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and unvaried accounts of the same thing must in the end prove disgusting. Yet since you will hear me speak on this subject, I cannot help it, and must fatigue your ears as much as ours are in this place, by endless and repeated, and noisy praises of the “ History of Scotland.” Dr. Douglas told me yesterday, that he had seen the Bishop of Norwich, who had just bought the book, from the high commendations he heard of it from Mr. Legge. Mallet told me that Lord Mansfield is at a loss whether he shall most esteem the matter or the style. Elliot told me, that being in company with George Grenville, that gentleman was speaking loud in the same key. Our friend pretended ignorance ; said he knew the author, and if he thought the book good for any thing, would send for it and read it. “Send for it, by all means, said Mr. Grenville ; “ you have not read a better book of a long time.”—“ But,” said Elliot, “ I suppose, although the matter may be tolerable, as the author was never on this side the Tweed till he wrote it, it must be very barbarous in the expression.” “By no means,” cried Mr. Grenville. “ Had the author lived all his life in London, and in the best company, he could not have expressed himself with greater elegance and purity.” Lord Lyttelton seems to think that, since the time of St. Paul, there scarce has been a better writer than Dr. Robertson. Mr. Walpole triumphs in the success of his favourites the Scotch, &c. &c. &c.
The great success of your book, beside its real merit, is forwarded by its prudence, and by the deference paid to established opinions. It gains also by its being your first performance, and by its surprising the public, who are not upon their guard against it. By reason of these two circumstances, justice is more readily done to its merit ; which, however, is really so great, that I believe there is scarce another instance of a first performance being so near perfection.
London, 29th May, 1759. MY DEAR SIR,—I had a letter from Helvetius lately, wrote before your book arrived at Paris. He tells me, that the Abbé Prevôt, who had just finished the translation of my History, paroit très-disposé à traduire l'Histoire d'Ecosse not; for the criticklings in Dublin depend on the criticklings in London, who depend on the booksellers, who depend on their interest, which depends on their printing a book themselves. This is the cause why Wilkie's book is at present neglected, or damned, as they call it: but I am much mistaken if it end so. Pray what says the primate of it? I hear he has the generosity to support damned books till the resurrection, and that he is one of the saints who pray them out of purgatory. I hope he is an honest fellow and one of [us.] Captain Masterton told me, that he was not quite of my opinion with regard to the ‘Douglas,' and that he blamed my dedicatory address to the author. But I persist still, and will prove in spite of him and you, and of every man who [wears eit]her black or scarlet, that it is an admirable tragedy, comparable [to the exce]llent pieces of the good age of Louis Quatorze. The author is here at present, and is refitting his • Agis' for the theatre, which I hope will have justice done it. Il est le mieux renté de touts les beaux esprits. He has a pension from his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, as you have probably heard.
“I hear sometimes from the Doctor, who desires me to tell him something about you. But I am no necromancer; only, as the ancients said, — prudentia est quædam divinatio. I conjecture that you are lounging, and reading, and playing at whist, and blaming yourself for not writing letters, and yet persisting in the neglect of your duty.”1
The following is the second letter in which we find Hume appreciating the merits of his friend and
Original in the possession of the Cambusmore family,
rival, Robertson. There is no passage in literary history, perhaps, more truly dignified, than the perfect cordiality and sincere interchange of services between two men, whose claims on the admiration of the world came in so close competition with each other.
HUME to ANDREW MILLAR.
“Edinburgh, 6th April, 1758. “ DEAR SIR, -I am very glad that Mr. Robertson is entering on terms with you. It was indeed my advice to him, when he set out for London, that he should think of no other body; and I ventured to assure him that he would find your way of dealing frank, and open, and generous. He read me part of his History, and I had an opportunity of reading another part of it in manuscript above a twelvemonth ago. Upon the whole, my expectations, both from what I saw, and from my knowledge of the author, were very much raised, and I consider it as a work of uncommon merit. I know that he has employed himself with great diligence and care in collecting the facts: his style is lively and entertaining; and he judges with temper and candour. He is a man generally known and esteemed in this country: and we look upon him very deservedly as inferior to nobody in capacity and learning. Hamilton and Balfour have offered him a very unusual price; no less than five hundred pounds for one edition of two thousand; but I own, that I should be better pleased to see him in your hands. I only inform you of this fact, that you may see how high the general expectations are of Mr. Robertson's performance. It will have a quick sale in this country, from the character of the author; and in England, from the merit of the work, as soon as it is known.
anecdotes, and therefore I shall inform you of a few that have come to my knowledge. I believe I have mentioned to you already, Helvetius's book “De l'Esprit.” It is worth your reading, not for its philosophy, which I do not highly value, but for its agreeable composition. I had a letter from him a few days ago, wherein he tells me that my name was much oftener in the manuscript, but that the censor of books at Paris obliged him to strike it out.
Voltaire has lately published a small work called Candide, ou, l'Optimisme. I shall give you a detail of it. But what is all this to my book, say you? My dear Mr. Smith, have patience : compose yourself to tranquillity; show yourself a philosopher in practice as well as profession : think on the emptiness, and rashness, and futility of the common judgments of men; how little they are regulated by reason in any subject, much more in philosophical subjects, which so far exceed the comprehension of the vulgar.
Non si quid turbida Roma,
Castiges trutinâ : nec te quaesiveris extra. A wise man's kingdom is his own breast; or, if he ever looks farther, it will only be to the judgment of a select few, who are free from prejudices, and capable of examining his work. Nothing, indeed, can be a stronger presumption of falsehood than the approbation of the multitude ; and Phocion, you know, always suspected himself of some blunder, when he was attended with the applauses of the populace.
Supposing, therefore, that you have duly prepared yourself for the worst by all these reflections, I proceed to tell you the melancholy news, that your book has been very unfortunate ; for the public seem disposed to applaud it extremely. It was looked for by the foolislı people with some impatience ; and the mob of literati are beginning already to be
very loud in its praises. Three bishops called yesterday at Millar's shop in order to buy copies, and to ask questions about the author. The Bishop of Peterborough said, he had passed the evening in a company where he heard it extolled above all books in the world. The Duke of Argyle is more decisive than he uses to be in its favour. I suppose he either considers it as an exotic, or thinks the author will be ser
viceable to him in the Glasgow elections. Lord Lyttelton says that Robertson, and Smith, and Bower,' are the glories of English literature. Oswald protests he does not know whether he has reaped more instruction or entertainment from it. But you may easily judge what reliance can be put on his judgment, who has been engaged all his life in public business, and who never sees any faults in his friends. Millar exults and brags that two-thirds of the edition are already sold, and that he is now sure of success. what a son of the earth that is, to value books only by the profit they bring him. In that view, I believe it may prove a very good book.
Charles Townsend, who passes for the cleverest fellow in England, is so taken with the performance, that he said to Oswald he would put the Duke of Buccleugh under the author's care, and would make it worth his while to accept of that charge. As soon as I heard this, I called on him twice, with a view of talking with him about the matter, and of convincing him of the propriety of sending that young nobleman to Glasgow: for I could not hope, that he could offer you any terms which would tempt you to renounce your professorship; but I missed him. Mr. Townsend passes for being a little uncertain in his resolutions ; so perhaps you need not build much on his sally.
In recompense for so many mortifying things, which nothing but truth could have extorted from me, and which I could easily have multiplied to a greater number, I doubt not but you are so good a Christian as to return good for evil ; and to flatter my vanity by telling me, that all the godly in Scotland abuse me for my account of John Knox and the Reformation. I suppose you are glad to see my paper end, and that I am obliged to conclude with - Your humble servant." 2
1 This association of names is evidently intended as a sarcasm on Lord Lyttelton's taste.
2 Stewart's Life of Smith.