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Hugh Miller: fossils, landscape and literary geology

By Simon J. Knell and Michael A. Taylor


This material has been published in Proceedings of the Geologists' Association, 117, 2006, 85-98, the only definitive repository of the content that has been certified and accepted after peer review. Copyright and all rights therein are retained by The Geological Society of London. Copyright © 2000 The Geological Society of London.KNELL, S. J. & TAYLOR, M. A. 2006. Hugh Miller: fossils, landscape and literary geology. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, 117, 85–98. The bicentenary of the birth of Hugh Miller (1802–1856) in Cromarty (in northern Scotland) has enabled a reappraisal of this fine spare-time geologist, in turn stonemason and banker, and eventually Edinburgh newspaper editor. In Cromarty he had the usual advantages and limitations of a local collector far from\ud metropolitan centres. But Miller was different from other collectors: he was author of classic books such as The Old Red Sandstone, making famous the Old Red Sandstone fishes and Jurassic marine fossils of the area around Cromarty. Miller’s ironically titled autobiography\ud My Schools and Schoolmasters recommended geology as an improving recreation. His writings are suffused with the thrill of discovery and the wonder and beauty of fossils, inspiring future geologists such as John Muir (1838–1914), pioneer of environmental conservation, and George\ud Jennings Hinde (1839–1918), microfossil researcher.\ud In his often autobiographical writings Miller made geology an integral part of the world as he saw it: he was not ‘just’ a ‘popularizer’, but (as he always wanted) a literary man in the all-encompassing Victorian manner. Geology merged with local history and folklore – all ‘libraries’ of the past. But his writings remain rooted in insightful observation – as scientist and\ud poet – of specimen and scenery, from microscope slide to landscape, and in careful reconstruction, for instance, of fossil animals from fragmentary remains.\ud When Miller dealt with wider issues of God in creation and the truths of geology, he\ud deployed his fossils, as in Footprints of the Creator (1849) which attacked the reheated Lamarckian evolutionism of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844). But, contrary to the common misconception that he was driven to suicide by a conflict between science and religion, Miller simply saw these as different facets of the same truth. Indeed, he notably\ud defended geology against religious literalists.\ud Miller’s fossil collection is now mostly in the National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh,\ud with some specimens in the new Hugh Miller museum, Cromarty, which derives from that\ud founded by his son, also called Hugh (1850–1896), a professional geologist with the Geological Survey.\ud This appraisal reveals further depths to Hugh Miller’s appreciation of geological specimens, and to the significance of his surviving collection. Miller’s relationship with the material world of objects shows remarkable consistency and an unwillingness to compartmentalize: Miller’s fossils exemplify the deep continuity of his world

Publisher: Geologists' Association
Year: 2006
OAI identifier: oai:lra.le.ac.uk:2381/180

Suggested articles



  1. 1891 [first published 1864]. Edinburgh and its neighbourhood, geological and historical; with the geology of the Bass Rock.
  2. (2000). A collection of papers presented at two conferences The Cromarty Years
  3. An awakening interest in geology.
  4. (2003). Celebrating the life and times of Hugh Miller. doi
  5. Essays, historical and biographical, political and social, literary and scientific (1st edn).
  6. (2002). Fellow Scots: John Muir and Hugh Miller.
  7. First impressions of England and its people (1st edn).
  8. Footprints of the Creator or, the Asterolepis of Stromness. Johnstone and Hunter, doi
  9. (2003). From Miller to the Millennium. In (Borley, L.; ed.) Celebrating the life and times of
  10. (1998). Geology and the natural sciences: some contributions to archaeology in Britain 1780–1850.
  11. Gropings of a working man in geology.
  12. Hugh Miller and geological spectacle.
  13. (1996). Hugh Miller and the controversies of Victorian science. doi
  14. Hugh Miller as a geologist and naturalist.
  15. (2003). Hugh Miller in an age of microscopy.
  16. (2002). Hugh Miller in context: geologist and naturalist: writer and folklorist. A collection of papers presented at two conferences The Cromarty Years (2000) and The Edinburgh Years
  17. (1996). Hugh Miller, the Disruption, and the Free Church of Scotland.
  18. (2005). Hugh Miller: introducing palaeobotany to a wider audience. doi
  19. (1905). Hugh Miller. A critical study. Hodder and
  20. (2003). Hugh Miller’s collection – a memorial to a great geological Scot.
  21. (2003). Hugh Miller’s fish: the ‘winged Pterichthys’.
  22. (2005). Hugh Miller’s other house: Cromarty, doi
  23. (2003). Introduction, notes, and glossary, etc., to facsimile reprint edition of Hugh Miller (1858) The Cruise of the Betsey, with, Rambles of a Geologist]. National Museums of Scotland Publishing, doi
  24. (2002). Lydia, wife of Hugh Miller of Cromarty. Tuckwell,
  25. (2000). Mary Anning, Thomas Hawkins and Hugh Miller, and the realities of being a provincial fossil collector.
  26. (1996). Miller’s improvement: a classic tale of self-advancement?
  27. (1993). My Schools and Schoolmasters or The story of my education. Constable,
  28. Observations on belemnites. doi
  29. On the fossil fishes of Scotland. doi
  30. Principles of Geology. doi
  31. (2003). Proposal to purchase the museum of the late Hugh Miller. 4pp pamphlet. Only known copy is
  32. (2002). Review Symposium: Vestigial sensations [essay review of
  33. (2004). revised typescript accepted 6
  34. (1994). Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland; or, The Traditional History of Cromarty. Black,
  35. (2002). Scenes and legends of the north: feeding a youthful imagination.
  36. (2002). Set in stone. Life and Work: the magazine of the Church of Scotland,
  37. (1996). Stand, and unfold yourself’: My Schools and Schoolmasters.
  38. (1858). The Cruise of the Betsey,... with, Rambles of a Geologist.... Constable, Edinburgh [reprinted doi
  39. (1982). The discovery of fossil fishes in Scotland up to 1845 with checklists of Agassiz’s figured specimens. Royal Scottish Museum, doi
  40. (1996). The fallen meteor: Hugh Miller and local tradition.
  41. (1996). The geologist from Cromarty.
  42. The life and letters of Hugh Miller. doi
  43. The Medals of Creation; or, First Lessons in Geology, and in the study of Organic Remains. 2 vols. doi
  44. (1996). The natural historian as antiquary of the world: Hugh Miller and the rise of literary natural history.
  45. The Old Red Sandstone, or, New walks in an old field (1st edn). doi
  46. (2002). The personal art of David Octavius Hill. doi
  47. (1991). The Royal Scottish Academy exhibitors 1826–1990. A dictionary of artists and their work in the Annual Exhibitions of The Royal Scottish Academy.
  48. (2001). The Testimony of the Rocks, or, Geology in its bearings on the two theologies, natural and revealed (1st edn). [reprinted
  49. (2003). Thomas Hawkins and geological spectacle. doi
  50. (2000). Victorian sensation. The extraordinary publication, reception, and secret authorship of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. doi
  51. (2003). William Smith (1769–1839) and the search for English raw materials: some parallels with Hugh Miller and Scotland.

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