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Essays   By: (1711-1776)

Book cover

First Page:

ESSAYS

By

DAVID HUME

With Biographical Introduction

by

Hannaford Bennett

LONDON

JOHN LONG LTD

Contents

BIOGRAPHICAL INTRODUCTION

OF THE DELICACY OF TASTE AND PASSION

OF THE LIBERTY OF THE PRESS

THAT POLITICS MAY BE REDUCED TO A SCIENCE

OF THE FIRST PRINCIPLES OF GOVERNMENT

OF THE ORIGIN OF GOVERNMENT

OF THE INDEPENDENCY OF PARLIAMENT

WHETHER THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT INCLINES MORETO ABSOLUTE MONARCHY OR TO A REPUBLIC

OF PARTIES IN GENERAL

OF THE PARTIES OF GREAT BRITAIN

OF SUPERSTITION AND ENTHUSIASM

OF THE DIGNITY OR MEANNESS OF HUMAN NATURE

OF CIVIL LIBERTY

OF ELOQUENCE

Biographical Introduction

The material facts in Hume's life are to be found in the autobiography which he prefixed to his History of England . My Own Life , as he calls it, is but a brief exposition, but it is sufficient for its purpose, and the longer biographies of him do little more than amplify the information which he gives us himself. The Humes, it appears, were a remote branch of the family of Lord Hume of Douglas. Hume's father was Joseph Hume, of Ninewells, a minor Scotch laird, who died when his son was an infant. David Hume was born at Edinburgh on April 26th, 1711, during a visit of his parents to the Scotch capital. Hume tells us that his father passed for a man of parts, and that his mother, who herself came of good Scottish family, "was a woman of singular merit; though young and handsome, she devoted herself entirely to the rearing and educating of her children." At school Hume won no special distinction. He matriculated in the class of Greek at the Edinburgh University when he was twelve years old, and, he says "passed through the ordinary course of education with success"; but "our college education in Scotland," he remarks in one of his works, "extending little further than the languages, ends commonly when we are about fourteen or fifteen years of age." During his youth, Mrs. Hume does not appear to have maintained any too flattering opinion of her son's abilities; she considered him a good natured but "uncommon weak minded" creature. Possibly her judgment underwent a change in course of time, since she lived to see the beginnings of his literary fame; but his worldly success was long in the making, and he was a middle aged man before his meagre fortune was converted into anything like a decent maintenance.

It may have been Hume's apparent vacillation in choosing a career that made this "shrewd Scots wife" hold her son in such small esteem. At first the family tried to launch him into the profession of the law, but "while they fancied I was poring over Voet and Vinnius, Cicero and Virgil were the authors I was secretly devouring." For six years Hume remained at Ninewells and then made "a feeble trial for entering on a more active scene of life." Commerce, this time, was the chosen instrument, but the result was not more successful. "In 1734 I went to Bristol with some recommendations to eminent merchants, but in a few months found that scene totally unsuitable for me." At length in the middle of 1736 when Hume was twenty three years of age and without any profession or means of earning a livelihood he went over to France. He settled first at Rheims, and afterwards at La FlĂȘche in Anjou, and "there I laid that plan of life which I have steadily and successfully pursued. I resolved to make a very rigid frugality supply my deficiency of fortune, to maintain unimpaired my independency, and to regard every object as contemptible except the improvement of my talents in literature." At La FlĂȘche Hume lived in frequent intercourse with the Jesuits at the famous college in which Descartes was educated, and he composed his first book, the Treatise of Human Nature . According to himself "it fell dead born from the press, without reaching such distinction as even to excite a murmur among the zealots." But this work which was planned before the author was twenty one and written before he was twenty five, in the opinion of Professor Huxley, is probably the most remarkable philosophical work, both intrinsically and in its effects upon the course of thought, that has ever been written... Continue reading book >>




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