Natural history was one of Lydia’s passions, probably sparked by Hugh’s interest in geology. In spite of being self-taught in this subject, Hugh became a competent expert on the subject, so much that several scientists sought his views and advise. Like Hugh, Lydia considered science and religion as complementary, with science as a tool to appreciate God’s glory. “An unfailing harmony,” she wrote, “runs through all the works of the Creator.”
Some time ago, I wrote an article about Hugh Miller, a Scottish geologist and author who was greatly esteemed by both scientists and common readers during the perplexing times of the Scottish religious Disruption and of Darwin’s new scientific proposals.
His wife, Lydia Miller, deserves an article of her own.
A Love Story
Lydia first met Hugh in 1831 in his hometown of Cromarty, Scotland, where she and her widowed mother had set up a school. Lydia was 19 but her delicate features and petite size made her look three or four years younger. Hugh was 29, six-feet tall, with the rough appearance of “ a working man in a Sunday suit.” She was attracted by his eyes, of “a deep blue tinged with sapphire.” He thought she was “very pretty.”
With time, the two became friends and found similar interests in matters of literature, philosophy, and religion. Slowly, friendship turned to love.
Aware of these developments, Lydia’s mother Elizabeth put a veto to their relationship. Hugh was a simple stonemason, largely self-taught, with feeble financial prospects. She wanted something better for her daughter. Lydia’s tears only confirmed Elizabeth’s suspicions that love had already sprouted in her heart.
For a while, Lydia continued to see Hugh clandestinely, but Elizabeth learnt about their meetings and talked to Hugh directly. Hugh did his best to respect Elizabeth’s wishes, but an unplanned encounter with Lydia in 1833 revealed that their feelings had only grown stronger. They became engaged the same November. To appease Elizabeth, they agreed the engagement would last three years and, if by the end of it Hugh had not found a stable and lucrative occupation, they would emigrate to America.
Hugh’s aspiration was to work as writer for a newspaper or magazine. Since he had no qualifications, he thought of writing a book to attract some attention. Lydia offered to help, both in editing and in financing the publication. Hugh refused her latter proposal, looking instead for pledges.
Lydia was an able writer and editor. Hugh didn’t always concur with her corrections, but it didn’t matter. “You know we can differ and yet be very excellent friends,” he said. To him, the only element of a marriage where unity of thought was essential was religion. “However diverse in our tastes, however different in our opinions, however dissimilar in our philosophy,” he wrote, “let us at least desire, my own dearest Lydia, to be at one in our religion.” She agreed, knowing that Hugh was always willing to have honest discussions and was humble and charitable in his judgment.
One example of this willingness to resolve conflicts occurred during a discussion of the necessity of good works in the Christian life. Lydia, who had defended their importance, felt misunderstood by all present and especially offended by the remarks another lady had made. “I was sorry to perceive that you were seriously displeased,” Hugh wrote, “and that in consequence of a rather unskillful statement of doctrine on your part, which was I dare say occasioned by the use of language rather bold than correct on mine, Mrs. __ was led to deem your opinion heretical.”