Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hutchinson, John (1674-1737)

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HUTCHINSON, JOHN (1674–1737), author of 'Moses's Principia,' was born at Spennithorne, near Middleham, Yorkshire, in 1674. His father, who had an estate of 40l. a year, desired to qualify him for a land-agency. A gentleman, happening to take lodgings in his father's house, took a fancy to the lad, and offered to stay till his education was completed. From this admirable boarder, who concealed his name, Hutchinson learnt some mathematics. In 1693 he became steward to Mr. Bathurst of Skutterskelf in Yorkshire; then to the Earl of Scarborough; and afterwards to the Duke of Somerset. Going to town about 1700 upon some law business of the duke's, he became acquainted with Dr. Woodward, the duke's physician. Woodward made use of him to collect fossils, and during his travels on business he got materials for a pamphlet called ‘Observations made by J. H., mostly in the year 1706.’ Hutchinson, according to his biographer, understood that Woodward was to use his collections for the purposes of a treatise in which the Mosaic account of the deluge was to be confirmed. Woodward showed him a large book, supposed to contain materials for this work. Hutchinson managed at last to examine it during Woodward's absence, and found it nearly blank. He was disgusted with Woodward, and endeavoured to reclaim his fossils. Woodward apparently regarded him as a mere agent and refused. Hutchinson then brought an action for their recovery, but the death of Woodward in 1728, and the bequest of his collections to the university of Cambridge, induced Hutchinson to desist. Hutchinson had already determined to write the treatise himself. He resigned his stewardship, to the annoyance of the duke, who, however, upon hearing his motive, appointed him riding purveyor, being himself master of the horse, to George I. As purveyor he had a good house, 200l. a year, and few duties. The duke also gave him the next presentation to Sutton in Sussex, to which he appointed his disciple, Julius Bate [q. v.] In 1724 he published his first exposition of his principles, 'Moses's Principia,' and continued to set forth other works till his death. He invented an improved timepiece for the determination of the longitude, and about 1712 endeavoured to obtain an act of parliament for the protection of his discovery. Whiston mentions a manuscript map in which he had shown the variations of the compass. His studies led to a sedentary life, and injured his health. His death, however, was caused by the 'sudden jerks given to his body' by 'a high-fed, unruly horse.' Mead, who attended him, said, to encourage him, 'I shall soon send you to Moses,' meaning 'Moses's Principia;' to which he replied, 'I believe, doctor, you will,' and died 28 Aug. 1737. A report that he had recanted his principles on his deathbed is indignantly denied by his biographer.

Hutchinson was a half-educated and fanciful man of boundless vanity. He seems to have started from the opinion that Newton's doctrines were of dangerous consequence. He denied Newton's theory of gravitation as involving the existence of a vacuum. He was interested in the geological theories lately started by the writings of Thomas Burnet and Woodward, which began the long controversy as to the relations between geology and the book of Genesis. He found a number of symbolical meanings in the Bible and in nature, and thought, for example, that the union of fire, light, and air was analogous to the Trinity. He maintained that Hebrew, when read without points, would confirm his teaching. His theories were taken up by Duncan Forbes (1685-1747) [q. v.], John Parkhurst [q. v.], Bishop George Horne [q. v.], and William Jones [q. v.] of Nayland, men of greater pretensions to scholarship than himself, and the 'Hutchinsonians' became a kind of recognised party. Their love of a scriptural symbolism seems to have been the peculiarity which chiefly recommended him to his followers.

Hutchinson's works, collected in twelve volumes by his disciples Spearman and Bate in 1748, include the following, with dates of first appearance: Vols. i. and ii. 'Moses's Principia,' pt. i., 1724; 'Essay towards a Natural History of the Bible,' 1725; 'Moses's Principia,' pt. ii., 1727. Vol. iii. 'Moses's Sine Principle' 1730. Vol.iv. 'The Confusion of Tongues and the Trinity of the Gentiles' 1731. Vol. v. 'Power Essential and Mechanical … in which the design of Sir I. Newton and Dr. S. Clarke is laid open,' 1732. Vol. vi. 'Glory in Gravity, or Glory Essential and the Cherubim explained,' 1733, 1734. Vol. vii. 'The Hebrew Writings perfect, being a detection of the Forgeries of the Jews,' 1735 (?). Vol. viii. 'The Religion of Satan, or Natural Religion,' 1736, and the 'Data of Christianity,' pt, i., 1736. The later works are published from his manuscript. Vol. ix. 'Data of Christianity,' pt. ii. Vol. x. 'The Human Frame.' Vol. xi. 'Glory Mechanical … with a Treatise on the Columns before the Temple.' Vol. xii. Tracts (including the 'Observations' of 1706). A supplement to the works, with an index to the Hebrew words explained, appeared in 1765.

[Life by R. Spearman, appended to Flloyd's Bibliotheca Biographica, 1760, and prefixed to supplementary volume of Works; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. i. 421, 422, iii. 54; L. Stephen's English Thought in the 18th Century, i.389-91.]

L. S.