Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Hugh Miller, stonemason, geologist, writer

Book of the moment

Hugh Miller, stonemason, geologist, writer 
by Michael A Taylor, 
National Museums of Scotland, 2007 ISBN 1 905267 05 3

"the quiet enthusiasm of the true fossil hunter"

Hugh Miller would seem to have been one of those careful Victorian gentlemen* who peered and probed and revealed county flora and folklore, geology and palaeontology and who mixed science with culture and religion in an intriguing, if sometimes patronising, whole.

He was much more than this: a complex mix of pride and humility with a strong sense of his working-class Presbyterian roots and values that guided his out look and informed his attitudes through his sadly shortened life

Pterichthyodes milleri
From the environmental side of things, Miller's collections of fossils from the early 1800s are invaluable as he found, named and laid bare to our fascinated eyes the fish of the Old Red Sandstone of northern Scotland. (They are still fascinating now)
P milleri, revived 

This books weaves it way through this intriguing life and the connections and companions that inspired, helped and frustrated him. While  "quiet enthusiasm" seems right, he was also clearly ready to wade into issues and, as the editor of The Witness , Edinburgh's second-best-selling newspaper of his time, his words on suffrage, land-owneship, the Clearances and the Disruption of the Church of Scotland carried influence. 

A good read!

(* for adventurous Victorian ladies, I would recommend the outspoken and sometimes appallingly judgemental Isabella Bird - Adventures in the Rocky Mountains; and the much more sympathetic Mary Kingsley's The Congo and the Cameroons - both available in Penguin Classics edited versions)


  1. and talking of books, you might look at:

  2. Email comment from NT at Hugh Miller Museum in Cromarty:

    Good to read the comments on your blog about Mike Taylor’s biography of Hugh Miller. Miller was a remarkable observational polymath and, somewhat surprisingly, possessed a wry sense of humour. See his book “First impressions of England and its People” for his dry observations on his fellow travellers.

    Thank you for bringing him to a wider audience.

    Kind regards,
    Alix Powers-Jones

    Dr. Alix H. J. Powers-Jones
    Property Manager

    National Trust for Scotland
    Hugh Miller's Birthplace Cottage & Museum,
    Church Street, Cromarty, The Black Isle, Highlands, IV11 8XA.