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ment of verse. The die was, however, cast, and though the work was by no means hurried through the press, “Poems by a journeyman stone-mason,” at length emerged from the printing-office of the Inverness Courier ; and now the crisis had come when Hugh Miller must run the gauntlet of the critics. The style in which the work was received was characteristic of the ordinary mode of reviewing, which still obtains amongst a large portion of the public press. By some journals he was patronized as a young man of genius; by others he was recommended to rely more on his chisel than his pen. A third class pursued a medium course; and while admitting his volume contained some fair verses, reminded him it was not every man who could expect to reach the high poetic eminence of Charles Doyle Sillerey, a poet now forgotten, but who, if Hugh Miller is to be credited, owed the praise he received to the very substantial pudding he bestowed upon certain members of the metropolitan press. A generous critique by a competent reviewer, the late Dr. Brown, author of
History of the Highlands and the Highland Clans," more than compensated for any annoyance the curs of criticism let loose at his heels by this poetical adventure had caused. Looking at these poems after the lapse of fully more than a quarter of a century since their publication, during which great modifications of poetic taste have taken place, we cannot say that they furnish any
adequate token of the transcendent powers of their author. Hugh Miller, we believe, could at no time write anything very foolish ; his volume is therefore, as might be expected, destitute of all that silly sentimentalism which infects with so sickly a hue the major portion of the volumes of verse that in these days issue from the press. But though free from anything very foolish, it contains nothing very fine; a certain massive strength is indeed there, but so totally dissevered from the delicacy and sweetness, which amidst all its strength are the grand characteristics of his prose, that one is very apt to take the poet at his own word when he describes his lays as
“Scarce hauflins warmed wi' minstrel fire,
And little skilled in lear o'ryme.”
If poetry be, as Wordsworth asserts it is, the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge, then assuredly Miller's prose is more worthy of the name than any verse he ever wrote; and yet, though relinquishing in set phrase all claims to poetic excellence, it is obvious that to his latest day he never ceased to look back upon the poetic offspring of his youth with all the tenderness of a first love. The very ingenious manner in which he has contrived to introduce so large a portion of them into his “Schools and Schoolmasters," shows the tenacity of this affection; but, though his volume of verse did little for his fame, it had at least this advantage—it brought him in contact with one of the most accom. plished of modern journalists and litterateurs, the editor of the Inverness Courier. To the columns of that able newspaper Hugh Miller contributed some descriptive sketches, unsurpassed by aught he ever afterwards accomplished. The theme was an humble one, and might seem at first sight rather unpromising—it was the herring fishery; nevertheless, with this comparatively commonplace topic on which to exercise his descriptive powers, his style blossoms into the noblest prose poetry. These papers were reprinted from the Courier, so great was the interest they created. This triumph in the treatment of a topic so lowly and unpretentious, at once revealed the man of genius. It is only the mediocre artist who is necessitated to travel into the region of the distant and the unknown for the materials on which to work; the true artist, knowing that all nature is instinct with poetry, seeks and finds it in the men and scenes with which he is surrounded. These literary efforts in prose and poetry had awakened considerable interest in his fortunes among a class that do not usually interest themselves much in the fortunes of the working man. Hugh Miller, in point of fact, now become a local celebrity, was pointed out to strangers as the Cromarty poet. When on a visit to Inverness, the late Principal Baird expressed a great desire to make his acquaintance, and, anticipating it might be of some advantage to bring the two men together, Mr. Carruthers despatched an apprentice from Inverness to Cromarty to intimate the desire of the Principal. The interchange of sentiment between the graduate of the schools and the graduate of labour was both interesting and instructive. Principal Baird was something very different from a monkish scholar who knew nothing save his books; his conversation with Hugh Miller shows him to have been a man of the ripest and most practical wisdom, and to his suggestion do we owe it that his “Schools and Schoolmasters" was written. “The distinction between the educated and uneducated literary man is absurd,” said the Rev. Principal; "all are educated in some way, and the more unusual the way, the more interesting its record. Write the history of yours.”
In these observations lay the germ of the most delightful of all Hugh Miller's works.
About this time also he made the acquaintance of Sir Thomas Dick Lauder. He had likewise got pretty familiar with certain ladies of Cromarty, belonging to a small but select circle, who had cultivated with some success literary tastes and pursuits. Not unfrequently a group of these ladies might be seen in the old buryingground, where the stone-cutter was at work, discussing topics of the freshest interest in literature and science. During one of these conversations with some rather elderly females, a young lady of very considerable personal attractions, apparently about nineteen, all flurried with running, came hurrying down to bid the group come away, and as instantaneously departed. Hugh Miller did not observe that she had even looked at liim, and yet it was for him alone that she had put herself to the trouble of taking so much care of her friends. The young lady's mental powers were equal to her personal charms. She had heard of Hugh Miller as the poet of his native town, and longed to see him curiosity ripened into love, and, in due time, Lydia Mackenzie Fraser became Mrs. Miller, and has since been known to fame, not only from her relation to the editor of the Witness, but as the author of several works of remarkable interest and ability. The family to which Mrs. Miller belonged is a family in which talent seems pretty generally diffused; her brother, the Rev. T. Mackenzie Fraser, late of Yester Free Church, now of Singapore, is known to possess remarkable native powers, and no less remarkable acquirements.
Shortly after the publication of his poetry, a branch of the Commercial Bank was opened in Cromarty; the office of accountant was offered him by the agent, and, after some hesitation, accepted. To gain the necessary experience of the workings of such an establishment, Hugh Miller visited Edinburgh, and was transferred to one of the branches of the Commercial bank at Linlithgow. As might have been anticipated,