Electronic edition published by Cultural Heritage Langauge Technologies (with permission from Charles Scribners and Sons) and funded by the National Science Foundation International Digital Libraries Program. This text has been proofread to a low degree of accuracy. It was converted to electronic form using data entry.
HUTTON, JAMES (b. Edinburgh, Scotland, 3 June
1726; d. Edinburgh, 26 March 1797), geology, agriculture,
physical sciences, philosophy.
including Hutton's three sisters, quite well-off, and
apparently Hutton was never under any pressing
need to earn a living. He attended Edinburgh High
School and in 1740 entered Edinburgh University as
a student of the humanities. He attended the lectures
given by John Stevenson on logic and rhetoric and
those of the mathematician Colin Maclaurin, which
included physics, experimental philosophy, and geography
as well as mathematics.
It is said that Hutton enjoyed Maclaurin's lectures
particularly, but his biographer John Playfair1 states
that it was to Stevenson that Hutton was indebted for
his interest in chemistry, as a result of an experiment
introduced into a lecture. Little information about
chemistry was then available to Hutton, but he retained
and developed his interest in the subject
throughout his lifetime.
On leaving the university it was apparent that
Hutton had an inclination for academic studies, but
he was persuaded to follow an occupation more likely
to provide a professional career. Consequently, in
1743 he was apprenticed to an Edinburgh lawyer.
The routine of a lawyer's office was not to his liking,
and he was soon released from his obligations. He
then decided to study medicine, the only professional
course which ensured that he would learn something
more about chemistry. He reentered the university
in 1744, and studied medicine there until 1747, probably
attending the lectures of Andrew Plummer, professor
of medicine and chemistry, who had studied
Toward the end of 1747 Hutton went to Paris,
where he remained nearly two years. There, according
to Playfair, “he pursued with great ardour the
studies of chemistry and anatomy.” Because of his
interest in chemistry, he probably attended G. F.
Rouelle's well-known and popular chemistry course,
which also included lectures on mineralogy and geology.
Thus it was possibly in Paris that Hutton first
became acquainted with geology. Sometime during
1749 Hutton moved to Leiden, where he graduated
M.D. in September of that year with a thesis entitled
De sanguine et circulatione microcosmi.
After leaving Leiden at the end of 1749 Hutton
spent several months in London. About this time he
entered into an agreement with James Davie, an
Edinburgh friend, to manufacture sal ammoniac
from soot, by a method they had jointly discovered
before Hutton had left Edinburgh. This undertaking
operated successfully for many years and no doubt
added to Hutton's income.
Hutton returned to Edinburgh in the summer of
1750. He decided against practicing medicine and
chose instead to take up farming as an occupation
on the small farm he had inherited from his father
at Slighshouses, Berwickshire, forty miles southeast
of Edinburgh. Hutton recorded that he became interested
in farming some years previously after reading
Jethro Tull's well-known book Horse-Hoeing Husbandry.
The standard of farming in Scotland at that
time was low and because Hutton investigated thoroughly
any subject in which he became interested,
before settling at Slighshouses he spent about a year
(1752-1753) on a farm at Belton, near Yarmouth, in
East Anglia, an area in which good farming practice
prevailed. While there he made many journeys on
foot into other parts of England to study agriculture
and he acquired the habit of examining rock outcrops.
It was in 1753, according to Playfair, that
Hutton first began to study geology. As a student of
farming he must have observed that in England soils
vary markedly from place to place, and this may have
stimulated an interest in the subject.
In 1754 Hutton spent some months traveling in
Holland, Belgium, and northern France to improve
further his knowledge of agriculture, and again he
took the opportunity to add to his knowledge of
geology. At the end of that year he moved to Slighshouses,
where he spent the next fourteen years
farming his land in a more scientific manner than
had hitherto been customary in Scotland. So far as
is known this period of his life was uneventful, except
that he made a journey to northern Scotland in 1764
with his close friend George Clerk of Penicuik2
chiefly to study geology, to which, according to Playfair,
Hutton was then giving much attention. Slighshouses
was an isolated farmhouse and Hutton must
have lacked congenial company, although one friend,
Sir John Hall of Dunglass, a man interested in both
farming and science, lived in the neighborhood. The
future course of Hutton's life suggests that he may
have spent much time reading scientific literature, for
his interests were never confined solely to geology.
In 1767 Hutton, in association with Clerk and Hall,
became a member of the committee of management
of a projected canal to join the Forth and Clyde
rivers. He continued to take an active part in the work
of the committee for some twenty years.
About 1768, after bringing his farm into good condition,
Hutton was able to let it. He then moved to
Edinburgh, where he spent the rest of his life, living
with his unmarried sisters. There was in Edinburgh
at that time a Philosophical Society (later incorporated
as the Royal Society of Edinburgh). Hutton
became a member and read several papers to the
society, only one of which was published. Playfair
states that in Edinburgh much of Hutton's time was
occupied with experimental chemistry; but he published