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sacred profession, and urged him to prepare for college; but it was a sufficient answer to men of their stamp that he did not feel called therennto, and so we find him bound apprentice to another uncle, his mother's brother-in-law, David Wright, a stonemason, and taking his way to the quarry, in the cold of a February morning. He was a slender lad, by no means of a strong and robust physical structure, and was conseqnently oppre-sed by the unwonted toil, his spirits failed, and his health gare way. Yet he persevered, for ere he started in this career, good uncle James had hinted with some severity, that if he had found books too hard for him, he might find labour harder still; and had with that dogged determination, which in after life so strongly characterized him, resolved to show his uncle that he could work as well as play. He was very nearly at the commencement of his life of labour making a complete shipwreck of all his hopes, if indeed he then had any : his weakness and depression were temptations to become a dram drinker, and when at laying the foundation stone of a house, he with the other workmen was treated in a way which, alas! is still far too common, not with wholesome food, but with intoxicating liquor: he drank two glasses of whisky, and found on reaching his home that he could not understand what he attempted to read. A sense of the degradation took forcible hold of him, and he determined “never again to sacrifice his capacity of intellectual enjoyment to a drinking usage;" "and with God's help,” he adds, “ I was enabled to hold by the determination.” In the months of winter, when his work was in abeyance, he continued to read much, and to exercise his pen in short poems and other literary work. He had the inestimable advantage of the friendship not only of his two uncles, but of young men in like humble circumstances with himself, but of warm sensibilities, high minded, intelligent, and gentle, with whom he conversed freely, compared mental notes, and indulged in criticism of each other's productions. Such mutual criticism pruned the luxuriance without suppressing the vigour of Miller's spirit. These companionships softened his rugged asperities, and opened channels for the outpouring of his mind in letters singularly chaste and elegant. He fulfilled his apprenticeship with hearty dutifulness, and was at the end of the term an accomplished workman, his master declaring that Hugh had been “beyond comparison, more tractable and obedient than any indentured pupil he ever had.” As Mr. Bayne has it, “ The education of toil has done more for him than any previous education, and the unruly boy has become a thoughtful, docile young man.” The young man is now his own master, and he will exercise his first free labour by erecting upon a piece of ground, he had inherited from his father, a cottage for his mother's sister, whose little cash alone sufficed to buy the timber and pay for carting the stone. This was the result of the same self-sacrificing spirit which induced him to take revenge upon a charlish landlord of a village inn, who had paid money to one of Miller's brother workmen for his hammer and trowel, but had not received them, by taking his own tools from his bag, and leaving them with the innkeeper's wife. He obtains work at Conon-side, and is sent to Gairloch, Ross-shire, whence in his twenty-first year he writes a letter affording evidence of that wonderful facility of description of which he afterwards became so great a master. Our space forbids quotation in confirmation of this, but we may note in the following extract his force of character and conscious superiority, mingled with a quiet humour. What can be more naïve than his feeling that he must thrash the bullying, swearing, drunken carter, much his senior, in order to make his commission good ? He writes, “I came here about a month ago, after a delightful journey of two days from Conon-side, from whence I have been despatched by my employer with another mason lad, and a comical fellow, a carter, to procure materials for the building. Though the youngest of the party, I am intrusted with the charge of the others in consideration of my great gravity and wonderful command of the pen; but as far as the carter is concerned the charge is a truly woeful one. He bullies, and swears, and steals, and tells lies, and cares for nobody. I am stronger, however, and more active than he, and must give him a beating when I have recovered my lameness, to make my commission good. My comrade, the mason, and I have been living in a state of warfare with him ever since we came here. On the morning we set out from Conon-side he left us to drive his cart and went to Dingwall, where he loitered and got drunk: re in turn, after waiting for him two long hours at the village of Contin, drove away, leaving him to follow us on foot as he best might, for at least thirty miles, and he has not yet forgiven us the trick.”
Miller is now fairly launched upon the world as a journeyman stonemason; he travels from place to place within a limited range of Cromarty as his employer finds work and needs ready hands to perform it ; his labour is not light, nor his fare the daintiest, while his lodgings are in barns or other outhouses. Writing to his friend, he informs him that he is one of a party doing some work at the house of a minister, and describing his own lodging says : “ The sun is looking in at us through the holes in the roof, speckling the floor with bright patches till it resembles a piece of calico. There are two windows in the apartment ; one of them filled up with turf and stone, the other occupied by an unglazed frame. The fire is placed against the rough, unplastered gable, into which we have stuck à pin for suspending our pot over it; the smoke finds it way out through the holes of the roof and window. Our meal-sack hangs by a rope froin one of the rafters, at the height of a man's head from the floor-our only means of preserving it from our thievish cohabitants, the rats. As for our furniture, 'tis altogether admirable. The two large stones are the steadiest seats I ever sat upon, though perhaps a little ponderous when we have occasion to shift them; and the bed, which pray observe, is perfectly unique. It is formed of a pair of the minister's harrows with the spikes turned down, and covered with an old door and a bunch of straw; and as for culinary utensils, yonder is a wooden cog, and here a pot. We are a little extravagant to be sure in our household expenses, for times are somewhat hard; bat for meal and salt, and every other item included, none of us have yet exceeded half-a-crown per week.”
That could bave been no ordinary working man who, in circumstances such as these, sustained his intellectual life by laying at full length on the ground and poring over the printed page so long as the peat fire smoking on the hearth could be coaxed into yielding a little light, and
only closing the book when the fire had become extinguished, or had been made incapable of blazing by the rain, which freely entered the holes in the roof. But these were not the worst of his surroundings; he not only in these wanderings lacked the sympathy of a congenial mind, but was often doomed to pass many hours of rest, as well as of toil, in the enforced company of dissolute, drunken, or otherwise vicious workmen, finding his solace in sleep when it was impossible to read or write. He, however, continued to ply his hammer and chisel, having his curiosity occasionally stimulated as his keen eye descried in the material upon the bench relics of animal or vegetable existence so entirely different from all that lived around, that neither he nor his fellow workmen could give them names, or form a reasonable opinion as to how they came within the masses of stone. Although it does not appear that at this period he was at all acquainted with the works of geologists, we learn from a lecture, delivered many years after, before “ The Philosophical Institution of Edinburgh," that his capacious memory received impressions which in alterlife became of service in his scientific investigations. In this lecture he observes: “I was engaged as a stonecutter a few miles from Edinburgh, and the stone in wbich I wrought was, I soon found, exceedingly rich in organic casts and impressions. Often have I detected in the rude block placed before me to be fashioned into some moulded transam or carved mullion, fragments of a sculpture which I might in vain attempt to rival.” On pointing out to another workinan on one occasion a beautiful impression where an animal had once been entombed, and had left a hollow cavity as the token of its former presence, the rejoinder was, “Ah! You have got one of these terrible tangle-holes; they're the dash'dest things in all the quarry!"
In his twenty-fourth year he ventured to send through the liands of a friend to the Scotsman newspaper, “An Ode upon Greece,” but was doomed to disappointment—it was not published. He continued, however, to write, and making the acquaintance of Mr. Carruthers, of Inverness, ultimately published " Poeins, written in the Leisure Hours of a Journeyman Mason”—a book which, though now unknown, became the medium of introduction between Miller and several friends, one of whom was to a great extent instrumental in determining the future of his life. The publication was warmly received, and at first plaudits resounded sufficiently loud to turn the head of a weaker man ; but the author on seeing his works in print, and bringing to bear upon them, in that condition, the usual critical bent of his mind, needed not, and indeed did not, wait until it was found they did not sell, to arrive at the conclusion that it was not in l'oetry he was to win either fame or profit. But his mind was too active, and bis pen too ready-the one to be stilled or the other to be laid aside—as the result of a first failure. Writing to Mr. Forsyth, he says : “At this moment when I can look back to the complete failure of my speculation, I am as determined upon improving
I to the utmost of my ability, as a writer, as I could have been had the public by buying my work rendered the speculation a good one. .. Could I decide whether I possess or be devoid of true genius, it would be an easy matter for me to anticipate the result. If destitute of this spirit, I shall certainly not rise to eminence; for my situation in life is not one of those in which fortune, or the influence of friends, can supply
the want of ability, or in which mediocrity of talent can become admirable by clothing itself in the spoils of learning. My education is imperfect; I cannot even subsist except by devoting seven-eighths of my waking hours to the avocations of a laborious profession." He therefore determines to lay aside poetry and give all his leisure time to cultivating prose composition ; not idly dreaming that he has genius which will one day make him successful, but earnestly labouring that he may attain that skill which shall compel attention. And how well did he succeed ! His powers of description have rarely been equalled; and the judicious touches of his poetic imagination, like choice parterres of flowers in a richly cultivated landscape, by their perfume and beauty afford additional gratification to the beholder. The cultivated genius of Miller enriched and adorned every subject upon which he treated. His next essay at publication was in the columns of the Inverness Courier, which were freely opened to him by his friend, Mr. Carruthers. The letters thus published attracted considerable attention, and Miller became a man of renown in the little society of Cromarty as he wielded his mallet or plied his chisel, "building,” as he says, “ houses by day, and castles by night."
His letters to various correspondents are charming examples of epistolary skill, and must have produced in the minds of their recipients the most lively satisfaction, impressing them with a strong admiration of his character as well as of his skill. Upon no one, probably, did his letters have a stronger effect than upon Miss Dunbar, of Boath, a lady who was his senior by about twenty years, and who, while enjoying all the pleasures of his literary skill, evinced toward him an affection quite maternal, which induced her to address him letters of strong sagacity and earnest wisdom, and to her death to take the strongest interest in all that related to his welfare. Beneath the rugged exterior of this humble mason there must have dwelt a gentle spirit, or this high-born, educated, and intelligent woman would never have been drawn so closely toward him. She was wealthy: he was poor. Wishing to be of temporal service to him, Miss Dunbar offered him pecuniary aid, but he firmly, though respectfully, declined it; and, as if fearing he might be carrying nis chivalrous independence to excess, he adds: “If the spirit which God has bestowed upon me to preserve me from all the little meannesses of solicitation and to secure to me in my humble sphere that feeling of self-respect, without which no one can fulfil the duties of a man or deserve the respect of others, should at times impel me towards the opposite extreme, and make me, in some little degree, jealous of even the kindness of a friend, will you not tolerate in me a weakness so necessarily, so inseparably connected with that species of strength which renders me, if anything does, in some measure worthy of your friendship ?” There was yet another lady whose interest was excited by this poetic mechanic-- Miss Fraser, who, writing from Cromarty to her daughter, then in England, sent a volume of poems and letters on “The Herring Fishery, by a Stonemason, whom I can see from my window engaged in building a wall.” Miss Fraser, in her turn, became interested in Miller; and on meeting him in the limited society of the little town (into which, to their credit be it said, this plain and poor man was freely admitted, in recognition of the aristocracy of
intellect), the feeling ripened into friendship, and thence to a warmth which alarmed her mother, and possibly caused a pang of regret that she had unwittingly brought them together. The lady, who was young (many years the junior of Miller), inspired him with a new hope and new desires, and gave him an aim in life which he had hitherto lacked. He had been content to earn a scanty subsistence by his handicraft, finding solace and obtaining mental growth in books, meditation, and the use of his pen; but this woman, who had cast her subtle but powerful spell over him, was of gentle birth, had received the best education then obtainable by young ladies, and was accustomed to a distinguished circle of society. With a strong sense of jastice, Miller felt that it would be highly improper to make such a one the wife of a working man. Is he then to embitter his future life by relinquishing this his first love, or shall he strive to accomplish his wishes by bringing the beloved one down to his condition? He does not adopt either of these unworthy courses, but manfully determines Miss Fraser shall be his wife, but not until he can bring her to the house of one who is no longer a mechanic. He will work, and work, and work ; his pen shall be the talisman which shall open a way a
escape from manual labour, and provide a home to which he can, without a blush of shame or feeling of compunction, bring home his wife.
Some five or six years previous to the advent of Miss Fraser at Cromarty, a most important change had been wrought in the spiritual condition of Miller; and the mode in which this was brought about affords great encouragement to the free use of epistolary appeals or counsel from one friend to another. We have already adverted to the pleasant and useful intercourse which subsisted between Miller and some of his youthful companions in the days of his apprenticeship. One of those young men had left his business under the solemn conviction that he was called to the ministry; and writing from his place of study to Miller, he urges him to yield implicit faith in Christ, crying, with impassioned earnestness, “ My dear Hugh, dost thou believe? Do you believe that he lived ?—that he died to save sinners ?” To these questions Hugh’s replies are not definite; the arrow may have entered, but rather than admit the wound he tries to turn the direction of the correspondence. But Swanson, the young student, returns to his point, and again and again calls upon him “ to accept of Christ,” and to " freeness and fulness of the gospel offers made to you.” Although the letters from Miller to his friend at this time do not afford that satisfactory evidence of his conversion which would have caused Swanson's heart to bourd with joy, there is no rebuff, no coldness, but a warmth of gratitude and of manly thankfulness which must have given rise to hope that the effort had not been made in vain. In December, 1825, we find him writing to Swanson : “I am an unsteady and a wavering creature, nursing, in my foolishness, vain hopes, blinded by vain affections : in short, one who, though he may have his minutes of conviction and contrition, is altogether enamoured of the things of this world and a contemner of the cross." Fourteen months after this, the decisive change had been wrought, as he informs his friend and early companion, William Ross : “I now believe what I did not once believe, and I have determined, relying on the help of God, to make the doctrines