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Our next letter furnishes a trait which will not sur-
prise us in Hugh Miller. He has attained a position of
the highest social respectability in the capital of his coun-
try, and his acquaintance are the most eminent men of
the age. Yet he calls to his side his old friend of the
hewing-shed, plain John Wilson, and sits down with
him at breakfast, John, I am quite sure, not finding
in Hugh any change since those days when they lived
together in the Niddry cottage, except that now, as the
wealthier man, Hugh can exercise the privilege of
friendship to hint delicately that, if John would be the
better of a little money, he has only to say so. In
this little incident of Miller's intercourse with John
Wilson do we not find better proof of a faithful, simple,
incorruptible heart than if he had endowed a hospital
or built a cathedral ? Here is the letter.

' Edinburgh, August, 1843.

' Very many thanks, dearest, for your punctuality.
I always sleep in on Saturday mornings ; this morning,
however, I was awaked by Bill. Nurse or Mary was


running up to him, and then running back, a famous
joke to poor Bill ; and he was greeting each exhibition
with so lusty a shout of laughter that he awoke papa.
When I became collected enough to remember that it
was Saturday I rang the bell, and as coolly as you used
to order breakfast in similar circumstances, I ordered up
your letter. " Yes, sir," was the reply, and the letter
came. And so again, dearest, many, many thanks for
it, and for your punctuality.

' I had my old workfellow, John Wilson, at break-
fast with me. He has been out of employment for
some time, and has taken to dealing in tea and sugar.
You will not be displeased with me for offering him the
use of a few pounds for laying in stock if he should
require them, or if necessary, to any small amount, the
use of my name. I am much mistaken if John be not
one of the class whom it is a privilege to be permitted
to favour. He thanked me very cordially, but said that
at present, at least, he stood in no need of assistance.
I have some thoughts of getting up a descriptive article
of my residence at Niddry, in which I might introduce
John, and contrast his blameless life with the dissipation
of the other workmen. It might excite interest, and
do him good in his present way of life.

'There is an interesting exhibition of ancient armour
in Edinburgh at present, which I have just been seeing.
Some of the suits of mail are very ancient and very
curious. One gigantic suit gives the idea of what sort
of a man the Bruce must have been. Its height does
not exceed six feet two, but the breadth of shoulder,
strength of limb, and depth of chest, are enormous.
The warrior who wore it, an old Teutonic Goth, must
have been a full match, if his courage was equal to his
strength, for at least four ordinary men.'


William Thorn, the writer of the following letter,
was a man of fine and brilliant genius, his vein of
pathos as true as that of Burns. Born in Inverury, a
small town of Aberdeenshire, at the confluence of the
Ury and the Don, he earned a precarious livelihood by
hand-loom weaving, and found consolation in the pierc-
ing and tender melody of his songs. His Mitherless
Bairn, the subject of one of Faed's noblest pictures,
must live as long as the language. The following letter,
light as it is, has touches of an arch, brave, and piquant
humour, which bespeak the child of genius. He sank
mournfully, as the immense majority of his class have

' Inverury, March 4tb, 1844.

' Accept my very sincere thanks for your lively
and kind notice of me and mine in your widely-spread
Journal. True enough, it is a significant way of re-
quiting such favours by dragging your care and kind-
ness into fresh work ; but, believing that you will as
well as word my prosperity, I take leave to hand my
Prospectus, in the hope that, should you meet a friendly
name, you will make my list all that the longer. My
book will be a little book, which is sometimes a great
mercy ; but however lowly its claims in other respects,
I assure you no page shall bear aught to disparage its
patrons or me. I would fain have waited yet a little,
and, in finishing what is pretty well en, have more
nearly come up to that expectation which a (perhaps too
partial) favouring press has taught to wait my appear-
ance. Here is the secret ; customar weaving is down,
fairly sunk before its leviathan rival, the big manu-
factory ; cheapness, elegance, durability, all spring ahead
of the solitary weaver. My loom, once my ship Hope
and Hardship, alternate steersmen is now seen ducking.


The former of these mates " cuts," the other lends a
hand to heave the lyre overboard, hen-coop ways, that
we may float ashore, never doubting of his company
even there. I think, if my project prosper, of a small
shop stuffed with second-hand books " Bought or ex-
changed." Such my El Dorado ! The hope makes me
happy ; even that is something/

A few extracts may be taken from the letters sent
to Mrs Miller during the English tour, but as he made
large use of those letters in preparing the First Im-
pressions, we must glean, sparingly.

' Olney, 9th September, 1845.

' Here 1 am in a quiet old inn kept by a quiet old
man who remembers Squire Cowper and Mrs Unwin ;
and in the early part of the day I walked the walk
described by the Squire in the Task with an old woman
of 71 for my guide, for whose schooling Mrs Unwin had
paid. She knew the Lady Hesketh, too, and, when a
little thing, used to get coppers from her. A kindly
lady was the Lady Hesketh, there are no such ladies
now-a-days, that is, at Weston Underwood, I sup-
pose. She used to put coppers into her little silk bag
every time she went out, in order to make the children
whom she met happy. She and Mrs Unwin, too, were
remarkably good to the poor. I walked with the old
woman, much entertained with her gossip, through the
stately colonnade of limes whose " obsolete prolixity of
shade " the poet has celebrated, and which is in sober
truth a very notable thing, on to the " alcove," and
from thence to the " rustic bridge," and then on
through the field with the chasm in the centre of it, into
which the sheep of the fable proposed throwing them-
selves, to "Yardley Oak." Then returning by another


road, I passed by the "peasant's nest," and after
making the old woman happy with half-a-crown, parted
from her and struck down to the Ouse, a sluggish,
sullen stream fringed with reeds and rushes, that winds
through flat dank meadows, on which a rich country
looks down on either side. I saw the broad leaves of
the water-lilies bobbing up and down in the current,
but the lilies themselves were gone. By the way, my
old guide knew not only the squire and the two ladies,
Mrs Unwin and the Lady Hesketh, but also the little
dog Beau, and a pretty little dog he was, with a good
deal of red about him.

' This part of the country lies on the Oolite, and we
find fragments of Oolitic fossils in almost every heap of
rubbish by the wayside. Directly opposite Cowper's
house in Weston Underwood I picked up a fossil pecten
and terebratula, and bethought me of his denunciations
of the geologists, who, to be sure, in his days were a
sad infidel pack. His Olney house, a tall brick build-
ing not very perpendicular in the walls, is now an infant
school. I entered what had been his parlour, and was
almost stunned by the gabble of infant voices. There
have been alterations made in the interior of the building
to suit its altered circumstances, but the small port-hole
in the partition through which his tame hares used to
come bounding out to their evening play on the carpet
still exists in statu quo. I saw, too, in the garden an
apple-tree of his planting, a Ribs tone pippin, if you
wish to be particular, and the little lath and plaster
summer-house in which he wrote so many of his poems
and letters. The latter has been preserved with good
taste, which one would wish to see more general, in
exactly its original condition, nothing has been changed
except that, like the book in the Revelations, it is now


written within and without with several thousand
names. I saw among the others a name not particu-
larly classical, that of John Tawell the Quaker, who was
hung some time since for poisoning his mistress. The
characters are written in a firm bold hand, and immedi-
ately beside them there is a vignette evidently of after
production, a gallows with an unfortunate wight
hanging on it,

" With his last gasp his gab doth gape."

Immediately behind the garden is the snug parsonage-
house, the home in succession of John Newton and
Thomas Scott, and the parish church in which they
both preached, a fine solid structure with a tall hand-
some spire, closes the vista in this direction.

' So much for Olney ; the greater part of yesterday
I spent in Stratford-on-Avon, where I saw both the birth-
place and grave of " William Shakspear, Gentleman,"-
have you ever heard of such a person ? The birth-place,
a low-browed room, under the beams of which one can
barely walk with one's hat on, is not half a mile removed
from the burial-place. The humbly-born boy was a
purpose-like fellow, and returned to his native town a
gentleman, and to get himself a grave among its mag-
nates in the chancel of the church. By the way, in
utter defiance of fine taste and fine art, I pronounce the
humble stone bust, his monument, incomparably
superior to all the idealized likenesses of him, whether
done on canvas or on marble, that men of genius
have yet produced. The men of genius make him a
wonderfully pretty fellow, with poetry oozing out of
every feature, but their Shakspear would never have
been " William Shakspear, Gentleman ; " neither, in the
times of Elizabeth and James, when money was of
such value, would he have returned to his native


village a man of five hundred a year. The Shakspear
of the stone bust is the true Shakspear ; the head, a
powerful mass of brain, would require all Chalmers's
hat, the forehead is as broad, more erect and of
much more general capacity ; and the whole counten-
ance is that of a shrewd sagacious man, who could, of
course, be poetical when he willed it, rather more so
than anybody else, but who mingled wondrous little
poetry in his every-day business. The man whom the
stone bust represents could have been Chancellor of the
Exchequer, and in opening the budget his speech would
embody many of the figures of Cocker, judiciously
arranged, but not one poetical figure/

' Birmingham, Ravenhurst Street, Oct. 5th, 1845.

' There is still a good deal to interest me within
half a day's ride of Birmingham ; I must revisit at least
once more the ancient formation in the neighbourhood
of Dudley, and see, what are rather famous in this
quarter, the Clent-hills, a group of eminences from
which Thomson is said to have drawn some of the
noblest descriptions in the Seasons. It is, however, no
mere love of sight-seeing that detains me in England.
Have you ever noticed on the shore what fishermen
call " the turn of the tide " ? Often, for the greater part
of an hour, it is impossible to say whether the sea is
rising or falling along the beach. But then all at once
there comes a change ; if it be flood that has com-
menced, the little waves come running upwards, bearing
on their tops a slight crust of dried sand, and pebble
after pebble disappears ; if it be ebb, the waters are
drawn off as if by suction, and strip after strip of the
damp strand is laid bare. Now, for the last month I
have felt, with regard to my health, as if the " tide was


on the turn ; " I have been rallying slowly but not de-
cisively; and until I feel the flood-stream of health
setting fairly in, I hold it would scarce be justice to
you, myself, or the bairns, to return to Archibald Place,
and commence my labours with but the prospect of
sinking under them.

'I walked yesterday considerably more than ten
miles along very uneven ways, and some six or eight
miles to-day. It would have been interesting could we
have traced together in the Leasowes the marks which
still remain of the artistic skill of Shenstone. I never
yet saw any place in which a few steps so completely
alter a scene ; in the space of half a mile one might fill
a whole portfolio with sketches, all fine and all differing
from each other. There is not in all Shenstone's works
a finer poem than the Leasowes.

' It grieves me to hear that there is still something
radically wrong with your constitution. You must lose
no time in getting out to Gifford ; if you have this
bracing weather in Scotland, and if it continue for but
a fortnight, it may do you a world of good. Mrs
Eraser describes the country in her neighbourhood as
fine, the house as comfortable, and the society as good.
I suppose you will take Harriet with you ; is she still
looking about her as when she first set out on her
travels, and exhausted her mamma's knowledge of the
plants and grasses ?

' My present mode of life is not very suggestive of
topics for discussing in the Witness, and I am afraid
my last two articles will betray the fact. My evenings
in London hung heavy on my hands ; I bought a cheap
two-shilling edition of Eugene Sue's last work, " The
Wandering Jew;' to while away the time in my lodg-
ings, and the perusal suggested an article on the State

VOL. ii. 26


of Opinion on the Continent. It is no wonder that
Popery, in its contest with mere liberalism, should have
the better. Bad as it is, it is not so bad as the anta-
gonist system of morals which the writings of Eugene
Sue serve both to illustrate and to spread.

' You speak, dearest, of temperament, and the diffi-
culty of bearing up against it by any mere effort of the
will when it is adverse to small but not unimportant
everyday duties. I know somewhat of that difficulty from
experience in myself ; willing may do much, but it will
not change nature, or convert uphill work into downhill.
But I trust we shall both get on, bearing and forbearing,
with a solid stratum of affection at bottom. I have been
conscious since my late attack of an irritability of
temper, which is, I hope, not natural to me, and which,
when better health comes, will, I trust, disappear. I
keep it down so that it gives no external sign ; since I
entered England it has found no expression whatever ;
but I am very sensible of it, especially after passing a
rather sleepless night. To-day I am in a very genial
humour, the entire secret of which is in the excellence
of last night's rest, induced, I think, by the fatigue of
the previous day. I mention the thing merely in cor-
roboration of your remark ; we cannot be independent
of the animal part of us. I am a good boy to-day
because I slept well last night, but I was not so good a
boy a week since, for my nerves were out of order, and
my sleep had been bad/

' Dudley, Oct. 16th, 1845.

'Fine weather at last, clear, bracing, warm, but
not too warm, exactly the sort of weather for getting
well in ; and here I am, you see, enjoying it. Had
such weather come six weeks ago, I would have been
well, I think, for the last month. When nervousness


mingles with one's other complaints, one is exceedingly
dependent on what sort of a sky chances to be over-
head ; it is well to be out-of-doors getting strong and
all that, but when Nature's face is as gloomy as one's
own, as if she too had nerves, the mere sense of duty
lacks strength to drag one out. It cost me no effort,
however, to get out yesterday morning. I took coach
for the Leasowes, where I spent some hours in re-ex-
ploring, and then, passing through Hales Owen, walked
on to the Clent Hills, through a picturesque country,
rich in historic associations. Then descending on
Hagley, I walked on to Stourbridge, a considerable
town, and as the evening was darkening, took coach
for Dudley, a ride of a peculiar sort of interest. The
coal-field to which this part of the country owes its
prosperity, and which has made it the workshop of the
Empire in whatever is wrought in iron, is of no great-
extent, but of astgnishing richness. One of its seams,
known as the Ten-yard coal, is actually thirty feet in
thickness, thrice that of the next best seam in Britain,
and the tract of country over it is studded as seen last
night, I should rather say, spangled with furnaces. The
view on both sides, as seen from the coach-top, had, if I
may venture on such a combination, an infernal beauty ;
it seemed, at least, a bit of the scenery described by
Milton. The darkness was sprinkled thick with roar-
ing, flickering, comet-like fires, and the heavens above
glowed in the reflected light a blood red.

' To-day I have spent very agreeably in exploring the
caves and the ruins of the Castle Hill of Dudley, and in
geologizing at \heJVrens-nest, a very singular hill rich in
the Silurian fossils and honey-combed to a vast depth
by lime workings. I spent some time, too, in examining
the Dudley museum, a well-arranged collection, con-


siderably richer in the more ancient organisms than the
British one. I saw in it not a few of the originals figured
by Murchison, and found it of use to acquaint myself
with them in their actual forms. But I will be unable,
I find, to add materially to my collection here. It is
rare to find a well-preserved trilobite, so rare that the
fossil dealers charge for them from 10s. to 5, and I can-
not afford to collect specimens at such a price. 1 had no
little pleasure, however, in hammering among the rocks,
though I found but little ; I was in a region which I
had not hitherto explored, and all I did find in it was
new to me, new, at least, as fossils, though Murchison
had brought me acquainted with their forms.

'Dudley Castle is a fine specimen of the very
ancient and very extensive English'castle, consisting of
keep, chapel, dungeon, great hall, servants' hall, ladies'
rooms, &c., &c., with a vast court, in which I found a
company of soldiers on parade> and surrounded by a
deep moat. The keep, a picturesque pile of great
strength, bears marks of the iron hand of Cromwell.
It was garrisoned during the civil wars by the Royalists,
and held out until battered down on one of its sides
almost to the ground. Balls of thirty-two pound weight
have been found among the ruins, some of the Lord
Protector's arguments, of whom it may be said as
Barbour said of the Bruce, that

" Where he strook wi' even straik
Nothing mocht against him stand."

The castle, though now thoroughly a ruin, was inhabited
so recently, that the grandmother of Mrs Sherwood (an
authoress of some celebrity) spent some time in it in the
capacity of lady's-maid ; and the grand-daughter gives
some amusing gossip in one of her works of her ancestor's
recollections of its splendour. The English have less of


family pride in their composition than we. I question
whether a Scotch authoress would choose to introduce
her grandmother to the public as a waiting- maid, even
though her story should be a very good one.

' The caverns under the Castle Hill are very extra-
ordinary, and the work of excavation is still going on.
It is one of three hills of the Silurian system, the
Wren's-nest is another, that rise in the middle of the
coal-field, and the lime which they abundantly furnish
is in great use as a flux for fusing the dry ironstone,
besides for building and agricultural purposes. And so
they have been wrought to their very centres, and perfor-
ated by railways and canals. One of the caverns I visited
is a most extraordinary place, a full half-mile in length,
with a deep sluggish canal winding through it, and sup-
ported with vast columns of rock. Had it not been
excavated by human labour I would term it sublime, but
the idea that it was all picked out by barrowfuls militates
against its respectability. Dr Buckland, however, makes
it the subject of a really fine description, and lectured
on it to the members of the British Association in 1839.

' This is a letter somewhat like a bit of a guide-book ;
but you must bear with it. I am telling you of what I
have come to this part of the country to see, and have had
much pleasure in seeing. Though not yet very strong,
I have borne the fatigue of my yesterday and to-day's
explorations tolerably well, greatly better than my
sight-seeing in London, but the clear sky and pure
bracing air have mightily assisted. I lodge here in a
Temperance Coffee House, kept by very quiet people,
and am on particularly good terms with their youngest
boy, a little fellow of eight years, who makes speeches at
Temperance meetings, and divides all society into Tee-
totallers and Drunkards. He is beside me at present


writing a speech, which begins " Ladies and Gentle-
men, I don't mind saying a few words ; I have been a
teetotaller eight years." He is a clever big-headed
little fellow, but somewhat spoiled by the notice which
has been taken of him. The circumstance of one's self
having children wonderfully softens the heart towards
the children of others.

'There were some four or five points during my
journeyings of yesterday and to-day in which I wished
you were with me, at the Leasowes, at the Clent hills,
at Hagley, on the coach-top as we drove through the
region of furnaces, on the Dudley Castle Hill, and in
the caverns of the Wren's -nest. But though not strong
myself, you are less strong still, and could not have borne
half the fatigue. By the way, if this reach you ere you
have left the north, I would suggest to you coming
south by the omnibus that plies from Fort William to
Loch Lomond, passing through Glencoe and the Deer
Forest of Breadalbane. You would see by this means
some of the wildest scenery in the kingdom, scenery
that ere the establishment of the present conveyance was
scarcely accessible to ladies at all, and to men only at a
considerable expense of money and exertion. It would
be well for you to secure an inside seat, with the stipula>
tion that you might if you liked ride outside. Glencoe
is often drenched by deluging rains, and if you took
merely an outside seat, by far the most advantageous
for sight-seeing, you might suffer as much as you did
in the storm of Loch Katrine. If you take this route
there are one or two things to which it might be well to
direct your attention. After leaving Fort William the
scenery for the first eight or ten miles is tame, but this
part of the ride would be passed over in the twilight
darkness of the morning. You would then get into a


very fine tract of mingled hill, island, and mountain,
the formation here is the mica-schist, and the scene
finely represents its characteristic pictures queness. You
then enter Glencoe, a porphyritic region, and you at
once find the picturesque giving place to the sublime.
The forms of the hills are different, every summit is a
pyramidal peak, and the vast precipices are barred by
imperfectly -formed columns. At the top of the glen you
enter a granitic region; there are vast barren plains,
and the hills are rounded, not peaked.

' Where the porphyry ends and the granite begins
you see a hill of each, set up in close juxtaposition as if
for specimens. You then enter on a dreary gneiss
district ; the hills are vast, but truncated mere lower
stories of hills ; the valleys, too, are on a large scale, but
not picturesque. You then a second time enter a mica-
schist district, and all is picturesqueness and beauty.
And then you arrive at Loch Lomond, and all is known
ground. I know not better illustrations anywhere of
the dependence of scenery on geologic formation than
are to be found in the line from Fort William to Dum-
barton, so interesting on many other accounts, and wish
you would take it.

' I have not yet said anything of London, and yet I
passed my week there nearly a week, at least most
agreeably. The greater part of two days I devoted to
the Museum, but I did not derive such advantage from
the study of its fossils as I had expected. They are
numerous, but in most cases the arrangement is not
good. I had some conversation on the subject with the
curator of this department, and found he had enough of
geology to discover that I, maugre my "leather clothes,"
had more. By the way, in the shelves devoted to fossil
fish I saw a very considerable number of specimens of

Online LibraryPeter BayneThe life and letters of Hugh Miller (Volume 2) → online text (page 30 of 37)