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Theory of the Earth, by James Hutton, [1788 and 1795], at

SECT. II.—The Theory confirmed from Observations made on purpose to elucidate the subject.

Having got a distinct view of the primary and secondary mineral bodies or strata of the globe, and having thus acquired a particular object to inquire after, with a view to investigate or illustrate this piece of natural history, I was considering where we might most probably succeed in finding the junction of the low country strata and alpine schistus. I inquired of Mr Hall of Whitehall, who had frequent opportunities of traversing those mountains which lie between his house in the Merse and Edinburgh; and I particularly entreated him to examine the bed of the Whittater, which he executed to my satisfaction.

Mr Hall having had occasion to examine the Pease and Tour burns, in planning and superintending the great improvement of the post road upon Sir James Hall's estate while Sir James was abroad, he informed me that the junction of the schistus and sand-stone strata was to be found in the Tour burn. Professor Playfair and I had been intending a visit to Sir James Hall at Dunglass; and this was a motive, not so much to hasten our visit, as to chose the most proper time for a mineral expedition both upon the hills and along the sea shore.

It was late in the spring 1788 when Sir James left town, and Mr Playfair and I went to Dunglass about the beginning of June. We had exceeding favourable weather during the most part of our expedition; and I now propose to give an account of the result of our observations.

Dunglass burn is the boundary between the counties of East Lothian and Berwickshire; and it is almost the boundary between the vertical and horizontal strata. To the north-west of this burn and beautiful dean are situated the coal, lime-stone, marl, and sand-stone strata; they are found stretching away along the shore in a very horizontal direction for some time, but become more and more inclined as they approach the schistus of which the hills of Lammermuir to the south are composed.

Though the boundary between the two things here in question be easily perceivable from the nature of the country at the first inspection, by the rising of the hills, yet this does not lead one precisely to the junction; and in the extensive common boundary of those two things, the junction itself is only to be perceived in few places, where the rock is washed bare by the rivers or the sea, and where this junction is exposed naked to our view. The sea is here wearing away the coast; and the bank, about 200 feet high, is gradually falling down, making in some places a steep declivity, in others a perpendicular cliff. St Abb's Head and Fast Castle are head lands projecting into the sea, and are the bulwarks of this shore, which is embayed to the westward, where the sea preys upon the horizontal strata. The solid strata are every where exposed either in the cliff or on the shore; we were therefore certain of meeting with the junction in going from Dunglass to Fast Castle, which is upon the schistus. But this journey can only be made by sea; and we first set out to examine the junction in the Tour and Pease burns, where we had been informed it was to be found.

In the bottom of those rivulets the sand-stone and marly strata appear pretty much inclined, rising towards the schistus country. The two burns unite before they come to the shore; and it is about midway between this junction and the bridges which are thrown over those two hollows, that the junction is to be found.

The schistus strata here approach towards vertical; and the sand-stone strata are greatly inclined. But this inclination of those two different strata are in opposite directions; neither does the horizontal section of those two different strata run parallel to the junction; that is to say, the intersection of those two different strata is a line inclined to the horizon.

At Jedburgh the schistus was vertical, and the strata horizontal; and there was interposed a compound bed of pudding-stone, formed of various water-worn bodies, the gravel of the schistus strata, and porphyries. Here again, though we have not a regular pudding-stone, we have that which corresponds to it, as having been the effect of similar circumstances. These are the fracture and detritus of the schistus, while the strata were deposited upon the broken ends of the schistus at the bottom of the sea. Most of the fragments of the schistus have their angles sharp; consequently, they had not travelled far, or been much worn by attrition. But more or less does not alter the nature of an operation; and the pudding-stone, which at Jedburgh is interposed between the vertical schistus and horizontal strata, is here properly represented by the included fragments of schistus in the inclined strata.

The line of this junction running, on the one hand, towards Fast Castle eastward, and, on the other, towards the head of Dunglass burn westward, our business was to pursue this object in those two different directions. But it was chiefly in the sea coast that was placed our expectations, having recollection of the great banks of gravel under which the strata are buried about Oldhamstocks, near which, from all appearances, the junction was to be expected.

Having taken boat at Dunglass burn, we set out to explore the coast; and, we observed the horizontal sand-stone turn up near the Pease burn, lifting towards the schistus. We found the junction of that schistus with the red sand-stone and marly strata on the shore and sea bank, at St. Helens, corresponding in general with what we had observed in the burns to the westward. But, at Siccar Point, we found a beautiful picture of this junction washed bare by the sea. The sand-stone strata are partly washed away, and partly remaining upon the ends of the vertical schistus; and, in many places, points of the schistus strata are seen standing up through among the sand-stone, the greatest part of which is worn away. Behind this again we have a natural section of those sand-stone strata, containing fragments of the schistus.

After this nothing appears but the schistus rocks, until sand-stone and marl again are found at Red-heugh above the vertical strata. From that bay to Fast Castle we had nothing to observe but the schistus, which is continued without interruption to St Abb's Head. Beyond this, indeed, there appears to be something above the schistus; and great blocks of a red whin-stone or basaltes come down from the height and lie upon the shore; but we could not perceive distinctly how the upper mass is connected with the vertical schistus which is continued below.

Our attention was now directed to what we could observe with respect to the schisti, of which we had most beautiful views and most perfect sections. Here are two objects to be held in view, in making those observations; the original formation or stratification of the schisti, and the posterior operations by which the present state of things has been procured. We had remarkable examples for the illustration of both those subjects.

With regard to the first, we have every where among the rocks many surfaces of the erected strata laid bare, in being separated. Here we found the most distinct marks of strata of sand modified by moving water. It is no other than that which we every day observe upon the sands of our own shore, when the sea has ebbed and left them in a waved figure, which cannot be mistaken. Such figures as these are extremely common in our sand-stone strata; but this is an object which I never had distinctly observed in the alpine schisti; although, considering that the original of those schisti was strata of sand, and formed in water, there was no reason to doubt of such a thing being found. But here the examples are so many and so distinct, that it could not fail to give us great satisfaction.

We were no less gratified in our views with respect to the other object, the mineral operations by which soft strata, regularly formed in horizontal planes at the bottom of the sea, had been hardened and displaced. Fig. 4. represents one of those examples; it was drawn by Sir James Hall from a perfect section in the perpendicular cliff at Lumesden burn. Here is not only a fine example of the bendings of the strata, but also of a horizontal shift or hitch of those erected strata.

St Abb's Head is a promontory which, at a distance, one would naturally conclude to be composed of the schisti, as is all the shore to that place; but, as we approached it, there was some difference to be perceived in the external appearance, it having a more rounded and irregular aspect. Accordingly, upon our arrival, we found this head-land composed of a different substance. It is a great mass of red whin-stone, of a very irregular structure and composition. Some of it is full of small pebbles of calcareous spar, surrounded with a coat of a coloured substance, different both from the whin-stone ground and the inclosed pebble. Here ended our expedition by water.

Having thus found the junction of the sand-stone with the schistus or alpine strata to run in a line directed from Fast Castle to Oldhamstocks, or the heads of Dunglass burn, we set out to trace this burn, not only with a view to observe the junction, if it should there appear, but particularly to discover the source of many blocks of whin-stone, of all sizes, with which the bed of this burn abounds.

The sand-stone and coal strata, which are nearly horizontal at the mouth of this burn, or on the coast, become inclined as we go up the course of the rivulet; and of this we have fine sections in the bank. The Dean of Dunglass is formed of precipitous and perpendicular rocks, through which the running water has worn its way more than a hundred feet deep; above this Dean the banks are steep and very high, but covered with soil, which here is a deep gravel. The burn runs all the way up to Oldhamstocks upon the sand-stone strata; but there, these are traversed by a high whin-stone dyke, which crosses the burn obliquely, as we found it on both banks though not in the bed of the burn; it is in the south bank below the village, and on the north above it. Here is the source of the whin-stone which we were looking for; it is the common blue basaltes, of the same nature with the Giant's Causeway, but with no regular columnar appearance.

Above Oldhamstocks we again found the sand-stone in the bank, but it soon disappeared under a deep cover of gravel, and the burn then divided into several rivulets which come from the hills. We traced the one which led most directly up to the mountains, in expectation of meeting with the schistus, at least, if not the junction of it with the sandstone. But in this we were disappointed. We did not however lose our labour; for, though the junction which we pursued be not here visible, we met with what made it sufficiently evident, and was at the same time an object far more interesting in our eyes.

I have already quoted Mr Voigt's description of the sol mort rouge; he says, that in places it forms entire mountains; here we have a perfect example of the same thing; and the moment we saw it, we said, here is the sol mort rouge. We ascended to the top of the mountain through a gully of solid pudding-stone going into decay, and furnishing the country below with that great covering of gravel, soil, and water worn stones. We were now well acquainted with the pudding-stone, which is interposed between the horizontal and alpine strata; but from what we had seen to the eastward, we never should have dreamed of meeting with what we now perceived. What we had hitherto seen of this pudding-stone was but a few fragments of the schistus in the lower beds of sand-stone; here a mountain of water-worn schisti, imbedded in a red earth and consolidated, presented itself to our view. It was evident that the schisti mountains, from whence those fragments had come, had been prior to this secondary mass; but here is a secondary mountain equal in height to the primary, or schisti mountains, at the basis of which we had seen the strata superinduced on the shore. Still, however, every thing here is formed upon the same principle, and nothing here is altered except the scale on which the operation had been performed.

Upon the coast, we have but a specimen of the pudding-stone; most of the fragments had their angles entire; and few of them are rounded by attrition. Here, on the contrary, the mountain is one pudding-stone; and most of the fragments are stones much rounded by attrition. But the difference is only in degree, and not in kind; the stones are the same, and the nature of the composition similar. Had we seen the mass of which this mountain is only a relict, (having been degraded by the hands of time), we should have found this pudding-stone at the bottom of our sand-stone strata; could we have penetrated below this mass of pudding-stone, we should have found our schistus which we left on the shore at St. Helens and in the Tour burn. In Tiviotdale the vertical schisti are covered with a bed of pudding-stone, the gravel of which had been much worn by attrition, but the thickness of that bed is small; here again the wearing operation has been great, and the quantity of those materials even more than in proportion to those operations. We returned perfectly satisfied; and Sir James Hall is to pursue this subject farther when he shall be in those mountains shooting muir game.

We had now only one object more to pursue; this was to examine the south side of those mountains of Lammermuir upon the sea shore, in order to see the junction of the primary schistus with the coal strata of Berwickshire. Mr Hall was to meet us at the Press, and we were afterwards to go with him to Whitehall. We met accordingly; but the weather was rainy; and we went directly to Whitehall. I had often seen the pudding-stone in great masse; in the banks of the Whiteader, as it comes out of the mountains, but then I had not seen its connection neither, on the one hand, with the schisti, nor, on the other, with the sand-stone strata. We knew that at Lammerton upon the sea coast there was coal, and consequently the sand-stone strata; and reasoning upon those data we were sure that our proper course of investigation was to trace the river Ey to the shore, and then go south the coast in search of the junction of the schistus with the horizontal strata. This we executed as well as the weather would permit; but had it to regret, that the rainy season was not so favourable for our views, as it was agreeable to the country which had been suffering with the drought.

It is needless now to enlarge upon this subject. I shall only mention that we found the red marly strata above the pudding-stone in the bed of the Ey and its branches; we then traced the schistus down the Ey, and found a mass of the most consolidated pudding-stone upon the coast to the north of the harbour of Eymouth. But this mass did not rest on the schistus; it is immediately upon a mass of whin-stone; and the schistus is in the harbour, so that this whin-stone mass seems to be here interposed between the pudding-stone and schistus. We then pursued the coast southwards until we found the junction of the schistus and sand-stone strata about two miles from Eymouth; but here the junction was not attended with any pudding-stone that we could perceive.

Having found the same or similar appearances from the one end to the other, and on both sides of that range of mountains which run from sea to sea in the south of Scotland, we may now extend our view of this mineral operation in comprehending every thing of the same kind which we meet with in our island or any other distant country.

Thus perhaps the pudding-stone of the south of England will be considered in the same light as having been formed of the débris and détritus of the flinty bodies.

In the island of Arran, there is also a pudding-stone, even in some of the summits of the island, exactly upon the border of the schistus district, as will be described in the natural history of that island. This pudding-stone is composed of gravel formed of the hardest parts of the schistus and granite or porphyry mountains. That compound parasitical stone has been also again cemented by heat and fusion; I have a specimen in which there is a clear demonstration of that fact. One of the water-worn stones which had been rounded by attrition, has in this pudding-stone been broken and shifted, the one half slipping over the other, three quarters of an inch, besides other smaller slips in the same stone. But the two pieces are again cemented; or they had been shifted when the stone was in that soft state, by which the two pieces are made perfectly to cohere. Those shifts and veins, in this species of stone, are extremely instructive, illustrating the mineral operations of the globe.

In like manner to the north of the Grampians, along the south side of Loch Ness, there are mountains formed of the debris of schistus and granite mountains, first manufactured into sand and gravel, and then consolidated into a pudding-stone, which is always formed upon the same principle. The same is also found upon the south side of those mountains in the shire of Angus.

I may also give for example the African Brechia, which is a pudding-stone of the same nature. This stone is composed of granites or porphyries, serpentines and schisti, extremely indurated and perfectly consolidated. It is also demonstrable from the appearance in this stone that it has been in a softened state, from the shape and application of its constituent parts; and in a specimen of it which I have in my cabinet, there is also a demonstration of calcareous spar flowing among the gravel of the consolidated rock.

This fact therefore of pudding-stone mountains, is a general fact, so far as it is founded upon observations that are made in Africa, Germany, and Britain. We may now reason upon this general fact, in order to see how far it countenances the idea of primitive mountains, on the one hand, or on the other supports the present theory, which admits of nothing primitive in the visible or examinable parts of the earth.

To a person who examines accurately the composition of our mountains, which occupy the south of Scotland, no argument needs be used to persuade him that the bodies in question are not primitive; the thing is evident from inspection, as much as would be the ruins of an ancient city, although there were no record of its history. The visible materials, which compose for the most part the strata of our south alpine schisti, are so distinctly the debris and detritus of a former earth, and so similar in their nature with those which for the most part compose the strata on all hands acknowledged as secondary, that there can remain no question upon that head. The consolidation, again, of those strata, and the erection of them from their original position, and from the place in which they had been formed, is another question.

But the acknowledging strata, which had been formed in the sea of loose materials, to be consolidated and raised into the place of land, is plainly giving up the idea of primitive mountains. The only question, therefore, which remains to be solved, must respect the order of things, in comparing the alpine schisti with the secondary strata; and this indeed forms a curious subject of investigation.

It is plain that the schisti had been indurated, elevated, broken, and worn by attrition in water, before the secondary strata, which form the most fertile parts of our earth, had existed. It is also certain that the tops of our schistus mountains had been in the bottom of the sea at the time when our secondary strata had begun to be formed; for the pudding-stone on the top of our Lammermuir mountains, as well as the secondary strata upon the vertical schisti of the Alps and German mountains, affords the most irrefragable evidence of that fact.

It is further to be affirmed, that this whole mass of water-formed materials, as well as the basis on which it rested, had been subjected to the mineral operations of the globe, operations by which the loose and incoherent materials are consolidated, and that which was the bottom of the sea made to occupy the station of land, and serve the purpose for which it is destined in the world. This also will appear evident, when it is considered that it has been from the appearances in this very land, independent of those of the alpine schisti, that the present theory has been established.

By thus admitting a primary and secondary in the formation of our land, the present theory will be confirmed in all its parts. For, nothing but those vicissitudes, in which the old is worn and destroyed, and new land formed to supply its place, can explain that order which is to be perceived in all the works of nature; or give us any satisfactory idea with regard to that apparent disorder and confusion, which would disgrace an agent possessed of wisdom and working with design.

Next: Chapter VII. Opinions examined with regard to Petrifaction, or Mineral Concretion