Articles published from 1805 to 1815 in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh reflect a rapidly emerging and meticulous empiricism in the study of earth history; an empiricism directed principally toward an understanding of James Hutton's notions about cyclical, igneous-based, earth processes. One obvious focus for this detailed testing was Hutton's disagreement with Werner over the origin of basalt, which was most carefully explored in the laboratory studies of Sir James Hall and Robert Kennedy. However the geological field observations of Sir George Mackenzie, Lord Webb Seymour, John Playfair and other Society members seemed also to play a most important role in deciphering the Huttonian logic.
Hall, following Lavoisier but in disagreement with Hutton, repeatedly emphasized that a more rigorous experimental micro-chemistry would eventually result in a more fundamentally sound macrogeology. In a number of papers read before the Royal Society it was obvious that Hall and his colleagues were indebted to Hutton for his demanding brand of field empiricism, which they acclaimed as a break with the less rigorous 18th century cosmologies, but Hutton was definitely not venerated. Certain Huttonian conclusions were verified but others were severely compromised not only by the results of Hall's fusion experiments but also by numerous field observations especially of Alpine geomorphic features. Indeed, attempting to understand the scale of geological processes through their subsequent effects appears at times to have been a more fundamental pursuit than a continual chorus of fire versus water.
Obscured perhaps by the studies of subsequent generations these turn-of-the-century geological controversies were so enriched by empirical fervor that even this brief perusal of the Transactions cannot fail to impress us with the high level of imaginative experimentation devised by members of the Society, experimentation, however, resulting in large part from the Huttonian legacy.