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Hugh Miller: fossils, landscape and literary geology

By Simon J. Knell and Michael A. Taylor

Abstract

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
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Citations

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  2. (2000). A collection of papers presented at two conferences The Cromarty Years
  3. An awakening interest in geology.
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  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.
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  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
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  18. (2005). Hugh Miller: introducing palaeobotany to a wider audience. doi
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  25. (2000). Mary Anning, Thomas Hawkins and Hugh Miller, and the realities of being a provincial fossil collector.
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  40. (1996). The fallen meteor: Hugh Miller and local tradition.
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  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.
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  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.
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  51. (2003). William Smith (1769–1839) and the search for English raw materials: some parallels with Hugh Miller and Scotland.

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