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WHEN just attaining his majority, work failing in the North, Hugh Miller, bidding adieu to his beloved mother and his worthy uncles, sailed from his native town for the south of Scotland. On the evening of the fourth day from losing sight of the hill of Cromarty, he landed at Leith. After a somewhat hasty survey of a small property he was unfortunate enough to possess a property not of the advantageous sort with which the freehold societies profess to invest the working classes, but a property reminding us rather of Rip Van Winkle's farm, the most pestilent bit of ground in the whole parish-Hugh Miller proceeded at once to the Scottish capital. While sauntering along the streets, admiring with a fresh eye the picturesque groups of ancient buildings with which that most magnificent of cities abounds—as yet looking but little to the population, he was laid hold of by a slim lad in pale moleskins: it was William Ross; and during what remained of that night, the stone-cutter and the house-painter explored the city together. With that true eye for the beautiful and the sublime, whether in art or nature, which never failed him, Hugh Miller at once detected what gives to Edinburgh its peculiar fascination. Like Jerusalem of old, beautiful for situation, that beauty is superlatively enhanced by the circumstance, that to the stranger it discloses at a glance, not one, but two cities, a city of the past and a city of the present. When Hugh Miller first visited Edinburgh, its ancient features were in a state of considerably more perfect preservation than they now are. Many mementos of the renown of centuries have disappeared within the last thirty-five years. No small portion of the old town now exists only in the recollections of the antiquary. As in the country, the small crofting of other days has given place to the large farm, so the memorials of her antiquity with which Edina was erewhile so thickly studded, have, in some of their most interesting features, been swept away by the march of modern improvement, which is yet in many instances not improvement. All old enough to remember the vanished glories, whose places these so-called improvements have usurped, are filled with feelings much akin to those which inspired such of the captivity of Judah as, recollecting the glory of the first temple, lived to witness and to share in the erection of the second.
Through the good offices of a friend, Hugh Miller procured work at a manor-house then being erected in the vicinity of Niddry mill, and beneath the shade of Niddry woods did the Cromarty stone-cutter commence his labours. The squad with which he worked appears to have been tainted in even an extreme degree with the narrowness and exclusiveness common among the more ignorant class of operatives, and to them Miller became an object of undisguised hostility and dislike. The Norlander, in their opinion, if not chased back to his own cold clime, would carry home half the money of the country. The district into which the exigencies of his daily toil had brought bim, extended Hugh Miller's acquaintance at once with natural and social phenomena. In the woods of Niddry he discovered not a little that had no existence two degrees farther north, and in the immediate neighbourhood of Niddry mill, he met a rude and ignorant race still bearing the stain, if not the brand of slavery.
It will scarcely be believed that so late as 1842, when Parliament issued a commission to inquire into the results of female labour in the coal pits of Scotland, there was a collier, still living, that had never been twenty miles from the metropolis; who could state to the commissioners, that his father, his grandfather, and himself were slaves; and that he had wrought for years in a pit in the neighbourhood of Musselburgh where the majority of the miners were also serfs. How singular the anomalies and contradictions that, even in a period pre-eminent for political and social progression, may yet be permitted to live on uncorrected. Poets, orators, and statesmen were constantly declaiming about how impossible it was for a slave to breathe in England, at a time when the Scotch lairds held the liberties of the poor colliers and salters completely in their iron gripe.
That slavery was all the more reprehensible from the circumstance, that it was not a relic of ancient serfdom, but had originated in comparatively recent decisions of the Court of Session. Even the statute passed in 1701, extolled as the Scotch Habeas Corpus Act, brought this pariah race no relief. After reciting the precautions against wrongous imprisonment and undue delays in trials, the statute goes on to say that this act in no way extends to colliers and salters. Even after the first link of their chain had been broken in 1775, their freedom was so clogged with conditions that it was little more than nominal. The eulogists of the Court of Session are constantly declaiming about the immense advantage it has been to Scotland ; but with the exception of one brief and brilliant epoch in its history, nearly as little has been done for Scotland by her law-lords as by her land-lords. On almost every critical occasion, ecclesiastical or political, the majority of them has generally been found on the wrong side. As might have been expected, the condition of the inhabitants of the village of Niddry, even of that part of them not belonging to the proscribed race, was of the lowest order; while the colliers themselves carried in their faces the too certain index at once of their social and intellectual condition, being mostly of that type to which a very strong resemblance is found in the prints of savage tribes.
The effect of the emancipation of these poor creatures has been, that in less than a quarter of a century this type of face has disappeared throughout Scotland.
With the exception of the foreman and a labourer of the squad in which Hugh Miller worked, and perhaps a couple more who were, however, rather polemical than devotional in their religion; hostility and indifference to Christianity might describe its spiritual condition. Hugh Miller was a churchman, and accordingly was somewhat surprised to find the only religion among his comrades belonged to the dissenters. Like uncle Sandy, some of these men were great readers of the old divines: Durham, Rutherford, Baxter, Boston, old John Brown, and the Erskines, formed their favourite companions; but unlike his uncles, both of whom still retained an unwavering faith in the Establishment, they had begun to question the propriety of such institutions, nay, to hold it might be none the worse, but much the better for religion, that they were uprooted. With the exception of this small fraction of devout men, who, though in it, were not of it, the squad was well represented by its hero Charles, a demoralized, reckless, yet generoushearted fellow, the only blackguard Hugh Miller ever found possessing magnanimity and generosity.
It was while a stone-cutter beneath the shade of Niddry wood that Hugh Miller first became practically acquainted with combinations. Hallowday had come, and with Hallowday a reduction of wages from twentyfour to fifteen shillings per week; the reduction was, by nearly two shillings, more than it ought to have been; but such were the circumstances of the mass of the niasons, that a single fortnight would have more than