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Read Me

  1. 1. Of the Hume Texts Section of this Site
  2. 2. Of On-Line Publication in General
  3. 3. Of the Love of Printed Books
  4. 4. Of the Variation of Hume’s Texts Over Time
  5. 5. Of the Editing of Hume’s Texts
  6. 6. Of the Ordering of Hume’s Texts
  7. 7. Of this On-Line Publication in Particular

1. Of the Hume Texts Section of this Site

In the Hume Texts section of this site, we aim to provide a complete set of everything that Hume published (including the handful of posthumous publications), in accurate editions that faithfully represent the original 18th century publications, but without neglecting the advantages of modern on-line texts. So far we have everything save the History of England. In due course it would be nice to add this work too, and even perhaps Hume’s letters, but we cannot promise either of these yet.

The texts here are still being subjected to further checks for accuracy, but already we are confident that you will not find any more reliable texts on the web.

2. Of On-Line Publication in General

It is important to emphasise that this is an on-line edition of Hume’s collected works. A web site is a very different medium from a printed book, with different sets of advantages and drawbacks. We can’t do very much about the latter, but to compensate we have endeavoured to make the most of the former. As a result, however, it is well to be aware that what you see here is not quite what you’d expect from a familiarity with printed books. Nor is it necessarily quite what you’d expect from a familiarity with other on-line publications, since many of these still tend to follow the model of a book, essentially just replacing printed pages with web pages.

In a handful of ways, this site attempts to move beyond the printed paradigm, and to make use of some of the possibilities that internet publishing provides. We hope that you will take a moment to read the rest of these notes, which explain what we have done, and our reasons for doing it. This should help you to make sense of—and to make the most of—the texts that are available here. When you have read this, and if you are so inclined, please refer to the Editorial Notes for the full details—intended for people who want to know more about the particular texts, or are interested in our specific editorial principles, and in how exactly we got from the original 18th century publications to what you see here.

3. Of the Love of Printed Books

First of all, some things that we like about printed books:

We’ve done our best here, where possible, to duplicate these virtues:

We can’t do anything about the smell, unfortunately, and would advise against scribbling on your computer screen. That said, here are three pieces of good news: (i) electronic text can be quickly and reliably searched for every single occurrence of a particular word or phrase; (ii) while the words on a printed page cannot change, the words on a web page can; and (iii) while words on a printed page are costly, on a web site there is no reason not to “print” the same portion of text in different places, as many times as you like. The value of the first of these features speaks for itself; our editions are fully searchable from the box on the top right of the screen (there is more information about how to use this feature on the Search Page). The second and third features, meanwhile, have been used here to solve two particularly difficult problems facing an editor of Hume’s complete works (or any comparable textual source), as we will explain momentarily.

4. Of the Variation of Hume’s Texts Over Time

Hoping that that has whet your appetite, we first digress for a moment with another teaser. One very important thing to represent in a complete edition of Hume’s works is the way in which he modified his texts over time. We have not yet done this here, but it is the next substantial improvement that we are working on. (You will currently find some deleted passages from the first Enquiry in the Variants section of this site, but that is the extent of it so far.) Not wishing to give the game away, suffice it to say that what we produce here will be quite different from what you’ll be used to from textual variants sections of printed scholarly editions, and that we are very excited about it.

5. Of the Editing of Hume’s Texts

But to return to what we have completed already: One of the main problems that any editor faces, after the initial question of which source to use as the copytext, is how much to interfere with that source. (For the thinking behind our solution to the initial problem here—which, in a nutshell, is to take always the latest available edition—see the Editorial Notes.) Taking advantage of the fact that text on a web page, unlike text on a printed page, can be made to change at the touch of a button, we have considerably simplified this problem here. We have indeed interfered with the copytexts—only very minimally, and in ways that we do not expect to be controversial (again, see the Editorial Notes for details). But these changes, however minimal, are clearly and comfortably there for all to see: hidden by default (for those who simply want the final text without such distractions), they can be highlighted in yellow at the touch of a button, whereupon hovering over the change will reveal a note explaining what we have done; and at the touch of another button, the text will revert to the unadulterated copytext, character for character. Naturally we judge all our changes to be for the best, but we welcome debate on the matter (and may even change our editions, should you persuade us—another advantage of on-line publications over printed books being the ease with which they can be modified). And in any case we want the original text to be available as well, alongside our modifications.

Of course the same information—regarding how a modern edition diverges from its copytext—can be made available in a printed book, and is made available in the best such modern editions. But the web page format makes it possible to present this information in a much more direct manner: by actually giving the reader the unadulterated source text, as well as the uncluttered edited text. In a book, the best one can do is give the reader one of these things, and then all of the necessary information for reconstructing the other for themselves.

6. Of the Ordering of Hume’s Texts

The second problem is the order in which to place the texts. There is no one obviously correct solution to this problem, for several of Hume’s texts appeared, at his direction, in different collections and in different arrangements. Which order should the essays go in, for example? Where should the essays withdrawn from later collections go? Should Of Tragedy and Of the Standard of Taste be placed alongside the other essays, as in editions of the Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects from 1758 onwards, or alongside the Natural History of Religion and the Dissertation on the Passions, as in their first appearance in the Four Dissertations of 1757? Should the two Enquiries be displayed together or separately? With the Dissertation on the Passions and the Natural History of Religion following each of them or not (as in some of Hume’s collections but not all)?

Faced with these difficult questions, the editor of an on-line publication ready to make the most of the advantages of that medium, has things considerably easier than the editor of a printed book. For where the latter must (or at least is under considerable pressure to) choose just one ordering or context, at the expense of all the others, the former can very easily choose several. Should the two Enquiries be displayed together or separately? There is no reason not to do both. With the Dissertation on the Passions and the Natural History of Religion following each of them or not? Again, we can have it both ways. In a web publication, it takes up no more space or ink to “print” the same text in multiple places.

Thus each of the links from the Home Page on this site takes you to a collection or arrangement of some of Hume’s texts. Some of these collections contain just one text, but others contain more than one, and several contain duplications of texts also found in other arrangements—but in a different order, or alongside different other texts. The arrangements, needless to say, are not of our making: each one represents one of Hume’s own publications, comprising the same texts as that original, in the same order. While we have not mimicked all of his publications (which would be neither agreeable nor useful, since there are a lot of them, and many are structurally identical), we have included all first editions, and all of the editions with substantial structural differences. Furthermore, every text, every essay (including those withdrawn from subsequent collections), and every advertisement or dedication—in short, every word that Hume ever published (textual variants and the History of England aside)—is included somewhere, and in all of its (substantially different) original contexts. This effectively constitutes, in our judgement, the solution to the problem of ordering Hume’s texts, at least in an on-line publication where there is no pressure to reproduce each text only once.

If there is a downside to this arrangement, it is perhaps that it is potentially misleading. Since Hume was constantly changing the text of his works, at the same time as he was changing the order and context in which they appeared, the reader aware of this fact may naturally suppose that the texts reproduced here themselves vary according to context, as in the original 18th century publications being mimicked. To be clear, they do not: there is just one edition of every text on this site, regardless of the context in which you are viewing it (or two editions, if you like—the unadulterated copytext, and our minimally edited version). Our decision to mimic more than one of Hume’s original publications here is not a solution to the problem of how to show textual variation over time. (As hinted at above, we are working on this problem, but intend to deal with it in a quite different way.) Rather, it is a solution to the problem of how to order our single, “final” editions, in a manner that is sensitive to the variety of Hume’s own arrangements.

7. Of this On-Line Publication in Particular

For more information about the collections that we have chosen, and the texts contained within them, please see the Editorial Notes.