While the nature of evaporation was in dispute, as a matter of course the question of precipitation must be equally undetermined. The most famous theory of the period was that formulated by Dr. Hutton in a paper read before the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and published in the volume of transactions which contained also the same author's epoch-making paper on geology. This "theory of rain" explained precipitation as due to the cooling of a current of saturated air by contact with a colder current, the assumption being that the surplusage of moisture was precipitated in a chemical sense, just as the excess of salt dissolved in hot water is precipitated when the water cools. The idea that the cooling of the saturated air causes the precipitation of its moisture is the germ of truth that renders this paper of Hutton's important. All correct later theories build on this foundation.

"Let us suppose the surface of this earth wholly covered with water," said Hutton, "and that the sun were stationary, being always vertical in one place; then, from the laws of heat and rarefaction, there would be formed a circulation in the atmosphere, flowing from the dark and cold hemisphere to the heated and illuminated place, in all directions, towards the place of the greatest cold.

"As there is for the atmosphere of this earth a constant cooling cause, this fluid body could only arrive at a certain degree of heat; and this would be regularly decreasing from the centre of illumination to the opposite point of the globe, most distant from the light and heat. Between these two regions of extreme heat and cold there would, in every place, be found two streams of air following in opposite directions. If those streams of air, therefore, shall be supposed as both sufficiently saturated with humidity, then, as they are of different temperatures, there would be formed a continual condensation of aqueous vapor, in some middle region of the atmosphere, by the commixtion of part of those two opposite streams.

"Hence there is reason to believe that in this supposed case there would be formed upon the surface of the globe three different regions—the torrid region, the temperate, and the frigid. These three regions would continue stationary; and the operations of each would be continual. In the torrid region, nothing but evaporation and heat would take place; no cloud could be formed, because in changing the transparency of the atmosphere to opacity it would be heated immediately by the operation of light, and thus the condensed water would be again evaporated. But this power of the sun would have a termination; and it is these that would begin the region of temperate heat and of continual rain. It is not probable that the region of temperance would reach far beyond the region of light; and in the hemisphere of darkness there would be found a region of extreme cold and perfect dryness.

"Let us now suppose the earth as turning on its axis in the equinoctial situation. The torrid region would thus be changed into a zone, in which there would be night and day; consequently, here would be much temperance, compared with the torrid region now considered; and here perhaps there would be formed periodical condensation and evaporation of humidity, corresponding to the seasons of night and day. As temperance would thus be introduced into the region of torrid extremity, so would the effect of this change be felt over all the globe, every part of which would now be illuminated, consequently heated in some degree. Thus we would have a line of great heat and evaporation, graduating each way into a point of great cold and congelation. Between these two extremes of heat and cold there would be found in each hemisphere a region of much temperance, in relation to heat, but of much humidity in the atmosphere, perhaps of continual rain and condensation.

"The supposition now formed must appear extremely unfit for making this globe a habitable world in every part; but having thus seen the effect of night and day in temperating the effects of heat and cold in every place, we are now prepared to contemplate the effects of supposing this globe to revolve around the sun with a certain inclination of its axis. By this beautiful contrivance, that comparatively uninhabited globe is now divided into two hemispheres, each of which is thus provided with a summer and a winter season. But our present view is limited to the evaporation and condensation of humidity; and, in this contrivance of the seasons, there must appear an ample provision for those alternate operations in every part; for as the place of the vertical sun is moved alternately from one tropic to the other, heat and cold, the original causes of evaporation and condensation, must be carried over all the globe, producing either annual seasons of rain or diurnal seasons of condensation and evaporation, or both these seasons, more or less—that is, in some degree.