Of all the truly great figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, only David Hume (1711-1776), James Hutton (1726-1797), and Walter Scott (1771-1832) were born and educated in Edinburgh. Some historians would define the Enlightenment as lasting from the Union of the Scottish and English Parliaments in 1707 until the death of Scott in 1832. More commonly, however, the Scottish Enlightenment is taken to be the more restricted period from 1760 to 1790 – though we might extend this to include publication of Hutton’s two-volume Theory of the Earth in 1795. The starting date of 1760 is also arbitrary; Hume and Smith, for example, were both active participants earlier.
For an overview of the history of the period in Scotland see Mathieson, 1910 and Craik, 1911. For general accounts of the Scottish Enlightenment see: Buckle, 1970; Berry, 1997; Roy Campbell, 1982; Chitnis, 1976; Daiches, 1964, 1986; 1996; Davie, 1991; Graham, 1901; Hampson, 1982; Joyce, 1951; and Rendall, 1978. For the industrial revolution see Hamilton, 1932, 1963; MacKinnon, 1921; Mathias, 1989; Maxwell, 1916; and particularly Porter, 1973. For literature see C. Gregory Smith, 1919.
A review of some of the intellectually significant events of this period in Scotland provides a context for Hutton, who was 34 years old in 1760, and 69 years old in 1795. After mentioning an event of significance at some particular date, I digress to give related information from later, or sometimes earlier, dates. Names of especial importance are identified in bold type where this could aid a reader searching for connections.
1759: Adam Smith published his Theory of Moral Sentiments – a work indispensable for the understanding of his better known book, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. When Smith died in 1790, his executors were his close friends Joseph Black and James Hutton.
Benjamin Franklin received an LL.D. degree from St Andrews in February 1759, and was ever afterwards known as Dr. Franklin. Franklin visited Edinburgh and met Hume, Smith, Ferguson, and probably Robertson. Although never honoured by Edinburgh University, Franklin was admitted "Burges & Gildbrother of Edinburgh" in September 1759.
Robert Burns was born on 25th January 1759
1760: John Roebuck (1718-1794) founded the Carron Ironworks (Roy Campbell, 1961). Among other products, these works made the guns called carronades, which were to play an important role in naval warfare.
In 1792 Burns sent four carronades to the new Legislative Assembly in Paris. He had visited the Carron Works in 1787, and not being admitted he wrote the following lines (Burns, 1990, p.286; Mackay, 1992, p.335, 412, 499-502):
Roebuck had studied chemistry and medicine in Edinburgh and Leyden. He practised medicine and had his own chemical laboratory in Birmingham before inventing the lead-chamber process for producing sulphuric acid and setting up a manufacturing plant in Prestonpans in 1749. This was one of the principal events marking the beginning of industrial chemistry. He received the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh for "eminent services done to his country". As a member of the Philosophical Society, Roebuck was a founding Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He was one of the first to see the importance of the steam engine, becoming James Watt’s (1736-1819) partner and financial backer as early as 1768. Watt must have sunk under his disappointments if he "had not been supported by the friendship of Dr Roebuck". Roebuck’s coal-mining activities unfortunately brought about his financial ruin, his creditors considering as worthless his share in Watt’s steam-engine (Jardine, 1798).
1760-64: Joseph Black distinguished between quantity and intensity of heat (extensive and intensive properties). His major contribution to chemistry was his introduction of the chemical balance and the use of quantitative methods (Crowther, 1962, p.41-46; Simpson, 1982).
Black’s discovery of ‘fixed air’ (CO2 was published by the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh in 1756 (Black, 1963; see also Dobbin, 1935). In the decade from about 1755 to 1765, Black – supported by James Watt, John Robison (1739-1805), and William Irvine (1743-1787) – took the first steps in developing a science of thermodynamics by discovering latent heat (1761) and measuring the latent heat of steam (1764). Carnot’s cycle, it must be remembered was not formulated until 1824; the first law of thermodynamics (Joule) not until the early 1840s; and the second law (Kelvin) not until 1851. (For Watt, Robison, and Irvine, see Kent, 1950; Cardwell, 1963, 1971; Playfair, 1815, 1822; Crowther, 1962; Donovan, 1973, 1978).
It was with Dr. Irvine that Hutton and John Clerk of Eldin had planned to visit the island of Arran in 1787, but Irvine died in the spring (Hutton, 1997, p.191) and John Clerk junior took his father’s place.
Hutton’s ideas apparently began to form a theory during the decade 1755-1765, and Playfair reported that: "The theory of the earth had been a subject of discussion with them [Hutton and Black] for many years, and Dr Black subscribed entirely to the system of his friend" (Playfair, 1805, p.96).
1761: Sir James Hall (1761-1832) of Dunglass was born.
This friend of Hutton is recognised as the founder of experimental geology. He became the second President (1812-1820) of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and was himself succeeded in office by Sir Walter Scott (1820-1832).
1762: David Hume completed his six-volume History of England.
Hume’s intimate friend, the Rev. William Robertson (Robertson, 1996; Dugald Stewart, 1801, 1997), had published his highly praised History of Scotland in 1759. Robertson’s History of Charles V (1769) made Voltaire exclaim "It makes me forget all my hurts", and the Empress Catherine the Great said "It is my constant companion on all my travels". His History of America was published in 1777, and his Ancient India in 1791. Robertson, Historiographer-Royal, was Leader of the Moderate Party in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland from 1752-1780, and Principal of the University of Edinburgh during its years of greatness from 1762-1793. It was under Robertson’s leadership that the Royal Society of Edinburgh was founded (Neil Campbell, 1983). At the Society’s first General Meeting in 1783 Robertson was elected one of the four Presidents of the Literary Class; one of the other Presidents was Ilay Campbell, the Lord Advocate who prosecuted Deacon Brodie, and whose copies of the Society’s Transactions are now in the Library of the University of California at Los Angeles.
Hutton sent his draft Preface [c.1787] for The Theory of the Earth to Robertson for his advice. Robertson re-wrote the Preface, but Hutton followed Robertson’s recommendation that it should not be published. Dennis Dean, who first published the two versions of the Preface (Dean, 1975) is of the opinion that Hutton’s published Abstract  was also paraphrased by Robertson from Hutton’s original (White, 1973; Dean, 1992, Appendix 4, p.275-276).
In 1762, as a young man of 23, John Robison was the Board of Longitude’s representative in charge of Harrison’s chronometer on its test voyage to Jamaica (Playfair, 1815; Sobel, 1995, p.120-121).
Robison studied in Glasgow under Black, whom he succeeded as Professor of Chemistry in 1766 when Black transferred to Edinburgh (John Mackenzie, 1935). In 1772 the Empress Catherine the Great appointed Robison to the mathematical chair at the Imperial Naval Academy at Cronstadt. Robison, with his fluent knowledge of the Russian language, and his personal connections, made possible the link between Russia and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Robison came to Edinburgh as Professor of Natural Philosophy in 1774, and was the first Secretary of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, holding that office until 1798. He published Black’s Lectures on the Elements of Chemistry (1803), and Playfair, who wrote Robison’s biography as well as Hutton’s, reckoned that Robison’s articles for the Encyclopaedia Britannica would make a volume of a thousand pages.
1763: Watt began the repair of a model of the Newcomen steam engine (Dickinson, 1927, 1936, 1963).
Watt recorded that it was his friend Robison who, in 1759, first directed his attention to the subject of steam-engines, and who suggested the idea of "applying the power of the steam-engine to the moving of wheel-carriages, and to other purposes".
1764: In 1764 Adam Smith left on the Grand Tour with Henry Scott, 3rd Duke of Buccleuch (1746-1812) who was aged 18. In 1783 the Duke became the first President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
Roebuck moved to Kinneil House, near Bo’ness, where he leased the coal-field and salt-works from the Duke of Hamilton (Dickinson, 1936, p.51, 57-66, 81, 86-87). Long afterwards Kinneil House was Dugald Stewart’s residence in retirement (1810).
1765: It was at Kinneil that Watt perfected his model of the steam engine. What was probably his first working engine was erected in the Burn Pit colliery at Kinneil in 1765. Black lent Watt what was then the large sum of £1,200 (Robinson, 1970), the loan being taken over later by Roebuck, who at the time was developing the blast furnaces at Carron (Jardine, 1798).
Hutton recorded that he had found "sea shells in the travelled soil a considerable height above the level of the sea" in various places. Kinneil is one of the places he mentioned: "Above Kinneel [Kinneil], there is a bed of oyster shells some feet deep appearing in the side of the bank, about 20 or 30 feet above the level of the sea, which corresponds with old sea banks. .. There are many other marks of a sea beach upon a higher level than the present, but I mention only those which I can give with certainty" (Hutton, 1795, Vol.2, p.166).
1767: Professor Adam Ferguson (Small, 1862-1864; Fagg, 1968) published his Essay on the History of Civil Society, an early contribution to the development of sociology.
In 1745, Ferguson, whose mother tongue was Gaelic, joined the Black Watch as Chaplain, and there is a well-known story that Ferguson charged, sword in hand, at the Battle of fontenoy. The story is told by Sir Walter Scott, who probably heard it from his boyhood friend, young Adam Ferguson, the Professor’s son (Walter Scott, 1827, p.196; Lockhart,1900, Vol.4, p.41n). The story is also told by General Stewart of Garth (1772-1829), who helped Scott make the arrangements for George IV’s visit to Edinburgh in 1822 (David Stewart, 1822). As Professor Jane Bush Fagg has pointed out, the Battle was fought on 11th May; Ferguson was licensed to preach by the Dunkeld Presbytery on 2nd July; and he joined his Regiment in Flanders in September – clearly too late to participate in the Battle of fontenoy (Fagg, 1968, p.19-21). A month after Ferguson’s arrival in Flanders, his Regiment was ordered to return to England. Prince Charles Edward Stuart had landed in Scotland in July, and in November the Black Watch was sent to Kent to guard against a possible French invasion.
Hume was Secretary to General James St Clair [Sinclair] (d.1762), commander of the British forces in Flanders and leader of the assault at Quimperly Bay in October 1746. Professor Fagg has suggested that Ferguson and Hume first met on the Continent at this early date (Fagg, 1968, p.27). As the Black Watch withdrew from the Continent a month after Ferguson’s arrival, such a meeting would have had to be in Flanders; the opportunity was of very short duration. Sadly, what remained of the Black Watch Records (which always travelled with the Regiment) were lost in a shipwreck off Ostend in 1793. Professor Fagg is now inclined to think that Ferguson met Hume in the living room of Robert Adam's family in Edinburgh (private communication, May 1997). Wherever it was that they first met, their army experiences would have provided much of mutual interest.
Ferguson and Hume were life-long friends; in his Will, Hume named Ferguson along with Jean d’Alembert (1717-1783) and Adam Smith. Ferguson, in his turn, named Robert Adam’s nephew, William Adam (1751-1839), John Clerk of Eldin, and James Russel the younger (1754-1836) as his executors. From 1752-1757 Hume was Keeper of the historic Advocates’ Library (now the National Library of Scotland), a position from which he withdrew in 1757 to allow Ferguson to be appointed in his place (Gray, 1925, Chapter 11; Fagg, 1968, p.45-47; Mossner, 1954, p.251, 255-256; Brown, 1989). Ferguson was subsequently Professor of Natural Philosophy (1759-1764), Professor of Moral Philosophy (1764-85), and nominally Professor of Mathematics (1785-1816) (For the integration of moral philosophy and natural philosophy in Edinburgh see Olson, 1975). Hume said of Ferguson that he had more Genius than any of the others, "as he had made himself so much Master of a Difficult Science, viz. Natural Philosophy, which he had never Studied but when at College, in 8 months so as to be able to Teach it" (Small, 1862-1864).
We need to pause here to distinguish between two Professor James Russells, father and son [Russell was often spelled Russel]. When attempting to construct eighteenth-century genealogical trees one encounters difficulties because the word "cousin" was still often used with the meaning of the Latin word consanguineus: persons "related by descent from a common ancestor, but not a brother or sister" (OED). The use of "cousin" in the narrow sense of "child of one’s uncle or aunt" is modern, which is why we should speak of "first cousin" or "full cousin" to avoid misunderstanding. John Clerk junior, in the obituary of his uncle, George Clerk (1715-84), said: "He married his cousin-german Dorothy Clerk-Maxwell, heiress of Middlebie in Dumfries-shire" (John Clerk junior, 1788, p.55). He was alluding to the fact that the couple had a common grandfather (John Clerk of Penicuik, 1st Baronet) – the fathers of George and Dorothea were brothers. This relationship is what today we usually mean by "cousin". Similarly, "nephew" formerly meant descendant in general and grandson in particular.
There is, however, no ambiguity in the following statement: "The mother of Joseph Black [1728-1799], and the mother of James Russel [senior (d.1773)], late Professor of Natural Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh, were sisters; and the mother of Adam Ferguson was their aunt" (Ferguson, 1805, p.102). Ferguson goes on to say that as a student in Edinburgh, "he [Black] as well as Adam Ferguson, lived with their relation James Russel., whose singular correctness, and precision of thought, in various branches of science, could not fail to be of use to all who approached him" (op.cit. p.103). Although we do not know Professor Russel’s date of birth, he was not a Professor when Ferguson and Black were students. Russel, in fact, was the unsuccessful candidate for the Chair in 1759 when Ferguson was elected, and in 1764, when Ferguson moved to the Chair of Moral Philosophy, Russel (a surgeon-apothecary) succeeded him in Natural Philosophy, holding this Chair until his death in 1773. Little is known about him other than that Hutton and Franklin were his friends, and that about 1771 Dugald Stewart was one of his students.
Ferguson says that Russel was a "relation", without telling us what the relationship was. According to Sir William Ramsay, however: "In 1751 Black went to Edinburgh to finish his medical studies [under Professor William Cullen], and lived with his first cousin, Mr James Russell, Professor of Natural Philosophy there, whose mother, a Miss Gordon, was sister to Black’s mother" (William Ramsay, 1918, p.17, italics added). In this paper, genealogical tree 4, relating Ferguson, Black, and Russell, depends upon on the accuracy of these statements.
James Russell, the son of Professor James Russell and his wife Margaret Balfour, was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (Edinburgh) in 1777. As a member of the Philosophical Society he was a founding Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which he served as Vice-President. He practised as a surgeon in the city, becoming President of the College of Surgeons in 1796-1797. Through his own initiative he became the first Regius Professor of Clinical Surgery, a position he held from 1803-1833. Hutton was a friend of both James Russells, father and son, and it was the son who, as his doctor, attended Hutton on his death bed (Playfair, 1805, p.88).
The Memoir on the life of Professor Andrew Dalzel includes a genealogical tree showing the Connexion of Some Edinburgh Families (Dalzel, 1862, p.61). According to this authority, Principal Robertson’s daughter Eleanor married John Russell, C.S., and they had a son, John Russell, P.C.S. If C.S. stands for College of Surgeons, and P.C.S. for President of the College of Surgeons, perhaps these two "John Russells" are confused with the two Professors, father and son, James Russell referred to here.
Andrew Dalzel (1742/3? -1806), Professor of Greek and Librarian of the University, wrote a History of the University of Edinburgh published in 1862 (Cockburn, 1874, p.16-18). It was he who reported that the University’s mace had been stolen [by Deacon Brodie], and who arranged for the University to have a new mace and a seal for the ceremonial laying of the foundation stone of Robert Adam’s new University building in 1789. Dalzel succeeded his father-in-law, Dr John Drysdale (1718-1788), as Principal Clerk to the General Assembly. Drysdale, twice Moderator of the General Assembly, had been a school friend of Robert Adam in Kirkcaldy, and was married to Adam’s sister Mary. Their daughter Anne Drysdale married Dalzel. Robert Adam’s other sister, Susanna, married John Clerk of Eldin. Differing spellings of Susanna Adam’s name have been given, but Susanna is how she signed each page of her Marriage Contract, witnessed by her brothers in 1753. (The text of the Contract refers, however, to "Susan Adams". SRO GD18/1882).
Huttonian and other connections are abundant. When the Royal Society of Edinburgh was founded, Dalzel was elected Secretary of its Literary Section. At Christmas 1787 he wrote: "I have been employed as one of a small committee for conducting the publication of the first volume of the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh [1788, containing Hutton’s Theory of the Earth], which is now on the point of being launched into the world, – I was going to say, into eternity, but that is rather an ambiguous expression. The vignette for the title is furnished by Robert Adam". Robert Adam and William Robertson were first cousins, and as already noted, Robertson’s sister became the grandmother of Lord Chancellor Brougham.
Ferguson and Black were closely related; Ferguson’s mother was the sister of Black’s grandfather, and in 1766, Ferguson married Black’s niece [See genealogical tree 4]. When Ferguson was abroad, as he was for many months at a time, his wife (with as many as six children) moved into her bachelor uncle’s home, where the Robertsons helped to look after them. Ferguson wrote Black’s biography (Ferguson, 1805). Benjamin Franklin and James Hutton were among Ferguson’s other close friends.
1768: Construction of the Forth and Clyde canal began. Hutton was a member of the Management Committee from 1767-1775 (Jean Jones, 1982). If Hutton did not already know them, this would have brought him into contact with Lord Kames and the engineers James Watt and John Smeaton.
1769: Watt took out his first patent. Black’s student, Benjamin Rush, graduated in Edinburgh in 1768 and was appointed in 1769 to the first American Chair of Chemistry, at the University of Philadelphia. Rush was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
1770: John Clerk of Eldin began a productive period of at least twelve years as an etcher (Clerk of Eldin, 1855; Lumsden, 1925, 1962). There are, however, no known examples of his work earlier than 1772 or later than 1778. Clerk apparently learned the technique from his "good friend" Paul Sandby (1725-1809) – the "father of water-colour art" – who was in Scotland as draughtsman for the Board of Ordnance from 1746 to 1751. Sandby was a favourite of George III; Queen Charlotte, the Princes, and Princess Dashkov were among his pupils (Herrmann, 1986).
In 1775 Sandby thanked Clerk for etchings, including examples executed by Clerk’s two sons, John and William "which are wonderfully clever and shew great spirit and Genius, which", he wrote, "I am not at all surprised at when the Parent stock is known, for a Clerk ingrafted on a choice sprig of Adam must of course produce most excellent fruit". Sandby was then experimenting with "Aquatinta". Although the process was still closely guarded, he gave his "dear friend" details of the procedure. "I think you will be much pleased on trial of these hints", Sandby wrote, "which I beg you will not tell to any save the young Artist your son [John]" (Hardie, 1933).
As late as 1782 Clerk was still etching, for he wrote to Robert Adam, thanking him for "the Aquatinta Process". Clerk recounted that his son John had been on the point of disclosing the secret "one day at Sir William Forbes’s but I being there at the time stoped [sic] him luckily". Lumsden, the authority on the Clerk etchings, was "inclined to doubt the authorship of the one little plate (No.38), which shows signs of having been properly aquatinted". He thought it may have been by John junior (afterwards Lord Eldin) The present writer has a copy of this print. (John Clerk of Eldin to Robert Adam, 15 December 1782, SRO GD18/4223; Lumsden, 1925a&b; 1926; Hardie, 1933).
1771: Walter Scott was born in Edinburgh on 15thth August. His nurse concealed the fact that she had consumption, but she fortunately confided in Dr Black, who was probably responsible for saving the lives of both nurse and child (Lockhart, 1900, Vol.1, p,11). Black had therefore the unique experience of being not only a distinguished Professor of Chemistry but sometime physician to Hume (d. 1776) and Scott (b.1771), as well as to others, such as Ferguson and possibly Hutton.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica was published in 1771. William Smellie, the editor, was responsible for "the compilement and entire conducting of the first edition" (Chamber’s Biographical Dictionary 1835, Vol.4, p.247).
Benjamin Franklin paid a three-week visit to Edinburgh, where, except for five days with Kames at Blair Drummond and two or three days in Glasgow, he stayed with Hume in his new house on St David Street (The spelling of Edinburgh street names follows Harris, 1996). Edinburgh’s literary circle gave Franklin a generous welcome. Hume and Kames held dinner parties, and on the eve of Franklin’s departure, all were Ferguson’s guests. Although we know that Kames and Black were at dinner at Hume’s house, we have no record of Hutton’s presence at these parties, nor of Hutton’s membership of any of the numerous social clubs, other than the Oyster Club. It is tempting to believe that Hutton (whose M.D. thesis was on the circulation of the blood) might have been a member of the Circulation Club, at whose annual dinner on the anniversary of the birth-day of Dr Harvey, the Sons of Aesculapius, commemorated the discovery of the circulation of the blood by the circulation of the glass.
1772: Hutton found "alkali in a stony body" (Playfair, 1805, p.47), and Black’s pupil Daniel Rutherford (1749-1819), discovered nitrogen (Dobbin, 1935; Weeks, 1934). Rutherford, who was later Professor of Botany (1786-1819), was Walter Scott’s uncle; i.e. Professor John Rutherford (who was twice married) was Professor Daniel Rutherford’s father and Walter Scott’s grandfather.
1773: Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) and James Boswell visited Edinburgh on their way to the Hebrides and again on their return journey en route for London.
When Philip Dormer Stanhope (1694-1773), 4th Earl of Chesterfield died in 1773, his heir was not his natural son, to whom he wrote the famous Letters to his Son, but his godson, Philip Stanhope (1755-1815). Adam Smith recommended Adam Ferguson, then Professor of Natural Philosophy, as tutor to the 19-year old 5th Earl. To the annoyance of the Town Council, Ferguson abandoned his classes (though he continued to draw his salary) and was absent on the Continent for two years. As his substitute he had recommended Hutton’s friend, Dr James Lind (1736-1812) who had accompanied Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) on his voyage to Iceland in 1772 (O’Brian, 1987), and as a member of the Philosophical Society was a founding member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. While Ferguson was abroad with his pupil, he visited Switzerland, and afterwards maintained a correspondence with the alpinist and geologist Horace-Benedict de Saussure (1740-1799), whom Hutton quoted extensively in his Theory of the Earth (1795).
1774: After surveying the route for the Caledonian Canal, Watt left Scotland to join Matthew Boulton in Birmingham, taking his prototype steam-engine from Kinneil with him (Dickinson, 1936, p.81-85; Mitchell, 1883; Robinson, 1969; Smiles, 1865).
1776: David Hume died on 25th August 1776, his monument being designed by his friend Robert Adam( (Brown, 1991). James Boswell, who, only seven weeks before, had interviewed Hume on the subject of death and dying, inspected the open grave and watched the funeral from behind a wall, before going to the Library to read some of Hume’s writings, but having an encounter with a young lady on the way.
Sir John Hall of Dunglass died nine days after Hume, both at the age of 65. James Hall inherited the title at the age of fifteen.
Publication of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations; the first volume of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; and James Keir’s On the crystallisation observed in Glass. The last of these supplied inspiration for Sir James Hall’s classic experiments in the 1790s.
1777: Hutton published his book on the Distinction between Coal and Culm, and its implication for taxation (Hutton, 1777).
1778: John Clerk of Eldin made his last identifiable etchings.
1779: John Clerk of Eldin journeyed to the North, finding granite veins in the River Garry north-west of Blair Atholl, investigating the vitrified fort of Craig Phadraig at Inverness, and collecting graphic granite at Portsoy.
Hume’s Dialogues concerning Natural Religion was published. Hume, not daring to publish the book in his own lifetime, had asked Adam Smith to publish it posthumously. Smith refused, on the grounds that it would destroy his own career. Facts like this should be remembered when revisionist historians discuss Hutton’s apparently "religious" references. Freedom of speech has always had limits.
In a codicil to his Will, Hume decreed that "if my Dialogues from whatever Cause, be not published within two Years and a half of my Death the property shall return to my Nephew, David [David Hume (1757-1838), Professor of Scots Law, Sheriff, and Baron of the Exchequer Court], whose Duty, in publishing them as the last Request of his Uncle, must be approved by all the World" (Mossner, 1954, p.592-593).
The Russian Princess Catherina Romanovna Vorontsov Dashkov (1744-1810), the friend of Diderot and Voltaire, toured Europe from 1768 to 1782. During that time she spent "several years" in Edinburgh, living at "Holyrood House, the ancient palace of the Sovereigns". The Princess had assured Principal Robertson that her thirteen-year- old son, Paul, "was entirely fit and able to be a student since he had a perfect knowledge of Latin, mathematics, history, geography, French and German, and had sufficient command of English to understand everything, though he did not speak it fluently enough yet"(Dashkov, 1958, p.146).
Dr Cullen was her doctor. Princess Dashkov made the acquaintance of other University professors, describing them in words reminiscent of Playfair’s account of the Oyster Club (quoted below): they were all "esteemed for their intelligence, intellectual distinction and moral qualities. Strangers alike to envy and to the pretentiousness of smaller minds, they lived together in brotherly amity, their mutual love and respect making of them a group of educated and intelligent people whom it was always an immense pleasure to see and whose conversation never failed to be instructive. The immortal Robertson, Blair [the famous preacher Rev. Hugh Blair (1718-1800)], Smith and Ferguson came twice a week to spend the day with me". It is not surprising that in her Memoirs the Princess recorded that "this period of my existence was both the happiest and most peaceful that has ever fallen to my lot in this world" (Dashkov, 1958, p.147). Her son sat his public examination for the Master of Arts degree in May 1779. His success was such that the audience, which was "prodigiously numerous", could not refrain from clapping.
1780-81: Ferguson was unwell and was treated by Joseph Black, his friend, kinsman, and physician. He went for treatment to Bath, where he remained for several months. Years later (1797) Horace-Benedict de Saussure had a similar illness and asked Black for an account of Ferguson’s case.
About this time Playfair became acquainted with Hutton.
1781-83: Sir James Hall was a student at Edinburgh University, taking classes from John Robison (Natural Philosophy), Joseph Black (Chemistry), Adam Ferguson (Moral Philosophy), and John Walker (1731-1803) (Natural History).
1782: Henry Home, Lord Kames died.
1783: Ferguson published his History of the Progress and Termination of the Roman Republic.
The Royal Society of Edinburgh received its Royal Charter, which includes the names, amongst others, of George Clerk [Maxwell], Robertson, Cullen (Professor of Chemistry and Medicine: Black’s teacher and predecessor first in Glasgow and then in Edinburgh), Alexander Monro secundus (1733-1817) (Professor of Anatomy), Ferguson, Robison, and Adam Smith.
The Society’s initial twelve Counsellors included Monro, Black, Hutton, Stewart, Playfair, Smith, and Ferguson, already mentioned. Two of the other Counsellors were John Maclaurin (1734-1796) and Professor John Hope. John Maclaurin (raised to the Bench as Lord Dreghorn), was the eldest son of Professor Colin Maclaurin who had been influential in bringing the Society into being; John Hope, Professor of Botany and Medicine, 1761-1786, was the father of Thomas Charles Hope, the eminent Professor of Chemistry who succeeded Black and held the Chemistry Chair from 1795-1844 (Grant, 1884; Kent, 1950). Among the first Officers of the Society were Robison, Cullen, Clerk-Maxwell, Robertson, and Blair, already mentioned.
The two Secretaries of the Physical Section were John Walker and James Gregory (1753-1821). Walker was Professor of Natural History, 1779-1803 (Walker, 1966). James Gregory was the son of John Gregory (1724-1773), formerly Professor of Philosophy (i.e. Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, and Moral Philosophy) in Aberdeen, and Professor of the Practice of Physic in Edinburgh. Professor Gregory died very suddenly in 1773, aged 49, and his son, James, then a student aged 23, gave the lectures in his father’s place, and was appointed to the Chair of Medicine in 1776. James’ grandfather was James Gregorie (1666-1742), Professor of Medicine in Aberdeen; his great-grandfather was James Gregorie (1638-1675), the famous mathematician and inventor of the reflecting telescope. The name Gregorie (later Gregory) was taken by the MacGregors after 1603, when the entire clan was outlawed and the name MacGregor proscribed on pain of death (Prebble, 1971). The famous Rob Roy MacGregor, alias Campbell, lived from 1671-1734. At least 14 Professors descended from the Rev. John Gregorie (d.1650), minister of Drumoak (10 miles south-west of Aberdeen) – six occupied the Edinburgh Chairs of Mathematics (3), Medicine (2), and Chemistry; three were appointed at the age of 22 or 23.
In 1782 Princess Dashkov returned to Moscow, where she was appointed Director of the Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1783 – the year that the Royal Society of Edinburgh received its Charter – the Princess founded the Imperial Academy of Sciences of St Petersburg, and Catherine the Great appointed her the Academy’s first President. On Princess Dashkov’s nomination, Joseph Black was elected a Foreign Member of the Academy (Ramsay, 1918, p.117; Crowther, 1962, p.89. The date is 1784 according to Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1929, Vol.15, p.68).
1783-86: Sir James Hall travelled on the Continent, where he visited the active volcanoes of Vesuvius, Etna, and Lipari. In Paris he became a friend of Lavoisier (Chaldecott, 1968).
1784: Watt and his business partner Matthew Boulton (1728-1809) were nominated by Hutton and elected Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh at the Society’s second General Meeting.
Sir James Hall, while abroad, was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
Black was already teaching the new chemistry of Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794). Lavoisier called Black "The illustrious Nestor of the chemical revolution" and in a letter said to him "I consider you my Master". (Chambers Biographical Dictionary, 1835, Vol.1, p.211; Crowther, 1962, p.12). Guerlac, however, states: "Of Joseph Black, often described as a major influence upon him, Lavoisier clearly knew nothing at first hand until 1773 or perhaps late 1772, for Black’s famous Essay on Magnesia Alba was for long unavailable in French" (Guerlac, 1966, p.12-16, and 1975, p.77).
1785: The earliest Chemical Society in the world, the Edinburgh University Chemistry Society, was founded by Black’s students (Kendall, 1942, 1947, 1952). It should be remembered, too, that the Political Economy Club of Glasgow was founded about 1743, and the Literary Society of Glasgow in 1752; Adam Smith was a student in Glasgow 1737-1740, before going to Balliol College, Oxford, 1740-1746.
Hutton’s Theory of the Earth was read to the Royal Society of Edinburgh (Victor Eyles, 1950, 1955). As Hutton was unwell, the first part of the paper was communicated by Black, Hutton communicating the second part. In the autumn of 1785 Hutton and John Clerk of Eldin looked for granite veins and found them in Glen Tilt.
About this time Sir Richard Arkwright (1732-1792) helped to found water-powered textile factories at New Lanark on the Clyde and at Stanley on the Tay.
1786: Hutton and John Clerk of Eldin found basaltic dykes on the Clyde, raised beaches at Loch Ryan, and granite veins in Galloway. John Clerk drew a cross-section of the Midlothian coal basin (McIntyre & McKirdy, 1997, p.23-24).
1786-88: Robert Burns visited Edinburgh (McVie, 1969). In 1771 Henry Mackenzie (1745-1831) had published The Man of Feeling – a book Burns prized "next to the Bible" and carried everywhere with him. (For Mackenzie see Thompson, 1931; Henry Mackenzie, 1927). After Dugald Stewart showed Mackenzie a copy of the Kilmarnock edition of Burns’ poems (1786), Mackenzie wrote a glowing review in The Lounger (9th December 1786), published by William Creech. In this review Mackenzie created the image of Burns as the "Heaven-taught ploughman". (Robert Burns 15th January 1783 in Robert Burns, 1990, p.54-55; James Mackay, 1992, p.92, 256-257).
At the age of eighteen Dugald Stewart taught his father’s classes in mathematics. He also introduced an astronomy class, filled in for Professors Dalzel in Greek, Robison in Natural Philosophy, and Ferguson in Moral Philosophy, Belles Lettres and Political Economy. From 1785-1810 Dugald Stewart succeeded Ferguson as Professor of Moral Philosophy. His father, Matthew Stewart, and Adam Smith had been colleagues in Glasgow; which explains why it was Dugald Stewart who wrote Smith’s biography. (Dugald Stewart, 1794; Veitch, 1877).
Dugald Stewart was a teacher of immense influence at a time when students came to Edinburgh when, because of war with France, they were unable to go on the Grand Tour in the Continent. Men such as Sydney Smith, Francis Horner, Lord Webb Seymour, Lord Jeffrey, Lord Brougham, Henry Erskine, and Lord Cockburn attended his lectures. Many of his students went on to careers of highest importance; the list includes two future Prime Ministers, two Lord Chancellors, one Chancellor of the Exchequer, two Attorney Generals, a Lord Advocate, three Foreign Secretaries, two Home Secretaries, two early Councillors of the Geological Society of London, the leader of the Scots bar, and several Senators of the Court of Session. As students, Lord Palmerston and Lord Daer boarded with him.
The Edinburgh Review is said to have been born in Stewart’s classroom. "To me, Lord Cockburn wrote, "his lectures were like the opening of the heavens. I felt I had a soul. His noble views, unfolded in glorious sentences, elevated me into a higher world" (Cockburn, 1874, p.22). Dugald Stewart’s Monument on the Calton Hill is a well-known Edinburgh landmark. It stands a few feet from Playfair’s Monument, and overlooks David Hume’s grave, the North Bridge, and Princes Street. Above it towers the Monument to Admiral Nelson (1758-1805), killed at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), from which the visitor can see the grave of Adam Smith in the Canongate, and Panmure House which was Smith’s last home and where he died with his friends Black and Hutton beside him.
1787: Creech published the Edinburgh edition of Burns’ poems. Adam Ferguson invited a small party to his home in Sciennes House to meet the poet. This was the only time that Robert Burns (aged 28) and Walter Scott (aged 16) met. Hutton, Black, and Dugald Stewart, were present along with the famous aeronaut Lunardi (1759-1806) (Small, 1862-1864, p.647; Lockhart, 1900, Vol.1, p.115-116).
Hutton visited Arran with John Clerk, junior. Later the same year Hutton discovered the unconformity at Jedburgh, which John Clerk of Eldin illustrated in Hutton’s Theory of the Earth in 1795.
In November 1787 Ferguson wrote to de Saussure (1740-1799), who, three months before, had made the first ascent of Mont Blanc. The letter illustrates the close relationship between Ferguson and Hutton:
"[Mr Hutton] has long worshipped the same Divintys [sic] with you and embraced every specimen of stone or earth with a most pious attention. His Ideas are magnificent and what is more precious and more different in science formed with a scrupulous regard to reality, You have some account of them in the paper he has furnished me, to be sent by these gentlemen to you. He had directed a copy for you to the Secretary of the Academy of Agriculture at Paris of which he is a member: but as the copy I now send may arrive before the other he is willing to indulge my request of having this duplicate for the purpose. He has likewise joined a copy of his theory of Rain [The second paper in the first volume of the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1788]. It would be a great pleasure to him and to me to pay our respects at Geneva and visit your mountains. There is a company here [the Oyster Club?] in which it has often been mentioned, but we should draw different ways some to contemplate the Earth, others the Country ancient and Modern and I am particular to follow the Tract of my Friends the Romans" – The reference is, of course, to Ferguson’s book on the Roman Republic (Merolle, 1995, Vol. 1, p.332).
1788: Hutton’s Theory of the Earth was published in the first volume of the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Henry Mackenzie edited this famous volume (Thompson, 1931, p.286. I do not know the authority for Thomson’s assertion, but it happens that I own Mackenzie’s copy of the volume).
Franklin’s letter of 22nd September 1782 to the Abbé Soulavie (1752-1813) on geology was read to The American Philosophical Society in 1788. Observing that marine strata are found both in the hills of Derbyshire and below sea-level in the coal mines, Franklin concluded that some parts of England had been depressed while other parts had been uplifted: "Such changes in the superficial parts of the globe seemed to me unlikely to happen", Franklin said, "if the earth were solid to the centre. I therefore imagined that the internal parts might be a fluid more dense, and of greater specific gravity than any of the solids we are acquainted with; which therefore might swim in or upon that fluid. Thus the surface of the globe would be a shell, capable of being broken and disordered by the violent movements of the fluid in which it rested. Superior beings smile at our theories, and at our presumption in making them. It has long been a supposition of mine that the iron contained in the substance of this globe, has made it capable of becoming as it is a great magnet" (Franklin, 1905-1907, Vol.8, p.597-603; see also Dean, 1989). Arthur Holmes began his first lecture in Edinburgh on Advanced Physical Geology (19th October 1943) by referring to Franklin’s theory of the Earth’s fluid interior before developing his own views on continental drift and convection currents in the mantle (My lecture notes from Holmes’ class are in Edinburgh University library).
In 1788 Sir James Hall gave a spirited exposition of Lavoisier’s new Theory of Chemistry at three successive meetings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. At the next meeting Hutton answered with a paper defending the Phlogiston theory (Allchin, 1994). An "extra ordinary" meeting was then called at which Hutton made further observations on Phlogiston, to which Hall in turn replied. Hall, who was 35 years younger, had a most unusual relationship with Hutton. Having publicly crossed swords on so controversial an issue, the two might not have remained on speaking terms; yet only three weeks later Hall entertained Hutton and Playfair at his home at Dunglass, from which the three together made the memorable excursion to the unconformity at Siccar Point. Late that summer Hall, following up on Hutton’s observations on granite, undertook arduous field work in Galloway and was the first to walk out the boundary of a granite pluton.
1789: The foundation stone of Robert Adam’s new University building (now the "Old Quad") was laid in great ceremony. To commemorate the occasion the Town Council donated a new mace to take the place of the original stolen two years before by Deacon Brodie, then (as a Councillor) a trustee of the University. The mace displays the University’s new Coat of Arms, designed for the occasion by the Lord Lyon King of Arms. The names of Lord Provost Thomas Elder and William Creech (then acting as College Bailie) are inscribed on this new mace (Grant, 1884, Appendix G, p.250-252).
1790: An accident at the Leith glass-house at the end of 1789 or the beginning of 1790 provided the impetus for Hall’s experiments, which he began in 1790 (Hall, 1794, 1805; Flett, 1921; Victor Eyles, 1961, 1963).
At a meeting of the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 4th January 1790, Hutton and Hall both presented their observations on granite; the second part of Hall’s paper being held over to the meeting of 1stMarch, when Hutton himself was in the chair. Hall concluded that "if the glass produced by the fusion of granite had been allowed to cool with sufficient slowness, it might have crystalized [sic], producing a granite similar to that which was originally melted" (Hall, 1794, p.11). In this paper Hall describes how a porphyritic rock would form when, after slow cooling "in the bowels of the earth", the liquid is forced upward and "being spread thin upon the surface, and exposed to the air, would lose its heat suddenly" (Hall, 1794, p.12).
Adam Smith died on 17th July aged 67, regretting that "he had done so little"; Hutton recorded Smith’s farewell words: "We must adjourn this meeting to some other place" (Dugald Stewart, 1794, p.131n). Black and Hutton, as Smith’s executors, were authorised to publish some of his papers but instructed to burn the rest, and passages in Smith’s posthumous History of Astronomy (Adam Smith, , 1982), are similar to some of Hutton’s. (For parallels between political economy and geology see Rashid, 1981, and Celal Sengor, to be published).
In 1790, only eight months after publication of Lavoisier’s Traité élémentaire de Chimie in Paris (1789), a translation by Black’s student Robert Kerr was published in Edinburgh as Elements of Chemistry in a new systematic order, containing all the modern discoveries.
Sit William Johnstone Pulteney founded the Chair of Agriculture in 1790. It was possibly the earliest in any country, and was the first Edinburgh Chair founded by the gift of a private individual. This no doubt was of considerable interest to Hutton. The creation of the Chair caused much distress and jealousy involving the Town Council and several of the Professors who felt their respective rights had been infringed (British Association, 1921, p.166; Grant, 1884, Vol.1, p.344-347, Vol.2, p.456).
1791: Sir James Hall revisited Lavoisier in Paris, but the events of 1793 ended their contact.
1792: The Chemical Society of Philadelphia, the first in America, was founded. Its roots go back to Joseph Black. Benjamin Rush, the founder, was Black’s student.
1794: Lavoisier was guillotined. "The story that Lavoisier appealed at his trial for time to complete some scientific work and that the presiding judge replied, The Republic has no need of scientists,’ is apocryphal. Authentic, however, is the remark of Lagrange, shortly after Lavoisier’s execution: It took them only an instant to cut off that head, and a hundred years may not produce another like it’" (Henry Guerlac, 1975, p.130).
Hutton’s paper on Granite was published.
1795: Hutton’s Theory of the Earth was published in 2 volumes.
Thomas Charles Hope, the discoverer of strontium, became joint Professor of Chemistry, occupying the Chair with distinction from 1795-1844.
1796: Robert Burns died on 21st July, aged 37.
1797: Hutton died on 26th March aged 70. "Dr Hutton’s health had begun to decline in 1792; and he was seized with a severe illness during the summer of 1793, which, after some intervals of convalescence, terminated at last in his death, upon the 26th March 1797" (Kay, 1877, p.56). "On Saturday the 26thof March he suffered a good deal of pain; but, nevertheless, employed himself in writing, ,and particularly in noting down his remarks on some attempts which were then making towards a new mineralogical nomenclature. In the evening he was seized with a shivering, and his uneasiness continuing to increase, he sent for his friend Mr Russel, who attended him as his surgeon. Before he could possibly arrive, all medical assistance was in vain: Dr Hutton had just strength left to stretch out his hand to him, and immediately expired" (Playfair, 1805, p.88). This friend was Mr James Russell, younger, who was then President of the College of Surgeons in Edinburgh.
1798: Sir James Hall began a series of 500 separate experiments that kept him busy, often seven days a week, until 1805. On 17th January 1798 Hall succeeded in making a glass by melting a piece of whinstone. Ten days later, by cooling the molten glass slowly he produced a stony, crystalline substance "in texture completely resembling whinstone" (Hall, 1805, p.46-50). Hall added the following footnote: "I showed this result at a meeting of the Society [the Royal Society of Edinburgh] on 5th February" (Hall, 1805, p.48). Through the courtesy of Mr Kamal S. Siddiqui, British Geological Survey, the present writer was privileged to display this specimen (labelled by Hall himself) when giving an invited lecture at the Third International Symposium on Experimental Petrology and Geochemistry, held in Edinburgh in April 1990, marking the bicentennial of the beginning of Hall’s experimental work.
Professor T.C. Hope (who suggested the term crystallite for "these crystallized substances, obtained from the glasses") successfully reproduced Hall’s results; as did "Mr Boswell of Auchinleck"; i.e. Sir Alexander Boswell (1775-1822), eldest son of James Boswell (Dr Johnson’s biographer), and grandson of Alexander Boswell (1706-1782), the judge Lord Auchinleck.
Black had thought experiments would probably not succeed and that they were unnecessary "as the proofs of fusion are so certain and the analogy in favour of Hutton’s view of the matter is so strong". It is well known that Hutton disapproved of those who "judge of the great operations of the mineral kingdom, from having kindled a fire, and looked into the bottom of a little crucible" (Hutton, 1795, Vol.1, p.251; Hall, 1805, p.45). Before we patronisingly dismiss Hutton, we should recall that he had reason to suspect that the scale of any possible experiments would yield unambiguous or even negative results, which his critics would use to refute his theory. Dawson has examined Henry Sorby’s thin-sections of Sir James Hall’s specimens experimentally fused rocks. The basaltic crystallites are in fact not completely crystallised but contain glass (Dawson, 1992).
1799: Black died on 26th November. He was sitting at table with a measured quantity of milk diluted with water. When the end came he put down the cup on his knees without spilling a drop. In his Will he divided his property into 10,000 shares so that he could allot to his friends the exact proportions he intended (Ferguson, 1805, p.117).