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WHO WAS HE, THEN?

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Hugh Miller was a tall (nearly 6ft) man with a great mass of flaming red hair and "sapphire" blue eyes (according to his wife, Lydia). He possessed immense physical strength, and most importantly a questing intellect of extraordinary range.

He was a self-taught geologist, and wrote about the history of the earth with an eloquence, breadth of imagination and descriptive power like no one else has then or since.

His fossil collection of over 6,000 specimens became the founding core of what is today's Scottish national collection in the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh. His books, such as The Old Red Sandstone, The Cruise of the Betsey, Footprints of the Creator, Testimony of the Rocks, Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland, and My Schools and Schoolmasters (autobiography) became bestsellers in many editions.

Hugh Miller was an evangelical Christian. He could be ferociously aggressive in debate with his religious opponents, via the columns of his newspaper, The Witness. He helped to found a new Presbyterian Church, and gave it its name, the Free Church of Scotland.

For all his ferocity in print, he was intensely shy, introverted, humble, prone to melacholy, and plagued with silicosis all his life because of his toils in his youth as a stonemason. In the end he was to die by his own hand - a single shot in the chest - in the early hours of Christmas Eve, at his home in Shrub Mount, Portobello, just outside Edinburgh. By then his brain was "burning," tormented by nightmares and fears of approaching insanity.

He left a widow, Lydia, herself a writer, who edited and secured posthumous publication of some of his books, and four children, Harriet, William, Bessie and Hugh Junior, who became a geologist like his father.

 


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