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The Millers of Haddington, Dunbar and Dunfermline
Chapter XVIII. John Laing Miller - His Verdatility - Failure

NO change took place in the designation of the firm when John Miller died, although the sole partner now became John Laing Miller. He was born on December 11, 1811, and was the second son and third child of his parents. At school he had often been ranked as semper assiduus in the rector’s roll of honour, and had been trained in his father’s shop. On October 5, 1841, he married Jane Moncrieff, daughter of the Rev. James Blair, who was at that time pastor of the Baptist congregation in the town, and whose biography was afterwards written under the title of “The Scottish Evangelist.” By her he had a numerous family.

John Laing Miller was a man of versatile parts. Like his father he was a Baptist and took an absorbing interest in the denomination. In 1841 the local congregation, which was known as the Scottish Baptists, split into two, and Miller was one of the leaders of the party that seceded and formed an English Baptist congregation. From the start of the new congregation to the time he left Dunfermline, a period of twenty-five years, he acted as its secretary, Sabbath School superintendent, and leader of praise, all gratuitously.

All his life Miller had a passion for music, and gave public exhibitions on the “seraphine,” the precursor of the harmonium, and a novelty at the time. Largely through his advocacy an instrument was introduced into the public worship of his congregation, a matter then somewhat difficult to achieve on Scottish soil. For six years he managed the concerts of the local Harmonists’ Society, to the no small benefit of the community. It is noteworthy that in the year he joined his father in business the firm published the “Melodian: a Selection of Songs, Duetts, and Glees,” in two parts.

Young Miller had also a scientific bent. It is said that he delivered his first lecture on electricity along with Dr. Ebenezer Henderson, the writer of the “Annals of Dunfermline,” when he was only fifteen years of age. For sixteen years he was secretary of the local Scientific Institute, and carried through the arrangements for an annual series of lectures. He made many experiments with tricycles, and he and his family were frequently to be seen on them long before they became popular throughout the country.

Among young people he was a great favourite, and did much good work for them. His interest in them is reflected in the list of children’s publications issued by him and his father. His faculty for entertainment in song, recitation, and experiment made him everywhere a welcome visitor to their gatherings. These activities were the probable origin of a series of books that dealt with this side of work among children, notably of “The Reciter’s Own,” which appeared in several parts and ran to three editions. Miller could also string rhymes together—an accomplishment which was shared by his wife1—and together they set nursery jingles to illustrations printed from blocks they had purchased for the purpose. These booklets were issued hand-coloured by his own children.

Before the formal addition of the son’s name to that of the firm, the father had issued several periodicals. These included the usual local almanacs, one of which appeared annually from 1829. More in the ordinary style was the Gasometer, or Dunfermline Magazine, a monthly literary magazine of the usual amateur type, which was edited by young Miller. It was published throughout 1831, and was followed next year by The Monthly Scrap Book, a journal of the same kind. In 1835 the firm began the Monthly Advertiser, which at first was issued gratis and contained advertisements only. In 1840 literary matter was added and one penny per copy was charged. It ultimately became known as the Dunfermline Advertiser, and ended its career in 1863. A rival journal had introduced a steam press, and Miller’s paper with its old-fashioned hand press could not stand the competition. The Advertiser, however, may be considered Dunfermline’s first newspaper, for its predecessors, two in number, did not reach beyond a few issues. There is no doubt that young Miller had the chief part in the production of these periodicals.

Whether the multiplicity of Miller’s interests had an injurious effect on his business or not it is impossible to say, but it began to fall off, and about the beginning of the “sixties” he became involved in money difficulties. Rival bookshops had been opened in the town, and having no capital he could not compete with them. By 1866 his trade had so far degenerated that he complied with a desire of his family and retired from it altogether. He left the city in October to join a son in Liverpool. Before quitting Dunfermline he was entertained to a farewell feast by some of his fellow-townsmen and presented with a purse of sovereigns. He was also made the recipient of public gifts from the Baptist congregation and from friends in Limekilns, a neighbouring village with which he had holiday connection, and where he had trained a choir. As a local journal said, “Mr. Miller bore his part like a good citizen in every improvement, was a general favourite whether in public or private life, and carries with him the good wishes of the whole community.”

After settling down in Liverpool, Miller became manager of a large stationery business. While he was in charge one of the workmen proved dishonest and involved the firm in considerable loss. In some way Miller was held responsible for the man’s depredations, and a plea at law fixed heavy pecuniary liabilities upon him. This ended his business career and he finally retired. He died January 18, 1883.

One of his sons, George Laing Miller, carries on the printing and writing traditions of the family. He started the printing firm of George Miller & Co., Liverpool, which still exists, although he himself has removed to America. He is the author of several works on musical subjects, and an organist of repute.

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