“I am not beat yeti” said
Dick. “I have resolution, will, and ability to work. Let me try again.”
His flour was wrecked on the 9th of March. A few months later (May 18 th),
we find him by the seashore, about six miles east of Thurso, where he had
found his last fossil fish. He had to a certain extent got rid of his
rheumatism. “I have got the use of my feet,” he says, “and am blest in
comparison. It was terrible to be hampered like a hen with a string round
“Though I did not discover much, yet I am surprised that I found so much. I
have dug out of the rocks what no one else ever got out of them. It is
cheerless, cold work. Lonely work too. But no good work can be done in
He next visited a hill near Thurso, from two to three hundred feet high,
where at one spot the fossil fish lie by the score, fish over fish, packed
like herrings in a barrel. With the insight of the poet, he saw the
sepulchres of the past beneath his feet.
“Tell me, thou dust beneath my feet,
Thou dust that once had breath,—
Tell me how many mortals meet
In this small hill of death.
“By wafting winds and flooding rains,
From ocean, earth, and sky,
Collected here, the frail remains
Of slumbering millions lie.
“Like me, thou elder-born of clay
Enjoyed the cheerful light;
Bore the brief burden of a day,
And went to rest at night.”
“For my own part,” he says, “I would never have sought after these fish, did
not a feeling of wondrous astonishment take possession of me. Every time I
think of them, I can scarcely understand how they are there.” And again, “I
often feel very much puzzled about those dead fish. I mean as to whether
they lived before or since the creation and fall of man. Did Death exist
before man’s disobedience? . . . One thing is certain: the present habitable
world is a graveyard! ” The fossil fish heretofore discovered had for the
most part been broken. Bucklers, scales, bits of fish of various kinds, had
been found fossilised, and from these drawings had been made; but parts of
the drawings were guess-work. Dick determined to find, if he could, an
entire fossil fish, and proceeded to make many searches for it. He thus
picturesquely describes one of his journeys for this purpose :—
“On Monday I made a large day’s work (that is, of bread and biscuit making
and baking), intending to set out early on Thursday morning. The morning was
rainy, but by eleven o’clock I was able to set out on my two hours’ walk to
the neighbouring hill-top. After a brief interval I cleared off the rubbish,
and began to turn up dead fish. They were all rotten. Many thousands had
died and been buried here a long time ago. The mud had choked them, and
buried up their bodies, fish over fish, in whole myriads. Thousands of
thousands must have died at the same time. 'This platform of death,’ as Hugh
Miller phrases it, extends for many miles.
“Standing upright and looking round, I can see
Weydale some miles away; and there is reason to believe that the beds of
fish on this hill and Weydale are one and the same. It is true, they have
been cut across, and the rocks have been disturbed and lifted up —twisted,
broken, bent, and what not—in a thousand different ways; and yet I have no
doubt they were once continuous. What numbers! I turned them up, rotten, by
twos and threes. . . .
“I stood up to rest me, and looked around. It was a beautiful day. The sun
was shining brightly. Far south I saw Skerry Ben and Morven. Skerry Ben had
hardly any snow wreaths on it, and thin vapour seemed to be rolling away
from its summit. Looking over all the intervening space, the country seemed
very bare. Nothing broke the uniformity of the prospect until the eye rested
on the Dorery Hills, and these seemed black and uninteresting.
“Seaward, all was in motion. The Orkney hills on the north were capped by
clouds, which rolled along their summits. Not very far west frowned a dark
precipice, at least 200 feet high, at whose base the sea waves were toiling
“I went to work again,—raising up thin layers of rock, and turning out
rotten fish; but nothing of any worth. As I got down the stone got firmer,
and the fish were sounder. But where was my dream? I had fancied that I
should find the big fossil. I knew that part of it—indeed two parts of
it—were found in this neighbourhood; and I thought that perhaps I might
alight on a whole one. But no! There was no fossil for me, such as I wanted;
and having raised up a stone with three tolerably good fishes on it, I
thought that I had better wend my way home.”
Disappointed but not baffled, Dick continued his researches. “On Monday
morning, after my work was over, I walked out some two miles to a quarry by
the side of the road, where I knew fish bones abounded. It is not a regular
quarry, but a hole out of which stone for road-metal had been taken.
“Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away."
Who knows? One thing is certain—it is so with the poor fish. Nearly all the
houses in Thurso are built of dead fish. All the ploughed fields are fields
of the dead. The living plants feed on the dead, and so it is everywhere.
Was it ever otherwise? Once I believed in a world without death—hideous
death. But it is a sad thought that death exists over all creation. Some,
however, say that death is necessary and a blessing; because, without it,
there could be no progress. Alas! is death then a necessity?
“I went to the quarry by the road-side, and was grubbing away for old bones,
to the no small amusement of the passers-by. No doubt they thought me mad.
Some looked curious ; some looked pitiful. At last one of them came and
planted himself opposite me.
"Hae ye lost onything there?’ ‘No.’ ‘Then what are ye seeking?’ ‘Auld
banes.’ ‘Auld banes?’ * Ay, auld fish-banes.’ ‘O, there’s none o’ them there
: I’m the man that quarried the hole: there’s nae fish-banes there.’ ‘If ye
like to believe me, gudeman, the banes are abundant.’ ‘ Na!’ ‘ Oh yes; it’s
an auld burying-ground.’ ‘Eh!’ ‘ Yes; look at that.’
“At this the man came running up the brae, and I handed him a stone all
covered with scales. ‘Eh!’ said he, and then he took the stone. He looked at
it. ‘Weel,’ he at length observed, ‘that’s trash—nothing but trash.’ ‘It’s
an auld burying-ground, I assure ye,’ said I; ‘it’s of great antiquity.’ He
threw down the stone and walked away solemnly. I have no doubt he thought me
crazy—perhaps something worse.
“I got so many heads, jaws, Coccosteus bones, and such like, that I nearly
killed myself in carrying home the stones. My arms are still sore, and my
breast is sore. Eor all that, I would carry as heavy a load tomorrow.” .
A few days later he says :—
“I have again been to the limestone quarry on the hill, and have brought
thence one fossil fish and some half-dozen of broken bits of other fossils,
and only one moss from the waterfall.
I half filled my hat with the Fern Blechnum boreale, or Northern Hard Fern,
which I found growing in beauty in sheltered spots. .
“I saw tree stumps in peat banks, molehills, muir-fowl, and lapwings,—and
snow wreaths on hill-sides and around lochs. I had a long, long, beautiful
“Hugh Miller, to his dying day, insisted that nothing organic lived in the
north of Scotland previous to the deposition of the Old Bed conglomerate.
The Old Bed conglomerate was to him the fossiliferous base in the north. He
knew and acknowledged the Silurians of the south of Scotland; but he argued
that Durness limestone was of
Old Red age. Professor Nicol said it was of mountain limestone. Sir Eoderick
Murchison has classed it Silurian.
“When Hugh Miller was in Orkney he saw the Old Eed conglomerate at Stromness,
and followed the fossiliferous rocks along the sea-shore upwards, until he
found a fossil hone, which he termed the “ Hail,” and he counted how many
feet this “nail” was above the Old Red conglomerate. He considered this
“nail” the oldest hone in Scotland. So he said. He knew of none older at
that time. The Durness fossils being all shells and molluscous animal
remains, Hugh probably thought that nothing of a bony nature existed in
Scotland older than his Stromness “nail.” And this bone was a fish remain,
many hundred feet above the Old conglomerate.
“But what would Hugh have thought of fish underlying Old Eed conglomerate?
Fish remains older than conglomerate? Alas, poor Hugh! such is actually the
case. The other day I turned up and brought home with me to Thurso the
remains of fish that had lain buried below the Old Red conglomerate! But
Hugh had seen the 'Base’ in many places, and preferred retaining the old
“I believe the opinion entertained by our highest geologists is, that there
is Old Red conglomerate of many ages; whereas Hugh Miller considered it as
of one age—one great formation. He says that it extends from the Grampians
to Orkney, and from Peterhead to the Western Isles; that it lies in a
continuous stratum of variable thickness; and that no fish lived then in
what is now Scotland. A great mistake!
“I have found pieces of clay slate in the Old Red conglomerate; that is, the
slate was in existence before the other was formed.
“Those fish I found the other day lived before the Old Red conglomerate was
wholly made. A bed with rolled granite ground down into sandy gravel
overlies a bed of limestone, and the limestone deposit overlies a bed of
limy clay, which contains the fish remains.
“It is a beautiful spot where the dead fish lie buried. All is quiet and
still. No sound of any kind, but the wind whistling along the heather. In
summer time the royal eagle comes to build beside the waterfall, and to prey
upon the muirfowl. Death’s doings are still about us, and who knows how long
it is since they first began?”
A few days later, he says:—“Some time ago, one of the flagmen showed me a
fossil which he did not understand. It was a fine one, and only your humble
servant knew what it was. I had, twenty years ago, furnished Hugh Miller
with such a fossil, and this was the only instance of another turning up
anywhere. This was found in the quarries. I sent word to London, and Mr.
John Miller bought it. It gave me pleasure to find Hugh’s word corroborated.
I have not the least doubt that the entire fish will some day turn up, and
then it will be seen who was speaking truth.”
Dick also searched the rocks at Murkle Bay, where he had found the big
fossil buckler. One day he discovered a rather large bone sticking out of
the mass. He went at it with his hammer and chisel. He laboured for nearly
four hours, and then he left it to return again on the following day. To get
it out, required several weeks of hammering and chiseling. He had to go to
the bottom of the bone to get it out. He did not mind the amount of labour
he gave to a fossil, provided he could get it out whole. He once worked at a
particular bone for six months. The fossil, on this occasion, was a prize.
It measured one foot two inches long, by six inches across.
“At the same time,” he said, “I don’t neglect my employment. "Whether I get
out the bone or not, I always make sure of doing my day’s work first. I
never yet trifled a moment for anything. If I want playing at fossils, I
merely rob myself of my rest and sleep.
“It is now twenty years in March last (his letter was dated 7th September
1863) since I found a bone so large. And not only have I got so large a
bone, but what is a step in advance, something new. ... I have sawn the four
sides of the stem, and also taken four inches off the bottom thickness. It
is now portable. It can be lifted. Before, it could not be moved without
taking with you the immense rock in which it was imbedded.
“It is very odd, that in twenty years I have never found an entire fish. At
that time I found two of those fishes, but much broken up. Hugh Miller was
satisfied that they were the same as he figured in his book. That idea is
doubted now by some London men; and here am I laughing at them and wishing
that I could find another fossil fish. Amen! may it come soon.”
Two months later he wrote to his brother-in-law:— “Perhaps you are thinking
that I am busy with those bones on the rocks here; but no! the last bone
nearly killed me with fatigue and cold. Besides, I cut my hands, and cut my
little finger. Of all the labour I ever tried, there is none like digging on
the sea-shore— crouching down on one’s knees in a hole, bothered with
incoming water, and hammering, and picking, and sawing all the while.
“I have got another curious evidence about that fish, which Hugh Miller
never saw. Perhaps he dreamt of it. Most certainly he spoke of a time when
the bone which he figured would yet be found.
“After all, there will be no satisfying of those men’s doubts, until a whole
fossil fish, of that particular kind, turns up. I wish I was the lucky
finder of it; then I would laugh!
“Indeed, I don’t think I understand the fossil myself. How little do we
really know; above all, how little do we know accurately! Ho entire fish has
turned up yet; only broken and disjointed pieces. And such pieces! Bones a
foot and four inches across. Ho one can credit it, unless he sees them.
Perhaps I’ll yet turn up a whole fish! . . . Similar bones to these two
bones beside me no human eye ever looked upon until August 1863.”
Dick continued at his digging. On the 31st October he writes:—“During the
bypast week I have been unexpectedly no less than three different times
digging amongst those dead fish and plants in the rocks on the shores here.
I had no intention of being there more than once; but once at it, I could
not get off without suffering a great deal. ... I can walk for miles upon
miles over these dead fish, almost without drawing a sigh ! Once I felt
differently. I was then lost in wonder and mute astonishment. Now it is
quite an everyday affair. If I think at all, I think they are part of the
still existing creation.
“Many years ago, when Hugh Miller was alive and in his glory, I had seen in
a pool of water, bound fast in the rock, a bone. It was a broken bone. The
pool was connected with three other pools of salt water. To get at the bone
at the bottom of the pool it was necessary to throw out the water from all
the pools. I boggled at the labour. ... On Monday last I got up at midnight,
toiled at my work, and was off by midday to the sea-shore. After half an
hour’s walking, I arrived at the place, took off my hat, my coat, my
neckcloth, tucked up my sleeves, and with the assistance of a flat stone I
threw out the water. This took me an hour’s incessant work.
“Well, I cut out the fossil bone, and another fragment of bone. Strange to
tell, under that bone I found indications of another bone. I toiled away and
cleared off the stone—saw that the bone was a good bone, and hoped that it
was something new. Returned to it a second day; cut deep round the bone; got
wearied out; tried to force it up, and broke my pick handle.
“I returned to it two days after, and spent about an hour in throwing out
the salt water. I was awfully tired. I had to go down upon my knees on the
hard stone, and was bothered with the salt water, and the wind and rain too.
Well, I dug, and dug, and dug, and at last the stone and the bone rose up of
themselves. I could hardly convey them home. I was tired and sorej but I am
as well as ever again.”
He still went on digging among the rocks as late as the month of December.
“The weather,” he says, “has been very stormy and wet. I have been fretting
rather impatiently. I had settled it in my mind to go out and get a fossil
out of the rocks in order to vindicate the truth told by Hugh Miller, or
rather, my own truth; for it was from me that Hugh got his fossils. It is
true that I did not name them. Hugh Miller did. He called this fossil
Asterolepis, a fish intermediate between Glyptolepis and Holoptychius.
“Since Hugh died, some cantankerous people have printed and made known that
the scales figured by Hugh belonged to Glyptolepis, and the head bones
belonged to Coccosteus—thus plainly intimating that Hugh had blundered, or
that I had misled him; not knowing that in so doing they proclaimed their
own ignorance,—that the head, bones, scales, and fin-rays were found
together—stuck together ; and thus proving indisputably that they belonged
to one fish. It is amazing what ignorance these London men exhibit. They get
their views from books. They should study nature on the spot. They did not
know that Hugh came to Thurso and examined and saw the fossils in their beds
for himself. He saw one of those fish lying in a rocky ledge, but boggled at
the toil necessary to raise it up. However, after he went to Edinburgh he
wrote to me and asked me to raise it up, which I did; and he tells it in his
Book. And yet ignorance says that Hugh’s scales belonged to one fish, and
the head bones to another!
“Four days ago I read in an Edinburgh paper a paragraph in which it was said
that a Mr. Salter had been lecturing ‘ on the Order of Creation.’ Towards
the close of the paragraph Mr. Salter is represented as saying: *
Notwithstanding what had been said by the lamented Hugh Miller, no true
evidence of the existence of a fish, or any vertebrate animal, was to be
found in rocks below the level of the Old Bed Sandstone.’ Now, this was not
fair. All that Hugh said was on the authority of those who said they kview.
The bones I found in August vindicate the truth as stated by Hugh, and also
the bones I found in October. I sent Sir Roderick, in May 1863, one of the
same bones with the same kind of scale sticking on it. I sent him also two
jaws, with many scales sticking on them.”
A few days later he says:—“I am not satisfied with that paragraph in the
Edinburgh paper. It surely could not be Mr. Salter that inserted it. No one
is better acquainted with geological matters than he is. Sir Roderick’s
right-hand man! What am I to think? Has Agassiz been imposed upon? Has Sir
Roderick published a dream? ‘No true evidence of a fish or any vertebrate
animal in rocks at a lower level than the Old Red Sandstone!’ Has some
reporter erred? Or is there an error in the classification of the rocks?
There’s the point.
“Well, in vain did poor Hugh toil, and believe in many creations. How sad to
think that he ruined his health for a shadow. And yet, three thousand years
ago, all was said to be Vanity.
“I am anxious for a trial for a fossil fish to elucidate the point called in
question; hut I am not sheep enough to strike a single blow in wind and
rain. And yet I am very anxious to get out at the rocks. I shall have to
carry a weighty hammer and wedges, and to work hard besides.”
So soon as the storm abated, Dick resumed his researches among the rocks. He
went out with “hammers and chisels and a’.” He began on the 4th of January
1864. It was hard frost. The rocky ledges were covered with thick ice, while
long ice-pillars hung from every cliff. The sea was hushed and smooth, its
ripples quietly laving the shore. Dick worked for three hours at the place
where he had settled down, but he got nothing important—only three fish
snouts, some halfheads of fish, jugular plates, gill covers, and fish scales
in any quantity. All these he had known twenty years before.
Two days after he returned to the rocks. It was still hard frost. He found
nothing new, only fish jaws, a half-head, and scales innumerable. He
returned on the 12 th and 14th of January, changing his ground from time to
time ; but the results were the same. He found the smiddy hammer very heavy,
especially after working with it for some hours. But still he went on.
On the 20th of January he made his fifth trial. He was on the rocks before
daylight. It was still hard frost. “I had chosen,” he says, “new ground. I
had great expectations. The tide was ebbing fast; and thundering, great,
long, high rolling breakers, were dashing themselves on the rocks. And then
what foam! I was obliged to wait until the sea had gone down. In the
meantime I tried a new place. I raised three large lumps of rock. I split
them, and found three rusty, ugly heads of Dipterus and scales. Nothing
new.-Then I went back to the real place.
“When I got there, I laid down my weights and reconnoitred. Alas! I saw no
hope. The ledges were rotten. I worked until one o’clock at midday, and got
only scales, two rotten heads, a bit of plant, and a hit of bone. On my way
home I tried another and a very hard spot. I worked there until two o’clock,
but found only scales, fin-rays, and gill-covers. I was now chagrined,
tired, and hungry! So I returned home, weary and heavy laden.” Next morning
he was up at four, working at his trade.
In this way did Dick go on, trying to perfect the knowledge with which he
was already partially acquainted, and also trying to acquire new knowledge
by his persevering labour among the rocks, with hammer, and pick, and
chisels, from day to day. He thus gradually accumulated a new store of
fossils. The Asterolepis which he discovered, and which afterwards became
the property of Mr. John Miller, F.G.S., was the finest that was ever found2
Dick continued to read the papers on geology which appeared in the
newspapers, and particularly in the Athenceum. He could no longer afford to
buy books, but he was not a man to believe passively in the views of others,
especially when they seemed to be contrary to his own observation of facts.
He had a keen eye, and believed what he saw rather than what he read. He had
many a hard fight with Peach and Mr. Miller of London, as to the order of
“There has been no new arrangement,” he says, “of the rocks in which the
fossil fish have been found. Sir Roderick has figured the new fish as
Silurian fossils, and the Silurian rocks are older than Old Red Sandstone;
that is, they exist at a lower level. ... It is true that, after the Durness
discoveries, Hugh Miller for a time resisted the views of Sir Roderick as to
a new classification of the rocks of the north-west of Scotland. Hugh could
not bear the idea of his favourite Old Eed giving way to the Cambrian—a
deposit older even than the lower Silurian.
“For my own part, I care not much what name or names geologists may give to
the various rocks, or the time that was occupied in the accumulation of
their respective strata. They were, doubtless, made in succession, after
longer or shorter intervals of time. About eleven miles from Thurso there is
a small precipice which clearly illustrates the subject. Standing in front
of it, I can see with my eyes and handle with my hands the successive strata
of which it was originally composed. First, close at my feet, is a bed of
rolled pebbles. That is the lowest exposed formation. Next, over that, is a
bed of limestone. Then a bed of the ordinary Caithness flagstone; and over
that a bed of boulder clay.
“Now, on looking attentively at the rolled pebbles, I find that they are
similar to the rock on which they rest. Consequently the hills hereabout
were as much stone as they are now before the pebbles were rolled. Next, we
can see that these pebbles were rolling about in the lime, for they are
crusted with lime just as almond sweetmeats are with sugar. Consequently the
limestone was once soft and loose, and the pebbles had sunk amongst the
lime, which now lies above them. Then a soft muddy clay was brought by
water, and laid above the lime. The whole was hardened into stone. Was it
beneath or above the water ? That is a question; but stone it became.
"And then another change occurred. Some great power came into action,
breaking up the rocks, and making clay out of them, in some places a hundred
feet thick. We know that the clay had become stone, for we often find great
lumps of stone amongst the boulder clay, which forms the surface soil of the
There was another thing that excited Dick’s observation. When at the top of
Morven, 2331 feet above the sea, he was much struck by the bed of rolled
pebbles that graces its top and north front. "How long had they been there?
How high the sea must once have stood if they were rolled up by it yonder!
Otherwise, the hill must have got a great lift since it was at sea-level!”
All these things surprised and astonished Dick. He pondered them over in his
mind. They spoke of a long-past era, when the sea had washed its billows
over Caithness, and tossed about the rocks as if they were playthings.
Morven had been submerged, or its summit had formed but a little island,
along which the sea had laid down its bed of rolled pebbles.
“I have examined attentively,” he said, “the cliffs of stony clays along the
valley in which the river Thurso runs. They are so stern-looking, so bare,
so densely compacted, that a man working with pick and shovel could make but
small progress there. Indeed, they are almost as hard as solid rock. Hence
it is that fossil shells still exist undecayed in those clays. They are
perfectly impervious. No moisture penetrates them. No decay goes on. And
then every stone, and piece of stone, is all grooved and scratched, and
furrowed and polished, in a way that running water alone could never have
done. No tossing of waves, though ever so violent, could do it. No! If ice
and icebergs did not do it, what did ? None can tell. One thing is certain,
that those clays are formed out of the rocks on which they lie. And many
pieces of rocks are found among them that have travelled far,—rocks from as
far as Skye! ”
A lecture having been delivered at Haddington on geology by Mr. Fin lay sou,
a copy of the newspaper containing the report was sent to Dick, on which he
made the following observations:—
“I fear that he does not hit the assertors of ‘the development hypothesis'
so very hard as he imagines. He must know that no geologist says or imagines
that all the metamorphic rocks were so formed at one and the same period of
time. Though life may he obliterated over wide areas,—when the fiery tempest
was over in one sea or part of a sea, the organisms would again find their
way hack to their old abodes. The metamorphic rocks are of many ages; and no
one can say that, though the mud was changed and became siliceous, the
overlying water was unfit to support life. It was the dead they are supposed
to have obliterated; the living might have lived on, either in that locality
or in some other.
“Hugh Miller tells us of a ship-captain who sailed for days through a shoal
of dead floating haddocks; but haddocks are still caught and sold. Hugh
Miller was a splendid writer, but he was so highly imaginative as to be
rather unsafe to rely upon. Besides, one soon gets tired of all geological
reasoning. There is nothing on which the mind of the reader can lay hold
upon and rest. ‘What is truth?’ is an old question; but no man in his senses
would seek for it in the books of geologists.
“Metamorphic action has arisen from many producing causes. There have been
changes from the action of heat, and changes without heat. To understand
changes from the effects of heat, I suppose we must go to Iceland. To
understand changes without heat, we have only to look around us.
“Last summer, I went one evening down to Murkle Bay. At one corner of the
shore, at the west side of the bay, was a pile of sand. It had been
accumulated, and lay on the land in a mass, blown up gradually in old
times—no one knows how old. The sand was mixed with broken shells and small
pebbles. Water had been finding its way through and amongst the sand. The
shells had partly decayed. The lime [of the shells] had set, and bound the
sand and pebbles, in some places, into a solid mass. In fact, it had became
a stone—a rock. It required a smart blow of a hammer to break it. And in
much the same way many a deposit of sand has thus become sandstone or
“Some years ago, I saw in the hands of Dr. Robert Chambers of Edinburgh a
piece of siliceous quartzite. It had been taken from one of the metamorphic
hills of Sutherland. It had evidently at one time been a mass of loose sand.
In fact, it still resembled sandstone more than typical quartz. How it
became a mass of flinty stone I know not; but evidently not from the effects
“Some years ago there was a great talk of liquid silica, or liquid
flint—flint, in fact, as thin as water. Many public buildings, it was said,
had been built of a material so loose that under weather influences they
were falling to pieces4 It was proposed to wash their fronts with this
siliceous whitewash, and thus preserve them from further decay. Be that as
it may, it is a fact that they can render the softest stone, even soft sand,
as hard as flint. They do, in fact, manufacture stones. There is actually
such a thing as liquid flint. Man makes it, and nature makes it. Now, you
have only to suppose an irruption of liquid flint into soft strata, and very
soon after the rock becomes metamorphic.
“I saw, with Mr. Peach of Wick, many of his Durness Silurian fossils—both
from the limestone and quartzite. Hugh Miller knew of fossils in quartzite,
found to the west of Thurso, such as Worm Holm. The hard metamorphic
quartzite had once been loose sand, and under the action of the weather had
become sand again.
“Many of Mr. Peach’s limestone fossils were of flint. Indeed, all that I saw
were flint casts. The shell had decayed; silica had gradually filled up the
place of the shell; and you saw a form like it. Others were interior casts.
But the limestone was not equally hard. Now these were from metamorphic
rocks—rocks changed without fire, or any heat.
“No doubt there have been outbursts of fiery or molten matter. The gneiss,
or metamorphic rocks, to the south of Caithness have all veins of quartz and
veins of red granite. These veins are thought to have been molten or hot,
and injected into them. Of course, their action was to change the nature of
the rocks into which the veins of molten matter were driven. But how, no one
can tell. There is a slow metamorphic action, as well as a rapid one.
“Yet no one has any reason to think that such a thing as a universally
destructive action ever occurred since life began. There might be death from
irruptive forces in the sea at Stornaway or Iceland, yet none at Caithness
or Leith. No one supposes that, though all fossils may have been obliterated
in metamorphic strata, all life was destroyed at the same time in the
“Agassiz and Hugh Miller believed in many destructions of life, and in many
new creations. But Hugh, before he died, knew that it was not so. In his
Testimony of the Rocks, he traced existing forms backwards, through all the
various deposits, and found no break until he came to the Chalk. ‘If even
then', he said. By the expression ‘If even then' he referred to the
microscopic animals of the chalk,—found to be still alive in the North Sea,
and in the seas between America and Britain.
“In dredging for a platform for the submarine cable, microscopic shells,
with flesh on them, were brought up from a depth of a mile and a half.
Ehrenberg, Humboldt, and Sir Roderick Murchison have said, that those shells
brought up from the deep sea bottom are the same animal as those found
entombed in chalk hills in millions.
“All metamorphic rocks are not of the same age; neither are all Silurian.
Neither are Old Red Sandstone."
Coal, or any other of the great deposits. Life, in my opinion, was never
wholly obliterated since it first began. Some creatures have died out; hut
there are no proofs of any new creation.”
It should he mentioned that the letters in which these observations occur,
were written without the slightest idea of their ever coming under the
notice of the public. They were mostly written for the information and
amusement of his sister and his brother-in-law at Haddington. He required of
his eldest sister, that his letters to her should be burnt as soon as read.
They were therefore destroyed. Fortunately, the letters to his youngest
sister have been preserved. They have furnished us with some of the best
descriptions of the scenery of Caithness. They have described much of Dick’s
scientific investigations, and also some of his domestic history.