Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary

David Hume
Hume, David
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Eugene F. Miller, ed.
First Pub. Date
Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc.
Liberty Fund, Inc.
Pub. Date
Includes Political Discourses (1752), "My Own Life," by David Hume, and a letter by Adam Smith.


by Eugene F. Miller


DAVID HUME'S greatness was recognized in his own time, as it is today, but the writings that made Hume famous are not, by and large, the same ones that support his reputation now. Leaving aside his Enquiries,*1 which were widely read then as now, Hume is known today chiefly through his Treatise of Human Nature*2 and his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.*3 The Treatise was scarcely read at all during Hume's lifetime, however, and the Dialogues was not published until after his death. Conversely, most readers today pay little attention to Hume's various books of essays and to his History of England,*4 but these are the works that were read avidly by his contemporaries. If one is to get a balanced view of Hume's thought, it is necessary to study both groups of writings. If we should neglect the essays or the History, then our view of Hume's aims and achievements is likely to be as incomplete as that of his contemporaries who failed to read the Treatise or the Dialogues.


The preparation and revision of his essays occupied Hume throughout his adult life. In his late twenties, after completing three books of the Treatise, Hume began to publish essays on moral and political themes. His Essays, Moral and Political was brought out late in 1741 by Alexander Kincaid, Edinburgh's leading publisher.*5 A second volume of essays appeared under the same title early in 1742,*6 and later that year, a "Second Edition, Corrected" of the first volume was issued. In 1748, three additional essays appeared in a small volume published in Edinburgh and London.*7 That volume is noteworthy as the first of Hume's works to bear his name and also as the beginning of his association with Andrew Millar as his chief London publisher. These three essays were incorporated into the "Third Edition, Corrected" of Essays, Moral and Political, which Millar and Kincaid published in the same year. In 1752, Hume issued a large number of new essays under the title Political Discourses, a work so successful that a second edition was published before the year was out, and a third in 1754.*8


Early in the 1750s, Hume drew together his various essays, along with other of his writings, in a collection entitled Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects. Volume 1 (1753) of this collection contains the Essays, Moral and Political and Volume 4 (1753-54) contains the Political Discourses. The two Enquiries are reprinted in Volumes 2 and 3. Hume retained the title Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects for subsequent editions of his collected works, but he varied the format and contents somewhat. A new, one-volume edition appeared under this title in 1758, and other four-volume editions in 1760 and 1770. Two-volume editions appeared in 1764, 1767, 1768, 1772, and 1777. The 1758 edition, for the first time, grouped the essays under the heading "Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary" and divided them into Parts I and II. Several new essays, as well as other writings, were added to this collection along the way.*9


As we see, the essays were by no means of casual interest to Hume. He worked on them continually from about 1740 until his death, in 1776. There are thirty-nine essays in the posthumous, 1777, edition of Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary (Volume 1 of Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects). Nineteen of these date back to the two original volumes of Essays, Moral and Political (1741-42). By 1777, these essays from the original volumes would have gone through eleven editions. Twenty essays were added along the way, eight were deleted, and two would await posthumous publication. Hume's practice throughout his life was to supervise carefully the publication of his writings and to correct them for new editions. Though gravely ill in 1776, Hume made arrangements for the posthumous publication of his manuscripts, including the suppressed essays "Of Suicide" and "Of the Immortality of the Soul," and he prepared for his publisher, William Strahan, the corrections for new editions of both his History of England and his Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects. When Adam Smith visited Hume on August 8, 1776, a little more than two weeks before the philosopher's death on August 25, he found Hume still at work on corrections to the Essays and Treatises. Hume had earlier been reading Lucian's Dialogues of the Dead, and he speculated in jocular fashion with Smith on excuses that he might give to Charon for not entering his boat. One possibility was to say to him: "Good Charon, I have been correcting my works for a new edition. Allow me a little time, that I may see how the Public receives the alterations."*10


Hume's essays were received warmly in Britain, on the Continent, where numerous translations into French, German, and Italian appeared, and in America. In his brief autobiography, My own Life,*11 Hume speaks of his great satisfaction with the public's reception of the essays. The favorable response to the first volume of Essays, Moral and Political made him forget entirely his earlier disappointment over the public's indifference to his Treatise of Human Nature, and he was pleased that Political Discourses was received well from the outset both at home and abroad. When Hume accompanied the Earl of Hertford to Paris in 1763 for a stay of twenty-six months as Secretary of the British Embassy and finally as Chargé d'Affaires, he discovered that his fame there surpassed anything he might have expected. He was loaded with civilities "from men and women of all ranks and stations." Fame was not the only benefit that Hume enjoyed from his publications. By the 1760s, "the copy-money given me by the booksellers, much exceeded any thing formerly known in England; I was become not only independent, but opulent."


Hume's essays continued to be read widely for more than a century after his death. Jessop lists sixteen editions or reprintings of Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects that appeared between 1777 and 1894.*12 (More than fifty editions or reprintings of the History are listed for the same period.) The Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary were included as Volume 3 of The Philosophical Works of David Hume (Edinburgh, 1825; reprinted in 1826 and 1854) and again as Volume 3 of a later edition by T. H. Green and T. H. Grose, also entitled The Philosophical Works of David Hume (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1874-75; vol. 3, reprinted in 1882, 1889, 1898, 1907, and 1912). Some separate editions of the Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary were published as well, including the one by "The World's Classics" (London, 1903; reprinted in 1904).


These bibliographical details are important because they show how highly the essays were regarded by Hume himself and by many others up to the present century. Over the past seventy years, however, the essays have been overshadowed, just as the History has been, by other of Hume's writings. Although some recent studies have drawn attention once again to the importance of Hume's Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary,*13 the work itself has long been difficult to locate in a convenient edition. Some of the essays have been included in various collections,*14 but, leaving aside the present edition, no complete edition of the Essays has appeared since the early part of the century, save for a reprinting of the 1903 World's Classics edition*15 and expensive reproductions of Green and Grose's four-volume set of the Philosophical Works. In publishing this new edition of the Essays—along with its publication, in six volumes, of the History of England*16—Liberty Fund has made a neglected side of Hume's thought accessible once again to the modern reader.


Many years after Hume's death, his close friend John Home wrote a sketch of Hume's character, in the course of which he observed: "His Essays are at once popular and philosophical, and contain a rare and happy union of profound Science and fine writing."*17 This observation indicates why Hume's essays were held in such high esteem by his contemporaries and why they continue to deserve our attention today. The essays are elegant and entertaining in style, but thoroughly philosophical in temper and content. They elaborate those sciences—morals, politics, and criticism—for which the Treatise of Human Nature lays a foundation. It was not simply a desire for fame that led Hume to abandon the Treatise and seek a wider audience for his thought. He acted in the belief that commerce between men of letters and men of the world worked to the benefit of both. Hume thought that philosophy itself was a great loser when it remained shut up in colleges and cells and secluded from the world and good company. Hume's essays do not mark an abandonment of philosophy, as some have maintained,*18 but rather an attempt to improve it by having it address the concerns of common life.

Eugene F. Miller
1 October 1984

Eugene F. Miller is Professor of Political Science at the University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia

Notes for this chapter

An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding appeared for the first time under this title in the 1758 edition of Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects. Earlier it had been published several times, beginning in 1748, under the title Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding. An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals was first published in 1751. I have drawn this and other information about the various editions of Hume's writings from two sources: T. E. Jessop, A Bibliography of David Hume and of Scottish Philosophy (New York: Russell and Russell, 1966), and William B. Todd, "David Hume. A Preliminary Bibliography," in Todd, ed., Hume and the Enlightenment (Edinburgh and Austin: Edinburgh University Press and the Humanities Research Center, Austin, Texas, 1974), pp. 189-205.
Books I and II of the Treatise were published in 1739; Book III, in 1740.
Hume wrote the Dialogues about 1750 but decided to withhold publication during his lifetime. When Adam Smith proved unwilling to take responsibility for the posthumous publication of the Dialogues, Hume entrusted it to his own publisher, William Strahan, with the provision that the work would be committed to Hume's nephew David if Strahan failed to publish it within two and one-half years of Hume's death. When Strahan declined to act, the nephew made arrangements for the publication of the Dialogues in 1779.
Hume's History was published between 1754 and 1762 in six volumes, beginning with the Stuart reigns, then working back to the Tudor and pre-Tudor epochs. A "New Edition, Corrected," with the six volumes arranged in chronological order, appeared in 1762 under the title The History of England, From the Invasion of Julius Caesar to The Revolution in 1688.
This edition contained the following essays: (1) "Of the Delicacy of Taste and Passion"; (2) "Of the Liberty of the Press"; (3) "Of Impudence and Modesty"; (4) "That Politicks may be reduc'd to a Science"; (5) "Of the First Principles of Government"; (6) "Of Love and Marriage"; (7) "Of the Study of History"; (8) "Of the Independency of Parliament"; (9) "Whether the British Government inclines more to Absolute Monarchy, or to a Republick"; (10) "Of Parties in General"; (11) "Of the Parties of Great Britain"; (12) "Of Superstition and Enthusiasm"; (13) "Of Avarice"; (14) "Of the Dignity of Human Nature"; and (15) "Of Liberty and Despotism." Essays 3, 6, and 7 were not reprinted by Hume after 1760, and essay 13 was not reprinted after 1768. The title of essay 14 was changed to "Of the Dignity or Meanness of Human Nature" in the 1770 edition of Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects. The title of essay 15 was changed to "Of Civil Liberty" in the 1758 edition of Essays and Treatises.
This edition contained the following essays: (1) "Of Essay-Writing"; (2) "Of Eloquence"; (3) "Of Moral Prejudices"; (4) "Of the Middle Station of Life"; (5) "Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences"; (6) "The Epicurean"; (7) "The Stoic"; (8) "The Platonist"; (9) "The Sceptic"; (10) "Of Polygamy and Divorces"; (11) "Of Simplicity and Refinement"; and (12) "A Character of Sir Robert Walpole." Essays 1, 3, and 4 were published by Hume in this edition only. Essay 12 was printed as a footnote to "That Politics may be reduced to a Science" in editions from 1748 to 1768 and dropped after 1768.
This edition, entitled Three Essays, Moral and Political, contained: (1) "Of National Characters"; (2) "Of the Original Contract"; and (3) "Of Passive Obedience."
This edition contained the following essays: (1) "Of Commerce"; (2) "Of Luxury"; (3) "Of Money"; (4) "Of Interest"; (5) "Of the Balance of Trade"; (6) "Of the Balance of Power"; (7) "Of Taxes"; (8) "Of Public Credit"; (9) "Of some Remarkable Customs"; (10) "Of the Populousness of Antient Nations"; (11) "Of the Protestant Succession"; and (12) "Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth." The title of essay 2 was changed in 1760 to "Of Refinement in the Arts."
The 1758 edition of Essays and Treatises incorporated, from a 1757 work entitled Four Dissertations, the essays "Of Tragedy" and "Of the Standard of Taste" as well as two other works, The Natural History of Religion and A Dissertation on the Passions. Two new essays, "Of the Jealousy of Trade" and "Of the Coalition of Parties," were added late to some copies of the 1758 edition of Essays and Treatises, then incorporated into the edition of 1760. Finally, Hume prepared still another essay, "Of the Origin of Government," for the edition that would be published posthumously in 1777.
See, in Smith's letter to William Strahan in the present edition, p. xlvi.
Reprinted in the present edition, pp. xxxi-xli.
See A Bibliography of David Hume and of Scottish Philosophy, pp. 7-8.
See John B. Stewart, The Moral and Political Philosophy of David Hume (New York: Columbia University Press, 1963); F. A. Hayek, "The Legal and Political Philosophy of David Hume," in V. C. Chappell, ed., Hume: A Collection of Critical Essays (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966), pp. 335-60; Duncan Forbes, Hume's Philosophical Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975); David Miller, Philosophy and Ideology in Hume's Political Thought (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981); and Donald W. Livingston, Hume's Philosophy of Common Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984).
See, for example, Essential Works of David Hume, ed. Ralph Cohen (New York: Bantam Books, 1965); Of the Standard of Taste, And Other Essays, ed. John W. Lenz (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965); Writings on Economics, ed. Eugene Rotwein (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1955); Political Essays, ed. Charles W. Hendel (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1953); Theory of Politics, ed. Frederick M. Watkins (Edinburgh: Nelson, 1951); and Hume's Moral and Political Philosophy, ed. Henry D. Aiken (New York: Hafner, 1948).
London: Oxford University Press, 1963.
Volumes 1 and 2, Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1983; Volumes 3 and 4, 1984; Volumes 5 and 6 in preparation. This edition has a Foreword by William B. Todd.
John Home, A Sketch of the character of Mr. Hume and Diary of a Journey from Morpeth to Bath, 23 April-1 May 1776, ed. David Fate Norton (Edinburgh: Tragara Press, 1976), p. 8.

Editor's Note

T. H. Grose, in prefatory remarks to Hume's Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, admits to being struck by "the suddenness with which his labours in philosophy came to an end" with the publication of the Treatise (see "History of the Editions," in The Philosophical Works of David Hume, ed. T. H. Green and T. H. Grose [New Edition; London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1889], 3.75). Grose maintains that Hume "certainly lacked the disposition, and probably the ability," for constructive philosophy, once the critical or negative task of the Treatise was completed (ibid., p. 76). Though contrary to what Hume himself says about his mature writings as well as to what other interpreters have said about his abilities, this view was a rather common one at the turn of the century. It helped gain for Hume's Treatise the attention that it deserves, but at the same time it discouraged the study of Hume's other writings, particularly the Essays, as proper sources for his philosophy.

End of Notes

Editor's Note

by Eugene F. Miller


THIS NEW EDITION of Hume's Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary is based on the edition of 1777. The 1777 edition is the copy-text of choice, for, while it appeared posthumously, it contains Hume's latest corrections. It was the text used by T. H. Green and T. H. Grose for the version of the Essays that is included in their edition of The Philosophical Works of David Hume. Because of initial difficulties in obtaining a photocopy of the 1777 edition, Green and Grose's text was used as editor's copy for the current project. Both the editor's copy and the compositor's reading proofs were then corrected against a photocopy of the 1777 edition obtained from the Huntington Library, San Marino, California. The present edition contains material that was not in the 1777 edition of the Essays: Hume's My own Life, Adam Smith's Letter to William Strahan, and the essays that were either withdrawn by Hume prior to the 1777 edition or suppressed by him during his lifetime. Unless otherwise noted, these materials are reprinted here as they appear in Green and Grose and, unlike the Essays proper, have not been corrected against the appropriate earlier editions.


Green and Grose's edition of the Essays has generally been regarded as the most accurate one available,*19 and it has thus become a standard source for scholars. A close comparison of their edition with that of 1777 shows, however, that it falls far short of the standards of accuracy that are adopted today in critical-text editing.*20 There are hundreds of instances in which it departs, either intentionally or unintentionally, from the text of the 1777 edition. Comparing Green and Grose's "New Edition," in the 1889 printing, with the 1777 text, we find at least 100 instances of incorrect wording (words dropped, added, or changed), 175 instances of incorrect punctuation, and 75 errors in capitalization. Probably intentional are over 100 changes in Hume's spelling, symbols, joining of words, formatting of quotation marks, and such. At least 25 typographical errors in the 1777 edition are corrected silently by Green and Grose, who also corrected some of the Greek passages. The most massive departures from the 1777 edition come in Hume's footnotes, where his own citations are freely changed or augmented. Only near the end of their volume, in a final footnote to Hume's essay "Of the Populousness of Ancient Nations," do Green and Grose inform the reader that such changes have been made. Hume's essays have many long footnotes, and there are at least 7 instances where Green and Grose, without warning or explanation, print not the 1777 version of the footnote but a different version from an earlier edition, producing substantial variations in wording, punctuation, and spelling besides those tabulated above.


In preparing this new edition of Hume's Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, fidelity to the text of the 1777 edition has been a paramount aim. Hume's peculiarities of spelling, punctuation, and capitalization have been retained, because these often bear on the meaning of the text.*21 The reader should know, however, that there are some minor departures in the present edition from that of 1777: (1) typographical errors in the 1777 edition have been corrected silently; (2) Greek passages are reprinted as they appear in Green and Grose, with corrections and accents; (3) footnotes are designated by arabic numerals rather than by Hume's symbols (in cases where these designations are adjacent to the punctuation mark, they have been relocated so that they follow, rather than precede, the mark); (4) whereas Hume's longer footnotes are lettered and collected at the end of the volume in the 1777 edition, the present edition puts them at the bottom of the appropriate page, as was the practice in editions of the Essays up to 1770 (with the change in location, it was no longer appropriate to capitalize the first word of these footnotes); (5) whereas two sizes of capitals as well as lowercase letters are used in essay titles in the 1777 edition, titles here are in level capitals; (6) the "long s" has been eliminated throughout; and (7) the running quotation marks in the left margin have been omitted, and the use of quotation marks has been made to conform to modern practice.

Textual Notations


Three types of notational symbols appear in the present text.


A. Superscript Numerals. A superscript arabic numeral indicates a footnote. The editor's notes are enclosed in brackets to distinguish them from Hume's own notes. Information that I have added to Hume's footnotes is also bracketed.


A reader of the Essays cannot fail to be impressed by the breadth of Hume's learning. In the Essays, Hume ranges far beyond the great works of philosophy into every area of scholarship. One finds abundant evidence of his reading in the Greek and Latin classics as well as of his familiarity with the literary works of the important English, French, Italian, and Spanish authors. The essays reflect Hume's intimate knowledge not only of the history of Great Britain but also of the entire sweep of European history. He knew the important treatises on natural science, and he investigated the modern writings on political economy.


Hume intended for his essays to have a wide audience, but since he presupposed that his readers would have a broad knowledge of literature, history, and contemporary affairs, his footnotes are quite sparse and sketchy by today's standards. He often refers to persons or events without explaining who or what they are. He frequently quotes in languages other than English, and often he fails to identify an author or the work from which he is quoting. He sometimes misquotes his sources or gives misleading citations. No doubt the informed eighteenth-century reader could have filled in many of these lacunae, but such background knowledge can no longer be presupposed.


My footnotes and supplements are meant to provide some of the information that today's reader may need to understand Hume's Essays. Since it is hoped that this edition will be useful to beginning students and general readers, I have tended to prefer fullness in these annotations, even though much is included that will be known to specialists in one area or another of eighteenth-century studies. First, I have identified persons, places, and events to which Hume refers. Second, I have provided translations of foreign-language passages in those instances where Hume himself fails to translate them or give a close English paraphrase. Translations of Greek and Latin authors have been drawn from the appropriate volumes in the Loeb Classical Library, which is published in the United States by Harvard University Press (Cambridge, Mass.) and in Great Britain by William Heinemann Ltd. (London). Third, I have given citations for the many quotations or references that Hume leaves uncited. Moreover, I have supplemented Hume's own sparse citations to identify authors, give dates of an author's birth and death or else the date when a work was published, provide full titles of sources cited, and specify as closely as possible the location in a work where quotations or references can be found. For the sake of uniformity, classical citations are given to the Loeb editions. Since these often divide or arrange materials differently from the editions used by Hume, the Loeb citations will not always agree with Hume's. Finally, I have added explanatory notes that refer to Hume's other writings when this helps to clarify the argument of an essay.


B. Superscript Circles. A small superscript circle by a word indicates that the meaning of that word is specified in the Glossary. This symbol is used at the word's first occurrence in the Essays and usually is not repeated unless the word is used later with a different meaning. One encounters quite a large number of words in Hume's Essays that either have become obscure in their meaning or have come to have quite different meanings from the one that Hume intends. I have found Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language, which was first published in 1755 and revised frequently thereafter, to be immensely helpful in locating eighteenth-century meanings. Specifically, I used the eleventh, corrected and revised, edition (London: 1816; 2 vols.) in preparing the Glossary. Words are glossed sequentially rather than alphabetically, because their meanings are often related closely to the contexts in which they appear. In those cases where Johnson's Dictionary proved inadequate, I have consulted The Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961; 12 vols.).


C. Superscript Lowercase Letters. A superscript lowercase letter indicates a variant reading in some earlier edition or editions of Hume's Essays. These variants are collected at the end of this volume. As has been noted, Hume's Essays went through numerous editions in his lifetime, and Hume worked painstakingly to prepare them for the press. Besides adding many new essays and deleting some old ones, Hume often made changes in the essays that he carried over from previous editions. Some of these changes are only stylistic, but others reflect substantive alterations in Hume's views.


A critical edition of a text is understood today as one that collates the copy-text with all other editions and gives an exhaustive record of variations—formal and material—in the texts. Two excellent examples are Peter H. Nidditch's critical edition of John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975)*22 and the Glasgow edition of Adam Smith's Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979; Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1981), whose general editors are R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner and whose textual editor is W. B. Todd. Both editions contain exhaustive lists of variant readings.


The preparation of a critical apparatus for Hume's Essays would require that the 1777 edition be collated with each of the previous editions and that each variation in wording, punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and such be recorded. This task falls beyond the scope of the present edition of the Essays. Yet inasmuch as variants are important for understanding the development of Hume's thought, I have reprinted the variant readings that Green and Grose record in their edition of the Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, using for this purpose the "New Edition" in the printing of 1889. Nidditch is certainly correct in pointing out that Green and Grose's "apparatus of variant readings is very deficient."*23 They do not, for example, record formal variations, and it is clear that they do not show all of the significant material variations. Their list of variant readings is nonetheless quite extensive, and it must suffice for the present. In Green and Grose's edition, the variant readings appear as footnotes. I have collected them at the end of the volume in order to avoid confusion with Hume's and my own footnotes.


While I have tried to provide a text and notations that are free of error, I am painfully aware of Hume's warning that perfection is unlikely in things undertaken by man. I shall welcome suggestions for the improvement of this edition of Hume's Essays, addressed to me at the Department of Political Science, University of Georgia, Athens, Ga., 30602, U.S.A.



I am indebted to many for assistance in the preparation of this edition of Hume's Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary. Facsimiles of the title and half-title pages of the 1777 edition of the Essays are reproduced by permission of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California. The Huntington Library also provided the photocopy of the 1777 edition that was used in correcting the Green and Grose text. Mr. Thomas V. Lange, Assistant Curator of the Huntington Library, was especially helpful in answering several queries. Passages from various editions in the Loeb Classical Library are reprinted by permission of Harvard University Press. Colleagues at the University of Georgia who provided assistance include Richard A. LaFleur, James C. Anderson, Edward E. Best, Robert I. Curtis, Timothy N. Gantz, and Nancy F. Rubin of the Department of Classics; Francis Assaf, Vanni Bartolozzi, and Maria Cocco of the Department of Romance Languages; Lee B. Kennett, Linda J. Piper, and Kirk Willis of the Department of History; and Rodney Baine of the Department of English. Professors LaFleur, Rubin, and Piper were willing, on numerous occasions, to help me with points of translation or historical detail. My research assistant, Myrna Nichols, shared in some of the editorial tasks. When I found it necessary to consult scholars at other universities, the following responded generously: Allan Bloom of the University of Chicago; J. W. Johnson of the University of Rochester; David M. Levy of George Mason University; Arthur F. Stocker of the University of Virginia; William B. Todd of the University of Texas; Frank W. Walbank of Cambridge University; and Thomas G. West of the University of Dallas. My wife, Eva Miller, has been helpful in more ways than I can possibly enumerate. The responsibility for such errors as might have entered in the editorial process is, of course, mine alone and not that of anyone whose help I have acknowledged.


At a late stage in the editorial process, it became apparent that the appropriate copy-text for Hume's suppressed essays, "Of Suicide" and "Of the Immortality of the Soul," would be the proof-copy of these essays, with marginal corrections in Hume's own hand, that is in the possession of the National Library of Scotland. I am grateful to the Trustees of the National Library of Scotland for permission to reprint the text of this proof-copy, with Hume's corrections, and to Thomas I. Rae, Keeper of Manuscripts, for his timely assistance in obtaining the necessary photocopy.


My work on this edition of Hume's Essays has served as a strong reminder that scholarship requires the support of institutions as well as individuals. My research on Hume has been aided and encouraged in many ways by the University of Georgia, especially by its libraries, which are directed by David Bishop, by the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, whose Dean is W. Jackson Payne, and by the Department of Political Science, which has been headed during the period of this research by Loren P. Beth and Frank J. Thompson. The Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago is a second institution to which I am deeply indebted. Many years ago, while a doctoral student under the Committee, I first studied Hume's writings in research that was guided by Friedrich A. Hayek, Leo Strauss, and Joseph Cropsey. The Committee on Social Thought, more than any academic program that I know of, has sought to recover the unity and comprehensiveness of human knowledge that was lost after Hume's time, with the division of learning into departments or disciplines. Finally, I owe a great debt to Liberty Fund for its willingness to sponsor a new edition of Hume's Essays and to entrust me with its preparation. Liberty Fund's founder, Pierre F. Goodrich, maintained that a free society depends on free inquiry and that free inquiry depends, in turn, on the availability of reliable editions or translations of the great books, among which he included Hume's essays.

Athens, Georgia

Notes for this chapter

A few years ago, Roland Hall observed: "Hume's Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary have not been properly edited, and the best text may still be that in the Green and Grose Philosophical Works." See Fifty Years of Hume Scholarship: A Bibliographical Guide (Edinburgh: University Press, 1978), p. 5.
Peter H. Nidditch writes: "In my view, a suitable and attainable standard of accuracy in the text (from printed materials) offered by an editor working single-handed is an average in his first edition of two brief miswordings and of six erroneous forms per forty thousand words of the text; in the first reprint taking account of his rechecking (which is a pressing duty), these allowances should be halved. This is the standard I have adopted as the General Editor of The Clarendon Edition of the Works of John Locke (Oxford, 1975, in progress)." See An Apparatus of Variant Readings for Hume's Treatise of Human Nature (Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield, 1976), p. 34.
In the 1777 edition of Hume's Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects, proper names and adjectives derived therefrom (e.g., "BRITISH," "FRENCH") are printed entirely in capital letters, with the first letter being larger than the rest. Abstract nouns are sometimes printed the same way for emphasis or to indicate divisions in the argument (e.g., "FORCE," "POWER," and "PROPERTY" in "Of the First Principles of Government"; "AUTHORITY" and "LIBERTY" in "Of the Origin of Government"). Occasionally, however, words are printed entirely in large capital letters ("GOD") or entirely in small capitals (e.g., "INTEREST" and "IIGHT" in "Of the First Principles of Government"). It is uncertain to what extent this reflects Hume's manuscript practice, as distinguished from contemporary book trade convention, but in any event, Hume did have the opportunity to correct what finally went into print. Since these peculiarities of capitalization may be relevant to the interpretation of the text, they have been preserved in the present edition.
The Introduction and Appendix to Nidditch's edition of Locke's Essay provide a very helpful discussion of the techniques and terminology of critical-text editing. Nidditch's editorial work on some of Hume's most important writings is also noteworthy. He has revised the texts and added notes to the standard Selby-Bigge editions of the Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding, and Concerning the Principles of Morals, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), and the Treatise of Human Nature, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978). Nidditch discusses the problems of editing Hume as well as the merits of various editions of Hume's writings in the aforementioned texts as well as in An Apparatus of Variant Readings for Hume's Treatise of Human Nature.
In "Notes" to Hume's Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding, and Concerning the Principles of Morals, p. 348.

My Own Life, by David Hume

End of Notes

Note to the Revised Edition

by Eugene F. Miller


This volume has been revised throughout for this new printing. First, the text of Hume's Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary has been rechecked carefully, using photocopies supplied by the Huntington Library of both the 1772 edition and the 1777 edition. A fair number of corrections have been made in the text, but rarely do these affect Hume's meaning. The 1777 edition continues to serve as the copy-text, but a comparison with the 1772 edition was helpful in detecting typographical errors in the 1777 edition that might otherwise be indistinguishable. In their compilation of variant readings, Green and Grose overlooked the 1772 edition of Hume's Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary, which appeared as the first volume of Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects (A New Edition; London: Printed for T. Cadell, in the Strand: and A. Kincaid, and A. Donaldson, at Edinburgh; two volumes). A comparison of the 1777 edition of Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary with that of 1772 shows that Hume reworked carefully the last edition that he prepared for the press, sometimes making substantial changes.


Second, I have corrected the other writings reprinted in this volume against the appropriate copy-texts, thus ending all dependence on the unreliable edition of Green and Grose, save for the use of their apparatus of variant readings. I am grateful to the British Library for supplying photocopies of the 1777 edition of Hume's "Life" and Smith's "Letter" and to the Houghton Library of Harvard University for photocopies of the essays withdrawn by Hume, in their final printings.


Third, I have redesigned and corrected the Index of the first edition. Finally, I have made a few minor changes in the editorial apparatus. I am indebted to the following persons for suggestions that were helpful in preparing this revised edition: John Danford of the University of Houston; Thomas Pangle of the University of Toronto; Samuel Shaffer of Nashville, Tennessee; and M. A. Stewart of the University of Lancaster.

October 1986


[by David Hume]


It is difficult for a man to speak long of himself without vanity; therefore, I shall be short. It may be thought an instance of vanity that I pretend at all to write my life; but this Narrative shall contain little more than the History of my Writings; as, indeed, almost all my life has been spent in literary pursuits and occupations. The first success of most of my writings was not such as to be an object of vanity.


I was born the 26th of April 1711, old style, at Edinburgh. I was of a good family, both by father and mother: my father's family is a branch of the Earl of Home's, or Hume's; and my ancestors had been proprietors of the estate, which my brother possesses, for several generations. My mother was daughter of Sir David Falconer, President of the College of Justice: the title of Lord Halkerton came by succession to her brother.


My family, however, was not rich, and being myself a younger brother, my patrimony, according to the mode of my country, was of course very slender. My father, who passed for a man of parts, died when I was an infant, leaving me, with an elder brother and a sister, under the care of our mother, a woman of singular merit, who, though young and handsome, devoted herself entirely to the rearing and educating of her children. I passed through the ordinary course of education with success, and was seized very early with a passion for literature, which has been the ruling passion of my life, and the great source of my enjoyments. My studious disposition, my sobriety, and my industry, gave my family a notion that the law was a proper profession for me; but I found an unsurmountable aversion to every thing but the pursuits of philosophy and general learning; and while they fancied I was poring upon Voet and Vinnius, Cicero and Virgil were the authors which I was secretly devouring.


My very slender fortune, however, being unsuitable to this plan of life, and my health being a little broken by my ardent application, I was tempted, or rather forced, to make a very feeble trial for entering into a more active scene of life. In 1734, I went to Bristol, with some recommendations to eminent merchants, but in a few months found that scene totally unsuitable to me. I went over to France, with a view of prosecuting my studies in a country retreat; and I there laid that plan of life, which I have steadily and successfully pursued. I resolved to make a very rigid frugality supply my deficiency of fortune, to maintain unimpaired my independency, and to regard every object as contemptible, except the improvement of my talents in literature.


During my retreat in France, first at Reims, but chiefly at La Fleche, in Anjou, I composed my Treatise of Human Nature. After passing three years very agreeably in that country, I came over to London in 1737. In the end of 1738, I published my Treatise, and immediately went down to my mother and my brother, who lived at his country-house, and was employing himself very judiciously and successfully in the improvement of his fortune.


Never literary attempt was more unfortunate than my Treatise of Human Nature. It fell dead-born from the press, without reaching such distinction, as even to excite a murmur among the zealots. But being naturally of a cheerful and sanguine temper, I very soon recovered the blow, and prosecuted with great ardour my studies in the country. In 1742, I printed at Edinburgh the first part of my Essays: the work was favourably received, and soon made me entirely forget my former disappointment. I continued with my mother and brother in the country, and in that time recovered the knowledge of the Greek language, which I had too much neglected in my early youth.


In 1745, I received a letter from the Marquis of Annandale, inviting me to come and live with him in England; I found also, that the friends and family of that young nobleman were desirous of putting him under my care and direction, for the state of his mind and health required it.—I lived with him a twelvemonth. My appointments during that time made a considerable accession to my small fortune. I then received an invitation from General St. Clair to attend him as a secretary*25 to his expedition, which was at first meant against Canada, but ended in an incursion on the coast of France. Next year, to wit, 1747, I received an invitation from the General to attend him in the same station in his military embassy to the courts of Vienna and Turin. I then wore*26 the uniform of an officer, and was introduced at these courts as aid-de-camp to the general, along with Sir Harry Erskine and Captain Grant, now General Grant. These two years were almost the only interruptions which my studies have received during the course*27 of my life: I passed them agreeably, and in good company; and my appointments, with my frugality, had made me reach a fortune, which I called independent, though most of my friends were inclined to smile when I said so; in short, I was now master of near a thousand pounds.*28


I had always entertained a notion, that my want of success in publishing the Treatise of Human Nature, had proceeded more from the manner than the matter, and that I had been guilty of a very usual indiscretion, in going to the press too early. I, therefore, cast the first part of that work anew in the Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, which was published while I was at Turin. But this piece was at first little*29 more successful than the Treatise of Human Nature. On my return from Italy, I had the mortification to find all England in a ferment, on account of Dr. Middleton's Free Enquiry, while my performance was entirely overlooked and neglected. A new edition, which had been published at London of my Essays, moral and political, met not with a much better reception.


Such is the force of natural temper, that these disappointments made little or no impression on me. I went down in 1749, and lived two years with my brother at his country-house, for my mother was now dead. I there composed the second part of my Essays, which I called Political Discourses, and also my Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, which is another part of my treatise that I cast anew. Meanwhile, my bookseller, A. Millar, informed me, that my former publications (all but the unfortunate Treatise) were beginning to be the subject of conversation; that the sale of them was gradually increasing, and that new editions were demanded. Answers by Reverends, and Right Reverends, came out two or three in a year; and I found, by Dr. Warburton's railing, that the books were beginning to be esteemed in good company. However, I had fixed a resolution, which I inflexibly maintained, never to reply to any body; and not being very irascible in my temper, I have easily kept myself clear of all literary squabbles. These symptoms of a rising reputation gave me encouragement, as I was ever more disposed to see the favourable than unfavourable side of things; a turn of mind which it is more happy to possess, than to be born to an estate of ten thousand a year.


In 1751, I removed from the country to the town, the true scene for a man of letters. In 1752, were published at Edinburgh, where I then lived, my Political Discourses, the only work of mine that was successful on the first publication. It was well received abroad and at home. In the same year was published at London, my Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals; which, in my own opinion (who ought not to judge on that subject), is of all my writings, historical, philosophical, or literary, incomparably the best. It came unnoticed and unobserved into the world.


In 1752, the Faculty of Advocates chose me their Librarian, an office from which I received little or no emolument, but which gave me the command of a large library. I then formed the plan of writing the History of England; but being frightened with the notion of continuing a narrative through a period of 1700 years, I commenced with the accession of the House of Stuart, an epoch when, I thought, the misrepresentations of faction began chiefly to take place. I was, I own, sanguine in my expectations of the success of this work. I thought that I was the only historian, that had at once neglected present power, interest, and authority, and the cry of popular prejudices; and as the subject was suited to every capacity, I expected proportional applause. But miserable was my disappointment: I was assailed by one cry of reproach, disapprobation, and even detestation; English, Scotch, and Irish, Whig and Tory, churchman and sectary, freethinker and religionist, patriot and courtier, united in their rage against the man, who had presumed to shed a generous tear for the fate of Charles I. and the Earl of Strafford; and after the first ebullitions of their fury*30 were over, what was still more mortifying, the book seemed to sink into oblivion. Mr. Millar told me, that in a twelvemonth he sold only forty-five copies of it. I scarcely, indeed, heard of one man in the three kingdoms, considerable for rank or letters, that could endure the book. I must only except the primate of England, Dr. Herring, and the primate of Ireland, Dr. Stone, which seem two odd exceptions. These dignified prelates separately sent me messages not to be discouraged.


I was, however, I confess, discouraged; and had not the war been at that time breaking out between France and England, I had certainly retired to some provincial town of the former kingdom, have changed my name, and never more have returned to my native country. But as this scheme was not now practicable, and the subsequent volume was considerably advanced, I resolved to pick up courage and to persevere.


In this interval, I published at London my Natural History of Religion, along with some other small pieces: its public entry was rather obscure, except only that Dr. Hurd wrote a pamphlet against it, with all the illiberal petulance, arrogance, and scurrility, which distinguish*31 the Warburtonian school. This pamphlet gave me some consolation for the otherwise indifferent reception of my performance.


In 1756, two years after the fall of the first volume, was published the second volume of my History, containing the period from the death of Charles I. till the Revolution. This performance happened to give less displeasure to the Whigs, and was better received. It not only rose itself, but helped to buoy up its unfortunate brother.


But though I had been taught by experience, that the Whig party were in possession of bestowing all places, both in the state and in literature, I was so little inclined to yield to their senseless clamour, that in above a hundred alterations, which farther study, reading, or reflection engaged me to make in the reigns of the two first Stuarts, I have made all of them invariably to the Tory side. It is ridiculous to consider the English constitution before that period as a regular plan of liberty.


In 1759, I published my History of the House of Tudor. The clamour against this performance was almost equal to that against the History of the two first Stuarts. The reign of Elizabeth was particularly obnoxious. But I was now callous against the impressions of public folly, and continued very peaceably and contentedly in my retreat at Edinburgh, to finish, in two volumes, the more early part of the English History, which I gave to the public in 1761, with tolerable, and but tolerable success.


But, notwithstanding this variety of winds and seasons, to which my writings had been exposed, they had still been making such advances, that the copy-money given me by the booksellers, much exceeded any thing formerly known in England; I was become not only independent, but opulent. I retired to my native country of Scotland, determined never more to set my foot out of it; and retaining the satisfaction of never having preferred a request to one great man, or even making advances of friendship to any of them. As I was now turned of fifty, I thought of passing all the rest of my life in this philosophical manner, when I received, in 1763, an invitation from the Earl of Hertford,*32 with whom I was not in the least acquainted, to attend him on his embassy to Paris, with a near prospect of being appointed secretary to the embassy; and, in the meanwhile, of performing the functions of that office. This offer, however inviting, I at first declined, both because I was reluctant to begin connexions with the great, and because I was afraid that the civilities and gay company of Paris, would prove disagreeable to a person of my age and humour: but on his lordship's repeating the invitation, I accepted of it. I have every reason, both of pleasure and interest, to think myself happy in my connexions with that nobleman, as well as afterwards with his brother, General Conway.


Those who have not seen the strange effects*33 of modes, will never imagine the reception I met with at Paris, from men and women of all ranks and stations. The more I resiled*34 from their excessive civilities, the more I was loaded with them. There is, however, a real satisfaction in living at Paris, from the great number of sensible, knowing, and polite company with which that city*35 abounds above all places in the universe. I thought once of settling there for life.


I was appointed secretary to the embassy; and, in summer 1765, Lord Hertford left me, being appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. I was chargé d'affaires till the arrival of the Duke of Richmond, towards the end of the year. In the beginning of 1766, I left Paris, and next summer went to Edinburgh, with the same view as formerly, of burying myself in a philosophical retreat. I returned to that place, not richer, but with much more money, and a much larger income, by means of Lord Hertford's friendship, than I left it; and I was desirous of trying what superfluity could produce, as I had formerly made an experiment of a competency. But, in 1767, I received from Mr. Conway an invitation to be Under-secretary; and this invitation, both the character of the person, and my connexions with Lord Hertford, prevented me from declining. I returned to Edinburgh in 1769, very opulent (for I possessed a revenue of 1000 l.*36 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.


In spring 1775, I was struck with a disorder in my bowels, which at first gave me no alarm, but has since, as I apprehend it, become mortal and incurable. I now reckon upon a speedy dissolution. I have suffered very little pain from my disorder; and what is more strange, have, notwithstanding the great decline of my person, never suffered a moment's abatement of my spirits; insomuch, that were I to name the period of my life, which I should most choose to pass over again, I might be tempted to point to this later period. I possess the same ardour as ever in study, and the same gaiety in company. I consider, besides, that a man of sixty-five, by dying, cuts off only a few years of infirmities; and though I see many symptoms of my literary reputation's breaking out at last with additional lustre, I knew that I could have*37 but few years to enjoy it. It is difficult to be more detached from life than I am at present.


To conclude historically with my own character. I am, or rather was (for that is the style I must now use in speaking of myself, which emboldens me the more to speak my sentiments); I was, I say, a man of mild dispositions, of command of temper, of an open, social, and cheerful humour, capable of attachment, but little susceptible of enmity, and of great moderation in all my passions. Even my love of literary fame, my ruling passion, never soured my temper,*38 notwithstanding my frequent disappointments. My company was not unacceptable to the young and careless, as well as to the studious and literary; and as I took a particular pleasure in the company of modest women, I had no reason to be displeased with the reception I met with from them. In a word, though most men any wise eminent, have found reason to complain of calumny, I never was touched, or even attacked by her baleful tooth: and though I wantonly exposed myself to the rage of both civil and religious factions, they seemed to be disarmed in my behalf of their wonted fury. My friends never had occasion to vindicate any one circumstance of my character and conduct: not but that the zealots, we may well suppose, would have been glad to invent and propagate any story to my disadvantage, but they could never find any which they thought would wear the face of probability. I cannot say there is no vanity in making this funeral oration of myself, but I hope it is not a misplaced one; and this is a matter of fact which is easily cleared and ascertained.

April 18, 1776.

Notes for this chapter

[This autobiography and the accompanying letter from Adam Smith to William Strahan were published in March, 1777, as The Life of David Hume, Esq. Written by Himself (London: Printed for W. Strahan; and T. Cadell, in the Strand). At the time the autobiography was written, the disorder that would take Hume's life on August 25, 1776, was already well advanced. To Adam Smith, who had been entrusted with his manuscripts, Hume wrote on May 3: "You will find among my Papers a very inoffensive Piece, called My own Life, which I composed a few days before I left Edinburgh, when I thought, as did all my Friends, that my life was despaired of. There can be no Objection, that this small piece should be sent to Messrs Strahan and Cadell and the Proprietors of my other Works to be prefixed to any future Edition of them" (in J. Y. T. Greig, The Letters of David Hume [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932], 2:318). Concerned lest Smith delay the publication of this and other manuscripts, Hume added a codicil to his will, dated August 7, leaving all of his manuscripts to Strahan and giving specific directions as to their publication. Regarding My own Life, he wrote: "My Account of my own Life, I desire may be prefixed to the first Edition of my Works, printed after my Death, which will probably be the one at present in the Press" (in Greig, 2:453). The 1777 edition of Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects did not contain the autobiography, but it was added to the first, 1778, posthumous edition of the History of England. In writing his autobiography, Hume anticipated the keen desire on the public's part to know, in view of his scepticism about the claims of revealed religion, if he would face death with philosophical tranquillity. It was in the context of the lively public debate following Hume's death that Adam Smith composed his letter to William Strahan, describing Hume's tranquil state of mind during his final months and testifying to his strength of character. With the publication of his letter to Strahan, Smith himself now became the target of widespread indignation for his approval of Hume's manner of death. A decade later he would write: "A single, and as I thought, a very harmless Sheet of paper which I happened to write concerning the death of our late friend, Mr. Hume, brought upon me ten times more abuse than the very violent attack I had made upon the whole commercial system of Great Britain" (quoted in Ernest Campbell Mossner, The Life of David Hume [Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1954], p. 605.) The attacks on Hume's Life and Smith's Letter are discussed by Mossner, The Life of David Hume, pp. 604-607, 620-622, and by T. H. Grose in the "History of the Editions" that begins the Green and Grose edition of Hume's Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1889), 1:80-84. Almost all printings of Hume's Life and Smith's Letter, including that of Green and Grose, have followed the edition of 1777. A reliable version of the 1777 edition can be found in Norman Kemp Smith's "Second Edition" of Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (Edinburgh: Nelson, 1947; Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, n.d.), pp. 231-48. I have compared the Green and Grose version with that of 1777 and corrected a few errors of wording and punctuation. In the case of Hume's Life, the manuscript has been preserved; and it is reprinted in Greig, Letters, 1:1-7, and in Mossner, Life of David Hume, pp. 611-15. The first printed version of My own Life and subsequent printings based upon it differ markedly from Hume's manuscript version in punctuation, capitalization, and spelling; and there are also some important differences in wording. Hume did not, of course, have the opportunity to correct the printed version. I have noted these differences in wording at appropriate places in the present text.]
[Hume's manuscript has: To attend him as Secretary.]
[Hume's MS.: I there wore.]
[Hume's MS.: in the Course.]
[Hume's MS.: Pound.]
[Hume's MS.: at first but little.]
[Hume's MS.: this Fury.]
[Hume's MS.: distinguishes.]
[Hume's MS.: Lord Hertford.]
[Hume's MS.: Effect.]
[Hume's MS.: Recoiled.]
[Hume's MS.: the city.]
[Hume's MS.: pounds.]
[Hume's MS.: I know, that I had.]
[Hume's MS.: humour.]

Part I, Essay I

End of Notes



Kirkaldy, Fifeshire, Nov. 9, 1776.



IT is with a real, though a very melancholy pleasure, that I sit down to give you some account of the behaviour of our late excellent friend, Mr. Hume, during his last illness.


Though, in his own judgment, his disease was mortal and incurable, yet he allowed himself to be prevailed upon, by the entreaty of his friends, to try what might be the effects of a long journey. A few days before he set out, he wrote that account of his own life, which, together with his other papers, he has left to your care. My account, therefore, shall begin where his ends.


He set out for London towards the end of April, and at Morpeth met with Mr. John Home and myself, who had both come down from London on purpose to see him, expecting to have found him at Edinburgh. Mr. Home returned with him, and attended him during the whole of his stay in England, with that care and attention which might be expected from a temper so perfectly friendly and affectionate. As I had written to my mother that she might expect me in Scotland, I was under the necessity of continuing my journey. His disease seemed to yield to exercise and change of air, and when he arrived in London, he was apparently in much better health than when he left Edinburgh. He was advised to go to Bath to drink the waters, which appeared for some time to have so good an effect upon him, that even he himself began to entertain, what he was not apt to do, a better opinion of his own health. His symptoms, however, soon returned with their usual violence, and from that moment he gave up all thoughts of recovery, but submitted with the utmost cheerfulness, and the most perfect complacency and resignation. Upon his return to Edinburgh, though he found himself much weaker, yet his cheerfulness never abated, and he continued to divert himself, as usual, with correcting his own works for a new edition, with reading books of amusement, with the conversation of his friends; and, sometimes in the evening, with a party at his favourite game of whist. His cheerfulness was so great, and his conversation and amusements run so much in their usual strain, that, notwithstanding all bad symptoms, many people could not believe he was dying. "I shall tell your friend, Colonel Edmondstone," said Doctor Dundas to him one day, "that I left you much better, and in a fair way of recovery." "Doctor," said he, "as I believe you would not chuse to tell any thing but the truth, you had better tell him, that I am dying as fast as my enemies, if I have any, could wish, and as easily and cheerfully as my best friends could desire." Colonel Edmondstone soon afterwards came to see him, and take leave of him; and on his way home, he could not forbear writing him a letter bidding him once more an eternal adieu, and applying to him, as to a dying man, the beautiful French verses in which the Abbé Chaulieu, in expectation of his own death, laments his approaching separation from his friend, the Marquis de la Fare. Mr. Hume's magnanimity and firmness were such, that his most affectionate friends knew, that they hazarded nothing in talking or writing to him as to a dying man, and that so far from being hurt by this frankness, he was rather pleased and flattered by it. I happened to come into his room while he was reading this letter, which he had just received, and which he immediately showed me. I told him, that though I was sensible how very much he was weakened, and that appearances were in many respects very bad, yet his cheerfulness was still so great, the spirit of life seemed still to be so very strong in him, that I could not help entertaining some faint hopes. He answered, "Your hopes are groundless. An habitual diarrhoea of more than a year's standing, would be a very bad disease at any age: at my age it is a mortal one. When I lie down in the evening, I feel myself weaker than when I rose in the morning; and when I rise in the morning, weaker than when I lay down in the evening. I am sensible, besides, that some of my vital parts are affected, so that I must soon die." "Well," said I, "if it must be so, you have at least the satisfaction of leaving all your friends, your brother's family in particular, in great prosperity." He said that he felt that satisfaction so sensibly, that when he was reading a few days before, Lucian's Dialogues of the Dead, among all the excuses which are alleged to Charon for not entering readily into his boat, he could not find one that fitted him; he had no house to finish, he had no daughter to provide for, he had no enemies upon whom he wished to revenge himself. "I could not well imagine," said he, "what excuse I could make to Charon in order to obtain a little delay. I have done every thing of consequence which I ever meant to do, and I could at no time expect to leave my relations and friends in a better situation than that in which I am now likely to leave them; I, therefore, have all reason to die contented." He then diverted himself with inventing several jocular excuses, which he supposed he might make to Charon, and with imagining the very surly answers which it might suit the character of Charon to return to them. "Upon further consideration," said he, "I thought I might say to him, Good Charon, I have been correcting my works for a new edition. Allow me a little time, that I may see how the Public receives the alterations." But Charon would answer, "When you have seen the effect of these, you will be for making other alterations. There will be no end of such excuses; so, honest friend, please step into the boat." But I might still urge, "Have a little patience, good Charon, I have been endeavouring to open the eyes of the Public. If I live a few years longer, I may have the satisfaction of seeing the downfal of some of the prevailing systems of superstition." But Charon would then lose all temper and decency. "You loitering rogue, that will not happen these many hundred years. Do you fancy I will grant you a lease for so long a term? Get into the boat this instant, you lazy loitering rogue."


But, though Mr. Hume always talked of his approaching dissolution with great cheerfulness, he never affected to make any parade of his magnanimity. He never mentioned the subject but when the conversation naturally led to it, and never dwelt longer upon it than the course of the conversation happened to require: it was a subject indeed which occurred pretty frequently, in consequence of the inquiries which his friends, who came to see him, naturally made concerning the state of his health. The conversation which I mentioned above, and which passed on Thursday the 8th of August, was the last, except one, that I ever had with him. He had now become so very weak, that the company of his most intimate friends fatigued him; for his cheerfulness was still so great, his complaisance and social disposition were still so entire, that when any friend was with him, he could not help talking more, and with greater exertion, than suited the weakness of his body. At his own desire, therefore, I agreed to leave Edinburgh, where I was staying partly upon his account, and returned to my mother's house here, at Kirkaldy, upon condition that he would send for me whenever he wished to see me; the physician who saw him most frequently, Doctor Black, undertaking, in the mean time, to write me occasionally an account of the state of his health.


On the 22d of August, the Doctor wrote me the following letter:

"Since my last, Mr. Hume has passed his time pretty easily, but is much weaker. He sits up, goes down stairs once a day, and amuses himself with reading, but seldom sees any body. He finds that even the conversation of his most intimate friends fatigues and oppresses him; and it is happy that he does not need it, for he is quite free from anxiety, impatience, or low spirits, and passes his time very well with the assistance of amusing books."


I received the day after a letter from Mr. Hume himself, of which the following is an extract.

23d August, 1776.

"MY DEAREST FRIEND, I am obliged to make use of my nephew's hand in writing to you, as I do not rise to-day....

"I go very fast to decline, and last night had a small fever, which I hoped might put a quicker period to this tedious illness, but unluckily it has, in a great measure, gone off. I cannot submit to your coming over here on my account, as it is possible for me to see you so small a part of the day, but Doctor Black can better inform you concerning the degree of strength which may from time to time remain with me. Adieu, &c."


Three days after I received the following letter from Doctor Black.

Edinburgh, Monday, 26th August, 1776.

"DEAR SIR, Yesterday about four o'clock afternoon, Mr. Hume expired. The near approach of his death became evident in the night between Thursday and Friday, when his disease became excessive, and soon weakened him so much, that he could no longer rise out of his bed. He continued to the last perfectly sensible, and free from much pain or feelings of distress. He never dropped the smallest expression of impatience; but when he had occasion to speak to the people about him, always did it with affection and tenderness. I thought it improper to write to bring you over, especially as I heard that he had dictated a letter to you desiring you not to come. When he became very weak, it cost him an effort to speak, and he died in such a happy composure of mind, that nothing could exceed it."


Thus died our most excellent, and never to be forgotten friend; concerning whose philosophical opinions men will, no doubt, judge variously, every one approving, or condemning them, according as they happen to coincide or disagree with his own; but concerning whose character and conduct there can scarce be a difference of opinion. His temper, indeed, seemed to be more happily balanced, if I may be allowed such an expression, than that perhaps of any other man I have ever known. Even in the lowest state of his fortune, his great and necessary frugality never hindered him from exercising, upon proper occasions, acts both of charity and generosity. It was a frugality founded, not upon avarice, but upon the love of independency. The extreme gentleness of his nature never weakened either the firmness of his mind, or the steadiness of his resolutions. His constant pleasantry was the genuine effusion of good-nature and good-humour, tempered with delicacy and modesty, and without even the slightest tincture of malignity, so frequently the disagreeable source of what is called wit in other men. It never was the meaning of his raillery to mortify; and therefore, far from offending, it seldom failed to please and delight, even those who were the objects of it. To his friends, who were frequently the objects of it, there was not perhaps any one of all his great and amiable qualities, which contributed more to endear his conversation. And that gaiety of temper, so agreeable in society, but which is so often accompanied with frivolous and superficial qualities, was in him certainly attended with the most severe application, the most extensive learning, the greatest depth of thought, and a capacity in every respect the most comprehensive. Upon the whole, I have always considered him, both in his lifetime and since his death, as approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man, as perhaps the nature of human frailty will permit.

I ever am, dear Sir,
Most affectionately your's,

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