Miller, Hugh

Miller, Hugh one of the most noted characters among the English-speaking nations of our century, the champion of the Free Church of Scotland, and the defender of revelation from "scientists," falsely so called, was born of very humble parentage at Cromarty, in Scotland, October 10, 1805. He received his first education at the parish school, where he was distinguished for his fondness for poetry and poetical composition. At that early age he was an extensive reader, and placed under contribution the libraries of the parish. In this way he laid the foundation of an extended knowledge of literature, which availed him in after-life. But the most important part of his education consisted in the natural history instruction he received from an uncle who had acquired a taste for the observation of natural phenomena. His poverty proved an obstacle to a collegiate education, and he was obliged to learn a trade in order to secure a livelihood. He determined fortunately, as his later history proved, to become a stone-mason. This occupation unexpectedly fostered the taste he had acquired for the study of natural history; and while hewing blocks of stone in the quarry, he was diligently studying the traces they exhibited of their past history. It was in this way that he prepared himself to become the historian of the old red sandstone, among the rocks of which he principally worked. "It was the necessity which made me a quarrier that taught me to be a geologist," he himself wrote in after- life. He labored as a quarryman and stone-mason for about fifteen years, constantly improving himself in his leisure hours by reading and study. The publication of a volume of poems which he wrote during that time attracted the attention of some persons, who, by procuring him a situation in a bank of his native village, enabled him to devote more time to his studies. He now commenced contributing to several newspapers. The Church of Scotland was at that time a prey to internal dissensions, which ultimately led to a division. The Independents, who wished to throw off the yoke of the higher clergy, received great support from the people; Miller rendered them great service when the contest came to a close by the decision of the House of Lords in the Auchterarder case, in 1839, by his pamphlet, entitled A Letter from One of the Scottish People to the Right Honorable Lord Brougham and Vaux on the Opinions expressed by his Lordship in the Autchterarder Case. This remarkable letter drew towards him the attention of the evangelical party, and he was selected as the most competent person to conduct the newly-started Witness newspaper. the principal metropolitan organ of the Free Church. This paper owed its success to his able contributions — political, ecclesiastical, and geological. His articles on geology he contributed to the first congress of the British Association, held at Glasgow in 1840. They were highly praised by Charles Lyell, Murchison, Buckland, and Agassiz, and the name of Miller was by them associated with the wonderful fossil, the Pterichthys Milleri, which he had discovered in the red sandstone, and which had previously been thought to contain scarcely any fossils. Miller published these articles in book form, under the title The Old Red Sandstone, or New Walks in an Old Field (Edinburgh, 1841, 8vo; often reprinted, both in England and America). In 1847 appeared his First Impressions of England and its People (3d ed. 1853, 8vo), 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 among the very finest pieces of descriptive English. A magic style characterized all his works, whether those of a more popular kind or his scientific treatises, such as the Footprints of the Creator (1849), a work suggested by the Vestiges of

Creation, and subversive of the fallacies of that superficial and plausible book. "There was nothing in Miller's works," says the Edinburgh Review for July, 1858, "which so much surprised the reader as their mere literary merit. Where could this Cromarty mason have acquired his style?" Not one of the authors of our day has approached Hugh Miller as a master of English composition, for the equal of which we must go back to the times of Addison, Hume, and Goldsmith. During the later part of his life he suffered severely from disease of the brain, and he finally shot himself while in a fit of somnambulism, December 24, 1856. His death caused a most painful excitement. Few men have occupied a higher position in the estimation of his countrymen. He was a noble example of what self- education can do for a man; and, whether regarded as the fearless and independent writer, or the man of literature and science, his character must claim the respect and admiration of posterity. The personal appearance of Mr. Miller, or "Old Red," as he was familiarly named by his scientific friends, is thus described by one who had the good fortune to see him: "A head of great massiveness, magnified by an abundant profusion of sub- Celtic hair, was set on 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 Rossshire 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" (Literary Gazette). His other works are, The Geology of the Bass (1848, 8vo): — On certain Peculiarities of Structure in some ancient Ganoids (fishes) (1850): — On the Fossil Flora of Scotland (1855): — My School and Schoolmasters, a very interesting autobiography, in which he relates his early history, and his struggles in pursuit of science (1855): — The Testimony of the Rocks (Lond. 1858), in which he discusses the Biblical bearings of geology, published after his death. "Hugh Miller," says the writer in the Edinburgh Review whom we have already had occasion to quote, "must undoubtedly be regarded as one of the most remarkable men whom Scotland has produced... The interest of his narrative, the purity of his style, his inexhaustible faculty of happy and ingenious illustration, his high imaginative power, 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." The different scientific works of Hugh Miller mark an important epoch in the progress of the study of geology. He was one of the first to popularize the subject. "Besides adding much to our knowledge, and placing things previously known in a clear and pleasing light, Mr. Miller's performance will be very acceptable also to geologists both of the old and young school" (Lond. Athen. 1842, page 523). "But what is in a great degree peculiar to our author is the successful combination of Christian doctrines with pure scientific truth" (Agassiz, Introd. to Amer. ed. of Footprints of the Creator). See Labor and Triumph: the Life and Times of Hugh Miller, by Thomas N. Brown, D.D. (Glasgow and N.Y. 1858, 12mo); Lond. Gentleman's Magazine, 1857, part 1, page 244 sq.; Lond. Athen. 1856, page 1609; Edinb. Rev. July, 1858, art. Hugh Miller (reprinted in the Living Age, August 21, 1858); North Brit. Rev. August 1854; Allibone, Dict. of Brit. and Amer. Authors, s.v.; — Men of the Time, s.v.; Engl. Cyclop. s.v.; Hoefer, Nouv. Biog. Generate, 35:524; New- Englander, 8:237; North Amer. Rev. 73:448; Eclectic Rev. 4th series, 27:685; 15:690; Brit. Qu. Rev. 1871, July, page 40; Meth. Qu. Rev. 1859, October page 513; Westminster Rev. 1871, April, page 269.

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