13.10osepar, Life and Correspondence of David Borne; from the Papers bequeathed by his Nephew to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and other Original Sources. By John Hill
Burton, Esq., Advocate. In two volumes Tait, Edinburgh. TRAVELS,
Recollections of a Tour • a Summer Ramble in Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland.
By J. W. Massie, D.D., at.s.i.A., Author of "Continental India," Sin Snow.
The New Timon.; a Romance of London Coiburn.
MR. J. H. BURTON'S LIFE AND CORRESPONDENCE OF DAVID HUME.
THE late Baron Hume, of the Exchequer in Scotland, had formed a col- lection of his uncle's papers, "consisting of the letters addressed to him, the few drafts or copies he had left of letters written by himself, the letters addressed by him to his immediate relations, and apparently all the papers in his handwriting which had been left in the possession of the members of his family. To these the Baron seems to have been enabled to add the originals of many of the letters addressed by him to his inti- mate friends, Adam Smith, Blair, Mure, and others." This collection was left by Baron Hume at the uncontrolled disposal of the Council of the Royal Society of Edinburgh ; who permit any one "enjoying their confi- dence" to make use of the papers for literary purposes. With this pri- vilege Mr. Hill Burton has been favoured ; and the Hume Papers form the main basis of his work, but it has also derived benefit from other sources. He has had access to the Minto and several other family col- lections, in which original letters of the philosopher are preserved. Mr. Robert Chambers has placed the whole of his collection relating to Hume at Mr. Burton's disposal. The biographer has also resorted to the printed information already existing, whether collected or scattered ; consulted collateral sources ; and brought local knowledge to bear upon the sub- ject, as well as that species of traditional information which is acquired by associating with persons who if they do not remember David Hume remember those who did. Mr. Burton also appears to be thoroughly versed in the works of Hume—in fact he seems to have been Mr. Bur- ton's pet subject. So extensive a choice of materials has produced an ample life of Hume; and, notwithstanding the probable leanings of the biographer, a very fair and judicious one. The character of the times in which Hume's lot was east is also very well indicated—the narrow circumstances of the younger branches of the Scottish gentry during the greater part of the last century—the rage for a literary celebrity, which prevailed in France under the latter days of Louis the Fifteenth, when Hume became a lion ix Paris—the Edinburgh society, intellectual, yet with a tinge of pro- vincial coarseness and clanship, of which Hume in his later days was so distinguished a member. The more strictly biographical parts of the work have also a very natural air ; we seem to be reading the life of a man, not of an abstract person. We follow the philosopher in his stu- dies, his employments, his successes, and also, be it said, in his weak- nesses • and his death, calm and comfortable as it was, speaks to the reader like the departure of an acquaintance. From these excellences there are some drawbacks. Mr. Burton's manner is discursive, and his style diffuse; so that the reader not only finds unnecessary matter introduced into the book,—such as an analysis of some of Hume's works,—but the matter which is more germane to the subject is occasionally prolix. We are not sure, too, but that the privilege of the Hume Papers may have somewhat misled Mr. Burton. The out- line of Hume's biography has been traced by himself in his "Own Life" with a distinctness which cannot be rivalled ; collections of his cor- respondence to various persons have appeared ; some of the best of his letters- have been embodied in the Lives of his friends ; and a short selection from the Hume Papers was published nearly a quarter of a cen- tury ago in a periodical. Hence, the cream of Hume's correspondence as it bears upon his life is already before the world ; and much of the Hume Papers has continued in manuscript because its biographical value was slight. We therefore think that "Illustrations of the Life of David Hume," rather than a formal narrative, would have been better adapted to the subject, or at least to Mr. Burton ; a series of epochs, or topics, linked together by brief connective introductions, and illustrated where it was needed by short remarks. The Letters of David Hume, pub- lished some five years since by Dr. Thomas Murray, admirably illustrate that part of David's career when he was engaged as a companion to the lunatic Marquis of Annandale.
Of the same species of illustration is the draft of a letter which flume, in his twenty-third year, drew up to send anonymously to a physician for advice. His ailment was a falling off from lofty aspirations : be no longer felt capable, as he did at eighteen, of overthrowing the old systems of philosophy and criticism and establishing new ; at least his ardour was extinguished, though his health remained pretty good, and he was equal to common studies. As he felt it necessary to be very full in the narra- tive of his case, the letter is a complete piece of autobiography from eighteen to twenty-three, as regards his studies, habits, exercises, com- plaints, and physic—for he had been medically treated for the complaint. The letter is a curious document ; but less perhaps for the alleged disease than for the accuracy with which Hume at eighteen measured his capa- bilities, and the completeness with which his aspirations were subsequently fulfilled. After a rather formal proem, he thus states his case.
" You must know, then, that, from my earliest infancy, I found always a strong inclination to books and letters. As our college education in Scotland, extending little further than the languages, ends commonly when we are about fourteen or /ifteen years of age, I was after that left to my own choice in my reading, and found it incline me almost equally to books of reasoning and philosophy and to tiy and the polite authors. Every one who is acquainted either with the phi'
• phers or critics knows that there is nothing yet established in either of these IMO sciences, and that they contain little more than endless disputes, even in the most fundamental articles. Upon examination of these, I hula a certain bold- new of temper growing in me, which was not inclined to submit to any authority in these subjects, but led me to seek out sonic new medium by which truth might be established. After much study and reflection on this, at last, when I was about eighteen years of age, there seemed to be opened up to me a new scene of thought, which transported me beyond measure, and made me, with an ardour natural to young men, throw up every other pleasure or business to apply entirely to it. The law, which was the business I designed to follow, appeared nauseous to me, and I could think of no other way of pushing my fortune in the world but that of a scholar and philosopher. I was infinitely happy in this course of life for some months; till at last, about the beginning of September 1729, all my ardour seemed in a moment to be extinguished, and I could no longer raise my mind to that pitch which formerly gave me such excessive pleasure. I felt no uneasiness or want of spirits when I laid aside my book; and therefore never imagined there was any bodily distemper in the case, but that my coldness pro- ceeded from a laziness of temper, which must be overcome by redoubling my application. In this condition I remained for nine months; very uneasy to my- self; as you may well imagine, but without growing any worse, which was a miracle. There was another particular, which contributed more than anything to waste my spirits and bring on me this distemper; which was, that having read many books of morality, such as Cicero, Seneca, and Plutarch, and being smit with their beautiful representations of virtue and philosophy, I undertook the im- provement of my temper and will along with my reason and understanding. I was continually fortifying myself with reflections against death, and poverty, and shame, and pain, and all the other calamities of life. These, no doubt, are ex- ceeding useful when joined with an active life, because the occasion being pre sented along with the reflection, works it into the soul, and makes it take a deep impression; but in solitude they serve to little other purpose than to waste the spirits, the force of the mind meeting with no resistance, but wasting itself in the air, like our arm when it misses its aim. This, however, I did not learn but by experience, and till I had already ruined my health, though I was not sensible of it.."
Nothing relative to Hume's commercial attempts at Bristol seems to exist ; and the papers are not very full respecting the descent on the coast of Brittany in 1746, whither Hume went as secretary to General St. Clair, the commander, except a sort of historico-apologetical narrative which he drew up of the causes of its failure. There is a fuller account of his first appearance as a diplomatist, when, "disguised in scarlet" as Lord Cherie- mont has it, Hume accompanied General St. Clair to the Courts of Vienna and Turin as military secretary ; for the philosopher kept a journal of the expedition, to amuse his brother. Compared with the more graphic deli- neations of modern travellers, his general descriptions of places may be felt as rather vague, except where a court reception exhibits life and man- ners, or the condition of the people draws a remark from the philosopher.
Though Hume's works were not quite so neglectfully received as he would have it appear in his autobiography, nor his fame as an author of so slow a growth, yet he was not popularly or Continentally known when he went to Vienna in 1748. When he accompanied Lord Hertford to Paris in 1763, ostensibly as a friend but in reality as secretary, (Bunbury, the actual Secretary of Legation remaining in London, as Lord Hertford re- fused to receive him,) Hume's fame was full-blown. His History, and his moral and political Essays, had given him an European reputation ; and the political feelings which at home made a party against his Tory views, (and, as it turns out, a party in the right„) had no operation in Paris. He was therefore welcomed as a new sight ; and, notwithstanding his disclaimers, the philosopher's head seems to have been a little turned by the flattery of the great and fashionable. The following is from a let- ter to Adam Smith.
" Fontainbleau, 26th October 1763.
"My dear Smith—I have been three days at Paris, and two at Fontainbleau; and have everywhere met with the most extraordinary honours which the most exorbitant vanity could wish or desire. The compliments of Dukes and Maris- chals of France, and Foreign Ambassadors, go for nothing with me at present: I retain a relish for no kind of flattery but that which comes from the ladies. AU the courtiers, who stood around when I was introduced to Madame de Pompadour, assured me that she was never heard to say so much to any man; and her brother, to whom she introduced me, But I forget already, that I am to scorn all the civilities of men. However, even Madame Pompadour's civilities were, if possible, exceeded by those of the Dntchess de Choiseul, the wife of the favourite and Prime Minister, and one of the ladies of the most distinguished merit in France. Not contented with the many obliging things she said to me on my first introduction, she sent to call me from the other end of the room in order to repeat them, and to enter into a short conversation with me; and, not contented with that, she sent the Danish Ambassador after me, to assure me that what she said was not from politeness, but that she seriously desired to be in friendship and correspondence with me. There is not a courtier in France who would not have been transported with joy to have had the half of these obliging things said to him by either of these great ladies; bat, what may appear more extraordinary, both of them, as far as I could coniecture, have read with some care all my writings that have been translated into Irench—that is, almost all my writings. The King said nothing particular to me when I was introduced to him; and (can you imagine it?) I was become so silly as to be a little mortified by it, till they told me that he never says anything to anybody the first time he sees them. The Dauphin, as I am told from all hands, declares himself on every occasion very strongly in my favour; and many people assure me that I have reason to be proud of his jud,g- ment, even were he an individual. I have scarce seen any of the geniuses of Parisi who, I think, have in general great merit, as men of letters. But everybody ia forward to tell me the high panegyrics I receive from them; and you may
that approbation which has procured me all these civilities from the courtiers.
" I know you are ready to ask me, my dear friend, if all this does not make raa very happy? No, I feel little or no difference." This may be doubted ; at any rate, if the attention did not give him pleasure, the want of it created dissatisfaction, if not pain. His prejudi- ced anger against "the barbarians who inhabit the banks of the Thames" seems to have originated in his fancied idea of their neglect of his works, the Whig assaults that were made upon the party character of his His- tory, and his want of historical research,* and the different reception he met with in the fashionable societies of London and Paris. On this feature of his personal character the volume before us throws a strong light, by bringing together from various quarters traits of his weaknesses under his own hand, and adding new ones from the Hume depository. Instead of the calm impassible philosopher, usually represented, we find a person imbued with the narrowest prejudices set off by a philosophical style, and
" Gibbon's opinion of Hume, after he became the personal acquaintance of the philosopher, is well known. His "first thoughts" thus appear in an entry in his journal for 1761, before he had that advantage: "I likewise read Hume's His- tory of England to the reign of Henry the Seventh, just publiched,—ingeniouf, but superficial."
provoked to indulge in outrageous language for little or no provocation beyond that arising from public events. We see him altering his History, he says in compliance with new discoveries, but it seems evidently to gratify his dislike of mobs and Whigs ; his hatred to this latter class having been produced by their attacks upon his History, and by their delays to appoint him Secretary of Legation at Paris. In the quarrel with Rousseau, Hume was as clearly right as he was wrong or weak in having anything to do with that well-known charlatan, in oppositon to the advice of all his Parisian friends. When the monomaniac sent Hume his paper of absurd accusations, the calm philosopher grew thus im- passioned to his friend Blair; and he writes to others in the same strain.
"Lisle Street, let July 1766.
"You will be surprised, dear Doctor, when I desire you most earnestly never in your life to show to any mortal creature the [panegyrical] letters I wrote you with regard to Rousseau. He is surely the blackest and most atrocious villain, beyond comparison, that now exists in the world, and I am heartily ashamed of anything I ever wrote in his favour. I know you will pity me when I tell you that I am afraid I must publish this to the world in a pamphlet, which must con- tain an account of the whole transaction between us. My only comfort is, that the matter will be so clear as not to leave to any mortal the smallest possibility of doubt. You know how dangerous any controversy on a disputable point would be with a man of his talents. I know not where the miscreant will now retire to in order to hide his head from this infamy. I am," &c.
The pleasantry of Hume also receives additional illustrations from va- rious passing instances, and from some more elaborate letters or jeux d'eprit, which are too long to quote. Instead of them, we will take a few miscellaneous ana, either from the hero or his biographer. The fol- lowing is from a letter relating to the expedition to Brittany.
THE COMMANDANT'S PURSE.
The Admiral landed some sailors, and took possession of the two islands of Roust and Iledie, which were secured by small forts. The Governor of one of them, when he surrendered his fort, delivered up his purse to the sea-officer, and begged him to take care of it and secure it from the pillage of the sailors. The officer took charge of it; and, finding afterwards a proper opportunity to examine it, found it contained the important sum of ten sons, which is less than sixpence of our money.
This tradition is designed to illustrate Mr. Burton's view of the con- dition of the junior Scottish aristocracy.
THE PHILOSOPHER AND THE DEACON.
He had an example connected with his own neighbourhood, if not with his own family, of the practice of the gentry following handicraft trades. George Hume, son of the minister of his native parish, Clurnside, who was connected with his own family, followed the humble occupation of a baker in the Canongate, and rose to the dignity of deacon of his trade. III-natured tradition says, that the philosopher disliked the vicinity to himself of this living illustration of the de- pression of the Scottish aristocracy, and occasionally put himself to scene trouble to avoid meeting him on the street; but this tradition is not consistent with flume's manly character.
NICETY OF STYLE: " razaw " AND "ENOUGH."
Edinburgh, 8th December 1753.
Dear Doctor--I am at present reduced to the utmost straits and difficulties. I know people are commonly ashamed to own such distresses. Bat to whom can one have recourse in his misfortunes but to his friends? and who can I account my friend, if not Dr. Clephane ? not a friend only in the sunshine of fortune, but also in the shade of adversity; not a security only in a calm, but in a storm a sheet-anchor. But, to cut short all prefaces,—though, commonly, beggars and authors abound with them, and I unite both these qualities,—the occasion of my distress is as follows.
You know that the word enough, or emir as it is pronounced by the English, we commonly, in Scotland, when it is applied to number, pronounce enow. Thus we would say—such a one has books enow for study, but not leisure enuff. Now I want to know, whether the English make the same distinction. I observed the distinction already in Lord Shaftesbury: "Though there be doors enow," said he, to get out of life "; and thinking that this distinction of spelling words, that bad both different letters, and different pronunciation, was an improvement, I followed it in my learned productions, though I knew it was not usual. But there has lately arisen in me a doubt that this is a mere Scotticism; and that the English always pronounce the word as if it were wrote enuff, whether it be applied to numbers or to quantity. To you, therefore, I apply in this doubt and per- plexity. Though I make no question that your ear is well purged from all native impurities, yet trust not entirely to it, but ask any of your English friends, that frequent good company, and let me know their opinion.
IIUME ON "THE WEALTH OF NATIONS."
"Edinburgh, 1st April 1776.
" Euge I Belle ! Dear Mr. Smith—I am much pleased with your performance; and the perusal of it has taken me from a state of great anxiety. It was a work of so much expectation, by yourself, by your friends' and by the public, that I trembled for its appearance, but am now much relieved. Not but that the read- ing of it necessarily requires so much attention, and the public is disposed to give so little, that I shall still doubt for some time of its being at first very popular. But it has depth, and solidity, and acuteness, and is so much illustrated by curious facts, that it must at last take the public attention. It is probably much im- proved by your last abode in London. If you were here at my fireside I should dispute some of your principles. I cannot think that the rent of farms makes any part of the price of the produce, but that the price is determined altogether by the quantity and the demand. It appears to me impossible that the King of France can take a seigriorage of eight per cent upon the coinage. Nobody would bring bullion to the mint; it would be all sent to Holland or England, where it might be coined and sent back to France for less than two per cent. Accord- ingly, Necker says that the French King takes only two per cent of seignorage. But these and a hundred other points are fit only to be discussed in conversation."
Those who know him solely by his philosophical reputation will perhaps believe him to have been " Parma deorum cultor et infrequens."
But this does not seem to have been the case, at least in his outward conduct. We find him, in writing home from France, casually mentioning his not having seen E'lliot's sons "in church"; and on another occasion making a like allusion, indicative of his having been a pretty regular attendant at the Ambassador's chapel. He is said to have been fond of Dr. Robertson's preaching,. and not averse to that of his colleague and opponent John Erskine. A lady, distinguished in literature, remembers, that in a conversation with a respectable tradesman's wife, who had been a servant to Hume, she said that her master one day asked her very seriously why she was never seen in church, where he had provided seats for all his household. At that time there were very few of the humbler classes in Edinburgh who did not belong to the Church of Scotland. The woman's de- fence was, that she belonged to a Dissenting congregation; and it was admitted to be quite satisfactory.
A MESSAGE FROM ON HIGH.
About the commencement of his last illness, a female member of the respect- able Berean congregation in Leith presented herself at his door, with the informa- tion that she had been intrusted with a message to him from on High; and, be- coming very urgent, succeeded in obtaining admission. "This is a very import- ant matter, madam," said the philosopher; "we must take it with deliberation. Perhaps you had better get a little temporal refreshment before you begin. Lassie, bring this good lady a glass of wine. While she was preparing for the attack, Hume entered good-humouredly into conversation with her; and discover- ing that her husband was a chandler, announced that he stood very much in want, at that time of some temporal light, and intrusted his guest with a very large order. This unexpected stroke of business at once absorbed all the good woman 'a thoughts; and, forgetting her important mission, she immediately trotted home to acquaint her husband with the good news.
The following has some of Johnson's asperity, but it has also his force and point.
"Some of his witticisms have a tone of sarcastic severity, which he does not appear to have been disposed to suppress even when women were the victims' if it was called forth by affectation or folly. To a celebrated fine woman' of his day, who said she was often pestered to tell her age, and desired his opinion what answer she should give he is reported to have said, Madam, say you are not yet come to years of discretion.'"
Ifs seems to have been occasionally absent in his habits; but there is no such collection of practical illustrations of this failing, as we possess in the case of Smith and others. I only remember having heath of one trifling instance, of which I had an account from an eye-witness. Hume had been dining with Dr. Jardine, and there had been much conversation about" internal light." In descending the stair leading from the Doctor's "fiat," when he left the party, Hume failed to observe, that after so many flights which reached the street-door, there was, ac- cording to a not uncommon practice, another ffight of stairs leading to the cellars. He continued his descent, accordingly, till the very end; where some time after- wards he was found in extreme darkness and perplexity, wondering how it was that he could find no outlet. The circumstance bore rather curiously on some opinions he had been maintaining; and Jardine said, shaking his head, "Oh David! where is your internal light?"
These quotations indicate the various, solid, and interesting character of the matter which will be found in Mr. Burton's volumes. Their praise is that of being a capital illustration of the life and times of David Hume, though it might probably have been presented in a more effective form.