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6. Landmarks in Hutton’s Career

1727-1747:   Edinburgh

James Hutton was born in Edinburgh on 3rd June 1726. This was the year that Dr Beringer published illustrations of what he believed to be genuine fossils, but which had in fact been fabricated by his Iago-like enemies (Sanders, 1960; Beringer, 1963; Jahn, 1963a & b). Three years earlier, with financial help from Fellows of the Royal Society [London], the great Swiss naturalist, Scheuchzer, had published a natural history of Switzerland that included illustrations and descriptions of what were believed to be flying dragons (Scheuchzer, 1723). The science of geology was still in a primitive state.

James Hutton’s father, William Hutton, a merchant in Edinburgh, had been City Treasurer for some years, but he died while James was very young, and James was brought up by his mother. James entered the University as a student of humanity in November 1740, at the age of fourteen.

While Hutton was a student in Edinburgh, Black was studying medicine and chemistry in Glasgow, taking advantage of the fact that Cullen, then Professor of Medicine, had begun to give lectures on chemistry, a subject never before taught in Glasgow University. Black transferred to Edinburgh in 1752, where, in 1754, he received the M.D. degree for his discovery of fixed air’ (CO2) (Black 1756; Dobbin, 1935). Like Black, with whom Hutton was so closely associated in later years, Hutton developed an early and life-long interest in chemistry. While still a student he and his friend James Davie experimented on the production of sal ammoniac from the city soot, these experiments later becoming the basis of a profitable chemical business.

The careers of Cullen and Black show how closely allied the subjects of medicine and chemistry were considered, and recognition of this led Hutton to become a medical student, which he did from 1744-1747. His years as a student in Edinburgh therefore coincided with the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), and included the 1745 Jacobite Rising, when Edinburgh was taken by the Jacobite army (see Brown & Cheape, 1996). As we have seen, Church Ministers and University teachers left to bear arms against Prince Charles; Professor Maclaurin organised the defence of the city.

Maclaurin, a Glasgow graduate, was appointed to the Chair of Mathematics at Aberdeen at the age of nineteen after ten days of competitive examination. He was only 21 when he was admitted to the Royal Society [London]and his friendship with Newton began. He transferred from Aberdeen to the Chair of Mathematics in Edinburgh in 1725, coming with Newton’s personal recommendation. The monument marking Maclaurin’s grave in Greyfriars uses the words Newtone ipse suadente. Newton, indeed, offered to pay an annual contribution towards Maclaurin’s salary. Maclaurin was a brilliant and popular teacher, teaching with authority not only as a distinguished mathematician, but as Newton’s friend and expositor.

Edinburgh pioneered the teaching of Newton’s Principles. Like many others, Hume, who left the University in 1725 (or possibly 1726), was greatly influenced by Newton’s philosophy (Hurlbutt, 1985). Perhaps Hume learned about Newton’s work from James Gregorie (1666-1742) secundus, because Maclaurin did not succeed Gregorie until November that year, and the Hume family spent the winter of 1725-1726 in Edinburgh. It is also possible that Hume learned from Maclaurin’s writings, which were in English rather than Latin. What happened at that time is uncertain because Gregorie was unwell, and for some time Maclaurin was joint-Professor. Adam Smith, too, was influenced by Newton (Hetherington, 1983; Raphael, 1988).

All around, Hutton saw palpable evidence of what he believed to be the “ necessary” decay and destruction of rocks. But he also saw that most rocks are themselves the consolidated products of destruction of still older rocks. He concluded that as blood circulates in the microcosm, so matter circulates in the macrocosm. Hutton wrote:

“We are thus led to see a circulation in the matter of this globe, and a beautiful economy in the works of nature. This earth, like the body of an animal, is wasted at the same time that it is repaired. It has a state of growth and augmentation; it has another state, which is that of diminution and decay. This world is thus destroyed in one part, but it is renewed in another; and the operations by which this world is thus constantly renewed, are as evident to the scientific eye, as are those in which it is necessarily destroyed” (Hutton, 1795, Vol. 2, p.562).

Hume’s similar words, with which Hutton must have been familiar, are:

"Now if we survey the universe, so far as it falls under our knowledge, it bears a great resemblance to an animal or organized body, and seems actuated with a like principle of life and motion. A continual circulation of matter in it produces no disorder: A continual waste in every part is incessantly repaired: The closest sympathy is perceived throughout the entire system: And each part or member, in performing its proper offices, operates both to its own preservation and to that of the whole. The world, therefore, I infer, is an animal, and the Deity is the SOUL of the world, actuating it, and actuated by it" (Philo in David Hume, [1779] 1985, p.170-171).

We do not know the content of the classes Hutton took from Maclaurin, but perhaps Maclaurin’s Account of Sir Isaac Newton’s Philosophical Discoveries (published posthumously in 1748) planted a geological seed that flourished later in Hutton’s mind.

“It has been demonstrated by ingenious men, that great revolutions have happened in former times on the surface of the earth, particularly from the phaenomena of the Strata; which sometimes are found to lie in a very regular manner, and sometimes to be broken and separated from each other to very considerable distances, where they are found again in the same order; from the impressions of plants left upon the hardest bodies dug deep out of the earth, and in places where such plants are not now found to grow; and from bones of animals both of the land and sea, discovered some hundreds of yards beneath the present surface of the earth, and at very great distances from the sea" (Maclaurin, 1748, p.390).

The Bible reports that God looked on the Earth "and saw that it was good”(Genesis, Chap.1); Hutton and others have come to the same conclusion. Hutton’s interpretation was that the Earth was made for man – the alternative being hardly possible 200 years ago:

“Here is a compound system of things, forming together one whole living world; ... the matter of this active world is perpetually moved, in that salutary circulation by which provision is so wisely made for the growth and prosperity of plants, and for the life and comfort of its various animals” (Hutton, 1795, Vol. 2, p.560). “Thus, the circulation of the blood is the efficient cause of life; but, life is the final cause, not only for the circulation of the blood, but for the revolution of the globe’ (ibid, p.546). “We perceive a fabric, erected in wisdom, to obtain a purpose worthy of the power that is apparent in the production of it. ... This globe of the earth is a habitable world; and on its fitness for this purpose, our sense of wisdom in its formation must depend” (Hutton, 1788, p.209) “The globe of this earth is evidently made for man”(ibid, p.216).

Maclaurin’s posthumous book would be known to both Hume and Hutton, and we find suggestive parallels in the writing of Maclaurin and Hutton. The following are examples (For the design argument see Hume, 1985; Mossner, 1978; Hurlbutt, 1985)

Maclaurin: “Newton infers, from the structure of the visible world, that it is governed by One Almighty, and All-wise Being” (Maclaurin, 1748, p.377; see also Strong, 1952).

Hutton:almighty power, and supreme wisdom [are] employed for sustaining that beautiful system” (Hutton, 1795, Vol.1, p.275); “We may perceive the most perfect wisdom in the actual constitution of things” (Hutton, 1795, Vol.2, p.89); “We perceive a fabric, erected in wisdom” (Hutton, 1788 p.209); “Would [Kirwan] deny that ... a philosopher, who looks into the operations of nature, may not plainly read the power and wisdom of the Creator” (Hutton: 1795, Vol.1, p.224); “it would be absurd to suppose any thing but wisdom could have designed this system of the earth” (Hutton, 1795, Vol. 2, p.527-528).

Maclaurin:“ The plain argument for the existence of the Deity, obvious to all and carrying irresistible conviction with it, is from the evident contrivance and fitness of things for one another, which we meet throughout all parts of the Universe. ... A manifest contrivance immediately suggests a contriver.” (Maclaurin, 1748, p.381).

Hutton: “This globe of the earth is a habitable world; and on its fitness for this purpose, our sense of wisdom in its formation must depend”. (Hutton, 1788, p.209); “Such, indeed, is the admirable contrivance of the system ... ” (Hutton, 1795, Vol.2, p.197).

Maclaurin:“The simplicity of the laws that prevail in the world, the excellent disposition of things, in order to obtain the best ends, and the beauty which adorns the work of nature, far superior to any thing in art, suggest his consummate Wisdom. The usefulness of the whole scheme, so well contrived for the intelligent beings that enjoy it, with the internal disposition and moral structure of those being themselves, shew [sic] his unbounded Goodness” (Maclaurin, 1748, p.381).

Hutton: “a world contrived in consummate wisdom; a world peculiarly adapted to the purposes of man" (Hutton 1788, p.294-295); "a world maintaining an almost endless diversity of plants and animals, by the disposition of its various parts ... The necessary consequence of this disposition of things, where the matter of this active world is perpetually moved, in that salutary circulation by which provision is so wisely made for the growth and prosperity of plants, and for the life and comfort of its various animals” (Hutton, 1795, Vol.2, p.560); “a beautiful economy in the works of nature”. (Hutton, 1795, Vol.2, p.262); “a world beautifully calculated for the growth of plants and nourishment of animals” (Hutton, 1997, p.89)

Maclaurin: “The laws of nature are constant and regular, and, for ought we know, all of them may be resolved into one general and extensive power” (Maclaurin, 1748, p.387).

Hutton: “Theory of the Earth; or an investigation of the laws observable in the composition, dissolution, and restoration of land upon the globe” (Hutton, 1788, p.209); “we must read the transactions of time past, in the present state of natural bodies; and for the reading of this character, we have nothing but the laws of nature, established in the science of man by his inductive reasoning. (Hutton, 1795, Vol.1, p. 373).

Playfair: “Amid all the revolutions of the globe the economy of Nature has been uniform, and her laws are the only things that have resisted the general movement. The rivers and the rocks, the seas and the continents have been changed in all their parts; but the laws which direct those changes, and the rules to which they are subject, have remained invariably the same.” (Playfair, 1802, Paragraph 374, p.421-422).

1747-1750: Paris, Leyden, London, and Edinburgh

Hutton spent the years 1747-1749 studying chemistry and anatomy in Paris. He received the M.D. degree from Leyden for his thesis De Sanguine et Circulatione in Microcosmo. Towards the end of 1749 Hutton returned to London , where he was disappointed to find that there were no prospects for his employment as a medical practitioner. He wrote in some despair to his Edinburgh friends, and was relieved to learn that, in his absence, James Davie had achieved some success in the production of sal ammoniac. Hutton returned to Edinburgh in the summer of 1750.

It will be recalled that Adam Smith gave courses of well-attended public lectures in Edinburgh in the years 1748-1751, and it would be surprising if Hutton had not attended the last of these. This we identify as the first period when Hutton had an opportunity to meet Smith. Hume was studying privately at the family home at Ninewells in Berwickshire from 1749-1751. As Hume already knew and had a great respect for Smith, it is likely enough that Hume, too, might have been in Edinburgh to hear Smith’s lectures. Although we know that Hutton and Smith became very close friends, we do not know when they first met. There is no evidence that Hutton and Hume ever met, though that they did not seems inconceivable: Smith was Hume’s executor, and Black was his doctor. Robertson and Ferguson were among Hutton’s closest friends, as they were also of Hume’s.

1750-1752: Established in Berwickshire

Having inherited farming property in Berwickshire from his father, Hutton (as Playfair tells us) “resolved to apply himself to agriculture ” (Jones; 1985, Withers, 1994). His decision was confirmed when he met Sir John Hall of Dunglass (1711-1776), a gentleman “of ingenuity and taste for science, and also much conversant with the management of country affairs” (Playfair, 1805, p.43). Sir John was born the same year as David Hume (he was therefore fifteen years older than Hutton), and died nine days after Hume, both were aged sixty-five.

David’s older brother, John Hume at Ninewells, and Henry Home at Kames were amongst the first to introduce modern methods of farming to Scotland. They knew each other and it seems highly probable that Hutton would visit these neighbours, with whom he would have much in common and from whom he could get help and advice in his new occupation. Dunglass is on the main road to Edinburgh; as the crow flies it is less than nine miles from Hutton’s farm at Slighhouses. David Hume’s family home at Ninewells is little over three miles from Slighhouses, while Henry Home’s estate at Kames is less than ten miles.

David did much of his studying at Ninewells, and while there he paid many social visits. Mossner says of him: "He was constantly back and forth to Edinburgh, occasionally visited Glasgow and the West of Scotland, got to Kirkcaldy in Fife, rode over to Berwick frequently [10 miles], and was, of course, a common visitor to his neighbours in the Merse and the Border country" (Mossner, 1954, p.146). Hutton at Slighhouses was one of his closest neighbours.

Things changed in 1751/52: Adam Smith was appointed to the Chair of Logic in Glasgow; David Hume’s older brother married; and David and his sister moved to Edinburgh, where David was elected one of the Secretaries of the revived Philosophical Society, originally founded by Colin Maclaurin.

In 1752 Hume was appointed Keeper of the historic Advocates’ Library, a position that gave him access to the books he needed. By this time he had a national reputation. Adam Smith transferred to the Chair of Moral Philosophy in Glasgow, and although Hume was denied the vacated Chair, Hume adopted Smith as his literary counsellor. Robertson became leader of the Moderate party at the General Assembly, a position he held with distinction until 1780; Black transferred to Edinburgh University; and Hutton went to Norfolk.

1752-1754: Hutton in England

During the first half of the eighteenth century great advances had been made in English agriculture. This was especially so in Norfolk, where land was enclosed and the "Norfolk" or four-course rotation (roots, barley, clover, wheat) produced greatly improved yields of both crops and animals. A leader in this advance was Charles Townshend (1674-1738), the 2nd Viscount, who in 1730 retired from a very active political career to devote himself to agricultural improvements on his estate in Norfolk. It was a tribute to him that he became known as "Turnip Townshend", because the adoption of turnip husbandry revolutionised British farming. This Charles Townshend was the grandfather of the Charles Townshend (1725-1767) who was the author of the notorious Townshend Acts that precipitated the American Revolution.

As Hutton was “never disposed to do things by halves, he determined to study rural economy in the school that was then reckoned the best”, and in 1752 he set off for Norfolk (Playfair, 1805, p.43). But while there he made many journeys on foot into different parts of England, and began making those observations which later led him to formulate his Theory of the Earth. Playfair quotes from a letter Hutton wrote to Sir John Hall in 1753. Though the main object of his journeys was to obtain information in agriculture, yet it was in the course of them that “to amuse himself on the road”, he first began to study geology. He had become very fond of studying the surface of the Earth, and looked “with curiosity” into every natural or artificial exposure. Hutton extended his travels by visiting the Low Countries, which had been the source of many of the improvements he had found in Norfolk. He returned to Berwickshire at the end of the summer of 1754.

1754-1767: Farming in Berwickshire

Though Hutton seems to have devoted these thirteen years mainly to the improvement of his Berwickshire farms, he must have been pondering the meaning of the geological observations he had made on his travels. Moreover his two farms are on contrasting terrains a fact that is unlikely to have escaped his thoughtful observation (Jean Jones, 1985). Playfair thought that it was about 1760, when Hutton was 34, that Hutton’s ideas began to come together to form a theory. No doubt he made visits to Edinburgh during those years, but we have no records. Black, sent an important abstract of Hutton’s Theory to Princess Dashkov on 27th August 1787 (Black’s letter is in Edinburgh University Library: Gen. 873 / III / 36-39. The text is in Ramsay, 1918, p.117-125). In this letter Black said: “Dr Hutton had found this system or the principal parts of it more than 20 years ago and he has found reason to be more and more confirmed in it by his study of Fossils ever since that time”. If Black is correct, then the theory predated 1767.

Black received his M.D. degree from Edinburgh in 1754, but it seems unlikely that he and Hutton met before 1766 when Black returned to Edinburgh as Professor of Chemistry (Robison filling the vacant position in Glasgow).

The Seven Years War (1756-1763) occupied many of those years, and Hume was frequently in London. After the war Hume was Secretary to the Embassy in Paris (1763-1766), and for a few months in 1765 was chargé d’affaires until the Duke of Richmond arrived towards the end of the year. Adam Smith took the young Duke of Buccleuch and his brother, the Hon. Hew Scott, to the Continent in 1764, but it seems that they may have missed Hume and Rousseau who left for London on 3rd January 1766. Hume returned to Ninewells in September 1766, though only for a few weeks – another possible opportunity for Hutton and Hume to meet, but whether they did is unknown.

Sir James Hall of Dunglass was born in 1761 and succeeded to the Baronetcy at the age of fifteen on his father’s death in 1776.

The Clerks of Penicuik, in Midlothian, owned an extensive area of the Midlothian coal-basin, which they had mined for several generations. The second Baronet, the father of George Clerk-Maxwell and John Clerk of Eldin, wrote a Dissertation on Coal in 1740 (SRO GD18/1069), and John Clerk of Eldin wrote a short (undated) essay Of the Coal Country in the Neighbourhood of Edinburgh. (SRO GD18/1143) Being his father’s seventh son, John Clerk of Eldin was not a wealthy man; he had to struggle to bring up a family of three sons and four daughters. In 1762 he purchased the small coal-field of Pendrich, or Pittendriech, near Lasswade, from the Marquis of Lothian for 2,000 guineas (SRO GD18/247/101/4/2/2). He had entertained the hope of great expectations, but he had borrowed from the bank and his indebtedness was a serious problem. In an undated draft letter, Clerk acknowledges his indebtedness to “our most benevolent and worthy friend Doctor Hutton” (SRO GD18/5486/53/1). Because the mine had ceased to be profitable, the Marquis intended to move the miners (colliers) to another and more profitable colliery.

Most people know that “No taxation without representation” was the battle cry in America, but few remember that until 1799 Scottish colliers were slaves – even their children were permanently indentured (Acts of 1775, Cap.28, p.296-298 and 13th June 1799, Cap.56, p.119-120). In 1761/62 the Pendrich miners – or someone acting for them – appealed to the Court of Session: they claimed only that their slavery was to the mine and not to the coal owner. It was a test case: the Marquis contested the claim, and the Court supported him; i.e. the colliers belonged to him, and could be moved at his pleasure (SRO GD18/1095; GD 247/101/4/2/2; GD18/1113. If a collier ran away, he was punished for stealing someone else’s property, and an iron collar with the name of his owner was put round his neck. Other punishments included tying a man’s hands behind his back and making him run backwards before the horse that toiled round and round to drive the engine that powered equipment. (Anon., 1899; Arnot, 1955; Barrowman, 1898; Bremner, 1969, p.1-31; Roy Campbell, 1968, Chap.5; Duckham 1968, 1969; Franks, 1842; Gray, 1933; Johnston, 1974, p.69-64, 216-233; McNeill, 1884).

Because Clerk could not afford to pay a manager, he had to direct the operation himself. Thus Clerk had extensive knowledge of sedimentary rocks and their structure, which must have been of great use to Hutton.

In 1764 Hutton made an important geological tour to the north of Scotland with George Clerk-Maxwell, later Sir George Clerk-Maxwell, 4th Baronet of Penicuik, “a gentleman distinguished for his abilities and worth, with whom Dr Hutton had the happiness to live in habits of the most intimate friendship” (Playfair, 1805, p.45). George Clerk-Maxwell, an older brother of John Clerk of Eldin, was elected one of the four Presidents of the Physical Section of the Royal Society of Edinburgh at its foundation in 1783. Like Hutton he had been a member of the Philosophical Society. Apart from geology, which was the object of the excursion, George Clerk-Maxwell and Hutton shared an interest in agricultural improvements. Perhaps that was what brought them together. George Clerk-Maxwell was the first of three members of the Clerk family who, on different occasions, accompanied Hutton on vitally important geological excursions. His nephew, John Clerk (later Lord Eldin) wrote an account of his life, which (along with Hutton’s Theory) was published in the first volume of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Transactions (1788). There we read that George Clerk-Maxwell was a Commissioner for the Annexed Estates (1752), a Trustee for Fisheries, Manufactures and Improvements (1760), and Commissioner of the Customs (1763). “Mr Clerk was well acquainted with every branch of Natural History. To Mineralogy he had paid particular attention, from its immediate connection with his mining operations”.

In 1765 Hutton and Davie entered into a regular partnership for the commercial production of sal ammoniac (Playfair, 1805, p.42 46; Clow & Clow, 1942, 1947, 1952. Also Ellis, 1760; Pococke, 1887).

1767: Return to Edinburgh

Hutton left Berwickshire and moved to Edinburgh in 1767. Playfair tells us that "he left Berwickshire entirely, and became resident in Edinburgh, giving his undivided attention from that time to scientific pursuits. Among other advantages which resulted to him from this change of residence, we must reckon that of being able to enjoy, with less interruption, the society of his literary friends, among whom were Dr Black, Mr Russel, professor of Natural Philosophy, Professor Adam Ferguson, Sir George Clerk, Mr Clerk of Elden [sic], Dr James Lind, now of Windsor, and several others" (Playfair, 1805, p.46). The James Russel referred to was Professor James Russell, senior, (d.1773)

From 1767-1774 Hutton was an active member of the Executive Committee for the Forth and Clyde Canal, and if he didn’t already know Kames and Watt, their common involvement with the Canal Project would have soon brought them together (Jean Jones, 1982). Sir John Hall of Dunglass was now an old and trusted friend, and George Clerk-Maxwell would no doubt have introduced Hutton to his brothers, Sir James Clerk (d.1782) 3rd Baronet, and John Clerk of Eldin. Hutton’s relationship with the Clerks of Penicuik House would, of course, have guaranteed Hutton a wide circle of friends with interests in the arts, the sciences, law, politics, agriculture, manufacture, mining, and improvements of all kinds. Sir George Clerk-Maxwell had two sons: John (d.1798), who became the 5th Baronet; one of Raeburn’s greatest portraits is of this Sir John and his wife. From the second son, James (d.1793), two lines descend – the Clerks of Penicuik and the Clerk-Maxwells; James was the grandfather of the famous physicist, James Clerk-Maxwell (1831-1879) [See genealogical tree 2].

According to Playfair, Hutton became a member of the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh at that time. The Society published volumes of Essays in 1754, 1756, and 1771, but although Hutton contributed several papers to the Society, they were presented after 1771 and before the incorporation of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1783. Only one of these papers was published, On Certain Natural Appearances of the Ground on the Hill of Arthur’s Seat (Hutton, 1790). It was read to the Philosophical Society in June 1778. Hutton explains that it was Ferguson who had suggested project in the summer of 1776, and who had then "carried" Black and Hutton to the place. We therefore know that by 1776 Hutton had made field observations with George Clerk-Maxwell, Watt, Ferguson, and Black.

Smith spent two months at Dalkeith in 1767, where the young Duke of Buccleuch (Smith’s former pupil) had brought his bride to celebrate his 21st birthday – it was the Duke’s first visit to Dalkeith. From 1767-1773 Smith was in Kirkcaldy, hard at work on The Wealth of Nations. In 1769 Hume challenged Smith to visit him in Edinburgh: “I am glad to have come within sight of you , and to have a view of Kirkcaldy from my windows … I want to know what you have been doing, and purpose to exact a rigorous account of the method in which you have employed yourself during your retreat. I am positive that you are in the wrong in many of your speculations, especially when you have the misfortune to differ from me” (Mossner, 1954 p.561). Hume was of course joking, though Dr Johnson was probably not when, speaking of the Catholics, he said to Boswell: ”In every thing in which they the Catholics differ from us they are wrong” (Boswell, 1887, p.407). Smith was back in Edinburgh briefly in 1770 in order to receive the freedom of the city From 1773-1776 he was in London, incorporating material supplied by Benjamin Franklin and other friends in London, and recasting the text, which was finally published in 1776. (The following year Hutton published a pamphlet on criteria useful to revenue officers who needed to distinguish between different grades of coal.) Smith then returned Kirkcaldy, but visited Edinburgh briefly in July 1776, when he joined some of Hume’s close friends for a farewell dinner.

When Smith received his appointment as Commissioner of Customs in 1778, (George Clerk-Maxwell had been a Commissioner since 1763), Smith moved to Edinburgh. His new home was Panmure House in the Canongate, only a few minutes walk from Hutton’s house in St John’s Hill, and here Smith lived until he died in 1790. Black and Hutton knew him well during these years, and were his literary executors.

Hume was in London as Under Secretary of State from 1767-1769, returning to Edinburgh in August 1769. Franklin was Hume’s guest in the new house in 1771, and Hutton may have attended one of the many dinner parties given during Franklin’s visit. The opportunity for Hutton to meet Hume was therefore most likely between 1769 and Hume’s death in 1776.

Though Robert Adam spent a lot of time in London, his family lived in Edinburgh. He and David Hume were good friends, and Adam in fact designed Hume’s tomb (Iain Brown, 1991). John Clerk of Eldin, was Robert Adam’s brother-in-law, friend and correspondent. Clerk wrote the contemporary biography of Robert Adam, and one of Clerk’s daughters inherited the great architect’s drawings, which are now in the Soane Museum in London. It is possible that the Adam connection might have given Hutton the opportunity to meet Hume.

Robison returned from Russia in 1774 to take up his appointment in Natural Philosophy. Hutton would probably meet him through Black and Ferguson. In 1774 Robison’s old friend Watt joined Boulton in Birmingham, and one of his first actions on his arrival was to invite Hutton to join him on a ‘jaunt’ to the Cheshire salt-mines; an invitation which Hutton accepted. Cheap fuel made it possible to tolerate inefficient engines in coal mines, but Cornish tin mines had no local source of coal. For this reason most of the customers for Watt and Boulton’s new, efficient engines were in Cornwall, which explains why Watt was able to draw a geological map of Cornwall. Hutton had personally examined “almost all of England and Wales, (excepting Devon and Cornwall)” (Hutton, 1795, Vol.1, p.213) [Italics added].

Finally, we note that it was in the ten years of Peace, 1783-1793, when he was accompanied first by John Clerk of Eldin and John Clerk, junior, and then by Playfair and Hall, that Hutton achieved his geological triumphs.

The Oyster Club

In October 1784, less than six months before Hutton’s seminal Theory of the Earth was presented to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Barthélémy Faujas de Saint Fond (1741-1819), arrived from France (Faujas, 1797, 1799, 1907). Formerly a successful lawyer, Faujas was then a distinguished scientist with a very practical bent; the following year he became Royal Commissioner of Mines, and in 1793 he was appointed Professor of Geology at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. In 1784 his Minéralogie des Volcans was newly published; six years earlier he had produced a magnificent volume on the extinct volcanoes of Central France. Faujas recognised that the columnar basalts of France were volcanic, and having read Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) on the columns at Fingal’s cave on Staffa (1772, published by Pennant, 1774, p.261-271, with 6 plates), he had been determined to visit the island. He arrived in Edinburgh having successfully made the difficult journey, and he had no hesitation in recognising the volcanic origin of the famous columns.

In Faujas’s words, the hills behind the town of Edinburgh [he probably meant the Salisbury Crags and Samson’s Ribs] “are composed of basaltic lava. This substance, which, at one time, must have been liquefied, exhibits prismatic septa occasioned by the cooling of the lava. There is here, however, none of that astonishing regularity displayed in the prismatic columns of the cave of Fingal ... The rapid mode in which this lava probably cooled, may have prevented this beautiful effect from taking place”. While giving Faujas credit, it must, however, be admitted that Faujas mistakenly thought many of the greywackes and shales of the Southern Uplands were volcanic. He was a convinced neptunist in his interpretation of so-called "trap" rocks and "toad-stones".

While in Edinburgh, Faujas visited James Hutton, principally because Hutton was reputed to have a collection of agates and other stones. Faujas reported that though he was unimpressed with Hutton’s collection, he had enjoyed conversing with this "modest philosopher" who, he said, was then "busily employed in writing a work on the theory of the earth". Faujas found more of interest in the company of Joseph Black (1728-99), the "learned chymist", whom he visited as often as possible, and whose "profound knowledge" he greatly respected.

It is strange that Faujas seems to have shown little interest in the nature of Hutton’s theory, especially because Black was very familiar with it. Black in fact read the first part of Hutton’s paper to the Society in 1785 when Hutton was indisposed, and on 27 August 1787 Black sent a long and important account of Hutton’s Theory to Princess Dashkov for the Imperial Academy of Sciences of St Petersburg (Edinburgh University Special Collections, Gen.873/III/36-39; Ramsay, 1918, p.117-125).

Other distinguished men that Faujas met in Edinburgh included William Cullen and William Robertson, but it was the "venerable philosopher", Adam Smith, whom Faujas visited most frequently. Learning that Faujas loved music, Smith invited him to attend a musical recital. This turned out to be the annual bagpipe competition at which only the classical Ceol Mor (great music) was played. The competitions in 1783 and 1785 were won by Donald MacIntyre, but it is not known whether he competed in 1784 when Smith and Faujas were in the audience. Faujas reported that "the competitors afterwards formed themselves into a line two deep, and marched in that order to the castle of Edinburgh, which", he rightly assures us, "is built on a volcanic rock".

The three close friends, Adam Smith, Joseph Black, and James Hutton, founded a club known as the Oyster Club (or Adam Smith’s Club), which met weekly. Among the regular members were Henry Mackenzie, Dugald Stewart, John Playfair, Sir James Hall, Robert Adam, John Clerk of Eldin, and Burns’ friend Lord Daer, the eldest son of the 4th Earl of Selkirk (John Rae, 1895, p.334-338, 416-419). Playfair described how “round them was soon formed a knot of those who knew how to value the familiar and social converse of these illustrious men. As all three possessed great talents, enlarged views, and extensive information, without any of the stateliness and formality which men of letters think it sometimes necessary to affect; as they were all three easily amused; were equally prepared to speak and to listen; and as the sincerity of their friendship had never been darkened by the least shade of envy; it would be hard to find an example, where every thing favourable to good society was more perfectly united, and every thing adverse more entirely excluded. The conversation was always free, often scientific, but never didactic or disputatious; and as this club was much the resort of the strangers who visited Edinburgh, from any object connected with art or with science, it derived from thence an extraordinary degree of variety and interest” (John Playfair,1805, p.98-99). It is very likely that Faujas, who knew all three of the founders, attended the club.

Sir Henry Raeburn painted the well-known portrait of Hutton about 1790 (Dr David Mackie, personal communication). During Hutton’s final years, although ill and in pain for much of the time, Hutton wrote a prodigious amount – on philosophy, physics, agriculture, and his enlarged Theory of the Earth, 1795 and 1997. Adam Smith died in 1790, James Hutton in 1797, and Joseph Black in 1799. Smith is buried in the Canongate Churchyard. Hutton and Black are buried in Greyfriars (Butcher, 1997), a few paces from such other notable Edinburgh men as William Robertson, Colin Maclaurin, Walter Scott’s father, and the Halls of Dunglass.

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