect to organisation, as well as in respect to number, be compared with the herrings of the Moray Firth, or with any other fish of the existing seas?  To reconstruct the animal he found more difficult than to imagine the scenes in which it lived.  We have an instinctive confidence in the sameness of the great elements of nature—and in the permanence of the mechanical laws which regulate their mutual action.  But the variety of animal life which even now is so vast, what may it not have been in past time?  One at least of the creatures examined by Miller, subsequently named by Agassiz the “Pterichthys Milleri,” seemed wholly inexplicable.

    “It opened with a single blow of the hammer; and there, on a ground of light-coloured limestone, lay the effigy of a creature fashioned apparently out of jet, with a body covered with plates, two powerful-looking arms articulated at the shoulders, a head as entirely lost in the trunk as that of the ray or the sun-fish, and a long angular tail.  My first-formed idea regarding it was, that I had discovered a connecting link between the tortoise and the fish.” (Old Red, ch. iii.)

    Others of the animals which he found were indeed obviously fish, but fish of a shape and style which he had never seen and of which he had never heard.

    “Scales of bone glisten with enamel; their jaws, enamel without, and bone within, bristle thick with sharp-pointed teeth; closely-jointed plates, burnished like ancient helmets, cover their heads; their gill-covers consist each of a single piece, like the gill-cover of the sturgeon; their tails were formed chiefly on the lower side of their bodies; and the rays of their fins, enamelled like their plates and their scales, stand up over the connecting membrane, like the steel or brass in that peculiar armour of the middle ages, whose multitudinous pieces of metal were fastened together on a ground-work of cloth or of leather.” (Old Red, ch. iv.)

    But there were great differences of detail.  Of one he found that

    “the head had its plaited mail, the body its scaly mail, the fins their mail of parallel and jointed bars, and every plate, bar, and scale was dotted with microscopic points.  Every ray had its double or treble punctulated row, every scale or plate its punctulated group; the markings lie as thickly in proportion to the fields they cover as the circular perforations in a lace veil.” (Old Red, ch. v.)

    In another,

    “an entirely different style obtains.  The enamelled scales and plates glitter with minute ridges, that show like thorns in a December morning varnished with ice.”

    In another,

    “the bones and scales seemed disproportionately large.  There is a general rudeness in the finish of the creature, if I may so speak, that reminds one of the tatooings of a savage, or the corresponding style of art in which he ornaments the handle of his stone hatchet or his war-club.”

    In a fourth,

    “on the contrary, there is much of a minute and cabinet-like elegance.  The silvery smoothness of the fins, dotted with scarcely visible scales, harmonised with a similar appearance of head; a style of sculpture resembling the parallel etchings of the line-engraver fretted the scales.”

    Here, again, all this minute and graphic description is subordinate to the recognition of great general laws.  He points to the perfect unity or consistency of style which prevails in each, traces to the same principle the highest beauty in human art, and indicates in this fine observation some of the deepest facts in nature:

    “Nor does it lessen the wonder that their nicer ornaments should yield their beauty only to the microscope, and the unassisted eye fails to discover the evidences of this unity: it would seem as if the adorable Architect had wrought it out in secret with reference to the divine idea alone.  The artist who sculptured a cherry-stone, consigned it to a cabinet and placed a microscope beside it.  The microscopic beauty of these ancient fish was consigned to the twilight depths of a primeval ocean.”. . . .“We speak of the infinity of Deity—of his inexhaustible variety of mind; but we speak of it until the idea becomes a piece of mere commonplace in our mouths.  It is well to be brought to feel, if not to conceive of it—to be made to know that we ourselves are barren-minded, and that in Him ‘all fulness dwelleth.’  Succeeding creations, each with its myriads of existences, do not exhaust Him.  He never repeats Himself.  The curtain drops at His command over one scene of existence full of wisdom and beauty—it rises again, and all is glorious, wise, and beautiful as before, and all is new“. . . .“Is it nothing to be taught with a demonstrative evidence which the metaphysician cannot supply, that races are not eternal —that every family had its beginning, and that whole creations have come to an end?” (Old Red, ch. v.)

    In this passage, as well as in many others of the “Old Red Sandstone,” Miller anticipates the conclusion, and in some respects the arguments, which were to form the subject of his next principal scientific work.  The “Footprints of the Creator” was one of the many answers called forth by the “Vestiges of Creation“—and in some respects it was the most systematic as well as the most eloquent of them all.  This controversy was not in substance new, but it was fought upon a new ground.  During the few years of its existence as an established science, geology had yielded authentic information upon questions on which no other department of knowledge had supplied so much as one solitary hint.  All other sciences had borne exclusive reference to the existing order of things.  Geology, for the first time, spoke to us of the past history of creation.  This was absolutely new.  It was new in kind, not merely in degree.  Of the first introduction of any new form of life, whether plant or animal, we had known before absolutely nothing.  The very idea seemed to lie beyond the domain of science,—and so in one sense it does,—that is to say, it lies beyond the domain of any known natural law.  It is a fact which we cannot refer to any other fact more general than itself.  Hence the controversy respecting it.  For there are two tendencies in the human mind, not necessarily antagonistic, but which are too often found apart.  One of these tendencies is that which impels us to trace up all particular facts to some general rule or law; the other is that which impels us to seek behind the law for the authority which has laid it down; and to rejoice in every evidence which indicates more nearly and more clearly than others, the direct action of a personal Creator.  There are many minds in which the first of these tendencies throws out the last.  They are satisfied with physical laws as ultimate truths.  They conceal from themselves how little those laws satisfy our own ideas of causation, by burrowing, as it were, from the world of mind, and lending to physical laws the attributes of volition.

    Never was such new and abundant food supplied to divers appetites, as by these new facts of geology were afforded to these two tendencies of mind.  On the one hand; the discovery that creation has not been one solitary act, to be presumed from argument or received by faith, but an act many times repeated, leaving visible records to inform us of the fact, seemed almost to bring us into the position of finding the Creator at his a work.  It was like ascending at least one step higher

"The great world’s altar-stairs
 That slope through darkness up to God."

It gave new scope to the argument of St. Peter, which he urges against the assertion, “that all things have continued as they are since the beginning.”  It now appeared, that not only had there been “a beginning,” but many beginnings; and periods of long-established order many times broken up.  On the other hand, there has been a struggle to bring these facts within the domain of natural law; for in science there is nothing so uncomfortable as a fact which cannot be assimilated with other facts belonging to the ordinary course of nature.  Nor is this endeavour to be deprecated if it be conducted in the true spirit of inductive reasoning.  The late lamented Professor Edward Forbes did fancy that he could trace in the distribution of animal life in past time a law, in the strict scientific sense of that term; that is to say, he fancied that the facts as hitherto ascertained, were capable of being reduced under a more general definition.  But the “Vestiges” was an attempt of a very different kind—an attempt not merely to classify the facts, but to refer them to a new causation, and to give to an assumed law an explanatory character which really belongs to no physical law whatever.  The object was not simply to trace the order in which, but to devise the process by which, successive creations had been introduced.  And this process was no other than “development.”  Under the combined influence of internal aspirations and of external conditions, the lower animals had, in the lapse of ages, gradually grown into the highest forms of life.  In reality, this was no new idea.  Something like it, at least, had been successively a tenet of the schools, a dream of the metaphysician, and a fancy of the poet.  But to those old theories the new facts, superficially understood, seemed to lend a sort of shadowy support.  There had been, apparently, a progress in the history of creation.  It had begun with worms and trilobites,—it had advanced to fishes and lizards; and from these, again, it rose to mammals, of which, man by a vast difference the highest, had, by a vast difference of time, been created last.  But were the steps in this progress really continuous; and were they such in kind and in degree as can he connected with any sort of growth or development of individual organisms?  In the investigation of these questions, and of many others into which the controversy branches out, Miller found ample exercise for all his powers.  Nothing in his works exhibits so well the grasp of his mind as the mastery he speedily acquired over the science of comparative anatomy, from the minute details in the accumulation of which its foundations have been laid, to the systematic results established by Cuvier, and the great abstract ideas, grander still, which have been traced by Owen.  No one knew better than Miller that safe conclusions can only he founded on the most microscopic examination; or, to quote the striking words in which Professor Owen lately expressed this truth, “that nature never proclaims her secrets with a loud voice, but always whispers them.”  Much, accordingly, of the “Footprints of the Creator” is devoted to minute analytical detail; but everywhere picturesqueness of description is made admirably subservient to the explanation of the argument.

    He admits and accepts the fact of progress in the order of creation—yet not a progress gradual and continuous from individual to individual, such as is required by the hypothesis of development: but a progress by leaps, as it were, from class to class, each class being introduced not by degrees or in its lowest, but in its highest and most complicated form.  Of this he finds abundant evidence in his own special branch of discovery.  Fish are the lowest class in the great order of the vertebrata.  The fish of the Old Red are the second oldest of their class, whilst those of the Silurian strata are the first.

    “Were these fishes,” says Miller, “of a bulk so inconsiderable as in any degree to sanction the belief that they had been developed shortly before from microscopic points?  Or were they of a structure so low as to render it probable that their development was at the time incomplete?  Were they, in other words, the embryos and fœtuses of their class or did they on the contrary rank with the higher and larger fishes of the present time?“ (Footprints, clx vi.)

    This question, which had then been already dealt with in the pages of this Review, Miller discusses and answers with admirable clearness.  He justly insists that in estimating the comparative elevation of different animals in the scale of being, it be not measured by some arbitrary standard applied perhaps to but one feature of their structure; as, for example, when it is measured by the material, bone, or cartilage, of which their skeleton is composed; and, above all, he insists that this estimate should include, as after all its truest and safest element, the development of mind in animals, and of the brain its material organ.  The earliest fish of which there is any trace, were cartilaginous, it is true, but so are the existing sharks the family to which the Silurian fishes apparently belonged.  And where do the sharks stand among the fishes of the existing world?

    “I have compared,” says Miller, “the brain of the spotted dog-fish with that of a young alligator, and have found that in scarce any perceptible degree was it inferior, in point of bulk, and very slightly indeed in point of organisation, to the brain of the reptile.  And the instincts of this placoid family,—one of the truest existing representatives of the placoids of the Silurian system to which we can appeal,—correspond, we invariably find, with their superior cerebral development.  I have seen the common dogfish, Spinax Acanthias, hovering in packs in the Moray Firth, some one or two fathoms away from the side of the herring boat from which, when the fishermen were engaged in hauling their nets, I have watched them, and have admired the caution which, with all their ferocity of disposition, they rarely failed to manifest;—how they kept aloof from the net, even more warily than the cetacea themselves. . . .And I have been assured by intelligent fishermen, that the deep-sea white-fishing, in which baited hooks, not nets, are employed, the degree of shrewd caution exercised by these creatures seems more extraordinary still.  The hatred which the fisher bears to them arises not more from the actual amount of mischief which they do him, than from the circumstance that in most cases they persist in doing it with complete impunity to themselves.” (Footprints, ch. viii.)

    We close our quotations on this portion of his works with two others; one summing up the result which science has arrived at, and another connecting that result with the author’s natural and, we believe, just idea of their final cause.

    “We know, as geologists, that the dynasty of the fish was succeeded by that of the reptile,—that the dynasty of the reptile was succeeded by that of the mammiferous quadruped,—and that the dynasty of the mammiferous quadruped was succeeded by that of man as man now exists,—a creature of mixed character, and subject, in all conditions, to wide alternations of enjoyment and suffering.  We know, further,—so far at least as we have yet succeeded in deciphering the record,—that the several dynasties were introduced not in their lower, but in their higher forms:—that, in short, in the imposing programme of creation it was arranged, as a general rule, that in each of the great divisions of the procession the magnates should walk first.” (Footprints, ch. xv.)

    And as it thus appears certain that uniformity has not prevailed since “the beginning” as respects the types chosen for the embodiment of life, so neither did Miller believe in uniformity as respects the physical conditions in which that life had found enjoyment.  He connected the clear evidence of progress in the one, with evidence which he thought not less clear of progress and preparation in the other.

    “The reasoning brain would have been wholly at fault in a scene of things in which it could neither foresee the exterminating calamity while yet distant, nor control it when it had come; and so the reasoning brain was not produced until the scene had undergone a slow but thorough process of change, during which, at each progressive stage, it had furnished a platform for higher and still higher life.  When the coniferæ could flourish on the land, and fishes subsist in the seas, fishes and cone-bearing plants were created; when the earth became a fit habitat for reptiles and birds, reptiles and birds were produced; with the dawn of a more stable and mature state of things the sagacious quadruped was ushered in; and, last of all, when man’s house was fully prepared for him,—when the data on which it is his nature to reason and calculate had become fixed and certain—the reasoning, calculating brain was moulded by the creative finger, and man became a living soul.  Such seems to be the true reading of the wondrous inscription chiselled deep in the rocks.  It furnishes us with no clue by which to unravel the unapproachable mysteries of creation; these mysteries belong to the wondrous Creator, and to him only.  We attempt to theorise upon them, and to reduce them to law, and all nature rises up against us in our presumptuous rebellion.  A stray splinter of cone—bearing wood,—a fish’s skull or tooth,—the vertebra of a reptile,—the humerus of a bird,—the jaw of a quadruped,—all, any of these things weak and insignificant as they may seem, become in such a quarrel too strong for us and our theory: the puny fragment, in the grasp of truth, forms as irresistible a weapon as the dry bone did in that of Samson of old; and our slaughtered sophisms lie piled up, ‘heaps upon heaps,’ before it.” (Footprints, ch. xv.)

    We should he neglecting a very important feature in the character and works of Miller, did we fail to notice those views of philosophy and religion which he connected so closely—as many think, too closely—with his scientific investigations.  Miller has himself very truly observed that the parts of Scotland to the North of the Grampians had a much later development of those peculiarities in its religious history which have left so strong an impress on the national character.  Those times which, as Wordsworth has said, “ring through Scotland to this hour,” ring still more loudly there; for they were times much nearer to our own; and the grasp of the Presbyterian theology over the mind and affections of the people is even now more complete than among the larger populations of the South.  The account which Miller has given us of the teaching of his maternal uncles, on Sunday evenings, is a remarkable picture of that intelligent devotion which is the best type of the piety of Scotland.  Very different companions surrounded him when he went to Edinburgh; and, but for the strong anchors which had been thus early cast into the retentive holding-ground of his mind, he would probably have added to the number of those who, under temptations without and difficulties within, have drifted from all definite religious faith.  His natural love of metaphysical speculation had introduced him early, amongst his various reading, to the works of home, as well as to those of his principal opponents.  The fallacy of conclusions, opposed to the universal instincts of mankind, could not easily deceive him; but neither could some of the replies which, in defence of those instincts, had been framed by healthier minds, but by intellects less acute.  Thus, when at a later period of his life, after his return to Cromarty, his convictions became settled, he continued sensible to many errors, both in the popular philosophy and the popular theology of his country.  There are in “My Schools, &c.” some remarks on certain forms of pulpit teaching, not uncommon on either side of the Tweed, which are admirable for their good sense, and may, we think, be considered with advantage by the clergy of both countries.

    We have seen that one main source of the interest he took in his favourite science, lay in its bearing upon the most difficult questions of natural theology.  If, in dwelling on this high theme, his thoughts were sometimes fanciful, we must be careful to distinguish between the nature of his error and that of those who ordinarily confound the provinces of science and religion.  He never failed to assert the freedom of physical research.  It is well known with what resistance the discoveries of geology were met at first by the religious world.  That stage of the controversy is now nearly past.  But when Miller began his studies, and among those with whom he had very close relations, it was a form of thought with which he was perpetually brought in contact.  Nothing can be clearer or more just than the principle on which he vindicates the independence of scientific investigation.  We quote a characteristic passage:—

    “It may have been merely the effect of an engrossing study long prosecuted; but so it was, that of all I had witnessed among the scenes rendered classic by the muse of Cowper, nothing more permanently impressed me than the few broken fossils of the Oolite which I had picked up immediately opposite the poet’s windows.  There they had lain, as carelessly indifferent to the strictures in the ‘Task’ as the sun in the central heavens; two centuries before, to the denunciations of the Inquisition.  Geology, however, in the days of Cowper, had not attained to the dignity of a science.  It lacked solid footing as it journeyed amid the wastes of chaos; and now tipped, as with its toe-points, a ‘crude consistence’ of ill-understood facts, and now rose aloft into an atmosphere of obscure conjecture, on a ‘tumultuous cloud’ of ill-digested theory.  In a science in this unformed, rudimental stage, whether it deals with the stars of heaven or the strata of the earth, the old anarch of infidelity is sure always to effect a transitory lodgement. . . . .Geology, now, however, though still a youthful science, is no longer an immature one.  It has got firm footing on a continent of fact; and the man who labours to set the doctrines of Revelation in array against its legitimate deductions, is employed, whatever may be his own estimate of his vocation, not on the side of religious truth, but of scepticism and infidelity.  No scientific question was ever yet settled dogmatically, nor ever will.  If the question be one in the science of numbers, it must be settled arithmetically; if in the science of geometry it must be settled mathematically; if in the science of chemistry, it must be settled experimentally. . . . .Now, ultimately at least, as men have yielded to astronomy the right of decision in all astronomical questions, must they resign to geology the settlement of all geological ones.  I do not merely speak of what ought, but of what assuredly must and will be.  The successive geologic systems and formations, with all their organic contents, are as real existences as the sun itself; and it is quite as possible to demonstrate their true place and position, relative and absolute.  And so long as certain fixed laws control and regulate human belief, certain inevitable deductions must and will continue to be based on the facts which these systems and formations furnish.” (First impressions, ch. xvii.)

    But the independence of science, in the investigation of her facts and the ascertainment of her laws, is perfectly consistent with a very close relation between the results thus obtained, and other branches of inquiry.  Miller’s acquaintance with the sceptical writers of the last century had taught him the intimate connection between physical and metaphysical speculation.  In this sense it is idle to deprecate the connection of science with religion.  That connection exists, whether we choose to recognise it or not.  At every step of our progress in the one, long avenues of thought are seen leading off into the other.  The ultimate ideas, traceable in the material and immaterial worlds, are often identical with each other.  Language, that great instrument of human thought, is a constant witness to the fact.  We are hardly conscious how perpetually we are applying to the phenomena of mind conceptions, primarily derived from those of matter.  We recognise the transfer as metaphorical only when the analogy, is less than usually familiar.  “All things,” says Jeremy Taylor, “are full of such resemblances;” and it is the high prerogative of genius to detect them where they lie concealed.  “There are,” says Miller, “in all nature and in all philosophy, certain central ideas of general bearing round which, at distances less or more remote, the subordinate and particular ideas arrange themselves.”  And this was the field in which he delighted to exercise his powers.  Believing in the evidences of both science and religion, he looked for, and expected to find, certain corresponding ideas underlying the truths of both.  This is only bringing up abreast, as it were, of modern discovery, the immortal argument maintained by Butler, from the “Analogy and Course of Nature.”  It is a field, however, on which the sources of error are indeed abundant —nature partially understood,—revelation erroneously interpreted,—the substitution of fanciful resemblance for real analogy.

    There is a chapter in the “Footprints” which, at least, indicates what these dangers are, if it he not an example of their effects.  Miller shared in the general impression that the theory of development, in doing violence to the facts of science, did violence also, as indeed under such conditions it is sure to do, to the analogies we should expect between natural and moral truths.  Thus he seems to have held that as no law of continuous progress in respect to natural capacity, but, on the contrary, a law of degeneracy—a lapse from a higher to a lower standing, had been the ruling fact in the history of man, so we may expect to find that fact reflected in other departments of creation.  He was disposed to look upon the serpent “which goes upon its belly” as in a literal, not merely in a figurative sense, typical, in its condition and nature, of an order of degraded beings.  Ophidans were footless reptiles,—low and mutilated representatives of that mighty dynasty which had once flourished in such kingly reptiles as the Iguanodon and Megalosaurus.  “Their ill-omened birth took place when the influence of their house was on the wane, as if to set such a stamp of utter hopelessness on their fallen condition, as that set by the birth of a worthless or idiot heir on the fortunes of a sinking family.”  In pursuance of the same idea we have this curious and ingenious remark:

    “I am disposed to regard the poison-bag of the venomous snakes as a mark of degradation,—it seems, judging from analogy, to be a protective provision of a low character exemplified chiefly in the invertebrate families, ants, centipedes, and mosquitoes,—spiders wasps, and scorpions.  The higher carnivora are, we find, furnished with unpoisoned weapons, which, like those of civilized man, are sufficiently effective simply from the excellence of their construction, and the power with which they are wielded, for every purpose of assault or of defence.  It is only the squalid savages and degraded bushmen of Creation that have their feeble teeth or tiny stings steeped in venom, and so made formidable.” (Footprints, ch. ix.)

    The same law of degradation might, he thought, he recognised in other instances throughout the animal kingdom.  Thus, Miller never could look a flounder in the face without being seriously disquieted by that animal’s personal appearance.  Its twisted eyes, wry mouth, and asymmetrical arrangement of fins, were all marks of a degraded fish.  Whimsical as all this may appear, the fundamental idea is not without support from certain generalisations, as yet obscure in the history of life.  Science appears so far to confirm the assertion which we have already quoted from Miller, that at least in certain classes the highest, and not the lowest, forms have been the earliest;—“the Magnates have walked first.”  Nay more, many of the earliest forms of life appear to have united, in a single animal, peculiarities of structure which are now widely separate, characterising distinct species, and even genera.  In this sense, the earliest fauna was the richest and the highest.  It was the storehouse, as it were, of organic forms which, for the purposes of adaptation, have been since distributed over a wider circle of creation.  But it may justly be questioned how far this change has been really analogous to a process of degradation.  The real explanation seems to be simply this,—that the fundamental law of adherence to type and pattern has been crossed, as it were, more and more by that other law of adaptation to special conditions of life, of which the structure of the flat-fish is an extreme example.  On any interpretation the facts of science are equally at variance with the theory of development; and though Miller seems to have been somewhat enamoured of his idea of degradation, his purpose in following it so far appears to receive its best explanation when he says: “It would be an easy matter for an ingenious theorist, not much disposed to distinguish between the minor and the master laws of organised being, to get up quite as unexceptionable a theory of degradation as of development.”

    In his last work, the “Testimony of the Rocks,” which has appeared as a posthumous publication, but the greater portion of which had been given to the public in the form of lectures, Miller pursues in greater detail the bearing of geological science upon natural and revealed theology, and especially upon the Mosaic account of Creation.  But for his own early death, this work would have excited more controversy than has as yet actually arisen.  The stricter theologians of his own country are jealous of the construction he puts upon the narrative in Genesis; whilst at least one great school of geological opinion are not less opposed to the view he takes of the discoveries of science.  Yet the principles on which he proceeds are clear and intelligible enough.  He condemns, on the one hand, the obstinacy or timidity of those who refuse to accept the evidences of physical truth when they interfere, or seem to do so, with traditionary interpretations of Scripture.  He rejects, on the other hand, the theory that the Mosaic account of Creation is purely parable.  He admits, indeed it is part of his argument to maintain, that the conveyance of spiritual truth was its primary object, and that physical facts are no farther and no otherwise revealed than as necessary for the main purpose.  Nay more, he holds that the narrative is given, as it were, from a human point of view, or as the successive stages of creation might have appeared to a human eye, before which they were made to pass in vision.  Thus, for example, as we speak of the nature and motion of the heavenly bodies, not as we know them to be in astronomical science, but as they appear to be from our point of sight, so he thinks that in the Mosaic account the period of their visibility is taken, as relatively to the earth, the period of their creation.  But under these general principles of interpretation he holds that the sublime narrative in Genesis gives a real, though abstract and condensed view, of the order of Creation; and he challenges, as a witness to the truth of that view, the “Testimony of the Rocks.”  The abundant evidence of an ascending order in the history of Creation which that testimony affords, is the fact on which he mainly dwells; and in this his position can only be controverted by those who refuse to accept that evidence as it now stands, on the plea that it is still incomplete, that all the witnesses have not yet been sufficiently examined, and that, possibly, future researches may bring to light some whale which was playmate with the Ichthyosaurus,—great mammals which browsed on the vegetation of the Coal,—or monkeys contemporary with the Silurian fish.  Even that school of geologists, however, who dwell most emphatically on the weakness of negative evidence, are prepared, we believe, to admit the crowning fact in the system of their opponents, viz., the creation, last and latest, of the human species.  But the other steps in the ascending order are all in analogy with this; and, when physical evidence and analogical probability unite in favour of the same conclusion, it can hardly be denied that, in respect to this great leading idea of Creation, the discoveries of science and the narrative in Genesis are as yet in harmony with each other.

    In his earlier works Miller had adopted the opinion that the “days” of Creation might be literally understood as natural days of twenty-four hours; and that the long ages of geology might be reconciled with this view by supposing that the narrative in Genesis referred only to a creation of the existing order of things, between which and the former ages of geological time there had been a chaotic interregnum.  Nothing can be clearer or more manly than the account he gives of the reasons which have compelled him to relinquish this opinion and to hold that the “days” of Genesis must be interpreted simply as representing long periods of time.

    “The conclusion at which I have been compelled to arrive is, that for many long ages ere man was ushered into being, not a few of his humbler contemporaries of the fields and woods enjoyed life in their present haunts, and that for thousands of years anterior to even their appearance, many of the existing molluscs lived in our seas.  That day during which the present creation came into being, and in which God, when he had made ‘the beast of the earth after his kind, and the cattle after their kind,’ at length terminated the work by moulding a creature in His own image, to whom he gave dominion over them all, was not a brief period of a few hours’ duration, but extended over mayhap millenniums of centuries.  No blank chaotic gap of death and darkness separated the creation to which man belongs from that of the old extinct elephant, hippopotamus, and hyæna; for familiar animals such as the red deer, the roe, the fox, the wild-cat, and the badger, lived throughout the period which connected their times with our own; and so I have been compelled to hold, that the days of creation were not natural, but prophetic days, and stretched far back into the bygone eternity.  After in some degree committing myself to the other side, I have yielded to evidence which I found it impossible to resist; and such in this matter has been my inconsistency, —an inconsistency of which the world has furnished examples in all the sciences, and will, I trust, in its onward progress, continue to furnish many more.” (Preface to the Testimony.)

    Consistently with this interpretation, Miller pursues the parallelism farther, between the natural and the written record.  Geologists have in a general way divided the whole sedimentary strata of the earth into three great leading groups, with boundaries more or less indefinite at the points of junction, but clearly distinguishable from each other as a whole, by separate aspects of organic life.  These are the Palæozoic, the Secondary, and the Tertiary rocks.  Miller holds that in these we may trace three of the great days recorded in Genesis, the only three which refer to purely terrestrial phenomena, and consequently of which any record can be expected in the rocks.  He takes the coal-measures as typical of the Palæozoic rocks—a period of marvellous vegetation, such as never had before existed, and has never existed since; and so specially representing the day when the earth “brought forth seed after its kind.”  He takes the series of the Oolites and Lias with their enormous reptiles, fluvial and marine, as equally characteristic of the Secondary ages, and so answering to the day when the “waters brought forth abundantly,” and great sea monsters and creeping things were the most conspicuous works of creative power.  Lastly, he sees in the Tertiary deposits, with their prodigious abundance, and immense variety of Mammalian life, an epoch corresponding with wonderful truth to that day when “cattle and beasts of the earth” indicated the approaching consummation, and prepared for the reign of Man.

    It has been objected to this view that the facts do not exactly correspond with the picture—that an extraordinary development of vegetation characterised only a part of the Palæozoic strata—that creation embraced during those times, as well as during the succeeding Secondary ages, many forms of animal, and especially of Icythic life—that in like manner beasts of the earth had appeared before the Tertiary ages had begun—and that, consequently, no such divisions of time can be accurately applied to corresponding divisions in organic nature.  It is no part of our object here to enter into the controversy which may be raised on this and other similar points.  But, in justice to Miller’s view, we must observe that it is founded on principles of interpretation which are not much affected by this class of objection.  No one knew better than Miller that the divisions indicated in Geology are not sharp or definite, either in respect to their duration, or in respect to their productions.  His own research had been specially devoted not to the plants, but to the fish of the Palæozoic rocks, and he had described, as no one else had ever described, the abundant fertility of primeval seas.  But he did not consider these facts inconsistent with his view; because he holds the representation given in Genesis to be an ideal representation—but ideal only in the same sense in which the great general classifications of the naturalist or the geologist are themselves ideal.  It was not to be regarded as teaching the details of physical science, but only as shadowing forth certain great leading acts in the drama of creation, and selecting a few prominent epochs as typical of the whole.  The fundamental idea is that the epochs thus selected were representative of corresponding stages in the history of the earth,—stages through which it passed from one physical condition to another, each more advanced than the preceding, with reference to its final purpose.  Some of these earlier epochs or days, such as that assigned to the “Division of the Firmaments,” have left, of course, no record in Palaeontology: and Miller’s picture of this part of the Mosaic Vision may appear to be purely fanciful.  Yet it is remarkable that conclusions derived from other branches of the science afford no small probability to his rendering.  We observe in the Cambridge Essays for 1857, a very able Paper on Geology, by Professor W. Hopkins, in which, with all the care of exact reasoning, and from arguments purely physical and cosmical, he shows the high probability of conditions in the early history of the Earth very similar to those which are assumed by Miller.  Nor is it less worthy of observation that, looking at the subject from this very different point of view, he fixes on the vegetation of the Coal as by far the most striking indication of what those conditions may probably have been during part of the Palæozoic ages.  Doubtless all these conclusions are scientifically more or less uncertain.  They must continue to be tested by the progress of discovery.  Meanwhile it may perhaps be enough to say that the theologian will recognise the principle of interpretation assumed by Miller with reference to this supposed vision of the past, as at least not wanting in analogy with that which has been long admitted with reference to visions of the future: whilst the geologist must admit that it accords at least so far with the “Testimony of the Rocks,” as to embody a very large amount of physical truth.

    Whilst we write, another posthumous work of Hugh Miller has appeared, “The Cruise of the Betsey,” being a republication from the columns of the “Witness,” of various papers, in which our author gives an account of visits to the Hebrides, and to several other parts of Scotland.  One of Miller’s earliest companions among the rocks and caves of Cromarty, making, if not a better, at least a more regular use of his opportunities, had fitted himself for the clerical profession, and had become minister of the “Small Isles.”  This gentleman cast in his lot with the seceders in the disruption of 1843; but the proprietor of the principal island of his charge, was one of those who took the course, now we rejoice to believe almost universally abandoned, of refusing a site for either church or manse.  The energy of the Free Church soon found at least a partial remedy; and a yacht, provided for the purpose, afforded a home to the “outed” minister, from which, anchored in the creeks of that indented coast, he could still preach to his people in cottages or on the open heath.  The Western Isles of Scotland seem to be the broken fragments of some ancient country, which for many ages, extending from the Secondary far into the Tertiary period, had been the seat of violent and repeated volcanic action.  The forces whose various operations have during those long ages determined the physical aspect of the existing world, have nowhere, in our island at least, moulded it into grander forms.  Miller’s descriptions in this work are as fresh, eloquent, and true as any that have ever issued from his pen.  We have renewed our recollection of them with infinite pleasure, and we have little doubt that this volume will largely share in the popularity of his other works.  His account of the magnificent basaltic precipice called the “Scuir of Eigg,” as well as of that interesting island generally: and the account in a subsequent chapter of a very different scene, the forest of Darnaway and the banks of Findhorn, are characteristic specimens of his graphic power.  One passage we shall venture to transcribe, both because it is an example of the genial disposition which is one great charm of his writings, and because it brings pleasantly before us the author of the “Old Red Sandstone,” in his condition as a “journeyman mason.”  There is no more beautiful or peculiar scenery in Scotland than that of Easter Ross.  Rich corn lands, bearing wheat which will frequently compare with that grown on the Weald of Sussex, lean against a Highland country whose long valleys still retain remnants of the Scotch fir-forests which once covered the country, and are the bed of rivers whose “rejoicing streams” invite to nobler sport than old Isaac ever dreamed of.  In this district Miller had spent some of his earliest and his hardest days of manual labour.  And in the eighth chapter of this last work, we have this pleasant account of a revisit after the lapse of some five-and-twenty years.

    “After enjoying a magnificent sunset on the banks of the Conon, just where the scenery, exquisite throughout, is most delightful, I returned through the woods, and spent half an hour by the way in the cottage of a kindly-hearted woman, now considerably advanced in years, whom I had known, when she was in middle life, as the wife of one of the Conon-side hands, and who not unfrequently when I was toiling at the mallet in the burning sun, hot and thirsty, and rather loosely knit for my work, had brought me—all she had to offer at the time—a draught of whey.  At first she seemed to have wholly forgotten both her kindness and the object of it.  She well remembered my master, and another Cromarty man, who had been grievously injured when undermining an old building, by the sudden fall of the erection; but she could bethink her of no third Cromarty man whatever.  ‘Eh, sirs!’ she at length exclaimed, ‘I daresay ye’ll be just the sma’ prentice laddie.  Weel, what will young folk no come out o’?  They were maist a’ stout big men at the waik except yoursel’, an’ you’re now stouter and bigger than maist o’ them.  Eh, sirs! an’ are ye still a mason?’  Once fairly entered on our talk together, we gossiped on till the night fell, giving and receiving information regarding our old acquaintances of a quarter of a century before, of whom we found that no inconsiderable proportion had already sunk in the stream in which we must all eventually disappear.”

    We have left ourselves no space for any farther notice of many other portions of our author’s writings, which are, perhaps, of equal interest, and less specially connected with his favourite science.  The dramatic power of the narrative of his own life in “My Schools and Schoolmasters,” must he felt by all who have read that most delightful production of his pen.  In this, as well as in the “First Impressions of England and its People,” we meet at every turn with fresh and happy thoughts on a multitude of questions of literary, political, and social interest, some of which we had marked for extract, but which, for the present, at least, we must leave unnoticed.  Hugh Miller must, undoubtedly, be regarded as one of the most remarkable men whom Scotland has produced.  He was not lifted, like Burns, the Ettrick Shepherd, and others, by the gift of poetry, out of the class to which he originally belonged.  He rose from it by the help no doubt, of great natural powers, but in an equal degree by careful study and assiduous self-culture.  And so complete was his rise, that in reading his works, we cease altogether to think of his origin, and fail to recognise the peculiarities of any class whatever.  There is nothing in them of a merely local character, or which reminds us that they are the production of provincial genius.  The elements of national character are, indeed, strongly marked, but they are subordinate to the wider sympathies which belong to the commonwealth of cultivated minds.  The working men of his native country may well be proud of such a representative in the literature of England.



14 October, 1859.



    Sir,—In these days of perplexity and wordy wars between masters and men, I venture to think that the following opinion of a great man on "strikes" cannot be too widely known.  It is the more valuable because it emanates from no mere theorist, but from one who for many years was a horny-handed workman, earning bread by the sweat of his brow, and yet who rose by his exertions and powerful intellect to a high station and world-wide fame.

    This man was the late Hugh Miller, who, when a stone-mason, was beguiled to join a number of his fellow work-men who has struck for some alleged oppression on the part of their employers; but Miller's clear head quickly saw that the move he had made was injudicious, "I had now," he says,—

    "Quite enough of the strike, and stubbornly battling for my own hand, would not stir a finger in the assertion of the alleged rights of fellows who had no respect for the rights which were indisputably mine."  "There is a want," he adds, "of true leadership among our operatives in these combinations.  It is the wilder spirits that dictate the conditions, and, pitching their demands high, they begin usually by enforcing acquiescence in them on the quieter and more moderate among their companions.  They are tyrants to their fellows ere they come into collision with their masters, and they have thus an enemy in the camp, not unwilling to take advantage of seasons of weakness, and prepared to rejoice, though secretly mayhap, in their defeats and reverses.  And further, their discomfiture will be always quite certain enough when seasons of depression come, from the circumstance that, fixing their terms in prosperous times, they will fix them with reference rather to their present power of enforcing them, than to that medium line of fair and equal adjustment on which a conscientious man could plant his foot and make a firm stand.

    "Men able and ready to work in behalf of these combinations, will of course get the work to do, but you will have little or no power given you in their direction; the direction will be apparently in the hands of a few fluent 'gabbers'; and yet even they will not be the actual directors—they will be but the exponents and voices of the general mediocre sentiment and inferior sense of the mass as a whole, and acceptable only so long as they give utterance to that; and so, ultimately, exceedingly little will be won in this way for working men." *

    Surely, this is sound advice, and well worthy of being laid to heart by the thousands of operatives who are now in a mazy bewilderment respecting the rights and duties of capital and labour, employers and employed.
                                                                     I am, Sir, your humble servant,


Oct. 13.

* "My Schools and Schoolmasters, or the Story of my Education."

A warm-hearted and gallant race they were . . . .   ED.—the complete passage in Miller's autobiography to which this correspondent refers can be found here.




The cottage in which Hugh Miller was born: photograph ca. 1900

"A dingy, old-fashioned house, with the windows of its second storey half-buried in the eaves....built by my great grandfather, the buccaneer."

A cutting, dated 11 June, 1937, from an unidentified newspaper.

    The National Trust for Scotland has authorized an appeal for a modest sum of money to buy a modest building.  A dingy old-fashioned house, a rather humble erection—such are the modest terms in which it is described by the modest great man who was born there in 1802.  His name was HUGH MILLER.  With the PROVOST of CROMARTY, as convener, and MR. MALCOLM MACDONALD among its members, the committee making the appeal will soon have collected the desired £400.  The National Trust for Scotland will then add its promised £100 and the thatched, crow-stepped stone cottage in Church Street, Cromarty, will I be preserved for all time.  But the appeal will do the fame of HUGH MILLER a further honour, and living Englishmen a good turn, if it persuades them to make acquaintance with the remarkable man revealed in his delightful writings.

    Like our own MR. HAVELOCK ELLIS, this Scottish man of letters and of science came of sailor folk.  His great-grandfather, crossed in , love, turned buccaneer, and in 1650 built this very cottage with Spanish gold.  HUGH MILLER once saw his ghost there.  His father was a sea captain of enormous courage and strength; it is recorded of him that, when a tiger swam after his boat and tried to attack him, he beat it about the feet with a marline-spike until it let go and swam ashore.  Thus HUGH MILLER may be excused for some youthful wildness, which led him to commit violence on his dominie and to form a gang of rovers and orchard robbers.  But at seventeen he reformed.  He went to work in a quarry—a now famous old red sandstone quarry.  And there he became, as if by the light of nature, a geologist.  In the eighteen thirties and forties geology was a new, and a suspect, science. MILLER did much to popularize it; but he did more than that.  His discoveries and his descriptions alike aroused the admiration of BUCKLAND, AGASSIZ, and other experts.  "God's bairns are eath to lear," says a Scottish proverb; and HUGH MILLER picked up geology, literature, anything he turned his masterly mind to.  He championed the cause of the Free Church against patronage, and his letter to LORD BROUGHAM on the subject was called by MR. GLADSTONE "an elegant and masculine "production."  As a journalist and editor of The Witness he wrote charming essays and powerful articles.  In middle age he visited England and saw it with strict, Scottish, but quite kindly eyes.  He was Scottish through and through: and his unaffected, unaggressive Scottishness gives a special quality to his autobiography and his miscellaneous writings.


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