One of five children, James Hutton was born in Edinburgh on 3rd June 1726. His father William Hutton, who died when James was a small child, was a respected merchant and also Edinburgh City Treasurer. His mother Sarah Balfour ensured that James was well educated, first at the High School of Edinburgh and than at the age of 14 he went to the University of Edinburgh as a ‘student of humanity’.
Judging by his references to them in later life, he was most influenced in his studies there, by the mathematician Colin Maclaurin (a gaelic speaking student of Isaac Newton), and also Professor Stevenson “for having made him….a chemist”. This was to greatly influence his development as a geologist.
“The instinct of genius…and by…the original constitution of his mind, a kind of elective attraction had drawn him towards chemistry”
At the age of 17, he was apprenticed to a lawyer; but this was not a successful move. According to his biographer John Playfair
“… happily the force of genius cannot always be controlled by the plans of a narrow and short-sighted prudence. The young man…was often found amusing himself and his fellow apprentices with chemical experiments instead of copying papers”
The next move in the course of Hutton’s eclectic education was into medicine at the age of 18, because (Playfair informs us), it was most closely allied to chemistry! He undertook this both as an assistant to an eminent Edinburgh physician whilst also attending lectures at the University. Three years later he continued his studies in Paris pursuing “…with great ardour the studies of chemistry and anatomy”and took the degree of doctor of medicine in 1749 at Leyden. His thesis was on blood circulation (“De Sanguine et Cirulatione in Microcosmo”).