This article explores a somewhat neglected part of the story of the emergence of geology as a science and discourse in the late eighteenth century – James Hutton’s posthumously published accounts of the geological tours of Scotland that he undertook in the years 1785 to 1788 in search of empirical evidence in support of his theory of the Earth and that he intended to include in the projected third volume of his Theory of the Earth of 1795. The article brings some of the assumptions and techniques of literary criticism to bear on Hutton’s scientific travel writing in order to open up new connections between geology, Romantic aesthetics and eighteenth-century travel writing about Scotland. Close analysis of Hutton’s accounts of his field trips to Glen Tilt, Galloway and Arran, supplemented by later accounts of the discoveries at Jedburgh and Siccar Point, reveals the interplay between desire, travel and the scientific quest and foregrounds the textual strategies that Hutton uses to persuade his readers that they share in the experience of geological discovery and interpretation as ‘virtual witnesses’. As well as allowing us to revisit the interrelation between scientific theory and discovery, this article concludes that Hutton was a much better writer than he has been given credit for and suggests that if these geological tours had been published in 1795 they would have made it impossible for critics to dismiss him as an armchair geologist.
- geological tour