Hugh Miller, a British geologist, born at Cromarty, on the E. coast of Scotland, Oct. 10, 1802, died at Portobello, near Edinburgh, Dec. 26, 1856. He belonged to that half Scandinavian population inhabiting the shores of the German ocean from Fife to Caithness. On his father's side he was fourth in descent in a line of sailors from John Feddes, one of the last of the buccaneers on the Spanish main, who returned to Cromarty to enjoy his money, and bnilt "the long, low house" in which his distinguished great-grandson passed his youth. On his mother's side he was of highland blood, and fifth in descent from Donald Roy of Ross-shire, famed for his piety and his second sight. His father was drowned in a tempest (a fate which had befallen several of his ancestors) in 1807; and from that time, though still living with his mother, he was chietly under the care of two maternal uncles, who had greater intiu-ence and authority over him until the age of manhood than any other persons. One was a harness maker and the other a cartwright, and he accounts them the most important of his schoolmasters.
His uncle Alexander encouraged his early bent toward natural history, and taught him much about rocks, clouds, rains, tides, trees, ferns, shell fish, sea fowl, and in-its. His uncle James interested him in human history, and gave him his liking for traditional lore. Scottish antiquities, social habits, and individual eccentricities. The tastes and predilections of both uncles were deeply impressed on him, and wherever he went in later life the geology and humanity of the district seemed equally to attract him. In his fifth year he was sent to a dame's school, where he learned to read. He was thence transferred to the grammar school of Cromarty, where he went through the ordinary course of rudimentary studies. He even began Latin with a view to college, but from distaste failed in it completely, being usually at the nether end of a very poor class, which position even he maintained only by displaying an unaccountable facility in translation. The master read aloud every morning in English the task assigned for the day, and Hugh was able to remember the whole rendering in its order, and to give it back in the evening word for word. Much of the leisure secured in this way was employed in reading translations from the classics by stealth.
About his 15th year he attended for some time a subscription schpol set up as a rival to the grammar school. But from this whole amount of pedagogy he derived, according to his own estimate, only one advantage, namely, the faculty of reading books, with the correlative accomplishment of writing. He had acquired a reputation among his class fellows as a narrator of stories; and having exhausted the subjects of his reading and the various adventures that he had himself heard told, he was accustomed to extemporize with great success the wildest biographies. Meantime, other branches of his education had been going on outside of the school. He was the leader in excursions along the precipices and into the caves on the coast. He had learned to collect on the beach and to distinguish from each other the various rocks of the locality, as porphyries, granites, gneisses, quartz, and mica schists, and had discovered for himself that Cromarty possessed among its minerals one precious stone, the garnet; and his observations in other departments had been encouraged and corrected by his uncle Sandy, who, as he always claimed, knew more of living nature than many professors of natural history.
He had studied scenery, customs, and physiognomies in the highlands of Suther-landshire, among his Gaelic cousins; had heard the story of Culloden from men who fought in the battle; had conversed with an old lady who witnessed the last witch-burning in the north of Scotland; and had acquired a habit, which marks his life and his writings, of studying historical monuments as well as geological formations, collecting local legends as well as fossils, delighting as much to discover a kelpie as a pterodactyl, and regarding types of character and phases of society in connection with the facts of science. The foremost youth in the district, his uncles wished him to prepare for Aberdeen college, and there to study for the church; but he demurred, declaring that he had no call to the sacred office, and they admitted that he had better be anything than an uncalled minister. A trade was therefore resolved upon, and he was apprenticed for three years to one of his relatives, who was a stone mason. From his 17th till his 34th year he led the life of an operative mason, journeying in summer to pursue his labors in different parts of Scotland, devoting all his leisure to earnest intellectual cultivation, reading all kinds of books on summer evenings and at home during the winter, and cherishing a belief from the beginning that literature and perhaps natural science would after all prove his proper vocation.
During the first part of this period (1818-'25), as an apprentice and journeyman, he was subjected to all the coarse and rough experiences of his trade, working as one of a gang in quarries or in sheds, and passing his evenings in wretched highland bothies or in hovels in lowland villages. He afterward exchanged the life of a journeyman, working season after season for different masters, for that of a jobbing mason, undertaking private commissions in the way of his trade, such as the sculpturing and lettering of tombstones, stone dials, and the like; yet his habits of work continued in all respects to be those of a common mason, and his domestic accommodations those of any frugal Scotch mechanic. During this laborious period of his life he formed an intimate and extensive acquaintance with the best English and Scotch literature, embracing not only the departments of fiction, history, and poetry, but the philosophical works of Locke, Kames, Hume, Reid, Adam Smith, and Dugald Stewart. He seized upon every work of natural science that fell in his way, and moreover wrote a great variety of verses, rhapsodies, and reflections.
His various scenes of labor made him familiar with the scenery, antiquities, and social peculiarities of different parts of Scotland. But his greatest progress was in geology. Starting with hardly more than an empirical knowledge of the mineral characters of rocks, he soon detected the wonders of the fossil world in quarries remarkably rich in organisms. Wherever he went, from the shores of the Moray frith to those of the frith of Forth, the hammer was in his pocket, and his eye was searching for fossil specimens. Combining what he saw with what he read, he became, while yet hardly aware of it, not only a self-taught geologist, but a geologist capable of teaching others. To this period belong his discoveries in the old red sandstone, which only required to be known to insure him distinction in the scientific world. In 1825, work failing in the north, he sailed for the south of Scotland, and went from Leith to the capital. There he was occupied for two years, till his health began to fail, and he learned that few Edinburgh stonecutters pass their 40th year, and not one in 50 reaches his 45th. He therefore returned to Cromarty, accustomed to contemplate with rather pensive than sad feelings an early death, and soon after became seriously interested in the personal bearing of religious concerns.
Until this time he describes himself as wavering between two extremes, now a believer and anon a skeptic, the belief being instinctive, the skepticism arising from some intellectual process. The result of his thoughts and conversations was that he found rest in the fundamental principles of Scottish evangelicism. His attainments soon made him a local celebrity; geologists in other towns corresponded with him; Cromarty ladies began to walk up to where he was at work to have the pleasure of conversing with him, one of whom was the young lady who afterward became his wife; and he was elected town councillor. He published a volume of "Poems written in the Leisure Hours of a Journeyman Mason " (1829); contributed a series of letters to the "Inverness Courier" on the herring fishery, which were collected in a volume; discovered deposits of ichthyic remains belonging to the second age of vertebrate existence, sufficient to prove not only the existence but the structure and varieties of fishes at that early period; and at length exchanged manual labor for the office of accountant in a branch bank opened at Cromarty. During the first two years of his accountantship his marriage took place, his "Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland" was published, and he became a frequent contributor to periodicals.
The non-intrusion controversy was then at its height in the Scottish church, and immediately after the adverse decision of the house of lords in the Auchterarder case he published his celebrated " Letter to Lord Brougham," which, as Mr. Gladstone affirmed, showed a mastery of pure, elegant, and masculine English that even an Oxford scholar might have envied. The leaders of the Free church were then looking for a man to edit their contemplated organ, and at once selected Mr. Miller, who in 1840 removed to Edinburgh as editor of the " Witness." As a Scottish journalist he held a high and almost unique place. His leading articles were essays remarkable for their deliberate thought, elevated moral tone, strong Presbyterian feeling, and fine literary finish, and exerted a powerful influence on the formation of public opinion. His genius for description, literary culture, and relish for peculiar social characteristics appear also in his account of a vacation tour, entitled "First Impressions of England and its People." But his greatest eminence was achieved in the department of practical and speculative geology.
He went to Edinburgh with the results of many years of scientific observation and reflection, with a collection of belemnites, fossil fishes, and other objects of natural history, and with a collection of thoughts and speculations about them, which in his own judgment formed his most valuable capital. During the first year of his editorship he published in the "Witness " a series of papers, afterward known collectively under the title of " The Old Red Sandstone, or New Walks in an Old Field," in which he detailed the story of his researches and revealed his discoveries of fossils in a formation which had till that time been deemed almost destitute of them. These were immediately recognized by savants as important additions to geological science. 'At the meeting of the British association in 1840 his labors were the principal theme; the fossils which he had picked up in boyhood in his native district were promoted to their due rank as pterichthys Milleri; and Murchison and Buckland spoke of his descriptive talent as casting plain geologists like themselves into the shade, and making them ashamed of their meagre style.
His severe tasks endangered his health and compelled him to forego all literary labor during the greater part of 1845 and 1846; but he returned from his seclusion only to be more intimately associated with Dr. Chalmers in the counsels of the Free church. The appearance and popularity of the " Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation," embodying the development theory, and aiming to transfer the work of creation from the realm of miracle to that of natural law, caused him to prepare a reply, entitled " The Footprints of the Creator, or the Asterolepis of Stromness," an able and strongly fortified exposition of the opposite view, which had a very wide circulation in England and America. One of his most interesting works is "My Schools and Schoolmasters, or the Story of my Education," a full review of his life until the time of his settlement in Edinburgh. He published in 1848 the " Geology of the Bass Rock," lectured on geological subjects in Edinburgh and London, read papers before the British association, and had just completed at the time of his death his "Testimony of the Rocks," in which he discusses the Biblical bearings of geology, He toiled upon this task night and day, with little sleep or exercise, until, after a week or two of cerebral disorder, he himself became conscious that his mind was on the verge of ruin.
He felt occasionally as if a very fine poignard had been suddenly passed through and through his brain, and in some of his paroxysms his face was a picture of horror before which even his wife shrank in dismay. He was found lifeless in his study, his chest pierced with the ball of a revolver which was found lying close by. In a pathetic note left for his wife he had written: "A fearful dream rises upon me. I cannot hear the horrible thought." His principal works have been republished in America. - See "The Life and Times of Hugh Miller," by Thomas N. Brown (republished, New York, 1860), and "Life and Letters of Hugh Miller," by Peter Bayne (2 vols., 1871).