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HALL, Sir JAMES (1761–1832), geologist and chemist, the first geologist directly to apply the test of laboratory experiment to geological hypotheses, was born in 1761, being the eldest son of Sir John, third baronet of Dunglass, Haddingtonshire, by Magdalen, daughter of Sir Robert Pringle, bart. Hall succeeded to the baronetcy in 1776. Next year he entered Christ's College, Cambridge, but took no degree. His attention turned early to geological questions: he became intimate with James Hutton and his exponent Playfair, and relates how, after three years' argument with Hutton, he adopted the leading principles of his system. These he tested by careful study of the rocks in various parts of Scotland, in the Alps, in Italy, and in Sicily. During his travels, from which he returned in 1785, he also paid considerable attention to architecture. He was anxious to test the objections of the Neptunist followers of Werner to Hutton's Plutonist views by experiment, believing with Paracelsus that ‘Vulcan is a second nature, imitating concisely what the first takes time and circuit to effect.’ Hutton, however, objected ‘to judge of the great operations of the mineral kingdom from having kindled a fire and looked into the bottom of a little crucible,’ so Hall postponed the publication of any of his results until after his friend's death in 1797. In a series of memoirs communicated to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, of which he was president, he showed, in opposition to the Wernerians, that basalt and even bottle-glass, when fused and very slowly cooled, became stony and crystalline, and not glassy; that carbonate of lime, when heated under pressure, was not burnt into quicklime, but became a crystalline marble; and that the vertical position and convolutions of strata in the neighbourhood of granite have been produced by its intrusion in a molten state causing lateral pressure. He gave a true account of the formation of volcanic cones as illustrated by Vesuvius, but he followed De Saussure and Pallas, in opposition to Hutton and Playfair, in attributing to a great sea-flood or ‘débâcle’ the presence of boulders on the Jura and similar phenomena at Corstorphine which we now recognise as glacial. In 1797 he laid before the Royal Society of Edinburgh an interesting introductory ‘Essay on the Origin and Principles of Gothic Architecture,’ of twenty-seven pages, with six plates and a coloured frontispiece, which he issued in an enlarged form in 1813 as an ‘Essay on the Origin, History, and Principles of Gothic Architecture,’ extending to 150 pages, with sixty plates. He argues in detail that Gothic architecture began in the reproduction in stone of simple wattle buildings, deriving crockets from the sprouting buds on willow-staves, cusped ornaments from curling flakes of bark on unbarked poles, and the pointed arch and groined roof from flexible poles tied together as rafters across a beam. He describes a miniature Gothic cathedral built by him in wattle-work, which is represented in the frontispiece. From 1807 to 1812 Hall represented the borough of Michael or Mitchell, Cornwall, in parliament. He died at Edinburgh on 23 June 1832, a machine invented by him for regulating high temperatures being described to the Geological Society of London after his death by his second son, Captain Basil Hall [q. v.] He married (9 Nov. 1786) Helen, second daughter of Dunbar Douglas, fourth earl of Selkirk. She died 12 July 1837. By her Hall had three sons and three daughters; the eldest son, John (1787–1860), fifth baronet, was F.R.S.; the younger ones, Basil and James, are separately noticed.

[Proc. Geol. Soc. i. 438, 478; the works above mentioned; Experimental Geology, by F. W. Rudler, in Proc. Geol. Assoc. vol. xi.; Burke's Baronetage; Gent. Mag. 1832, ii. 178–9.]

G. S. B.