Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hume, David (1711-1776)
HUME, DAVID (1711–1776), philosopher and historian, born at Edinburgh 26 April (O.S.) 1711, was the second son of Joseph Hume of Ninewells in the parish of Chirnside, Berwickshire, by Catherine, third daughter of Sir David Falconer [q. v.], president of the court of session. The Humes or Homes, who claimed a doubtful descent from the noble family of Home (see Notes and Queries, 4th ser. iv. 72), had been settled for some generations at Ninewells. The philosopher piqued himself upon adhering to the spelling 'Hume' as older and as corresponding to the pronunciation. The father, who `passed for a man of parts,' died during Hume's infancy. The mother was a `woman of singular merit,' and though `young and handsome, devoted herself entirely to the rearing and education of her three children.' John, David, and Catherine. Hume went through `the ordinary course of education with success.' David is identified with `David Home' whose name appears (27 Feb. 1723) in the matriculation book of the university of Edinburgh as `intrant of the class of William Scott, professor of Greek.' The absence of other records leaves unexplained the passion for literary and philosophical eminence which from this time became Hume's dominant characteristic. A letter to a young friend, Michael Ramsay, dated 4 July 1727, describes his devotion to Virgil and Cicero, and his resolution to become a philosopher in the moral as well as the intellectual sense. The draft of a letter sent, or intended to be sent, in 1734 to a physician—in all probability George Cheyne [q. v.], whose 'English Malady' had just appeared—gives a curious account of his mental history (printed in Burton, i. 30-9). He explains that his reflections had led him at about the age of eighteen to glimpses of a great philosophical discovery. He abandoned the law, for which he had been intended, feeling an 'insurmountable aversion' to everything but his favourite studies. Something, however, of his legal training remained; he was not only a good man of business, but capable, as Burton testifies, of drawing sound legal documents in due form. His intellectual labours led to a breakdown of health about September 1729. He made himself worse by poring over classical works of morality. Regular diet, riding, and walking were more efficacious, and about May 1731 he acquired an appetite, and became `the most sturdy, robust, healthful-like fellow you have seen.' During the next three years he read the best English, French, and Latin literature, and began Italian. He also accumulated many volumes of philosophical notes. Finding himself still incapable of the effort necessary to put them into form, he thought that a more active life would perhaps restore his health. He doubted his ability to be a `travelling governor,' and resolved to try some mercantile pursuit as the only alternative. At the time of writing this letter (1734) he was on his way to Bristol with recommendations to some of the houses there. He soon found the new occupation `totally unsuitable,' but his health must have ceased to trouble him. He resolved to retire to some country place in France, to preserve his independence by a rigid frugality, and to devote himself exclusively to intellectual labour. He went to France about the middle of 1734, passed through Paris, and was at Rheims on 12 Sept. He afterwards moved to La Flêche in Anjou, where he spent two out of his three years' stay in France. At La Flêche was the Jesuits' college at which Descartes was educated. One of the Jesuits was expatiating upon a recent miracle, when Hume struck out the argument upon miracles in general, afterwards expounded in one of his best-known essays. In that essay he also refers to the miracles alleged to have occurred at the tomb of the Abbé Paris in 1732, just before his journey. The `Story of La Roche,' published by Henry Mackenzie, `The Man of Feeling,' in the 'Mirror' for 1779, is an imaginary incident of Hume's career at this time (John Home, Works, i. 22). The consolations of religion enjoyed by La Roche make Hume regret his doubts. Mackenzie praises the sceptic's good nature and simplicity, though hinting at the absence of some higher qualities.
In 1737 Hume left France with his `Treatise of Human Nature,' written chiefly at La Flêche. He stayed for some time in London to superintend the publication. John Noone agreed to give the author 50l. and twelve bound copies for an edition of one thousand copies of the first two volumes of the 'Treatise' (bk. i. 'Of the Understanding' and bk. ii. `Of the Passions'). These volumes appeared anonymously in January 1739. Hume thought that a country retirement would enable him to await with greater composure the explosion of this attempt 'to produce almost a total alteration of philosophy,' and soon after the publication he returned to Ninewells. He sent a copy of his book to Butler, then bishop of Bristol, whose 'Analogy' had appeared in 1736, and who had corresponded with his friend Henry Home of Kames. Hume obtained from Kames an introduction to Butler, and had called upon, him in 1738, but they never met each other (Burton, i. 64, 106). The expected explosion was disappointing. Hume says (1 June 1739) that his bookseller speaks of the success of his philosophy as 'indifferent;' and in his autobiography says that no literary attempt was ever more unfortunate. `It fell deadborn from the press.' A review appeared in the `History of the Works of the Learned' for November 1739, which Hume called `somewhat abusive' (Burton, i. 116). Though generally hostile, it concluded by saying that the work showed 'a soaring genius,' and might hereafter be compared to the crude early works of a Milton or a Raphael. An improbable story is told, probably by Kenrick, in the 'London. Review' (v. 200), after Hume's death, that Hume was so infuriated by the article as to demand satisfaction from the publisher at the sword's point. Hume was not in London for some years, and Kenrick [q. v.] is remembered chiefly for impudent falsehoods. It is, however, clear that the reception of the book was extremely mortifying to its youthful author. He continued not the less to prepare the last part dealing with morality. Wishing, he says, to `have some check upon his bookseller,' he sold the third volume to Thomas Longman, by whom it was published in 1740. A copy was sent to 'Mr. Smith,' possibly Adam Smith, then a young student at Glasgow.
Hume now settled at Ninewells. Two volumes of `Essays, Moral and Political,' appeared in 1741 and 1742. 'Most of these essays,' he says in his preface to the first volume, `were wrote with a view of being published as weekly papers, and were intended to comprehend the designs both of the "Spectator" and "Craftsman."' He speaks of himself as a new author. They reached a second edition in 1742, and Hume announces to a friend on 13 June that all the copies in London have been sold, and that `Dr. Butler has everywhere recommended them.' Their `favorable reception,' he says, made him forget his former disappointment. Hume, however, could have made little by them, and was naturally in want of some steady income. In August 1744 he was hoping for the chair of 'ethics and pneumatic philosophy' in Edinburgh which Sir John Pringle was expected to vacate. He counted upon support from Francis Hutcheson and William Leechman [q.v.] Hume had exchanged some respectful criticism with Hutcheson during the preparation of the third volume of his 'Treatise,' and on the publication of Hutcheson's `Philosophiæ Moralis Institutio.' Leechman, afterwards professor of divinity at Glasgow, had submitted to Hume a sermon upon prayer, which he was preparing for a second edition. Hume had suggested some literary emendations which commented significantly upon a weakness in the argument. Accusations of `heresy, deism, scepticism, atheism, &c.' (as he complains in a letter, 4 Aug. 1744), had been started against him, but `bore down by the authority of all the good company in brown.' It now 'surprised him extremely ' to hear that the accusation was supported by the authority of Hutcheson, and especially of Leechman, whose opposition appeared to him `absolutely incredible.' When Pringle resigned the chair in March 1745, it was destined by Hutcheson, and conferred, after taking the 'minister's avisamentum,' upon William Cleghorn, previously Pringle's assistant.
Hume had been looking out, in default of the professorship, for a position as travelling tutor. In 1745 he was induced to take a place in the family of the Marquis of Annandale. The marquis was on the verge at least of insanity. On 5 March 1748 an inquest from the court of chancery in England declared him to have been a lunatic since 12 Dec. 1744. He seems to have been excessively nervous, shy, and excitable, but was occasionally presentable, and wrote epigrams and a novel. He applied to Hume through a friend on account of something which `charmed' him in the `Essays' (Murray, Letters, p. 73). Hume received a preliminary present of 100l., and was to have 300l. a year during residence. He took up his abode with the marquis at Weldhall, near St. Albans, Hertfordshire, on 1 April 1745. The establishment was under the management of a Captain Vincent, a cousin of the marchioness, whom Hume describes at first as a `mighty honest, friendly man.' Difficulties now impossible to unravel arose in the autumn. Hume thought Weldhall a bad place of residence for the marquis. He afterwards became convinced that Vincent had some sinister motives connected with the management of the large property belonging to the marquis, and expressed his opinions frankly to some of the relations. Vincent treated Hume with disdain as a mere servant. After much unpleasantness Hume was dismissed on 15 April 1746. He received the 300l., but was refused the sum of 75l. for the quarter just begun, though it had been distinctly stipulated that in the event of his leaving during a quarter he was to be paid for the whole. Hume observes in his autobiography that the `appointments' made a considerable accession to his small fortune. He began an action, `by Kames's direction,' against the estate, but discontinued it on a promise that the trustees would consider his claims. In 1761 they were accordingly considered, and their justice apparently admitted, subject to a technical difficulty; but the final settlement is not known (ib. p. 79).
Before returning to Edinburgh Hume accepted an offer to act as secretary to General St. Clair in an expedition intended to operate against Canada; which, after having been delayed by the profound ineptitude of the government under Newcastle, was sent to attack Port L'Orient. Hume was appointed judge-advocate by the general. There was some talk of his receiving a commission in the army (Burton, i. 209). He made friends, was shocked by the suicide of a Major Forbes, for whom he expresses much affection, and gained some knowledge of military affairs. He drew up an account of the expedition (printed in appendix to Burton, vol. i.) in answer to something attributed to Voltaire. He also acquired some claims to half-pay as judge-advocate, which he did not give up till 1763.
After returning to Ninewells, Hume again accompanied St. Clair on a military embassy to Vienna and Turin. Hume had to appear in a uniform, which, according to Lord Charlemont, made him look like a `grocer of the train-bands.' He reached the Hague 3 March 1748, and travelled by the Rhine and the Danube to Vienna, afterwards crossing the Alps to Trent, Mantua, Milan, and Turin, which he reached in June. A short diary to his brother shows that he was chiefly interested in the state of public affairs. He remarked that Germany is a very fine country, `full of industrious, honest people, and were it united would be the greatest power that ever was in the world.' He was greatly impressed with the beauties of the Rhine, though not anticipating the ecstasies of `Childe Harold.' These two expeditions were, he says, almost the only interruptions which his studies had received. He returned with increased experience, and `master of near a thousand pounds.'
His mother probably died (Burton, i. 191) during his last journey. In 1749 Hume returned to Ninewells. The essays published or written about this period completed Hume's contributions to philosophy. In April 1748 appeared his 'Philosophical Essays concerning the Human Understanding, by the Author of " Essays," &c.' This gave the first part of an intended recast of the unfortunate 'Treatise.' It included also the 'Essay upon Miracles,' which (or an early draft of which) he had thought of publishing in the `Treatise,' but had withheld from fear of giving offence. The `Philosophical Essays,' in spite of this challenge to the orthodox, attracted little notice; and Hume, upon returning from Turin, found the literary world entirely occupied with Conyers Middleton's `Free Enquiry.' His books, however, were now beginning to make a mark. A third edition of the moral and political essays appeared in the following November, to which Hume for the first time added his name, thus acknowledging also the `Philosophical Essays,' which reached a second edition in 1751. This had been kept back by his publisher, Millar, for some time `on account of the earthquakes,' which at the beginning of the year had caused a temporary fit of superstition. Besides these Hume published at the end of 1751 his `Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals,' corresponding to the third volume of the `Treatise,' and which was, in his own opinion, `incomparably the best of all his writings.' It came, however, he adds, `unnoticed and unobserved into the world.' It was followed in 1752 by the 'Political Discourses.' This, he says, was the only work of his which succeeded upon its first publication. It attracted notice abroad as well as at home, and was translated into French by Eléazar Mauvillon in 1753, and by the Abbé Le Blanc in 1754. Le Blanc's translation passed through several editions, and Hume became an authority in France, where the rising school of economists was stimulated by his clear and original expositions. Adam Smith profited by his friend's arguments, to which he may possibly have contributed suggestions (see Haldane, Adam Smith, p. 20). Hume's rising reputation was now established in a wide circle. Besides his contributions to philosophical, political, and economical questions, he had also written some remarkable essays upon theology. His `Dialogues concerning Natural Religion' were written by 1751 (Burton, i. 331), but suppressed at the time by his friend's advice. In 1757 he published `Four Dissertations,' of which the first was his `Natural History of Religion.' From a letter to Millar previous to 1755 (ib. i. 421) it seems that he had kept this by him `for some years.' He mentions in the same letter `Some Considerations previous to Geometry and Natural Philosophy,' which may have been a recast of the corresponding part of the `Treatise' (bk. i. pt. ii.), but were suppressed, he says, on account of some defect either the logic or the perspicuity. The second dissertation, `upon the Passions,' is extracted from the `Treatise.' The third is upon tragedy, and the fourth, upon the `Standard of Taste,' replaces two upon `Suicide' and the `Immortality of the Soul' (written apparently between 1755 and 1757), which after being printed as parts of the volume were suppressed for the time (see Hume's letter to Strahan, Hill, p. 230; and Grose in Hume's Works, iii. 60-72). The book was dedicated to Home, author of 'Douglas,' the dedication being at first suppressed for fear of injuring Home's reputation as a minister but restored (in some copies) when he resigned his living. The book, says Hume, `made a rather obscure entry,' except that Hurd wrote a scurrilous pamphlet agains' it, which gave him some consolation for its `otherwise indifferent reception.' The pamphlet, as Hume suspected (Burton, ii. 35), was substantially written by Warburton, although called a letter to Warburton, and ascribed to `a gentleman of Cambridge,' in order to suggest Hurd as the author.
Hume's speculative writings (except the two suppressed essays on `Suicide' and `Immortality') were thus all written by 1751. Some surprise has been expressed that he should have now abandoned philosophy for history. Sufficient causes, however, may be easily suggested. His early disappointment at the failure of the `Treatise' developed into a sort of aversion to his unlucky offspring. In the advertisement, which seems to have been separately published before his death (see Hill, p. 302), to a posthumous edition of his 'Essays' (1777), he complained that controversialists had confined their attacks to his crude early treatise, and desires that in the future the `Essays' `may alone be regarded as containing his philosophical sentiments and principles.' In letters written in later life he regrets his great mistake in attempting so vast an undertaking at five-and-twenty, and says that he has not patience to review the book (Burton, i. 98, 337). Although a comparatively small part of the book is ‘recast’ in his ‘Essays,’ the mention of the ‘Considerations previous to Geometry,’ &c., intended for the ‘Four Dissertations,’ shows that he had still thoughts of carrying on the task in 1755. The same doctrines, he says (ib. i. 98), may still succeed if better expressed. His remarkable essays upon theology excited the remonstrances of his friends. Meanwhile, he had succeeded conspicuously by the essays upon political and economical theories; and a sceptic in philosophy may naturally turn to the firmer ground of empirical fact (see Mr. Grose in Hume's Works, iii. 75–7). He had so early as 1747, upon receiving the proposal to accompany St. Clair's mission to Turin, spoken of certain ‘historical projects’ to which he could devote himself if he had leisure, and which would, he thought, be facilitated by the information to be gained from the public men with whom he would be associated. But besides this, a change in his circumstances gave opportunity and motive for a new direction of his energies. Hume had lived with his brother and sister till 1751, when the brother married. Hume thereupon resolved to set up house with his sister, and after thinking of Berwick they decided upon Edinburgh. Hume moved ‘from the country to the town, the true scene for a man of letters.’ Hume tells a friend (Burton, i. 342) that he has ‘50l. a year, a hundred pounds worth of books, great store of linen and fine clothes, and near 100l. in his pocket.’ His sister added 30l. a year and ‘an equal love of order and frugality.’ They settled in ‘Riddell's Land, in the Lawnmarket, near the West Bow,’ and in 1753 (ib. i. 380), in ‘Jack's Land’ in the Canongate, ‘land’ meaning one of the lofty compound houses in Edinburgh. During the following winter (1751–2) he endeavoured to succeed Adam Smith in the chair of logic at Glasgow, Smith having become professor of moral philosophy. It is said, though the evidence is only traditional (ib. i. 351), and difficult to reconcile with dates, that Burke, then a young law-student of about twenty-three, was also a candidate. The clergy opposed Hume violently, but his friends would have succeeded if the Duke of Argyll had ‘given him the least countenance’ (ib. i. 370). Directly afterwards (28 Jan. 1752) he was appointed keeper of the library by the Faculty of Advocates, in succession to Thomas Ruddiman [q.v.] . Although attacked for his free-thinking, he was, he says, earnestly supported by the ladies (ib. i. 370). The salary was only 40l. a year; but the library, though then numbering only thirty thousand volumes, was the largest in Scotland, and contained a good collection of British history. Hume was thus enabled to devote himself to his ‘historic projects,’ which for some years to come absorbed his whole energies. He told Adam Smith (24 Sept. 1752) that he had once thought of beginning with the reign of Henry VII, but had afterwards decided upon the reign of James I, when the constitutional struggle still in progress had clearly manifested itself. He has begun, he says, ‘with great ardour and pleasure.’ Burton notes that his correspondence becomes scantier during the composition of his history. The first volume (containing the reigns of Charles I and James I) was published at the end of 1754, having been begun early in 1752. Its reception disappointed him; only forty-five copies were sold in twelve months. (The author of the ‘Supplement’ to Hume's life ascribes this ill-success to a manœuvre of his publisher, Millar.) His only encouragement was in two messages from the primates of England and Ireland, Herring and Stone, who told him not to be disappointed. But for the war, he declares, he would have retired to France permanently and changed his name. He ‘picked up courage,’ however, and the second volume, from the death of Charles to the revolution of 1688, ‘succeeded better, and helped to buoy up its unfortunate brother.’ According to Mr. Hill's calculation, he received 400l. for the first edition of the first volume, 700l. for the second, and eight hundred guineas for the copyright of the two (Hill, p. 15). In 1759 he published two volumes containing the history of the house of Tudor, and the last two in 1761 containing the period from Julius Cæsar to Henry VII. Millar bought the copyright of the last two volumes for 1,400l. (Burton, ii. 61). His writings had now succeeded so well that his ‘copy-money’ exceeded anything previously known in England. He became ‘not only independent but opulent.’
Hume, as appears sufficiently from the above dates, gave himself no time for such research as would now be thought necessary. He became more superficial as he receded further into periods with which he had little sympathy, and was studying merely for the nonce. His literary ability, however, made the book incomparably superior to the diluted party pamphlets or painful compilations which had hitherto passed for history; nor could the author of the ‘Political Discourses’ fail to give proofs of sagacity in occasional reflections. His brief remarks upon the social and economical conditions of the time (see Appendix to James I) were then an original addition to mere political history. The dignity and clearness of the style are admirable. The book thus became, as it long continued to be, the standard history of England, and has hardly been equalled in literary merit. Hume speaks of the offence taken by the whigs at his political attitude, and in later editions he made alterations, he says, ‘invariably to the tory side.’ Such heresy struck whigs as something monstrous in a philosopher who had discussed abstract political principles in his essays with calm impartiality. Hume, like all philosophers, had strong prejudices. His strongest feeling was love of the intellectual culture represented for him by the royalists, and hatred of the superstitious bigotry of which the puritans had bequeathed a large portion, as he thought, to the contemporary Scottish vulgar. His fervent patriotism was intensified by the aristocratic contempt for men of letters ascribed to the ‘barbarians on the banks of the Thames’ (ib. ii. 196), and by the English abuse of the Scots at the time of Bute's ministry. He despised Wilkes, and even Chatham, as mouthpieces of a brutal mob, and returned the English abuse in kind. He held that the Americans were unconquerable, and wished that government would crush demagogues instead of trying to crush the colonists (see passages on Hume's dislike of the English ‘barbarians,’ collected in Hill, p.57).
Hume's scepticism, like that of many contemporaries, was purely esoteric. He never expected it to influence practice, either in political or ecclesiastical matters. The strangest illustration is in his letter advising a young sceptic to take anglican orders, because ‘it was paying too great a respect for the vulgar to pique oneself on sincerity with regard to them,’ and wishing that he could still be ‘a hypocrite in this particular’ (Burton, ii. 187, 188). The frankness of the avowal half redeems his cynicism. No one, therefore, was less inclined to proselytise. He was on friendly terms with nearly all the remarkable circle of eminent writers then in Edinburgh, including many of the clergy and ‘Jupiter’ Carlyle. Burton states that the letters preserved in the Royal Society confute the assertion that any of them expressed sympathy with Hume's scepticism. His thorough good nature, as well as his indifference, prevented him from obtruding his opinions upon any who did not sympathise; while no man was a heartier friend or more warmly appreciative of merit—especially in Scotsmen. He was a member of the Poker Club, a convivial meeting of the Edinburgh literary circle (Ritchie, p.83; Carlyle, pp. 419-23), secretary in 1752 to the Philosophical Society (founded in 1739), afterwards (1783) superseded by the Royal Society, and a member of the Select Society, founded in 1754 to encourage pure English (Ritchie, pp. 83-101).
He was, indeed, regarded with some suspicion. In 1754 he was censured by the curators of the library for buying the ‘Contes’ of La Fontaine, Bussy-Rabutin's ‘Histoire Amoureuse des Gaules,’ and Crébillon's ‘L'Ecumoire,’ which were ‘indecent’ and ‘unworthy of a place in a learned library.’ Burton says truly that the resolution was absurd. The books are now in every library of any pretensions to be ‘learned.’ Hume withdrew an application for redress, as certain not to succeed; and decided to retain the office (which he resigned, however, in 1757), while giving a bond for the salary to Thomas Blacklock, the blind poet. He was for many years an energetic friend to Blacklock, although the poet's orthodox friend, Spence, carefully sank any notice of Hume's name in his appeals for patronage [see under Blacklock, Thomas]. Hume was soon afterwards attacked by George Anderson, who in 1753 had written a pamphlet called ‘An Estimate of the Profit and Loss of Religion,’ directed against Kames's ‘Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion’ [see Home, Henry, Lord Kames]. Kames though a personal friend of Hume, differed from Hume's theological scepticism. They were, however, joint objects of attack in a pamphlet of unknown authorship published in 1755, ‘An Analysis of the … Sentiments … of Sopho [Kames] and David Hume,’ addressed to the general assembly. Hugh Blair [q.v.] wrote in Kames's defence, but the assembly in, the same year passed a resolution denouncing the ‘immorality and infidelity … openly avowed in several books published of late in this country.’ In a committee of the assembly in 1756 it was proposed to transmit to the assembly a resolution in which Hume was named as the avowed author of attacks upon Christianity, natural religion, and the foundations of morality, ‘if not establishing direct atheism,’ and to appoint a committee to inquire into his writings. This was rejected, however, by 50 to 17 votes, and the matter dropped with Anderson's death, 19 Oct. following (Ritchie, pp.40-80, gives the fullest account of these proceedings).
During the execution of the history Millar proposed that Hume should translate Plutarch, and afterwards suggested that he should take some part in a new weekly paper (Burton, i. 421). Hume declined the newspaper project, which would have involved settling in London and abandoning his history. The history finished, Hume was pressed by Miller to bring it down to more recent times. Hume talked of this for some years, till 1772 (see passages in Hill, p.55); but thought it not amiss to be idle for a little time ' (Burton, ii. 131). He contradicted a report, arising, he says, from some half-serious remark, that he was contemplating an ecclesiastical history; serious allusions, however, to such a scheme are made by Helvetius and d'Alembert (Letters of Eminent Persons, pp. 13, 183). He sometimes thought of removing to London to obtain materials for the later history; but in 1762 he moved to a flat in James's Court (probably not, as Burton says, the flat in which Boswell received Johnson; see Hill, pp.118, 119), which commanded a view over the ground now occupied by the new town, and which, as Burton observes, must have closely resembled Counsellor Pleydell's house as described in ' Guy Mannering!' His well-earned idleness continued for a year or so; and in March 1763 he set up a `chaise,' and arranged everything comfortably with a view to a permanent settlement at Edinburgh Burton, ii. 182). Soon afterwards, however, he received an invitation to accompany the Earl (created in 1793 marquis) of Hertford, who had just been appointed ambassador at Paris after the peace of 1763. Hertford was not only a moral but reputed to be a very pious man; and Hume remarked that such a connection would make him clean and white as the driven snow ' in regard to imputations upon his orthodoxy, besides opening a path to higher appointments. Hertford was 'not in the least acquainted with him,' which makes the proposal more remarkable (see ib. ii. 281). Walpole says (George III, i. 264) that many Scots ' had much weight with Lord and Lady Hertford,' and Hume says to Gilbert Elliot (27 March 1764), 'the prime minister and favourite (Bute), who was inclined to be a Maecenas, was surrounded by all my most particular friends,' of whom John Home was one. Mr. (afterwards Sir Charles) Bunbury had been appointed secretary to the ambassador, to whom, however, he was personally disagreeable. Bunbury was therefore told to stay at home, while Hume was to do all the duties, with a prospect of succeeding to the post in the event of Bunbury 's resignation. A pension of 200l. a year was meanwhile conferred upon him. It seems also (Burton, ii. 161) that Hertford expected Hume to be useful to the studies of his son, Lord Beauchamp. After some hesitation in taking up a new career, Hume decided to accept the proposal.
Hume arrived in France 14 Oct. 1763. He was received with extraordinary enthusiasm. Lord Elibank had told him a year before (ib. ii. 167) that no living author had ever enjoyed such a reputation as he now possessed in Paris. The Comtesse de Boumers mistress of the Prince de Conti, had already (in 1761) entered into a correspondence with Hume, which, after an exchange of ecstatic admiration and rather elaborate compliments, led to genuine and confidential friendship. Hume was also on friendly terms with Madame Geoffrin and with Mile. d'Espinasse, and with the philosophers who frequented their salons. D'Alembert was his closest friend, and next to d'Alembert, Turgot. Literary eminence was in Paris a passport to society of the highest rank, and Hume tells his Scottish friends how he had been at once received with open arms by duchesses and members of the royal family. When he first went to court the children of the dauphin, the future Louis XVI, Louis XVIII, and Charles X, then aged from nine to six, had learnt by heart polite little speeches about his works. He at first regretted his own fireside and the ' Poker Club ' (a ' roasting ' at which might, he thought, have done good to the dauphin), but was reconciled by degrees to this social incense, and expressed his pleasure simply and honestly. The statement attributed to Burke (Prior, Life, i. 98), that he came back a 'literary coxcomb,' is not confirmed by his letters or autobiography, where he speaks sensibly of the true value of the fashionable craze. Grimm and Charlemont (Hardy, p.122) speak of his broad unmeaning face queerly placed among the French beauties; and Mme. d'Epinay tells of his absurd appearance in a tableau vivant, where he was placed as sultan between two slaves, represented by the prettiest women of Paris. He could find nothing to do except to smite his stomach and repeat for a quarter of an hour, 'Eh bien, mesdemoiselles, eh bien, vous voilà donc ! ' The tea-parties of Edinburgh were an inadequate preparation for the Parisian salons. In spite of his social clumsiness, the French seem to have recognised his real good-nature, simplicity, and shrewdness; and he expresses his pleasure (Burton, ii. 197) on receiving eulogies rather for these qualities than for his literary merits. He was, however, sensitive enough to the contrast between the French and the English appreciation of literature. As Walpole remarked to him with covert insolence (11 Nov. 1766), ' You know in England we read their works, but seldom or never take notice of authors. We think them sufficiently paid if their books sell, and of course leave them in their colleges and obscurity, by which means we are not troubled with their vanity and impertinence.' To which Hume replied that our enemies would infer from this that England was `fast relapsing into barbarism, ignorance, and superstition.'
In 1765 Bunbury was appointed secretary for Ireland. Hume required some pressure from his friends before he would consent to apply for a favour (Burton, ii. 279), but he consented to make interest, and was supported by Hertford (Private Correspondence, p.120). Mme. de Boufflers obtained a promise from the Duke of Bedford, but he had already been appointed secretary to the embassy in June with 1,200l. a year and allowances. On the formation of the Rockingham administration in July, Hertford was appointed lord-lieutenant in Ireland. He left Paris, and till the arrival of his successor, the Duke of Richmond, in October, Hume was left as chargé d'affaires. Brougham, who saw the correspondence of the time, says that Hume proved himself an excellent man of business, wrote good despatches, obtained useful information, and showed firmness and sagacity.
Hertford proposed at first to make him his secretary in Ireland, in conjunction with Lord Beauchamp. His salary would be 2,000l. a year, a 'splendid fortune' as Hume calls it (ib. ii. 287). The prejudice against Scots, however, was too strong, and Hume was reluctant to accept a troublesome position. Hertford obtained for him a pension of 400l. a year, and offered to make him `keeper of the black rod,' for which he would receive 900l. a year, less 300l. to be paid to a substitute who would perform the duties. Hume declined the offer, `not as unjust, but as savouring of rapacity and greediness' (ib. ii. 291). Hume had already (in 1762) received from Mme. de Boufflers and from the Earl Marischal appeals on behalf of Rousseau, then in danger of arrest in France on account of the `Emile.' Hume warmly promised to do what he could towards securing an asylum and patronage for Rousseau in England. Rousseau, however, retired to Motiers Travers and thence to the island of St. Pierre. He was now again seeking refuge, and when at Strassburg on his way to Berlin, received a fresh offer of help from Hume. He at once came to Paris, where he was protected by the Prince de Conti. Hume was moved by his misfortunes, and made an agreement with a French gardener at Fulham to board him, and took him to England. They reached London 13 Jan. 1766 (Hill, p. 73). Rousseau, upon landing, covered Hume's face with kisses and tears. His mistress, Thérèse Le Vasseur, followed under the escort of Boswell. Hume took great pains to find a suitable asylum for the refugee, the Fulham gardener proving unsuitable. He obtained through Hertford's brother, Henry Seymour Conway [q.v.], now secretary of state, a pension of 100l. a year, to be kept a secret (Private Corr. p. 129), for Rousseau from the king, took all Rousseau's affairs into his hands, and declared (11 Feb. 1766) that, although the philosophers of Paris had predicted a quarrel, he thought that they could live together in peace as long as both survived. After many inquiries a Mr. Davenport of Davenport in Derbyshire agreed to let a house at Wootton in the Peak to Rousseau. Rousseau and his mistress took up their abode there in the middle of March, and on the 22nd wrote a letter of overflowing gratitude to Hume, followed by another, still affectionate, on the 29th. Immediately afterwards (31 March) he wrote to his friend D'Ivernois, expressing strange suspicions of Hume, repeated with amplifications in later letters. On 12 May he wrote to Conway, making difficulties about the pension. Hume and Conway understood him to mean that he would not take it unless the restriction of secrecy should be removed. Hume on 16 June wrote to Rousseau saying that the pension should be still given if Rousseau would express his willingness to accept it upon those terms. Rousseau, however, on 23 June, wrote a fierce letter to Hume, saying that his atrocious designs were now manifest, and declaring that their correspondence must cease. Hume (on 28 June) indignantly demanded an explanation. On 10 July Rousseau replied in a long letter, detailing the grievances already described to other correspondents. The most tangible grievance was a letter written by Horace Walpole, in the name of the king of Prussia, offering Rousseau an asylum and ridiculing his supposed desire for persecution. Walpole (see letter to Hume 23 July 1766) had written this letter while Rousseau was in Paris, but suppressed it for the time out of delicacy to Hume as Rousseau's protector. It was handed about in Paris and ultimately got into the English press. Hume had told Rousseau of its existence by 18 Jan. (Rousseau to Mme. de Boufflers, 18 Jan. 1766). Rousseau decided that it was written by d'Alembert, and was now convinced that Hume was an accomplice. Moreover, the papers which had first welcomed Rousseau to England had now begun to circulate stories in ridicule of him—which the recluse seems to have read carefully—and Hume, a popular author, was naturally at the bottom of every newspaper conspiracy. Rousseau further suspected Hume of tampering with his letters. Even the curing of the pension was part of a diabolical scheme against his honour. On the day after leaving Paris Rousseau heard Hume mutter in his sleep, 'with extreme vehemence,' `Je tiens J. J. Rousseau.' Just before the journey to Wootton some suspicion occurred to Rousseau about a letter, or, as Hume thought, about a small manoeuvre of Davenport's intended to save his pocket (Burton, ii. 314). Rousseau became moody. He saw Hume's eyes fixed upon him with an expression that made him tremble. He would have suffocated but for an effusion of feeling. Bursting into tears he embraced Hume, tenderly declaring that if Hume were not the best he must have been the blackest of men. Hume patted him on the back, according to his own account (ib.), returning the tears and embraces, and, according to Rousseau, only saying 'Quoi done, mon cher monsieur!'
The absurdity of the whole story—memorable only on account of the actors—shows sufficiently that Rousseau was under an illusion characteristic of partial sanity. Voltaire, d'Alembert, and Hume were, he thought, in a conspiracy against him, the purpose of which he never sought to explain. Hume was enraged, called Rousseau an 'atrocious villain,' then doubted whether he were an 'arrant villain or an arrant madman,' and thought that he would be forced to publish an account. He then decided (Private Corr. pp.182-207) to write an account to be published only in the event of an attack upon him by Rousseau. He wrote, however, indiscreetly to Holbach and other friends at Paris. Adam Smith, Mme. de Boufflers, and Turgot, all exhorted him at first to the more magnanimous course of silence. At last a kind of meeting was held by his French friends, including d'Alembert and Turgot, who decided (with Adam Smith's consent) that a narrative, without needless bitterness, should be made public. Thus urged Hume consented. The narrative was printed at the end of the year in a French version by Suard, and an English soon afterwards by Hume. Hume proposed to deposit the letters in the British Museum; the trustees declined, and they now belong to the Royal Society at Edinburgh. Walpole also published a narrative, and many pamphlets appeared. Hume had the excuse that it is unpleasant to be attacked by a popular man of genius, even if insane, and he knew that Rousseau was writing his Confessions.' He had undoubtedly acted throughout with his usual strenuous good nature till the quarrel upset his temper. When, in the spring of 1767, Rousseau applied for his pension, Hume obtained an order for the payment, and when Rousseau finally returned to France in May, exerted himself to obtain protection for the fugitive through Turgot and others. Rousseau afterwards attributed his own conduct to the foggy climate of England.
In 1766 Hume returned to Edinburgh, but early in 1767 accepted an offer from Conway to become under-secretary. He held the appointment till 20 Jan. 1768, when Conway was succeeded by Lord Weymouth, and afterwards stayed on in London, where he amused himself by correcting his history. He finally returned to Edinburgh about August 1769 (Burton, ii. 431), having resisted many entreaties to settle in Paris. He was now 'very opulent' (he had 1,000l. a year), 'healthy, and, though somewhat stricken in years, with the prospect of enjoying long my ease and of seeing the increase of my reputation.' The king increased his pension, expressing a desire that he would continue his history, and offering to provide materials and allow the inspection of records (Private Corr. pp.250, 261), but Hume never proceeded further. He was living among his old friends, attended the Poker Club, and was popular in the society for his playfulness and simplicity. He talked good English in broad Scottish accent. Some trifling anecdotes are preserved of his good nature to women and children, and of humorous allusions to his opinions. He had grown very fat, and was once rescued by an old woman from a bog into which he had fallen on condition of repeating the Creed and the Lord's Prayer. He built a house for himself in the new town in the street afterwards called St. David's Street, leading out of St. Andrew's Square. He settled there in 1772 (Hill, p.251). His sister still kept house for him, and he took a keen interest in the education of his brother's children.
In the spring of 1775 appeared symptoms of the disease 'a disorder in the bowels' of which his mother died. Dr. Norman Moore thinks that it was a cancerous growth in the liver (ib. p.322). It gradually became worse, and in his autobiography, dated 18 April 1776, he says that he expects 'a speedy dissolution.' He had suffered little pain, his spirits and love of study were unaffected, and though his reputation gave signs of 'breaking out at last with additional lustre,' he did not regret the loss of a few years of infirmities.' 'It is difficult,' he adds, `to be more detached from life than I am at present.' Directly after this he was persuaded to make a journey to London and Bath, in which he was accompanied by John Home, who kept an interesting diary, first published in H. Mackenzie's 'Life of John Home.' He returned to Scotland, after some apparent improvement had disappeared, in July, and rapidly became weaker, although retaining his cheerfulness to the last. He died with great composure on 25 Aug. 1776, and was buried in the cemetery on Calton Hill.
According to the anonymous author of ‘A Supplement to the Life of David Hume,’ a hostile crowd gathered at the funeral, and the grave had to be watched for eight nights. Hume's autobiography, with a letter from Adam Smith upon his last illness, was published in 1777. It gave great offence by dwelling upon Hume's perfect calmness in meeting death. The facts, indeed, are established beyond all doubt by the testimony of Smith, John Home, his physicians, Dr. Black and Cullen. Bishop (George) Horne [q.v.] wrote an insolent letter to Adam Smith, by ‘one of the people called Christians,’ and attempts were made to throw doubts upon the calmness of his last days. The most authentic, according to Dr. McCosh (Hist. of Scottish Philosophy), was a story told by an anonymous, but apparently respectable, old woman in a stage-coach, who said that she had been Hume's nurse, and that he had been much depressed, although he had tried to be cheerful to his friends and to her (Lives of R. and J. A. Haldane, 1855, p.560). It is not, indeed, impossible that a man dying of cancer may have been sometimes out of spirits; but perhaps it is more likely that the old lady lied.
Hume had made a will on 4 Jan. 1776, leaving most of his property to his brother, or, in the event of his brother's previous death, to his nephew David, 1,200l. to his sister, and a few legacies, including 200l. apiece to d'Alembert and Adam Ferguson. He also left 100l. to rebuild a bridge near Ninewells, with a condition guarding against injury to a romantic old quarry, which he had formerly admired. He left some wine to John Home under a facetious condition, with a final expression of affection. He made Adam Smith his literary executor, with ~200l. for his trouble. Smith was to have full power over all his writings except the ‘Dialogues on Natural Religion,’ which he ordered to be published. As Smith made some difficulties, he afterwards (7 Aug.) left the dialogues to Strahan, desiring that they should be published within two years of his death. Finally, if not published by Strahan, they were to revert to his nephew David, whom he desired to publish them. As Strahan finally declined, they were published by the nephew in 1779 (see correspondence in Hill, pp.351-64).
Adam Smith, in his letter upon Hume's last illness, declared that his friend ‘approached’ as nearly to the ‘character of a perfectly wise and virtuous man as perhaps the nature of human frailty would permit.’ Blair endorses this rather bold assertion (Hill, p.xl). He was certainly not without a share of frailty. His devotion to literary excellence was clearly alloyed by excessive desire for recognition. His disappointments, as he says, truly never ‘soured’ him; but they probably led him to confine his revision to those portions of his ‘Treatise’ which could be made effective. In fact, the fragment actually revised succeeded in rousing the attention of Kant, as of inferior writers, and so far justified the manoeuvre. (That Kant had never read the ‘Treatise’ seems to be clear from the reference to Hume in the introduction to the ‘Kritik der reinen Vernunft,’ § 6, where he assumes that Hume had not considered the à priori synthesis implied in pure mathematics.) If he wrote for fame, he never wrote for the moment. His works were the products of conscientious labour, and were most carefully revised. He was never tired of correcting his essays and history, excising ‘Scotticisms’ and whig sentiments, and polishing his style (see list of corrections of the history in Ritchie, pp.350-68). A list of ‘Scotticisms’ prepared by Hume was added to some copies of the ‘Political Discourses,’ and perhaps issued separately (Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. iv. 225, 272). In his personal relations he was a warm and constant friend. His official superiors, Hertford and Conway, became as warmly attached to him as his large circle of Scottish intimates. Blair, Sir Gilbert Elliot, Adam Ferguson, Kames, John Home, Robertson, Adam Smith, and others less known remained his firm friends through life. All who have mentioned him speak warmly of his amiability. He was energetic in such literary and other services as he could render to his friends. He would have provided for Rousseau had Rousseau been providable for. He was enthusiastic to excess when his friends wrote books; no jealousy disturbed his eager admiration of Robertson, Adam Smith, or Gibbon; he praised the history of Robert Henry [q.v.] when Gilbert Stuart wished to ‘annihilate’ it (Burton, ii. 470); he believed that John Home combined the excellences of Shakespeare and Racine; he believed even in Wilkie's ‘Epigoniad;’ he helped Blacklock even when Blacklock had shrunk from him; and endeavoured to serve Smollett, who in his gratitude called him ‘one of the best men, and undoubtedly the best writer, of the age.’ He took the criticisms of Reid and George Campbell with a friendliness which produced their respectful acknowledgments. He is said (see Morley, Rousseau, ii. 284) to have corrected the proofs of the remarkable essay in which Robert Wallace anticipated Malthus, and replied to Hume's ‘Populousness of Ancient Nations.’ He certainly paid a graceful compliment in later editions to his assailant. He induced Millar to publish Skelton's ‘Deism Revealed,’ directed against himself. ‘I had fixed a resolution,’ he says, ' which I inflexibly maintained, never to reply to anybody; and not being very irascible in my temper, I have easily kept myself clear of all literary squabbles.' He showed irascibility, indeed, on occasion (see e.g. his quarrel with Lord Elibank, Burton, ii, 252-60), but had sufficient self-control to keep it in order. He concludes his autobiography by saying that his friends had never been obliged to vindicate his character or conduct. Considering the antipathy aroused by his opinions, it must be admitted that few men of comparable literary rank have been less seriously blamed.
It is needless to give any exposition of Hume's philosophy, which is discussed in every history of metaphysics. Following Locke and Berkeley, he endeavoured to introduce the ' experimental method of reasoning into moral subjects,' and in the attempt to reduce all reasoning to a product of ' experience ' omitted, according to his critics, the intellectual element presupposed in experience, and thus reached a thoroughgoing scepticism. The elaborate essay by Thomas Hill Green [q. v.] , prefixed to the `Works,' sets forth this criticism in minute detail, justified in his opinion by the fact that Hume's exposition of empiricism still remained the fullest statement of the doctrine. The philosophies of Kant, of Reid, and of the English empiricist spring in great part from Hume either by way of reaction or continuation. Hume also produced a great effect by his writings on political economy, which influenced Adam Smith ; by his writings on ethics, which influenced Bentham, who says (Works, i. 268 n) 'that the scales first fell from his eyes on reading the third part of the Treatise;' and by his writings on theology, in which may be found much that was adopted by Comte. The argument against miracles is still often discussed, but his wider speculations on theology are equally noticeable. He may be regarded as the acutest thinker in Great Britain of the eighteenth century, and the most qualified interpreter of its intellectual tendencies.
Hume's writings are: 1. 'A Treatise of Human Nature; being an Attempt to introduce the Experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects,' vols. i. and ii. in 1739, vol. iii. 1740; republished in 1817, and at Oxford, edited by Mr. Selbywith an excellent index, in 1888. 2. `Essays, Moral and Political,' vol. i. 1741, 2nd edit. 1742; vol.ii. 1742; `third edition, by David Hume, Esq., corrected with additions,' Edinburgh, 1 vol. 8vo, 1748, when three additional essays, completing the former, were also published separately. 3. 'Philosophical Essays concerning Human Understanding, by the author of " Essays, Moral and Political,"' London, 1748, 1 vol. 8vo (now very rare); 2nd edit., with corrections and additions by Mr. Hume, author of `Essays, Moral and Political,' London, 1751. An edition dated 1750, described in `Notes and Queries,' 6th ser. xii. 90, is apparently an early form of the 1751 edition. 4. ' An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, by David Hume, Esq.,' London, 1751. 5. 'Political Discourses, by David Hume, Esq.,' Edinburgh (two editions), 1752. 6. `Four Dissertations,' London, 1757 (see above for contents. A copy in the Advocates' Library at Edinburgh, with a title-page supposed to be in Hume's handwriting, shows that it originally contained the two essays on ' Suicide ' and the ' Immortality of the Soul,' the first of which has been cut out. See, for full details, Mr. Grose's ' History of the Editions' in Hume's `Philosophical Works,' iii. 62-72). 7. `Two Essays,' London, 1777, which were reprinted in `Essays on Suicide and the Immortality of the Soul, ascribed to David Hume, Esq. Never before published. With Remarks, intended as an Antidote to the Poison contained in these Performances, by the Editor. To which is added Two Letters on Suicide, from Rousseau's "Eloisa,"' London, 1783. 8. `Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, by David Hume, Esq.,' 1779.
In 1753-4 appeared ' Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects,' in 4 vols. 8vo, London and Edinburgh, including the previously published works except the `Treatise.' In a second edition, in 1758, the `Four Dissertations' were introduced, and the `Philosophical Essays concerning Human Understanding' were now called `An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding.' Other editions followed in 1760 (4 vols. 12mo), 1764 (2 vols. 8vo), 1768 (2 vols. 4to), with portrait by Donaldson, 1770 (4 vols. 8vo), carefully revised; an edition of 1772 is mentioned in Hume's 'Letters,' by G. B. Hill, p. 252, and in 1777 the posthumous edition in 2 vols. 8vo. Many editions have appeared since. For various additions, omissions, and rearrangements, see Mr. Grose's `History of Editions,' pp. 42-5, 72, 73, &c. His `Philosophical Works ' were published at Edinburgh in 1826. The best edition is that in 4 vols. 8vo, edited by T. H. Green and Mr. T. H. Grose in 1874-5.
The 'History of England,' after its first publication as above, appeared in 2 vols. 4to in 1762, in 8 vols. 8vo in 1763, 8 vols, 4to 1770 (an edition to which portraits were added), 8 vols. 8vo 1773, 8 vols. 8vo 1778 (with autobiography and author's last corrections), and frequently since, with continuations by Smollett and others. A continuation by Thomas Smart Hughes [q.v.] was published in 1834-5, and was twice reissued. An abbreviated version, called `The Student's Hume,' was edited by Dr. William Smith in 1870, and again in 1878 by John Sherren Brewer [q. v.][Life of David Hume, written by himself (with Adam Smith's letter upon his last illness), 1777, prefixed to later editions of the History, and often reprinted; Supplement to the Life of David Hume, 1777; Curious Particulars and Genuine Anecdotes respecting the late Lord Chesterfield and David Hume, … by a friend to Civil and Religious Liberty, 1788 (includes a reprint of this, and partly follows an 'Apology for the Life and Writings of David Hume,' 1777, in answer to Horne's letter to Adam Smith); Account of the Life and Writings of David Hume, by Thomas Edward Ritchie, London, 1807; Life and Correspondence of David Hume, from the papers bequeathed by his nephew to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and other original sources, by John Hill Burton, advocate, 2 vols. 8vo, Edinburgh, 1846 (the standard life); Private Correspondence of David Hume … 1761-1776, 1 vol. 4to, Edinburgh, 1820; Letters of David Hume … 1742-1761, edited by Thomas Murray, LL.D., 1841 (refers to the Annandale affair); Letters of Eminent Persons addressed to David Hume, by J. H. Burton from the Royal Society papers, 1 vol. 8vo, 1849; Letters of David Hume to William Strahan, … by G. Birkbeck Hill, 1 vol. 8vo, 1888; Exposé succinct de la Contestation qui est élevée entre M. Hume et M. Rousseau, avec les Pièces justificatives, Paris, 1766, reprinted in Appendix to Ritchie's life from the fourteenth volume of Rousseau's Works, Geneva, 1782, translated as 'A Concise and Genuine Account of the Dispute between Mr. Hume and M. Rousseau,' 1766 (reprinted in Hume's Philosophical Works, Edinburgh, 1826, i. pp. xxxv-cxxi). Notices of Hume (with letters chieflv reprinted bv Burton) are in A. Carlyle's Autobiography, 1860, pp. 272-9; Hardy's Life of Charlemont, 1812, i. 13-19, 230-7; D. Stewart's Life of Robertson (in Stewart's Works, 1858, vol. x.); A. F. Tytler's Life of Kames, 1808, i. 104-5, 123-9; H. Mackenzie's Life of Home (prefixed to Home's Works, 1822), i. 20-22; Mme. d'Epinay's Memoirs, 1818, iii. 284; Grimm's Correspondence, 1877, &c. vi. 468, vii. 139-40, 162, 204-6; Professor Huxley's Hume in Morley's Men of Letters Series; Professor Knight's Hume in Blackwood's Philosophical Classics, 1886.]