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of the house, in the New Town of Edinburgh, in which he died. It was the commencement of the street leading southward from St. Andrew's Square, now called St. David Street.1
HUME to BARON MURE.
Edinburgh, 2d October, 1770. “DEAR BARON,—I am sorry that I should correspond so ill to your very obliging letter, by telling you, that I cannot propose to see you till you come to town next winter. I am engaged in the building a house, which is the second great. operation of human life: for the taking a wife is the first, which I hope will come in time; and by being present, I have already prevented two capital mistakes, which the mason was falling into; and I shall be apprehensive of his falling into more, were I to be at a distance. I must therefore renounce the hopes of seeing you at your own house this autumn, which, I assure (you,] I do with much regret. My compliments to Mrs. Mure and the young ladies. Please tell Miss Kitty, that my coat is much admired, even before I tell that it is her livery. For her sake I shall be careful that it never meet with any such accident, as the last. I am, dear Baron, yours very sincerely.
"P.S.-Mr. Moore’s verses are really very elegant.”
1 When the house was built, and inhabited by Hume, but while yet the street, of which it was the commencement, had no name, a witty young lady, daughter of Baron Ord, chalked on the wall, the words “ST. DAVID STREET.” The allusion was very obvious. Hume's “ lass,” judging that it was not meant in honour or reverence, ran into the house much excited, to tell her master how he was made game of. “Never mind, lassie," he said ; “many a better man has been made a saint of before.”
9 MS. R.S.E.
Hume's social character - His conversation - His disposition - Traditional
anecdotes regarding him — Correspondence — Letter about the PretenderGilbert Stuart's quarrel with Dr. Henry - Commercial State of Scotland Letter to his nephew on Republicanism — Smith's “ Wealth of Nations" Hume's illness — His Will — Smith appointed Literary Executor-Strahan substituted — His journey to England with Home -- Prospects of DeathCommunications with his Friends and Relations -- His Death -- General view of his influence on Thought and Action.
It is to the period from the year 1770 to his death, when he lived among his early friends in Edinburgh, that we ought to refer such traditional accounts of Hume's private life and social habits, as are not expressly connected with any known event in his history. He was, it is true, a distinguished man when he left his native city, in 1763. He had then, indeed, performed all the services which entitled him to immortality. But his foreign celebrity, and his official honours, had since added many ostensible glories to his name, and introduced him to a wider sphere of public notice than the substantial fruits of his genius and industry would have of themselves secured. When we remember that this was the most celebrated period of his life, and was the only one of which persons who are still, or who have lately been alive, could have any recollection, we naturally refer to it those traditional notices and incidents which have no distinct place.
The impression of Hume's character, acquired by one who has sought it in the tenor of his works, and the history of his literary career, is quite different from that which we derive from those who knew him, and were connected with the social circle in which he
lived. The former is solitary, self-relying, and unimpressible even to sternness; the latter is good, easy, simple, social, and amenable to the sway of gentle impulses. These two representations are not without a harmony of principle. In all serious matters, in his projects of literary ambition, in the philosophy he taught mankind, in all that was to connect him with posterity and the intellectual destiny of the human race, he was resolute and uncompromising. But the exhibition of his strength was reserved for the arena of his triumphs; and in domestic and social intercourse he put aside his helmet, with its nodding plumes ; feeling, that the intellectual exhibitions suited for that sphere, should spring from whatever Nature had bestowed on him of sweet, and peaceful, and kind,whatever was fitted to drive rancour or angry emulation from the bosom, and to render life delightful. Hence, to appear in the social circle as an intellectual gladiator, does not appear to have been his wish; he was content if he gave himself and others pleasure.
This view of his character is confirmed by Mackenzie, who, when a young man, enjoyed the high distinction of mingling in that group, of which he was the principal figure.
But the most illustrious of that circle was David Hume, who had a sincere affection for his poetical namesake, - an affection which was never abated during the life of that celebrated man. The unfortunate nature of his opinions with regard to the theoretical principles of moral and religious truth, never influenced his regard for men who held very opposite sentiments on those subjects; subjects which he never, like some vain and shallow sceptics, introduced into social discourse : On the contrary, when at any time the conversation tended that way, he was desirous rather of avoiding any serious discussion on matters which he wished to confine to the graver and less dangerous consideration of cool philosophy. He had, it might be said, in the language which the Grecian historian applies to an illustrious Roman, two minds ; one which indulged in the metaphysical scepticism which his genius could invent, but which it could not always disentangle; another, simple, natural, and playful, which made his conversation delightful to his friends, and even frequently conciliated men whose principles of belief his philosophical doubts, if they had not power to shake, had grieved and offended. During the latter period of his life, I was frequently in his company amidst persons of genuine piety, and I never heard him venture a remark at which such men, or ladies, still more susceptible than men, could take offence.
The late Lord Chief Commissioner Adam was another of the young men who were so fortunate as to be admitted to this circle. In a curious little collection of notices of eminent persons, called “ The Gift of a Grandfather,” privately printed at his own press at Blair-Adam, he says of Hume:
He was an intimate friend and acquaintance : and in all the intercourse of life, and in all he said, and wrote, and did, when not employed in his unnecessary metaphysical scepticism (well named, by a friend of mine, intellectual ropedancing,) was innocent, playful, and moral, and most natural in his conversation : equally pleasing and instructive to the young and old of both sexes.
His simple unaffected nature, and kindly disposition, exalted him as much as the singular powers of his mind, and his talents for expressing in writing what he contemplatedso well described by Gibbon, as careless inimitable beauties of style; which, when he read, he laid down the book in despair that he should ever be able to imitate them.
I have before shown that he never introduced, in conversation, his abstruse or sceptical speculations ; that all his sentiments were moral and natural and pleasing, and even playful in the extreme. This is evinced by his letters, which are perfect in their kind. He could bring himself down, without effort, to the most familiar playfulness with young persons, and particularly delighted in the conversation of youthful females.
| Account of Home, p. 20.
Mr. Hume was one of our constant visiters, making, as was the custom of those days, tea-time the hour of calling. In the summer he would often stroll to my father's beautiful villa of North Merchiston. On one occasion - I was then a boy of thirteen-he, missing my mother, made his tea-drinking good with two or three young ladies of eighteen or nineteen, (his acquaintances,) who were my mother's guests. I recollect perfectly how agreeably he talked to them; and my recollection has been rendered permanent by an occurrence which caused some mirth and no mischief.
When the philosopher was amusing himself in conversation with the young ladies, the chair began to give way under him, and gradually brought him to the floor.
The damsels were both alarmed and amused, when Mr. Hume, recovering himself, and getting upon his legs, said in his broad Scotch tone, but in English words, (for he never used Scotch,) “Young ladies, you must tell Mr. Adam to keep stronger chairs for heavy philosophers.”
This simple story is a good specimen of the man. He above all affectation. I was a companion of his eldest nephew, and saw much of him when I was very young. up he used to invite me to dinner, and I took great delight in his conversation. I continued in and about Edinburgh long enough to be able to relish it, and perhaps to join in it. On one particular occasion I met him at tea at Professor Ferguson's; it was at the period of my attending Dr. Blair's class on rhetoric and belles lettres : their conversation became very interesting to me, as it bore upon subjects which had an affinity to what I was in the habit of hearing prelected upon. They discussed particularly the Henriade of Voltaire; they were not displeased with any want of brilliancy in the versification, but they condemned the choice of the subject. Mr. Hume said, “He should never choose for an epic poem history, the truth of which is well known; for no fiction can come up to the interest of the actual story and incidents of the (singular life of Henry IV. ;” and Professor Ferguson added, “ What epic poet could improve upon the chivalrous
As I grew