Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 28.djvu/227

This page has been validated.
Hume
Hume
221

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