George (1771–1835) and James Miller (1791–1865): publishers and authors
The father and son partnership of George and James Miller has left East Lothian a lasting legacy in printing, publishing, authorship and charitable enterprises and, although by no means complete, their output is one of the strengths of the collections held at the John Gray Centre.
George Miller (1771–1835) came from a mercantile family in Dunbar but began to develop the family’s business interests into new areas. Although he never completed his apprenticeship he was able to buy a press in 1795 and advertise as a jobbing printer – the first step on a career as a publisher. At that time barely a dozen towns in Scotland had a press. A lending library was started to complement the bookselling side of the business and it grew, despite being not especially profitable: in 1792 catalogues list 1000 works; in 1811, 3000! During 1804 the press was transferred to Haddington, but George Miller himself concentrated on Dunbar as his base, where he kept up the ‘India Tea Warehouse’, his grocery business, and his publishing ventures.
Miller’s interests were always greater than his commercial pursuits. He used his press to promote causes dear to his heart – support schemes for Scottish schoolmasters, campaigns against slavery, moral improvement of the ordinary working person and, from 1807, a scheme to provide East Lothian with a lifeboat. In tandem with these schemes he attempted to expand his business nationally, developing a network of agents, and by means of auctions brought his stock to as wide an audience as possible. He coupled this with writing and publishing his own works but his business circumstances were becoming straitened through overextension in a declining, oversubscribed market. A single disaster could have been weathered but a succession threw Miller into formal receivership. Despite retrenchment and strenuous efforts to clear his debts he never entirely managed. He did find time to produce an account of this period called, in brief, ‘Later Struggles’ (the actual title or title/preamble runs to more than 300 words!). A recent publication by Graham Hogg of the National Library of Scotland surveys Miller’s legacy.
James Miller (1791–1865) was born in Dunbar and followed his father in the printing trade. He took over the East Lothian Press in Haddington at the age of 14 in 1805 and kept it going for 30 years. As time wore on James fell prey to the temptations of the grocery side of the business, which had been kept up in tandem with printing, and he became ever more erratic.
His outside interests were antiquarian and literary. Beginning with self-penned and published poetry and broadsheets he began to include historical notes in the firm’s annual East Lothian Register. A volume of narrative poems followed, then (1830) the History of Dunbar, and the Lamp of Lothian (1844). Both historical works were well received (and are still much consulted). But Miller himself was reduced to printing for others and eventually lived on the road, supplementing what charity he might accept by hawking his broadsheet poetry wherever he could. Destitute, he spent his last year in the Edinburgh Home for Refuge. His grave is unknown.