« ZurückWeiter »
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 emploġing 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, with. out 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 favorably received, and soon made me entirely forget my former disappoint. ment. 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.' i " 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 werę 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 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 the uniforin of an officer, and was introduced ať these courts, as aid-de-camp to the general, along with sir Harry Erskine and captain Grant, now gene ral Grant. These two years were almost the only interruptions which my studies have received during the course of my life: 1 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." · It should be observed, that sometime before he went into Germay and Italy, he stood candidate for the chair of moral philosophy in the university of Edinburgh, then vacant by the resignation of Dr. Pringle, afterwards sir John Pringle, who had been appointed physician to the army. The interest of Mr. Hume was warmly supported by the nobility and gentry; but the presbytery of Edinburgh, having a right to object to one out of three candidates named by the two councils, they put their negative upon Mr. Hume, probably from a knowledge of the scepticişm of his principles.
He soon after cast a part of his treatise on “ Human Nature” into a new form, and published it under the title of “ An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding ;” as he did also afterwards another part of the same work, under the title of “ An Enquiry concerning the principles of Morals.” He now was informed by his bookseller, Mr. Andrew Millar, thạt his publications were beginning to be the subject of conversation, that the sale of them , was gradually increasing, and that there was a demand for new editions of them. These symptoms of a rising reputation,' says he, • gave me encouragement, as I was ever more disposed to see the favorable than unfavorable 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.'
Mr. Hume's writings excited attention, not only by their literary merit, but by the extreme scepticism which the contained. Dr. John Leland, speaking of some of our author's pieces, says, “This gentleman must be acknowledged to be a subtile writer, of a very metaphysical génius, and has a neat and agreeable manner, of expression. But it is obvious to every judicious reader, that he has in many instances carried scepticism to an unreasonable height ; and seems every where to affect an air of making new observations and discoveries. " ..
His writings seem, for the most part, to be calculated rather to amuse, or even confound, than to instruct and enlighten the understanding. And there are not a few things in them, which strike at the foundation of natural, as well as the proofs and evi. dences of revealed religion. This appears to me to be, in a particular manner, the character of his philosophical Essays.?
Dr. Leland also says, that Mr. Hume, “ by endeavouring to destroy all reasoning, from causes to effects, or from effects to
causes, and not allowing that we can so much as probably infer the one from the other, by arguing either a priori, or from experience, subverts, as far as in him lies, the very foundation of those reasonings, that are drawn from the effects which we behold in the frame of the universe, to the existence of one supreme, intel. ligent, all-powerful cause ; and accordingly we shall find, that he himself afterwards applies this principle to this very purpose. Ana other use that he makes of this doctrine concerning cause and ef. fect, is, what we should not have expected from it, to confound all difference between physical and moral causes, and to shew that the latter have the same kind of casualty with the former. This is the purport of his eighth Essay, which is concerning liberty and necessity. Though, if he argued consistently, he must deny that there is any such thing in nature. as necessity, or necessary connection; or that there is either physical or moral cause at all.” ;
Mr Hume endeavoured to persuade his readers, that there was no testimony by which the truth of miracles could be proved; and he says, • It is experience alone which gives authority to human testimony; and it is the same experience that assures us of the laws of nature. When therefore these two kinds of experience, are contrary, we have nothing to do but; to subtract the one from the other. And this subtraction with regard to all popular religions amounts to an entire annihilation. And it is chiefly upon this, says:Dr. Leland, That he founds the arrogant çensure, which, with an unparalleled assurance, he passes upon all that he lieve the christian religion, viz, " That whosoever is moved by faith to assent to it, is conscious of a continued miracle in his own person, which subverts all the principles of his understanding, and gives him a determination to believe, whatever is most contrary to custom and experience."
It is thus that Hume concludes his Essay on Miracles," as if he had for ever silenced all the advocates of christianity; and they must henceforth either renounce their faith, or submit to pass with men of his superior understanding for persons miraculously stu. pid, and utterly lost to all reason and common sense. “Mr. Hume’s “ Essay on Miracles” was also answered by Dr. Adams and Dr. Price; and some of his other reasonings against natura!
ruth; in oppositume has gone greatical predecessors
and revealed religion, were refuted by Dr. Priestly, and other learned writers.
Dr. Beattie has taken much pains to confule the pernicious sentiments of Mr. Hume, in his “ Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth; in opposition to Sophistry and Scepticism ;" and he remarks, that Mr. Hume has gone greater lengths in the demolition of common sense, than any of his sceptical predecessors ; and « reared in its place, a most tremendous fabrick of doctrine ; upon which, if it were not for the flimsiness of its materials, en. gines might easily be erected, sufficient to overturn all belief, science, religion, virtue, and society, from the very foundation.
In 1751, Mr. Hume removed to Edinburgh ; and the following year, published there his “ Political Discourses ;" which he ob. serves, were the only work of his that was successful on the first publication. In 1752, the faculty of advocates chose him their librarian ; an office, he remarks, from which he received little or no emolument, but which gave him the command of a large library. He then formed the plan of writing the history of England; and in 1754, published in 4to. the two first volumes, under the title of “ The History of Great Britain, under the house of Etuart.” This was at first not so well received as he expected, at which he felt a very great degree of disappointment; so great in. deed, that though he represents himself of a very philosophical temper, he says, " 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 he afterwards, as he informs us, “ picked up courage, and persevered ;" so that in 1758, he published his “ History of the House of Tudor;" and afterwards the more early part of his history, from the invasion of Julius Cæsar to the accession of the house of Tudor, which with the volumes formerly published, completed his history to the revolution ; and notwithstanding his dissatisfaction at its first reception, his work afterwards obtained a very high degree of ce. lebrity.
In the different editions of his history, Mr. Hume has made a great variety of alterations ; and he says, in his own account of his life, “ 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." " But the man who can really believe, that Mr. Hume had reason to make a hundred alterations on the Tory side, and not on the other, must have more faith than Mr. Hume himself seems to have possessed on any subject, "In relating the farther particulars of his life, Mr. Hume says, “ Notwithstanding this variety of winds and seasons, to which my writings had been exposed, they had still been making such ad. vances, 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 coun, try 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 50, 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, 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 mean while, 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 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 from their excessive civilities, the more I was loaded with them. There is however a real satisfaction in living at Paris, from the great numa ber of sensible, knowing, and polite company with which that city