The Book Collector

At the Village dump, in the Swap Shop where people drop off things that still have some utility left in them, a copy of Willa Cather’s Sapphira and the Slave Girl sat on a shelf. It was a first edition, the binding somewhat faded by sunlight, and inside was the bookplate of Henry Scott Miller. The name was familiar to me because I see it every Sunday, on the floor at St. James’ Episcopal Church, on a brass plaque surrounded by tiles. The Rev. Henry Scott Miller was the thirteenth rector of St. James’, serving from 1931 to 1956.

Henry Scott Miller was born in Richmond, Indiana, in 1886, and graduated from that city’s Earlham College in 1915. While at Earlham, he was active in the Classical Club, in school plays and the Y.M.C.A., was on the staff of the yearbook and served as editor of the Earlhamite, the college literary magazine. One of his poems was chosen as the Prize Poem of 1913-1914 and included in an anthology entitled Earlham Verse, published in a limited edition of 250 copies in 1914. Miller was proud of his work; he inscribed and sent a copy of Earlham Verse to Indiana’s famed poet James Whitcomb Riley.

In the Earlham yearbook, Henry Scott Miller was described in these words:

“Poor Harry! He has such a hard time remaining popular, ’specially with the Dean, because he insists on telling folks about themselves — and it’s generally true. Then, too, many people think that he is married and that his wife’s name is Bertha and that she keeps him at the library, which is enough to make any man tear his hair, even though he is a poet and a philosopher.”

After graduation, Miller left Indiana and studied at the General Theological Seminary in New York City, graduating in 1918. He returned to Indiana to serve in his first parish, and afterward served in New York City and Washington D.C. In late 1930, he received a call to serve at St. James’ in Skaneateles.

Over the next 26 years, he baptized, married and buried many parishioners. He was never married himself, but parishioner Virginia Thorne recalls that he was “surrounded by spinsters.” Spinsters and books. Henry Scott Miller never lost his love of poetry and literature, and he has an appropriate legacy today, as books from his personal library, bearing his bookplate, are in collections all over the world. His eight-volume set of The Works of George Fox (1859) was auctioned off in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2007. The books bore the marks of the Skaneateles Library Association; one can easily see the Rev. Miller returning home with his arms full from the library’s annual book sale. The Rev. Miller’s copy of The Country of Pointed Firs (1896) by Sarah Orne Jewett is today in the University of California’s library at Berkeley, and his copy of Unbeaten Tracks of Japan (1881) by Isabella L. Bird has made its way to a library in Japan.

The Rev. Miller retired from St. James’ and his profession in 1956. In 1966, he died in Elmira, N.Y., where he had resided since leaving Skaneateles. He was buried in Fort Hill Cemetery, Auburn.

In his portrait, published in a history of St. James’, the Rev. Miller seems to be looking around the corner into the frame, not quite committed to having his picture taken, perhaps wishing he was home with a good book.

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