Page images
PDF
EPUB

HUGH MILLER.

Hugh Miller was born in Cromarty, in Scotland, in 1802. He received a very limited education ; but he was an assiduous reader, and in early youth acquired the general information and the studious habits that formed the basis of his literary character. He was an acute observer of nature, and his trade — that of a stone mason – led him naturally into the practical study of geology. His discoveries and his brilliant style of description soon made his name famous. He would have been an eminent geologist without any aid from litärary art; and his sensibility, taste, and skill would have made him an eminent writer without any special scientific culture. His principal works are, Scenes and Legends of the North of Scoiland, My Schools and Schoolmasters, The Cruise of the Betsey, First Impressions of England and its People, Geology of the Bass Rock, The Old Red Sandstone, Footprints of the Creator, and The Testimony of the Rocks. He wrote also a volume of immature poems, and contributed a great number of articles to The Witness, an Edinburgh Dewspaper. He was at one time a bank officer in his native town; but during the most productive part of his life he resided in the capital. During an attack of insanity, brought on by over-exertion at the completion of the Testimony of the Rocks, he committed suicide with a pistol, in 1856, at Portobello, near Edinburgh.

A certain Mr. Brown, of Glasgow, who has written of his Life and Times, enjoys the distinction of having issued perhaps the worst and most tantalizing biography of a truly great man which the century has beheld. After placing the figure of Hugh Miller on a pedestal as the greatest representative Scotchman, and having whistled Scott, Burns, and Carlyle down the wind, the author treats us to disquisitions up on Scottish history, Free Church politics, reprobation of Dickens, and of the Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, estimates of Cromwell, denunciations of Macaulay, and a great deal more of Mr. Brown's own private opinions; but the subject of the memoir remains a shadow, as in the beginning. A nature so genial, gifted with such rare powers of perception and analysis, and armed with such consummate literary skill, deserved an appreciative and modest biographer. It is not too late, perhaps, to liope for a life worthy of the illustrious subject.

THE DROPPING-CAVE OF CROMARTY.

(From Scenes and Legends of the Norih of Scotland.) In perusing, in some of our older gazetteers, the half page devoted to Cromarty, we find that among the natural curiosities of the place there is a small cavern termed the Dropping-cave, famous for its stalactites and its petrifying stones.

And though the progress of modern discovery has done much to lower the wonder, by rendering it merely one of thousands of the same class, – for even among the cliffs of the hill in which the cavern is perforated, there is scarcely a spring that has not its border of coral-like petrifactions, and its moss, and grass, and nettle-stalks of marble, – the Dropping-cave may well be regarded as a curiosity still. It is hollowed, a few feet over the beach, in the face of one of the low precipices which skirt the entrance of the bay. From a crag which overhangs the opening there falls a perpetual drizzle, which, settling on the moss and lichens beneath, converts them into stone; and on entering the long, narrow apartment within, there may be seen, by the dim light of the entrance, a series of springs,

which filter through the solid rock above, descending in so continual a shower, that even in the sultriest days of midsummer, when the earth is parched, and the grass has become brown and withered, we may hear the eternal drop pattering against the rough stones of the bottom, or tinkling in the recess within, like the string of a harp struck to ascertain its tone. A stone flung into the interior, after rebounding from side to side of the rock, falls with a deep, hollow plunge, as if thrown into the sea.

There was a tradition current in Cromarty that a townsman had once passed through the Dropping-cave, until he heard a pair of tongs rattle over his head on the hearth of a farm-house of Navity, a district of the parish which lies fully three miles from the opening; and Willie, who was, it seems, as hard of belief in such matters as if he himself had never drawn on the credulity of others, resolved on testing the story by exploring the cave. He sewed sprigs of rowan and wych-elm in the hem of his waistcoat, thrust a Bible into one pocket, and a bottle of gin into the other, and providing himself with a torch, and a staff of buckthorn which had been cut at the full of the moon, and dressed without the assistance of iron or steel, he set out for the cave on a morning of midsummer. It was evening ere he returned — his torch burned out, and his clothes stained with mould and slime, and soaked with water. After lighting his torch, he said, and taking a firm grasp of the staff, he plunged fearlessly into the gloom before him. The cavern narrowed and lowered as he proceeded; the floor, which was of a white stone resembling marble, was hollowed into cisterns, filled with a water so exceedingly pure, that it sparkled to the light like spirits in crystal; and from the roof there depended clusters of richly-embossed icicles of white stone, like those which, during a severe frost, hang at the edge of a waterfall. The springs from above trickled along their channelled sides, and then tinkled into the cisterns, like rain from the eaves of a cottage after a thunder shower.

Perhaps he looked too curiously around him when remarking all this ; for so it was, that at the ninth and last ern, he missed his footing, and falling forward, shattered his bottle of gin against the side of the cave. The liquor ran into a little hollow of the marble ; and unwilling to lose what he regarded as very valuable, and what certainly had cost him some trouble and suffering to procure (for he rowed half way across the frith for it, in terror of the custom-house and a cockling sea), he stooped down and drank until his breath failed him. Never was there better Nantz; and pausing to recover himself, he stooped and drank, and stooped and drank, again and

again. There were strange appearances when he rose. A circular rainbow had formed round his torch ; there was a blue mist gathering in the hollows of the cave; the very roof and sides began to heave and reel, as if the living rock were a Flushing lugger riding on the ground-swell; and there was a low, humming noise that came sounding from the interior, like that of bees in a hawthorn thicket on an evening of midsummer. Willie, however, had become much less timorous than at first, and though he could not well account for the fact, much less disposed to wonder. And so on he went. He found the cavern widen, and the roof rose so high that the light reached only the snowy icicles which hung, meteor-like, over his head. The walls were formed of white stone, ridged and furrowed like pieces of drapery, and all before and around him there sparkled myriads of crystals, like dew-drops in a spring morning. The sound of his footsteps was echoed on either hand by a multitude of openings, in which the momentary gleam of his torch was reflected, as he passed, on sheets of water and ribs of rock, and which led, like so many arched corridors, still deeper into the bowels of the hill. Nor, independently of the continuous humming noise, were all the sounds of the cave those of echo. At one time he could hear the wind moaning through the trees of the wood above, and the scream of a hawk, as if pouncing on its prey; then there was the deafening blast of a smith's bellows, and the clang of hammers on an anvil ; and anon a deep, hollow noise, resembling the growling of a wild beast. All seemed terribly wild and unnatural; a breeze came moaning along the cave, and shook the marble drapery of the sides, as if it were formed of gauze or linen ; the entire cave seemed turning round, like the cylinder of an engine, until the floor stood upright, and the adventurer fell · heavily against it; and as the torch hissed and sputtered in the water, he could see by its expiring gleam that a full score of dark figures, as undefined as shadows by moonlight, were fitting around him in the blue mist which now came rolling in dense clouds from the interior. In a moment more all was darkness, and he lay insensible amid the chill damps of the cave.

The rest of the adventure wonderfully resembled a dream. On returning to consciousness, he found that the gloom around him had given place to a dim red twilight, which flickered along the sides and roof like the reflection of a distant fire. He rose, and grasping his staff, staggered forward. “It is sunlight,” thought he ; “I shall find an opening among the rocks of Eathie, and return home over the hill.” Instead, however, of the expected outlet, he found the passage terminate in a wonderful apartment, so vast in extent, that,

though an immense fire of pine trees, whole and unbroken from root to branch, threw up a red, wavering sheet of flame many yards in height, he could see in some places neither the walls nor the roof. A cataract, like that of Foyers during the long-continued rains of an open winter, descended in thunder from one of the sides, and presenting its broad, undulating front of foam to the red gleam of the fire, again escaped into darkness through a wide, broken-edged gulf at the bottom. The floor of the apartment appeared to be thickly strewn with human bones, half burned and blood stained, and gnawed as if by cannibals; and directly in front of the fire there was a low, tomb-like erection of dark-colored stone, full twenty yards in length, and roughened with grotesque hieroglyphics, like those of a Runic obelisk. An enormous mace of iron, crusted with rust and blood, reclined against the upper end, while a bugle of gold hung by a chain of the same metal from a column at the bottom Willie seized the bugle, and winded a blast, until the wide apartment shook with the din ; the waters of the cataract disappeared, as if arrested at their source; and the ponderous cover of the tomb began to heave and crackle, and pass slowly over the edge, as if assailed by the terrific strength of some newly-awakened giant below. Willie again winded the bugle; the cover heaved upward, disclosing a corner of the chasm beneath ; and a hand covered with blood, and of such fearful magnitude as to resemble only the conceptions of Egyptian sculpture, was slowly stretched from the darkness towards the handle of the mace.

Willie's resolution gave way, and Ainging down the horn, he rushed hurriedly towards the passage. A yell of blended grief and indig. nation burst from the tomb, as the immense cover again settled over it; the cataract came dashing from its precipice with a heavier volume than before ; and a furious hurricane of mingled wind and spray, that rushed howling from the interior, well nigh dashed the adventurer against the sides of the rock. He succeeded, however, in gaining the passage, sick at heart, and nearly petrified with terror. A state of imperfect consciousness succeeded, like that of a feverish dream, in which he retained a sort of half conviction that he was lingering in the damps and darkness of the cave, obstinately and yet unwillingly; and on fully regaining his recollection, he found himself lying across the ninth cistern, with the fragments of the broken bottle on the one side, and his buckthorn staff on the other. He could hear from the opening the dash of the advancing waves against the rocks, and on leaping to the beach below, found that his exploratory journey had occupied him a whole day.

CARDINAL WISEMAN.

Nicholas Wiseman was born at Seville in Spain, of English parents, in 1802. He was educated at St. Cuthbert's College, near Durham. He afterwards went to Rome, and eventually became Rector of the English College there. He returned to England in 1835, and has since held a prominent position as a preacher and writer. Among his works are Hore Syriaca, The Holy Eucharist, Science and Revealed Religion, Fabiola, or the Church of the Catacombs, Recollections of the last four Popes, and Essays from the Dublin Review. He was appointed Archbishop of Westminster, and raised to the rank of a Cardinal in 1852. The extract following is from an able address delivered to workingmen, suggested by the great art exhibition at Manchester in 1857.

THE IDENTIFICATION OF THE ARTISAN AND ARTIST.

I THINK, among the greatest errors that language has imposed upon us, there is none more remarkable than the sort of antagonism which is established in common language as between Nature and Art. We speak of art as being, in a certain manner, the rival of Nature, and opposed to it; we contrast them we speak of the superiority of Nature, and depreciate Art as compared with it. On the other hand, what is Art but the effort that is made by human skill to seize upon the transitory features of Nature, to give them the stamp of perpetuity? If we study Nature, we see that in her general laws she is unchangeable; the year goes on its course, and day after day pass magnificently through the same revolutions. But there is not one single moment in which either Nature, or anything that belongs to her, is stationary. The earth, the planets, and the sun and moon, are not for any instant in exactly the same relation mutually as they were another instant. The face of Nature is constantly changing; and what is it that preserves that for us but Art, which is not the rival, but the child, as well as the handmaid, of Nature ? You find, when you watch the setting sun, how beautiful and how bright for an instant! then how it fades away! the sky and sea are covered with darkness, and the departed light is reflected, as it had been just now upon the water, still upon your mind. In that one evanescent moment a Claude or a Stanfield dips his pencil in the glowing sky, and transfers its hue to his canvas ; and ages after, by the lamp of night, or in the brightness of the morning, we can contemplate that evening scene of nature, and again renew in ourselves all the emotions which the reality could

« PreviousContinue »