The figure “2” following David’s name in the Matriculation Book most likely represents his year at the University, a conclusion that is borne out by the fact that on another sheet, Scot’s for 1710, “an” (anno) follows the numeral. On the 1723 sheet the symbols, “1”, “2”, “3 “or” 4” accompany the signatures of some of the students, though not of the majority. It is thus established that the numerals were not mandatory. It is perhaps a fair inference that David was admitted to the University with advanced standing, that he was one of the Supervenientes excused from the Humanity class. John’s situation is less clear. On the evidence of the Justin,1 John, who was two years older than David, would seem to have been two years ahead of him at the University, an inference that unhappily is not corroborated by the Matriculation Book. A further complication arises from the intention of many students, including the two Humes, not to take degrees and hence not to be confined to a required succession of classes. And, as some students, curiously enough, matriculated several times during their academic careers, no new evidence is to be inferred from the fact that the Ninewells boys matriculated only once. It is also difficult to say with any confidence for which class of several possibilities the Justin was required reading.
Curiously enough the influence—if indeed there was any—may have been in the other direction. For Hume’s well-known tri-partite division of human reason into knowledge, proofs and probabilities may have derived from the Chevalier Ramsay’s Voyages de Cyrus (1727) or from Andrew Baxter, who quoted the relevant passage in his Enquiry into the Nature of the Human Soul (1733).2
“I am resolved before the post go away to tell you of the Library to which I am admitted here in Rheims. I was recommended to the Abbé Noel-Antoine Pluche, which most learned man has opened his fine Library to me. It has all Advantages for Study and particularly holds an Abundance of Writings of both the French and English along with as complete a selection of the Classics as I have seen in one place. It is my Pleasure to read over again today Locke’s Essays and The Principles of Human Knowledge by Dr. Berkeley which are printed in their original state and in French copy. I was told by a student from the University who attends to the order of the Library that his Master received new works of Learning & Philosophy from London and Paris each month, and so I shall feel no want of the latest books.”
“As to a celebrated Professor, I do not know, if there is such to be met with at present in any part of France, especially for the Sciences, in which generally speaking the French are much inferiour to our own Countreymen.1 But as you know there is nothing to be learnt from a Professor, which is not to be met with in Books, & there is nothing requir’d in order to reap all possible Advantages from them, but an Order & Choice in reading them; in which, besides the small Assistance I can give you, your own Judgement wou’d alone be sufficient; I see no reason why we shou’d either go to an University, more than to any other place, or ever trouble ourselves about the Learning or Capacity of the Professor.”2
Tours, August 26, 1737
My Dear Friend,
I have quitted La Fleche two days after receiving yours. I am now at Tours in my way to Paris, where I do not intend to stay any considerable time, unless some extraordinary Accident intervene: So that I propose to see you in London about 3 or 4 Weeks hence. You may be sure that this Meeting will afford me a very great Satisfaction. & ’tis with the utmost Concern I hear you will leave the City a little after my Arrival. Nothing can be more useful & agreeable than to have an intimate Friend with one at any critical Time of Life such as that which I am just going to enter upon. & I must certainly esteem it a great Loss to be depriv’d of your Advice, as well in points that regard my Conduct & Behaviour, as in those of Criticism & Learning. I can assure you I have great Confidence in your Judgement even in this last particular, tho’ the State of your Health & Business have never permitted you to be a regular Student, nor to apply yourself to any part of Learning in a methodical manner, without which ’tis almost impossible to (p.627) make any mighty Progress. I shall submit all my Performances to your Examination, & to make you enter into them more easily, I desire of you, if you have Leizure, to read over once le Recherche de la Verité of Pere Malebranche, the Principles of Human Knowledge by Dr Berkeley, some of the more metaphysical Articles of Bailes Dictionary; such as those [of] Zeno, & Spinoza. Des-Cartes Meditations would also be useful but don’t know if you will find it easily among your Acquaintances. These Books will make you easily comprehend the metaphysical Parts of my Reasoning and as to the rest, they have so little Dependence on all former systems of Philosophy, that your natural Good Sense will afford you Light enough to judge of their Force & Solidity.
I shall be oblig’d to put all my Papers into the Chevalier Ramsay’s hands when I come to Paris; which I am really sorry for. For tho’ he be Freethinker enough not to be shockt with my Liberty, yet he is so wielded to whymsical Systems, & is so little of a Philosopher, that I expect nothing but Cavilling from him. I even fortify myself against his Dis-approbation & am resolv’d not to be in the least discouraged by it, if I shoud chance to meet with it. All Counsels are good to be taken, says the Cardinal de Richelieu. The good are good of themselves. The bad confirm the Good & give new Force to them. This is more especially true in works of Learning & Philosophy, where frivolous Objections & bad Reasoning give us alwise greater Assurance in the Truth.
I come now to that Article of your last Letter, wherein you seem to doubt either of my present Friendship [for] you or of its Continuance. I cannot imagine upon what such a Doubt may be founded. You know my Temper well enough not to expect any Romantic Fondness from me. But Constancy, Equality, Fidelity & a hearty Good will you may justly look for, & shall ne[ver] be disappointed. You speak of my superior Progress in the Sciences. I know not how far there may be a Foundation for what you say. I must flatter myself that there is some Ground for it in order to support my Courage in that dangerous Situation, in which I have placed myself. But however that may be I have enough of Science to know, that a Man who is incapable of Gratitude & Friendship is in a very disconsolate Condition, whatever Abilities he may be endow’d with & whatever Fame he may acquire.
I mist the Post at Tours, so that I finish this Letter at Orleans tho I have nothing farther to add, but farther Assurance of my Good will & Friendship. I know this will be more satisfactory to you than any Descriptions of Fields & Buildings, which I have met with in my Road: Besides that I will be able in a short time to satisfy your Curiosity in this particular, if you have any.
Orleans, August 31, 17371
Despite the essential rationalism of the Essay on Man, it was held by Hume in qualified esteem. But may he not have had Pope slyly in mind when he deplored in the Introduction to the Treatise: “Amidst all this bustle [in contemporary controversy] ’tis not reason, which carries the prize, but eloquence; and no (p.628) man needs ever despair of gaining proselytes to the most extravagant hypothesis, who has art enough to represent it in any favourable colours. The victory is not gained by the men at arms, who manage the pike and the sword; but by the trumpeters, drummers, and musicians of the army”? Be that as it may, the “man at arms” sent to the “musician” the gift of the Treatise. On the flyleaf of each of the three volumes is inscribed in Hume’s hand: “To / Alexander Pope, Esq / at / Twickenham.” Like the Treatise itself, the inscription is anonymous.1 One of Pope’s couplets in the Essay on Man was to draw a demurrer from Hume in an essay of 1741.2 (Kant’s virtually unqualified admiration of Pope as a philosopher is well known.)
“I perused the first volume, & a great part, indeed almost all the second. And was every where surprised with a great acuteness of thought and reasoning in a mind wholly disengaged from the prejudices of the Learned as well as those of the Vulgar. I cannot pretend to assent to his tenets as yet, these metaphysical subjects have not been much in my thoughts of late; tho’ a great many of these sentiments and reasonings had employed me about 10 or 12 years ago…This book will furnish me matter of a good deal of thought next vacation, now coming on in less than 6 weeks. I shall have the greatest pleasure in communicating to the Ingenious Author whatever occurs probable to me on these subjects. I have for many years…been…more and more…running into the Old Academy, despairing of Certainty in the most important subjects, but satisfied with a sort of Probable knowledge which to an honest mind will be sufficient for the Conduct of Life. I should be glad to know where the Author could be met with if a lazy Umbratick, very averse to motion, ever takes a ramble in a vacation.”3
“We have been here now these ten days, and pass our time in a very agreeable way, we have our countrey man Mr. Hume the author of the Metaphysical books that you heard so much of last summer as a party in our retirement, he is a very sensible young fellow and extreamly curious in most parts of learning and how much soever he has shown himself a Sceptick upon subjects of speculation and enquiry, he is as far from it as any man with regard to the qualities of a well natured friendly disposition and an honest (p.629) heart which are no doubt of greater consequence to the intrinsick worth of a character than any abstract opinion whatever. As he is very communicative of all his knowledge we have a great deal from him in the way of dispute and argument, and not a little too in the way of plain information we reason upon every point with the greatest freedom, even his own books, (which we are working at at present) we canvass with ease, and attack him boldly wherever we can get the least hold of him, and question or contradict his most favourite notions; all this goes on with the greatest good humour, and affords us entertainment both within doors, and in the feilds at our walks in this delightful country, which is the finest that one can possibly imagine, and has the preference by people that has travel’d throw most of Europe, to any they ever saw. We make use of our Philosopher too in another way less becoming the dignity of his Character, as we keep family within ourselves, he provides the necessaries of household Oeconomy and manages all the affairs of house keeping. From these few hints you may imagine we spend our time here in a pleasant enough manner, much more to all our satisfaction than in the continued noise and hurry of the town.”1
The “well natured friendly disposition” and the “honest heart” appraisement of 1740 recall to mind once more the “It is not Pod, it is Me” appraisement of a decade or so earlier. The portrait of Hume in the twin capacities of “our Philosopher” and of manager of “all the affairs of house keeping” foreshadows the familiar portrait of le bon David of later years in Edinburgh.
“That Politics may be reduc’d to a Science” opens with a denial of Pope’s:
- For Forms of Government let fools contest;
- Whate’er is best administer’d is best.2
“It is a question with several, whether there be any essential difference between one form of government and another? and, whether every form may not become good or bad, according as it is well or ill administered? Were it once admitted, that all governments are alike, and that the only difference consists in the character and conduct of the governors, most political disputes would be at an end, and all Zeal for one constitution above another, must be esteemed mere bigotry and folly. But, though a friend to moderation, I cannot forbear condemning this sentiment, and should be sorry to think, that human affairs admit of no greater stability, than what they receive from the casual humours and characters of particular men.”
A Letter from a Gentleman was evidently composed with a copy of Principal Wishart’s charges, whether in print or otherwise, in front of him. Hume was “obliged to cite from my Memory, and cannot mention Page and Chapter so accurately as the Accuser. I came hither [i.e. Weldehall] by Post, and brought no Books along with me, and cannot now provide myself in the Country with the Book referred to.”
The charges brought against Hume number six: (1) “Universal Scepticism”; (2) “Principles leading to downright Atheism, by denying the Doctrine of Causes and Effects”; (3) “Errors concerning the very Being and Existence of a God”; (4) “Errors concerning God’s being the first Cause, and prime Mover of the Universe”; (5) “denying the Immateriality of the Soul, and the Consequences flowing from this Denial”; (6) “sapping the Foundations of Morality, by denying the natural and essential Difference betwixt Right and Wrong, Good and Evil, Justice and Injustice; making the Difference only artificial, and to arise from human Conventions and Contracts.”
Hume’s answer to this last charge was his first defence of his system of morality since Book III, “Of Morals”, of the Treatise.
“I come now to the last Charge, which, according to the prevalent Opinion of Philosophers in this Age, will certainly be regarded as the severest, viz. the Author’s destroying all the Foundations of Morality:
He hath indeed denied the eternal Difference of Right and Wrong in the sense in which Clark and Woolaston maintained them, viz. That the Propositions of Morality were of the same Nature with the Truths of Mathematics and the abstract Sciences, the Objects merely of Reason, not the Feelings of our internal Tastes and Sentiments. In this Opinion he concurs with all the antient Moralists, as well as with Mr. Hutchison Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Glasgow, who, with others, has revived the antient Philosophy in this Particular.
When the Author asserts that Justice is an artificial not a natural Virtue, he seems sensible that he employed Words that admit of an invidious Construction; and therefore makes use of all proper Expedients, by Definitions and Explanations, to prevent it…By the natural Virtues he plainly understands Compassion and Generosity, and such as we are immediately carried to by a natural Instinct; and by the artificial Virtues he means Justice, (p.631) Loyalty, and such as require, along with a natural Instinct, a certain Reflection on the general Interests of Human Society, and a Combination with others. In the same Sense, Sucking is an Action natural to Man, and Speech is artificial. But what is there in this Doctrine that can be supposed in the least pernicious? Has he not expressly asserted, That Justice, in another Sense of the Word, is so natural to Man, that no Society of Men, and even no individual Member of any Society, was ever entirely devoid of all Sense of it?”
Esprit des LoixThree Essays Moral and PoliticalEssays Moral and PoliticalPaul E. Chamley, “The Conflict between Montesquieu and Hume: A Study of the Origins of Adam Smith’s Universalism” in Essays on Adam Smith (Oxford 1975), 274–05
“I shall be very much mortify’d,” wrote Hume with tongue in cheek to his Jacobite friend, Lord Elibank, “if you do not approve, in some small degree, of the Reasonings with regard to the original Contract, which, I hope, are new & curious, & form a short, but compleat Refutation of the political Systems of Sydney, Locke, and the Whigs, which all the half Philosophers of the Nation have implicitely embrac’d for near a Century; tho’ they are plainly, in my humble Opinion, repugnant to Reason & the Practice of all Nations.”1
From the Hague Hume made a short excursion to Delft to carry out a business commission for Lord Elibank. “I was carry’d into a very spacious, clean, cold House, & after waiting a little, the Master came to me, who was not quite of a piece with his House. I cou’d have almost been tempted to renew the (p.632) ill-bred Jest of Diogenes, who, in a visit of this kind, spit in the Master’s Face, saying It was the only dirty Place he saw. The Gentleman spoke extreme good Dutch, very bad Latin, & scarce any French: So that our Conversation was not very long…Then he observes: ‘The Boats cannot move along the Canals because of the Ice: And at the same time we have not the Pleasure of Seating, because the Snow, being mixt with the Ice, renders it too rough & uneven for that Amusement.’”1
At the Maas River the travellers were obliged to make use of an iceboat to cross the more than half-mile span of melting ice. Hume was boyishly delighted: “The Operation is after this Manner. You place Yourself on your Ice boat, which is like an ordinary Boat except only that it runs upon two Keels, shod with Iron. Three or four Men push you along in this Boat very cleverly, as long as the Ice will bear you: But whenever that fails, plump, down you go into the Water of a sudden: You are very heartily frighten’d: The men are wet, up to the Neck sometimes: But keeping hold of the Boat; leap in; row you thro the Water; till they come to Ice, which can bear. There they pull you up; run along with you; till you sink again: And so they renew the same Operation.”
The decision of the Duke of Argyll is reported cursorily in a letter from London dated 9 January 1752 from Andrew Fletcher to his father Lord Milton.2 “Yesterday I laid before His Grace the Letters &c concerning the Affair pendant at Glasgow: His Grace desires me to acquaint you that Mr David Home cannot be recommended to a Proffessorship there and that for many reasons which must easily occur to your Ldship.”
Though stigmatizing slavery on humanitarian grounds, Hume also rejected the claim that slavery is a spur to population growth. Quite the contrary: “Wherever there are most happiness and virtue, and the wisest institutions, there will also be most people.” The slave state is uneconomical and survives only with the continual importation of more slaves. This trail-breaking study in demography ends on a typically modest note: “The humour (p.633) of blaming the present, and admiring the past, is strongly rooted in human nature, and has an influence even on persons endued with the profoundest judgment and most extensive learning.”
“I would fain use the Liberty to interpose, and disswade your Lordship from publishing the Letter, which you do me the Honor of addressing to me. It is indeed very sharp & satirical & pleasant, but is too much so; and will so much the more hurt the old Gentleman, that he professes a very high Regard for your Lordship, and woud be very ambitious of standing well in your Opinion.
Besides, my Lord, all Authors, as well as Poets, are of the genus irritabile. Mr Wallace has his Pen in his hand, prim’d & cockd & charg’d; and is always ready for a Contest…If he were provokd by the Publication of your Letter, he woud reply in an angry & perhaps an abusive Strain; and might descend to Personalities, which, tho’ in reality they coud only hurt himself, yet woud be disagreeable to your Lordship. There was one Circumstance, which Wallace mentioned to me of your Lordship, which gave me the more Pleasure, that I had both made the Remark myself, and heard it from others as a Singularity, viz, that, notwithstanding your great Fire & Imagination, you are certainly the most civil, attentive, and best bred Man in the World. Dare I venture to entreat you, that in one Instance more you will sacrifice your Passion to your Politeness? Especially as poor Wallace has certainly offended merely from Ignorance, and wou’d have spoke very differently, had he been acquainted with the real Matter of Fact.
I am not so assuming as to insist upon my own Practice in like Cases. We men of Ph[l]egm & Tranquillity (which we call Wisdom) have little merit in our Patience. But your Lordship will own, that it wou’d not be proper for a Person of your Rank, who are only an Author by Chance, to enter into such Altercations as often serve to discredit Literature, nor show as great Jealousy of a casual Production, as appears in Authors by Profession…I find so much Tranquillity, as well as Leizure, by keeping to this general Resolution, that I shall probably uphold it to the End of my Life.”1
Lord Elibank did not publish. Peace prevailed. “Wisdom” had won the day.
This philosophical approach does not partake of the narrowness of the nineteenth century, which made economics in Carlyle’s view the “dismal science.” “The spirit of the age”, wrote Hume, “affects all the arts; and the minds of men, being once aroused from their lethargy, and put into a fermentation, turn themselves on all sides, and carry improvements into every art and science.” Thus, he concludes, “industry, knowledge, and humanity, are linked together by an indissoluble chain.”1
Although there are some passages of Cleanthes advocating the argument from design (“the chief or sole argument for a divine existence”), that Hume as Philo would find acceptable, and even a few passages of Demea, Hume has stipulated that “In every Dialogue, no more than one person can be supposed to represent the author.”1 An added factor of import, though one seldom taken into consideration because of the very art—and artfulness, as Hume later acknowledged—of the dialogue itself, is that Philo is allotted somewhat more than twice as much space as the other two interlocutors combined.2 The presence of the youthful Pamphilus must not be allowed to becloud the issue: he takes no part in the debate (“My youth rendered me a mere auditor of their disputes”), and his concluding judgment that “Philo’s principles are more probable than Demea’s; but that those of Cleanthes approach still nearer to the truth” is but a delicious ironical imitation of the last sentence of Cicero’s De Natura Deorum.3
While paying judicious lip-service in the Dialogues concerning Natural Religion to the concept of a God, Hume is, in reality, undermining that belief. The sheerly negative thrust of the Dialogues is observable in two passages artfully put in the mouths of Cleanthes and Demea. Cleanthes is thus encouraged to demolish the a priori argument put forward by Demea:
“I shall begin with observing that there is an evident absurdity in pretending to demonstrate a matter of fact, or to prove it by any arguments a priori. Nothing is demonstrable, unless the contrary implies a contradiction. Nothing, that is distinctly conceivable, implies a contradiction. Whatever we conceive as existent, we can also conceive as non-existent. There is no Being, therefore, whose non-existence implies a contradiction. Consequently there is ssno Being, whose existence is demonstrable. I propose this argument as entirely decisive, and am willing to rest the whole controversy upon it.”4
After this metaphysical setback, Demea is driven to plead the common argument from the hopes and fears of mankind:
(p.635) “It is my opinion, I own…that each man feels, in a manner, the truth of religion within his own breast; and from a consciousness of his imbecility and misery, rather than from any reasoning, is led to seek protection from that Being, on whom he and all nature is dependent. So anxious or so tedious are even the best scenes of life, that futurity is still the object of all our hopes and fears. We incessantly look forward, and endeavour, by prayers, adoration, and sacrifice, to appease those unknown powers, whom we find, by experience, so able to afflict and oppress us. Wretched creatures that we are! What resource for us amidst the innumerable ills of life, did not religion suggest some methods of atonement, and appease those terrors, with which we are incessantly agitated and tormented.”1
Both Cleanthes and Demea are obviously playing into the hands of the sceptic. Always Hume’s authentic voice, Philo will speak out—as indeed he should—after Hume’s death with the ultimate ironical phasing out of the “religious hypothesis,” including, it is hardly necessary to specify, the Christian dispensation.2
Hume would have had no difficulty in recognizing himself as “an ingenious and agreeable philosopher, who joins the greatest depth of thought to the greatest elegance of expression, and possesses the singular and happy talent of treating the abstrusest subjects not only with the most perfect perspicuity, but with the most lively eloquence.”3
Hume’s friend, the artist Allan Ramsay, on a brief visit to Edinburgh in September 1760 provides a pleasing picture of the life of the historian during this productive period. Writing to Mrs Elizabeth Montagu, Ramsay reveals: “…by much drinking with David Hume and his associates, I have learnt to be very historical; and am nightly confirmed in the belief, that it is much easier to tell the How than the Why of any thing; and that it is moreover better suited to the state of man; who, we (p.636) are all satisfied, from self-examination, is any thing rather than a rational animal.”1 Hume’s associates, no doubt, included the friendly Moderate Presbyterian clerics.
Some years later when in Paris, Hume was informed that Lord Elibank was about to publish a pamphlet blistering his account of Queen Mary in the History of England. In great distress, Hume threw caution to the winds. “You have always display’d such an unaccountable Violence in this silly Controversy about Queen Mary, and the polemical Spirit is so contagious, that, unless you allow this Work to lie bye you some time or make it be review’d by some Person of Temper, I am sure, that we are no longer Friends…Forgive me, My Lord, for suspecting a Person of your Lordships Education and remarkable Politeness of such a Fault: I never shou’d, if, in this Affair, I had ever found you reason with tolerable Temper: But surely, it will appear singular, that two Persons, who have always lived in great Intimacy, and who, methinks, wou’d not quarrel even about a living Mistress, shou’d break up their Friendship, on account of an old Strumpet, who has been dead and rotten near two hundred Years. I hope that it will not prove so.” The friendship was not disrupted, but it took several exchanges of letters for the quarrel to cool off. Elibank did not, however, rush into print.2
“Pray did your Lordship know when at Paris, Madame la Comtesse de Boufflers?” inquired Hume of Lord Elibank, in evident perturbation. “My Reason for asking is that I had from her last Night a long Letter, the most obliging I ever receivd, and liker a Dedication than a Letter of Civility. I dare not say, that it is full of good Sense & Elegance & Spirit; because she has so much bribd me with her Praises that I dare not trust my own Judgement on that head: But I imagine, if I dare depend upon my Impartiality, that she is a Lady of great Merit; and tho there may seem to be an Affectation in writing to a Stranger, she (p.637) excuses it so handsomely, that I can venture almost to acquit her of that Failing.”1 Had Hume been aware that “on one occasion” the Comtesse “had lovingly spent an entire day trying to equal in French translation one paragraph of [his] elegant History,” his composure might more easily have been restored: her hyperboles were no more than the truth.2
“I do not believe there is one Englishman in fifty, who, if he heard that I had broke my Neck to night, would not be rejoic’d with it. Some hate me because I am not a Tory, some because I am not a Whig, some because I am not a Christian, and all because I am a Scotsman. Can you seriously talk of my continuing an Englishman? Am I, or are you, an Englishman? Will they allow us to be so?”
While in Paris, Hume wrote to Millar on 26 August 1765, revealing that he was still harbouring the thought of composing the much requested ecclesiastical history: “You are again anxious after my ecclesiastical History. The Reports that you hear should be put aside as you know the facts of the matter and my resolve never to undertake a History which wou’d expose me again to Impertinence & Ill-manners. The Prejudices of all factions have not so far subsided that a History wrote with a Spirit of Impartiality could withstand the Rage & Clamor.
I have, however, been gathering most of the Works of Authors in France and England of the History of the Church, and I should be glad if I have the Leizure to read over them. An Account of some Periods in ecclesiastical History might be put beyond Controversy, and if one Volume were successful then the others might be composed: But I do not think it so near a Prospect.”3
Alison Cockburn as usual came up with her customary feminine logic as to why Hume should go with Lord Hertford to (p.638) Ireland. “I wish you to go with him. I wish to break the hearts of all the French women, if they have any hearts; but I suspect, for all the adulation you have met with amongst them that I am infinitely more your affectionate friend and servant…”1
Adam Smith and his young pupil, the Duke of Buccleuch, had been in France and Switzerland since early in 1764. A stay of eighteen months in Toulouse and the Languedoc proved so tedious, despite Hume’s letters of introduction to the local dignitaries, that Smith was driven to begin composition of a new book. The Wealth of Nations was to be his main occupation until its publication in 1776. At Ferney, just outside the boundary of Geneva, Smith had several agreeable conversations with the great Voltaire. Smith and his party arrived in Paris too late to meet the great Rousseau. On 4 January 1766 Hume left Paris, escorting him to England for sanctuary. But throughout most of 1766 in Paris Smith made the acquaintance of the philosophes, above all, of the Physiocrates. In the Parisian salons he was almost as well received as Hume himself.
Gavin de Beer in “Quelques considérations sur le séjour de Rousseau en Angleterre” in Geneva (1955), n.s. III, 37
Still he could mock himself plaintively: “I wou’d advise you,” he warned a friend, “to be civil to me, and not treat me with Disdain, as a Scholastic, and a Philosopher, and a man of another World, and a Speculatist, and a Recluse: I assure you I scorn all those Epithets, and aspire to the Character of a Politician and a Man of Business, Names of much greater Dignity and Respect, in this Part of the World.”2
While still in France Hume had made the acquaintance of Isaac de Pinto, the Dutch Jewish economist and philosopher. Pinto had been instrumental during the peace negotiations of the Treaty of Paris early in 1763 in supplying the Duke of Bedford with information concerning the boundaries of the jurisdiction of the British East India Company in India. The information is said to have saved the Company a revenue of upwards of £700,000 annually. Pinto was seeking the reward of a pension from the Company for his important services and was dunning Hume and other British officials for their support. Hume became convinced that Pinto was in the right and affably wrote letter after letter on his behalf—apparently six or seven in all.
Hume’s first letter on behalf of Pinto, dated from Paris, 14 March 1764 and addressed to Richard Neville, Minister Plenipotentiary until the arrival of Lord Hertford, is both humorous and circumspect:
“Manifold have been the persecutions, dear Sir, which the unhappy Jews, in several ages, have suffered from the misguided zeal of the Christians, but there has at last arisen a Jew capable of avenging his injured nation, and striking terror into their proud oppressors; this formidable Jew is Monsr. de Pinto, and the unhappy Christian, who is chiefly exposed to all the effects of his cruelty, is your humble servant. He says, that you promised to mention him to me; I do not remember that you did: he says, that he has done the most signal services to England, while the Duke of Bedford was Ambassador here; I do not question it, but they are unknown to me: he says, that he is poor, and must have a pension for his reward; I wish he may obtain it, but I cannot assist him: he sends me letters, which I transmit to you, but I cannot oblige you to answer them: he says, that Lord Hertford must get justice done him, if the Duke of Bedford neglects him; I do not believe that the Duke of Bedford neglects anybody that has done him service: he grows angry; I exhort him to patience.
This, dear Sir, is a very abridged account of the dialogue which passes every day between M. Pinto and me, that is, every day he can break in upon me, and lay hold of me: when he catches Lord Hertford, he is very copious on the same subject; but when he seizes poor Lord Beauchamp, his Lordship has good (p.640) reason to curse the day he was born mild and gentle, and made incapable of doing or saying a harsh thing.
But to be serious with regard to the man, I imagine, from what he tells me, and from a letter of yours which he showed me, that he had endeavoured to be useful to the Duke of Bedford and you during the negotiations of the peace: perhaps he was useful in some particulars, but to what extent you best know, and I am certain, that you neither forget nor neglect him, tho you have not answered his multiplied letters. I should not think, that it at all lay upon me to solicit you in his behalf, or even to write to you about him, had I not been forced by his constant teazing, which I could no otherwise get rid of. If the Duke of Bedford thinks him entitled to no reward, you would do this family a great service by telling him so at once: if the Duke intends to do him service, he would be very happy to have the encouragement of some hint in his favour. I only beg of you to excuse my meddling at all in this affair; which, I am sensible, does not belong to me, and which I should have avoided, had it not been in this manner extorted from me.”
Pinto’s campaign continued in England in 1767, and as Under-Secretary of State Hume was in a position of influence to see that justice was done, recruiting General Conway and Lord Hertford, among others, to the support of the Dutchman. Ultimately, it was chiefly Hume’s letters that won for his new friend a pension of £500 for life. Pinto had written earlier a rebuttal to “Of Public Credit,” one of the Political Discourses, but, though acknowledging its merit, Hume never saw fit to alter the text of his discourse.1
Finally, an item dated 17 August 1776, just eight days before his death, appeared in several American periodicals: “David Hume, Esq., Dr. Smith and Sir James Stewart, have all given the king their opinions, that if a reconciliation does not speedily take place with America, that country is lost.”2
The day before Conway’s demission, Hume wrote to Adam Ferguson instancing an act of patronage for the Scottish church and sardonically probing the possibility of continuing his History.1
“There has been a long Silence between us; but not Forget-fulness; at least, not on my part. Hepburn’s affair is finished: It is my last Work, and cost me some Effort: I think I have therein very well discharged my Duty of Head of the Church of Scotland; and have contributed to promote a Divine of singular Piety and Orthodoxy. We go out to morrow or next day; which is an Event far from being disagreeable to me. I shall now be restord to my literary Leisure; and am tempted, by the Importunity of Friends, to think of continuing my History for two or three Reigns more. It is well if I find Pleasure in the Occupation; but I can discover no Reason why I shoud be at any Pains about it. Andrew Millar, very naturally, thinks Money will be a great Temptation to me: Others, equally silly, talk to me of Fame: Some, with no less Reason, of Truth. You may judge, from my past Experience, how sanguine I must have become with regard to all these Objects. The Devil is in it, if I have not learned by this time, how little disposd the World is to receive Truth; of how little Value their Opinion is; and what a moderate Fortune is sufficient for all the Necessaries of Life.”
In a playful letter of the summer of 1770 to Nancy Ord, Hume relates the aftermath of a game of cards at her house.
Edinburgh 16 of August 1770.
It has been the Maxim of all Legislators and Judges from Solon to Sheriff Cockburn to pardon the Criminals who confess and discover their Accomplices; and I doubt but you and all the Ladies at Dean will fsollow so clement and equitable a Maxim. You must know then, that two pretended Gentlemen (of which one was Mr Nairne with the demur and sanctify’d Look, a very suspicious Circumstance) travelling yesterday in a Chaise to Melville, one of them offers a Shilling to pay the Toll: The Bar-keeper scruples the Piece: On Examination, it is found to be one of my Lord Chief Baron’s Counters: The Pockets of the Felon are searchd, and found to contain five more, which he had plainly purloind from your Home. Mr Nairn however and his (p.642) Companion, a great fat man, are not immediatly put in Arrest; but dreading the Rigors of Justice, Mr Nairne’s Companion is contented to give up the stolen Goods, which are sent by the Bearer: He protests that he has neither drunk nor embezzled any of them. He pleads hard for Mercy; but is very willing, that Mr Nairne should be hang’d by way of an Example. He is even willing to bear false Witness against him, which must be allowd very commendable and meritorious, and seems fully to entitle him to a Pardon. Thus you see the Danger of admitting Thieves and Pick-pockets and Sharpers to game with you. If the chief Baron winks at such Enormities, I assure you I will not during my Administration. I even prohibit all of you from going to Chappel for fear of meeting there with Mr Nairne: As to his Companion, he does not commonly haunt that place so much, which is a better Sign of him; as your hypocritical Thief is commonly the most irreclaimable. I am Madam with great Regard
Your most obedient and most humble Servant
Three years later Hume entrusted Nancy with choosing wall paper for the drawing-room of his new house on St David Street—which may perhaps be taken as an indication that the house was being prepared for a wife.
Finally, in the summer of 1776, and highly conscious of his own fatal illness, he wrote from Bath, where he had gone to try the efficacy of the waters. The letter is a declaration of love:
Bath 10 of June 1776
I know it will affect you to hear, that the favourable Accounts of my Health, which I desired my Nephew to communicate to you, have vanished into Smoke; the Waters began to disagree with me; all the bad Symptoms recurred; and are found to proceed from a Vice in my Liver, for which the Physicians pretend there may be a Remedy, but for which I believe there is none. In short, you are likely to lose, at no great Distance of time, one of the Persons in the World, who has the greatest Regard and Affection for you. My Dear Miss Nancy, hear this Declaration with Sympathy and Cordiality. I know what an egregious Folly it is for a Man of my Years to attach himself too strongly to one of Yours; but I saw in you so much other Merit, beside that which is the common Object of Affection, that I easily excused to myself the Imprudence; and your obliging Behaviour always kept me from being sensible of it. It is the best placed Attachment of my Life; and will surely be the last. I know, that the Tear will be in your Eye when you read this; as it is in mine when I write it.
I bid you not Adieu; because I intend to set out from this [place] in eight or ten days; and may reach my own House in ten or twelve more. It will not be long after, till I kiss your hand. My Compliments to your Sisters; I (p.643) wish I coud say to your father;1 and that he coud be sensible of the sincere Regard which I bear to him. I am Dear Miss Nancy, Your most affectionate Friend and humble Servant.
Nancy was remembered in a codicil to David’s will. She never married.2
“You will now enter on a Course of Summer Reading, and Exercise, which you will intermingle properly together. I cou’d wish to see you mix the Volumes of Taste and Imagination with more serious Reading; and that sometimes Terence and Vergil and Cicero, together with Xenophon, Demosthenes, Homer and Lucian (for you must not forget your Greek) shoud occupy your Leizure together with Voet, Vinnius, and Grotius. I did not observe you to be very fond of the Poets, and surely one may pass through Life, though not so agreeably, without such Companions: But the Familiarity with them give Taste to Prose Reading and Compositions; and one wou’d not allow so agreeable a Vein to dry up entirely for Want of Exercise.
I believe I recommended to you already the Perusal of Mr. Smith’s new Book if it falls in (as I believe it does) with Mr Millar’s Course of Lectures. It is a book of Science and deep Thought and as some of its Positions and Reasoning may seem to admit of Doubt, it will, on that account prove a better Exercise to your Thoughts & Researches.”3
A young American medical student at Edinburgh University 1766–8, Benjamin Rush, was apprised by members of the Hume circle that the philosopher was “a gentleman of the most amiable private Character, and much beloved by every Body that knows him. He is remarkably charitable to the poor, and has provided handsomely for several poor Families that were related to him. He never swears, nor has any one ever accused him of any immoralities of any kind.” Rush was instrumental in persuading the Reverend John Witherspoon, Hume’s old witty opponent, to (p.644) accept the presidency of the College of New Jersey in 1768. The following year Rush visited Paris and brought back a letter from Diderot to Hume.1
“Your friends here have been all much diverted with Priestly’s answer to Beatie. We were in great hopes that Beatie would have replyed and we are assured he has a reply ready written; but your old friend Hurd, whom my Lord Mansfield, has with great judgement, made a Bishop, wrote to Beatie, I am assured, and advised him against answering; telling him that so excellent a work as the immutability of truth required no defence. We by this means have lost a most incomparable controversy. Priestly was perfectly prepared to carry it on thro’ at least twenty rejoinders. I have some hopes still of getting somebody to provoke Beatie to draw his Pen again.”2
- O, Toi qui de mon Ame
- Es la chère Moitié
- Toi qui joins la delicatessen
- Des sentimens d’une Maîtresse
- A la Solidité d’une sûre Amitié
- David, il faut bientôt que la Parque cruelle
- Vienne rompre des si doux Noeuds
- & malgré nos Cris et nos voeux
- Bientot nous assuirons une absence éternelle.
- Adieu, Adieu.
- J. E.
“Poor David Hume is dying very fast,” Adam Smith informed Alexander Wedderburn, “but with great chearfulness and good humour and with more real resignation to the necessary course of things, than any whining Christian ever dyed with pretended resignation to the will of God.”3
(1) Justini Historiae Philippicae, 4th edn., Lugd. Batavorum, 1701
(2) See John Laird, Hume’s Philosophy of Human Nature (London 1932), p. 90, n. 1; Treatise BK. i, PT. III, SEC. XI in Phil. Wks., 1, 423–4.
(1) Presumably because of the strong Newtonian influence in the Scottish univer sities and at Newton’s own Cambridge.
(2) “Hume at La Flèche, 1735,” as above, p. 100, n. 1
(1) [Hume–Poland, pp. 133–4.]
(1) Minor corrections (a letter or a single word) have been made: seventeen in Vol. I, five in Vol. II, none in Vol. III. The volumes are in the Donald F. and Mary Hyde Library at Four Oaks Farm, Somerville, New Jersey.
(3) Ian S. Ross, “Hutcheson on Hume’s Treatise: An Unnoticed Letter,” in Journal of the History of Philosophy, iv (1966), pp. 69–70
(1) J. G. Hilson, “An Early Account of David Hume,” in Hume Studies, 1 (1975), 78–80
(2) Essay on Man, in, 303–4
(1) Hume–Elibank, 437.
(1) Hume–Elibank, 438–9.
(2) MS in NLS.
(1) Hume–Elibank, 444–5.
(1) Phil. Wks., III, 301–2
(1) HL, I, 173
(2) Greig, p. 236 and n. 3
(3) Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation (London 1967), I, 414–15, n. 8.
(4) Hume, Dialogues, p. 189
(2) See ch. 40, below. My final interpretation of the Dialogues was presented at Edinburgh University in 1976 in a conference memorializing the 200th anniversary of Hume’s death. This essay is now published (see p. 320, n. 3).
(3) The Theory of Moral Sentiments, ed. D. D. Raphael and A. L. Macfie (Oxford 1976), p. 179
(1) Marcia Allentuck (ed.), “David Hume and Allan Ramsay: A New Lettert,” in Studies in Scottish Literature, ix (1972), 265
(2) Hume–Elibank, p. 456.
(1) Hume–Elibank, 450.
(2) Laurence L. Bongie, David Hume, Prophet of the Counter-Revolution (Oxford 1965), p. 65, citing Nouveaux melanges extraits des manuscripts de Mme Necker (Paris, An X, 1, 202).
(3) Michael Morrisroe, Jr., “Hume’s Ecclesiastical History: A New Letter,” in English Studies 53 (1972), 1–3
(1) RSE, IV, 29
(2) MS letter of 3 April 1767 in Yale University Library.
(1) The full story is recounted by Richard H. Popkin: (1) “Hume and Isaac de Pinto,” in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, XII (1970), 417–30; (2) “Hume and Isaac de Pinto, II. Five New Letters,” in Hume and the Enlightenment, ed. W. B. Todd (Edinburgh and Austin 1974), 99–127.
(2) E.g. Pennsylvania Gazette (1776), Connecticut Gazette and Universal Intelligencer (1777).
(1) MS letter of 19 January 1768 in the Theatre Collection, Modern Humanities Research Center, University of Texas. Hitherto unpublished. The Reverend Thomas Hepburn appears later in chap. 38 as the somewhat quixotic “defender” of Hume.
(1) Robert Ord died July 1776.
(2) “Hume and Nancy Orde. Three Letters,” in David Hume and the Enlightenment, ed. W. B. Todd (Edinburgh and Austin 1974), 128–35
(3) Hume–Poland, p. 138.
(1) The Autobiography of Benjamin Rush (Princeton 1948), 49
(2) Hume–Poland, p. 140.
(3) Correspondence of Adam Smith, edd. Mossner and Ross (Oxford 1976)