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HUTTON, JAMES (b. Edinburgh, Scotland, 3 June
1726; d. Edinburgh, 26 March 1797), geology, agriculture,
physical sciences, philosophy.
evidently written sometime between 1788 and 1795,
in answer to criticisms of his theory. In it he made
no attempt to compromise with the Church, as Buffon
had done. His view was that the ancient Jewish writings
on which the Christian religion was founded can
be accepted only insofar as they record the history
of man upon earth. He denied the literal truth of the
Mosaic account of creation, whose only significance,
he stated, was its record that God had made all things
in a certain order; and he thought it absurd to suppose
that the term “day” used in that account could
mean anything other than an indefinite period of
Hutton maintained that it was not the duty of
religion to provide a history of the natural operations
that had taken place on the earth in the past; but
that this was the function of man, using his intellect
and applying the methods of natural philosophy. He
regarded the objectives of revealed religion and natural
philosophy as essentially different, and saw no
reason why one should interfere with the other, provided
their different purposes were kept separate.
1. This account of Hutton's life is based almost entirely on John
Playfair, “Biographical Account.”
2. Hutton was friendly with several members of a prominent
Scottish family, the Clerks of Penicuik. His particular friend
was George, second son of Sir John Clerk who had been
vice-president of the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh.
George Clerk was interested in mineralogy and accompanied
Hutton on several of his geological excursions. On marriage to
a Miss Maxwell he assumed the name of Clerk-Maxwell, and
the physicist Clerk-Maxwell is his descendant. Other members
of the Clerk family accompanied Hutton on later tours.
3. See Playfair, op. cit., p. 74 n.
4. Playfair gives the date incorrectly as 1793.
5. See Kirwan, “Examination of the Supposed Igneous Origin
of Stony Substances,” in Transactions of the Royal Irish
Academy,5 (1793), 51-81.
6. In a letter to Princess Dashkow, then director of the Imperial
Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg, in which Black summarizes
Hutton's theory; see W. Ramsay, Life and Letters of
Joseph Black, M.D. (London, 1918), 117-125.
7. See Life, Letters and Journals of Sir Charles Lyell, II
8. Werner MSS at Freiberg, IX, has an abstract of the 1788
9. See “Chemistry, (i)” in Supplement to the 3rd ed.
Britannica (Edinburgh, 1801), I, 287.
10. See Playfair, op cit., p. 78 n.; see also R. Olson, “The
of Boscovich's Ideas in Scotland,” in Isis,60 (1969),
I. ORIGINAL WORKS.
Hutton's published works are the
following: Dissertatio physico-medica inauguralis de sanguine
et circulatione microcosmi (Leiden, 1749); Considerations
on the Nature, Quality, and Distinctions of Coal
and Culm ... in a Letter From Doctor James Hutton ...
to a Friend (Edinburgh, 1777); Abstract of a Dissertation
Read in the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Upon the Seventh
of March, and Fourth of April, M, DCC, LXXXV, Concerning
the System of the Earth, Its Duration, and Stability
(probably Edinburgh, 1785), repr. in Proceedings of the
Royal Society of Edinburgh,63B (1950), 380-382, and facs.
repr. in G. W. White, ed., Contributions to the History of
Geology, V (Darien, Conn., 1970), 1-30; Dissertations on
Different Subjects in Natural Philosophy (Edinburgh,
1792); An Investigation of the Principles of Knowledge, and
of the Progress of Reason, From Sense to Science and Philosophy,
3 vols. (Edinburgh, 1794); A Dissertation Upon the
Philosophy of Light, Heat, and Fire (Edinburgh, 1794); and
Theory of the Earth: With Proofs and Illustrations, vols.
I-II (Edinburgh, 1795), facs. repr. (New York, 1959); vol.
III (chs. 4-9), Sir Archibald Geikie, ed. (London, 1899),
with indexes to all three vols.
Hutton's papers are “The Theory of Rain,” in Transactions
of the Royal Society of Edinburgh,1 (1788), 42-86;
“Theory of the Earth; or an Investigation of the Laws
Observable in the Composition, Dissolution, and Restoration
of Land Upon the Globe,” ibid., 209-304, facs. repr.
in Contributions to the History of Geology, V (1970), 31-131;
“Of Certain Natural Appearances of the Ground on the
Hill of Arthur's Seat,” in Transactions of the Royal Society
of Edinburgh,2 (1790), 3-11 (read to the Philosophical
Society of Edinburgh, 1778); “Answers to the Objections of
M. de Luc With Regard to the Theory of Rain,” ibid.,
39-58; “Observations on Granite,” ibid.,3 (1794),
facs. repr. in Contributions to the History of Geology,
V (1970), 133-139; “Of the Flexibility of the Brazilian
Stone,” in Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh,3 (1794), 86-94; and “An Examination of a New Phenomenon
Which Occurs in the Sulphurating of Metals, With
an Attempt to Explain That Phenomenon,” ibid.,4 (1798),
pt. I, History of the Society, 27- (misnumbered 28).
For foreign publications of Hutton's works, see “Theory
of the Earth” (1788), noticed in Magazin für das Neueste
aus der Physik und Naturgeschichte,6, pt. 4 (1790), 17-27,
and translated in full in Sammlungen zur Physik und
Naturgeschichte,4 (1792), 622-725. A French trans. of the
Abstract appeared in “Extrait d'une Dissertation sur le
Système et Durée de la Terre ... traduite de l'Anglois,
par Iberti ... suivi par les Observations du Traducteur,”
in Observations sur la Physique,43 (1793), 3-12. N.
Encyclopédie méthodique. Géographie physique, I
(Paris, 1794), 732-782, contains extensive extracts from the
Abstract, the “Theory of the Earth,” and the
Rain,” with commentary by Desmarest.
Hutton's extant MSS are “Principles of Agriculture” (2
quarto vols. totaling 1045 pp.), in the library of the Royal
Society of Edinburgh; and the five-page “Memorial Justifying
the Present Theory of the Earth From the Suspicion
of Impiety,” in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge,
Very few letters either written by or addressed to Hutton
have survived. His letters to John Strange, the geologist