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The labour to which Hugh Miller had been subjected in the preparation and final revision of the "Testimony of the Rocks," was the melancholy means of unhinging his intellectual powers, and leaving him the prey of those spectral illusions, those paroxysms of horror and despair, amidst whose deep and awful shadows he so gloomily perished. In such a state of mind as was his during the last months of his life, intellectual effort of any kind ought to have been strictly forbidden and rigidly foregone. Yet even long prior to these months, the mischief was done. Conjugal love had thrown a veil of the most inviolate secrecy over the earlier attacks of the insidious malady, so that not even his physicians knew how deep-seated was the calamity they at length became aware, only when too late, had smitten him, as it has smitten many of the most gifted of earth's sons.
The form which the malady latterly assumed, was precisely of the nature we might have expected from the peculiar mental and physical characteristics of Mr. Miller. To his medical advisers, to his partner, and to his family, he talks of strange dreams and awful visions which, in hours when deep sleep falleth upon men, came up before him as from the Spirit-land. Indeed, through life the dark cloud had been gathering over his mental powers; a predisposition to insanity lurked in that magnificent intellect. The student of his “ Schools and Schoolmasters" will have noted that, even when a stripling, he was the subject of peculiar attacks, in one of which he bit the nails from his fingers. Nor can it have escaped the notice of any who have perused with care his “Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland” how deep a hold the supernatural had taken upon his mind. With Hugh Miller, these northern superstitions were not—as they would have been to Sir Walter Scott-merely the raw material of the artist. We shall not insult the memory of the great Departed, by insinuating a vulgar belief in a tithe of the floating traditions he has perpetuated by the magic of his style; but without asserting so much, it is not too great a license to assert, that they were more to him than mere legends. These northern traditions, in which the beliefs of pagan and christian times were often curiously and grotesquely blended, mantled his spirit with the weird gloom of the supernatural, which his peculiar geological studies contributed still further to deepen. In the pursuit of the investigations to which he had devoted himself, he left the society of men to commune with the stones of the field; and in the gorge of the wave-lashed rock, or deep in the bowels of mother earth, did he gather up those records of the past through which he deciphered the story of an earlier world. On such a mind as Hugh Miller's, the reflection brought home by these studies, with a force and vividness those who only read of it can have no conception-that this earth of ours was but one vast mausoleum and burial-pyramid—could not fail to have exerted a surpassing power. Hugh Miller did not share the scepticism of those who believe the annihilation which has swallowed up in turn all the races of the past, will one day, like a mountainous wave, overtake man also ; leaving nought to tell he had ever been, save those traces of his existence the fossils of the rock may perpetuate. Those doubts the discords of nature inspire, and which Tennyson has so vividly portrayed, did not perplex him. He knew there had been given to man a life that bears immortal fruit, and that beyond the verge of the present existence was the brightness of eternal day. He knew, “the song of woe is after all an earthly song," yet its melancholy moan had touched his spirit. In the last days of his earthly pilgrimage, “the light that shone when Hope was born” burned low; and in the hour when reason reeled, all those shadows of the past, all those shapes of the supernatural, which haunted him even in the vigour of his powers, hurried to take possession of the throne from which the monarch had fallen.
"O life! as futile, then, as frail-
The story of the closing scene of Hugh Miller's existence, so far as man could tell it, has been told in the columns of the Witness by Dr. Hanna, with a minuteness, a fidelity, a pathos, and an eloquence which leave almost nothing to be added :
"In the belief,” says the accomplished biographer of Chalmers, " that nothing touching the character and memory of such a man can be regarded with other than the deepest interest, the friends of Mr. Hugh Miller have thought it due at once to his great name and to the cause of truth, to lay fully before the public a statement of the most mournful circumstances under which he has departed from this life. For some months past his overtasked intellect had given evidence of disorder. He became the prey of false or exaggerated alarms. He fancied-if, indeed, it was a fancy--that occasionally, and for brief intervals, his faculties quite failed him--that his mind broke down. He was engaged at this time with a treatise on the Testimony of the Rocks,' upon which he was putting out all his strength-working at his topmost pitch of intensity. Hours after midnight the light was seen to glimmer through the window of that room, which, within the same eventful week, was to witness the close of the volume and the close of the writer's life. This overworking of the brain began to tell upon his mental health. He had always been somewhat mc odily apprehensive of being attacked by footpads, and had carried loaded fire-arms about his person. Latterly, having occasion sometimes to return to Portobello from Edinburgh at unseasonable hours, he had furnished himself with a revolver. But now, to all his old fears as to attacks upon his person, there was added an exciting and overmastering impression that his house, and especially that his museum, the fruit of so much care, which was contained in a separate outer building, were exposed to the assault of burglars. He read all the recent stories of house robberies. He believed that one night lately an actual attempt to break in upon his museum had been made. Visions of ticket-of-leave men prowling about his premises haunted him by day and by night. The revolver, which lay nightly near him, was not enough; a broad-bladed dagger was kept beside it; whilst behind him, at his bed-head, a claymore stood ready at hand. A week or so ago, a new and more aggravated feature of cerebral disorder showed itself, in sudden and singular sensations in his head. They came only after lengthened intervals. They did not last long, but were intensely violent. The terrible idea that his brain was deeply and hopelessly diseased--that his mind was on the verge of ruin—took hold of him, and stood out before his eye in all that appalling magnitude in which such an imagination as his alone could picture it. It was mostly at night that these wild paroxysms of the brain visited him ; but, until last Monday, he had spoken of them to no one. А. friend, who had a long conversation with him on the Thursday of last week, never enjoyed an interview more, or remembers him in a more genial mood. On the Saturday forenoon another friend from Edinburgh found him in the same happy frarne. On the forenoon of Sunday last he worshipped in the Free Church at Portobello; and in the evening read a little work (the Pole Star of Faith) which had been put into his hands--penning a brief notice of it, his last contribution to the Witness. About ten o'clock on Monday morning, he took what with him was an altogether unusual step. He called on Dr. Balfour in Portobello, to consult him as to his state of health. "On my asking,' says Dr. Balfour, in a communication with which we have been favoured, 'what was the matter with him ? he replied, "My brain is giving way. I cannot put two thoughts together to-day; I have had