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JAMES HUTTON, M. D.*
DR JAMES HUTTON was the son of Mr William Hutton, merchant in Edinburgh, and was born in that city on the 3d of June 1726. His father, a man highly respected for his good sense and integrity, and who for some years held the office of City Treasurer, died while James was very young. The care of her son's education devolved, of course, on Mrs Hutton, who appears to have been well qualified for discharging this double portion of parental duty. She resolved to bestow on him a liberal education, and sent him first to the High School of Edinburgh, and afterwards to the University, where he entered as a student of humanity in November 1740.
Of the masters under whom he studied there, Maclaurin was by far the most eminent; and Dr Hutton, though he had cultivated the mathematical sciences less than any other, never mentioned
* From the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Vol. V. (1805.)—Ed.
the lectures of that celebrated professor but in terms of high admiration.
He used also to acknowledge his obligations to Professor Stevenson's Prelections on Logic; not so much, however, for having made him a logician as a chemist. The fact that gold is dissolved in aqua regia, and that two acids which can each of them singly dissolve any of the baser metals, must unite their strength before they can attack the most precious, was mentioned by the professor as an illustration of some general doctrine. The instinct of genius, if I may call it so, enabled Mr Hutton, young as he then was, to feel, probably, rather than to understand, the importance of this phenomenon ; and as if, by the original constitution of his mind, a kind of elective attraction had drawn him towards chemistry, he became from that moment attached to it by a force that could never afterwards be overcome. He made an immediate search for books that might give him some farther instruction concerning the fact which he had just heard of; but the only one he could procure, for a long time, was Harris's Lexicon Technicum, the predecessor of those voluminous compilations which have since contributed so much more to extend the surface, than to increase the solidity of science. It was from the imperfect sketch contained in that dictionary, that he derived his first knowledge of chemistry, his love for which never forsook him after
wards, and was in truth the propensity which decided the whole course and complexion of his future life.
Though his taste and capacity for instruction were sufficiently conspicuous during his course of academical study, his friends wished him rather to pursue business than science. This was a measure by no means congenial to his mind, yet he acquiesced in it without difficulty.
Accordingly, in 1743 he was placed as an apprentice with Mr George Chalmers, writer to the signet; and subjection to the routine of a laborious employment, was now about to check the ardour and repress the originality of a mind formed for different pursuits. But happily the force of genius cannot always be controlled by the plans of a narrow and short-sighted prudence. The young man's propensity to study continued, and he was often found amusing himself and his fellow apprentices with chemical experiments, when he should have been copying papers, or studying the forms of legal proceedings; so that Mr Chalmers soon perceived that the business of a writer was not that in which he was destined to succeed. With much good sense and kindness, therefore, he advised him to think of some employment better suited to his turn of mind, and released him from the obligations which he had come under as his apprentice. In this he did an essential service to science, and to
the young man himself. A man of talents may follow any profession with advantage; a man of genius will hardly succeed but in that which nature has pointed out.
The study of medicine, as being the most nearly allied to chemistry, was that to which young Hutton now resolved to dedicate his time. He began that study under Dr George Young, the father of the late Dr Thomas Young, and at the same time attended the lectures in the university. This course of medical instruction he followed from 1744 to 1747.
Though a regular school of medicine had now been established in the University of Edinburgh for several years, the system of medical education was neither in reality, nor in the opinion
of the world, Some part of
so complete as it has since become. a physician's studies was still to be prosecuted on the Continent; and, accordingly, in the end of 1747, Mr Hutton repaired to Paris, where he pursued with great ardour the studies of chemistry and anatomy. After remaining in that metropolis nearly two years, he returned by the way of the Low Countries, and took the degree of Doctor of Medicine at Leyden in September 1749. His thesis is entitled, De Sanguine et Circulatione in Mi
On his return to London about the end of that year, he began to think seriously of settling in the
world. His native city, to which his views of course were first turned, afforded no very flattering prospect for his establishment as a physician. The business there was in the hands of a few eminent practitioners who had been long established; so that no opening was left for a young man whose merit was yet unknown, who had no powerful connections to assist him on his first outset, and very little of that patient and circumspect activity by which a man pushes himself forward in the world.
These considerations seem to have made a very deep impression on his mind, and he wrote on the subject of his future prospects with considerable anxiety to his friends in Edinburgh.
One of these friends was Mr James Davie, a young man nearly of his own age, with whom he had early contracted a very intimate friendship, that endured through the whole of his life, without interruption, to the mutual benefit of both. The turn which both of them had for chemical experiments formed their first connection, and cemented it afterwards. They had begun together to make experiments on the nature and production of sal ammoniac. These experiments had led to some valuable discoveries, and had been farther pursued by Mr Davie during Dr Hutton's absence. The result afforded a reasonable expectation of establishing a profitable manufacture of the salt just named from coal-soot.