Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 28.djvu/226

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Hume
Hume
220

and economical conditions of the time (see Appendix to James I) were then an original addition to mere political history. The dignity and clearness of the style are admirable. The book thus became, as it long continued to be, the standard history of England, and has hardly been equalled in literary merit. Hume speaks of the offence taken by the whigs at his political attitude, and in later editions he made alterations, he says, ‘invariably to the tory side.’ Such heresy struck whigs as something monstrous in a philosopher who had discussed abstract political principles in his essays with calm impartiality. Hume, like all philosophers, had strong prejudices. His strongest feeling was love of the intellectual culture represented for him by the royalists, and hatred of the superstitious bigotry of which the puritans had bequeathed a large portion, as he thought, to the contemporary Scottish vulgar. His fervent patriotism was intensified by the aristocratic contempt for men of letters ascribed to the ‘barbarians on the banks of the Thames’ (ib. ii. 196), and by the English abuse of the Scots at the time of Bute's ministry. He despised Wilkes, and even Chatham, as mouthpieces of a brutal mob, and returned the English abuse in kind. He held that the Americans were unconquerable, and wished that government would crush demagogues instead of trying to crush the colonists (see passages on Hume's dislike of the English ‘barbarians,’ collected in Hill, p.57).

Hume's scepticism, like that of many contemporaries, was purely esoteric. He never expected it to influence practice, either in political or ecclesiastical matters. The strangest illustration is in his letter advising a young sceptic to take anglican orders, because ‘it was paying too great a respect for the vulgar to pique oneself on sincerity with regard to them,’ and wishing that he could still be ‘a hypocrite in this particular’ (Burton, ii. 187, 188). The frankness of the avowal half redeems his cynicism. No one, therefore, was less inclined to proselytise. He was on friendly terms with nearly all the remarkable circle of eminent writers then in Edinburgh, including many of the clergy and ‘Jupiter’ Carlyle. Burton states that the letters preserved in the Royal Society confute the assertion that any of them expressed sympathy with Hume's scepticism. His thorough good nature, as well as his indifference, prevented him from obtruding his opinions upon any who did not sympathise; while no man was a heartier friend or more warmly appreciative of merit—especially in Scotsmen. He was a member of the Poker Club, a convivial meeting of the Edinburgh literary circle (Ritchie, p.83; Carlyle, pp. 419-23), secretary in 1752 to the Philosophical Society (founded in 1739), afterwards (1783) superseded by the Royal Society, and a member of the Select Society, founded in 1754 to encourage pure English (Ritchie, pp. 83-101).

He was, indeed, regarded with some suspicion. In 1754 he was censured by the curators of the library for buying the ‘Contes’ of La Fontaine, Bussy-Rabutin's ‘Histoire Amoureuse des Gaules,’ and Crébillon's ‘L'Ecumoire,’ which were ‘indecent’ and ‘unworthy of a place in a learned library.’ Burton says truly that the resolution was absurd. The books are now in every library of any pretensions to be ‘learned.’ Hume withdrew an application for redress, as certain not to succeed; and decided to retain the office (which he resigned, however, in 1757), while giving a bond for the salary to Thomas Blacklock, the blind poet. He was for many years an energetic friend to Blacklock, although the poet's orthodox friend, Spence, carefully sank any notice of Hume's name in his appeals for patronage [see under Blacklock, Thomas]. Hume was soon afterwards attacked by George Anderson, who in 1753 had written a pamphlet called ‘An Estimate of the Profit and Loss of Religion,’ directed against Kames's ‘Essays on the Principles of Morality and Natural Religion’ [see Home, Henry, Lord Kames]. Kames though a personal friend of Hume, differed from Hume's theological scepticism. They were, however, joint objects of attack in a pamphlet of unknown authorship published in 1755, ‘An Analysis of the … Sentiments … of Sopho [Kames] and David Hume,’ addressed to the general assembly. Hugh Blair [q.v.] wrote in Kames's defence, but the assembly in, the same year passed a resolution denouncing the ‘immorality and infidelity … openly avowed in several books published of late in this country.’ In a committee of the assembly in 1756 it was proposed to transmit to the assembly a resolution in which Hume was named as the avowed author of attacks upon Christianity, natural religion, and the foundations of morality, ‘if not establishing direct atheism,’ and to appoint a committee to inquire into his writings. This was rejected, however, by 50 to 17 votes, and the matter dropped with Anderson's death, 19 Oct. following (Ritchie, pp.40-80, gives the fullest account of these proceedings).

During the execution of the history Millar proposed that Hume should translate Plutarch, and afterwards suggested that he should take some part in a new weekly paper (Burton, i. 421). Hume declined the newspaper project, which would have involved settling