Hugh Miller: Miscellanea (2)

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LITTELL'S

LIVING AGE.


THIRD SERIES, VOLUME III.

1858.


From Fraser’s Magazine.

THE CRUISE OF THE BETSEY. [1]


Merrily, merrily goes the bark,
    Before the gale she bounds;
So darts the dolphin from the shark,
    Or the deer before the hounds.

—Lord of the Isles.


    “BEHOLD, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” So sang the sweet singer of Israel. [2] But what said a greater than he?

    “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I am come not to send peace, but a sword.

    “For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”[3]

    So spake the unerring tongue; and as it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be.  The decree is immutable.

    Scotland has been the mother of many giants; but few of the intellectual Anakim whom she has brought forth and sternly nursed, have made for themselves a name more worthy of her or better formed for floating buoyantly down the stream of time than Hugh Miller.  His head rests on the lap of earth whose monuments he deciphered so clearly and described so eloquently.  Those for whose faith he battled so valiantly console themselves with the conviction that


“His immortal part with angels lives.”


Never did man feed and fan the divine spark vouchsafed to him into a more glowing fire, quenched, alas, how suddenly!  Difficulties vanished before his energetic spirit.  The unconquerable bar which has checked so many could not stop him.  But the strength of the strongest of us is weakness.  Polemics came to add their exciting fervour to an overtaxed organ.  Whatever burns consumes.  Even Hugh Miller’s powerful brain was overwrought by the tasks which he exacted from it.  What a piece of work is man!

    The enthusiastic, enduring, firm, not to write stubborn, spirit of the old Scotch covenanters is not extinct; the zealous fire is not reduced to ashes though it may burn with more mitigated ardour; the ancient abhorrence of Papists, Prelatists, and Erastians, assuming the names of Presbyterians, Independents, Socinians, and Quakers, is ever ready to manifest itself in altered form; the heat is but latent.  When the hour is come the man is sure to appear; some now mute inglorious Ephram Macbriar will be ready to improve the occasion.  The Kettledrummles and Poundtexts have not entirely passed away, and occasionally the shade of Habakkuk Mucklewrath (whom the enemy had long detained in captivity in forts and castles until his understanding had departed from him, and whom, as the Rev. Gabriel Kettledrummle feared, an evil demon had possessed) stalks on earth again.  Many a Mause Headrigg even now would be fain to cast her stool at the minister on catching sight of a piece of paper lying before him in the pulpit.

    The perfervidum ingenium of his countrymen was strong in Hugh Miller.  The editor of The Witness, like Tristram’s father, gave many an adversary a slash to remember him by; and the good and pious editor who dates from Pendock Rectory has judiciously expunged some passages engendered by the disputation productive of such bitter feeling between the supporters of the Free and Established Churches of Scotland, pardonable in the heat of controversy; passages which Hugh Miller himself would probably have struck out in his cooler moments.  Some statements incidental to the condition of geological knowledge at the time the work was penned, the editor has also altered, with more questionable discretion; for we love to see or hear a man pour out all himself as plain as downright Shippen or the great and charming old French philosopher.  But the editor has most laudably abstained from tampering with the text: le style c’est l’homme.

    Here, then, we find Hugh Miller on board The Betsey in the Sound of Mull, delivered out of the hands of the Rev. Mr. Blattergowl, and teind free, ready “for passing from the too pressing monstrosities of an exciting state of things to the old lapidified monstrosities of the past,” and afloat with his friend, whose troubles had caused Miller to postpone his design on the Hebrides for a twelvemonth,—his friend, who having no longer a local habitation in his parish, nor being as yet provided with one elsewhere on land, had now found a home on the deep beside his island charge.

    Let us look into the state room.


    “The cabin,—my home for the greater part of the three following weeks, and that of my friend for the greater part of the previous twelvemonth,—I found to be an apartment about twice the size of a common bed, and just lofty enough under the beams to permit a man of five feet eleven to stand erect in his nightcap.  A large table, lashed to the floor, furnished with tiers of drawers of all sorts and sizes, and bearing a writing desk bound to it a-top, occupied the middle space, leaving just room enough for a person to pass between its edges and the narrow coffin-like beds in the sides, and space enough at its fore-end for two seats in front of the stove.  A jealously-barred skylight opened above; and there depended from it this evening a close lanthorn-looking lamp, sufficiently valuable, no doubt, in foul weather, but dreary and dim on the occasions when all one really wished from it was light.  The peculiar furniture of the place gave evidence to the mixed nature of my friend’s employment.  A well-thumbed chart of Western Islands lay across an equally well-thumbed volume of Henry’s Commentary.  There was a Polyglot and a spy-glass in one corner, and a copy of Calvin’s Institutes, with the latest edition of The Coaster’s Sailing Directions, in another; while in an adjoining state-room, nearly large enough to accommodate an armchair, if the chair could have but contrived to get into it, I caught a glimpse of my friend’s printing-press and his case of types, canopied overhead by the blue ancient of the vessel, bearing in stately six-inch letters of white bunting, the legend, ‘FREE CHURCH YACHT.’”


    He landed, and was soon at work near a mill a little to the south of the village of Tobermory, “where a small stream descends, all foam and uproar, from the higher grounds along a rocky channel half hidden by brushwood; and the Liasic bed occurs in an exposed front directly over it, coped by a thick bed of amygdaloidal trap.”  He found that the organisms were numerous, and on digging into the bank beyond the reach of the weathering influences, in delicate preservation, but preserved after a fragile fashion, that rendered their safe removal difficult.


    “Originally the bed must have existed as a brown argillaceous mud, somewhat resembling that which forms in the course of years under a scalp of muscles, and it has hardened into a mere silt-like clay, in which the fossils occur, not as petrifactions, but as shells in a state of decay, except in some rare cases in which a calcareous nodule has formed within or around them.  Viewed in the group, they seem of an intermediate character between the shells of the Lias and Oolite.”—(p. 14.)


    Gryphœa obliquata, characteristic of the Liastic formation, and Phoiadomya œqualis of the Oolitic, were among the first shells which he disinterred, and doubtless wrapped up in the “fine soft Conservative Edinburgh newspaper, valuable for a quality of preserving old things entire,” half a stone weight of which he had packed up with his chisels, hammers, and bag.  The italics are Hugh’s own, and the word seems to have been selected with his usual felicity and in the spirit of prophecy; for surely any thing softer or more sqeezable than our Conservative lords and masters have proved themselves to be, does not, in our limited knowledge, exist.  How the Manchester taskmasters must chuckle as they stand over their slaves while the radical work is being done.  The “quality of preserving old things entire,” however, seems to be advancing fast to the vanishing point.

    Before his arrival in the Sound of Mull, where the Betsey lay, Hugh Miller had been in luck at Oban, where one of the villagers in improving his garden had just made a cut for some fifteen or twenty yards along the face of the precipice behind the village, and laid open the line of junction between the conglomerate and the clay slate, which is thus brought before our eyes:—


    "The conglomerate lies uncomfortably along the edges of the slate strata, which present under it an appearance exactly similar to that which they exhibit under the rolled stones and shingle of the neighbouring shore, where we find them laid bare beside the harbour for several hundred yards.  And, mixed with the pebbles of various character and origin of which the conglomerate is mainly composed, we see detached masses of the slate, that still exhibit on their edges the identical lines of fracture characteristic of the rock, which they received, when torn from the mass below, myriads of ages before.  In the incalculably remote period in which the conglomerate base of the Old Red Sandstone was formed, the clay-slate of this district had been exactly the same sort of rock that it is now.  Some long anterior convulsion had up-turned its strata; and the sweep of water, mingled with broken fragments of stone, had worn smooth the exposed edges; just as a similar agency wears the edges exposed at the present time.  Quarries might have been opened in this rock, as now, for a roofing slate, had there been quarriers to open them, or houses to roof over: it was in every respect as ancient a looking stone then as in the present late age of the world.”


    The Betsey got under weigh and heat gallantly out of the sound of Mull, in the face of an intermittent baffling wind and a heavy swell.  Our author scanned the precipices of Ardnamurchan with longing eye and would fain have approached them nearer, “to trace along their inaccessible fronts the strange reticulations of trap figured by M. Culloch.”  But the prudent skipper said “no.”  Docile and easily handled as was their little craft, they had on their lee one of the most formidable shores in Scotland, with light variable winds and a high-running sea.  They could for miles hear the deep diapason of the surf roaring, as it were, for prey, ”and see its undulating strip of white flickering under stack cliff.”  The warning was not unheeded, and they gave the iron-bound coast a wide berth.


Merrily, merrily bounds the bark
    O’er the broad ocean driven,
Her path by Ronins’s [4] mountains dark
    The steersman’s hand hath given.


Then running along the Isle of Eigg, “with its colossal scuir rising between them and the sky as if it were a piece of Babylonian wall, or of the great wall of China, only vastly larger, set down on the ridge of a mountain,” they entered the channel which separates the island from one of its dependencies, Eilean Chaisteil, and dropped their anchor in the tideway some fifty yards from the rocks.

    In this island of Eigg was acted ,in days of yore, a tragedy only to be paralleled by that the scene of which was not long since laid in Algeria.

    Leaving the boat to return to the Betsey with its one hand, and taking his companion to assist them in carrying such specimens as they might procure ashore, they passed westward for a few hundred yards under the crags, and came abreast of a dark angular opening, scarce two feet in height, at the base of the precipice.  In front of this dark aperture was a little sluggish pool, ankle deep, half mud, half water, and matted over with grass and rushes:—


    “The little angular opening forms the lower termination of the line, which, hollowing inwards, recedes near the bottom into a shallow cave, roughened with tufts of fern and bunches of long silky grass, here and there enlivened by the delicate flowers of the lesser rock-geranium.  A shower of drops patters from above among the weeds and rushes of the little pool.  My friend the minister stopped short, ‘There,’ he said, pointing to the hollow, ‘you will find such a bone-cave as you never saw before.  Within that opening there lie the remains of an entire race, palpably destroyed, as geologists in so many other cases are content merely to imagine, by one great catastrophe.  That is the famous cave of Francis (Uamh Fhraing), in which the whole people of Eigg were smoked to death by the M’Leods.”


    But hark —the chords of the harp of the north, swept by the unseen hand of the Minstrel, come over the memory


On Scooreigg next a warning light
Summoned her warriors to the fight;
A numerous race, are stern Macleod
O’er their bleak shores in vengeance strode,
Where all in vain the ocean-cave
Its refuge to his victims gave.
The Chief, relentless in his wrath,
With blazing heath blockades the path:
In dense and stifling volumes roll’d,
The vapour fill’d the cavern’d hold!
The warrior-threat, the infant’s plain,
The mother’s screams were heard in vain;
The vengeful Chief maintains his fires,
Till in the vault a tribe expires
The bones which strew that cavern’s gloom,
Too welt attest their dismal doom.” [5]


    In the appendix to the poem, Sir Walter relates his visit to the cavern, from which he brought off, in spite of the “prejudices” of the sailors who accompanied him, a skull from among the numerous specimens of mortality which made it horrible.

    Such a scene could not fail to stir the soul of Hugh Miller.  And, however odious comparisons may be, his description will not suffer by being placed in juxtaposition near any other, great in narrative as Scott was.

    The Universities no longer reign in solitary grandeur on the Isis or the Cam.  Colleges do abound: their name is legion, and a single western city rejoices in five, to say nothing of schools.  The learned and foreign languages are learnedly taught in these provincial establishments, the well-ordered pupils go about in semi-academicals, and if the tutors would but bestow a little of their care on the Queen’s English, the country would have still greater reason to be much obliged to them for their services.  But perhaps they are of opinion that to write and read the vernacular comes by nature; and, indeed, the best modern English known to us has flowed from the peas of a ploughman and of a journeyman mason, who were never at any college at all.  The purity of Hugh Miller’s style, in which he could not speak so as to be intelligible to the ear of the Southron, is not more marvellous than his transcendant descriptive power. William Cobbett’s English was equally pure: but Hugh Miller’s brilliantly vivid imagination carried him far beyond the Chief of the Gridiron in aptitude of illustration.  The Scotchman takes us with him into the cavern of death:—


    “We struck a light, and, worming ourselves through the narrow entrance, gained the interior,—a true rock gallery, vastly more roomy and lofty than one could have anticipated from the mean vestibule placed in front of it.  Its extreme length we found to be two hundred and sixty feet; its extreme breadth twenty-seven feet; its height, where the roof rises highest, from eighteen to twenty feet.  The cave seems to have owed its origin to two distinct causes.  The trap-rocks on each side of the vertical fault-like crevice which separates them are greatly decomposed, as if by the moisture percolating from above; and directly in the line of the crevice must the surf have charged, wave after wave, for ages ere the last upheaval of the land.  When the dog-stone at Dunolly existed as a sea-stack, skirted with algæ, the breakers on this shore must have dashed every tide through the narrow opening of the cavern, and scooped out by handfuls the decomposing trap within.  The process of decomposition, and consequent enlargement, is still going on inside, but there is no longer an agent to sweep away the disintegrated fragments.  Where the roof rises highest the floor is blocked up with accumulations of bulky decaying masses that have dropped from above; and it is covered over its entire area by a stratum of earthy rubbish, which has fallen from the sides and ceiling in such abundance, that it covers up the straw beds of the perished islanders, which still exist beneath as a brown mouldering felt, to the depth of from five to eight inches.  Never yet was tragedy enacted on a gloomier theatre.  An uncertain twilight glimmers gray at the entrance, from the narrow vestibule but all within, for full two hundred feet, is black as with Egyptian darkness.  As we passed onward with our one feeble light, along the dark mouldering walls and roof which absorbed every straggling ray that reached them, and over the dingy floor, ropy and damp, the place called to recollection that hall in Roman story, hung and carpeted with black, into which Domitian once thrust his senate in a frolic, to read their own names on the coffin-lids placed against the wall.  The darkness seemed to press upon us from every side, as if it were a dense jetty fluid, out of which our light had scooped a pailful or two, and that was rushing in to supply the vacuum; and the only objects we saw distinctly visible were each other’s heads and faces, and the lighter parts of our dress.”


    Pause for a moment in this darkness visible.  Could the best scholar who ever drank deep of the well of English undefiled, alter a word in the foregoing preparatory description without injury to the effect,—without taking the present horror from the time?


    “The floor, for about a hundred feet inwards from the narrow vestibule, resembles that of a charnel-house.  At almost every step we come upon heaps of human bones grouped together, as the Psalmist so graphically describes, ‘as when one cutteth and cleaveth wood upon the earth.’  They are of a brownish, earthy hue, here and there tinged with green; the skulls, with the exception of a few broken fragments, have disappeared, for travellers in the Hebrides have of late years been numerous and curious, and many a museum,—that at Abbotsford among the rest,—exhibits, in a grinning skull, its memorial of the Massacre at Eigg.  We find, too, further marks of visitors in the single bones separated from the heaps and scattered over the area; but enough still remains to show, in the general disposition of the remains, that the hapless islanders died under the walls in families, each little group separated by a few feet from the others.  There and there the remains of a detached skeleton may be seen, as if some robust islander, restless in his agony, had stalked out into the middle space ere he fell; but the social arrangement is the general one.  And beneath every heap we find, at the depth, as has been said, of a few inches, the remains of the straw bed upon which the family had lain, largely mixed with the smaller bones of the human frame, ribs arid vertebræ, and hand and feet bones; occasionally, too, with fragments of unglazed pottery, and various other implements of a rude housewifery.  The minister found for me, under one family heap, the pieces of a half-burned unglazed earthen jar, with a narrow mouth, that, like the sepulchral urns of our ancient tumuli, had been moulded by the hand without the assistance of the potter’s wheel and to one of the fragments there stuck a minute pellet of gray hair.  From under another heap he disinterred the handle stave of a child’s wooden porringer (bicker), perforated by a hole still bearing the mark of the cord that had hung it to the wall, and beside the stave lay a few of the larger, less destructible bones of the child, with what for a time puzzled us both not a little,—one of the grinders of a horse.  Certain it was, no horse could have got there to have dropped a tooth,—a foal of a week old could not have pressed itself through the opening; and how the single grinder, evidently no recent introduction into the cave, could have got mixed up in the straw with the human bones, seemed an enigma somewhat of the class to which the reel in the bottle belongs.  I found in Edinburgh an unexpected commentator on the mystery, in the person of my little boy,—an experimental philosopher in his second year.  I had spread out on the floor the curiosities of Eigg,—among the rest, the relics of the cave, including the pieces of earthen jar and the fragment of the porringer, but the horse’s tooth seemed to be the only real curiosity among them in the eyes of little Bill.  He laid instant hold of it; and, appropriating it as a toy, continued playing with it till he fell asleep.  I have now little doubt that it was first brought into the cave by the poor child amid whose mouldering remains Mr. Swanson found it.  The little pellet of gray hair spoke of feeble old age involved in this wholesale massacre with the vigorous manhood of the island; and here was a story of unsuspecting infancy amusing itself on the eve of destruction with its toys.  Alas for man ‘Should not I spare Nineveh, that great city,’ said God to the angry prophet, ‘wherein are more than six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left?’  God’s image must have been sadly defaced in the murderers of the poor, inoffensive children of Eigg, ere they could have heard their feeble wailings, raised, no doubt, when the stifling atmosphere within began first to thicken, and yet ruthlessly persist in their work of indiscriminate destruction.”


    Few leave this charnel-house without bringing away some memento, generally a ghastly one.  Sir Walter, you remember, had, like Ben Jonson’s witch, chosen out a skull.  Hugh Miller picked up the fragment of a jaw, with a few teeth sticking fast in it, and he thus moralizes over the relic:—


    “I have found in the Old Red Sandstone the strong-based tusks of the semi-reptile Holoptychius; I have chiselled out of the limestone of the Coal Measures the sharp, dagger-like incisors of the Megalichthys; I have picked up in the Lias and Oolite the cruel spikes of the crocodile and the Ichthyosaurus; I have seen the trenchant, saw-edged teeth of gigantic Cestracions and Squalidæ that had been disinterred from the chalk and the London clay; and I have felt, as I examined them, that there could be no possibility of mistake regarding the nature of the creatures to which they had belonged ;—they were teeth made for hacking, tearing, mangling,—for amputating limbs at a bite, and laying open bulky bodies with a crunch: but I could find no such evidence in the human jaw, with its three inoffensive-looking grinders, that the animal it had belonged to,—far more ruthless and cruel than reptile-fish, crocodiles, or sharks,—was of such a nature that it could destroy creatures of even its own kind by hundreds at a time, when not in the least incited by hunger, and with no ultimate intention of eating them.  Man must surely have become an immensely worse animal than his teeth show him to have been designed for: his teeth give no evidence regarding his real character.  Who, for instance, could gather from the dentology of the M’Leods the passage in their history to which the cave of Francis bears evidence?”


    It will he as great a relief to you to leave this scene of murder, as it was to Hugh Miller and his party to he relieved from its stagnant, damp atmosphere and mouldy, unwholesome smells for the fresh sea-air on the beach without: and gladly we ascend with them the breezy hillside on their way to the Scuir of Eigg, “veritable Giant’s Causeway, like that on the coast of Antrim, taken and magnified rather more than twenty times in height, and some five or six times in breadth, and then placed on the ridge of a bill nearly nine hundred feet high.”


    “This strange causeway is columnar from end to end; but the columns, from their great altitude and deficient breadth, seem mere rodded shafts in the Gothic style: they rather resemble bundles of rods than well-proportioned pillars.  Few of them exceed eighteen inches in diameter, and many of them fall short of half a foot; but, though lost in the general mass of the Scuir as independent columns, when we view it at an angle sufficiently large to take in its entire bulk, they yet impart to it that graceful linear effect which we see brought out in tasteful pencil—sketches and good line-engravings.  We approached it this day from the shore in the direction in which the eminence it stands upon assumes the pyramidal form, and itself the tower-like outline.  The acclivity is barren and stony,—a true desert foreground like those of Thebes and Palmyra; and the huge square shadow of the tower stretched dark and cold athwart it.  The sun shone out clearly.  One half the immense bulk before us, with its delicate vertical lining, lay from top to bottom in deep shade, massive and gray; one half presented its many-sided columns to the light, here and there gleaming with tints of extreme brightness, where the pitch-stones presented their glassy planes to the sun its general outline, whether pencilled by the lighter or darker tints, stood out sharp and clear; and a stratum of white, fleecy clouds floated slowly amid the delicious blue behind it.  But the minuter details I must reserve for my next chapter.  One fact, however, anticipated just a little out of its order, may heighten the interest of the reader.  There are massive buildings,—bridges of noble span, and harbours that abut far into the waves,—founded on wooden piles; and this hugest of hill-forts we find founded on wooden piles also.  It is built on what a Scotch architect would perhaps term a pile-brander of the Pinites Eiggensis, an ancient tree of the Oolite.  The gigantic Scuir of Eigg rests on the remains of a prostrate forest.”


    The country that gave birth to True Thomas may well be the land of faery, witchcraft, second sight (in which another celebrated tourist believed), and apparitions.  One of the few superstitions that still linger on the island is associated with a wild hollow, where it is said, shortly before a death takes place among the inhabitants, a tall, withered female form may be seen in the twilight washing a shroud in the stream.  A ghost will not speak till it is spoken to, [6] and the querist who screws his courage up to address a spectre may hear more than he likes in reply.  “Whose shroud are you washing?” asked an over-bold islander at the phantom.—”Your own,” was the appalling answer.

    Our visitors did not fail to notice among other geological phenomena the great oyster bed, extending over many acres, where the bivalves are massed as thickly together to the depth of several feet, as shells on the heap at the door of a Newhaven fisherman.  Your oyster not only loves the dredging song, but comes of a gentle kind—for antiquity is necessary to gentility, and he dates ages before the Conquest.  The millionaire of to-day little thinks as he walks or rides over the well-pitched, interminable streets—paved with gold and no mistake—to his counting-house in the city, that London was once an oyster bed.

    But the most remarkable notability occurred as the voyagers walked over the sand of the Oolite.  Hugh Miller was turning up this sand, so curiously reduced to its original state, and marking how nearly the recent shells embedded in it resembled the extinct ones that had lain in it so long before, when he became aware of a peculiar sound which it yielded to the tread as his companions paced over it.  Some have read or heard of Jabel Nakous—El Nakous, as Sir David Brewster writes it—in Arabia Petræa, and of Reg Rawan in the neighbourhood of Cabul, and many have not; but few are aware that they need not go farther than the island of Eigg if they wish to observe a similar phenomenon in acoustics.  Listen to our tourist as he walks over this musical sand:—


    “I struck it obliquely with my foot, where the surface lay dry and incoherent in the sun, and the sound elicited was a shrill, sonorous note, somewhat resembling that produced by a waxed thread, when tightened between the teeth and the hand, and tipped by the nail of the forefinger.  I walked over it, striking it obliquely at each step, and with every blow the shrill note was repeated.  My companions joined me; and we performed a concert, in which, if we could boast of but little variety in the tones produced, we might at least challenge all Europe for an instrument of the kind which produced them.  It seemed less wonderful that there should he music in the granite of Memnon, than in the loose Oolitic sand of the Bay of Laig.  As we marched over the drier tracks, an incessant woo, woo, woo, rose from the surface, that might be heard in the calm some twenty or thirty yards away; and we found that where a damp, semi-coherent stratum lay at the depth of three or four inches beneath, and all was dry and incoherent above, the tones were loudest and sharpest, and most easily evoked by the foot.  Our discovery,—for I trust I may regard it as such,—adds a third locality to two previously known ones, in which what may be termed the musical sand,—no unmeet counterpart to the ‘singing water’ of the tale,—has now been found.”


    No, not exactly singing water, though it pleased Hugh’s vivid imagination to run away with his memory.  Prince Bahman and Prince Perviz went in search of the talking bird, singing tree, and golden water, and got turned into black stones for their pains.  Princess Parizade, their sister, with the aid of a little cotton in her ears, gained all three; and, moreover, having sprinkled the numerous black stones with the golden water, restored her beloved brothers and a large party of gentlemen to their pristine shape.  The ladies—blessings on the dear, delightful charmers—have it hollow when matters come to require acuteness, subtilty, and address.  “Laughing Water” belonged to Hiawatha, and is immortalized by the sweet singer of America.  If thou canst read her death unmoved, stoic of the most stony class art thou.  All we know is that the touching verse drew iron tears down the cheek of an ex-police-magistrate.

    You observe that Hugh Miller compares the sound elicited to the shrill, sonorous note produced by a waxed thread, when tightened between the teeth and the hand, and you will hardly fail to remember—with reference to the Egyptian Memnon—that Humboldt, whose vigorous soul and body seem to defy Time, when he was traversing the wilds of South America, heard at sunrise, in a monument of granite situated near the centre of the spot on which the palace of Carnac stands, a noise resembling that of a breaking string; the very expression, as Sir David Brewster remarks, by which Pausanias characterizes the sound in the Memnonian granite.

    It is curious to note how differently sounds are accepted by different persons: indeed, Dr. Wollaston has clearly proved that certain sounds are inaudible to certain ears.  The Arabs, who still cling to their fondness for romance, say that there is a convent miraculously preserved in the bowels of El Nakous, and that the sounds are those of the Nakous, a long metallic ruler suspended horizontally, which the priest strikes with a hammer for the purpose of assembling the monks to prayer.  If you be disposed to doubt this, ask the wandering Greek—if you can find him—who on one occasion had the luck to see the mountain open, and, entering by the gap, descended into the subterranean convent, where, if he did not find such jewelled fruit as Aladdin gathered, he found beautiful gardens and fountains of delicious water.  As he thought that he might possibly meet with sceptics, he brought with him, on his return to the upper world, fragments of consecrated bread to stop the mouths of the incredulous.

    Seetzen seems to have been the first European traveller who visited the hill.  The German, after journeying for several hours over arid sands, and under ranges of precipices inscribed with mysterious characters, arrived at the base of the musical mountain, found it composed of a white friable sandstone, and observed that it presented on two of its sides sandy declivities.  He listened, and after waiting some time heard a low undulating sound, somewhat resembling that of a humming-top, which rose and fell, ceased and began, then ceased again.  An hour and three-quarters afterward, as he was climbing along one of the declivities, he again heard the sound, but louder and more prolonged.  It seemed to come from under his knees, beneath which the sand, disturbed by his efforts, was sliding downward along the surface of the rock.  He came to the conclusion that the sliding sand caused the sounds; climbing to the top of the declivity, and then, sliding downward, exerted himself with hands and feet to set the sand in motion.  The incoherent sand rolled under and around in a vast sheet, and so loud was the noise that the earth seemed to tremble beneath him; and he owns that he should certainly have been afraid if he had been ignorant of the cause.  Mr. Gray, of University College, Oxford, describes the sound as beginning with a low, continuous murmuring, which seemed to rise beneath his feet, gradually changing into pulsations as it grew louder, so as to resemble the striking of a clock; and it became so strong, he adds, at the end of five minutes, as to detach the sand.  He was unable to trace the sounds to their producing cause, but he apparently regarded them as causing the detachment of the sand, not as proceeding from it, as Seetzen evidently did.  Lieutenant Welsted compares the sounds at their commencement to the faint strains of an Æolian harp when its strings are first swept by the breeze.  As the sand became more violently agitated by the increased velocity of the descent, the noise, he says, more resembled that produced by drawing the moistened fingers over a glass; but as it reached the base, the reverberations attained the loudness of distant thunder, causing the rock on which they were seated to vibrate.  The camels, animals not easily frightened, became so alarmed at the noise, that their drivers with difficulty restrained them.

    Baber, the conquering emperor, describes the Khwaja Reg-Rawan, which is about forty miles north of Cabul, toward Hindu-kush, and near the base of the mountains, as a small hill, in which there is a line of sandy ground reaching from the top to the bottom, and from which there issues in the summer season the sound of drums and nagarets.  This hill, which was musical in the fifteenth century, when the emperor flourished, and probably was so ages before he was born or thought of, was visited by Sir Alexander Burnes, who states that when the sand is set in motion by a body of people who slide down it, a noise is emitted and that, on the first trial, they distinctly heard two hollow sounds, such as would be given by a large drum.  He adds that there is an echo in the place, and that the inhabitants believe that the sounds are heard only on Friday, when the saint of Reg-Rawan, who is interred hard by, permits.

    But the cause?  That is as latent as the phenomenon is patent.  Sir John Herschel honestly states that to him it is utterly inexplicable.  Sir David Brewster assured Hugh Miller that it was not less a puzzle to him than to Sir John.  A great man can afford to say “I don’t know.”  Some, however, are nothing if not explanatory.  An eastern traveller favours his readers with a truly Cimmerian obfuscation, for he attributes the production of the sounds to “a reduplication of impulse setting air in vibration in a focus of echo!”  There, Sir, is a cloud of words for you; charming illustration of the ignotum per ignotius, isn’t it?  “This traveller,” dryly observes Hugh Miller, “means, I suppose, saying nearly the same thing as the two philosophers, and merely conveys his meaning in a less simple style.”

    We have elsewhere [7] insisted on the importance of causes now in operation, and, above all, of the value of that great geological agent, time, in estimating the phenomena which are manifested in the structure of the earth’s crust.  In his fifth chapter our author notices the two strata containing fresh-water fossils in abundance among the marine Oolites of Brora, one of them little more than an inch in thickness, the other little more than a foot.  He well observes that it seems considerably more probable that such deposits should have owed their existence to extraordinary land-floods, like those which in 1829 devastated the province of Moray, and covered over whole miles of marine beach with the spoils of land and river, than that a sea-bottom should be elevated for their production into a fresh water lake, and then let down into a sea-bottom again.  After the thaw which followed the great snow storm of 1794, there were found on a part of the sands of the Solway Frith known as the Beds of Esh, where the tide disgorges much of what is thrown into it by the rivers, one thousand eight hundred and forty sheep, nine black cattle, three horses, two men, one woman, forty-five dogs, and one hundred and eighty hares, besides meaner animals. [8]   Hugh Miller, who refers to this occurrence, aptly remarks that a similar storm in an earlier time, with a soft sea-bottom prepared to receive and retain its spoils, would have formed a fresh-water stratum, intercalated in a marine deposit.  We agree with him that, in every case in which these intercalated deposits are restricted to single strata of no great thickness, it is safer to refer their formation to the agency of temporary land-floods, than to that of violent changes of level, now elevating and now depressing the surface.—(pp. 70—71.)

    In the neighbourhood island of Rum, where the Old Red Sandstone is so largely developed every geological traveller must be struck with the Ru-stoir, whose hard red beds Hugh Miller attributes not to the ages of the Coccosteus and Pterichthys, but to the far later period of the Plesiosaurus and the fossil crocodile. Here is a striking word-picture of the present and the past:—


    “The water, beautifully transparent, permitted the eye to penetrate into its green depths for many fathoms around, though every object presented, through the agitated surface, an uncertain and fluctuating outline.  I could see, however, the pink-coloured urchin warping himself up, by his many cables, along the steep rock-sides; the green crab stalking along the gravelly bottom; a scull of small rock-cod darting hither and thither among the tangle-roots; and a few large medusæ slowly flapping their continuous fins of gelatine in the opener spaces, a few inches under the surface.  Many curious families had their representatives within the patch of sea which the eye commanded; but the strange creatures that had once inhabited it by thousands, and whose bones still lay sepulchred on its shores, had none.  How strange, that the identical sea heaving around stack and skerry in this remote corner of the Hebrides should have once been thronged by reptile shapes more strange than poet ever imagined,—dragons, gorgons, and chimeras!  Perhaps of all the extinct reptiles, the Plesiosaurus was the most extraordinary.  An English geologist has described it, grotesquely enough, and yet most happily, as a snake threaded through a tortoise.  And here, on this very spot, must these monstrous dragons have disported and fed; here must they have raised their little reptile heads and long swan-like necks over the surface, to watch an antagonist or select a victim; here must they have warred and wedded, and pursued all the various instincts of their unknown natures.  A strange story, surely, considering it is a true one!  I may mention in the passing, that some of the fragments of the shale in which the remains are embedded have been baked by the intense heat into an exceedingly hard, dark-coloured stone, somewhat resembling basalt.  I must add further, that I by no means determine the rock with which we find it associated to be in reality an altered sandstone.  Such is the appearance which it presents where weathered but its general aspect is that of a porphyritic trap.  Be it what it may, the fact is not at all affected, that the shores, wherever it occurs on this tract of insular coast, are strewed with reptilian remains of the Oolite.”


    A well-deserved tribute is paid to the sections of Sir Roderick Murchison, whose comprehensive and accurate field-work is probably due in great measure to his early military training.  All the work of this accomplished geologist is well done; and his auriferous prophecies, to which, as usual, a deaf ear was at first turned, have long been partially fulfilled, and are still in progress of fulfilment:


    “His section of this part of the coast, for example, strikes from the extreme northern part of Skye to the island of Holm, thence to Scrapidale in Rasay, thence along part of the coast of Scalpa, thence direct through the middle of Pabba, and thence to the shore of the Bay of Laig.  The line thus taken includes, in regular sequence in the descending order, the whole Oolitic deposits of the Hebrides, from the Cornbrash, with its overlying freshwater outliers of mayhap the Weald, down to where the Lower has rests on the primary red sandstone of Sleat.  It would have cost M’Culloch less exploration to have written a volume than it must have cost Sir R. Murchison to draw this single line; but the line once drawn, is work done to the hands of all after explorers.”


    The simple but curious geology of the island of Rum is thus happily illustrated:


    “The geology of the island of Rum is simple but curious.  Let the reader take, if he can, from twelve to fifteen trap-hills, varying from one thousand to two thousand three hundred feet in height; let him pack them closely and squarely together, like rum-bottles in a case-basket; let him surround them with a frame of Old Red Sandstone, measuring rather more than seven miles on the side, in the way the basket surrounds the bottles; then let him set them down in the sea a dozen miles off the land—and he shall have produced a second island of Rum, similar in structure to the existing one.  In the actual island, however, there is a defect in the inclosing basket of sandstone: the basket, complete on three of its sides, wants the fourth; and the side opposite to the gap which the fourth should have occupied is thicker than the two other sides put together.  Where I now write there is an old dark-coloured picture on the wall before me.  I take off one of the four bars of which the frame is composed,—the end-bar—and stick it on to the end-bar opposite, and then the picture is fully framed on two of its sides, and doubly framed on a third, but the fourth side lacks framing altogether.  And such is the geology of the island of Rum.”


    Observe how he follows this out:—


    “We find the one loch of the island,—that in which the Betsey lies at anchor,—and the long, withdrawing valley of which the loch is merely a prolongation, occurring in the double sandstone bar: it seems to mark—to return to my illustration—the line in which the superadded piece of frame has been stuck on to the frame proper.  The origin of the island is illustrated by its structure: it has left its story legibly written, and we have but to run our eye over the characters and read.  An extended sea-bottom, composed of Old Red Sandstone, already tilted up by previous convulsions, so that the strata presented their edges, tier beyond tier, like rooting slate laid aslant on a floor, became a centre of Plutonic activity.  The molten trap broke through at various times, and presenting various appearances, hut in nearly the same centre, here existing as an augitic rock, there as a syneite, yonder as a basalt or amygdaloid.  At one place it uptilted the sandstone; at another it overflowed it; the dark, central masses raised their heads above the surface, higher and higher with every earthquake throe from beneath; till at length the gigantic Ben More attained to its present altitude of two thousand three hundred feet over the sea-level, and the sandstone, borne up from beneath like floating sea-wrack on the hack of a porpoise, reached in long outside bands its elevation of from six to eight hundred.  And such is the piece of history, composed in silent but expressive language, and inscribed in the old geologic character, on the rocks of Rum.”


    What is life?  A question often asked and never yet answered.  Hugh Miller’s thoughts travelled in this direction in consequence of that which so often awakens or directs thought —accident.  As they were ascending a hillside, from the ridge of which the first glimpse of Scuir More, “standing up from the sea like a pyramid shorn of its top,” is caught, a brown lizard, startled by their approach, hurried across their path, and the guide, possessed by the general Highland belief that the creature is poisonous, struck at the harmless animal with a switch, and cut it in two immediately behind the hinder legs:


      “The upper half, containing all that anatomists regard as the vitals, heart, brain, and viscera, all the main nerves, and all the larger arteries, lay stunned by the blow, as if dead; nor did it manifest any signs of vitality so long as we remained beside it, whereas the lower half, as if the whole animal had retired into it, continued dancing upon the moss for a full minute after, like a young eel scooped out of some stream, and thrown upon bank; and then lay wriggling and palpitating for about half a minute more.”


    The shock to the nervous system may have produced some effect, but the lizard was probably shamming Abraham, as we used to say at school; and the anterior portion, if not mortally injured about the head or body by the blow, after lying, in every sense of the word, like Falstaff, till the enemy had departed, as probably got up, and, in due course, was furnished with a new tail.  The severed tail having no discretion, exercised its vitality as long as it could.  Those who have eyes and know how to use them, see every day, insects such as spiders, caterpillars, and chafers, feigning death, and moving off when they fancy that the danger is passed.  The dissemblers will continue their simulation for a long time if necessary.  We have seen a fern-chafer, Melolontha solstitialis, maintain its death-like stillness more than a quarter of an hour.


    “There are few things more inexplicable in the province of the naturalist than the phenomenon of what may be termed divided life,—vitality broken into two, and yet continuing to exist as vitality in both the dissevered pieces.”


    One of the Starfishes (Asteriadæ) has been seen to break itself to pieces at the near approach of a pail of fresh water, leaving the disappointed collector to watch the swimming disjecta membra of the Brittle Star.  Cut a polype to pieces, and each piece shall become an independent polype, capable of reproduction in its ordinary way.

    The axiom Omne vivum ab ovo would seem to require modification: Omne vivum a vivo would be more germane to the matter; for the living thing produced by means of a cutting cannot be said to have come immediately from an egg, though the parent from which it was taken may have proceeded from one, and the cutting itself may produce one. [9]

    But we have left Hugh Miller looking down on the stricken and apparently inanimate lizard; and we have not the heart to curtail the outpourings of the moralizing philosopher:


    “We see in the nobler animals mere glimpses of the phenomenon,—mere indications of it, doubtfully apparent for at most a few minutes.  The blood drawn from the human arm by the lancet continues to live in the cup until it has cooled and begun to coagulate; and when head and body have the parted company under the guillotine, both exhibit for a brief space such unequivocal signs of life that the question arose in France during the horrors of the Revolution, whether there might not be some glimmering of consciousness attendant at the same time on the fearfully opening and shutting eyes and mouth of the one, and the beating heart and jerking neck of the other.  The lower we descend in the scale of being, the more striking the instances which we receive of this divisibility of the vital principle.  I have seen the two halves of the heart of a ray pulsating for full quarter of an hour after they had been separated from the body and from each other.  The blood circulates in the hind leg of a frog for many minutes alter the removal of the heart, which meanwhile keeps an independent motion of its own.  Vitality can be so divided in the earthworm, that, as demonstrated by the experiments of Spalanzani, each of the severed parts carries life enough away to set it up as an independent animal; while the polypus, a creature of still more imperfect organization, and with the vivacious principle more equally diffused may be multiplied by its pieces nearly as readily as a gooseberry bush by its slips.  It was sufficiently curious, however, to see, in the case of this brown lizard, the least vital half of the creature so much more vivacious, apparently, than the half which contained the heart and brain.  It is not improbable, however, that the presence of these organs had only the effect of rendering the upper portion which contained them more capable of being thrown into a state of insensibility.  A blow dealt one of the vertebrata of the head at once renders it insensible.  It is after this mode the fisherman kills the salmon captured in his wear, and a single blow, when well directed, is always sufficient: but no single blow has the same effect on the earthworm; and here it was vitality in the inferior portion of the reptile,—the earthworm portion of it, if I may so speak,—that refused to participate in the state of syncope into which the vitality of the superior portion had been thrown.  The nice and delicate vitality of the brain seems to impart to the whole system in connection with it an aptitude for dying suddenly,—a susceptibility of instant death, which would be wanting without it.  The heart of the rabbit continues to beat regularly long after the brain has been removed by careful excision, if respiration be artificially kept up; but if, instead of amputating the head, the brain be crushed in its place by a sudden blow of a hammer, the heart ceases its motion at once.  And such seemed to be the principle illustrated here.”


    We have already expressed our opinion as to the seeming: it is but fair however, to let our philosopher finish:—


    “But why the agonized dancing on the sward of the inferior part of the reptile?—why its after painful writhing and wriggling?  The young eel scooped from the stream, whose motions it resembled, is impressed by terror, and can feel pain; was it also impressed by terror, or susceptible of suffering?  We see in the case of both exactly the same signs,—the dancing, the writhing, the wriggling; but are we to interpret them after the same manner?  In the small red-headed earthworm divided by Spalauzani, that in three months got upper extremities to its lower part, and lower extremities, in as many weeks, to its upper part, the dividing blow must have dealt duplicate feelings,—pain and terror to the portion below, and pain and terror to the portion above,—so far, at least, as a creature so low in the scale was susceptible of these feelings; but are we to hold that the leaping, wriggling tail of the reptile possessed in any degree a similar susceptibility?  I can propound the riddle, but who shall resolve it?”


    Ay, who?—and echo answers “who?”

    But we must turn from life as it is, to life as it was, and visit, with Hugh Miller for guide, the tall Red Sandstone precipices of Dunnet head, gleaming ruddy to the sun—“a true blood-coloured blush, where all around is azure or pale.”  We round the promontory—for he takes us with him—and fossil forms long since blotted from the things that be abound—”the bituminous beds glittering bright with glossy quadrangular scales, that look like sheets of black mica inclosed in granite.”


    “The condition of complete keeping in which we discover some of these remains, even when exposed to the incessant dash of the surf; seems truly wonderful.  We see scales of Holoptychius standing up in bold relief from the hard, cherty rock that has worn from around them, with all the tubercles and wavy ridges of their sculpture entire.  This state of keeping seems to be wholly owing to the curious chemical change that has taken place in their substance.  Ere the skeleton of the Bruce, disinterred entire after the lapse of five centuries, was recommitted to the tomb, there were such measures taken to secure its preservation, that were it to be again disinterred even after as many centuries more had passed, it might be found retaining unbroken its gigantic proportions.  There was molten pitch poured over the bones in a state of sufficient fluidity to premeate all their pores, and fill up the central hollows, and which, soon hardening around them, formed a bituminous matrix, in which they may lie unchanged for more than a thousand years.  Now, exactly such was the process of keeping to which nature resorted with these skeletons of the Old Red Sandstone.  The animal matter with which they were charged has been converted into a hard black bitumen like the bones of the Bruce, they are bones steeped in pitch; and so thoroughly is every pore and hollow still occupied, that, when cast into the fire, they flame like torches.”


    There is much more strong temptation; but we have ten thousand miles over the Fossiliferous Deposits of Scotland before us, and must husband our space.  We cannot, however, pass a bright bit which would make a charming subject for our own Webster.  Our traveller was pausing within hearing of the roar of the Findhorn, uncertain which way to take for the ferry at Sluie:—


    “There lay in my track a beautiful hillock, that reclines on the one side to the setting sun, and sinks sheer on the other in a mural sandstone precipice, into the Findhorn.  The trees open over it, giving full access to the free air and the sunshine; and I found it thickly studded over with berries as if it had been the special care of half a dozen gardeners.  The red light fell yet redder on the thickly inlaid cranberries and stone-brambles of the slope, and here and there, though so late in the season, on a patch of wild strawberries; while over all, dark, delicate blaeberries, with their flour-bedusted coats, were studded as profusely as if they had been peppered over it by a hailstone cloud.  I have seldom seen such a school-boy’s paradise; and I was just thinking what a rare discovery I would have a it had I made it thirty years sooner, when I heard a whooping in the wood, and four little girls, the eldest scarcely eleven, came bounding up to the hillock, their lips and fingers already dyed purple, and dropped themselves down among the berries with a shout.”


    We must now take our leave of The Betsy whose cruise, by the way, was very nearly ending prematurely in a short trip to the bottom, in consequence of springing a leak.  She was, however, well handled by her little crew, who worked with a will, and, when matters were at the worst, brought her under the lee of the Point of Sleat.  She was soon as tight as a cup again, no doubt; but the following lines will now be read with painful interest:—


    “There are, I am convinced, few deaths less painful than some of those untimely and violent ones at which we are most disposed to shudder.  We wrought so hard at pail and pump,—the occasion, too, was one of so much excitement, and tended so thoroughly to awaken our energies,—that I was conscious during the whole time, of an exhilaration of spirits rather pleasurable than otherwise.  My fancy was active, and active, strange as the fact may seem, chiefly with ludicrous objects.  Sailors tell regarding the Flying Dutchman, that he was a hard-headed captain of Amsterdam, who, in a bad night and head wind, when all the other vessels of his fleet were falling back on the port they had recently quitted, obstinately swore that, rather than follow their example, he would keep beating about till the day of judgment.  And the Dutch captain, says the story, was just taken at his word, and is beating about still."


    The ten thousand miles over which The Rambles of a Geologist extended, required for their accomplishment a period coequal with that of the siege which, was terminated by the Greek exodus from the bowels of the great wooden horse, and formed the relaxation of our peripatetic philosopher in the vacations of successive years, down to 1848 inclusive.

    During one of these trips he saw, not far from the village of Gardenstone, a victim of man's cruelty; and where man’s ingenuity takes that turn he throws any effort libellously called “diabolical” into the shade.  There is no torturing devil such a master of his craft as the lord of the creation.  Amid a heap of drift-weed stranded high on the beach by the previous tide, was a defunct father-lasher, with the two defensive spines which project from its gill-covers, stuck fast into little cubes of cork; and his previous acquaintance with the habits of a fishing village enabled Hugh Miller at once to determine why and how the unfortunate fish had perished.


    “Though almost never used as food on the eastern coast of Scotland, it had been inconsiderate enough to take the fisherman’s bait, as if it had been worthy of being eaten; and he had avenged himself for the trouble it had cost him, by mounting it on cork, and sending it off, to wander between wind and water, like the Flying Dutchman, until it died.  Was there ever on earth a creature save man that could have played a fellow-mortal a trick at once so ingeniously and gratuitously cruel?  Or what would be the proper inference, were I to find one of the many-thorned ichthyolites of the Lower Old Red Sandstone with the spines of its pectorals similarly fixed on cubes of lignite?—that there had existed in these early ages not merely physical death, but also moral evil; and that the being who perpetrated the evil could not only inflict it simply for the sake of the pleasure he found in it, and without prospect of advantage to himself, but also by so adroitly reversing, fiend-like, the purposes of the benevolent Designer, that the weapons given for the defence of a poor, harmless creature should be converted into the instruments of its destruction.  It was not without meaning that it was forbidden by the law of Moses to seethe a kid in its mother’s milk.”


    Such an ichthyolite-hunter as our rambler could not be silent on the merits of Sir Philip de Malpas Grey Egerton, of Oulton Park, whom he justly characterises as our first British authority on Fossil fish, and who, ever ready to acknowledge talent and industry, has associated Miller’s name with his own, to the great satisfaction of the former.  Rich and rare are the collections of this accomplished palæontologist and of his friend the Earl of Enniskillen, whose stone-room at Florence Court is known to every geologist.  For a long time, as we hear, each acquired nodule has been, like Alfred’s loaf, divided between the friends, and the treasures of both, not selfishly hoarded, but accessible to all who are worthy, are thus constantly and naturally increased. [10]

    Well would it be for our landed aristocracy, especially for those who have mineral property on their estates, if more of its members would follow the examples of those who have studied the science, and who have, to their satisfaction and advantage, ascertained that geological knowledge is wealth as well as power.

    You will find some bright thoughts and amusing anecdotes awakened by picking up a piece of graphic granite (p. 295 et seq.); but we must pass on to meditations on a Palæozoic fish-scale.

    “The outer layer of the scale, which lies over a middle layer of a cellular cancellated structure, and corresponds, apparently, with that scarf-skin which in the human subject overlies the rete muscosum, is thickly set with microscopic pores, funnel-shaped in the transverse section, and which, examined by a good glass, in the horizontal one resemble the puncturings of a sieve.  The Megalichthys of the Coal Measures, with its various carboniferous congeners, with the genera Diplopterus, Dipterus, and Osteolepis of the Old Red Sandstone,—all brilliantly enamelled fish,—are thickly pore-covered.  But whatever purpose these pores may have served, it seems in the Secondary period to have been otherwise accomplished, if, indeed, it continued to exist.  It is a curious circumstance, that in no case do the pores seem to pass through the scale.  Whatever their use, they existed merely as communications between the cells of the middle cancellated layer and the surface.  In a fish of the Chalk,—Macropoma Alantelli,—the exposed fields of the scales are covered over with apparently hollow, elongated cylinders, as the little tubes in a shower-bath cover their round field of tin, save that they lie in a greatly flatter angle than the tubes; but I know not that, like the pores of the Dipterians and the Megalichthys, they communicated between the interior of the scale and its external surface.  Their structure is at any rate palpably different, and they bear no such resemblance to the pores of the human skin as that which the Palæozoic pores present.”


    Mark the clearness and felicity of illustration called forth by the beautiful, delicate, and perfect workmanship of the Great Artificer:


    “The amount of design exhibited in the scales of some of the more ancient ganoids,—design obvious enough to be clearly read,—is very extraordinary.  A single scale of Holoptychius Nobilissimus,—fast locked up in its red sandstone rock,—laid by, as it were, forever,—will be seen, if we but set ourselves to unravel its texture, to form such an instance of nice adaptation of means to an end as might of itself be sufficient to confound the atheist.  Let me attempt placing one of these scales before the reader, in its character as a flat counter of bone, of a nearly circular form, an inch and a half in diameter, and an eighth-part of an inch in thickness; and then ask him to bethink himself of the various means by which he would impart to it the greatest possible degree of strength.  The human skull consists of two tables of solid bone, an inner and an outer, with a spongy cellular substance interposed between them, termed the diploe; and such is the effect of this arrangement, that the blow which would fracture a continuous wall of hone has its force broken by the spongy, intermediate layer, and merely injures the outer table, leaving not unfrequently the inner one, which more especially protects the brain, wholly unharmed.  Now, such also was the arrangement in the scale of the Holoptychius Nobilissimus.  It consisted of its two well-marked tables of solid bone, corresponding in their dermal character, the outer to the cuticle, the inner to the true skin, and the intermediate cellular layer to the rete mucosum; but bearing an unmistakable analogy also, as a mechanical contrivance, to the two plates and the diploe of the human skull.  To the strengthening principle of the two tables, however, there were two other principles added.  Cromwell, when commissioning for a new helmet, his old one being, as he expresses it, ‘ill set,’ ordered his friend to send him a ‘fluted pot,’ i.e., a helmet ridged and furrowed on the surface, and suited to break, by its protuberant lines, the force of a blow, so that the vibrations of the stroke would reach the body of the metal deadened and flat.  Now, the outer table of the scale of the Holoptychius was a ‘fluted pot.’  The alternate ridges and furrows which ornamented its surface served a purpose exactly similar with that of the flutes and fillets of Cromwell’s helmet.”


    But this is not all:

    “The inner table was strengthened on a different but not less effective principle.  The human stomach consists of three coats; and two of these, the outermost or peritoneal coat, and the middle or muscular coat, are so arranged that the fibres of the one cross at nearly right angles those of the other.  The violence which would tear the compact sides of this important organ along the fibres of the outer coat, would be checked by the transverse arrangement of the fibres of the middle coat, and vice versa.  We find the cotton manufacturer weaving some of his stronger fabrics on a similar plan;—they also are made to consist of two coats; and what is technically termed the tear of the upper is so disposed that it lies at an angle of forty-five degrees with the tear of the coat which lies underneath.  Now, the inner table of the scale of the Holoptychius was composed, on this principle, of various layers or coats, arranged the one over the other, so that the fibres of each lie at right angles with the fibres of the others in immediate contact with it.  In the inner table of one scale I reckon nine of these alternating, variously-disposed layers; so that any application of violence, which, in the language of the lath-splitter, would run lengthwise along the grain of four of them, would be checked by the cross grain in five.  In other words, the line of the tear in five of the layers was ranged at right angles with the line of the tear in four.  There were thus in a single scale, in order to secure the greatest possible amount of strength,—and who can say what other purposes may have been secured besides?—three distinct principles embodied,—the principle of the two tables and diploe of the human skull,—the principle of the variously arranged coats of the human stomach,—and the principle of Oliver Cromwell’s ‘fluted pot.’  There have been elaborate treatises written on those ornate flooring-tiles of the classical and middle ages, that are occasionally dug up by the antiquary amid monastic ruins, or on the sites of old Roman stations.  But did any of them ever tell a story half so instructive or so strange as that told by the incalculably more ancient ganoid tiles of the Palæozoic and Secondary periods?”


    Such ancients of the Old Red were fish, and no mistake, every fin and scale of ‘em; but some forms of a later date, though still of most remote antiquity, and especially where teeth or fragments of skull are the only remains, may have been degraded by their describers.  Witness the mesozoic Placodus of the Muschelkalk, which M. Agassiz very pardonably treated as a fish, but which Professor Owen, who has a way of putting the right thing in the right place, has elevated to its proper reptilian rank.  If you want to know the best way of constructing a shell-mill, look in the forthcoming part of Phil. Trans. for the admirable description and illustration of this old conchylio-crusher. [11]

    As our sojourner traverses the flat, gravelly points of Ardersier and Fortrose, which projecting, like moles, far into the Frith of Moray, narrow the intervening ferry, he ponders over the opposed theories regarding their formation, not without judicious criticism.  There is, however, another mode of accounting for the origin of these long, detrital promontories which he is not in the least disposed to criticise.


    “They were constructed, says tradition, through the agency of the arch-wizard Michael Scott.  Michael had called up the hosts of Faery to erect the cathedral of Elgin and the chanonry kirk of Fortrose, which they completed from foundation to ridge, each in a single night,—committing, in their hurry, merely the slight mistake of locating the building in tended for Elgin in Fortrose, and that intended for Fortrose in Elgin; but, their work over and done, and when the magician had no further use for them, they absolutely refused to be laid; and, like a posse of Irish labourers thrown out of a job, came thronging round him, clamouring for more employment.  Fearing lest he should be torn in pieces,—a catastrophe which has not unfrequently happened in such circumstances in the olden time, and of which those recent philanthropists who engage themselves in finding work for the unemployed may have perhaps entertained some little dread in our own days,—he got rid of them for the time by setting them off in a body to run a mound across the Moray Frith from Fortrose to Ardersier.  Toiling hard in the evening of a moonlight night, they had proceeded greatly more than two-thirds towards the completion of the undertaking, when a luckless Highlander passing by bade God-speed the work, and, by thus breaking the charm, arrested at once and forever the construction of the mound, and saved the navigation of Inverness.”


    Auld Michael, if he had any grace, must have thanked Donald for a good deliverance.  The wizard was not without other experience that it is easier to raise a devil than to dismiss him.  Michael was under the necessity of finding employment for the Demon who, at his bidding, had


—cleft Eildon Hills in three,
And bridled the Tweed with a curb of stone;


but each of these feats was accomplished in a single night, and he was hard put to it by the troublesome customer that only required two nights to finish two such works.  At last the taskmaster conquered the indefatigable spirit by employing him in the manufacture of ropes of sea-sand—a task as endless and hopeless as her Majesty’s Prime Minister must find it to give coherence to the loose particles which keep him in place if not in power.

You will find at p. 251 a Banffshire ghost story—well authenticated, of course—and we only wish its length would suit our limits but here is a shorter tradition, which will also convince you that the narrator, if he had turned his hand to romance, would probably have taken as high rank as has been reached by many of those who have achieved success in that department—higher, indeed, than some.  The scene lies in a dell of the well-discussed boulder clay lying westward of Cromarty.  A few hundred yards from the opening of this dell is a wooded inflection of the bank, formed by the old coast line, in which stood, some two centuries ago, a meal mill, with the cottage of the miller.  The upper anchoring place of the bay lies nearly opposite the inflection:—


    “A shipmaster, who had moored his vessel in this part of the roadstead, some time in the latter days of the first Charles, was one fine evening sitting alone on deck, awaiting the return of his seamen, who had gone ashore, and amusing himself in watching the lights that twinkled from the scattered farm-houses, and in listening, in the extreme stillness of the calm, to the distant lowing of cattle or the abrupt bark of the herdsman’s dog.  As the hour wore later, the sounds ceased, and the lights disappeared,—all but one solitary taper, that twinkled from the window of the miller’s cottage.  At length, however, it also disappeared, and all was dark around the shores of the bay, as a belt of black velvet.  Suddenly a hissing noise was heard overhead; the shipmaster looked up, and saw what seemed to be one of those meteors known as falling stars, slanting athwart the heavens in the direction of the cottage, and increasing in size and brilliancy as it neared the earth, until the wooded ridge and the shore could he seen as distinctly from the ship-deck as by day.  A dog howled piteously from one of the outhouses, an owl whooped from the wood.  The meteor descended until it almost touched the roof when a cock crew from within; its progress seemed instantly arrested; it stood still, rose about the height of a ship’s mast, and then began again to descend.  The cock crew a second time; it rose as before; and, after mounting considerably higher than at first, again sank in the line of the cottage, to be again arrested by the crowing of the cock.  It mounted yet a third time, rising higher still; and, in its last descent, had almost touched the roof, when the faint clap of wings was heard as if whispered over the water, followed by a still louder note of defiance from the cock.  The meteor rose with a bound, and, continuing to ascend until it seemed lost among the stars, did not again appear.  Next night, however, at the same hour, the same scene was repeated in all its circumstances: the meteor descended, the dog howled, the owl whooped, the cock crew.  On the following morning the shipmaster visited the miller’s, and, curious to ascertain how the cottage would fare when the cock was away, he purchased the bird; and, sailing from the bay before nightfall, did not return until about a month after.

    “On his voyage inwards, he had no sooner doubled an intervening headland, than he stepped forward to the bows to take a peep at the cottage: it had vanished.  As he approached the anchoring ground, he could discern a heap of blackened stones occupying the place where it had stood; and he was informed on going ashore, that it had been burnt to the ground, no one knew how, on the very night he had quitted the bay.  He had it re-built and furnished, says the story, deeming himself what one of the old schoolmen would perhaps term the occasional cause of the disaster.  He also returned the cock,—probably a not less important benefit,—and no after accident befell the cottage.  About fifteen years ago there was a human skeleton dug up near the scene of the tradition, with the skull, and the bones of the legs and feet, lying close together, as if the body had been huddled up twofold in a hole; and this discovery led to that of the story, which, though at one time often repeated and extensively believed, had been suffered to sleep in the memories of a few elderly people for nearly sixty years.”


    It is all very well to talk of occasional cause, but the skipper’s conscience, if he had any, must have pricked him a little when he saw the blackened ruins.  The restoration of the cottage and the return of the cock after the mischief was done in its absence, formed but a poor recompense for the abstraction of the sentinel that kept the enemy at bay.

    Such cantrips are fast fading before the cups that cheer but not inebriate:—


    “‘How do you account,’ said a north country minister of the last age (the late Rev. Mr. M’Bean of Alves) to a sagacious old elder of his Session, ‘for the almost total disappearance of the ghosts and fairies that used to be so common in your young days?’  ‘Tak’ my word for’t, minister,’ replied the shrewd old man, ‘it’s a’ owing to the tea; when the tea cam in, the ghaists an’ fairies gaed out.  Weel do I mind when at a’ our neebourly meetings,—bridals, christenings, lyke-wakes, an’ the like,—we entertained ane anither wi’ rich, nappy ale; an’ whan the verra dowiest us used to get warm i’ the face, an’ a little confused in the head, an’ weel fit to see amaist ony thing whan on the muirs on our way hame.  But the tea has put out the nappy; an’ I have remarked, that by losing the nappy we lost baith ghaists an’ fairies.’”


    One goblin, however, is said still to linger in Skye, haunting a flat, dingy valley, whose dreary interior is covered with mosses and studded with inky pools, dimpled with countless eddies by myriads of small quick-glancing trout.  This goblin resembles, in some sort, the Urisk or Satyr of the steep and romantic hollow in the mountain which overhangs the south-eastern extremity of Loch Katrine, but the Skye “Lubbar fiend“—Luidag, as he is called—has but one leg, terminating in a cloven-foot.  If he have but one leg, he has two stout arms, with hard and heavy fists at the end of them to pummel the benighted traveller as he struggles through the bogs and tarns of the dangerous valley where Luidag makes night hideous.  The spectre may be seen, we are told, at the close of evening hopping vigorously among the distant bogs, ”like a felt hall on its electric platform;“ nay, an occasional glimpse of the fearful form may be caught even by day, when the mist lies thick in the hollows.

    But if John Chinaman’s tea—or what does duty for it—have helped to dissolve the close connection that existed between the more ghostly spirits of the country and its distilled ones, and


—to drive the devils from the land
To their infernal home;


Scotland is still deformed and disgraced by more shocking objects.  Hugh Miller was not wanting in patriotism—no Scotchman is—but he speaks in terms which do honour to his heart and his head of the North British method of relieving the aged poor by giving them next to nothing.  The sun had got as low upon the hills, and the ravine had grown as dark, as when, so long before, the Lady of Balconie took her last walk along the sides of Auldgrande, and he had struck up for a little alpine bridge of a few undressed logs which had been thrown across the chasm, at the height of a hundred and thirty feet over the water, when, as he passed through the thick underwood, he startled a strange-looking apparition in one of the open spaces beside the gulf where the blaeberries had greatly abounded in their season.


    “It was that of an extremely old woman, cadaverously pale and miserable looking, with dotage glistening in her inexpressive, rheum-distilling eyes, and attired in a blue cloak, that had been homely when at its best, and was now exceedingly tattered.  She had been poking with her crutch among the bushes, as if looking for berries; but my approach had alarmed her; and she stood muttering in Gaelic what seemed, from the tones and the repetition, to be a few deprecatory sentences.  I addressed her in English, and inquired what could have brought to a place so wild and lonely, one so feeble and helpless.  ‘Poor object!‘ she muttered in reply,—’poor object—very hungry;’ but her scanty English could carry her no further.  I slipped into her hand a small piece of silver, for which she overwhelmed me with thanks and blessings; and, bringing her to one of the broader avenues, traversed by a road which leads out of the wood, I saw her fairly entered upon the path in the right direction, and then, retracing my steps, crossed the log-bridge.  The old woman,—little, I should suppose from her appearance, under ninety,—was, I doubt not, one of our ill-provided Highland paupers, that starve under a law which, while it has dried up the genial streams of voluntary charity in the country, and presses hard upon the means of the humbler classes, alleviates little, if at all, the sufferings of the extreme poor.  Amid present suffering and privation there had apparently mingled in her dotage some dream of early enjoyment,—a dream of the days when she had plucked berries, a little herd-girl, on the banks of the Auldgrande; and the vision seemed to have sent her out, far advanced in her second childhood, to poke among the bushes with her crutch.”


    If our lofty Caledonian brethren, who are continually complaining of imaginary disrespect and neglect, thought a little less of the pride of heraldry and a little more of such objects as good Hugh Miller startled and relieved, it would be none the worse for both parties.

    The Highland chieftain who conversed with a boulder stone, and told to it the story which he had sworn never to tell to man, could not have related any thing more marvellous, than the stone, could it have spoken, might have told to him.  Give that huge boulder the Clach Malloch memory and utterance, and what a tale might it tell of events geological and historical from the time of its formation to its rest on the extreme line of ebb where it now stands.  At the base of this “accursed stone,” whereon a boat—so says tradition—was wrecked and the whole crew drowned, you may still find varieties of “dead-man’s hand.” [12]

    But we must shorten sail, and leave these fascinating scenes, the last, alas! which the gifted head and hand, now cold and even as the clod of the valley, will cause to live in description.  Easy would it have been for us to lay before you a condensed analysis of these works; but, in mercy to you and in justice to him who is gone, we have brightened the pages with Hugh Miller’s words, and inflicted on you as few as possible of our own.

    It was not to be expected that a mind so turned to science and religion as Miller’s was, should steer clear of the rock on which so many scientific and religious adventurers have gone to pieces; and he has, especially in his Testimony, pursued the bearing of geology on the most sacred of all subjects with some ardour, and as little stumbling as might be on such dangerous ground.  But the holy volume was given to man as a great religious and moral guide, and not to teach astronomy, geology, or any other ology except theology.  The antics of minds of no common order when directed to explanation, and an attempt to make science fit the Mosaic account of creation, would be ludicrous, if the consequent mischief and the nature of the subject did not forbid any thing like levity.

    Those who throw science overboard are little less absurd.  Turn to the eloquent but romantic pages of the author of Malek Adel and of the Genie du Christianisme, and read how the Creator made this beautiful world—this earth as it now exists, with all its plants and animals; how the oaks piercing the prolific soil rose bearing, at once, the old nests of ravens and the new “posterité” of doves.  Worm, chrysalis, and butterfly, the insect crept on the herbage, hung its golden cocoon in the forests, or trembled in the air:


    “L’abeille, qui pourtant n’avoit vécu qu’un matin, comptoit déjà son ambrosie par générations de fleurs.  Il faut croire que la brebis n’étoit pas sans son agneau, la fauvette sans ses petits; que les buissons cachaient des rossignols étonnés de chanter leurs premiers airs, en échauffant les fragiles espérances de leurs premières voluptés.” [13]


    All this, be it remembered, “sans doute.”

    Shut up your Paley, therefore, if you would see through the spectacles of Chateaubriand, but before you do so, recollect that a trilobite, or a fish of the Old Red—forms utterly extinct—bear upon them marks of design as patent as the raven, the dove, the insect, or any other living thing that daily moves before us.

    If a little learning is a dangerous thing, a little geological learning is a most perilous thing; and we would humbly but earnestly warn you against the glimmering of false lights.  Geology is not to be learned without long labour, but books containing more sciolism than science, and purporting to make all smooth in dealing with this more than vital question, are on the increase.

    True it is that, to use Miller’s impressive words, there are no sermons that seem stranger or more impressive to one who has acquired just a little of the language in which they are preached, than those which, according to the poet, are to be found in stones: a bit of fractured slate, embedded among a mass of rounded pebbles, proves voluble with idea of a kind almost too large for the mind of man to grasp.

    If you would pursue this subject to your profit, read, mark, and inwardly digest the admirable paper [14] in the Cambridge Essays of last year.  You will there see how a penetrating and well stored mind, trained in the school of the exact science, can deal with this difficult theme.

    And now we must, unwillingly, lay down the amusing and instructive posthumous book, of which this sketch will give you but a very imperfect idea, albeit we had much more to say, and though most interesting and novel incidents cry aloud for notice.  While we write, intelligence has arrived that a fossil man has been found at Maestricht, where the Mosasaurus saved the part of the town which enshrined it from the French cannon.  This discovery of an alleged anthropolite may leave things as they were, but it may also open a new chapter in the stone book which the lamented Hugh Miller interpreted so well.

_______________________________

 

NOTES.

 
1.    The Cruise of the Betsey; or, a Summer Ramble among the Fossilferous Deposits of the Hebrides. With Rambles of a Geologist; or, Ten Thousand Miles over the Fossiliferous Deposits of Scotland. By Hugh Miller, Author of The Old Red Sandstone, My Schools and Schoolmasters, The Testimony of the rocks, etc.  Edinburgh: Thomas Constable and Co.; Hamilton, Adams, and Co., London. 1858. 8vo.
 
2.    Psalm, cxxxiii. i.
 
3.    Matthew xi. 34, 35.
 
4.    Popularly called Rum.
 
5.    Lord of the Isles. Canto iv.
 
6.    “Thou art a scholar, speak to it, Horatio.”
 
7.    Fraser’s Magazine, vol. lviii. p. 205.
 
8.    Shepherd's calendar.
 
9.    Take a common polype and turn it inside out, as you would the fingers of a glove.  That which was the external surface will soon perform all the functions of a stomach, and the animal will thrive.  If you would pursue this subject, read Mr. Lewes’s Sea-side Studies, where deep thought and careful experiment are brought to bear on this interesting subject.
 
10.   Sir Philip Egerton’s works on fossil fish leave nothing to be desired either in the description or illustration.
 
11.   Mr. Erxleben’s happy pencil has been particularly successful on this occasion.
 
12.   Lobularia digitala.
 
13.   Genie du Christianisme.
 
14.   Geology.  By William Hopkins, M.A., F.R.S.

 

THE OLD RED SANDSTONE

EDITOR'S NOTE.
(1802-1856.)


HUGH MILLER had already published a book of poems in 1829, and a volume of Scenes and Legends in the North of Scotland in 1834, before he left Cromarty for Edinburgh, and his greater fame came to him as a geologist.  His life as a stonemason had however early inducted him into the science he was to excel in, and Bacon's and Addison's essays had helped to teach him his business as prose-writer; and when, in 1840, he became editor of the Witness, a new paper founded to support the congregational independence of the Scottish Church, he was ripe for achievement.  The first of his Old Red Sandstone papers appeared in the Witness during the September of that year and it made him famous at once.  Murchison [ED—Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, F.R.S., President of the Geological Society] happened to see it, and proclaimed its original quality to the British Association that autumn.  Other articles followed in the Witness and in Chambers's Journal, and when they were collected and the volume as it is here reprinted was given to the world, Hugh Miller was already a recognised master in his own field.  He wrote many books afterwards in which his faculties as a descriptive geologist and as a delightful topographer and Scots itinerant are turned to account; but no book that more thoroughly represents his genius.  He was a great naturalist, who yet was tempted into making all knowledge conform to a creed, and reducing the infinite of science to the finite Mosaic terms.  While this reactionary sense unduly affects his later work, the essential interest of the present volume remains untouched.  With My Schools and Schoolmasters, which is presently to follow it in this series, it represents that side of the man and the writer which is most likely to endure.  The table of his published works is as follows:—

  • Miller's earliest published writings were contributions to the Inverness Courier, "Words of Warning to the People of Scotland" (on the one-pound note), and a volume of Poems written in the Leisure Hours of a journeyman Mason, 1829.

  • His first more important work was Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland, 1835;

  • A Letter from one of the Scotch People to Lord Brougham, The Whiggism of the Old School, 1839;

  • Memoir of William Forsyth, 1839 [ED—subsequently incorporated into Miller's "Tales and Sketches"];

  • Old Red Sandstone, 1841 (from the Witness, of which Miller had become editor in the previous year);

  • The Two Parties in the Church of Scotland exhibited as Missionary and Anti-Missionary, etc., 1841;

  • Sutherland as it was and is, or, How a Country may be ruined, 1843;

  • First Impressions of England and its People, 1847, 1848, 1861;

  • Footprints of the Creator, or, The Asterolepis of Stromness, 1849, 1861;

  • Geology of the Bass (contribution to McCrie's Bass Rock, its Civil and Ecclesiastical History), 1848;

  • My Schools and Schoolmasters, 1852, edited with note by W. M. Mackenzie, 1905;

  • The Fossiliferous Deposits of Scotland, 1854;

  • Geology versus Astronomy, etc., 1855;

  • Strange but True: Incidents in the Life of J. Kitto, 1856;

  • The Testimony of the Rocks, 1857;

  • Voices from the Rocks, or, Proofs of the Existence of Man during the Palæozoic Period, 1857;

  • The Cruise of the "Betsey," or, a Summer Ramble among the Fossiliferous Deposits of the Hebrides, ed. W. S. Symonds, 1858;

  • Sketch Book of Popular Geology : a Series of Lectures, ed. Mrs. Miller, 1859;

  • Essays, ed. P. Bayne, 1862;

  • Tales and Sketches, ed. Mrs. Miller, 1863;

  • Edinburgh and its Neighbourhood, Geological and Historical, ed. Mrs. Miller, 1864;

  • Leading Articles on various Subjects, ed. J. Davidson, 1870;

  • Life, by J. L. Watson, 1880.

ED—to the above list can be added The Life and Letters of Hugh Miller (2 volumes) by Peter Bayne, 1871.

 


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